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Positive Aura: Hardcore Performer of the Year Zariah Aura says she battled self-doubt for months before winning mammoth honor at TEAs

Eros Orisha, Austin Spears, Leilani Li also win big during heartfelt ceremony at Hollywood Avalon, where “the love in the room was overwhelming”

By Austin King / Editor

Mar 12, 2024

Zariah Aura clutching her trophy for Best Hardcore Performer

HOLLYWOOD—For the past few months, something has been a little “off” with Zariah Aura. Recently, it became so noticeable that a group of friends approached her and expressed concern.

Normally the most vivacious person in a room, Aura’s glow had dimmed. Her smile seemed dull and not as genuine. The trademark twinkle in her eyes was gone.

“You’re not as bubbly,” Khloe Kay told her.

“You don’t have the same presence,” Yasmin Lee said.

“Is something wrong?” TS Playboy asked.

Indeed, there was something ailing the trans superstar—an illness not physical in nature, but mental. Like so many entertainers and others in the public eye, Aura was suffering from imposter syndrome. The surging performer had spent the past year labeled as one of the top talents in the industry.

But Aura didn’t always believe it.

“All of this attention, all of this fame came so fast,” Aura told PornCrush. “It hit so hard. Sometimes I see people who haven’t been recognized as much, and I feel guilty. I’m like, ‘Wow, all of them are working harder than me, and I just have the luck of the draw to be able to be seen.’”

After what happened at Sunday’s Trans Erotica Awards in Los Angeles, Aura will likely never question herself again. In what was easily the crowning moment of her career to date, Aura captured the event’s most coveted trophy when she was named Hardcore Performer of the Year.

As more than 500 of her colleagues erupted with cheers and applause, Aura made her way to the stage at the historic Avalon Theater at 1:16 a.m. Her eyes glistened with tears during a heartfelt acceptance speech that included tributes to icons and mentors such as Emma Rose and Natassia Dreams. Her words and emotions reminded her industry peers of something they already knew. Aura is an elite performer.

And an even better person.

Aura’s victory came one year after she was named Best New Face, meaning she’s already won the top two awards at the TEAs in her only two years of eligibility. She also became the first Grooby Ambassador last January.

“In every job I’ve ever done, in every avenue I’ve ever taken, I’ve always excelled and worked to be the best at it,” Aura said. “When I started in this industry I got so much attention and affirmation for everything I was doing. I appreciated every moment of it, but I never really believed it. I can’t believe I’m accepting this award.”

Aura’s moving speech wrapped a fitting bow around a three-hour ceremony that had its share of comedic moments—thanks largely to legendary host Domino Presley—but was defined even more by warmth and raw passion.

Host Domino Presley onstage at the 2024 Transgender Erotica Awards

“Maybe the best event we’ve ever had,” Steven Grooby, the show’s organizer, said. “The love in the room was overwhelming.”

That was especially the case during a speech by longtime fan favorite Izzy Wilde, who announced her plans to have sexual reassignment surgery in September. Any uneasiness Wilde may have had about revealing her secret was pacified quickly as audience members rose from their seats, cheering in support.

“This is extremely important to me, and I’m ready, even if I have no idea how things will be afterward,” Wilde said. “All I know is that I’m preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. And I wanted to let y’all know because I love y’all so fucking much.

“Sincerely, thank you for boosting me up these several years I’ve been here. I honestly couldn’t have done it without y’all. I hope I’ll be able to continue sex work after my surgery. Time will only tell.”

Izzy Wilde speaks to the audience after being named TS Virtual Lovers Model of the Year

Sunday was also a big night for African-American performers, who have long been under-recognized in the trans-genre.

Leilani Li—fresh off her AVN victory for Best Trans Newcomer—won for Best Girl/Girl scene for her tryst with Gracie Jane in TransAngels’ “Hot Pink Baddies.” She was also named Black T-Girl of the Year.

Eros Orisha won the prestigious Best New Face award, following in the footsteps of elite past winners such as Aura, Brittney Kade (2022), and Rose (2021).

“I want to thank my mom and my dad for loving me so much, unconditionally,” she said. “They are my lifeline. I also want to thank all of my peers. Everyone here is so nice.”

Leilani Li embraces Natassia Dreams

Another monumental moment occurred when Austin Spears became the first trans male to be named Model of the Year by PornHub, which was represented at Sunday’s ceremony by mammoth names such as Asa Akira, Kira Noir and Queenie Sateen.

Speaking with PornCrush Sunday via phone, Spears said his success can be traced back to the first time he attended the TEAs in 2021. He said the welcoming environment convinced him that a career in adult work was where he belonged.

“At that time, I had no idea how long I’d be around,” Spears, who has 320,000 followers on X, said. But the kindness shown to me that night by people like Foxxy and Natassia changed my whole mindset. Their kindness is what put me where I am today.

“If I can do anything in this business, it will be showing kindness to someone else. Hard work is important, but kindness is overlooked.”

Eros Orisha accepting the prestigious Best New Face award

Aubrey Kate—arguably the biggest trans star in history—was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award along with veteran producer/director/talent Aiden Starr. And the always-charismatic Ariel Demure—who finished in a tie with Rose in 2023 for Hardcore Performer of the Year—claimed the Fan’s Choice award.

“Thank you to everyone who has been in my camp, actively making this year easier,” Demure said. “And to those who have not, and you know who you are, fuck you.”

Aubrey Kate and Eva Maxim presenting an award onstage

Veteran Shiri Allwood captured two awards Sunday (Best Content Creator and the Transcendence Award).

Also claiming multiple trophies were Kasey Kei and Brittney Kade, who won Best Threesome/Moresome Scene for their sizzling romp with Aliya Brynn for Gender X. Kei also won Best VR Scene for “My Slutty Babysitter” with Spencer Bradley. Kade was named Gender X Model of the Year for the second straight time.

Emma Rose gives her acceptance speech after winning Best Internet Personality

Then there was Rose, who has claimed Trans Performer of the Year honors from AVN and XBIZ the past two years while also winning two straight Hardcore Performer of the Year trophies at the TEAs. Rose didn’t walk away empty-handed Sunday when she was named Best Internet Personality following a year filled with podcast interviews and reels that helped turn her into the most-recognizable name in trans porn.

Still, when all was said and done, the night belonged to Aura. With a much-needed sense of affirmation, she exited the Avalon theater early Monday morning wearing a smile, clutching a trophy—and leaving her imposter syndrome behind.

“It’s been really hard for me to accept that I’ve made a mark in the industry,” Aura said. “But tonight showed me that I really do deserve it.”

Zariah Aura is embraced by fiance Nicky Zeal after hearing her named called as Best Hardcore Performer

Austin King / Editor

Austin King spent nearly 20 years as a mainstream journalist before pivoting to coverage of the adult industry in 2020. He specializes in breaking news and in-depth features, with some of his best work to date coming for AVN Magazine in profiles of Gina Valentina, Casey Kisses, Anna-Claire Clouds, Kayden Kross, Chanel Camryn, Kenzie Anne, Lilly Bell and others. Austin resides in Texas but makes frequent trips to Porn Valley.