I was at a networking fair for porn actresses

I was at a networking fair for porn actresses

With a pulse-increasing mixture of curiosity and uncertainty, I enter the lobby of the Hotel Catalonia in Berlin-Mitte and thus a world to which I am becoming more and more, but not really one of them. The international porn scene meets here for three days for networking: XBIZ Berlin.

“Are you a performer?” Asked the lady at the reception beaming. I scan my body in disbelief in a kind of internalized self-body shaming, even though I should know that porn actresses of all sizes, shapes and looks exist and are successful. You can still know so much and still be caught in the simplest cliché thinking. Her eyebrows raised in a pinch pull me briefly out of my loop of thoughts. “Um, no, press!” I say no. Has a certain irony of how I’m ashamed at the moment not to be a porn actress. I think of how often they have to keep quiet about their work.

It is welcome happy hour and I get into conversation with all sorts of people surprisingly quickly. Smile pseudo-naturally with the cam girls and producers into the cameras of the wandering photographers and think inside: If they knew how my everyday life looks like. Library, office hours, institute conference. I am a porn scientist, I am doing my PhD – but today I am here to report.

Although I – unlike many here – wear my real name around my neck, I feel almost incognito. I have the industrial jargon good enough not to stand out as a civilian. This is what porn insiders call all those who do not work in the industry.

Business cards, mostly Twitter or Instagram, are rarely used to get to know each other. I want to follow a likeable newcomer, but I don’t find her. “Damn shadow banning!” I say with a smile and I’m surprised that you don’t understand that. Social media use this technique to specifically block the content of sex workers. She looks in disbelief at the group of established names. They all nod in resignation.

Including one of the so-called ambassadors of the event, i.e. figureheads. She has 100,000 followers on Twitter. She is small and narrow, 23 years old, and with her glasses and turtleneck sweater she could sit completely inconspicuously in one of my literature seminars. In the most charming British accent, she explains to me that she doesn’t feel too comfortable in such situations. That it is difficult for her to approach new people. Two evenings later, she will receive the Best Female Cam Model 2019 award. I keep forgetting that exhibitionism should not be confused with extrovert. Social fears are about as common in the porn world as they are in science. We all feel less vulnerable behind our screens.

The next day, for lunch, I meet the founder of an organization that offers stigma-free psychological help. “Many sex workers have the experience of encountering incomprehension, even devaluation, in therapeutic treatment,” she explains. It is often tried to save women from something they do not want to be saved from. The bitter irony is that it is precisely the lack of social acceptance that is what they need to be protected from and what drives them into psychological crises in the first place.

Meeting the performers is all about work-life balance, the pressure to be permanently present on social media, the mixture of public and private person, in other words, topics that would be discussed exactly the same way among young journalists. The room is crowded and heated up like the mood. After all, it’s about livelihoods. A performer complains that men get less money than women for the same scene. I can not help but a little feminist grin-happy grin.

The first thing you notice on the production side is the reverse gender ratio. Women are clearly outnumbered here. Probably the most successful of them makes highly stylized “Instagram porn”, which turns dreads and tattoos into the most striking horror porn that “starts where BDSM ends”, the oldest wants to “revolutionize granny porn”. The market is diverse.

Everyone is united by one thing: the changes that the Internet brings. “How many here still rely primarily on DVD sales?” Is asked in the room – only three hands are raised. Porn happens digitally today. Nevertheless, geographical differences come up again and again: “Seize the opportunities that Europe offers,” recalls an experienced voice. In the discussion about language barriers, someone suggests: “If his accent is strong, you make him a Russian stepfather!” It is laughed at. In contrast to university operations, this branch is full of likeable self-irony.

During the break, my insider connection as a porn scientist came out when he introduced me to the XBIZ boss. “So a German Constance Penley!”, He comments flatteringly. Penley is a professor at a US elite university, an icon of porn studies. The man knows his way around. Why am I surprised? Caught in the cliché again. “It must be strange for you here to be used to academic conferences,” he says. “It doesn’t really matter!” I reply. And I mean it that way.

There is also a keynote here where I listen to the Canadian entrepreneur in a gray hooded sweater and think about the women in this industry, who are so different and much more diverse in my encounters than the unified picture that the media paint. Of course there are also the loud, brightly colored women with silicone breasts pressed in lacquer. I may see five of them here. From over 100? But they are so much easier and more impressive to tell and illustrate. And that is why they are so overrepresented. Not that they are not justified, but they are much better as a projection screen for fear and demarcation – especially for other women.

The next day it gets technical and complicated: The meeting of the paysites resembles a cross between IT and business lecture, two more hours of legal discussions, the panel on HIV focuses on the question of whether trust in PrEP is a question of generations. My head is buzzing with input.

When I go to take a breath in the courtyard, there is a clique of the alternative Berlin porn scene that I know of – “Welcome to the nerd table!”, They greet me. They’re kind of the porn punks here. They are interested in art, subculture, diversity. I have the impression that they feel almost out of place here than I do.

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