Who Was August Ames?

In December, 2017, adult performer August Ames (real name Mercedes Grabowski) committed suicide by hanging. In the immediate aftermath of this, attention was drawn to a multi-day Twitter ‘pile-on’ August had been subjected to after posting comments related to her anger at being booked to perform with a cross-over male performer.

All too predictably, the media published salacious headlines, indicating that it was the work of LGBTQ+ activists and ‘Social Justice Warriors’ who caused August to take her life. Tweets encouraging August to ‘take a cyanide pill’ were published as evidence of the ongoing abuse she had suffered. Fans of August lambasted SJWs and those they felt had forced her into this position. Others celebrated a supposed homophobe killing themselves.

What Really Happened?

I wasn’t familiar with August Ames prior to hearing of her death. A quick skim of her IMDb profile and her 600,000+ Twitter followers indicates a prolific and popular adult performer. To me she was an unknown. Upon hearing about her death, I did try and find out more about her. Could a young woman really take her life over a Twitter spat?

I took some time to study the tweets, most still available on the platform. August’s initial comments were perhaps naive, but they seemed to be more based on frustration about being ‘tricked’ into working with a cross-over performer. What angered people was that August appeared to be perpetuating myths and stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people; that they’re more likely to be carrying an STI, that they’re not tested as frequently and that they’re more promiscuous in their private life. I’ve criticised similar views before on my website, so I understand why these thoughts irked people.

Immediate Thoughts

However, what struck me was that August was not the only performer expressing these views. Other industry colleagues did rally to her defence, putting forth similar arguments. I would like to believe that all workers, whether gay, straight, bi, trans, enby or other, are all subject to the same testing procedures and all take responsibility, both to themselves and their co-stars. I’m also not blind. The American adult industry has suffered numerous scandals over the years. Establishing personal precautions and boundaries seems to be a reasonable course of action.

Of course, I’m not part of the adult industry, so I can only judge based on what I’ve been told. Given the number of those who supported August, then right or wrong, to this outsider it appears that these views come from somewhere. Was this backlash against August a case of shooting the messenger?

The Real Questions

None of this answers the real question. Why did August Ames die? Thanks to documentary maker Jon Ronson, we might now be a few steps closer to some answers. Ronson has produced the podcast ‘The Last Days of August’ (available on Audible) in which he spends almost a year interviewing friends, family, colleagues and industry insiders to try to get a clearer picture about what motivated August to end it all.

I don’t want to delve deeply into spoiler territory, but having listened to all seven episodes, a few things stick out to me. While the media played up the Twitter feud, and while August’s husband, Kevin Moore, initially sought to blame SJW’s and performers Jaxton Wheeler and Jessica Drake, the truth of August’s passing goes far deeper.

Through Ronson’s work, we hear how a 12-year-old August was forced into care because her father didn’t believe she had been molested by a family friend. In an interview recorded with Holly Randall before her death, August brushes off being propositioned by a friend’s father at 15 as ‘growing up’. It’s unsettling to think about, but who knows what other similar experiences she might have dealt with?

Jaxton Wheeler

Jaxton Wheeler, one of two singled out by Kevin Moore, takes all of two minutes to prove what a complete twat he really is. Author of the infamous ‘cyanide’ tweet, Wheeler correctly asserts that this expression of venom was sent after August had already passed. Unfortunately, his callous attitude towards her death displays all the hallmarks of an individual lacking basic empathy and compassion.

Wheeler argues that because August was younger than him, she should have known better than to send her tweets. In Wheeler’s mind, he’s absolved of any and all blame purely because it’s social media. Indeed, Wheeler sees himself as a victim. He blames August for perpetuating negative stereotypes, and never once considers that a calm chat would have been better than an angry onslaught to his Twitter followers.

Whatever Wheeler says, his ‘fuck her’ belief is clear to all. He’s not a man who views August’s death as a tragedy and doesn’t even consider that his tweets, while she was still alive, might have exacerbated the situation. On a personal note, while Wheeler argues he’s defending LGBTQ+, his inability to conduct himself as a rational, compassionate human being disqualifies him as any sort of spokesperson for LGBTQ+ rights. You’re a cunt, Jaxton. It’s as simple as that and I would never ask you to speak for me.

Jessica Drake

Jessica Drake, another of Moore’s immediate targets, is much more sympathetic. Through a sobbing interview, she claims that she never meant to attack August, and has suffered from what’s happened. At times you do wonder whether it’s the reaction of August’s fans and friends that hurts, but she doesn’t quite come across as the ice queen that Moore has portrayed.

Gossip and Speculation

However, one thing that sticks out is how the industry is full of gossip and sniping. Suspicion comes upon Moore himself. Apparently, subject to a reputation of controlling behaviour and a confrontational temperament, there are those who joke that Moore murdered August, and some who try and find evidence he did. Ronson is quick to assure listeners early on that his series does not turn into a murder investigation.

Failure to Care

Another, possibly key catalyst, in August’s decision is how those in the industry miss clear signs that a performer is uncomfortable. Shortly before her death, August participated in a scene which she later complained in text messages was too rough and painful. Her male performer, Markus Dupree, is said to have slammed her head into a table, tossed her around and violated her boundaries. Those involved in the shoot (minus Markus, who refused an interview) claim that nothing untoward happened and August had shown no sign of being uncomfortable, even providing the raw footage as evidence. When Ronson and his colleague viewed the footage, they both came to a very different conclusion.

Damaged People

Moore perhaps best sums it up himself. Rather than being the result of a Twitter feud, August’s untimely death seems to be a mixture of missed warning signs and damaged people. In a surprisingly frank admission, Moore concludes that there have been destructive elements in his life and career, and expresses deep sorrow for not spending more time with August in the weeks before her suicide. The onslaught August suffered on Twitter might have been the final straw, but it wasn’t the whole story.

From her own words, and from the words of those closest to her, Mercedes Grabowski seemed to be a kind-hearted, compassionate and caring woman who suffered through personal trials that would have broken most. I didn’t know her, but Ronson’s podcast paints a portrait of a person with huge emotional strength who was simply pushed too far by a build-up of horrors suffered in her short life. It’s heartbreaking to think she’s no longer here, that she’s beyond any help anybody can offer because she needed it.

August wasn’t a silly homophobe who got her comeuppance, a porn bimbo who no one will miss, or a person without redeeming qualities. Whatever personal problems she might have had, she was a sister, a wife, and a much-missed friend to many. I didn’t know her, but because of ‘The Last Days of August’ I genuinely mourn her. I’m glad her story has been told, but I think it’s a genuine tragedy that it needed to be.

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