An Open Letter to AVN and the Transgender / Transexual Community

So, this is what a shitstorm on Twitter looks like, eh?

A couple weeks back, I got an email from Mark Kernes over at AVN asking a simple question, here's the entirety of his email:

Date: Sun, 09 Dec 2012 11:26:26 -0800
From: Mark Kernes <mark.kernes@avn.com>
To: iafd@iafd.com
CC: Brittany St Jordan <brittany@brittanyts.com>, 
 Wendy Williams <hotwendywilliams@aol.com>
Subject: Transsexuals

Hey, guys,
Trannies have been around for a long time now, so isn't it about time 
that iafd either includes them in the "female" rather than "male" 
category (as is currently the case), since that's the sex they say best 
suits their own ideas of themselves, or at least establish a category of 
"transsexual" since most possess both a penis and breasts? It'd be the 
right thing to do.

Regards,
Mark Kernes, AVN

Mark's proselytizing aside, nothing about this email screamed "Your response is on the record" or "I will forward your response to people who disagree with you and then write an editorial about it" so I did not think that is what would happen.  I thought it was just another email from an occasional correspondent.  I didn't notice at the time that is was cc'd to Brittany St. Jordan and Wendy Williams, but I never "reply all" so my response went to Mark only.  Here's the entirety of my remarks:

Date: Sun, 09 Dec 2012 17:31:11 -0500
From: Internet Adult Film Database Staff <iafd@iafd.com>
To: Mark Kernes <mark.kernes@avn.com>
Subject: Re: Transsexuals

Mark,

At this point, we go with genitalia, not self-image.  Born a boy gets 
you marked as a M in our database; we're not currently structured for a 
third gender.  When they go post-op we create a second profile in the 
opposing gender at that point to track those movies and then we link the 
two profiles together.

Jeff

And that was the extent of our conversation.

Then on December 12, I saw a series of tweets directed our way:

https://twitter.com/AmyDalyXXX/status/278301402323886080

https://twitter.com/TSMichelleAusti/status/278322637640433664

https://twitter.com/TsWendyWilliams/status/278283298311114752

https://twitter.com/TsWendyWilliams/status/278283460219645952

And finally this one, which sent me to HungAngels.com:

https://twitter.com/AmyDalyXXX/status/278301662718857216

What is the lead article in the thread?  MY EMAIL TO MARK!

WTF!

Call me old-fashioned, but I still subscribe to the notion that email between two people are just between those people until someone says "Do you mind if I share this?"  Just forwarding private email willy-nilly is in really poor taste.

So the rest of the thread was which consisted of a reasonable comment or two that I took to heart, but there's Amy Daly really making me not want to help the cause at all:

I've emailed them a long time ago and asked to be completely removed from their databases. They don't give a crap. Everyone should totally spam their email and tweet at them though:
https://twitter.com/iafdcom

I also recommend submitting DMCA notices on your profile photos just to create some extra work for them. Fuck IAFD.

The thoughtful remarks really did hit home. The attacking remarks did too.

I had gotten some emails from some fans and performers, some were reasonable, some were insulting.  However, none felt like they were talking to us, just at us. That they just wanted us to know how they felt.  So we took the emails under advisement and started looking how to make things right.

We got a very nice, invective-free email from Michelle Austin.  I began to draft a reply to her, but never sent it because I thought it would be better served as a blog post.  However, the holidays got in the way and slowed my blogging activity way down.

My draft reply to Michelle said this:

Michelle,

Thank you for your polite and informative note.

Judging by the outpouring of emotion from some members in the TS porn community today, it is clear that by our actions we're offending more than we're helping, and that is very much off-message for us. We love porn and the people who make it, so we're not happy at how our actions are being interpreted.

Please don't interpret our ignorance as malice, as it couldn't be further from the truth. We're clumsy, sure, but not on purpose.

The foundations for the database that runs our site were built 20 years ago and it was not built with the capacity for a third gender; so our site is not built upon that foundation either. Our original curator created two tables - ACTORS and ACTRESSES - and placed TS performers into the Actors table, so for consistency sake, we do too. His logic was based on genitals, and that's what we follow... because we don't know any better.

We don't want to hurt your fight, so we will working in the coming weeks to address this issue.

I don't know how much you know about us, but The IAFD is an all-volunteer effort made up of only 12 editors, none of whom work on the site full time. This is a labor of love for us, and we make mistakes just like any other group of humans.

I say this by way of explanation so you know the transition will not be a quick process, as we will have to do quite a bit of manual work identifying and then moving performers from one table to the other, and not all editors will be involved, so we ask for your patience while we get things moving.

And thank you for addressing us rationally and professionally, not resorting to name-calling or lawyer-threatening.

And that pretty much sums it up.  We agree that TS performers deserve their own category; a "gender=t" to use our URL parlance...

In looking at this issue, we're spending time looking harder at the site itself and its technical underpinnings.  One of the posters over at HungAngels said:

Wait....so their database can handle linking two separate "gender specific files" together as one entry...something I'm almost certain the database was not designed for originally, and yet they cant create a 3rd category?

To answer - we don't link them as one entry; it's two entries, linked by a comment.  See it in action with Sulka (Post-Op) and Sulka (Pre-Op). Adding a third table to the database and then having to update every query that runs the site to check a third table is a huge amount of work, and not scalable should the day arise when we'd need to address a fourth gender. (Who knows what wonders the future may hold?)

So instead, we're eliminating the two table design and moving to a more modern single table design where gender or job is not a determining factor.  (We also have a DIRECTOR table; gender=d) But this transition isn't an overnight thing, we have hundreds of stored procedures and thousands of lines of code to go through to make sure we're not referencing tables that won't exist anymore, and I'm the only guy who does the coding, and I do it in my spare time around the requirements of my day job.

But we're working on it.

You can't really blame us for getting things wrong, when the community itself can't seem to agree on terms.  In the AVN editorial, Brittany St. Jordan is quoted:

 'Tranny,' 'shemale,' and all of the demeaning terms need to stop. We are transsexuals and that is how we should be labeled. If more than two syllable words are too difficult for some, then TS is more than appropriate.

Our problem is the industry uses those terms ALL THE TIME.  How many movies have TRANNY or SHEMALE in the title? @GroobySteven, one of the more outspoken producers and leaders in the TS space has this as this Twitter slug: "Producer and owner of Grooby Productions ... shemales, TS's and trannys ... rock and roll? More like a cup of tea please!"  If you can't get Steven -- someone who lives and breathes TS material and lifestyle -- to stop using terms you feel are derogatory, what hope do we have?

Or, in the alternative, is Brittany St. Jordan the outlier, and we shouldn't be listening to her on these matters?  We have no idea who to listen to, so we're doing the best we can.

To address why these movies in the above links are tagged as "(GAY)", when all the performers in a movie have GENDER=M then the site tags that movie as all-male/gay.  We can override this categorization, but that's why it is the way it is by default.  Obviously, this is another behavior we'll be changing.

Now, some quick responses to AVN's article.

Kernes writes:

Now, we understand that the expenses attendant to running IAFD are largely paid for by its moderators, and secondarily by donations from the porn-watching public; hence, its ability to rewrite its database software to add a category for "transsexual" might take some doing—but Jeff gave no indication that IAFD was even interested in doing so. (Those with programming experience who might want to help with such a project can contact IAFD here.)

We don't accept donations from anyone.  (Maybe we should put a PayPal link on the site somewhere.)  Our expenses (hardware purchase, upgrade and maintenance;  co-location rent; bandwidth) are covered by banner advertising and affiliate commissions on the price search; that's it.  There's not a lot left over because I'm less interested in being a salesman than I am about running a useful website in my spare time.  Our editorial team (we're not moderators; that was RAME), comprised of all volunteers,  does not contribute financially to the running of the site, we are lucky to be self-sustaining.

And as far as "Jeff gave no indication that IAFD was even interested in doing so" - I WAS NEVER ASKED.   Mark (the person, not the reporter) sent me an email, I sent him back a one paragraph response because I thought I was only talking to him.  He didn't mention "Go on the record for why you..." I didn't expect that my off-hand response to a knowledgeable member of the community would have resulted in this editorial; had I known, I would have made sure I was clearer and more detailed in my response.  I also would have been happy to grant an interview or have some more meaningful back and forth if Mark was forthcoming with his intentions for my reply.

At the end of the day, my hope is that this blog post allays your fears.  We've listened.  We were ignorant, and you educated us.  We want to do right by the community.  We don't like being hated or spammed or whatever else makes us feel bad. Sex and porn are supposed to make us feel good, so let's try to stick with that.

@GroobySteven made a very generous offer of programming assistance, and we'll discuss that with him in the days ahead.  We know the site has been pretty stagnant for longer than any of us care to admit, and I am hoping this is the first in a number of steps to help modernize the site and develop a base we can work off of going forward.

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