• Sui Yao

How to Edit Lesbian Porn


When Shanghai native Sui Yao decided to try her hand at editing, she never imagined her first job would be a lesbian porn film shot in China by renowned director Fan Popo. Can a self-identified straight woman cut it with queer sex?

I’m by no means a professional film editor. The first time I tried it was in 2015, cutting a 7-minute short shot with a group of friends for a competition. Against all odds, I won the Best Editing prize. I started asking around after projects, wanting to put my new-found skills to use. In Summer 2016, I was handed my first official editing job. Fan Popo, the ‘it’ queer filmmaker based in Beijing had asked me to cut his new film – a lesbian porn movie shot in China. I had always been vocal about women’s sexual liberation, so I was excited by the opportunity. But I spent my first afternoon with the footage in a daze. Watching the material I felt dizzy. Everything seemed TOO real. I knew I wasn't editing some studio production with lights, filters and “sexy babes”, or the usual woman-on-woman action marketed to straight men, but it still shook me. The exposed scars on a leg, the omnipresence of hair, the flawed breasts, and the slightly awkward exchange of desire stared at me with stark nakedness. It was, in all honesty, far from what I had imagined. I was in shock. This was the first time I had ever seen other women masturbate, or seen two women fuck. I think I was experiencing ‘cunt-phobia’. I was baffled by how difficult it was for me, a woman, to watch and process authentic female bodies in action. My identification as a feminist had no effect on my honest reaction to what I saw. Real human bodies and unpretentious libido are not immediately pleasing to the eyes. We have grown accustomed to a culture in which images of nudity are often affected and fake. In real life, sex is grittier, more hormonal and more about the everyday. It has nothing to do with being pretty.

Still from The Hutong Vibe

The plot of the film was rather abstract, and a lot of the more narrative elements were conveyed within the actors sexuality and the way they were going at it. I was at no point sure if I was right about anything I was doing. I had just left my job in advertising, and was planning a long summer vacation, so decided to take the footage with me and work on it along the way. The buzzing of sex toys in the film became the rhythm my heart beat to on that trip; from my Casablanca-bound night flight to a trek through the Sahara; from glittering Paris to my Shanghai homecoming. I was filled with self-doubt. I didn’t really know how lesbians had sex: was I even cutting everything in the right order? The lust these women felt for each other was the through line, and how I juxtaposed scenes of intimacy with scenes of masturbation, for example, would affect the pace and tonality of the whole film. But I finished the first draft and anxiously handed it over to the director. When I mention the project to friends, many of them smirk and ask me if it was a “pleasurable” experience. Looking back, I was devastated that I had been so blind-sided by preoccupation and hadn’t even been able to look at the screen straight. The editing process was provocative, but not in a “pleasurable” kind of way. Instead, it made me think and reflect. The role that women play in sex has long been manipulated by misogynist male viewpoints. Ubiquitous misrepresentations in media have warped our perception of what it means to have sex as a woman. A woman’s need for enjoyment and self-expression in sex is often times ignored or misinterpreted.

Still from The Hutong Vibe

Porn which captures real-life sexual experiences between real sex partners has a presence in the West. Chinese women also have real sexual needs, and it is imperative that we can look at our own sexuality without bias, and be able to enjoy it on our own terms. In the interview section of the film, the two main actors expressed the intention behind their participation. They felt that the lesbian porn they had watched growing up was designed for men. It made them dislike their own bodies and it weakened their sense of identity. To produce a real document of lesbian sex without misguidance was their hope in being part of the project. Having watched the playback time and time again, my own discomfort with the material has vanished. I no longer pay attention to unpolished physical details. Instead, I am able to see the women’s authentic joy, and how they revel in the raw and unaffected pleasure of sex. No feigning perfection, no deliberate seduction. Sex is the most ordinary and extraordinary thing.

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CINEMQ is a queer short film screening + party series. It is run by a group of queers with too much on their mind to sit still for long. We’re publishing articles on queer cinema and screen culture every week. Want to contribute? Message our account.

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