This Leading Trans Porn Company Is Wiping Slurs from Its Site

One of the longest-running trans porn sites in the world has renamed itself, shedding the “shemale” term.

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Aug 26 2017, 7:18pm

Photos courtesy of GroobyGirls.com 

One of the longest-running trans porn companies in the world is removing stigmatizing language—such as "tranny" and "shemale"—from its lexicon. Grooby, which is over 20 years old and started the Transgender Erotica Awards, changed the name of its flagship site in August, shifting from "ShemaleYum.com" to "GroobyGirls.com." The shift marks a milestone in the porn industry.

Jelena Vermilion, whom VICE previously interviewed and has worked with Grooby, mentioned how she has at times felt uncomfortable about slurs being used in the porn world.

"If I'm talking about me as an individual, I don't personally like the word 'tranny' or 'shemale' or other words that are used against trans folks… As far as how they're used in the industry, it's kind of a necessary evil because it's the infrastructure, how things have been set up over time by people in power: white cis men who started the porn industry, people currently running the industry," Vermilion said.

"Ideally, I'd prefer for those terms not to be used. I wish we lived in a culture where we could just google 'trans woman,' 'trans girl,' other more clinical, correct terms, as opposed to fantasized slurs."

VICE talked to Kristel Penn, Grooby's marketing and editorial director, to find out how the historic porn company is evolving in an industry where it has long been normalized to use slurs in the marketing of content. The company's 2017-2018 plans include removing offensive terms from the rest of their sites.

VICE: How was the decision made to change the name of Grooby's flagship site?
Kristel Penn: The site is our oldest, I think it came out in '97. In the context of the landscape culturally, especially in porn, in terms of social awareness… the terminology is different, and that's a lot more prevalent. As the brand grew, it hasn't fallen on deaf ears that some of our performers have had problems with it. It wasn't meant to offend anyone, but I think particularly in porn, and porn that is focused in part on identity, it can be kind of a complicated issue for us.

It's something we've been talking about internally for a while. It's been coming up over and over and over for us… We couldn't do that switchover until we found something that would make sense.

We felt we could make a statement by saying just "GroobyGirl." We don't use any identifiers or anything close to that, it's just "GroobyGirl."

From my understanding of it, we were one of the first companies to stop using those identifiers and terms in our SEO [search engine optimization]. I know some companies still choose to do that. It was just a decision we decided to make. We do use "t-girl," which seems to have more social acceptance. We haven't used those [offensive] identifiers in marketing or SEO for a while now.

When you did stop using those terms for SEO and such, what was the discussion at your company around how it would affect traffic?
It's a big deal... Ultimately, we're a business, and you want to make sure your product gets to the people who are looking for it. We found that "shemale" has the highest SEOs versus other terms. So it was a conversation we kept revisiting, especially because terms that we use in pornography are different than those you'd necessarily use outside of porn. Our concern at the time was if we are using different terms, like "transgender," are we violating search engine results of people who are looking for resources, whether it's educational resources or support services?

I wish I could say it was an easy process. I'm POC and queer, so for me, just sort of trying to balance and talk to other people and doing self-reflection about what the responsibility is: Is it to educate?

I don't think there's a simple answer, to be honest. I think language is difficult because it's subjective—one person feels one way about a word, whereas another person feels differently. You want to be as mindful and respectful as possible; it's tricky while maintaining the balance as a business in an environment where it's so heavily reliant on identifiers.

You said you've had performers and fans express concern over the use of stigmatizing terminology. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Because of the nature of my job in particular, I work with a lot of performers one on one in a variety of different scenarios. Some people say, "This is not who I am, this is porn, this is temporary." But I have had performers who are uncomfortable with the terminology who feel it doesn't fit their identity… The people I've talked to, even if they say they don't like the terminology, it doesn't seem to be a black-and-white issue for them. I understand that. I know for some people it is very clear—I respect that as well. I think for a lot of people, it sort of exists in this grey area. I know it does for me.

There are people out there who go looking for trans porn because they are fetishizing trans women and might not even know the proper terms that are acceptable socially today. So what about those people?
Right. What I'm in the process of doing on my end is [about education]. I'd like to have more education so we don't shame people who are using those terms to get to us, however they get to us. But I want to be able to put something on our site that explains, [if they got there using those terms], "If you're looking for this kind of content, which we think you are, why don't you visit these sites?" Then we'd list our sites. I think that part of the problem is people are ignorant and using these terms, and if we shame them as part of our process, it might turn people off from it.

My idea is that we sort of limit the shame and stigma around it, and how we handle these words will hopefully be it. That's going to come out in the next couple of months.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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