“Fuck y’all.” Those were the last words August Ames ever posted to Twitter on 4 December 2017. The next day, her body was found hanging from a tree in a park in Camarillo, California. A coroner ruled her death a suicide. Ames (real name Mercedes Grabowski) was 23 years old at the time and had already made a name for herself in the porn industry.
In her four years working in the adult film industry, she had performed in over 270 scenes for major studios, amassing over 600,000 followers on Twitter. Ames was also nominated for Best New Starlet at the Adult Video News awards of 2015—known as the Oscars of porn—and had been nominated for Female Performer of the year for the upcoming 2018 AVNs.
Only two days before her death, the popular porn star had found herself in the middle of a controversy over cyberbullying and homophobia. Following her abrupt death, many different rumours and theories started spreading. Some spoke of murder and blamed Ames’ husband, adult film director Kevin Moore, while others, Moore included, claimed she was cyberbullied to death.
You see, 48 hours before her death, Ames had tweeted the following: “Whichever (lady) performer is replacing me tomorrow for @EroticaXNews, you’re shooting with a guy who has shot gay porn, just to let cha know. BS is all I can say… Do agents really not care about who they’re representing?… I do my homework for my body”
Understandably, she quickly became a lightning rod for people in and outside of the industry to express their views on this ongoing controversy, with a variety of tactics. What controversy, you ask? In this tweet, Ames actually referred to what is known in the porn industry as ‘crossover performers’, which are cisgender males who perform with both cis women and other cis men, or with trans women.
Of course, this shouldn’t be seen as a problem, but as Rolling Stone explained in an article, “Some performers and agencies share the view expressed in Ames’ tweet, that crossover talent is ‘higher risk’ for STIs than straight male talent.” Others see this standard as homophobic, as well as a flawed rubric for measuring safety.
On Twitter, other famous adult actors then decided to share their opinion on Ames’ controversial views and many, such as Wicked Pictures contract star Jessica Drake, pointed out that discriminating against someone based on their identity or history is not a more reliable form of protection than testing or PrEP.
According to many who work in the adult entertainment industry, crossover double standards come up all the time, a holdover from an era when less was known about curtailing the spread of HIV.
On 5 December 2017, porn star Jaxton Wheeler, a cis man who identifies as pansexual, tweeted at Ames: “The world is awaiting your apology or for you to swallow a cyanide pill. Either or we’ll take it.”
As a response, Ames continued to defend her views in a series of tweets, until her last one, “Fuck y’all.” Understandably, many who had witnessed the debate rolling out on the social media platform during her final days concluded this was what drove her to suicide.
Speaking to Newsweek after Ames’ death, Wheeler explained: “I made a horrible comment in my way of trying to say we just wanted an apology… I feel like the shittiest person in the world.”
As time passed, rumours slowly stopped going around. Until journalists Jon Ronson and Lina Misitzis decided to investigate Ames’ death and what led her to commit suicide through the podcast series called The Last Days of August, which was released on Audible on 4 January 2019, one month after the first anniversary of her death.
Attracted to the story’s social media and cyberbullying themes, both Ronson and Misitzis went through a series of interviews with Ames’ friends and family as well as renowned names in the adult entertainment industry (some of whom wished to remain anonymous).
Ronson had previously written about Twitter pile-ons in the porn industry and therefore thought it was right to look deeper into what exactly had happened with Ames. A month after her death, Moore agreed to speak to Ronson and Misitzis about “social media bullying and how it had killed his wife.”
Shortly after her first homophobic tweet, Ames had tweeted to apologise if that what the impression she gave and tried to reassure her audience that she was only concerned about her ‘safety’. In the podcast, Moore explains that Ames wasn’t homophobic, but wasn’t scared of getting HIV either. Instead, he shares that she only didn’t think it was right for her to have sex with someone gay, someone who may not be attracted to her. Needless to say, this contradictory explanation seemed dodgy already.
Initially, Ronson assumed that this was another story about the impact of online bullying, but after digging into the situation, he quickly realised that the events leading up to the porn star’s death were more complicated than it seemed. Around six weeks before her death, Ames filmed a scene in which a Russian co-star was particularly violent, bringing up unwanted memories from her past.
Although The Last Days of August doesn’t offer listeners a definitive answer for why Ames committed suicide, its seven episodes point towards all of the different ways the performer was mistreated by her peers, her loved ones, and the industry as a whole.
Ames’ death isn’t tragic only because she committed suicide, but also because of how desperate she was to escape negative situations and please people who ultimately let her down. In 2018, the porn industry saw a pattern of overdoses and suicides that highlighted larger problems within the industry.
Performers felt alienated and struggled to find practitioners who offered sex-friendly mental health support. Unfortunately, this is still the case for many sex workers, and Ames’ story is just one among many. She had previously opened up about her history of depression and bipolar disorder, as well as the struggles she’d faced attempting to find a therapist.
Stigma, fear, and trauma had already led her to consider suicide. Online bullying was the last straw.