The set began with the recorded intro from “Get Up 10” coming through the sound system while Cardi B’s dancers took formation on the dark stage at the Hard Rock Hotel’s smallest venue, Vinyl. The song is one of the notoriously omnisexual musical artist Cardi B’s sex worker manifestos; describing how stripping saved her from domestic abuse and poverty. “Get Up 10” bothers me a little when she says “dance not fuck, don’t get it confused” and I first questioned whether she knew much about the modern sex worker’s commitment to crushing the whorearchy. I see now that withholding information about her stints in survival sex work was something she took seriously as an up and coming mainstream artist – reflecting the need for a long overdue conversation about removing the stigma of sex work from those who either chose or are forced to participate in it. How does one go from meeting up with men in hotel rooms to winning a Pepsi endorsement without being a little protective?
I wouldn’t dare label Cardi as anything she wouldn’t cop to herself but “feminist former stripper, current Billboard-topping artist” seems to be a good place to start. She’s also become a political public figure and proudly challenges Republican lawmakers and supports her little sister Hennessey’s lesbian relationship. Her political work happens in her songs, not merely outside of them. “Twerk” by her and City Girls may not seem overtly political until you see how well the video illustrates the power of dance and female sexuality void of the male gaze. She makes obvious feminist statements without being too obvious.
But then, Cardi B has also violently attacked other women, and she’s made transphobic “jokes” on social media about how she would use trans women to enact revenge on a cheating partner. Even more recently she posted weight loss ads on Instagram that made Jameela Jamil call out the entertainment industry at large for pushing unhealthy products. Furthermore, while AVN themselves have been increasingly more open and collaborative with trans performers, the sponsor of this event and the AVN Awards – MyFreeCams – is very closed off. MyFreeCams doesn’t allow trans women to work for them, meaning the exclusivity of the show, which was indeed part of its cultural significance as an event for bad bitches by bad bitches, was limited to cis cam girls only.
Full disclosure: Part of the reason I wanted to infiltrate this space was to bring up the fact that while MFC has been described as “the wild west” by sex workers who use the platform in ways they don’t technically permit; trans cam girls cannot approach the site for employment or work towards benefits like networking events such as the one Cardi B was performing on this night.
No doubt – my camming partner Chelsea Poe (who makes bank on camming through Chaturbate and ManyVids, by the way) couldn’t work for that site or attend that concert, and that separation matters a lot. I went to that concert alone and didn’t speak to anyone or socialize outside my role as a journalist. Without my camming partner, it just kinda didn’t feel like a party. I gave gentle nods to a few of my queer friends I recognised, including one who was one of those vulva-having trans performers that slips through the ciscentered “no men” MFC policy, but overall I stuck to hanging out with my camera.
Many people in my social media circle were ready to boycott the entire awards ceremony because of AVN’s choice to book Cardi B. Many others used the event as a road to visibility despite the obvious roadblocks. I feel like “cancel culture” doesn’t belong in any trans community due to our ever-growing heart-expanding nature of self growth. I decided to proceed with caution as a well-versed student and spectator of visual culture with hope that by providing a detailed story can bring light to the importance the intersectionality has in our society.
I am also one of many trans-identified people with vulvas who have used the site without repercussion for being “a guy.” I weighed my options, checked my privilege, and decided to lean into the situation and see if I could manage to talk about everything – the good, the bad, and the nonbinary. I earned my tickets to the private concert, which could only be acquired by hustling for tokens through the website, with hopes that by covering the show I could also bring up these issues and talk about what makes Cardi B #soproblematic to some people, and so beloved to others. An entire crowd of 500 women actively cammed or sold porn clips to customers on the internet to get access to this show. Just like me. I wanted to meet them.
My personal history as a peepshow girl/stripper/madam brought me to this moment of intersectional crisis. I take full accountability for my ability to pass as a cis woman and rely on my “money moves” to find my way into cis-woman-only spaces; though my transness has also given me a cunning spirit I’m proud of and makes all of this feel like somewhat of a troublemaking venture, covering this show. So let’s do it.
Cardi B showed up right on time (which is to say, 5 minutes after my direct deposit from ManyVids posted to my account, I gotta say it was a good day) wearing an all-red Vex Clothing latex rubber lingerie five piece made up of a balconette bra, a high waisted cheeky bottom with garters latched to thigh-high stockings, and a butt-dusting ruffled rubber and latex trench coat. If a lingerie set could say “Gang Gang” this outfit would; though she could do without glorifying gang affiliations now that she’s this big. No matter, her self-representation is still incredibly on point – she’s a Gangsta in A Dress. She’s stripper ho mixed with Mugler Follies French Burlesque – I’m saying this is perhaps how I would start to describe her brand as an artist. She can put her Louboutin where my neck’s at if I’m wrong and I’ll take it. The cherry red latex rubber lingerie set featured fishnet details in the areas where the garters connect around her hips in the panty, the top band of her stockings, and the entirety of the balconette bra. She wore mirror-shiny red leather red bottoms, which she took off two songs into the full set citing a need to do something intimate for the crowd – she proceeded to serenade us with “Be Careful” complete with subtle vintage burlesque moves. The next night at the official awards she wore blue and green leather and stagewear, kept her heels on, matched her wig, kept her chartreuse nails, and brought Porn Fashion to a Pop Star level – this look that night was even more deliberately sexy and I couldn’t help but feel like she was set on rewarding us for being empowered sexual performers as a group. And it’s true – we were star-crossed lovers that night, audience and stage.
Cardi’s outfit was Porno Futuristic Fetish Chic, with customised details that could have only been done by hand by master apparel artists, which is apparently what Vex Latex has going on. “What is interesting to me is that Vex isn’t shying away from their association with Cardi by proudly letting everyone know they dressed her,” says “The Lingerie Addict” Cora Harrington, author of In Intimate Detail and our favorite panty historian. “Cardi has, of course, worn garments from other intimate apparel designers and they don’t acknowledge her at all. Notably, she wore Lise Charmel in the ‘I Like It’ video. She’s also worn Rago Shapewear on more than one occasion.”
I only found out what designer Cardi was wearing because a woman named Miss Mary Jane, an Inked Angel winner and Hollywood porn performer, was near me and wearing a stand-out look at the private concert. We made acquaintance, and then kept texting after the show to talk shop. She helped me answer some of my deeper questions, but I still found her answer to my general conversation opener to be the most profound of the set: “I got my ticket by really asking my fans for donations because I found out kind of late about the requirement,” she said. “It matters to me as a sex worker right now in this time that we are in, for her to represent us at a venue as big as the AVN Awards. There’s too much slut shaming in the hip hop industry, but with people like Amber Rose and Cardi B, WE are paving the way for a movement to start.” This seems like an important distinction to make; since Kanye West recently premiered new work exclaiming “you’re such a fucking hoe, i love it” at the PornHub awards, a company notorious for allowing the theft of sex worker made content to drive down our rates, our profits, and our opportunities.
To be clear, no sex worker I know enjoys being a ho for nothing. Furthermore, even though “I Love It” is a certified sex positive BOP and I listen to it all the time, nobody is being a ho for YOUR love Kanye not even your boo – you just think it’s about you, not the wave of female empowerment and sexual majesty you’re lucky to have in your general vicinity, sir.
Cardi B represents a strong as hell feminist stripper ho herself, never getting cold under the glow of her intensely loyal sex worker fan base. After watching Kanye at the PornHub awards, seeing a woman take this space can only be a good thing. At the very least, she’s supporting the idea of paying for your porn and supporting the women who make it for you. During the private concert she complimented us all ferociously and admitted that as a single woman on the road, our work has made her nights less lonely. WHO SAYS THAT? Not only admitting that she watches porn, but that perhaps female cam performers have been keeping her warm on the road? It made the red latex ensemble feel like a gift from her to us, and during “Be Careful” she kept winking and touching our hands, giving us up close peeks of body parts she wouldn’t dare flash the next night. (That’s right, we saw her butt. Nope, I didn’t take a photo of it. Love her too much! Had to have been there! Hustle harder, y’all!)
On Instagram before the event even started, Cardi had to defend her slippery custom latex masterpiece to online trolls who pointed out that her mirror selfie was showing her genitals by posting the comment “Can ya stop saying my 😺and my lips showing ? It’s not! I just have a fat ass that you can see from the front 😩”
Having “an ass you can see from the front” is something that people in my line of work are fucking proud of, so to have that outfit set the tone of the night on Instagram was key – it made the skin in the audience feel like a brand of kinship to this uber famous performer. I wasn’t shocked to be surrounded by women and non-binary femmes my size or bigger who were excited to watch Cardi, who isn’t so much thick as she is just exuding a curvy confidence that seems to fit everyone in this room. I wasn’t shocked to see the throngs of same-looking 100 young white cis women dressed in raver gear, drinking heavily, arguing that “only the top 5 girls” should be in the front row of the exclusive concert. If things as dangerous as selfie sticks were allowed in the Hard Rock Hotel I am sure that this event could have turned violent with how many competitive cam girls were unhappy with being behind chart-topping performers like Busty Cookie and Elle Fyre, who had spent 3 hours waiting to see their idol. I happily “lost” a woman’s hot pink stilettos for her after watching her getting a front row spot and spend the entire show on her FaceTime. I’m not ashamed.
I met Destiny Diaz while waiting out the private party, which was pretty boring until Cardi’s dancers showed up ominously on the side stage wearing stone cold stares and cat eye jet black sunglasses that matched thier straight black bobs and silky black Vex Latex two pieces, complete with shiny black suspender garters foreshadowing the red latex wonder to come.
Diaz has never been to an AVN before, much less an exclusive event such as this one. She’s wearing a sultry but soft-looking maroon bodycon dress. “I knew i wanted to come last year so it’s been in the back of my mind all year to do really well and not stress about the finance of it,” she said when I asked her how she hustled her ticket. She’s one of the few women I met who sounded like she had her thousand tokens a while ago, her hustle game ready set go. “At home i just sit in my fucking office all day and tweet back and forth with people, but i feel like actually important here. My friends from back home are super stalking my Facebook and Instagram – they’re so hyped.” I immediately relate, knowing that the rest of my own Insta timeline is bursting with glam after months of sad memes and avoiding taking selfies. She finds Cardi so inspiring because “she works incredibly hard, she’s a super feminist and a mother and a former sex worker… it’s amazing. For her to be here, it feels iconic. We needed Card B here.”
Destiny Diaz is also a mother, noting how hard it is to balance your roles as a parent, a career woman, and a sexual being. “When I saw her tweeting and posting about being exhausted this week, I’m a mom too and I know I’m not touring… this trip alone is exhausting so to do that and then be at the Grammys and stuff… that’s crazy.” I felt like I had to ask Destiny Diaz what to do about chasing dreams while being a mom; her kid is 4. “It’s really important to find time for family, but you need to be career driven so you can provide for your family too. I wanna grow my family, but I think that having my career better off will help me do that and be a better mom… later on too. I think that after getting into the industry as a mother, delegating your time is really important. We have freedom with the type of work we do.” So why not use it?
Everyone there had hustled hard to get there. I spoke with women who had been tipped by fans and clients over the course of the entire year, as well as workers who rushed to get to the 1000 token (about $50) minimum to be eligible for the exclusive gold ribbon bracelet that adorned all of our wrists that fateful night. When I got mine, the women at the My Free Cams counter told me if I needed to shoot, I could cut it off and come get a new one – I felt really well understood in that moment because one thing that happens a lot at the AVN convention is HUSTLING, and generally in the form of making porn or indie clips for your cam accounts. It’s a whole thing. If you managed to be in the top 500 cam girls on My Free Cams – which I got by getting into the room and directing people to tip my “Get Me To Cardi” special goal on my MFC Share page – you got into the party.
In a mere 20 hours, the world’s best porn stars will be clamouring to get a selfie with Cardi on the sacred stage of the AVN Awards instead of participating in an age-old tradition of Dancing WITH the musical guest. In years past, getting on stage and dancing along with the hip hop artist has been a validating moment for those of us as AVN Award nominees and winners who never get stage time, due to a heavy lack of diverse representation throughout the years. Getting on stage means getting on SHOWTIME; a chance to show the world how talented you are at twerking in a modified prom dress and your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to maybe taste the sweat or smell the scent of someone like Lil Wayne or Cardi B. However, in this case the capital of being seen against a Stop-the-Internet backdrop has outweighed the capital of being seen as a celebrity yourself on SHOWTIME in one year’s time.
(Or it is just that Cardi, who headlined the Grammy’s the very next week; is a little too famous for the AVN Awards?)
This self-important-while-in-the-presence-of-greatness attitude permeated the crowd of the formal AVN Awards show where Cardi B performed two opening songs and two closing songs before getting almost-mauled by porn stars, but like Mary Jane – the women at the private concert were special. The top 500 cam girls in the world (with the GLARING absence of all of the important trans women contributing to cam fantasy blockbuster shows the world over) were a little too cool to rush the stage. They did, however, wait for 2 and a half hours patiently live streaming for their fans, meeting each other, drinking water and cocktails, dancing to the MFC DJ, and networking between each other. At times it was quiet, with everyone a little lost in their own worlds thinking about what they do for work and what it means to be where they were.
RiRi Luscious was able to get one person to tip the full amount; 1000 tokens directly to your My Free Cams Share page – a page where you can sell clips, items, memberships, photos, and club access to your cam fans. “I feel that [Cardi] is an advocate for using our bodies the way we want to and being a young black female especially,” she says about why it felt so important to get to this show. “I feel like I relate to her in a lot of ways. She’s about that bag, we’re about our bags, we’ve got a lot of connections going on!”
Two models tipped Spookyfatbrat, a popular cam girl on many of the industry’s platforms and a self-identified Brat and Bruja on Twitter. “When I heard Cardi B was playing I fucking screamed so loud, I was so excited,” she explained to me over the noise of the group dinner we were enjoying before the show.“I have just followed her for a long time on her Instagram, and always just saw such potential in her. She’s grown so much. I love seeing shit about her kid, all that stuff. I feel like we know her because she shares so many raw moments with her fans.” She says she’s thankful for Cardi’s recent turn to talk about national politics, “I’m glad she’s so vocal about it and not joking, which is how we usually expect her banter” to which Riri Luscious added, “if you have a platform and you’re not doing shit like that, what are you doing? If you have the power to influence the masses for good – DO IT.”
So when Cardi B inevitably runs for President, or at least gets on that Democratic Convention stage for a few poignant statements and much-needed laughter – she will restate the importance of including sex workers in political discourse, and if she’s smart – she’ll include a statement about trans women being an important matter of inclusion for feminists as well. Because they gave us all two options – stripping or lose.