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What I Learned From Going to the Adult Film Oscars With the King of Porn

What I Learned From Going to the Adult Film Oscars With the King of Porn

I’m not in porn, nor am I a sex worker, but everyone I met leading up to and at the awards thought I was. It was my first time at AVN and I was there to walk my buddy James Deen, everybody’s favorite male porn star (not to feed his ego), down the red carpet as a sort of emotional support animal.

Deen and I met in 2011 when I interviewed him for my blog. The interview was the first in-depth profile of Deen and he hadn’t yet reached the levels of mainstream notoriety that he has now. It helped that the interview was also pretty steamy, and made our immediate friend chemistry evident. But there’s no such thing as “just friends” on the Internet, and stories insinuating we’d slept together popped up on the New York Observer and gossip Tumblrs.

Civilians treat you differently when they assume you’re in porn.

Then, he and I fell out of touch for a couple of years until I moved to Los Angeles last year. Since 2011, Twitter and Instagram have both become commonplace and so if there were titters about the nature of our relationship before, now the ‘ship was sailing into ship town. I get asked about our relationship on my Tumblr and in emails regularly. His assistant also fields questions about us. Eventually we embraced “fake dating” and decided it would be amusing to walk the carpet together.

A week before, he, my sister, and I went shopping together in Beverly Hills for the white dress I wore on the red carpet and later stored on that plane. The male retail worker at Yves St Laurent patted him on the back, winking that he knew who he was. The female retail workers at BCBG gritted their teeth when I said I was looking for a dress for AVN. Deen and my sister called our shopping trip “a real Pretty Woman moment.” On my way into a dressing room, Deen smirked and stayed silent as I nervously explained “the porn awards” to a confounded employee. Later, he told me that people in the industry call people not in porn “civilians” the way soldiers would refer to non-soldiers.

No surprise: Civilians treat you differently when they assume you’re in porn.

At the expo preceding the awards, it’s a Comic Con of porn. Deen has his own merchandise booth where he sells replicas of his penis, movies like PornoRomance and Anal Day, and stickers with cartoon pandas on them. Deen fans (or Deenagers), who don’t look that different from the type of people that would be at Comic Con, come by and meet him, taking photos and getting spanked. The other booths advertise weed-based lubricant, German BDSM companies, cam girls, and various lesbian shenanigans.

By being in and around AVN, consent to touch me is implied. On the showroom floor, strangers run their fingers through my purple hair when they compliment it. Men push past me in the crowds with their hands firmly around my waist or rub my back in greeting. There are zero physical boundaries.

As you might imagine, it wasn’t much different in the strip club. The night before the awards, I went to Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club with a journalist friend and her boyfriend and saw porn goddesses Kayden Kross, Joanna Angel and Allie Haze dance. My cab driver originally drove me around back because he thought I was a stripper, which was the second most flattering thing that’s ever happened to me. (The first was two years ago when a woman at the mall thought my hair was extensions.) It’s a typical strip club experience: fake boobs in my face, too much money spent, vodka til the early morning. Mostly, I felt badly for the regular strippers (including one little person stripper who slayed the pole) because they had to compete for tips with the superstars of porn.

Once again, even though I’m not in porn—and was wearing jeans and a sweater, not that it should matter—the men attending the show felt free to touch me. One grabbed my hand as I walked by the stage to get my attention and then wouldn’t let me go back up to where my friends were sitting in the Fleshlight-sponsored VIP area. There were strippers around that he was allowed to touch and that permission, it seemed, extended to female patrons. “Maybe he thinks you’re a cam girl,” my friend suggested, because of my bright hair and large tattoos. If you have to touch a woman at this strip club, though, dude, maybe touch the strippers?

The next day, when I walked the red carpet with Deen, the media was confused about who I was. Many assumed I was a new starlet they hadn’t heard of yet. I could tell because they said so, and also they asked me invasive questions like if I’m wearing underwear (I said “Spanx, thanks”), and what fictional character I’d most want to fuck (“Hermione Granger.”) These are all questions that, if asked of Emma Stone or Jennifer Lawrence on the red carpet, would have caused an uproar on feminist Twitter, but at AVN they are standard queries. We’re all public property, no one more so than the performers.

Yet part of me enjoys how open everyone is about their sexuality. Deen has said I’m his prudest friend, which is not a word that has ever been used to describe me. Among my other friends, I’m the person chided for “TMI” violations. But here I feel a sense of ease. There’s nothing I could say that would upset anyone. I’m just a civilian, after all.

You're a girl at a porn convention. You belong to everyone.

The actual awards show was expertly hosted by porn stars Tommy Pistol and Alexis Texas. It included a musical number that namechecked Neil Patrick Harris and a running joke about how Pistol has never fucked Texas. (I guess because unlike the real Texas, she has...gun control...Get it?) They were assisted by comedian and non-porn performer Danielle Stewart, who competently handled a thankless job. She made a joke about being the only one with pubic hair, which rubbed some performers near me the wrong way. (The impression I got was that bush is making a comeback. If you’re going to joke about porn at the Porn Oscars, maybe don’t go so broad with the comedy.)

The rap duo Rae Sremmurd performed “No Flex Zone” and “No Type” and performers got up on the stage to dance with them, which was my first real look at what everyone was wearing. There was one performer whose slits were so high up that she flashed her vagina when she moved, and one woman walked the red carpet naked with a website called Pervout.com painted on her butt. Another was wrapped in red rope in some form of a dress with black X’s over her nipples.

Deen ended up winning Mainstream Star Of The Year and Favorite Male Porn Star. Afterwards, I got too drunk in the casino and apparently told Deen he “wasn’t my dad” when he tried to shush me. We laughed and hung out and talked to fans. I posted photos of us on Instagram and opened a renewed floodgate of random commenters wondering if we were finally dating or “how it felt to be fucked by a porn star” as if our friendship—or what we do with our bodies—is any of their business.

While walking around that weekend, four different guys asked if I’d take a photo with them, and it was expected that I comply even though I wasn’t there as a performer. (I’m not sure why—just for being hot?) You don’t even have to be in porn to become part of the AVN showcase. You’re a girl at a porn convention. You belong to everyone.

In the morning, on the ride to the airport, my taxi driver asked me, even though I never said I was a porn star, “how the awards went for me.”

“They were fun,” I replied. “I won a lot.”

Gaby Dunn is a writer, comedian, YouTuber, and journalist in Los Angeles. Her porn name would be Baby Fillmore.