Deep Inside the 2016 Transgender Erotica Awards

It's Sunday night, and six-foot transsexual glamazons light up the entrance of the Avalon night club on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, decked out in floor-length sequined numbers and almost see-through latex rompers. A rare L.A. rain has washed away the tourists. The be-glittered figures shine just that much more starkly under the urban moonlight.

It isn’t an entirely out-of-the ordinary scene for any given Hollywood excursion; for the transsexual porn community, it's the beginning of one of the least ordinary nights of the year.

The Transgender Erotica Awards (TEA) Show, now in its eighth year, marks the culmination of a year’s (literally) hard fucking work. It’s like the Oscars of transsexual porn, honoring trans performers, directors, photographers, and supporters of the transsexual porn community.

These aren’t any old prismatic gowns. These are prismatic gowns the nominees hope to take home an award in. For Best Shemale Stroker Model of the Year, Best Internet Personality, Best New Face—or one of the 26 other award categories.

What is his business here? Being a fan, plain and simple. “I appreciate beauty,” he explains. “Aren’t these girls beautiful?”

The atmosphere is thick with high aspirations.

The Best New Face is being announced: A trans model at my table wrings her hands and whispers, “Please, please, please.”

The Fan’s Choice Award comes up. A different model at my table laments, “I hope I have enough votes.” (Both models lose.)

TEA Show creator Steven Grooby explains the serious atmosphere: “They get to come out in gowns, not slutty outfits. No one else gives them that.”

According to trans porn star Domino Presley, the TEA Show offers a rare opportunity for everyone in the globe-wide community to hobnob. “[We’ve come from] the U.S. to Canada to Tokyo—it’s a reunion. I haven’t seen this girl in like a year,” Presley says, eyeing a friend.

Presley adds that many trans models don’t attend mainstream adult industry award shows, such as the XBIZ Awards in L.A. and AVN in Vegas. Here, cis takes second saddle. This is their night.

Throughout the evening, I talk with a porn site operator from Estonia, a photo re-toucher from Montreal, trans porn stars from Brazil, Japan, and St. Petersburg, Russia. Many of them have jumped on a plane or suffered long car rides to make an appearance.

A Filipino businessman named Bernard, one of my friends for the evening, tells me he drove down from San Francisco to join the shenanigans. What is his business here? Being a fan, plain and simple. “I appreciate beauty,” he explains. “Aren’t these girls beautiful?”

(Full disclosure: I’m a cis straight woman with little exposure to the trans community outside of the several years I’ve covered adult entertainment. I agree. They are beautiful.)

A high-ish brow feel about the evening differs sharply from the last time I attended, in 2014. At that show, held in Glendale, the din from revelers hitting the bar all but drowned out the award announcements. This year, the entire audience listens to Lifetime Achievement Award-winner TS Madison’s acceptance speech with rapt attention—after giving her a standing ovation.

“People try to judge us based on what we have to do to survive,” TS Madison tells the audience. “…[My career’s given me] the opportunity to reach the mainstream. I let them know what’s going on with our community. I tell them, ‘Bitches gonna treat us hoes equally.’ ”

“I want to thank all you hoes,” Domino Presley says. “I want to thank myself. I don’t know what to say; I am fucked up.”

In a night of celebration, not objectification, activism is in the air. A suited businessman-type named Sidney tells me his goal is to make the trans lifestyle as acceptable as Burger King. He feels that the gay and lesbian community is only beginning to warm to trans men and women.

In a sense, the event’s name change reflects an evolutionary turning point. The Tranny Awards transitioned into the TEA Show soon after the 2014 show, in response to critics within and without the industry who consider the term tranny derogatory. Award category names have been toned down a bit, too. The hope is that the renaming signals that a more progressive take on trans porn—and the performers who dedicate their flesh and blood to it—is nigh.

But all that progress isn’t married to P.C. (yet). Kaitlyn Gender: Based on a Not So True Story ties with My TS Student for Best DVD.

“I want to thank all you hoes,” Domino Presley says, accepting the award for Bob’s Tgirl of the Year. “I want to thank myself. I don’t know what to say; I am fucked up.”

The last thing I see before leaving the show is two middle-aged T-girls posing topless on an empty red carpet. A much younger male companion holds their coats.

Outside, things are a lot less shiny.