The Transgender Erotica Awards took place in Hollywood earlier last month, commemorating its eighth year of trans (and trans supportive) performers, producers, photographers, and other contributors to the erotic adult industry. This year 28 awards were presented spanning across numerous categories.

TEA has grown tremendously since its conception (it took place online in its first year!), and Kristel Penn of Grooby has seen it through each and every stage of growth. She chatted with me about gender, what makes the TEAs important, and shared some of her favorite moments from this year’s ceremony.

Marketing and Editorial Director for Grooby, Kristel Penn, pictured above. Photo courtesy Altomic Visuals.
Marketing and Editorial Director for Grooby, Kristel Penn, pictured above. Photo courtesy Altomic Visuals.

Tell me about TEA’s newest addition to the festivities this year, TEA Con!

For many industry guests and performers, the TEAs are like an annual reunion. I see people I haven’t seen in months, sometimes since the awards last year! Just as much as our show is meant to celebrate our industry, I thought it was important to show appreciation for the fans. The event schedule and structure of the Awards makes it hard for performers to interact with the fans, so I wanted to create an additional event where fans and performers could mingle a bit more freely together. The models were all very excited about this opportunity and it was really nice to see that they were equally excited about meeting their fans as their fans were to meet them.

In the future, I’m hoping to expand the event so we can include workshops and discussion panels for our guests and performers. Definitely something to think about for next year!

What’s the TEA experience like for fans?

Although we have a high attendance of people in the industry (performers, directors, and company owners), I’m always really grateful for the number of fans who attend (some as far as Europe and Japan) for our events.

I want our events to be memorable and fun, you know? Other award shows are much bigger than ours and more industry focused. I also think because of the size, everyone is kind of spread out all over the place and it can make interacting a bit more challenging. In comparison, ours is smaller, and we put tables closer together to encourage socializing. We want attendees to celebrate in a way that feels good to them – I heard there was face painting in the Kink area!

A good friend of mine described our event as how non-adult industry folks imagine a porn awards would be like. I think that’s a great compliment! We honor our nominees and winners in a way that’s respectful and affirming, while retaining our playful spirit. This is a celebration of our industry – I want people to look forward to attending and hanging out together.

Kristel pictured center. Photo courtesy Altomic Visuals.
Kristel pictured center. Photo courtesy Altomic Visuals.

You seemed to be all over the place at TEA (or so shows your Twitter account)! What were some of the highlights from behind the scenes?

Haha! I was totally running all over the place that weekend. Hmm…a few highlights…

Simone Sonay from Kink.com came up to me before the Awards to tell me she had a lube emergency! Now, you don’t hear that every day (or maybe you do?)! She needed more for the latex dress she was wearing, so I had to take her backstage to get lubed up by Stockroom’s Hudsy Hawn (who had lots to share)! And when I told Hudsy we had a lube emergency, she didn’t even blink! She just told Simone to come on over.

There’s a little known secret that I’m a big sweets fan, and especially when it’s TEA season, I want to eat every piece of candy in sight. For the last few years, including this year, Krissy (from Krissy4u.com) has brought me a really delicious box of chocolate at the show. I’ve never asked her to do this, nor do I expect it from her, but I really appreciate the gesture. It’s such a thoughtful and unexpected act of generosity – it always makes my heart so happy (and then again later when I’m eating chocolate at 4 am in my suit after we’re done at the show).

Walk me through a moment or two at the awards ceremony that you think stuck with audience members.

I think there’s a moment of excitement and anticipation that happens for people as their heel touches the red carpet to be interviewed by the beautiful Morgan Bailey. The lights and cameras are all focused on them – it’s really quite magical. I remember the first time I got to walk the red carpet at an awards show – I mean, really, no one knows who I am or what I’m wearing. But you know what? I feel special!

I think Madison’s Lifetime Achievement Award speech is one that will stick with our audience members. I know it has certainly stuck with me. I really appreciated how candid and encouraging she was. I think we’re all on our own individual journeys and Madison’s speech was such a great reminder of the importance of perseverance and gratitude. Like she often says in her YouTube videos, “Ya better step your pussy up!”

Ts Madison, pictured below, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Photo courtesy Altomic Visuals.
Ts Madison, pictured below, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Photo courtesy Altomic Visuals.

Do your own experiences with gender (personally or as a witness or both) influence your involvement (and dedication!) to TEA?

Most definitely. Through my job here at Grooby, I’ve been really fortunate to meet so many amazing performers and industry folk. I’m not personally big on labels, but I guess I would identify as gay/lesbian (or as a travel-size gaysian, as people sometimes call me!), and although my journey is not the exact same as those of our trans performers, there is some overlap in our experiences. I deal with getting misgendered, ignorant people saying all kinds of messed up stuff to me or don’t know how to interact with me, and have also had to deal with coming out to my family and friends.

Because of my experiences, I always want to be mindful of each person’s individual journey and honor where those places are reflected in my own. That’s why it’s so important that the TEAs are not only affirming, but also as inclusive as possible. This year, for example, was the first time we did gender neutral bathrooms (which were sponsored by Kink.com). I think it’s a gift we can be all together to celebrate the accomplishments of our industry and likewise I want anyone attending to feel safe enough to be exactly who they are when they’re there.

Conversely, how has your involvement with TEA influenced your own outlook on gender (if at all)?

If anything, my involvement with the TEAs and working in the industry has solidified my belief in celebrating body diversity and the fluidity of gender identity and expression. I’ve met all kinds of people who present in all kinds of ways and who identify in all kinds of ways, so if anything, I’ve learned just how varied these things can be. There’s really no right or wrong way to be, in my opinion, as long as it’s true to yourself.

Kristel Penn, featured center. Photo courtesy Otala Photo.
Kristel Penn, featured center. Photo courtesy Otala Photo.

Have you seen the TEAs through all eight years? What’s changed and how has it grown since its conception?

The TEAs were actually started the year I joined Grooby. And funny enough, the TEAs were first an online event! This was back when the Grooby office was still based in Hawaii. We had a few categories and no trophies yet (only bragging rights). When we turned it into an actual event, it was at a couple of smaller clubs up in the Valley.

It’s crazy to think how much we’ve grown since then. Steven and I have been very deliberate in how we’ve expanded each year. We meet after the TEAs to talk about what worked, what didn’t, and begin brainstorming for next year. We’re a small operation and the TEAs are only a small part of what we do (and in fact, we’re not event promoters), so we like to capitalize on the post-TEA high to get things done before we’re back to business.

What are some challenges that the TEAs have faced over the years?

When I first started doing the TEA planning a few years ago, it was a much smaller event. Smaller venue, smaller budget, you name it. Some assume we have unlimited resources to put together this show, but in truth, we often run into financial challenges. We are extremely grateful by the support we receive from our sponsors and attendees, but it does cost a sizable chunk of money to host three days of events. The show is a labor of love for all involved – from Steven Grooby, the Grooby staff, our red carpet host Morgan Bailey, TEA winners’ interviewer Michelle Austin, Hudsy Hawn responsible for entertainment, our event photographers (Ben from Otola Photography, Al Tom from Altomic Visuals, David from DailyCeleb), and so on. *And thank you to Chris King from AVN who was there to shoot and help us out in a pinch. I asked him in a panic about needing lights for the After Party and he answered very calmly, “I got it, no worries! Be there soon.”

*Our company is small, so all of us end up wearing multiple hats when it’s TEA season. All of our staff put in extra hours and bust ass for the show. Special thanks to Dev for all of his beautiful design work – the branding and graphics are amazing because of his talent and vision. He also handles our music on both nights, so if you see a guy in the DJ booth bopping his head and concentrating very deeply, that’s him. Also wanted to express my gratitude to my partner in crime, Dan (Sparky Snakeden). He also works tirelessly behind the scenes (in fact, last year Dan, Dev, and I used to meet for late night Moscow Mules for TEA brainstorm sessions). Dan creates all of our nomination videos that play during the show – no easy project, trust me. He also created a really great video for Madison’s Lifetime Achievement Award that’s hilarious and perfectly captures what makes her so awesome. (If anyone is interested, it’s all posted online at Tgirls.com!)

The show is a success not because of any one person, but because everyone involved is passionate and dedicated to put on a good event.

Why are the TEAs important?

The TEAs remain the only event of its kind – we’re the only awards show that exclusively celebrates the trans adult industry. For bigger shows like AVN and XBIZ, trans categories (although on the rise in recent years) are still lacking as an accurate reflection of the breadth of our genre. The performers and producers in our industry are talented and damn hard working, so it’s a privilege to be part of something that celebrates our community.

 

*Asterisks denote updates added 4/7/2016.

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