Sissy Porn at Princeton University

Trans-identified male presents lecture on forced feminization pornography


In April 2020, a trans-identified male named Río Sofia gave a presentation for Princeton University titled Forced Womanhood!, after his exhibition in 2017 at Cooper Union College, wherein Sofia displayed photographs and video of himself in scenes modeled on sissification pornography. In sissification, or sissy pornography, sometimes also called “forced femme”, men are ostensibly ‘forced’ into traditional feminine sex roles, including being made to wear makeup, pink frilly dresses, and lingerie, as well as to perform acts of sexual submission. The genre emerged from BDSM practices of dominance, submission, and sadomasochism, and the male participant, as well as viewers, are encouraged to experience sexual arousal through the humiliation of being degraded as though they were women.

Princeton University is an ivy league institution that consistently ranks among the top private universities in the United States. Founded in 1746, it is the fourth-oldest institute of higher learning in the nation, and in 2021 ranked #12 globally. The average annual cost, before scholarships or financial aid, is $74,150, according to the US Department of Education.

The description of the exhibition on Sofia’s website states:

"Río Sofia first encountered forced feminization pornography in 2015 while thumbing through fetish magazines at a shop in Manhattan. In sissification porn, where men are forced into womanhood as a form of punishment or humiliation, she found a rich underground [of] visual language that complicated her understanding of transgender representation. Within the context of BDSM, these depictions of gender transformation suggest coercion and a loss of (male) power, depictions that contradict developing narratives in the mainstream that celebrate gender transition as an empowering form of self-determination.

In this project, Río inserts her body into the forced feminization narrative by utilizing self-portraiture and existing conventions in print photography. Forced feminization imagery in many ways parallels Catholic religious iconography. By using similar formal techniques involving composition, lighting, and the gaze, both establish for their reader a divine and unquestionable order of social hierarchy.”


Sofia has presented these ideas and images at other reputable institutions in the US, including The New Museum and Rutgers University.

The complete presentation continues on for an hour and a half. I have therefore edited it into a more manageable summary of 11 clips, each two minutes or less, highlighting what I believe are the most relevant — and the most brazenly misogynist — arguments. I will summarize the information first, then offer a brief rebuttal.

Introduction

“Río’s recent body of work explores forced feminization porn. Forced Womanhood! resonates with me because it was telling a different story: sissies being locked in chastity devices, husbands forced to transition and stuffed into their wives’ closets. Río’s art directly confronts gender’s coerciveness and it’s non-agentiality, through synthesizing a wide and fascinating history of visual representation. From mid-century femdom magazines and underground comics, to Catholic iconography, and Italian Renaissance art. Río’s work has been exhibited widely, including at Cooper Union, for which she received her BFA in 2017, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the New Museum, and the UNO gallery.”

The presenter is RL Goldberg, a lecturer in Princeton’s English Department, whose alma mater is Harvard University.

Río Sofia begins his presentation by saying, “Bear with me as we expand into the constellation of ideas around forced feminization, forced womanhood, feminism, and porn!” He then begins to discuss forced feminization pornography magazines and points out that there are often advertisements for ‘feminizing’ hormones located in the back pages of such publications. Medical literature regarding gender identity ‘treatments’ uses this same term, ‘feminizing’.

For example, the official website for University of California at San Francisco states:

“The goal of feminizing hormone therapy is the development of female secondary sex characteristics, and suppression/minimization of male secondary sex characteristics. Sexual and gonadal effects include reduction in erectile function, changes in libido, reduced or absent sperm count and ejaculatory fluid, and reduced testicular size. Feminizing hormone therapy also brings about changes in emotional and social functioning.”

There’s a network of people that are also around this. There’s actually a culture around forced feminization and sissy porn.

There are alternative ways of transitioning. When we talk about these kinds of stories, whether they’re fictional or real, some of them go as far as coercing breast implants, or forcing their husbands to wear a chastity device for six months, or putting their husband on hormones.”

Pornography As A Religion


Sofia compares BDSM pornography to classical Catholic religious iconography, specifically what he describes as the deliberate compositional choices which reinforce a sense of hierarchy: “to establish a sense of hierarchy… similar elements are being employed to suggest who’s in power, who’s in control, and who is not.”

Sofia is not wrong in noticing an element of BDSM in Catholic artwork. Traditional Christianity associates suffering, self-sacrifice, and the ability to endure torment with moral fortitude.

Psychologist Sam E. Greenberg, in his 2019 paper “Divine Kink: A Consideration of the Evidence for BDSM as a Spiritual Ritual”, writes:

“Throughout the history of Christianity, the pious practiced asceticism, self-mortification, and martyrdom to prove their spiritual devotion. Self-flagellation, the wearing of sackcloth, and ritual deprivation through fasting or abstaining from pleasures were common. The Roman Catholic church endorsed the religious and spiritual value of pain and suffering, and encouraged its use as mitigation for sinful action.”


He also quotes Andrea Beckmann, a senior lecturer in criminology at the University of Lincoln, UK, from her book The Social Construction of Sexuality and Perversion: Deconstructing Sadomasochism:

“The lack of areas of spirituality that were formerly satisfied by religious rituals left a void in Western consumer societies. The filling of this void might be one of the broader social meanings that the increased motivation to engage in the ‘bodily practice’ of consensual ‘SM’ in contemporary consumer culture signals.”


The idea of BDSM as a religious ritual has merit, particularly when considered as an aspect of consumer culture, as Beckmann suggests. Sadomasochism is the sexualization of power politics; it naturalizes a toxic ‘master-slave’ paradigm, a role that some religions could also be said to fill. The idea of a need for a higher power, or a need to be dominated unquestioningly, can be said to exist in both religious practices as well as BDSM.

In consumer cultures, corporate interest can take on the aspect of the reigning authority. Significantly, BDSM practices require the purchasing of various appurtenances; objects come between human intimacy and as a result, humans themselves become little more than extensions of objects.

Moreover, pornography consumption can act as a unifier among those who may otherwise have differing views or interests. It appeals to men across the political spectrum. Pornography, in many ways, is the propaganda of patriarchy. This can be thought of as the “common erotic project” that Andrea Dworkin refers to in Our Blood when she says:

“The pornography of male sadism almost always contains an idealized, or unreal, view of male fellowship. The utopian male concept which is the premise of male pornography is this — since manhood is established and confirmed over and against the brutalized bodies of women, men need not aggress against each other; in other words, women absorb male aggression so that men are safe from it. Each man, knowing his deep-rooted impulse to savagery, presupposes this same impulse in other men and seeks to protect himself from it. The rituals of male sadism over and against the bodies of women are the means by which male aggression is socialized so that a man can associate with other men without the imminent danger of male aggression against his own person. The common erotic project of destroying women makes it possible for men to unite into a brotherhood; this project is the only firm and trustworthy groundwork for cooperation among males and all male bonding is based on it.”

Sofia next plays an audio clip from a 2010 talk given by Nina Arsenault, a Canadian trans-identified male, platformed by conference organizer Ideacity. Arsenault is introduced at the conference as a “performer of femininity” who has “retained her penis.”

Upon sitting, Arsenault immediately spreads his legs open wide, which he explains is because “when I sit like this, I feel the most penetrative, and I want to penetrate you… your mind.”



Arsenault has had 60 cosmetic surgery procedures over the course of 8 years. He has written two autobiographical plays titled, The Silicone Diaries wherein he played Barbie. “In night life I impersonate Jessica Rabbit,” Arsenault says, “and I’ve also been hired to represent Barbie at her official birthday party that Mattel threw at the opening night of Toronto fashion week.”

Half-way through his presentation, Arsenault lashes out at feminists who criticize the objectification of women and angrily speaks of the “rejection that women should have plastic surgery, believe in beauty,” and the idea that “we should all stop objectifying women,” views that he clearly disagrees with. “The democratization of social networking sites has been invaluable for me to disseminate my ideas,” says Arsenault, who goes on to state:

“I started objectifying my body at a very young age, probably about 3 or 4 years old, because I knew that I had the spirit of a young girl inside me, but the body of a boy… I create art from obsession. When I make art I… think of imagery, it’s in my mind, and then I check in with what’s happening inside my body.” (Here Arsenault looks down at his lap). “My body will respond to the thoughts with sensation. It’s very exciting… what’s happening inside my genitals… and inside my anal sphincter. The images that arouse in me the greatest sensation, those are the things that I create art from. My art is not created from a place where I’m trying to ease the suffering of other women.”

In a way, feminists should be grateful to Arsenault for his honesty. The assertion that women do not exist in bodies reduces women to sexualized fantasies, while allowing men to claim ownership of both a ‘female mind’ and a ‘female body’: divide and conquer. Objectification of women and girls is a pillar of gender identity ideology, though few males who appropriate womanhood are quite as willing to say the quiet part aloud as Arsenault.


Sadomasochism


“You’ve got other really fun things, like this idea of disempowerment. Here you’ve got the castration — sorry, I mean the beheading of Holofernes — and then on the right, you’ve got the same thing,” Sofia says, alluding to a pornographic image of two males engaging in a sex act as a woman ‘forces’ one of the men into what would be the submissive female role in heterosexual BDSM practices: bound, with a slave collar, being sexually abused. Sofia does not elaborate on why he believes these two images portray “the same thing”. Presumably he is attempting to establish a correlation between a man being violated as a woman and death; that the loss of the masculine role — castration — is metaphorically equivalent to being killed. Framed this way, the common euphemisms of transgender activism can possibly be traced back to BDSM practices and the narrative that has been constructed around fetishes.

For instance, so-called dead naming (referring to a trans-identified person by their birth name) could also be considered as a reference to ego death, or the complete loss of subjective self-identity. This framework could assist in explaining why it is that trans activists insist that words are literal violence, where the act of naming men as men, for example, deconstructs their illusory, projected self.

In turn, it is possible that linguistic ‘transphobia’ can elicit a similar thrill as the sort induced by being humiliated, even when the humiliation is not a taunt, but the truth. In this sense, the public is unwittingly being duped into participating in BDSM, either as the dominant — those who criticize gender ideology — or submissive — trans activists themselves. Crucially, material reality, especially women’s reality, is being used as the vehicle for this rouse.

When one considers that BDSM practices involved in forced feminization revolve around humiliation as a key point of arousal, this also could implicate an element of sexual pleasure involved for some in being considered to be subjugated or oppressed — that the male claim to a female identity is, in itself, a fetishization of women’s systemic subordination.


The Eroticization of Castration


“Here we’ve got the very traditional sissy porn Lolita dress that my friend Torrey Peters lent me… who wrote an amazing book called The Masker which I recommend for everyone on this chat.”



A brief explanation of Torrey Peters and why this matters:

Torrey Peters, a trans-identified male, is a published American author who has found a market for books of written pornography with loosely developed plots. The Masker follows participants in a masking convention, where men don silicone body suits and face masks in order to resemble women and subsequently engage in sexual activity with each other. Peters’ portrays this fetish lifestyle as a pathway towards a decision to permanently alter one’s body through breast implants and hormones. In March 2021, Peters was long-listed for the UK Women’s Prize in fiction for his recent publication, Destransition, Baby, which I have written about here. Peters is increasingly being promoted by US media, and his ex, Harron Walker, also a trans-identified male, is employed by the women’s magazine W and has written for ‘feminist’ outlet Jezebel, having formerly written for the notoriously misogynist platform Vice, as well as Out magazine.



Sofia is also clearly a great admirer of American academic Andrea Long Chu, who has been published in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy (2018) and Differences, a Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies (2019). Chu, a trans-identified male, wrote Females: A Concern, which was published in 2019 by Verso Press, and contains remarkable statements of misogyny as though they were undisputed facts.



Here Sofia quotes an essay, Did Sissy Porn Make Me Trans, wherein Chu argues that womanhood can be defined as a state of powerlessness. Chu presented this essay as a speech at a number of reputable universities in the US, including Columbia University, Vassar College, UCLA, and UC Berkeley.



“Castration anxiety is easily mistaken for the fear that one will be castrated. In fact, it is the fear that one, being castrated, will like it. The threat, in other words, is not that you will lose power (this is basically inevitable, and not much worth worrying about), but that you won’t actually want power, after all. Too often, we imagine powerlessness as the suppression of desire by some external force (maybe someone else’s desire), and we forget that desire, in itself, is often, if not always, an experience of powerlessness. Most desire is nonconsensual, most desires aren’t desired.”
— Andrea Long Chu, Did Sissy Porn Make Me Trans?



The idea that women are castrated males is not new, nor is it particularly insightful in regards to the reality of women’s lives. Much has been said and written about this in psychoanalysis and in feminist texts. It should be concerning to anyone, men as well as women, that this idea is resurfacing in gender ideology — especially when we consider that children are quite literally being castrated in the service of this belief, both by means of powerful drugs euphemistically referred to as “puberty blockers,” as well as genital mutilation surgeries.

The story of David Reimer is a tragic example of this. In 1966, Reimer, whose circumcision was botched as an infant, was experimented on by psychologist John Money, who decided it would be better to raise Reimer as a girl. Money believed that sex was socially constructed, a belief also promoted by current trans activists. Reimer’s case represents one of the earliest modern examples of what is called ‘sex reassignment surgery’, and John Money forced David to imitate sex acts with his brother Brian, instructing David to play the submissive, or ‘female’ role. Money justified these criminal acts by claiming that “childhood ‘sexual rehearsal play’” was important for a “healthy adult gender identity” (As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, John Colapinto). The sexual abuses inflicted on the twins by Money caused them such severe distress that both Brian and David committed suicide.

“There’s something that Andrea Long Chu writes a lot about… how we don’t get to choose what we desire, so there can be so much discomfort in engaging with things that we desire, whether that be in porn or otherwise. What you desire is what you are.”

This is a pseudo-intellectual expression of the sentiment that “boys will be boys,” or that men are not accountable for their desires or actions. It’s a sentiment often used to rationalize predatory sexual behavior, one that gets trotted out to blame women who survive sexual abuse, and used in courts of law to avoid punishing men for sexual violence.

“I think a lot about coercion. If you look at a lot of sissy porn, a lot of it focuses around worshipping of the cock… it’s seen as the ultimate form of power. How the humiliation works is in talking about the size of a person’s cock, how small it is. The fantasy is about cis women getting to expose and subject men to the trappings of femininity as a form of punishment, humiliation, and dehumanization. I think talking about this within the world of feminism… is really exciting to think about.”

The fantasy is about men being dehumanized through femininity. This explicitly demonstrates that femininity — as in, the socially constructed sex stereotypes imposed on women by force, by men — are designed to dehumanize women and girls. This is worth bearing in mind in any discussion of gender identity ideology. Harmful beauty products, purchased in the form of plastic surgery, breast implants, high heels, and excessive makeup are frequently purported to be expressions of selfhood.

Additionally, Sofia mentions the humiliation of discussing relative size of a man’s genitalia. This is a recurring theme in forced feminization pornography. Statements are made in favor of ‘forcibly’ transitioning a man into a ‘woman’ due to the assumed inadequacy of his manhood. This can easily be juxtaposed with the previously stated idea that women are merely castrated, or failed, men.

It is frightening how a lack of consent is doted upon as an intellectual exercise by all parties involved in the presentation, and by academics who share this view within queer theory, including the aforementioned Andrea Long Chu. The expressed desire for a lack of “agentiality”, a lack of consent, eroticizes aspects of sexual abuse and rape.

“In Andrea Long Chu’s essay, she’s saying that sissy porn can’t be queer because it’s about the heterosexual dynamic. My argument is that I don’t think she’s looking at forced womanhood and is looking at other ways that forced feminization is being depicted that don’t revolve around the cis cock being the infallible phallus, the unquestionable source of power.”

Forced feminization pornography often eroticizes impotence through the use of contraptions called “chastity cages,” intended to prevent erections. Hormones are another avenue for inducing impotence; the consumption of estrogen by males can cause erectile dysfunction. However, it often still revolves around male genitalia, including the prostate orgasm. Notice that Sofia uses a qualifier when he says, “the cis cock”. Make no mistake, forced feminization pornography is just another iteration of the eroticization of male power in that it centers the male ego and desires, while reinforcing the reductive male projection of women as sex objects.

RL: “In her [Andrea Long Chu’s] essay on sissy porn — beyond the heterosexual framing — the way she puts it is to be trans is to be fucked, and to be fucked is not good in her scheme. I don’t see that as quite the same narrative in your work, but humiliation and punishment seem to be operating certainly in some way in both texts.”

Sofia becomes frustrated, tosses aside the pornography magazine he had been admiringly referencing throughout, and shifts the focus away from critiques of societal themes by making himself the subject.

RS: “[By] transitioning, I knew I was entering a more marginalized, more disempowered role in the world. There is also a desire inherent to that.”

Sofia was given a platform by one of the most prestigious universities in the world to show pornography of himself and to espouse ideas that mock half the population — women — by associating women’s existence with acts of degradation and dehumanization for his own sexual arousal.

RS: “Gender is coercive… but there is a lot of control that I’m exercising.”

RL: “I do love in the structures of these photos how much it is about control, especially… the ones with genital torture.”

RS: “This is when I was getting more into the castration stuff, the desire around disempowerment… I’m thinking about divine ecstasy, the ecstasy that one can experience while in a lot of pain.”

Sofia plays a video of himself taking on two roles (which he compares to a painting by Frida Kahlo, The Two Fridas, which depicts her agony following her divorce, in a stunning example of appropriation of female suffering), wherein he is being sexually tormented by his ‘other’ female-coded self. He is naked and bound, with a rope around his genitals, in a chair which has had its legs sawed down, forcing him to hold himself up on his toes to avoid castration. He presented this scene publicly, thereby being allowed to display sexual exhibitionism, which is a crime, and to be applauded for doing so.

Once again, RL Goldberg returns to the topic of religion. This subject is used as a crutch throughout the presentation to lend validity and authority to what is explicitly the promotion of a BDSM lifestyle as a form of ‘gender identity’, but also speaks to the religious nature of gender ideology. Being unable to rely on science — indeed, being actively hostile towards science — gender ideology relies on the idea of a gendered soul, an innate identity, and reifies the power dynamics deliberately constructed within sex role stereotypes to dehumanize women.

RS: “I think about divine, unquestionable order. The ‘cis woman’, in the context of forced womanhood, is the most empowered. The trans woman can only replicate femininity, and can only at best copy what a ‘cis woman’ inherently is.”

Men devise the projected notions of femininity, impose them upon women by coercion, sometimes by force, then assert that women are inherently male projections. This consequently streamlines the male appropriation of the female: by first reducing her to a set of ideas, then claiming that the reduction of women is the truest definition of women, men can lay claim to every aspect of the female and purport to possess her entirely, both physically and metaphysically.

“Cis theory of gender denies the lived experiences of millions of women who despise the social role 'woman,' instead framing non-trans women's gender identity as a privilege. The theory is blind to how these seemingly benign 'gender identities' operate as a hierarchy of social roles and interactions whose end game is the unequal distribution of power between male and female humans. This essentialist, ahistorical assessment of gender identity short-circuits women's ability to recognize themselves as oppressed by gender-based roles. It denies us use of the language and concepts necessary to describe women's specific exploitation as women.”
— Elizabeth Hungerford
Female Erasure, Reverse Sexism, and the Cis Theory of Privilege



RL: “Your project recalls for me work that was being done in the 60’s.” [holds up crossdressing erotica]

RS: “The earliest I’ve found of forced feminization stuff is … as early as the 1920’s.”

Sofia explains a database he is compiling of trans-identified male artists, and mentions Cecilia Gentili by name. Gentili is a trans activist in New York state who is advocating for the full decriminalization of the sex industry and serves as a lead chair for DecrimNY. As I explained previously in a presentation for the Women’s Human Rights Campaign, trans-identified males frequently promote the sex trafficking industry because being sex trafficked as a woman is the ultimate form of validation: they can be treated ‘as a woman’, appropriate women’s subordination, and earn money towards plastic surgeries and ‘feminizing’ hormones.

RS: “When I showed this work, I was preparing for quite a bit of backlash. Right around the corner [from the exhibition] is the [university] president’s office. All day, people are moving in and out of this exhibition space [including] administrators and board members.
There was this one time that the admissions staff had come in with a group of parents of prospective students [at Cooper Union]. They came in to show the work, and the president of the school told [students] that they had to come in and see this show.”

Río Sofia explains that the president of Cooper Union College told students to attend the exhibition because it demonstrated how ‘safe’ students felt at the university.

RS: “That really pissed me off! I was like, damn, did they just turn this into an empowerment narrative? I got really upset and I was like, how far can I push this? The last day of the exhibition, I got fully naked, and was just in those lucite-looking heels, completely naked in those heels, and I stood in the doorway of the president’s office.”

Bear in mind that at the time of this exhibition, the president of Cooper Union College was a woman, and presumably he is referring to Laura Sparks.

RS: “I wanted to see the pushback, because what it was doing was really destabilizing my senses. If I don’t have the pushback, what am I making? So much of my argument around trying to fight back against the empowerment narrative, I needed that thing to use as a foil to push back against.
So I’m standing in the doorway, I’m naked, feeling very obstinate and waiting for someone to try me. Then this administrator comes out, and she looks at me, and [says], ‘Can I take a picture with you?’”

This example illustrates how men who promote gender identity ideology are intentionally violating women’s boundaries in a blatant power play aimed at using women’s expressions of self-defense as evidence that they are more oppressed than the women they appropriate. It neatly summarizes the tactics of the transgender movement as a whole: aggrandizing by means of antagonizing. It also supports the observation previously stated that the public is being forced to participate in a BDSM fetish — which ceases to be thrilling when it does not cause distress, especially to women. Therefore, gender ideology can be understood as encouraging the mental (and often physical and sexual) abuse of women on a massive scale. It depends on the suffering of women for its existence: in theory, in practice, and in its activism.