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February 09, 2018

AVN Expo Panel Looks Into 'Slut Shaming and Troll Taming'

Above, from left, Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals, Janice Griffith, Venus Lux, Liam Riley, Jacky St. James, Mia Li and Nikki Night; photo by Jeff Koga/@KogaFoto LAS VEGAS, Nev.—As everyone who doesn't go to church on Sunday knows (not to mention quite a few who do go), porn is pretty popular—but it's also one of the least-respected professions in America today, running about neck-and-neck with garbage collectors and sewer workers. For that reason, lots of jerks of various varieties feel that it's their right to bash adult performers and other "sex-positives" on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and pretty much wherever else they can spew their bile without being monitored out—and that can be pretty hurtful to the targets of their animosity. With that reality in mind, not to mention the deaths of a number of adult actresses in recent months, AVN felt it would be a good idea to bring together a group of actresses and other adult personalities to discuss how they handle the "stalkers, haters and trolls who lurk everywhere, ready to pass judgment on members of the industry—not only for their choice of work and lifestyle, but for their appearance, ethnicity and gender orientation." Moderated by adult-friendly academic Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals, well-known adult personalities—performers Janice Griffith, Mia Li, Venus Lux and Liam Riley; director Jacky St. James; and Cam4 Head Coach Nikki Night—spent the better part of an hour giving audience members tips on how to avoid unwanted trolls in their social media feeds, and how to deal with their slut-shaming spew in a healthy, positive way. "The flip side of social media is antisocial media, and adult stars see their fair share," Tibbals began. "Stalkers, haters and trolls are everywhere, ready to pass judgment on members of the industry, their choices of work and lifestyle, their appearance, ethnicity, gender presentation and more." Tibbals divided the discussion into two parts: Comments received from those outside the industry, and then, in an apparent nod to the recent death of August Ames, comments by industry insiders. Moderator Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals conferred with panelists before the discussion began; photo by Jeff Koga Night began with a unique perspective. "Everything on the internet is a fetish," she said. "I'm a dom; trust me: All you're doing is domming someone for free. Even getting banned from a room is a fetish, and sometimes we have to take a step back... and realize that people pay a lot of money to be called rude, messed-up things, so take a step back and don't take everything super-personally." Night stressed that each performer online is a human being, first of all. "How many people have posted something, 'Oh, she's this, that, that, that'? She's a person, but because there's so much stuff around us, we forget that she's a person." Night told of how she dealt with one "fan" whom she described as "such a bitch": "I said, 'You know what? You're so good, I'm gonna make you my official troll; I'm appointing you.' Now she ended up being my biggest fan, and any time someone is in my room trolling me, she's like, 'No, the position is taken'; like, 'I'm the only troll here. You aren't allowed at all.'" Griffith took a more nuanced approach, but agreed with Night that, "A lot of these people want to be humiliated so they go out of their way to try to instigate arguments and fights, so they can satisfy their fetish for them ... so to stop other people from being rude to us over our race, gender, appearance, what-have-you, we need to stop doing it to other people. ... I don't give a fuck ... about what someone is saying at home on the internet, writing hate mails to everyone; I don't value their opinion. Sorry; opinions can be wrong, and I know we all have these people that send us religious texts, and I'm like, 'How did you find me? What were you doing on the internet that you stumbled across my page? You didn't happen upon me; that's not how this works. You took the time out of your day to send me this religious spiel telling me I'm going to hell, telling you want this from me. I don't care about your opinion; you're wasting your life away.'" "I usually try to not engage, moreso just to be able to keep my sanity and not build a dramatic scenario where I just get heated," explained Lux. "What I do is, I support those who help moderate my feed and keep an eye out for me and protect me ... and I keep dialog consistent with my fans who help watch the trolls for me. When I started my career, there were a lot of trolls ... but I had to be comfortable in my own skin as a trans person and not let that affect me. ... Just keeping it positive and using other ways to empower myself, basically I always feed into the positive." Li noted that early on, she was exposed to a lot of online trolls, who criticized pretty much anything about her, but as her career grew, she realized, "I don't need to give energy to that. I don't need to engage with them. 'If you want me to be mean to you, pay me; thank you.'" Her other tactics: Turning off comments to postings and staying away from social media. "I like what you guys have said, and sometimes I wish I could embrace what your philosophy is, which is like making the troll 'Queen Troll,'" St. James began. "I'm a very sensitive person, and because of that, that's why I work behind the camera and I still get hate emails and tweets and comments on my Instagram about my appearance and the content I produce. For me, what's important is to realize that everyone copes differently with things, and for me, the tactic that works best for me is, I deleted all of my social media apps on my phone, and I access them from my computer. Also, I never engage, because I find they want that, and I remember there were years when I was getting trolled and engaging them, and then I'd look back and I was like, 'Three hours passed; I could have written something substantial or moved my career forward, and I wasted them on somebody that really is nobody in my life'—but I think, as an individual, you have to figure out what tactic works for you." The sole male on the panel, Liam Riley, focused on the haters who put him down because he's gay. "I've always had a large following, and it's really a cross between gay and straight, and people really try to come and attack you," he noted. "I've been called everything in the book you can imagine, just from random people, and there was a time when I also didn't give time to social media and deleted everything, and I realized I don't need it; at the end of the day, I can totally stand on my own. But I was able to come back to social media, and got amounts of love from everybody who waited for me, everyone who wanted me to come back to the internet, and I developed a strong relationship with the people that really do support and love me." Tibbals then turned the panel's attention to people within the adult industry who post hurtful or harassing messages about their fellow industry members. Night noted that she doesn't engage in a lot of peer-to-peer commentary, but that when she comes to conventions like AEE, she practices a form of "tough love." For example, if she sees two industry members fighting with each other, she'll grab them and ask, "'What's happening? Okay, cool; let's hug it out. You need to just love each other.' ... But as a model, it can cause anxiety and all of a sudden you feel they're just everywhere and even though it's not true, it's really unfortunate, and what I tell people is, you can just block them, and say to yourself, I'm going to block them; I'm not going to listen to this gossip. ... To me, if it doesn't make dollars, it doesn't make sense"—a remark that drew both laughter and applause. Night went on to advise, "Take some time, get more involved in your off-screen life, remember who you are, make sure you take time off and work on you, and if you need to talk to someone, do it." Griffith agreed with Night, noting that "harassment from peers is a markedly different experience than harassment from outside in, because they're in your industry and it just feels so much more personal because they know what you go through, they know what your life is like; 'How dare you?'" Griffith noted that most performers are freelancers, and so don't have some of the institutional support groups that an employee might have. "We keep trying to fix problems with words in made-up ways, like 'We're gonna support each other! We're gonna put together mental health services!' What does that mean? Are you going to have therapists that come to sets? Are therapists going to go through the agents? There's no way to regulate that." Regarding peer-to-peer harassment, Griffith likened such activity to society at large, where most people don't know others outside of a small circle, and "There aren't networks for us to get to know each other." She noted, "Our mental health is suffering as a society in general right now; we're all pretty depressed. With the sexual harassment and assaults that's been going on, a lot of people have been in this state of ... PTSD? We're all reliving these sexual traumas that have occurred, and we're digging up these serious issues and facing them for once, so it feels bad and hard, and we don't have the tools to communicate with each other effectively. ... We're trying to hold each other accountable, and we don't know how to interact with each other, so it comes off as fighting or attacking or mean. "Peer-to-peer harassment is garbage and insensitive," she concluded. "We all need to take care of each other, and there's no use in fighting with each other for the sake of fighting. The rest of the world is going to shit on us, so we should stand together." That last remark drew fervent applause from the crowd. Lux echoed some of Griffith's concerns regarding the lack of peer support groups, and noted that from her perspective as a trans person, "It's quite difficult for people to navigate me, especially other peers. When it comes to peer-to-peer harassment, I feel from my experiences, it comes from a stigma, from what people hear about trans performers or shooting trans performers or how trans people behave or whatever. It's quite difficult and very personal, because it's attacking my identity, not just my job." Lux said she hoped that industry veterans would pass along their coping mechanisms to newcomers. the recently elected president of the Adult Performers Advocacy Committee (APAC), noted that her organization was dedicated to "safer workplaces, community organization in regard to political action and legislative areas to keep our industry safe and to make sure our voices are amplified in those spaces, as well as community building and providing resources." "I know we are a fragmented industry," she said, "and we are often strangers even though we see these faces and more on Twitter [but] it doesn't mean we can help more or communicate effectively, where we can have conflict resolution effectively, and Twitter is not the place for conflict resolution—I don't think that's shocking for any of you—because the way I see Twitter and the conflict between peers is that you are on the stage and everyone can participate, and that really doesn't lend itself to open and honest communication for those looking for empathy or what-have-you." Li noted that the success she's had in the adult industry so far has been in part because of support from her peers, and said that "support systems change lives, they really do." "I would say, don't be apathetic, and that's honestly the best thing I can say," intoned St. James. "For me, having endured five years of peer-to-peer harassment, which I don't know if it's still going on because I have since blocked and done the necessary things [not to see it], I will say that whenever I see somebody being harassed online, I reach out to them personally and make sure they're okay. Because we don't have a system in place right now and because we don't have these support groups, what we can do starting this moment is, when we see it, instead of texting to our friends and gossiping about it, why don't we reach out to the person being harassed and make sure they're okay?" "I am guilty of having peer-to-peer conflict," Riley admitted. "I remember a time when you get in a fight with somebody and you want to engage in it, but stepping back from it and looking on it now, it creates a division between the fans, because they obviously want to take sides, and the entire industry is seeing it. It's just not professional; it doesn't represent you, doesn't represent the company you're working for, and you can lose jobs from it, so I think peer-to-peer conflict, we're all adults. The best thing to do is pick up the phone and call that person, be like, 'Hey, I heard this; I have a problem with this,' and just work it out as grown-up people." Li, Tibbals then opened the floor to questions, and someone asked whether the panel thought cam models were subject to more harassment than porn performers. Most of the responses centered around how those on the panel who had cammed or do cam had to learn to be thick-skinned when faced with putdowns. "You get tough as nails pretty darn quick when you figure out what's happening," Night stated. "When I first started out, I was like, 'I have to be nice to every single one of them'," said Li, "but if they're not paying my bills, why are they in there? It's a privilege for them to have access to me, and if they're bringing up things [I don't like], I'm like, 'email me or pay me money for this labor, or bye-bye'." Griffith noted that it's not just fellow performers who can be harassing; sometimes the problem is crew members on a shoot. "It's a different kind of interaction," she said. "I had one crew member call me a 'fucking retard' on a set because I wasn't okay with the fetishization of lesbians ... I was yelled at but I had to do the scene anyway. ... It wasn't my place to do anything. I wish I could've, but everyone was on his side. He yelled at me and there was radio silence from the rest of the crew. What was I to do?" For her part, Li came out for educating her fans and others both in and outside the industry. "My very existence and how I live my life is a counterargument to [ignorance]," she said. 'Being vocal about my beliefs and values isn't an argument for cognition, but this is me, yeah; that's it. I'm into conflict resolution if there's a specific incident, but when it comes to shaming me, shaming the fact that I'm a sex worker, that I love it, that I love the things that I do, I'm going to advocate for that; I'm going to advocate for folks to claim their sexuality." Griffith disagreed. "It's not our job to educate the people," she said. "It's not the oppressed's job to educate the oppressor, and we're all doing such amazing work that volunteering this energy and labor into education, it's a big deal to have the privilege to do this panel; it's a big deal to take time from our work to educate you all. ... The way that a lot of people phrase their curiosity is abrasive and aggressive, like, 'I'M JUST TRYIN' TO LEARN!' and it sounds just like that. Truly, it's really incredible how some people are like, 'YOU STUPID FUCKING SLUT, I JUST WANT TO LEARN!' I mean, I know it's crazy that I don't want to explain something to you because you're cursing at me and telling me I'm less than human because of something that doesn't affect you at all." Riley suggested that those who really do want to learn about the adult industry "take the time to practice a little more respect and courtesy and, honestly, general manners; general manners go really, really far. That, we can teach." As the panel wrapped up, one audience member suggested that producers "really start taking a stand for their performers in a really big way, because this is a hard industry ... I really hope that more producers can start taking a stand for their performers"—to which St. James added, "And the agents, because as a producer myself, I always make sure that the talent's taken care of." Griffith also suggested, "There's a lot of production going on where the director will say, 'By the way, so you're fucking your stepbrother,' and I'm like, 'Cool; maybe we shouldn't just assume that people do incest unless they say otherwise? Maybe we should ask ... I've faced a lot of backlash for not being okay with some script things, and people made me feel really bad for it, and I'm like, 'I don't want to do sex stuff that makes me feel bad, and I think that's okay. I still want to have sex on camera for money." She then began faux sobbing, "Is that not enough for you people? I'm sorry I don't want to be my daddy's little girl who wanted to go shopping or something and then my stepdaddy told me I couldn't and then—I don't know—we had sex ... I'm just here for gonzo, but I guess I'm ten years too late." On that semi-humorous note, time was up, but it seemed as though the audience felt they'd all learned something—and hopefully some will modify their online presence because of that new knowledge.

 
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