A transgender porn site is offering to pay for gender reassignment surgeries

The owner of 'she-male' porn site Trans500 is launching a fund to pay the cost of trans people's gender transitions. But is it legit?

Mar 1, 2020, 4:23 am*

IRL

Mary Emily O'Hara 

Mary Emily O'Hara

A transsexual porn site that markets titles like “Tearing up that TS ass” and “OMG my stepmom is a TS” just announced that it’s launching a grant program to fund the cost of gender reassignment surgeries.

The site, Trans500 (NSFW), is relatively new. In fact, most of the porn stars interviewed for this story had never heard of it. But the site’s main investor, a Miami-based retired aviation professional named Ross Bleustein, told the Daily Dot that he was moved by Bruce Jenner’s recent coming out and decided he wanted to do something to help the transgender community.

Bleustein told the Daily Dot that the money for the grant stream would come in part from Trans500 profits, and in part from Bleustein himself. 

“The Bruce Jenner story got me so emotional. But Bruce Jenner can afford the hormones and the surgery, and this can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Bleustein, “This is for the little boy who’s been struggling with this through adolescence and teenage years. That’s who I’m ultimately waiting for.”

Bleustein seemed a bit unclear on the details. He wasn’t able to say how much money would be doled out to applicants, or when the application would close, or even what costs the grant would cover, exactly. Right now the grant application only consists of a form on the Trans500 website with three inputs: name, email, and a section called “Tell us your story.”

The company appears to have jumped the gun on publicizing the grant before it had the chance to work out the details, sending its surgery fund press release to various industry news sites. But the idea of a porn website funding gender reassignment surgery is actually pretty novel. It’s also overdue, according to some people in the porn industry who are frustrated by the way transgender members of the community have been treated.


In truth, the porn industry gets a lot of flak for profiting off of transgender bodies, without actually doing much to support the transgender community.

“Transsexual porn creates jobs for people who may not otherwise be able to get jobs. Say what you want about porn, it’s still a very positive industry in a lot of ways,” said trans porn star Buck Angel. “Sometimes cisgender people get into our business and don’t give back, and that’s not cool. When you make money off trans people, you had better give back.”

Angel stressed that since he isn’t a trans woman, he couldn’t speak to whether porn genre terms like ‘shemale’ that are used by Trans500 were offensive. But in the ‘asktransgender’ Reddit thread asking whether the term ‘shemale’ was offensive, the reply was clear.

“On a scale of 1 to 10—10 being I’d slap you in the face—it’s a 12. Seriously, [shemale] is the word that says I will erase you from my life and never speak to you again,” the Reddit response said.

Angel says that although many trans porn producers have veered away from using outdated, offensive terms like “tranny” and “she-male,” such language has caused rifts in the past when porn sites have tried to help out the transgender community.

Last April, for instance, a suicide prevention hotline called Trans Lifeline rejected the corporate sponsorship offer of Grooby (NSFW), a porn site Angel has credited with launching the transsexual porn market that has used terms like “shemale” to advertise content. 

Grooby posted the rejection letter in a frustrated blog response, stating that all the company wanted to do was put donation banners on the site so Grooby clients could donate directly.  Trans Lifeline asked Grooby to take the donation banners off its site, sparking an argument about what it takes to make a charity turn down much-needed free donations. 

The scuffle illustrated the discomfort the trans community at large has with porn.

“Are you kidding me? You’re going to pass up money that could have the potential to change lives because you’re worried about words? People in our community are constantly ostracized because of sex work,” said Angel of the Grooby controversy. “But my own work has changed and saved lives. I get emails every day about my work, even from 16-year-old trans kids who say they feel so much better about their bodies.”

Grooby and Angel are currently in talks about starting a trans surgery fund too, he said. Angel gets daily emails from trans guys asking him to help pay for their gender reassignment procedures, and he sees the fund as one way to address this need.

But what about the ladies? After all, the majority of the ‘transsexual’ porn market is centered around trans women. In fact, it’s the fourth most popular genre of porn, period, beating out searches for ‘blow job’ and ‘butts,’ according to a 2012 Salon article. Trans women are a major force in the porn industry, which is complicated by the fact that the industry sometimes shuns them. Ironically, the industry can also make it difficult, for trans women to fully express their gender identities.

‘Transsexual porn’ is the fourth most popular genre of porn, period, beating out searches for ‘blow job’ and ‘butts.’

“Considering the fact that for trans women, getting surgery is often a porn career ender, I hope this raises a larger conversation about which bodies are included or excluded in porn,” said Tobi Hill-Meyer, director of the queer trans alt-porn compilation Doing It Ourselves. “It’s sad, but I know some women working in porn who have money or insurance to get surgery, but put it off for fear of losing their job.”

Hill-Meyer’s point is apt: While straight men make up the vast majority of consumers of the mainstream ‘shemale’ porn market, the popularity of performers resides in their status as ‘chicks with dicks.’ Because the market demands that trans women in porn have fully functioning penises, the industry puts pressure on performers to choose between completing gender reassignment surgery—or even continuing regular hormone therapy—and losing a primary source of income. That’s a tough sell in a society where it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, for many trans people to get jobs.

One of transsexual porn’s top stars, Mia Isabella, told the Daily Dot that she was surprised but very happy to hear that Trans500 was launching the surgery fund. 

“I applaud anyone who’s willing to help young people get through transitioning,” said Isabella, who is donating 10 percent of the proceeds from her upcoming book to a scholarship for trans students. “My transition was funded by my former corporate job and by my ex-husband, not by the adult industry. I was very lucky to have a partner who was financially in a great place and had no problem making that dream come true for me.”

Isabella said that she believed a “large percentage” of trans women have worked in the sex industry, in large part due to the discrimination they face in the mainstream workplace. Some trans women are “stealth,” she said, and pass so well that they can continue to live in society without confronting discrimination, as author/activist Janet Mock did for years before she came out in a 2011 Marie Claire article. But other trans women aren’t so lucky, and those who are shut out of a reliable source of income will turn to porn and other types of sex work to survive. 

Another major problem is the fact that many health insurance plans (and state laws) consider gender reassignment surgery a “cosmetic” procedure, rather than a medical necessity. That leaves trans people responsible for coming up with tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund their transitions. 

While the American Medical Association considers gender reassignment medically necessary and has recommended that insurance companies cover the procedure, it announced last year that surgery shouldn’t be a requirement for changing gender on birth certificates and other forms of identification, simply because the surgery is still so financially out of reach for many. Currently, only 33 percent of transgender people undergo some form of gender reassignment surgery.

“In the past two years 9 states and the District of Columbia have clarified that exclusions of trans related healthcare are illegal,” said Hill-Meyer. “Plenty of people falling through the gaps still need support, and just as importantly we need to work on enforcing the law to end the practice of insurance discrimination that leaves people in such desperate need.”

In December, New York’s Sylvia Rivera Law Project announced that its twelve-year campaign to get state Medicaid coverage for gender reassignment surgery has finally been met with success. But while low-income and unemployed trans people won the right to surgery in one state, there are many more where coverage is not an option.

For those people, private grant programs like the one launched by Trans500 might be one of the few ways they can cover the cost of transitioning. There are some programs outside the porn industry too, like the Jim Collins foundation and the Point5cc fund. And crowdfunding is an increasingly popular method for raising transition costs. 

But for many transgender people, surgery is still out of reach.

“People will be offended,” said Angel of transition costs being funded by a company that profits from ‘shemale’ porn. “But we need to figure out what’s more important to us as a community. Gender reassignment surgery is a huge part of helping people move on with their lives.”

Photo via Pablo Miranzo/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: May 5, 2015, 4:34 pm