Birds & Bullwhips: The Intellectual Pornographer Sovereign Syre

By Vanessa Butler


<p>We talk with Sovereign Syre about life, love and porn. <br></p>

Due to a series of unforeseen circumstances, the then–fetish model Sovereign Syre—now sex siren, silver-tongued brunette, the girl who by the end of this piece will play the role of both antagonist and protagonist in your porny daydreams—found herself at a fundraiser in L.A. surrounded by sex workers. “There I was in L.A. surrounded by all of these porn people. It was my first exposure to them as human beings. And I realized, oh, this is okay. This is kind of cool. After a while, someone turned me onto [Nica] Noelle’s stuff. At that point I was used to looking at porn as really hardcore kind of gonzo stuff. I didn’t know people were making this kind of thoughtful porn.”

The transition from fetish model to lesbian porn star was a given and seemed like a natural move for Syre. “My first step into it wasn’t because I was interested in doing lesbian erotica; it was just the first step you take when you start doing porn. I was helped by the fact that I have a long-term girlfriend in real life and I identify primarily as a lesbian in my private life, so I know that that had something to do with it, but for me it was like the baby step of porn. I’m really into the eroticism of female desire, whereas before it was easy to have this male gaze where you’re sort of into what males are into because they are the only people that are making products. Desire is like anything else; it’s cultivated.”

Cultivating desire is something that Syre is good at, too. In collaboration with photographer Joshua Darling and others, Syre has been working on a very well received project entitled Darling House, an online “candy store of smart, sexy treats for the discerning Hedonist.”

“When people ask me what Darling House is, I say, ‘What we’re really doing is we’re basically grooming an audience for a product that we’re going to give them in the future.’ And I think that the thing with porn is that there are a full range of desires within every person, but whatever gets cultivated the most is what becomes the most sophisticated and grows the most complex.”

After shooting a couple of films, Syre began to see patterns. “Once I was in it, I began to see things I wanted to see or do differently. Now when I try to think about doing boy/girl it’s hard for me to think of stories I think are hot. But when you say you want me doing girl/girl, I can think of a ton of stories that I think are really arousing. I think that because female pleasure is front and center of lesbian erotica, you can’t get away from it. A lot of porn is geared towards men and involves the male gaze, but [just because] that part is the part of our desire that grows and evolves to become the most sophisticated doesn’t mean that the other ones aren’t there. So for me girl/girl is cultivating this other element of desire that is dealing more with the female gaze.” 

The female gaze, feminist porn and thoughtful porn have become somewhat hot topics recently, especially with porn creator Cindy Gallop and Slow Sex Writer Nicole Daedone speaking out about real-world sex and female orgasms in their respective TED Talks and popping up on mainstream news sites and even magazines.

“A lot of the people who are the biggest advocates for feminist porn are so niche that they’re not relatable to the general audience. [Director] Dana Vespoli is, though, and she’s the first to say, ‘I’m a feminist and I have a feminist vision and this stuff is feminist porn because I’m a woman and I’m making it, so the very nature is feminist because it’s what turns me on.’ She owns her own product so no one is telling her what to do. Her stuff is selling really well and it’s really intense. She’s doing features which are about relationships but they’re not romantic. These movies are proving to be really popular. Someone once said in an interview that the thing with Dana is that women have something really interesting [to say] about sex and the problem is that we haven’t really been giving them a voice. People have started to think, ‘Oh yeah, women can say something aside from couples romance touchy shit.’ And that kind of film can be something besides hardcore hairy-armpit-feminist queer films. Not that there is anything wrong with that product, I personally enjoy making that kind of stuff, but [the perception is that] you either have to be one or the other. Are you Tristan Taormino or are you Nica Noelle? There’s no in between, there’s not a lot of wiggle room. As a performer when I started doing lesbian anal scenes, the reception was really mixed because in the girl/girl fandom they have these really prescribed ideas. It’s actually more sexist than regular porn in a way, which is kind of counterintuitive. If you’ve ever done boy/girl you’re not innocent anymore; it’s a betrayal. You must be getting exploited, or if you do end up doing boy/girl it’s because you were never really into girls and the only reason why you weren’t doing boy/girl before is because you have a controlling boyfriend…All of these really sexist things come up and there’s never any room for the idea that you had actual agency in anything that you were doing. Then there are those that want to define your sexuality. Like if you do boy/girl, the whole time you weren’t doing it, you were just gay for pay. Who are you to tell me about my sexuality?”

Enter her directorial debut, Lesbian Surrender.

“The first thing you should know is that one of the cardinal rules of girl/girl is that they’re in a world where men don’t exist. But in my film, every character in the movie is involved with a man in some way. I feel that I can’t speak about women and pretend men don’t exist. A lot of times men are a major source of strife and redemption in a woman’s life. I wanted to create scenarios that reflect real life. There are no men in the movie, but they’re always part of the backdrop that creates the dramas in which these fantasies play out. I have one character that’s a gay-to-straight counselor for a church but she’s also the kept woman of a minister. She’s a repressed lesbian, but she feels that she’s trapped in this relationship with a guy that’s taking care of her financially. That’s the story with a lot of the tension within female sexuality with a strong male presence. For me, fantasy has so much to do with repression and perfectionism, the kinds of really mundane things that we have within us all the time. So here we have a character where this girl comes over and wants to be turned straight and she just really starts harassing this woman who is harboring all of these secrets. I tried to create these scenarios that are a lot more emotionally involved because that’s what I wasn’t seeing a lot of. There’s a lot of really cheesy setups, which is fine, I wouldn’t want to begrudge any company that’s producing it because obviously it’s selling the product and I’m not going to question that, but I thought that if I had a chance to write something that was a little more complex, I was going to do that. And I did. There’s a growing audience of people that don’t mind thinking a little bit when they’re jacking off. There’s a growing audience for something that is a little more thoughtful, which is what I aimed to create.”



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