November 9, 2015
Centurian Publishing President and Editor of Transformation Magazine, Enslaved Sissies and Maids and Forced Womanhood, Hanna Rodgers, is demanding, yet someone I find easy to get along with. Upon discovering my blogs, she approached me last year about adding me to her team of contributing writers, For a blogger who makes a modest living in affiliate marketing, with piles of unpublished writing, exposure can be a life-changing opportunity. I knew little about Hanna as a person, but I had a long history with Centurian Publishing. Before my transition began, there was no Internet and I would frequently purchase copies of Transformation from the late owner of Lee’s Mardi Gras in the Meat District of New York City. My transgender identity as a young adult was developing when Transformation Magazine was one of my few resources to learn more about people like me.
Centurian Publishing was founded by Jeri Lee in the late 60’s in Orange County California. He owned and managed a variety of businesses but Centurian became his principle focus once selling sex toys, catalogs and magazines became the most profitable sources of income for him. Lee moved his business to Reno, Nevada claiming alleged police harassment. Although this trailblazer for the transgender community no longer owns Centurian Publishing, he still writes a serial column, “The Incredible Life of Jeri Lee.” I find reading his work bittersweet as it takes me back to the beginnings of a life of ups and downs which only a small percentage of the world population can identify with. Lee doesn’t know it, but he was a mentor to me through print when I didn’t have one in real life.
Hanna Rodgers and her family purchased Centurian Publishing and its affiliated production and distribution of fetish gear in 2011 from Jeri Lee. As a BDSM aficionado, that’s music to my ears. One of my biggest dreams was to have my interviews and fiction available at major international newsstands around the world. Rodgers is the publisher who made it happen. I’m a long-time fan of the world renowned photographer/director Suze and her daughter Holly, who anchor Suze Randall Productions together. I didn’t find it shocking that members of the Rodgers family are Centurian Publishing shareholders. Althea Flynt, the fourth wife of Larry Flynt, was the co-publisher of Flynt’s print magazine, Hustler. I knew this as a teen when they were two of my biggest role models. But recently it dawned on me that most people might find that a bit odd, or at least interesting, that sometimes families own and operate provocative businesses. This is the subject that my conversation with Hanna Rodgers begins with and I hope you’ll enjoy our interview:
Caramel: Are people often shocked and surprised when they find out what you do for a living and that Centurian Publishing and the fetish line were acquired as a family business?
Hanna: Surprisingly no, not many people seem shocked to learn either thing. I think that anyone who knows me even the slightest knows that this type of business fits well with my personality and natural curiosity about life. They may even assume that I participate in the lifestyle, but my actual experiences are next to none. I hope to expand my horizons a little bit though, so I can get a better sense of what drives and motivates my customers, and possibly have a sissy clean my house on a regular basis. *wink* When I mention that Centurian is family owned or introduce my mom to people at the TEA’s or DomCon they are amazed…and usually a little jealous that I am able to hang out with her at events like that. They think it’s great that my whole family is so open-minded and supportive; we make a lot of friends when we are out together. I remember the first time I met TS Foxxy; it was a few years ago at a Transgender Erotica Awards ceremony and I was kind of nervous because I really admired her as a model and performer. Foxxy is one of the nicest girls in the world and she is very sweet and friendly with everyone, but she really got excited when she met my mom and saw how much family backing I had in my career choice.
Caramel: I’m running through my contacts for available sissies in the Reno, Nevada area. I’m joking, but if we were serious, that could be arranged. I’ve seen online that Foxxy gets a lot of family support as well and that’s truly wonderful. About the product side of your business, Centurian’s mail-order system allows anonymity for those interested dressing and appearing as the opposite sex with wigs, makeup, women’s clothing fitted to male body-shape, large-size women’s shoes, and how-to guides for feminization. Many of your customers are heterosexual single and married men who crossdress occasionally to frequently. Some are bisexual, others are gay and some are transgender. Is there any way to gauge the primary sexuality of your customer base, or gender of your biggest customers?
Hanna: Our customers are an incredibly diverse group of people, and they tend to be very secretive about their private lives, so we don’t really have any “formal” statistics on their demographics. But in general I believe they are primarily cis males interested in fetish & bondage, crossdressers, or male to female transsexuals who are interested in everything we do. I would venture to say that most are probably single; our best-selling products are primarily for solo play or entertainment and many of the letters we receive ask about how to meet other kinksters, Mistresses, or even a wife. Pinning down the sexual orientation of our customers is pretty tricky due to the overall nature of fetish enthusiasts because I believe it is quite flexible within the kink lifestyle. People enjoy experimentation and roleplaying because it’s a safe space, and I don’t even feel it’s necessary to categorize them into strict boxes of one orientation or another. We have experimented with new DVD genres recently and found quite a bit of interest in gay BDSM titles, which was surprising since we have historically only carried straight fetish/BDSM or transsexual titles.
Caramel: It’s funny how your tastes can change and develop according to what you’re exposed to. I didn’t think I was into gay BDSM until about a year ago when I saw one particular DVD that had me hooked. Speaking of BDSM, Enslaved Sissies and Maids and Forced Womanhood are two of three magazines published by Centurian Publishing. For many dominants, a popular activity is sissification, or “sissy maid” training. In a typical scenario, a Dom(me) will have a male dressed in an often sexy and frilly maid uniform and if he’s a novice at it, assistance might be provided. Mundane household tasks that a real maid would perform, as well as degrading tasks that invoke erotic humiliation are introduced. They might instruct the sissy maid to perform sexual acts on them and sometimes on others. A sissy might entirely identify as a heterosexual and only desire to be dominated by a woman, while other sissies might be bisexual pansexual or homosexual and desire to be dominated by a man. And in forced feminization gender-play, a heterosexual (or bi-curious) sissy might have the desire to be forced by his female partner to engage in sexual acts with a man. Strap-on dildo play is often involved when a cisgender female Domme participates. Corporal punishment and watching videos dedicated to self-hypnosis are also a popular in training. “Sissy” is a term I sometimes get flack for just mentioning. Many believe that sissy fetishist undermine the transgenders. I’m a non-professional Domme with first hand experience as to how much some people hate the term. I fully understand the sensitivity considering the range of antagonistic attitudes and feelings against transsexuality and transsexual or transgender people. That said, it’s not a practice that is going to go away. I’m one of many who enjoy it. Do you ever experience anger from catering to feminization products and erotic literature involving the sissy lifestyle, or just the mere mention of the word?
Hanna: We do seem to be skating on thin ice sometimes when it comes to fetishes which deal with gender experimentation, and I think it is crucial for people like you and I to distinguish between the different aspects of these separate but overlapping communities. I am quite lucky in that I have not experienced any fallout or anger for what we do at Centurian—catering to those people who do explore this aspect of gender role play. I believe part of that is due to the fact that customers of ours are already aware of what we do, they are aware that the magazines are fictionalized fantasies, and that we never assume that transsexuals are sissies, or vice versa for that matter. And if new people do find us, either through online searches or word-of-mouth, it is because of specific terms they are seeking further knowledge about. So they won’t be finding us by accident and then becoming upset at what they find. In some ways it is akin to the terms “shemale” and “tranny” in porn because anyone searching “sissy” probably isn’t looking for transgender support services, rather they are looking for an outlet to express themselves in specific ways and that is the term they know. What is interesting to me is that this outlet actually has helped some people discover that they are indeed transgender and not just a “sissy.” Finding a community of like-minded people gave them the freedom to crossdress for the first time and they realized that they finally feel comfortable in a gender role opposite of what they were assigned at birth. I do want to point out that this particular path of discovery is the exception to the rule—most transgender people are aware of their gender identity from a very young age— and I feel it is very important to differentiate between these groups, which is why we do not include sissy or forced feminization content in Transformation anymore. (In the very early days it was all combined together in the magazine.) We are currently making an effort to do this as a company as well and one new endeavor is our @centurian69 Twitter account where we can discuss all aspects of fetish and kink without upsetting our Transformation (@transpubinc) followers and fans.
Caramel: Thanks for clearing that up. I guess it might seem like skating on this ice, but you’re responsible with allowing each world to orbit the way they should be. There’s debate in the psychiatric community as to the reasons and motivations for identifying oneself as a sissy. Do you think it could be in any way harmful?
Hanna: This is an endlessly fascinating subject to me, and it’s one that I continue to educate myself about because I love learning about the motivations behind this “identity” (or any fetish really). Since I don’t have any psychiatric training I am not qualified to say what is “harmful” or “safe” but in general I think that it is healthy for people to explore their fantasies and even act upon them; I believe that it can be very cathartic to express yourself in whatever way you choose. Our time on earth is limited and I think we should enjoy the time we do have here, so if you want to dress as a girl and act like a slut I say go for it! Just be careful about it; get to know your potential partners, establish hard limits and safe words, and ensure that all activity is consensual, especially if part of your identifying as a sissy includes BDSM. When endorphins run high you run the risk of making impulsive decisions and, I hate to say it, some people might take advantage of that fact. So the only potential harm I could see in this kind of activity is not taking proper safety precautions or allowing a dominant to take too much control. Even submissives have the right to some degree of autonomy. [this answer is based on the assumption that those who ID as “sissy” are submissive and into BDSM play, which I know not all are]
Caramel: Some say that the idea of being “forced” relieves submissives of responsibility for desires that they’re really ashamed of. How do you feel about this concept?
Hanna: On all that I have seen and heard for the past 3+ years running this business I think there is a lot of truth to this. Humans are indoctrinated from day one to conform and to behave the “right” way, and that anything outside of the norm is something sinful and dirty. But we ALL have urges or fantasies we can’t explain; humans are curious by nature and we want to know what it feels like to act upon our curiosity while at the same time we also need some way to alleviate the guilt associated with it. That is where the concept of “forced” comes in, and because each party is really just playing a role nobody is truly forced to do anything they don’t want to. And I want to be absolutely clear about this—I do not condone or encourage any sort of actual forced activity. Ever. If anyone forces you to do things you don’t want to do it means they are dangerous and you need to get out of that situation immediately!
Caramel: I understand that while you had an alternative fashion sense, you didn’t have as much BDSM knowledge when you took over the operations of Centurian. What else have you learned about the fetish lifestyle and about yourself that you didn’t know?
Hanna: Yes, I’ve always had a strange sense of style…I went through my vintage phase, my Goth phase, my “raver” phase, and now I seem to be in my middle age stretch pants phase. Hahaha! And I didn’t have any real knowledge of BDSM before I took over Centurian, but I knew I had an affinity for fetish because of my infatuation with designers like Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, and John Galliano. Now that I am more involved in the “lifestyle” I’ve learned that there are many elements of it that I love, and also many elements that I abhor. I love the complex motivations behind individual kinks and fantasies, I love the nuanced protocols of scenes, I love the array of implements and the effects they produce, I love the power exchange dynamics, and I love the authenticity of people when they are allowed to explore their desires fully. What I found I don’t like is that BDSM can skirt a fine line between SSC/R.A.C.K. and sociopathy or abuse. It’s a lifestyle where one could easily be taken advantage of if you are inexperienced, and there’s no way to really monitor out of control dominants. I suppose that all of this has inspired in me an unquenchable thirst for knowledge about kink and a strong desire to educate and protect people within the community.
Caramel: Some sissies prefer ornate maid uniforms, while others prefer to dress hyper-sexual female clothing. What are some of Centurian’s best sellers?
Hanna: Our sissy dresses have always been popular with customers but we also have strong sales in fetish clothing made of PVC and leatherette, especially now that we are designing new items and offering most of our skirts in different lengths (our girls LOVE minis and micro-minis!). Overall I think our panties always have been and always will be our best sellers because no matter if they are satin, lace, or spandex panties are the ultimate feminine garment. Even I feel different when I slip on a pair of sexy knickers so I can imagine they are even more wonderful for crossdressers.
Caramel: One of my extended Google Plus contacts had an incarcerated transgender friend seeking a pen pal and I directed her to transformationonline.com to get a subscription. Transformation Magazine has printed pen pal requests for as long as I can remember. Will that resource continue moving forward?
Hanna: First of all I want to thank you for the referral and I hope your contact was able to find some pen pals for their friend through the magazine. It’s great to hear about readers making connections with new friends this way, and I hear these stories quite often so it encourages me to keep publishing whatever I can. I certainly don’t think the letters section will ever go away, especially because a large portion of our readers prefer to be “offline” and communicate by writing to one another. The problem I have is that fewer people are writing in to find pen pals but plenty of people write in asking for the letter section to be bigger! I’ve been trying to mostly publish newsletters each issue but with such a small pool of readers I am rethinking that strategy; perhaps the way to go is keep publishing the regulars and adding in new folks as they write in.
Caramel: Are you often told that the hormones (sold by Centurian) work? I have a friend who swears by them.
Hanna: Yes, our customers love them! We have been selling these formulas for close to thirty years and have thousands of satisfied customers who are getting great results. There are a few people for whom the supplements don’t work for but we have had almost no complaints. Currently we are evaluating our formulas to see if it is time to update some ingredients in order to give our customers even better results.
Caramel: You have one of the biggest and best collections of fetish art in the world. Have you ever shown Centurian artwork in an exhibit?
Hanna: Oh girl, you’ve found my secret passion! Words cannot describe how much I love our art collection…I could spend days and days just looking through it all, examining the details and the pen strokes, and occasionally I still find pieces that I’ve never seen before. My connection to art is a deeply personal one because my father was an incredibly talented artist. I remember many times watching him draw and becoming transfixed by the images appearing on the paper out of nowhere. He passed away in 1998 after battling aggressive melanoma, so having this collection now is kind of like having a piece of him with me in the business, and I know he would have LOVED every aspect of it. From what I can gather there has never been a showing of Centurian art, which is quite sad because there are some great pieces which print doesn’t give justice. There is something very special in viewing an original work of art because I feel that you can actually get a sense of emotion from it that you don’t get from a reproduction. Curating a show has been an idea I’ve had on the back burner since day one and if I ever get a few spare moments I’d like to start a crowdfunding campaign to help with the cost of this massive undertaking.
Caramel: That’s a great idea and I’d love to help support a crowdfunding campaign for the art! You and Jeri Lee, Transformation Magazine’s founder, share a similar philosophy in freedom of expression, but you’ve steered Transformation away from graphic porn. Did toning down the hardcore element help you navigate a greater balance of the personal stories and interviews about and with adult entertainers and sex workers with nude images? Have your readers given you positive feedback regarding the shift that now presents transgender people more respectfully?
Hanna: I believe it has helped bring some balance to the perception of trans adult/sex workers because it brings greater understanding of transgender issues while still acknowledging the eroticism of their bodies. It’s important to get to know the personal side of a performer—their challenges, their struggles, their triumphs—because we can all learn and grow from other people’s experiences. Personally speaking, I don’t find porn very interesting; after a few years of this job I’m already desensitized to it and am more interested in the “intimacy” of simply getting to know people in person. And I feel it is important to give transgender people an opportunity to be featured in a manner that is not pornographic or perhaps not even sexualized at all (A few girls have submitted editorial glamor shoots with little or no nudity). So far the reaction from readers has been overwhelmingly positive, but I know some people are sad to see that content go away. It’s a very difficult line to walk because there is so much diversity in the community itself and I know there is no way to make everybody happy with my editorial decisions. We have been doing some research on our customers and are finding that a large portion of them actually only identify as cross dressers who certainly appreciate the “transformation” of transgender women but may not be as interested in the adult nature of the work they do. So my goal is to keep a very diverse range of content but focus on what makes Transformation what it is, the “transformation” of different people, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. I’m going to start bringing more drag and crossdressing back into the magazine, much like our earliest days when Jeri initially founded the magazine.
Caramel: That inclusion is appreciated and “trans” means different things to different people. Transformation Magazine helped me with confidence and courage when I had no other community sounding board. Are you often told that it does that with your readership?
Hanna: I do hear this, quite often in fact! We get letters, phone calls, blog comments, and even Tweets from readers on a pretty regular basis expressing how all of our magazines have helped them, and not just with confidence but also with connecting them to a community which understands and supports them. What I hear the most is, “You let me know I was not alone.” The most satisfying part of my job is the knowledge that I was able to help someone live a more fulfilled life.
Caramel: Do you plan to digitize the magazines? Are you seeking assistance in social media presence?
Hanna: We are still trying to figure out the best method for digitizing our publications because the content makes it somewhat challenging to go “mainstream.” I’m afraid the adult nature of the publications will keep us off platforms like iTunes, Amazon, and Google so finding a compatible digital newsstand has been difficult. Ideally we would want to do it all in house but we don’t have the knowledge or skills to pull that off yet (so if anyone has ideas please get in touch!) Right now we are experimenting with our current issue up on Skinmagz but so far we haven’t seen our side of the revenue share make it worthwhile; we really need to drive sales directly from our links in order to make any money. As far as our social media presence goes, it has been slowly and steadily growing over the past few years but I’m always on the lookout for assistance with it. I have a vision for rebranding Centurian and bringing it back to its illustrious roots as the “go to” fetish/bondage company it once was. We have a fascinating history here and a ton of great artwork, publications, stories, and products so hopefully by the end of this year you all will be hearing more about that effort.
Caramel: Would you like to expand your newsstand distribution?
Hanna: Hmmm…a tricky question to answer. I would love to expand newsstand circulation but it comes at a high price because the distribution model creates a massive amount of waste (most printed copies go right into the trash) and managing the numbers is incredibly complicated. But I think the biggest challenge with this method is simply the fact that the internet and digital delivery of publications has put so many newsstands out of business. There just aren’t that many available shelves to fill, let alone many that are interested in the specialized content of our magazines. But I know that many of our customers rely heavily on these stores so I’ll keep putting them out there as long as I can.
Caramel: How do you increase Centurian’s presence at events and conferences, and word-of-mouth publicity throughout transgender night clubs?
Hanna: One of the primary ways to do this is to simply find a way to go to more of these places and make the company visible again. It is important to know the kind of crowd each event draws so we can develop marketing strategies to fit the demographic (should we choose to be a vendor, a sponsor, or do media coverage) which will result in tangible returns for us. I’ve already been to a lot of events and clubs and I’m always encouraged by the name recognition Centurian and/or Transformation has, so I know I need to keep up the networking. I think our next move will be to start sponsoring more of these events and donating products for prizes so we can get our goods into the hands of potential customers.
Caramel: What’s the most daunting challenge of running a publication that pushes people to take on the persona of what they always wanted to be?
Hanna: There are so many challenges I don’t even know where to begin. I know that I want to make the content really great and engaging to the reader but knowing exactly what that is can be a huge challenge; everyone in my audience is so unique, what one person likes might not interest someone else, so finding an interesting balance is difficult. But I think the most daunting part is actually pushing myself to do the same thing as my readers, to transform myself into who I always wanted to be, and to not fear taking personal risks.
Caramel: In 1992, the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy defined transgender as an expansive umbrella term including “transsexuals, transgenders, cross dressers” and anyone transitioning. But since then, many identify themselves as genderqueer. How do you feel about the most recent distinction?
Hanna: I have no problem with it at all, people gotta be who they gotta be, right? I’ve been hearing more who identify as genderfluid as well and I can appreciate that concept as well. I think there is a lot of merit to the philosophy that gender is a “social construct” or simply a role we play based on our upbringing and perceptions of the world around us, so if someone feels feminine one day but masculine the next I can understand that. We are all created with both feminine and masculine energy, and even though our biological sex markers may reflect one of those more than the other it doesn’t mean that we can’t identify with the opposite, or both, or neither. What I find most interesting is that society is so rigidly indoctrinated to believe in the gender binary that people are unable to open their minds to any sort of unique experience. And that is incredibly sad.
Caramel: You can say that again. What’s your favorite transgender film and how do you feel about cisgender actors playing the lead roles?
Hanna: This is going to sound pretty horrible but I still have so many transgender films to see! I do try to see as many as possible but my work schedule doesn’t allow for too terribly much free time, so I’m still searching out titles all the time. I can say that the most memorable film was The Crying Game because that was the first time I had ever had any exposure to a transgender character and the reveal truly was unexpected. It’s been ages since I’ve seen it again, and I know there are many problems with how the character was treated, but I also remember enjoying the entire film.
If I had to pick a favorite film though I would probably have to say Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It is a film that combines so many of my favorite things…Australian accents, drag queens, road trips, great acting (Terence Stamp’s understated Bernadette is so touching), fun music, amazing costumes, and Guy Pearce! I love a film with heart as well, and Priscilla has plenty of that in the relationships between the characters. When it comes to cisgender actors playing transgender roles, it is unfortunately something which I doubt will ever stop because we live in a celebrity obsessed society where producers and directors will always feel obligated to cast “famous” or “mainstream” actors in order to meet the bottom line. As a former film student of sorts, I can’t say I completely disagree with this; directors want to bring their visions to life, they want to tell stories, and usually the best way to do that is by casting recognizable names. Is it unfortunate that things go this way? Yes. Do I feel it’s inherently wrong? No, not necessarily. I think the future will bring many more opportunities for transgender actors as long as they remain grateful for those openings instead of focusing on their lack of prospects.
Caramel: Your first name Hanna is pronounced like Hanukkah, not banana. Do most people who see it in print get the correct pronunciation wrong?
Hanna: I’d say that everyone who sees my name in print pronounces it incorrectly, but also a lot of people I meet in person do too! I had to laugh the other day when I introduced myself to someone and they immediately mispronounced my name, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they couldn’t hear me… Usually it’s not that bad, and I totally understand having trouble with it; I’m not too great at remembering names either. I just channel Jinx Monsoon and think to myself, “Water off a duck’s back.”