The Whore Next Door: Testify!

(Photograph by Isabelle Dresler/isabelledresler.com)

Last week, more than two dozen adult performers gathered in Walnut Creek to address the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board.

The adult industry finally caught a break from Cal/OSHA in February, when, after hours of testimony from performers, the board listened to workers’ pleas and threw out proposed regulation 5193.1, which would have put performers’ medical privacy at risk and required barriers for almost all sex acts.

Performers and industry advocates have shown up at every board meeting since then, imploring the board to continue placing worker voices at the center of the conversation regarding regulation.

On Thursday, performers came from as far as Orange County to encourage the board to adopt Petition 560, which was submitted by the industry’s trade association (which, full disclosure, I work for). That proposal would give performers access to a larger tool kit of STI prevention methods, including condoms, 14-day testing for seven different infections, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily medication not unlike birth control that is shown to have upward of 90 percent efficacy in preventing HIV transmission.

However, 560 is not the only petition on the block. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has led a multi-pronged attack on the adult industry for nearly a decade now, has also submitted a petition that’s basically identical to the regulations that were struck down back in February — and which AHF also proposed.

But industry veterans acted as a counterweight. Self-described “Gay Porn Mama” mr. Pam — of NakedSword in Berkeley — has been directing condom-only films for more than a decade, and Jiz Lee of San Francisco’s Pink and White Productions has led the charge of the queer porn movement for just as long, choosing to shoot only scenes that make use of condoms and other barriers, such as gloves and dental dams. Yet Pam and Lee each spoke out against regulations that would mandate condoms, insisting that — just like designer footwear — when it comes to sexual health, one size never fits all.

AHF had several retired performers give testimony, including Rod Daily (who acquired HIV in 2013, prompting his exit from adult film). During her testimony, mr. Pam delicately pointed out that, as far as she knew, Daily performed exclusively with condoms during his eight-year career — not a great argument for an industry-wide fail-safe.

Local performer-producer Arabelle Raphael, who has performed for six years for sites like kink.com and Burning Angel, also addressed the Cal/OSHA board. Raphael and her husband now produce their own independent content out of their home in the East Bay. However, the regulations that AHF keeps pushing to get on the books would ensure that even folks like Raphael and her husband would have to perform with condoms or face hefty fines that they as new small-business owners can’t afford.

Raphael spoke plainly about having her own critiques of the adult industry, but insisted that the petition submitted by AHF wouldn’t address any of them, whereas she found petition 560 to contain workable solutions to the conundrum of regulating such a multifaceted industry. She also pointed out that AHF’s retaliatory attacks on performers who speak out creates a culture of silence that puts workers at further risk.

“It quiets us in a way that is very dangerous,” she said.

HIV is not something to take lightly. Yet with not a single transmission of the virus in more than a decade on sets that use the stringent testing protocols, it seems as though the adult film industry is doing something right. One would think that an organization as large as the AHF would be keen to work in collaboration with a population that is on the cutting edge of sexual health — especially considering the media reach each adult performer commands. Instead, performers are shut out, ridiculed, harassed, or bribed by AHF in its obsessive crusade to persecute porn stars, using money intended for patients living with HIV.

After hearing passionate testimony, the board voted to shelve both petitions until they could be evaluated by an advisory committee. Unfortunately, at least two of the board members expressed that they were unlikely to be swayed by any of the committee findings.

“I don’t personally care what anybody says on the advisory committee,” Board Chair David Thomas said, just before the meeting adjourned. “You’re supposed to use condoms … you’re going to have to get over it. It’s gonna happen.”

Crestfallen, two dozen weary porn performers — who had all taken an unpaid day off — got back in their cars and drove home, knowing that it takes a long time to change hearts and minds. But all we can do is keep trying.

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