What Happens When You Win at the "Oscars of Gay Porn"

GayVN Awards 2019

The best of the best of the gay porn world received accolades on Monday night when the GayVN Awards handed out their annual prizes to industry actors, films, and directors. Staged at Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Cafe, hosted by Shangela with performances by Danity Kane and Brooke Candy, the awards — sometimes called the “Oscars of gay porn” — recognized winners in 15 judged categories, 11 fan-voted categories, and inducted one industry veteran into its Hall of Fame. But despite the show’s longevity (AVN, a major trade publication for the adult film industry, launched the awards in 1998) and perceived prestige, it’s hard to nail down exactly what a GayVN might mean for a winner.

One of the night’s big winners was Armond Rizzo, a massively popular gay porn actor who won the GayVN award for best duo sex scene along with Max Konnor for a scene in Noirmale.com. Rizzo gushed on stage, choking up as he told the crowd it was his “first award” ever.

Winning any award comes with its fair share of emotion: watch any best actress Oscar speech on YouTube and you can see the tear droplets forming in the corners of their eyes. And while emotions may run high on the night of the award, often question the next morning is: now what?

Depending on the length of their career, an Oscar winner can expect to see a significant pay bump: $3.9 million for best actor winners and $500,000 for best actress winners, on average, according to one 2015 study. But the gay porn industry is much different. While there are freelance individuals who, like Amy Adams or Glenn Close, can go from film to film and collect a paycheck, many adult film stars are under something most resembling the Old Hollywood studio system; They are exclusive to, and only make films for, one studio, who pay them an annual salary. These contracts are negotiated, often annually. How much an award affects an actor’s paycheck — or whether it does at all — is up for debate.

“It does give you leverage,” Sean Zevran, 2018 GayVN performer of the year and CockyBoys exclusive model, says. “It does give you room to negotiate when you're looking at contracts.”

Austin Wilde, adult film star and owner of GuysinSweatPants.com, doesn’t agree. He says that awards are “wonderful” and “great recognition” but that’s about it. “It won’t mean a model gets higher pay, and it likely won’t help a studio decide on hiring them,” he says.

According to Kyle Ross, a Helix Studios exclusive model who won a 2018 GayVN for best group scene, there’s one factor that’s probably the most important when it comes to determining an actor’s bag: social media presence. Helix boasts a rabid fanbase who obsess not only over stars’ film performances, but their lives as well. That fervor can mean big bucks for a star, especially at Helix, which goes above and beyond in turning each of their actors into a business through various ventures.

“We can tell a model is a bang or a bust based on how many followers they get after starting with us,” Ross says. The indicators of success there are swift and omnipresent, two things an annual awards show like the GayVNs is not.

“It gives you a big ego boost, and that’s about it,” prolific gay porn director, drag queen and multiple GayVN winner Chi Chi LaRue says of the award. For Ross, it’s a line in his Twitter bio to “brag about.”

Rather than awards driving the fandom, sometimes fandom drives nominations, according to one actor. A quick rundown of the 2019 GayVN nominations shows that these ceremonies do not whittle nominees down to a tight 5 - 7 names, like most do.

“There’s 20 people per category, which is bullshit,” Rizzo says. “They’re trying to reach as many adult entertainers as possible and their fanbases.”

Not only does each category sport a massive nominee list, but according to Zachary Sire, the senior editor and co-founder of Str8UpGayPorn.com, a gay porn news site which holds its own rival awards show, rather than feeling competitive, the awards often feel as if they’re trying to make sure each studio gets recognized.

“The awards are handed out so diplomatically,” he says. “Everyone ends up winning one.” Who gets left on the cutting room floor? Some think it’s the independent performers.

Rizzo, according to PornHub, is the third most-searched gay porn star, but has never been exclusive to a studio in his seven years in the business. Prior to his victory, the 4’11” performer said he felt his independent status affected his chances of winning.

“Do awards shows favor exclusive models over independent models? Absolutely,” Rizzo said. (A quick rundown of this year’s winners showed that the winner of the awards were split mostly evenly between exclusive and non-exclusive models, though the nominee list was definitely skewed toward exclusive models.)  

Rizzo said it has crossed his mind that winning an award might help him secure more money. But, just as pay in Hollywood can sometimes be unfair and shrouded in mystery, it may be even more so in the porn world, where the payscale for models is, as Rizzo put it, “all over the fucking place.”

Several performers stressed that studio paychecks often pale in comparison to what performers who take to fan subscription services like OnlyFans or JustFor.Fans can make on their own. Currently, GayVN Awards only recognize studio porn (their fan awards recognize cam performers) and don’t include independently-produced content, which some actors thought was a mistake.

“They would be fools to ignore it,” Zevran says. “If the awards don't start recognizing this work and the individual creators instead of just going to big companies, they’re going to be irrelevant.”

He adds, “Some would argue that they already are.”

Rizzo says that nominating OnlyFans would be akin to the Oscars nominating YouTubers. (Of course, we are living in a world where streaming giant Netflix just led the Academy Award nominations with its black-and-white film Roma.)  

“They should stick in their lane,” he says.

AVN editor in chief Sharan Street indicated to Out that there are “no firm plans” to open up awards to platforms like OnlyFans or JustFor.Fans. “We would not rule it out,” Street says. “The awards will continue changing to reflect a changing industry.”

If not money or status, do these awards perhaps lend validation? Ross says his GayVN award “legitimized” his career choice. “It’s nice when a third party commemorates your efforts,” he said.

Sire echoed Ross’s comments, adding that it’s still very rare that sex workers get celebrated.

“Sex workers get a lot of disrespect and put up with a lot of bullshit on all sides, so I think being acknowledged is good for someone's self esteem and their confidence and their value,” he says. “I think that’s the real positive takeaway is that they get to feel appreciated.”

The GayVNs agree: despite their fervent fanbases, adult entertainers are often not celebrated. These awards, AVN said in a statement, make up for lack of recognition elsewhere.

“Though adult entertainment continues to become more mainstream, their work is still not recognized by mainstream awards shows,” Street says.

But as for this year’s awards, Rizzo said that after seven years working, he doesn’t need a physical award.

“I’ve lost that aspect of wanting validation through awards,” he said. “I’ve realized that my fanbase, the people that watch my stuff, they’re my validation.”

“Am I looking for validation?” he asked. “No, I’m honestly just looking forward to having a great time.”

This year, he’s walked away with both.

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