By EJ Dickson
By porn industry standards, 24-year-old Venus Lux (NSFW) is something of a triple threat: She’s a director, performer, and producer, as well as the winner of the 2015 XBiz Transsexual Performer of the Year award.
But at the 2015 Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE) in Las Vegas, where hundreds of fans and photographers are clamoring to get a photo with mainstream porn stars like Asa Akira, Chanel Preston, and Bonnie Rotten, it’s hard not to notice that the atmosphere at the Venus Lux Productions booth is slightly more subdued.
“I see people who look at me [in my booth] and just walk away,” Lux told the Daily Dot. “And then there are people who see my DVDs, then look at me back and forth and say, ‘No. You’re transsexual?’ [The response] varies.” As to those who fall into the former group: “I think people are coming in groups, so if one guy likes us, they don’t want their friends to know about it.”
Lux works in the transsexual (TS) porn niche, also known as the “chicks with dicks,” “tranny,” or “she-male” categories. While she’s OK with the term “tranny,” primarily for marketing purposes, Venus balks at being described as a “she-male”: “It means I am half male, half female. But I consider myself female, with something extra,” she says.
This year, Venus is nominated for Adult Video News (AVN) Awards for Best Transsexual Performers of the Year and Best Transsexual Sex Scene, for a scene she did with mainstream performer Dana Vespoli. (Unlike the majority of TS performers, who predominantly work with male or TS performers, Lux works with mainstream female performers.) But even though she is nominated for two of the most prestigious awards in her industry, Venus says she was rejected from other companies’ booths at the Adult Entertainment Expo. Hers is the only TS booth at AEE.
“I thought, I’m gonna make something happen for us girls to have a place to sign and say, ‘Look, we’re a niche genre but we’re still beautiful women. We just have something extra,’” she says. “The industry and the general public are not open about that.”
The lack of visibility of the TS niche at the Adult Entertainment Expo is not due to a lack of demand. According to researchers Sai Gaddam and Ogi Ogas, whose book A Billion Wicked Thoughts explores Internet porn, transsexual porn is the fourth most popular type of pornographic website on the Internet. It’s also the sixteenth most popular search term on Dogpile, beating out “butts,” “threesome,” and “interracial.”
TS porn, says former adult performer Mia Isabella, has “exploded” in recent years, which she attributes in part to the increasing visibility of transgender rights activists like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox in the mainstream media.
“The number of mainstream opportunities offered to me, and my level of exposure in the mainstream industry, has increased dramatically,” says Mia, who has appeared in the FX shows Sons of Anarchy and the video game Grand Theft Auto V. The increasing popularity of TS porn has led to more freedom for performers in the niche as well: While the niche has traditionally been operated by males and targeted to a straight male audience, “now girls have their own sites and branding. We have more room to do our own thing.”
That said, there is still a huge divide between the TS side of the industry and the “mainstream” side of the industry. The biggest studios with the most money, such as Digital Playground, do not shoot TS films (though large studios like Evil Angel, which shot Lux’s scene with Vespoli, do), and mainstream male performers who work with TS performers, or “crossover” performers, are often shunned by the rest of the industry, who view them as vectors of sexually transmitted disease.
“There’s a stereotype that if you have a cock, you’re more likely to get HIV and work with gay performers who are likely to have HIV,” says Lux. This stigma persists, in spite of the fact that TS and mainstream porn share the same audience: Straight white males. According to Isabella’s site analytics, for instance, her fans are predominantly “white American male, college-educated, six-figure salary, Ivy League–educated—doctors, lawyers, and educators.”
Nowhere is this divide more apparent than at the Adult Entertainment Expo and the AVN Awards, the porn industry’s two biggest events. (There is also an annual awards show for TS performers called the Transgender Erotica Awards, which was renamed from the Tranny Awards in 2014. The Transgender Erotica Awards were created as a “platform for opportunity and a way to give a voice and recognition to the fantastic TS performers in the business,” says male adult performer Christian XXX (NSFW), who primarily works with TS performers.)
Although TS performers are represented in a handful of categories at the AVNs, many did not have the opportunity to walk the red carpet or accept their awards onstage until 2012, when TS performers held a meeting with AVN to protest their shoddy treatment during the ceremony.
“AVN has long recognized the transsexual niche as an important and lucrative market segment and if there was more to be done to support the community, we wanted to hear directly from the performers how we could recognize their efforts on a bigger stage,” the trade publication wrote.
For her part, Isabella thinks the TS community is well on its way to achieving acceptance in the mainstream porn world, and that the uproar over the lack of TS performers’ visibility on the red carpet was much ado about nothing. “Honestly, for me, I didn’t look it at that way,” she says, when asked if AVN was discriminating against TS performers. “They were doing it alphabetically. The last end of the show is ‘T’ and it’s at the end of the alphabet, so they didn’t have time to accept their awards.”
But Lux still thinks there’s plenty the industry can do to bring heightened visibility to her fellow TS performers. “We do not get interviewed at all on the red carpet by the Playboys, the HBOs,” she says. Compared to porn’s biggest names employed by the biggest studios, TS performers are not considered “a marketable product that [the media] can advertise freely.”
That’s why Thursday night, two days before the AVN Awards, Lux sponsored her own red carpet event at Share Nightclub, where she danced the night away with fellow performers, mainstream and TS alike. That’s the kind of porn community she’d like to see, but it’s going to take a while to build toward it.
Despite the increasing popularity of the TS genre behind closed doors, the porn industry at large, says Lux, still sees the women who make TS porn as nothing more than a “piece of meat.”
“We’re a good selling point,” she says. “They look at us as humans one day, and the next day it’s ‘Whip it out, I need you to come hard.’ Until there’s a transgender woman who owns a production company, who has a voice in the transsexual community, it’s gonna be male-dominated and we’ll be absorbed. And we won’t have a voice of our own.”
Update: An earlier version of this article stated that AVN did not allow TS performers to present awards onstage or walk the red carpet. While few TS performers have presented awards in the history of the ceremony, TS performer Wendy Williams co-presented the award for Male Performer of the Year in 2010, and TS performer Joanna Jet co-presented the award for Best Interactive DVD in 2005.
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