Pornography is growing more popular – and more diverse – than ever, and transgender porn is rapidly becoming one of the most popular genres to emerge from recent years. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Kristel Penn, Marketing and Editorial Director of transgender adult site Grooby.com, about the site, its history and issues affecting the transgender community.
C.J. Asher – First of all, thanks for this interview! Please, tell us a little about yourself.
Kristel Penn – Thank you so much for interviewing me! Let’s see, I’m originally from Hawaii and have been living in LA now for the last six years or so. I just turned thirty-three in late September. I have my B.A. from George Washington University in Religion and Socio-cultural Anthropology and a Marketing Certificate from Santa Monica College. I can’t say I ever thought I’d be working for a trans porn company, but life is kind of funny like that, isn’t it?
Random enough, I started at Grooby doing photo retouching – this lasted about one day. I spent my first day photoshopping out toilet paper from a model’s butt and I was slow. One my second day while Steven Grooby was training me, he told me, “Wait, you can write? Stop what you’re doing, I’m going to have you do something else instead.” I never had to re-touch a butt ever again. I spent my first couple of years as a blogger and updating a few of our sites, building up our online presence, starting with Grooby.com. I took it upon myself to take on more every chance I got and eventually worked my way up the ranks to my position now as our Marketing and Editorial Director. I’m also the event coordinator for the Transgender Erotica Awards and a Board Member of TAIF (Trans Adult Industry Foundation).
C.J. Asher – Tell me about the history of Grooby.com, from its inception until now.
Kristel Penn – This is one of my favorite stories, by the way, and the one Steven Grooby told me when he interviewed me nearly nine years ago. Grooby.com was created nearly twenty years ago by my boss, Steven Grooby. He went to film school and originally had wanted to write film scripts. He ended up buying a PC to do this and ended up surfing for porn. At first, he created free porn sites where people sent him their content to post and eventually he started creating his own content to feature. And back in the day when photographers shot exclusively on film, we – and not me, because this was before my time – had to scan the photos to put them up on our sites. Believe it or not, we’re actually a pretty small company. We essentially have two staffs: one that was based in Hawaii and the other based in Europe. Eventually Steven moved the Hawaii staff up to Los Angeles as a strategic move for our business and he moved to back to the UK for his family. He used to travel a lot when we were based in Hawaii as well, so not much has changed in terms of our day-to-day routines. He comes here frequently and it always ends up being these exciting rushes of productivity and creativity for us.
C.J. Asher – What are some of the products that Grooby.com offers?
Kristel Penn – Our offerings are becoming increasingly diverse, but we’re most known for our membership sites, DVDs, the Grooby Network – which is a platform we run through ModelCentro to help models who want to produce their own content/website – and the Transgender Erotica Awards. We also just released our 2017 Grooby Girls calendars. Between those, our playing cards, stickers, and jizz towels – yes, jizz towels – I’d say we offer a little bit of everything.
C.J. Asher – What sets Grooby.com apart from other transsexual-themed adult entertainment sites?
Kristel Penn – I think a few things set us apart from other trans adult sites. For one thing, I really value the diversity in our content. We have over twenty-five membership sites, so even if one of our sites isn’t your cup of tea, it’s more likely you’ll enjoy one of our other sites. Our photographers really hustle to showcase the best talent in the industry. We also pride ourselves on producing new scenes on a regular basis. Our members know to expect our updates, and we work really hard to ensure everything goes up on-time.
C.J. Asher – What does a typical Grooby.com membership cost, and what is included?
Kristel Penn – The cost of our membership depends on the site, but a membership to ShemaleYum.com or Black-TGirls.com – two of our most popular sites – runs for $35.99.
C.J. Asher – What awards and nominations have Grooby.com received?
Kristel Penn – This has been a really humbling year for us in terms of nominations – we’re really grateful for the exposure we’ve had in 2016. For AVN this year, we received 13 nominations in a pretty wide variety of categories. Mona Wales’ directorial debut, Real Fucking Girls, is nominated in a bunch of categories, including Best Transsexual Movie, Best Transsexual Sex Scene, Best Marketing Campaign – Individual Project, and Best Soundtrack.
Buddy Wood’s Shemale Shenanigans is up for Best Transsexual Movie, Best Transsexual Sex Scene, Best Soundtrack (by the way, the theme for this movie is super catchy – what’s the plan again? Shemale Shenangians!), and Clever Title of the Year. Buddy’s Tranny Vice is also up for Best Transsexual Movie and Best Transsexual Sex Scene. Both are really great – very much in line with Buddy’s signature style.
Blackula’s Trans-Tastic Four is up for Best Transsexual Movie and Best Special Effects. This was also a super fun release from us – it’s equal parts entertaining and titilating.
Finally, our newer series TGirls Porn is up for Best Transsexual Series.
For XBIZ, we received nominations for Trans Studio of the Year and Specialty Affiliate Program of the Year. Tranny Vice and Real Fucking Girls are both up for Trans Release of the Year.
And for the XBIZ Exec Awards, Steven is nominated for Businessman of the Year and I’m nominated for Brand Ambassador of the Year. This is the first time I’ve ever been nominated for anything, so it’s really an awesome accomplishment for me. I’m up against some pretty tough competition, so I’m just happy to be nominated at all!
C.J. Asher – Tell me about your affiliation with The TEA (Transgender Erotica Awards) Show.
Kristel Penn – The TEAs are hosted by Grooby and I’m the go-to person for the event. It started out as an online competition nearly nine years ago – back when we were still in Hawaii – and it’s been slowly growing over the years into what it is today. For the past few years we’ve run it as a two-day event, having a separate awards ceremony and after party. This past year we had the idea to expand it into a three-day event by adding a daytime fan convention. We had a pretty good turnout considering it was our first time hosting it, but I’m hoping to add more to the convention in 2017. We’ll be hosting the convention at the Avalon this year in response to last year’s interest and attendance.
C.J. Asher – What was your inspiration behind launching ShemaleJapan.com?
Kristel Penn – We started ShemaleJapan.com during the first years I was with Grooby. Back then, Japanese trans content was hard to come by, especially sets that were uncensored/unmosaiced. The culture of scouting models in Japan varies greatly than here in the states, so at the time it was much harder to produce content. We had a local Japanese photographer who worked with us to build up the site – he had unfettered access to otherwise very elusive models, which I think, accounts for the continued success of the site.
C.J. Asher – What do you think will be necessary for greater acceptance of transsexual individuals within our society?
Kristel Penn – Continued visibility, education, and above all, open conversation. I think a lot of the discrimination and bigotry the LGBTQ community faces is because of 1) ignorance, and 2) fear of the unknown. People are quick to condemn what they do not understand or what feels far removed from them, but if we continue to educate others and be visible representatives of our community (when safe), we help to break people from an antiquated dogma that believes any one group of people is lower in value than themselves. The trans community has spent part of its history in hiding in a lot of ways, for fear of safety and possibly because of the desire to assimilate with majority culture, but I think that’s beginning to evolve as the community feels safer being visible. Those who can speak up and represent not just the trans community, but the LGBTQ community, as a whole, should do so. Those who can speak up as an ally to our community, should do so too. Greater acceptance of any marginalized group takes the efforts of both its community and its allies to enact positive change.
C.J. Asher – How do you find your transsexual talent, and what makes for an ideal performer?
Kristel Penn – A few different ways – many will contact the photographers or Steven directly through word of mouth, others will apply randomly on FB by sending pics or through the Grooby.com model application page. Looks-wise, I can’t say there is an ideal performer since we feature a wide variety of looks/styles/body types, but I can tell you that professionalism goes a long way. An ideal performer communicates with the photographer and respects both her time and the photographer’s time. Punctuality is very, very important, especially since the shoots take a few hours to do. When we’re thinking about models we want to work with again, we’re not just considering their popularity on our sites, but also how well they worked with our staff.
C.J. Asher – What are your thoughts on the ongoing controversy regarding public bathroom use by those who identify with a different gender identity than their birth, transgender individuals and others?
Kristel Penn – I’m of the mindset to live and let live. Who gave me the right to be the bathroom police? Gender expression and identity are personal and subjective – I am no position to tell anyone they can or cannot use a certain bathroom because of how they look. And honestly, those who want to create bigoted legislation like these “bathroom bills” under the guise of “physical safety” insult the intelligence of our community. Although I identify as a female and use the women’s restroom, I often get funny looks when I’m in there because I look masculine/androgynous. It’s awkward as fuck and I think using the public restroom is already an awkward experience. Overall, I think we need more single-stall gender neutral bathrooms and less bigoted politicians.
C.J. Asher – Grooby runs a number of different websites; which ones are the most popular?
Kristel Penn – At the moment, I believe our three of our most popular websites are ShemaleYum.com, ShemaleJapan.com, and Black-TGirls.com. From our newer sites, fans have really been enjoying Femout.XXX and TGirls.Porn. From our Grooby Network sites, Kylie Maria’s official website and Mia Maffia’s official website are quite popular with our members too.
C.J. Asher – What new products can we expect from the Grooby.com team in the near future?
Kristel Penn – We recently released our special guest edited issue of Transformation Magazine with cover model Jenna Tales and are already in the process of working on milestone Issue #100. Hanna, Steven, and I putting together an issue that pays tribute to Transformation’s rich history and hopefully illustrates the trajectory I believe the magazine will be taking in the future. Director Buddy Wood has a really awesome project coming out soon; I can’t say much about it yet, but I think it’s a perfect representation of his style and humor. We’ve also upped our DVD schedule to three to four a month through our distributor Exquisite, so we’ve got a lot of fun titles coming through the pipeline just in time for the holidays.
We also just submitted entries to a few film festivals for Real Fucking Doc. Director Lilith Luxe shot an exclusive behind-the-scenes documentary as a companion piece to Mona Wales’ directorial debut, Real Fucking Girls, and wove the two pieces together for the film festival circuit. Lilith did a great job shedding light on an industry often shrouded with mystery and stigma. What she captured was a community of artists making magic over the course of foggy weekend in San Francisco.