Porn Comics, Slurs, and Identity: Musings on Erotic Artwork

There’s a well-known divide in the business of erotic entertainment: many of those who consume and pay for it live in first-world countries. Artists and entertainers themselves are instead often from developing nations, and many of them happen to be queer, trans, and intersex people who are often unable to find ordinary kinds of work in their home countries. It’s not uncommon for artists (I know a few here in South Africa myself) to support  (as best they can) not just themselves but also partners and dependent family members via their art.

Commercial art being what it is, content is largely informed and shaped by the tastes of the market (i.e., those first-world consumers I mentioned above). Artists, though, still manage to produce work that reflects their identity, albeit in an eroticized context. For marketing they often turn to tags that some consider problematic, like “trap” or “futanari”, incentivized to draw the attention of potential customers who use these terms as search terms.

The artists in question may also use certain terms to distinguish their artwork from artwork of characters who are in the process of transitioning or are actually genderqueer. Using terminology more familiar to porn sites, whether prejudicially charged or not, helps to distinguish erotic art as existing for the purpose of titillation rather than something that thoughtfully and accurately deals with gender identity or sexuality. 

It’s important to note that “futanari” and “trap” artwork is not designed to depict characters who have transitioned or are in the process of transitioning. This artwork instead depicts characters with genitalia that change via magical means or shifts between different shapes, sizes and forms. An erotic artist might depict a character who shifts from effeminate male to female to female with a penis to male with a vagina, all within an erotic context. But this character is not depicted as transitioning or biologically intersex. Therefore, would it be appropriate to use the term “transgender” as a tag instead of an equivalent porn term?

Now here comes the interesting part. A lot of such “porn words” and slurs are undeniably problematic if applied in a real life context. Using the term “trap” for a transman, transwoman, or genderfluid individual can certainly be seen as fetishizing and dehumanizing, especially given its history in justifying and motivating violence against trans people and sex workers. But we also have to consider that the meanings of words differ according to context. For example, the term “colored” is a slur in America and comes with many horrific historical associations. In South Africa, it’s a neutral term describing a mixed-race ethnic group group, specifically Cape Coloureds, and many people in the southwestern part of the country proudly identify as Coloured. Likewise, in certain subsets of South African gay culture, the term trap is used to self-identify by effeminate gay males who identify as male and use male pronouns while presenting as very feminine. It takes courage to be effeminate and to identify as such in certain parts of SA where “corrective” rapes of femme men and masculine women are sadly frequent.

Slurs aren’t reclaimed overnight, and for some people, maybe, some of them never can be. But it’s a hurtful and a counterproductive thing when queer artists from the third world are attacked (invariably by first-world do-gooders) and labelled as transphobic or homophobic—especially when the non-western artists earn their living through erotic artwork precisely due to such prejudice. In our fervor to educate, we must not attack other members of our LGBTQ+ family who also experience persecution.

LJ Phillips
About LJ Phillips (82 Articles)
LJ Phillips is an ex-bodyguard and professional artist who has had three solo exhibitions. He has also published numerous articles and pieces of short fiction. His interests include Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, over-analyzing pop culture and staring into the abyss. Currently he lives in SA and spends his free time working on his various creator-owned comics.

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