XBIZ 2017: Trans-Erotica Panel Covers Bias, Outreach and Trump

XBIZ 2017: Trans-Erotica Panel Covers Bias, Outreach and Trump
JC Adams

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — An impassioned group of attendees discussed circling the wagons against a newly hostile federal government and how to address ongoing bias against trans talent, among other relevant topics, at the XBIZ 2017 panel “Trans Erotica: A Growing Market Opportunity” hosted by Steven Grooby of Grooby Productions on Wednesday at the Andaz hotel in West Hollywood.

“This is the third trans erotica workshop that XBIZ has kindly hosted for us,” Grooby said when the panel was announced. “Each year we try and approach different topics, and this year we’re going to be looking at how trans erotica fits within the industry in terms of business, traffic and revenues.”

A mix of talent and execs were among the attendees that included Michelle Austin, Mona Wales and Jessica Drake as well as a full contingent from Grooby Productions, Kink.com’s Matt Slusarenko, Shaul Salisbury of The Mall, Cyndi Pham of Radrotica Productions, the Free Speech Coalition’s Siouxsie Q and more.

Grooby reflected that “2015 was an amazing year, for trans women especially, with lots of positive media,” and 2016 seemed to be a step backwards. He acknowledged the weariness and bafflement many have expressed over President-elect Trump. Nevertheless, “we have to be prepared for what’s going on.” He said producers of LGBT content, once again, are particularly vulnerable. “Horrified” was Slusarenko’s blunt description of the response by Kink.com to Trump’s election and, especially, Jeff Sessions as a potential attorney general. He said the company is conducting “extensive 2257 auditing” and building a firewall to enable them to continue working and to have every possible legal challenge covered with the appropriate paperwork. He notes the company took down a gangbang that satirized Trump. “It didn’t feel good anymore to make fun” of him, said Slusarenko.

Saulisbury wondered whether some measure of a silver lining could be found in the recent ruling by a federal judge that portions of 18 U.S.C. § 2257 were to be considered unconstitutional. “I don’t want to put my faith in that,” Slusarenko said. “I don’t trust this administration.”

“Luckily, we’re coming off an incredible (legal) victory,” said the FSC’s Siouxsie Q, referencing the recent defeat of Prop 60 in California. “The 2257 win is another one. That was a super-hard one. We’ve been working on that since 2005. The 2257 ruling about those key components (falls under) the Fourth Amendment; we still have a long road with the First Amendment battle, but getting this ruling is crucial. We are recommending that everyone continue to be extremely vigilant. We cannot trust this administration. Jeff Sessions does not like us.” She said the FSC is fundraising right now for a federal lobbyist to aid their efforts.

“Everybody should be above-and-beyond on their records” regarding 2257 paperwork, Grooby said. “We keep way more stuff than we have to. But I don’t want a situation where the government says, ‘We’re changing it.’”

Another lively topic of discussion was the lack of diversity in the porn industry, including trans erotica, and how to eradicate bias about working with trans talent among the current talent pool, as well as newcomers. Drake, Pham, Wahls and others in the room spoke passionately about combating the trans bias that still exists. “It has not stopped,” Pham said. “We need to do so much more. If we are looking at protecting our community as a whole, not just porn in general, we have to look within ourselves to be able to educate the younger people that come into the industry” as well as those who work in post-production, billing, traffic and other support fields.

Drake observed that she’s seen trans bias “diminish a little, only a little bit” and spoke about the importance of educating veteran performers (“the middle group who have been around just long enough”) who could influence newcomers negatively. Drake revealed she has requested trans performers for an upcoming showcase but added there had been some pushback from retailers who primarily sell DVDs versus stronger interest from those who still featured arcades in their brick-and-mortar locations. Online sales, she added, are expected to be very strong.

Grooby said his company would never have grown if trans erotica “wasn’t a forbidden topic back in the 1990s and 2000s,” prompting a lengthy discussion among the attendees about how to encourage the community, including friends, family and coworkers, to talk about their sexuality and their interests to increase compassion and empathy. Grooby, Pham, Slusarenko, Austin and other attendees on the production side described a current trend towards not labeling performers as cis or trans — or, rather, labeling performers as they themselves wish to be labeled. Slusarenko described “no negative reaction” among Kink customers, nor any negative effect on conversion traffic, while others described the fan base for cis models working with trans talent as “extremely loyal.”

Opinion was divided over the efficacy of social media marketing and outreach to drive sales. Grooby noted they would be experimenting with a return to blogging while others agreed that individual models are far more effective at driving traffic and conversions because they can specifically tailor the pitch. It was also observed that models that do not maintain a social media presence can drive strong traffic to adult sites because their fans can find them nowhere else.

Additional topics covered over the wide-ranging hour included VR adult content, which Grooby described as potentially “massive for trans porn” and “an enabling thing for trans people in general,” while Slusarenko noted that VR currently is an effective PR tool due to strong press interest.

“In the 20 years I’ve been in this industry,” Grooby said, “I’ve never seen such a strong community as it is now.” He concluded the panel by encouraging the participants and attendees to continue to engage with each other. “I want to learn from you as much as you should be learning from each other,” he said.