A Firsthand Account of the Oscars of Porn


Words by Kayden Kross | Photos by Sye Williams

Tuesday: We drove ourselves in.

I slung a finger loosely over the wheel and Manuel steamed the glass with his feet shoved up. The shot was straight for five hours. We sucked down milkshakes from a drive-through while going over the details of a schedule that would stretch through the weekend, taking place inside of a single casino in Vegas. Already, we are exhausted at the thought of it. No amount of preparation could get us ahead of the energy suck that is four long days of conventions, panels, meetings, dinners, and scheduled appearances. The final, crowning event is not only the reward on the other side of the marathon just ahead of us, but the reward on the other side of the year that is just behind us. The AVN (Adult Video News) awards show is validation of our work. Every year we joke jovially with the performers who cry on stage in their gowns and big make-up. Glamorous as it may appear on this night though, porn is blue collar—the estranged working-class cousin of the entertainment industry. We pour our own coffee, we wait in lines, we pull our suitcases and monitor the details of our schedules. We drive ourselves in.

Hard Rock Casino 10:12am : Kayden doing what the industry calls a “pink spread” with the money she earned dancing the night before.

Wednesday: The coffee place keeps changing hands but every year the line is the same. It is full of mousy, tucked-in employees whose cubicles back home are decorated with blow up dolls and suction-cupped dildos, unknown performers wearing BDSM gear and Keds and badges swinging from their necks, slack-jawed fans with their eyes roving. I stand in it. In the halls men stop us for pictures not knowing who we are. They take cues from the lashes. When they ask me, I tell them my name and they repeat Cadence. I had to negotiate who would carry in the boxes of signing material and merchandise I meant to hawk at my booth. Group consensus chose me. I enter the show with my hands full and my badge balanced atop of the top box. To my left, a women balances a cardboard box of used panties she’ll sell on her free arm and to my right, a man wheels a sex doll in with a wheelchair. We all wear high heels. The camaraderie is high and we are equally annoyed when security stops us to verify the information on our wristbands as well. After eight hours, I leave the show floor for an interview, followed by a dinner. I don’t cry once, except for the sting of tears that fill my eyes when I feel a blister starting to form. Total time in these shoes: 12 hours.

“Vintage” clothing.

Thursday: Wednesday was an adjustment period. It takes a day to remember how to walk through crowds without being grabbed and how to look ahead without making eye contact. Now I’m in stride. My feet are swollen just the right amount, which makes my shoes fit better. Convention heels are purchased with conventions in mind. It takes a day or two for the fans to hit their strides too. Now people know me. Due to the schedule, there’s only one way to respond when you’re walking forward and hear your name called: you don’t. My name is called more than usual this year because it is my first year attending as a check writer. My studio is called TRENCHCOATx and has released exactly two DVDs in the eligible nomination period. We have 10 nominations. In our little subgroup, that’s something. At the coffee stand I am used to seeing performers scan the line for people to network with. For the first time, their eyes light up when they see me. From the show floor I leave to film a how-to video for a Fleshlight. There are four steps, as I learn. I teach them all. This makes me late for another interview, and in turn late for a dinner. I cry from the stress. Total time in heels: 14 hours.

Dolls Playground.

Friday: The first of the hangovers. It should be noted that most of these dinners are really drinks with dinner set in front of us to appear decent. I’ve had these dresses tailored to fit me on an empty stomach and I don’t take chances. Today’s dress was specially tailored, and see-through at that. Deflecting male advances is like riding a bike though, and I’m in full swing. Fridays are the biggest days of the convention because Saturdays share the spotlight with the awards show. Companies make their announcements on Fridays and schedule their press blocks. I am scheduled with two other performers to promote the newest update on my site. They don’t show up. Now the awards buzz is picking up speed. People are casting bets on who will win Female Performer of the Year, though everyone bets on Angela White. I’m not in the running. What I need is one of my movies to win something. This is our first year in production and we need the validation. Without it, I’m just running a pet project. Without it, I’ve failed at porn. “What can be worse than failing at porn?” I ask myself as fans stop by and examine my DVDs. They ask, “Which one’s good?” There is too much oxygen in the air. On Wednesday I might have said all of them, but now I’m doubting myself. I cry three times, once over spilled coffee. I have to stand in a horrendous line to get more. I bring the coffee with me to a dinner and chase it with cocktails. We leave early from the dinner to make a scheduled appearance at a strip club. There we fight amongst five of us over who goes on stage first. I make it up there first by agreeing to split the stage with someone else. That’s the fastest way back to my bed and I’ll take it. After the show, we count and divide a thousand dollars in singles that were thrown at us and take our checks from the management. Time in heels: 16 hours.

Saturday: It takes until 3pm on Saturdays to care. I wake up well before then to a hangover compounded by a hangover, and there is again too much oxygen in the air. It’s dry and dark and when I throw open the blackout curtains it’s an assault of early morning light. My ears ring. The best I can do is brush my hair out and get a light coating of concealer under my eyes, some lip gloss. I am swollen everywhere except in my waist, and that feels like a win. There are un-winnable knots in my hair and it might be candy. I text the other performer to ask her if she’d lost any candy on stage but she’s in the ER and away from her phone. I cut out the candy with nail clippers. No amount of toothpaste will rid me of the aftertaste of vodka. On the show floor I dodge photos and decide the best route is a nap. I’ve lost my key though, and my ID is in the room. The line for the red carpet badge is long and I wait for a little while before crying over it. Back in my room, the shower gives me a fresh burst of energy. It is short lived.

Hard Rock Casino 7:30pm Kayden and husband Manuel Ferrara get ready the AVN awards show.

I don’t like my dress when I put it on and my hairspray runs out halfway through a head of curls. Manuel tightens my corset and I tie his tie. He tells me to stop crying. This is our first moment alone together since we arrived. Our mantra is no different from the more glamorous counterparts of the entertainment industry: good work begets work. He lays out business cards he’s collected and tells me what each represents. I dry my eyes and list what awards I have a shot at. There is one, maybe. He pops a Hydroxycut and I sip at a coffee that is too cold to tell me whether it is leftover from yesterday or today. That’s fine. I’m feeling fine until we get downstairs and I see the line to enter the red carpet is wrapped a long way outside. It is winter in the desert and I’m walking sleeveless. I bat away a few tears and touch up my eyeliner in the bathroom, then skip the carpet entirely and enter through the ticket holder entrance. That’s fine. Everything is fine. I would only care about carpet coverage if I was winning something anyway, and I’m not. I know that now. I’ve failed at porn and now I have to stand around to witness the proof of it. Plus it doesn’t matter. The awards don’t matter. At the show, the waitress won’t come and the teleprompter malfunctions. Angela White wins Performer of the Year. She wins AVN. Among some of her other awards, Manuel goes up on stage to accept a Best Boy/Girl scene win with her. That is fine. He won against the scene from my movie. It is fine. We’ve had what the media is crassly calling a ‘dead girl problem’ in our industry this year, and with another win, Greg Lansky hands over his microphone time to the husband of one of the deceased. The husband speaks. Now I’m crying uncontrollably. There’s too much oxygen in the air. I am sleep-deprived, nutrition-deprived, hungover. My feet won’t go back in my shoes if the shoes come off. The corset on the dress is too tight. The waitress won’t come. There are dead girls in our industry and this night once meant the same to them, and it shouldn’t have. That’s what I’m thinking about—that none of this should matter. We are the black sheep of entertainment and the drive to do well is laughable from the outside. It is only porn, for Christ’s sake. Porn doesn’t matter, and now these dead girls have done something that doesn’t matter. I don’t matter. That is what we are conditioned to buy into throughout the year, on the drive out, through the convention days, on the red carpet. We are aware that this work is joke fodder. We are aware that to the outside, this doesn’t matter. But in this room, on that stage, it matters. Among our peers, our experiences are given validation again. We are proud of them. To those of us who have tried, it matters. To those dead girls it once mattered. It mattered because they mattered and this was their chosen expression. This is personal work, and nothing personal is trifling. This is fleshy, bodily, daily, relentless, human work, and we know what the outside sees but more importantly, we see it from the inside. We are crying because those dead girls are our friends and lovers and family and they are gone and the media loves the headline but misses the story. The story is that we are mourning and celebrating together. The story is that we are reminded of our worth inside the bubble of our peers. The story is that the human experience can’t be laughed away. And then in quick succession my company wins three awards and I am on my feet and for one last reason before midnight, I am crying.

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