“What has encouraged me is the amount of transgenders who decided to work on their own projects. To be fair, Gia Darling and Joanna Jet were doing this back at the start of the decade successfully but more recently with Hazel Tucker, Mandy Mitchell, Kelly Shore and Wendy Williams producing their own content sites and DVD releases, they have maintained control over the quality,” says Gallon. “More alliances with these types of models will be the way of the future, and conversely I suspect that consumers will get fed up with the larger, soulless players and focus on specific niches that appeal to them. Only producers who know the talent, or are the talent themselves, will be able to cater to that.”
Grooby has been in the industry since 1997, when it started the first genre website (ShemaleYum.com), a success that prompted the company to focus solely on transsexual product. With exclusive content on seven websites and a line of DVDs, Gallon notes they produce more TS content per year than any other company, with a handful of big players controlling the DVD space.
“The talent is a little bit more money than normal, and not a lot of people want to shoot it,” says Steve Volponi, national sales manager for Devil’s Film, whose successful “Transsexual Prostitutes” series has helped them maintain a big presence. “There are new teen girls coming into the business every day, but TS? That’s a whole different thing; it’s very tough to find quality talent. And when you do, it’s a little bit more money. I guess you gotta pay for the extra parts.”
Steve Scott, president of Third World Media, another niche leader which just celebrated its 10th anniversary and has seen success with lines like “Shemale Samba Mania” and “Little Asian Transsexuals,” says the content is less shocking than it used to be, due in part to a reflection of society’s slowly increasing comfort with “alternative” forms of sexuality. Recent years have seen TS progress in both the mainstream and porn worlds: “Transamerica” netted Felicity Huffman an Oscar nod and “America’s Next Top Model” featured a TS contestant, while Buck Angel — a female-to-male performer — appeared in “Cirque Noir” from gay porn studio Titan Media.
“Many years ago, there were stores that said, ‘We can’t sell that kind of shit here.’ Now it’s like, ‘Hey, what do you got that’s she-male? People like this, it sells!’ Angel told XBIZ. “People’s eyes have opened to it and they are more interested in the genre, and maybe have become more accepting of transsexuals as a third sex to some degree. There’s been a lot more openness with gay and transgender issues over the years, and maybe to some degree these movies kind of show she-males in a good light and help the cause in society for equality.”
Williams, who runs her own website and production company, adds that the Internet and technology explosions have also helped accelerate interest. “When I started, the Internet was popular, but you didn’t have MySpace and Twitter and XTube and all these areas that have been able to broadcast this kind of porn into the home,” she said. “We’re so much more visible, and because more companies are putting it out there, the curiosity factor goes up.”
Gallon notes there are thousands of American models. So why aren’t you seeing more of them? “They’re obviously more expensive than models from countries with different economies, they’re harder to track down and many are harder to work with,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for over 12 years and have worked with practically every North American model, probably 90 percent of who have never worked for another site or DVD. U.S. models sell far better than Brazilian and Thai, but most websites are looking for the cheapest content and to make their money through multiple front doors and cross-sales.”
While the trend to use foreign-based models has oversaturated the market, it hasn’t hurt the quality players who lead the charge. Widely considered the genre’s DVD leader, Evil Angel has had huge success with its TS lines, including efforts directed by two respected superstars from the straight world: Nacho Vidal and Joey Silvera, who is widely credited with helping to bring respect to transsexual porn.
Williams also notes that most foreign models work for less money and many are willing to do more extreme acts like double penetration, gang bangs and cum swapping, that most American transsexuals won’t do. But she says the tide is turning, in part due to efforts like her interracial gangbang video and a new crop of talent that’s ready to take the niche by storm.
“American TS porn for a while was so stale,” she said. “It was your basic girl-on-guy, oral/oral, three positions and cum shot. That’s why a lot of people went to the Brazilian side, because they would get dirty and nasty. Now we have a new crop of girls. There’s a huge boom in American transsexuals, the next generation as I call them. In order for us to compete with the market, the girls are going to have to start stepping up and doing bigger things.”
Williams cites Mitchell, a natural looking “girl next door” who enjoys fetish play and also performs with women (a rarity among shemales); Kimber James, “a little porn Barbie doll with big lips, blond hair and huge implants” who was the first TS to be signed by LA Direct Models; and Sexxxy Jade, one of the most well-known black performers and the first TS to appear on a live broadcast for Kink.com, as leading the charge. All of them, Williams says, are bringing in new fans and satisfying different tastes.
“The demand is being noticed more in America and companies are starting to see that they can make money with the niche,” James said. “It’s still bigger internationally then it is here; I think people in other countries are a lot more open sexually to things, so maybe that’s why, but I think it’s becoming a lot more professional and, little by little, more accepted by the ‘mainstream’ porn watchers.
“My friend Gia [Darling] was on the cover of Penthouse years ago. That’s major and always something I’ve wanted to do and looked up to her for. I was also just in the ‘Married with Children’ parody. Potentially I could be nominated for an award for my non-sex role; that in itself is amazing. There are opportunities for us out there, it’s a matter of making it happen.”
James notes that a lot of people are starting their transition at a younger age because there is more information out there. That includes Mitchell: “I’m definitely not the typical transsexual,” Mitchell said. “Many producers/directors seemed very hesitant to hire me because I was very different than the girls that they normally hired. I have a large tattoo on my back, I have small natural breasts, I had not had any cosmetic surgery and I had my testicles removed before I started, which meant that I couldn’t really give the kind of cumshot that is integral to most TS films.”
Many in the niche note that the biggest problem they face is bad promotion, including adult store owners who often make a big mistake. “If you put TS product in the gay section, no straight guy will find it,” warns Volponi. “The general consensus is that men who consider themselves straight are renting and buying this stuff, either out of curiosity or what not. No straight guy is going to be caught dead in the gay area.”
It’s one of the stigmas Williams continues to fight: “We’re categorized as straight specialty/fetish niche. I know it’s kind of hard to understand, but things aren’t black and white. People always say that men who have sex with transsexuals are gay because the she-males have a dick. Well, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. I also have 36Ds, hair down to my ass and have had $20,000 worth of surgery. I don’t quite look like your typical male, so it’s a little hard for you to justify that just because I have a dick between my legs that the guys are gay. Gay men enjoy other men, they enjoy masculine qualities. They don’t enjoy the breasts and the hair and the surgeries. Transsexuals are a form of entertainment in drag bars for gay men, not something they jack off to in the privacy of their bedrooms.”
And while the TS niche is expanding its offerings with more targeted fetish content — including BDSM, interracial and smoking efforts — Gallon offers a word of caution: “Working in a niche such as transsexuals, you have to be very careful not to micro-niche it to the point where you’re not getting enough revenue to support it. We’ve tried a BDSM site with TranSexDomination.com, and it’s a lot harder to make sales there than with a more general niche site like Black-Tgirls.com. You have to appeal to a wide enough demographic to make it worthwhile.”
Gallon has also upped the effort to help fight piracy, a crime that doesn’t discriminate. A group of website producers in the transsexual genre have banded together and hired a permanent DMCA agent to make daily trips to every tube site and sharing forum with their content. He says they’ve had great results in their brief existence and encourages those interested to contact him.
But even with those challenges, things are looking bright for the former redheaded stepchild of the porn world. The she-male market has a loyal customer base, is showing more diversity with its models and sex, is slowly breaking through prejudice and is energized by a fresh crop of talent.