The queer, the pornstar and a tweet too far

Words by Harrison Johnstone
Art by Kea Tokley-Higgins

Asphyxia by hanging is what the reports say, but how did one of the world’s most beloved pornstars find herself feeling like the only option was a rope?

A Twitter flame war, history of depression and a grim misconception seem to offer the answers.

The world knew her as August Ames, but those close enough to care knew her as Mercedes Grabowski; often referred to as the sweetest and most caring woman in the adult film industry. But, behind her gentle and attractive facade, were years of mental torture from incidents of routine sexual assault she allegedly suffered as a child.

The 23-year-old’s mental state was grim, haunted by flashbacks of childhood abuse that fuelled her depression. She couldn’t bring herself to leave her bed, forcing herself to cancel scenes for weeks at a time. Driving her past the point of existence, and exposing her fragile emotional state to torrents of online abuse, were her misinformed opinions on “crossover” performers and her will to express those opinions on Twitter. Crossover, meaning cisgender male performers shooting scenes with both cis women, cis men or with trans women.

“Whichever (lady) performer is replacing me tomorrow… you’re shooting with a guy who has shot gay porn, just to let cha know,” Ames tweeted the day before her death.

“Do agents really not care about who they’re representing? I do my homework for my body.”

Then the flood came. Waves of abuse, threats of death and mentions of suicide were thrust upon Ames – all stemming from the well worn stereotype that “gay” performers aren’t tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as often before shoots and are therefore “higher risk”.

Let’s clear this up; straight porn requires frequent STI testing and minimal condom use, gay (or crossover) porn requires infrequent STI testing and necessary condom use. Where Ames, and many other pornstars draw their distaste for crossover performers from, is the implications that they may be a little more wild in their personal sex lives. The right to choose and the rights of crossovers to perform in both genres; collide in an awkward mess of PC culture and professional courtesy.

Could you trust a pornstar with your life? To always wear protection in professional and personal pursuits? Where the risk is always greater than the reward? That’s the line August Ames chose to draw, but she drew that line on Twitter and this is what befell her…

“The world is awaiting your apology or for you to swallow a cyanide pill. Either or we’ll take it,” replied pansexual porn star Jaxton Wheeler.

“I am just so sorry people like you are still so uneducated. Our industry has a hard enough time we don’t need your hate and ignorance,” said gay porn star Trenton Ducati.

It’s a touchy subject for performers on both sides of the line, with opportunities for crossover pornstars often dictated by a director or studio’s stance on homosexuality – the right to work has become a fight for survival. That struggle is where Ames faltered, to trust in homophobic notions of safety or to take a “risk” on your co-star operating professionally and with protection both on and off screen. The 290 film veteran is now a martyr for a cause greater than herself, the 23-year-old dying for her “no list” and the right of refusal in porn performances.

Crossover performers, like Wheeler, live on with the memory of Ames in their hearts but the struggle for on screen equality on their minds. The toxic stigma surrounding crossover porn performers continues to be a painful reminder of history’s overwhelming homophobia, but with the continued growth and acceptance of the LGBTIQ+ community, these barriers seem to be falling slowly over time.

Any solution to resolving this stigma, something that may have saved the life of August Ames, lies in testing so frequent it would hamper an already floundering studio porn industry. Obliterating homophobic misconceptions surrounding crossover and gay pornstars; in the minds of studios, directors and female stars. For now, performers still adopt the same thinking as Ames, keeping crossover performers on their “no lists”. The mistrust of crossover performers, and “promiscuous” straight stars, continues to cast a shadow on a subset of workers struggling in a female star dictated industry.

Maybe one day we’ll see sexual acceptance spread to the very place it is explored most, porn.

If you’re feeling down, don’t hesitate to contact Monash Counselling Services on 1300 788 336.

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