The Ascent of Transgender Porn

transgender pornstar

The global pioneer in transgender porn is »Grooby«, a 20-year-old porn company based in the US. But with sex-positive appearances in mainstream media like Amazon’s flagship series »Transparent« and public debates in many western societies the once marginalized segment is enjoying more and more interest by mainstream porn productions. A trend welcomed by the performers.

The porn company Grooby is one of the largest and most popular producers of transgender content worldwide. It was founded by Steven Grooby who is still the owner of the company. It took its roots with a site called Shemale Yum. The early success in the niche market made it possible to expand quickly. Websites like Shemale Pornstar, Ladyboy-Ladyboy, Black Shemale Hardcore, and dozens more followed. Grooby enjoyed a lot of success in the genre.

But with the new awareness of trans content in general and society’s more and more sensitive approach towards transgender debates, the company got into trouble. As an early pioneer it marketed its offerings in a niche and terms like shemale and »tranny« were perfectly acceptable 20 years ago, but today many performers and clients alike as well as the LGBTQ-community find these terms demeaning and derogatory. Kristel Penn, Marketing and Editorial director at Grooby put the dilemma like this: »In terms of SEO, words like shemale and tranny are searched exponentially higher than other terms. Our product was reaching those looking for it without diluting the results of those looking for nonadult services.«

While still being just a slice of the mammoth porn market, viewership for transgender porn has increased immensely since Grooby’s early days. And in the last few years, it kind of exploded. Pornhub reports a 300% increase in search volume for the word »transgender« alone over the last three years.

It is not only increasingly popular. It’s also very profitable. Evil Empire’s Adam Grayson calls trans porn his most popular genre. »In terms of revenue per scene or movie? Hands down, without a question. Nothing even touches it. And we sell it at a price premium…because we can get it.«

Unfortunately, trans porn is full of stereotypes and often nonrepresentative of trans sex life. Performers were regularly at the mercy of producers. Their main concern though was delivering what proved to be successful, the dignity of the performers and transgender representation was their last concern. Tobi Hill-Meyer, porn director of trans porn is echoing that thought: »There was this centralized model, where there’s [a few] porn companies that hire trans people, and they’re each run by one guy who decides how it’s supposed to look, Everything becomes really cookie-cutter, because they make something and it works, and then they don’t want to do anything else.«

These stereotypes worked and made money but they didn’t help much in getting transgender contents into the mainstream. Part of the problem was that the majority of the revenue is generated by cisgender men, not by transgender customers. It’s a well-known secret among porn industry deciders that heterosexual men are the main target audience for transgender porn.

Hill-Meyer explains: »There’s the basic general rule that mainstream porn is always marketed to men.« And heterosexual viewers have a lot of misconceptions about transgender sexuality. They want trans women to be depicted with erect penises penetrating their partners while in fact, most trans women don’t want their penises to be part of their sex life at all. A lot of trans performers want their penis removed but their income is tied to having a penis.

Another stereotype of transgender porn is the element of surprise. The fact that one of the partners does have male reproductive body parts is revealed during the scene, sometimes to the shock of the other partner. Then it becomes a forbidden turn-on. The problem though is that many problematic stereotypes against transgender people stem from the idea that a transgender person is hiding his identity. Sometimes that leads to anger and assault against transgender people.

Although the global reach of Caitlin Jenner and the success of Amazon’s hit series Transparent, have drawn public attention to transgender issues, violence against transgender people has not decreased.  A sad record was broken in the United States in 2016. 27 transgender persons were murdered in that year, a record number.

Venus Lux, who won the 2016 AVN Award for Transgender Performer of the Year and who is one of the most active and famous members of the transgender adult community is trying to get the industry to listen to the dangers of stereotypical representations: »People are naturally ignorant when it comes to sexuality and gender identity, because there is a lack of education. It’s not like they encounter transgender people on the streets to be able to ask them questions.«

Dana Vespoli, a performer at TransSensual, is insisting that it is not only necessary to educate heterosexual men and women. When getting in touch with their own identity for the first time a lot of transgender persons are looking at porn as well. Vespoli says: »I think about young people in parts of the United States like the South, the Midwest, that are realizing they’re trans. I want them to see themselves represented in a way that’s nuanced and shown in a positive light.«

Vespoli and Lux are only at the surface of a larger shift in perception. An important step was the foundation of the Tranny Awards. Industry veteran Grooby started the online competition in 2007. Penn explains: »At the time, there was a lack of trans representation at the major adult award show. It was meant to be an informal online competition.« The awards were so successful that it quickly evolved into an award show that today takes place as a 3-day-convention. But again, Grooby’s involvement was a double-sided sword. The word »tranny« quickly became heavily criticized. After many protests and several sponsors backing out of their involvement with the awards Grooby decided to rebrand its awards show as the »Transgender Erotica Awards«.

The rebranding now took place on many sits run by Grooby. Even the former flagship site »Shemale Yum«, a valuable asset in Grooby’s trans empire, undertook the risky step to rebrand itself. It is now known as GroobyGirls.com. Penn explains: »We do understand why this terminology has been an issue with folks and ultimately we want to do right by our performers and fans. Our intention has always been to show respect to our performers. The site has been around for 20 years and is our most established brand. Our remaining sites and future DVDs will be rebranded in the months ahead.«

While one of its pioneers is going through a much needed but also quite risky renovation process, industry players jumped on the trans porn train. In 2013 the AVN created the Transsexual Performer of the Year Award. That step gave trans porn an immense boost.

Part of the shift is that trans performers get more and more diverse scene partners. While they traditionally were partnered with unsuspecting men, transgender performers are now cast with women as well. Transgender persons have just as many sexual orientations as cisgender people. Venus Lux is welcoming that change: »It’s blowing people’s minds because lesbian porn in that capacity is changing.«

Wicked Pictures announced that porn star Jessica Drake will feature in a four-way all-female scene with three trans partners. Venus Lux, who is one of the stars in that scene, comments: »We had a level of integration of trans [performers] within Wicked Pictures productions, which has never been done in its 25-year history of operation.«

That one of the biggest players in porn production is putting a porn star like Jessica Drake in one of its movies became possible after the success of Grooby’s Real Fucking Girls from 2016. Kristel Penn says »The movie swept all three major adult award shows.«

 

Trans women though are only one side of the story. Trans men have it more complicated. But they have a huge star already in the industry: Buck Angel, a trans advocate who is in the business since the early 2000s. His newest movie Buck Angel Superstar is nothing less than the closest thing to a bio-pic the industry has to offer. It is a big-budget production, a feature film based on Buck Angel’s life. , dramatic feature film based on his life. Vespoli is the director and she says: »I want to shoot more and have more representation of FTM performer.«

One of the problems for trans men in the industry is that for decades nobody was sure who the audience for content with trans men might be. Cyd St. Vincent though did some experiments and came up with a formula that seems to work well for his company Bonus Hole Boys. »Sometimes you have to see something visually before you imagine it as an option for yourself—and how better to do that than show big-name gay porn stars having sex with trans men and loving it? Hundreds of people write to me telling me they didn’t even know trans men existed, and that our porn was their first exposure!«

Male performer Viktor Belmont though made a different observation: »I’m a gay porn performer, but my fan base is women. The majority of our fans are gay men… but we have a huge following of women, as well.«

That raises an interesting question many production companies eager to find new markets have identified for themselves. If trans men in porn appeal to multiple demographics who else might be interested? Who ever comes up with the right target audience and the right formula to cast trans men might make a lot of money.

By now there is a growing movement of independent porn companies like Good Vibrations, Lust Cinema, The Crash Pad and Make Love Not Porn that serve as outlets for groundbreaking, genderbending and non-stereotypical porn. These companies have different backgrounds, some are queer, some more on the feminist side and there are some with a geeky indie vibe. But they all seem to be much more inclusive than traditional porn companies and therefore a possible working ground for new representations of transgenders in porn. The studio Pink & White is hiring porn actors of different gender identities. The trans men icon Buck Angel started his own website back in 2002.

Among the the porn start-ups you’ll also find AORTA Films, a company that gives its performers the possibility and freedom to explore their identities within their productions. The adult performer and artist Alyx Fox created Foxhouse Films. The company talks about its »multigendered and polysexual performers« and encourages them to act out their desires on tape. Fox explains: »We try to capture authentic sex. It’s easier for us to work from performer desires and what they want to do … It has to be something they are excited about.«

Another new outlet for transgender performers of course is the booming webcam industry. There they can express themselves on their own terms and without limitations a studio production would entail. Webcam transgender girl Kelly Pierce for example is absolutely happy about her new career as webcam model: »I’m just really thrilled that I can control my career, finally. And I can be myself!… My cam fans get to see me on a more regular basis, whereas in porn, they just see you as a fantasy, and they don’t see you as a person.«

All these new developments come at a difficult time in American history. Nobody knows where Trump’s administration ultimately will land on porn and sex work. Some signs are making the industry nervous, there is ultraconservative Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ anti-porn stance and the ban on transgender people in the military. Alxy Fox though choses to focus on the positive macrotrend: »What’s happening is there are a lot of people who are having an evolving moment of consciousness. I think people are starting to have sexual desires that are more fluid and identities that are more fluid.«

And adult entertainment is producing content that caters to the new and still emerging audiences. What was started and gained a lot of momentum will not easily be stopped again. So maybe even in the US the current backlash is just temporary.

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