It was Wednesday, Dec. 6 when the world discovered that female porn star August Ames had passed away in her Ventura, California, home. But giving that tragic news even more intrigue was the fact that earlier this week, days before her death, Ames had come under fire for a series of controversial tweets. Even more tragic still: as a Ventura County Medical Examiner spokesperson confirmed with Hornet yesterday, Ames died of asphyxia due to hanging, a suicide.
The tweets at the center of the August Ames news cycle were considered homophobic by many activists and gay porn industry veterans, though harmless and irreproachable by those taking Ames’s side in the controversy.
The backlash Ames faced for her tweets — in which she cautioned the female porn performer replacing her in a film that the man she’d be shooting with “has shot gay porn, just to let cha know” — was immediate. Her implication in that tweet and others that a man who has shot gay porn in the past would ‘threaten her health’ were met with criticism as homophobic, shortsighted and perpetuating of stigma against gay men and gay adult film performers.
Many who work in gay porn were quick to respond to August Ames, and since news of her suicide became public, many on social media have taken to blaming those gay porn stars and “social justice warriors” as the cause of her suicide. (Find many of those tweets decrying the gay community here.)
This despite Ames having revealed her personal struggles with bipolar depression and multiple personality disorder three months before her death on a podcast: “Some days I’ll be fine and if I’m not doing anything I’ll get these awful flashbacks of my childhood and I get very depressed and I can’t get out of bed and cancel my scenes for like a week or two,” she said.
Amidst this flurry of accusations against those who initially criticized Ames’s comments, we wanted to hear from some of the industry vets who took umbrage with her tweets, which until her death Ames continued to staunchly stand behind. “I don’t have anything to apologize for! Apologizing for taking extra steps to ensue that my body stays safe? Fuck you guys attacking me when none of my intentions were malicious,” she said on Twitter.
Ames’s very last tweet was “fuck y’all.”
Wesley Woods is one gay porn performer who confronted Ames following her homophobic Twitter remarks, and he received intense backlash, hate mail and abusive reactions in return. While he considers Ames’s death “tragic,” he “firmly stands behind” what he said and is frustrated that he’s been attacked and blamed for bullying her.
Another gay porn performer who found fault in Ames’s tweets is Austin Wilde. “Since my one comment was neither threatening or harassing, I do stand by my words,” he tells Hornet. “They were my response and opinion to her opinion that displayed her to be homophobic and uneducated on the subject. As a model and business owner on the gay side of the industry who thoroughly tests his models and self, uses the PASS network, and considers sexual health and safety to be one of my top priorities, I found her statements to be just what I said — homophobic and uneducated.”
“Whenever somebody says that in the porn industry, it hits me in a way that just goes against my sensibilities,” says famed porn director Chi Chi LaRue. “I’ve been working in the porn industry for 32 years, and I’ve done gay, straight, transsexual, bisexual porn — everything. The last time I was attacked was by the gay industry for having a gay guy in a bisexual movie. It’s like a lynch mob sometimes. So in this case I didn’t want to be a hateful part of the lynch mob. I wanted to educate, not attack.”
“This is not about ‘her choice’ in choosing who she worked with,” Woods says. “It was directly related to the idea we (gay porn actors) were ‘dirty’ or ‘promiscuous.'”
Wilde agrees. “No one should ever work with someone they don’t want to. Ever,” he says. “That seems to be the focus, but wasn’t why I chimed in with my one tweet. It was because no one should take to a large social platform to demean a group of people and imply their chances of catching an STI are significantly greater when they’ll go through the same testing process as they do. It’s harmful to an already divided industry.”
“It’s not fair to stigmatize anyone in our industry, which is already ridiculed from the outside,” says LaRue. “We’re all in the same business. We’re all judged and looked at as the underbelly — dirty and disgusting human beings — so I don’t really like it coming from inside the industry.”
Woods acknowledges that, indeed, some of the vitriolic responses leveled at Ames crossed lines of civility, and that behavior is never warranted. “I have seen tweets ranging from performers and some generic twitter accounts that said things I’d never want anyone to say to another, but we can not be without activism,” he says. “And the majority of what I saw was brave and spoke in support of performers and people (gay, bi, trans, straight).”
Wilde seconds that sentiment: “Her initial statements (and the responses to follow) may not have been a direct form of bullying, but more ignorance. Some of the comments I’ve seen directed at her were certainly harmful and threatening, and should never be said to anyone, and people have every right to be outraged. It’s unfortunate that so many people think that the few people who simply voiced their opinion in return are the cause of this.”
Is it not a disservice to the memory of August Ames, a woman respected in her industry who lost her life to mental illness, to focus now on the gay community rightly upset by her stigmatizing comments as opposed to the true culprit? Where is the outrage over the tragic results of mental illness, which takes lives in this country mercilessly?
That’s a question Wesley Woods has asked as well.
“We should be shifting our views to how we can help those who suffer in silence before ending their life,” he says. “This has sent a shockwave through the porn industry, and there are many of us who have different opinions on what she said. [But] we all share the same thoughts surrounding her death: it was a shock, it’s sad and it makes you question everything.”
“A loss of life, even when you don’t know the person, is sad,” says Wilde. “My sincerest condolences to her family, friends and fans.”