Ticket/booth for the con: $135
Banner: $50 design + $50 printed
Zines: $37 printed
DVDs: $200 printed
Prep: $40 manicure, $25 haircut
Lingerie to shoot in: $75
Mucinex when I got sick: $20
Food when the banquet wasn’t enough: $20
The experience of being around fat femme women who hate other fat femme women: ...incredibly emotionally expensive
I went to the porn convention with my eyes open, to be fair.
I had heard the rumors that because one company put it all together, the only models who got recognized were models for that company. I had raised my brows at the number of nominations that the one organizing company had, especially with a lack of transparency to accompany it, but I shrugged it off. I accepted that my nominations were very unlikely to amount to anything, as an indie queer performer that BBW companies don’t approach to shoot because my breasts, a mere 38E, aren’t seen as big enough to justify my belly and hips.
I had also beared witness to the extended drama prior to the event, which ranged in my mind from somewhat reasonable to absurd self centeredness and lack of professionalism. For the most part I thought I had stayed out of it - I was under the impression that I had managed to stay Switzerland in the various girl vs girl catfights that had popped up.
Well, except for one- the PR person for the event had been pretty much ignoring me in all the promo leading up to the event. It was something I chalked up to her being resentful because I had said in a review years earlier that her glittery, strawberry flavored analingus spray was one of the worst things I had ever encountered. We had gotten into it again when she offered to get interviews and press attention to girls who paid her an extra $100, something I felt strongly was a manipulation of her position and the newness of some of the performers who may not know better.
I figured, “eh, it’s drama, I’m used to that, it’ll be fine” but I didn’t anticipate just how segmented the various porn performers would be, or how saccharine the saltiness of those still-ongoing catfights would seem. Unaware that performers I thought were friendly were actually being mean girls behind my back, I began to sense there would be a lot more tension than I anticipated. I was relieved to be a part of my own, Bay area clique, who felt just as alienated and confused as I did. We also had matching denim vests, which is important, reader.
But even with all that in mind I tried so hard to be optimistic. I had been told that there were loads of fans coming, that events had been planned and would be fun, that this was shaping up to be the best porn con. I packed multiple outfits expecting to have chances to shoot, or at the very least to do some dirty photos with fans at the booth.
I did, and had, none of these things.
We arrived at the hotel and femme-sploded while preparing for the strip night only to find our room was a probable death trap. It had broken air conditioning (in over 100 degree heat), the shower refused to give us cold water, and the boiler was very likely to explode at any time judging from the racket (like a walrus dying slowly). My friends and I puzzled out how likely it would be to get maintenance to fix the multiple issues, and decided to move to another room instead the next day. My cold was going from bad to worse, and the room was like a dry sauna. Every time I stepped outside, it was so dry my throat would send me into a painful coughing fit.
Hell is Las Vegas in July, I’m sure of it.
Two of us were dancing that night, and it was one of the highlights of the trip even if I did burn myself on a cigarette and give myself two massive blisters. While it was a struggle to persuade people to go up on stage before the strip contest happened, when someone did it was exciting to watch. I gave my girlfriend and a friend some money to tip the strippers, encouraging them to spread the wealth. I flirted with men, a rarity anymore, and the energy I got back felt flattering rather than predatory. After all the drama I had seen online, the club felt full of people supporting each other and being lovely to each other, a welcome change.
We got home tired, with our friend as the strip contest winner, and smiling. Photos were taken of them showered in their earnings as we celebrated our raised spirits. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all! We were ready for the con after seeing sexy fat naked femmes dancing… or so we thought.
The night before the con began had felt somewhat hopeful, even if the party hadn’t been my kind of atmosphere. There had been a lot of fans who came out for the meet-n-greet, and while I wasn’t feeling much like dancing, I did get a drink from one lovely fellow who wanted to talk Pokemon Go and politics, two of my favourite things. I certainly had a chilly reception from the PR person for the con, who apparently left the next day and was gone for the entire weekend… an interesting choice for the person managing the con’s social media, but hey, not my circus.
My denim vest queer gang of femmes decided to ditch the party to go to the Old Strip to check out the Gold Spike, an adult playground that even made me reconsider ageplay for a second. We got drunk and played with huge LEGO, giant Jenga, and Connect Four while listening to a live band accompanying karaoke on stage. It was basically like my heaven. We eventually took off to check out Glitter Gulch, which was sadly closed, and the Golden Nugget, where we played penny slots until the smoke made it impossible to see anymore. We crashed into bed, grateful that we had been able to move into an air conditioned room even closer to the pool. Things were looking up.
And then it was the con.
I showed up bright eyed and bushy tailed with my brand new banner, table dressing, handmade zines and laptop to screen some of my work. The one room set up with tables looked a bit small, but I figured with 70 performers slated to come and the booths being all sold out, it would fill up quickly. I discovered that we weren’t assigned tables, like at AVN, so it was a first-come, first-served kind of deal. I picked a table about halfway between the doors and the bar, figuring it was as good a place to set up shop as any.
I had never put up my banner before, and my fake nails that I had gotten for all the porn I expected to be doing made putting the damn thing together difficult. I struggled for about a half an hour, desperately texting my girlfriend to come help me, blinking back tears as I realized that I was still feeling pretty sick and this con was very likely going to be an expensive waste of my time. After all, I didn’t work with any of the “big boys” of the BBW adult industry, and at least some of the other models whispered about me in the backchannels - I was too political, too tattooed, too queer, too much.
I’m always too much. I was never particularly good at being “feminine” - sexy and sweet, friendly and flirty. Even when I’m dressed like a 5 year old’s birthday cupcake, I’m still too salty and bitter for some tastes. I’m not much for sugarcoating. It makes the adult industry, one where we all say it’s empowering for women but try to ignore that at the end of the day we still have to cater a lot to misogynist men (producers, distributors, co-stars and consumers), a challenge for someone like me.
When someone says they like “real” sex and “genuine” porn stars… they’re not exactly lying, but they’re not exactly telling the truth.
Anyway. I got my table set up, finally figured my banner out, and scanned the room. Doors opened at noon. It was already past that, and yet ⅔ of the tables were still empty. I sighed, texted my girlfriend to bring me a beer, and settled in for what would end up being hours of watching my own porn. I took some time to read through the anti-Prop 60 pamphlets the Free Speech Coalition had sent my way to display at the booth, mastering my talking points on why porn fans should be rallying against this measure. I glanced around the room, feeling a bit like a nerd at a school dance, shy, unsure if anyone wanted to talk to me. Many of the other performers seemed to know each other already, and frankly I couldn’t remember who hated who anymore, so I retreated to my booth.
The fans, all 10 of them, were really solid, to be fair. In my experience, they asked for photos before they took them, they talked to me about my zine, and the adult industry, and I felt really seen and respected as a person. We talked extensively about Prop 60 and the dangers it would pose to the adult industry and those within it. I got to give out a ton of flyers and stickers and I felt really good about being able to talk about the important politics of porn.
Even so, I sold one book, one zine, and one photo. $60 total, which covered half my banner costs. Many of the other performers I spoke to had similar issues with fan engagement. One of my friends won a raffle because they were the only person who signed up. Performers outnumbered fans 4 to 1, and that’s with half the performers who were slated to have booths not showing up. Media coverage was spotty - as of today, Friday July 29, there’s nothing in the news about the con at all. The only thing with any coverage was the awards (more on that in part 3). Oh, and whatever my girlfriend ends up writing.
If a porn star goes to Vegas and doesn’t document it on Snapchat, was she ever even there?
I tried really hard to stay positive. I really did. I offered suggestions for improvement for months before the event on how to make it feel good for the performers. I was reassured that there would be a ton of fans, that the drama would be minimal. Instead, I showed up to find that as models, we weren’t given any sort of schedule, everything was very ad hoc, and while we were being asked to show up to parties to entertain the fans, we couldn’t even drink beer for free. The VIP poker night was reported to lack air conditioning - great for the fact it was strip poker, but kind of awful for a group of fat people. Chub rub is real, you guys, and when most of the performers were there to shoot content, you can’t afford redness between the thighs.
The saving grace was the pool. Or, pools, really, as there were three of them. Had it not been for the pools, I think we would’ve just gone right back home. But there was something that felt like an actual vacation when I was floating on a giant donut with my girlfriend next to me. In retrospect, my favourite parts of the con were when I wasn’t doing things relating to the con. Had I just allowed myself to have a vacation, I would’ve had a much better time. I’m sure if I had been shooting, it would’ve been a much better time. But it felt like a strategy game I didn’t know the rules to.
All I wanted was fun, playful experiences with cute fat femmes. Instead, I found myself tiptoeing awkwardly between worrying about people misgendering my girlfriend, or not being sure how to take BBWs saying that they hated women, especially fat women, or navigating men trying to flirt with me. I found myself wavering. I felt incredibly thirsty, wanting to make out with someone new, to get fucked by someone cute and nice who would help me forget my ex boyfriend who didn’t want to touch me for most of our relationship. And yet I also felt sick from my cold, and suspicious, like everyone who approached me had an agenda and my best interests were not on that list. I kept getting snippets from the backchannel that made me wonder if any of the other women there even liked me. I wondered why I was even there.
I came into this weekend fully expecting to love my body, and left feeling both shriveled and bloated, like I was both a husk of who I thought I was and yet I was also taking up too much space. My boobs weren’t big enough. My body was bruised and battered from daily living. My hair was too butch, my thighs too thick, my feet too callused.
Being a BBW porn performer has taught me that as much as I fight against the idea of there being a “good” fat and a “bad” fat, those categories exist. I am bad fat. My breasts are not proportionate to my hips and ass. I don’t do feeder porn, or fetishize my fatness by weighing myself on camera - my eating disorder would have a field day with that kind of content. My belly is large, and round, and hangs over my pubic mound, so those who are into BBW porn don’t want me. Yet I am apparently too active and mobile to be considered a “good” SSBBW either. So while fans, and even other performers, might find me intriguing for my brain and my brand, I’m not exactly a hot commodity to be seen with.
Normally, that’s ok with me, but over the last couple months I’ve lost my home and my job. I’ve been left adrift, wondering about my purpose. I thought this con was going to help me reaffirm that I do have a community, and that I am desired, and worthy. I wanted to fall in love with porn again.
I found myself reaching for it, and finding that it had moved on to someone else.
There’s a saying that participation is its own reward, and for many things that may be true. But after two days of seeing the same ten fans, and realizing that the models were expected to make the VIPs feel like VIPs for free… I wasn’t feeling too keen on singing cum-bay-ya anymore, let’s just say.
The day of the awards, I was willing to put my discomfort aside because I wanted to have fun so badly at this point. Also, honestly, I was very excited about my outfit, an ice cream themed confection that was more lingerie than red carpet. I even allowed myself a moment of hope that I might actually win an award. It was unlikely, as very few people know who I am in the industry, but I was certain it couldn’t possibly be as corrupt as people had been saying bitterly for months.
See, the thing is, while mainstream porn has organized reviewers who judge on categories for their big events, niche porn’s awards are almost always given out by a company in the business of that niche porn. One notable exception would be the Feminist Porn Awards, which was run by a sex toy company and not a porn studio awarding almost exclusively their own work. But trans porn and BBW porn are not that lucky. I had been warned in advance that if I didn’t work for the BBW company hosting the event, then I wasn’t going to win (in fact, there were plenty of rumours that the way to a trophy was sucking someone’s dick, but I have no actual proof of that).
All of this smoke and mirrors would have been ok, frankly, if there had been more fans there. I had almost decided to cancel my appearance, but was told that there were loads of fans signing up every day, and figured at the very least it would be a good opportunity to connect with people who had never encountered my work before. But instead, I found 40 models fighting for the attention and dollars of the same, far outnumbered fans. Maybe it was a good time to be a fan, and get lots of attention, but the fans I spoke to could taste the disappointment of the models.
So I closed down my booth early. I spent hours getting ready with my friends, as we tried on dresses and did our makeup. One lovely model gave me a set of false eyelashes, which I loved so much I didn’t want to sleep so I could wear them all the time. Putting my fluffy strawberry ice cream robe on made me feel like a princess - and frankly, walking around in that outfit was a highlight of the entire weekend. I loved how magical I felt, floating to the red carpet.
The magic ended there, though.
The red carpet was a small scrap in front of an event backdrop. You walked onto the carpet, had some photos taken, and walked off. That was it. No media to ask questions, few fans to gush and wave. Just a brisk, professional moment with as few bells and whistles as possible, which, now that I think of it, could be an expression of the entire event. Now, sure, I know this isn’t AVN, where you parade through a sparkling casino and people are shouting at you and excited to see you. But even small awards shows gave you some props to play with, or some champagne to drink.
We got champagne glasses at our table, stamped with the logo, and nothing to put in them.
My friends and I sat down at a table which, thankfully, was not assigned. We waited for coffee to fill our mugs (never happened) or any type of alcohol (also never happened but thankfully we brought our own). We did get unsweetened iced tea, which was so memetastic as a summary for the slow trainwreck that was this event I snarked about it on Twitter.
Let me tell you about the buffet.
When you think about a buffet, you think about a variety of foods, right? And you think about a buffet specifically for BBWs, many of whom are known for feeder porn, you’d expect that food to be decent, yeah?
This would disappoint you to your very core.
Nothing was labeled, for a start, leading my girlfriend to almost eat pasta salad with black olives which could kill her. Cool story. There was one other variety of pasta salad, steamed and unseasoned broccoli, salmon with a creamy sauce, chicken with a creamy sauce, and some sort of casserole I didn’t dare try because I had no idea what it was. And stale rolls. That was it, our luxurious award show buffet. And for dessert, there was mousse that left a film on my tongue, and cheesecake that was still frozen. Lovely.
Waiting for champagne that never comes is pretty much the best metaphor for this entire event.
Honestly I was expecting the award show’s comedian to be racist, sexist and awful. He surprised me by not being all that bad for most of his set… until he started joking about weight loss. See, he had lost a significant amount of weight, and he felt that this struggle was something a room full of fat women who made money off marketing their rolls was something we could relate to/wanted to hear about.
Deep, deep breaths.
That was the last organized moment of the awards. It became clear that there was no rehearsal, and that while the presenters did the best they could, they were working with no information at all. The PR person won an award for social media personality despite having started multiple fights with models and storming off from the event itself, because “it was a fan award” (I mean, with no transparency, who knows? She might’ve just written her own name in and no one would be the wiser). The company who ran the event, unsurprisingly, won a significant number of the trophies. One woman (who is a fantastic model, mind, and a lovely person) won an award for best site, which surprised even her as her site wasn’t up at the time.
It became clear that there were vanity awards, and then there was this shitshow. We weren’t here to be honored, we were here to line the pockets of the men who already profited off us.
We sat in our room, grumpy in our finery, eating pot noodles and Oreos. We didn’t even know what to say to each other about what we had experienced. We felt so cheated. I, personally, felt terribly guilty, as I believed the organizer when he told me that there would be lots of fans, that there would be awesome parties, that we would feel honored and cared for. I felt like a fool and an asshole, who had wasted my money and that of other poor queers who struggled to pay rent.
One of my friends offered to set up a shoot in my cute outfit, and I agreed. Thank goodness as it’s been several weeks and still no official photos from the event have crossed my timeline. We shot a bunch of pictures, and began to unwind, laughing, doing something together that we love with people who love us. We filmed me smashing one of the logo glasses for the event, threatening the camera with it like a shank, and I began to feel a little bit less angry.
We all vowed to never do an event like this again. We deserve better than to be used as bait, for money and trophies we’ll never see. We deserve transparency on where the money gets spent, money we help earn. We deserve a board of judges who aren’t influenced by any one company, who recognize indie porn studios alongside the bigger ones. We deserve PR that is offered equally to all of us, from someone who genuinely wants to see all of us succeed and get recognition. We deserve food that fills our bellies and an environment that fills our hearts. We deserve workshops to expand our businesses, time to relax and network, and fans who honor us.
It’s hard to be a niche performer. You have to fight twice as hard to be seen, and you get twice the stigma for being a sex worker and whatever your niche is. But we’re not in the 90s anymore. This is the age of internet porn, where performers are branching out into Hollywood again, where all different bodies have a chance to be worshipped. Porn companies need to get with the times, rather than staying mired in the past, or, quite frankly, they’re going to be left behind. Maybe that’s part of the idea of these awards, is a frantic grasping as relevance in industries where the talent is learning how to do it themselves.
Well, I can tell you, it only costs $15 to have a trophy made.
As we drove away from Vegas, we got an alert that we were driving into a firestorm of sand and smoke.
We exchanged a glance.
I floored it.