True Professions

What do you call whores who don't have sex and porn stars who don't get paid?

In addition to her harlotry and sex-worker activism, Leigh began curating video in 1985, and last year, inspired by Portland's Danzine Sex by Sex Workers Festival, she started the SFSWFF. This year's fete offers movies from all over the world, including portraits of sex workers in Brazil (Eunice Gutman's Amores de Rua); interviews with women working in suburban brothels in Melbourne (It's a Business Doing Pleasure With You); documentary shorts on the effects of incarceration (Salome Chasnoff's What We Leave Behind); contemplations of the stigmas facing transsexuals in the San Francisco Tenderloin (Dina L. Boyer's moving Study in the Life of Transsexuals With Kitty Castro); a fictional account of young Czech boys getting turned out in Prague (Wiktor Grodecki's Mandragora); a real-life account of an American-Israeli gigolo working in Amsterdam (Yaron Ben Nun's Hell's Angel); helpful instruction on entering the porn industry (Porn 101: If you can't masturbate in a shopping mall, don't bother); helpful reminders that not everyone in the business takes it seriously (The Biters' Sex TV); and some hard-core triple-X goth-punk-tranny porn for those who do (Christopher Leeand J. Zapata's Sex Flesh in Blood). Some of the films are funny, some are sad, a few are even sexy, but all of them are interesting, and, while few people speak up during the question-and-answer period between screenings, the crowd is buzzing with conversation.

By 8 p.m. there is a line around the block. Inside, Annie Sprinkleand Scarlot Harlot bestow the Sex Worker Sinema Awards (glitter- and feather-festooned high-heeled shoes presented by scantily clad B-girls) on worthy local directors. Unlike the predictably gruesome Adult Video News Awards, Sinema not only admits but also embraces all that is underground, experimental, and peculiar in adult movies, and the clips prove it. Among the winners in the "Sex Art" category are Joseph Kramerfor Zen Pussy, a meditation on 12 giant, full-screen vaginas that has audience members squirming in their seats and inadvertently saying "gross" before they compose their PC-ness; Joani Blankfor Faces of Ecstasy, which offers close-ups of faces in the throes of orgasm (including some folks better left unseen, at least by me); and Cleo du Bois' The Pain Game, the debut by a longtime dominatrix that leaves my knuckles white and my chest aching out of sympathy.

Sometime after midnight, a group of women stand outside the Roxie trying to figure out what to do next.

"It's hard to come back into the real world after spending so many hours in there," says 23-year-old Jasmine Petrizze. "People aren't masturbating everywhere I look." But this is San Francisco, and there's not too far to go. Within minutes, someone has mentioned a fund-raiser and audition for a new lesbian porno production called Debauchery.

Even at full capacity, the Campus Theatersmells like scented candles. A giant star hangs from the rafters amid multicolored Chinese lanterns. Women in latex maid's uniforms and cheetah catsuits parade across the overhead balcony while music pumps through the shadowy theater. The flamboyant leather-lace-and-latex crowd is reminiscent of gay-boy bars in the early '80s: Everyone has an outfit, a gimmick, a hook that sets her apart from the rest. This is the beautiful crowd. They watch blithely as a butch in chaps fingers and smacks a masked woman in a cage. The smell changes ever so slightly. The Debauchery Sluts feast on a well-oiled woman wearing a pig's head who is carried in on a silver platter. Near the beverage counter, a leather-daddy butch pushes her slave, who is wearing little more than a leather G-string, against a lonely dyke and begins to grind against them both; after a time (and some distinct grunts) the dyke moans, straightens up, and wipes the sweat from her brow. Fliers on the wall say, "Please fuck. Thank you. The Debauchery Sluts." Others warn that Debauchery Productions may use any images culled from tonight's festivities. Women climb into a photo booth set up by and pose -- shirts off, sucking each other, straddling each other. A couple comes out topless and panting.

"I wonder if those girls are getting paid," muses a young woman in a pearl corset and shiny blue hot pants as she watches the masked girl in the cage climax. "She looks like she's just having fun."

The young woman stops and looks at me seriously: "If you don't get paid, are you still a porn star?"

It's an age-old question.

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