A Spark of Activism

by Rich Moreland, July 2014

In her recent Huffington Post article “Why I Don’t Want Condoms: A Porn Performer’s Perspective,” Casey Calvert explains the irony of AB 1576, the condom legislation that will alter California’s porn production landscape should it become law. Casey argues that the bill would lessen her sexual well-being at work because its provisions are less rigorous than the current industry requirements. At present, she points out, the Free Speech Coalition’s Performer Availability Scheduling Services (PASS) updates an actor’s status and protects everyone by identifying those who are not cleared to shoot. The system is based on a fourteen-day protocol that tests for seven infections including HIV, gonorrhea, and Chlamydia.

Casey goes on to discuss the realities of condom use. The downside of lengthy penetrations can negatively affect female talent’s availability if condoms are required, a fact apparently ignored by Michael Weinstein and the AIDS Health Foundation. Friction creates soreness and irritated vaginal and anal corridors can limit a girl’s work schedule.

In her argument, Casey repeats what everyone connected with the business fears if AB 1576 becomes a legal reality. Some companies will go underground to avoid compliance while others will depart for friendlier confines (Las Vegas heading the list), or go out of business altogether.

Self-Explanatory Photo Courtesy of Casey Calver

Self-Explanatory!
Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

It’s not so much what Casey has to say that is the attention-getter. Rather, it is what her article reveals about performers that could spell changes for the future.

Michael Weinstein’s machinations aimed at curtailing adult film production is a call to action. He has pushed to the industry to the wall and there are hints that moving forward in a political way is more than just a discussion board topic. The testimony against AB 1576 in Sacramento is an indication of what porn people can do when they demonstrate a modicum of organization.

Some performers with sex-positive feminist leanings—Casey, Nina Hartley, Tasha Reign, Jiz Lee, Chanel Preston, and Lorelei Lee to name a few—have never shied away from their political opinions. Now we have the addition of a delegation that recently visited the Compton offices of Assemblyman Isadore Hall, the bill’s sponsor. Led by Nina Hartley, the group, which included Alex Chance, Anikka Albright, Mia Li, and Charli Piper, made the performer case against AB 1576 to a staff aide representing Hall. The account of their appearance can be found here.

Performers are learning that activism is possible in an industry unaccustomed to touting its political side beyond the work of the Free Speech Coalition (FSC).

Incidentally, should AB 1576 become law, the studios may be forced to regard performers as employees rather than independent contractors. If defined as employees, porn talent would then have organizational options. How much of a political voice they can muster may determine outcomes that are beneficial to them.

Organization demands leadership and its vital components, intelligence and commitment. Performers are exploring that scenario now with a new entity, the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC). Using education as its tool, APAC has established worthy goals that include the creation of a safe, professional work environment and a knowledgeable, respected performer.

Will APAC consider a more formal direction in giving porn talent a greater voice? The discussion has come up before. Industry vets will remember performer, director, and producer Ona Zee and her support for unionization some years ago.

Of course, talk of formal organization is problematic in an industry that tends toward libertarianism; porn performers value their unwavering independence and in the end, APAC may amount to nothing. But the specter of Sacramento, with its rules and regs, now looms over everyone and unless there is a dramatic shift in direction, the future is going to demand greater political involvement.

With a law on the books enacted under the auspices of AB 1576, would not performers be better off with a strong organization that would exclusively represent them? How, for example, is the law to be enforced on the set, who takes the blame if condoms are ignored, and how would workman’s comp issues be handled?

Nina Hartley, who believes organization is a good thing, once told me in a moment of frustration that performers lack an institutional memory about the business. They often assume that the way things are now in adult film is the way they have always been. Some performers do seem to get it, however. Like the outspoken Casey Calvert, they can become powerful activists if they choose to explore that possibility.

Here’s an example of the attitude needed for success. Casey says in her article that if studios “stay in California and flaunt the law,” AB 1576 will result in unsafe working conditions. Underground production is the easiest way out and sets up a scenario in which testing protocol evaporates and a host of problems can arise, endangering everyone.

“We self-regulate very well right now, but that’s bound to fall apart if we have to do it in secret. I’m not going to work if I don’t feel safe,” she declares.

What a feisty Casey does not say is she’ll leave the industry and she is adamant that she’ll not shoot underground. The Florida native and others will fight for all porn performers and their spirit of activism, evident in Sacramento’s legislative halls and in online articles and social media, will take up residence in APAC.

Positive changes begin with a spark, an attitude, and almost always a fed-up person. Remember Norma Rae and Erin Brockovich? Porn women are just as gutsy.

*          *          *          *          *

Postscript

At the hearing from left to right, Sid, Owen Gray, Jiz Lee, Chanel Preston, Casey Calvert, and Lorelei Lee Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

Performers making a statement by attending the hearing. From left to right:  Sid, Owen Gray, Jiz Lee, Chanel Preston, Casey Calvert, and Lorelei Lee
Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

On the day of the Senate hearing, Casey and others from the industry appeared in the chamber to offer their views. Though each person was recognized, Casey reports, only designated speakers were allowed to make statements. The FSC’s Diane Duke and Kink.com-based performer and director Lorelei Lee presented arguments against the bill; the remaining interested parties were allowed a brief individual moment.

“We all got a chance to go up to the microphone, but all we were allowed to say was our name and that we oppose,” Casey states. As for the other side, “There were some people there to support the bill, but not as many as we had,” she adds. “The oddest one was Jessie Rodgers, who was literally in tears because she got herpes on set.”

Casey later mentions that herpes is “fairly common” in the industry and is often considered a “nothing disease” whose danger is hyped by drug companies. “It can’t hurt you at all,” she says and questions why Jessie was so over-the-top about it.

Former performers Sophia Delgado and Cameron Bay endorsed the bill along with Jessie Rogers, whose personal view on AB 1576 and the industry abuses she perceives harms all porn talent can be found here.

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