Jiz Lee, photographed by Shilo McCabe
On this episode of Gender Heroes, we’re interviewing Jiz Lee! Lee is a genderqueer porn star who strives to educate people about their sexuality and creates stunning images of androgynous beauty. They are the founder of Karma Pervs (NSFW), a “philanthropic porn experiment” that raises money for a different charity each month. Lee has also modeled for Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, recreating such characters as Spider Jerusalem and a pro-sex worker take on Jack the Ripper.
Genderfork: How would you describe your gender identity?
Jiz Lee: Genderqueer! In general, I prefer neutrality in my presentation (including the neutral pronouns “they/them”). My father describes my expression as gender-neutral and I would agree with him on this. However, I also feel that my gender is fluid and can sometimes be expressed through extravagance. The times when I am most aware of my gender is when it is queered. Furthermore, because I am a performer, there are multiple levels to my gender expression. In fact I am sometimes more genderqueer in the adult work that I do, whereas my day-to-day life is more causal and gender-neutral.
Genderfork: Did you “always know” your gender or was it a process?
Jiz Lee: I don’t think I can ever know my gender. I think it’s a process that is either continuously performed (usually subconsciously) or re-presented through media element, such as documented images, video, or written stories. I think that “knowing my gender” or being “aware” of my gender is a process that sometimes correlates to how I identify and sometimes strikes discordance. “I” may know that I am genderqueer; however, how I am perceived by others influences my gender performance whether I want it to or not.
Genderfork: Have you ever felt pressure to change your gender presentation? How did you deal with it?
Jiz Lee: Feeling pressure to be more cisgender is something that happens daily. In terms of the adult work I do, I see this pressure in the way performers are portrayed. For example, mainstream media likes to accentuate cisgender behavior and appearance. Indie media can be somewhat more lenient, although it is also subject to such pressures — or pressures to play up queer signifiers within gender. Here the differences in gender and sexuality bounce off notions of what it means to “look” [like] a sexuality.
As a performer it’s up to me to decide how far I allow any pressure to influence my decisions, and I think this is what most defines my work. For example, one very common cultural gender signifier is body hair. I enjoy the flexibility of doing what I like with my hair, whether it’s hair on the face, chest, crotch, armpits, legs, etc… It can be shaved, waxed, lasered, trimmed, sculpted, dyed, bleached, natural, etc… Regardless of what I decide to do with my hair, what matters to me is that the choice is my own to make, and that the reasons I make this choice are not prescribed by external pressures related to ideal beauty standards, especially if they involve shame. It’s important to me that if my hair is accentuated, even for the play of it being “dirty” or “extreme” that I own the pleasure of that enactment. That’s where some porn can be empowering while another can be objectifying. The difference is context.
Genderfork: How does your work challenge people’s views on gender? What kind of responses have you had?
Jiz Lee: My work challenges people’s views on gender because I bring my sexuality genuinely to the shoot. I feel confident in my body and its presentation, and performing in adult work has actually helped me to explore and accept my body. For example, when I was younger I identified as transgender, and, though I was sexually confident, I was hesitant in how my body might be displayed or read by others when it was naked because of the feminine aspects. However, my belief that our gender is not solely based on how we appear lead me to overcome this negative body image.
I don’t think a trans body necessarily HAS to be one that involves hormones, surgery, or positioning (aka binding/padded bras, etc). Bodies certainly CAN, of course. However, ultimately it’s how the person feels about their body and how they choose to express it. So for me, allowing my body to be as it was felt like the best way I could portray my gender.
The responses I have [had] vary. I have received responses from genderqueer, trans, fluid, and variant people who are extremely appreciative and supportive of my work. It validates their own experiences and desires, and that in turn informs my own exploration in pornography. On the other hand, I also receive responses from fans and peers who do not read me as androgynous or gender queer [and] who see me as cisgender. It happens several times a day, from, “Hey Girl!” or “You’re the most beautiful woman!” or “Do you do scenes with men?” People see me as they will, often conflating my perceived sex with assumed gender and sexuality. I don’t believe they do this to insult or offend me; they don’t know what genderqueer means, or they don’t know that I identify as such. They may not know about my “they/them” preferred pronouns, or if they do, they may not understand it. I’m a patient person, and [I will] softly inform them of my own preferred expression, which usually helps them better understand gender. These kinds of interactions are why I blog (NSFW) and have accounts on social networks (NSFW). If I don’t affirm my gender and sexual orientation, I can’t expect that others will do it for me.
Genderfork: And… what are you thinking about gender right now?
Jiz Lee: Sometimes I feel very heavy from gender discrimination and how it extends to human rights violations. When news of gay teen suicides sparked the nation, we read about them bullied by peers for being effeminate, sissies, [or] for not fitting what society says is masculine. When we often see or experience hatred many times insecurity around gender plays a part of it, whether it’s masculinity, femininity or ambiguity. I try to keep in mind that gender is something we can USE, it’s a part of us. It’s there in how we talk, type, walk, work, and even breathe. It’s complex, and though struggles around gender can be overwhelming, it’s not gender itself that we have to fight against, but simply the limitations of what it can be. Gender is something we can embrace and celebrate. And the more we celebrate and share — thank you Genderfork! — our gender as a valid and loved part of who we are, the more we allow others to do the same.