Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Talking with the Porn Performer Who Started the Syphilis Outbreak

Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 at 11:01 AM

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Porn performers have a lot of responsibilities, not just to themselves but to co-stars, fans, and the people that are employing them. Part of that responsibility is getting monthly STI tests. In California, performers must complete a panel of tests each month they work. This panel tests for HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. Syphilis is only required twice a year. After he or she is tested, results are provided via e-mail and are available online, so the studios can see the results. It is also standard procedure for the performers to bring a hard copy on set to avoid any confusion. Performers are trusted to be honest about the results of the tests and inform people if they have an STI.

Recently a veteran porn performer, Mr. Marcus, not only lied about testing positive for syphilis, he also altered the copy of his results so that those who employed him and performed with him would not know he was infected. This decision has caused the entire porn industry in California to come to a screeching halt for a two week, self-imposed moratorium, in order to make sure the outbreak has been contained.

I contacted Mr. Marcus to see what he had to say for himself. He was surprisingly easy to get a hold of, and he agreed to a full interview on this issue. I also spoke to other porn performers to hear their thoughts as well. What surprised me about these conversations was that the majority of Marcus's colleagues were supportive of him. Almost everyone I talked to said that he was a great guy who made a very bad choice. They were horrified at what he did, but they felt sorry for him, because they did not believe it was done with malicious intent. They all just wanted to know why, and surprisingly enough, he told me just that.

Marcus has been a porn performer for almost 20 years. He got his start on an escalator, oddly enough. He was spotted by someone in the industry who thought he could do porn, and he did. Since then, he has worked on hundreds of sets and become a well-known name in the industry. On July 11, Marcus tested positive for syphilis, which he found out through his private physician. He was treated on July 13. Marcus was then told by his physician to abstain from sex for seven to 10 days. Marcus cancelled a week's worth of shoots, and then returned to shooting 10 days after receiving a shot of penicillin, without consulting his physician again.

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"That was a mistake on my part," said Marcus. "As anyone knows, when you have an STD, you should notify your partner. I thought I had this disease treated, and I did not know about the infection window. I am a career performer, and a lot of people I work with come and go. Stage names change, we perform together, and move on. In hindsight, I should have made an announcement. I was embarrassed. I didn't know much about syphilis. I got very private about it and decided to keep it private."

Marcus threw the dice and kept working, but his industry test was about to expire, so he went to TTS (Talent Testing Service) for his monthly checkup on July 21, and he got the results back on July 23. His results indicated that he was reactive to syphilis (meaning it was still in his system), and Marcus was faced with a huge dilemma. "As a performer, you are not given much education about STDs. It's really about, 'If you do this and do that, you will be allowed to work.' When the outbreak happened, I didn't really know much about syphilis, which was embarrassing; I had to go on Wikipedia, because I had no real information about it from the industry."

Despite Marcus' test results, he thought that he was not contagious anymore. "I did not believe that I was infectious. I thought I was treated, according to what I was told by a doctor. I felt confident in proceeding in work, and I did not feel like I was jeopardizing anyone. When I looked it up online, I was like, 'Okay, I should be okay.' I really believed that shot was working. I wanted to go back to work. I wanted to conduct business as usual. I had already cancelled shoots, and I needed that money. I have a lot of responsibilities. I wanted to omit the part of my test that said I was reactive to syphilis so I could still work. And most of us are trained to look for HIV, gonorrhea, and chlamydia on tests, so I was hoping they wouldn't notice."

Marcus then altered the physical copy of his test, omitting that he was reactive to syphilis. Originally, Marcus claimed that an employee at TTS aided him in his endeavor. When I asked him if that was true, he simply said, "It was all me, no one else helped."

So now what? For people the porn industry, they have to take a two-week, unpaid vacation so everyone can get tested, and they can all be assured that it is safe to return to work again. It means that a lot of people are losing a lot of money due to the actions of one man.

While all of the women Marcus worked with have tested negative for syphilis, I believe there is no excuse for what Marcus did. But would he have made that same decision if he was more informed about STIs? This is not just about the porn industry; this is about our country in general. We do a piss poor job educating people about sex and the transmission of STIs. Marcus' ignorance and desperation were what guided his decisions, and those are dangerous bedfellows.

Marcus is now sitting outside of the circle of trust, and I asked him what he thought his future held. "People say, 'Your career is over, you're banned for life.' Honestly, this is a changing industry, and I decided to stay on purpose. I made a bad decision in bad judgment, and it wasn't malicious or intentional, and I believe with all of my heart that people make mistakes. I intend to prove that I am sorry, but that I am going to continue to be the same guy. I won't make this mistake again."

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Marcus is hoping that the good that will come out of this situation is in regard to STI education for performers. Marcus is not planning on going anywhere, and he is hoping for his shot at redemption.

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Vanessa L. Pinto (aka Fleur De Lis SF) documented a year of her sex life on her blog Whatever You Desire. She also blogs for the Huffington Post and is a contributing writer with Whore! Magazine. She has a degree in political science from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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