A Rebuttal From The "Red Garter Belt"
How Gail Dines Fails Miserably On The Latest HIV In Porn "Outbreak"
by Anthony Kennerson
Perhaps I should be grateful to Professor Gail Dines that she mentions me, or at least my Red Garter Club blog (no belts involved, I'm afraid), in passing as part of her latest essay regarding the current HIV scare in the Los Angeles-based pornography industry. Having been one of her most trenchant critics from the Left, and being both a fan and consumer of mainstream porn and an unabashed supporter of what some decry as "sex-positive" feminism, it doesn't surprise me at all that she would tend to avoid folk like me if at all possible.
The problem is, though, that Professor Dines seems to have an inverse relationship with the art of fact checking, and a continuous habit of letting her antiporn ideology get in the way of interpreting facts that don't mesh perfectly with her beliefs and assumptions about porn and its performers, producers, and consumers. This latest essay, I'm afraid, is simply an extension of those previous habits.
First, let's review the trigger mechanisms that spawned all this. In mid-August, a porn performer named Cameron Bay was verified to have tested positive for HIV, the virus associated with AIDS, through the industry's regular testing protocols. Later that week, her long-time boyfriend, Rod Daily, also a on/off again performer, but operating on the gay side of the industry, announced that he had gotten infected with the virus as well. After a two week period of testing of first generation shooting partners of Bay turned up negative, an imposed moratorium against shooting porn scenes was lifted after two weeks....but was reimposed again on September 9th after a third performer was verified as having tested positive for HIV. "Performer #3", as we will refer to her, has been verified to be intimately related with both Bay and Daily, having worked with them prior to entering the LA based industry in early June. Subsequent testing of all her partners have turned up no further infections; and based on that, the second moratorium was lifted on September 22nd. (WARNING: embedded link NSFW)
Meanwhile, the mega healthcare organization, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, under the direction of its president, Michael Weinstein, has been doing its best to exploit the panic of these infections as a wedge to advance their crusade for destroying the screening and testing system that the mainstream porn industry has been using for the past 10 years, and replacing it with a system based on mandatory condom usage and other means of "barrier protection". In effect, AHF and Weinstein wants the "straight" side of the porn industry to adapt the policies of the gay side, in which it is assumed that HIV-positive performers should be allowed to continue to shoot content, and that seromatching HIV+ performers as well as condoms are the more effective approach to preventing mass infection. Given as much as a 30% rate of seropositivity among active gay male performers, and nearly 117 deaths from gay male actors striken with HIV/AIDS in the past 10 years (as compared to only 2 confirmed infections from shoots from the "straight" side during that period), it's an open question which system has proven more effective.
But, AHF's efforts have also been reinforced by some "sex-positive" health activists and reproductive health specialists, who say that requiring condoms in porn shoots would go a long way towards their efforts in non-judgmental sex education of the masses, as well as having a positive effect by "mentoring" the common folk in the repetition of good behavior.
In addition, some of the more avant garde backers of the alternative erotic subgenre known as "feminist porn" have latched on to promoting condoms as both a prominent selling point of "hot safer sex" and establishing a more progressive and eco-friendly sexual ethic. Not all of them have gone fully towards supporting a legislated condom mandate as AHF does advocate, but many have decided to use the present crisis as a boost for their own promotion of "condom only" ethics.
One such person is long-time sex educator and feminist porn producer Tristan Taormino, who announced last week that she would in the future require both testing and condoms for anyone performing in her future shoots. This week, she was joined in her stance by another esteemed female producer, Nica Noelle, who announced her own condom only conversion on the pages of Salon.com.
While both Taormino and Noelle have been generally praised for their conversions and stances within and outside of the industry, there has been some concern over whether the timing of these conversions would serve to divide and conquer and supress legitimate questions about the effectiveness of condoms as a sole barrier against HIV, as well as the aftereffects of undercutting the present screening/testing system that has served the industry well.
Nina Hartley, perhaps known to CounterPunch readers as one of the most eloquent advocates for sexual expression, feminist porn, and sexual safety, as well as being a 30 year veteran of the porn industry as an actor, director, and producer, has posted a very effective essay in which she explicitly makes her case that the condom mandate would be counterproductive in STI prevention, that AHF's crusade is more likely to make porn production less safe by driving performers underground into more dangerous venues, and that true performer choice on whether to use condoms on porn shoots should be left to the actual performers rather than outsourced to legislators or other self-identified "experts".
Hartley's husband, Ira Levine (also known under his producer alias of Ernest Greene), is a decorated porn producer and director under his own right, as well as having been one of the architects of the screening/testing system for the mainstream porn industry during his tenure at the Adult Industry Medical (AIM) Foundation. (Both Greene and Hartley have served on its Board of Directors.) AIM was ultimately driven under due to the efforts of AHF and other pro-condom mandate groups; its functions have been taken over by the Free Speech Coalition through their Performer Accessibility Screening Services (henceforth PASS or FSCPASS). It is the latter which monitors and maintains the current screening program, which uses the latest and most accurate testing assays to isolate and screen out infected people from the performance pool. Both Greene and Hartley were also collaborators and supporters of Taormino who have been respectfully critical of her position change on condoms; see Greene's critique over at the Blog of Pro Porn Activism. (Disclosure: I am Chief Editor of that blog, and Ernest Greene is a regular contributor and commentator there.)
I have posted my own respectful critique of Taormino in two parts at my own Red Garter Club blog, and that is probably what flagged Dines to add me to her hit list, albeit without mentioning my real name and butchering up the name of my blog.
But, that I can forgive and toss out as a case of a rush to print or simply not enough sleep or the rush of deadlines. What can't be so easily forgiven is Professor Dines' slips of half truths and outright misassumptions about the actions taken place, and her rewriting of facts to fit her ideology.
For starters, she attempts to use Cameron Bay's remarks at the September 18th press conference hosted by the AHF as the gospel truth when it comes to the porn industry's alleged abuse of women. That's right, Professor, that would be September 18th, not 19th...you were just one day off.
But that pales compared to the slipshod factchecking that immediately follows:
Last month porn performer Cameron Bay tested positive for HIV, and since then three other performers have come forward, making a total of four who have been diagnosed with acute HIV infection. At first the porn industry expressed sympathy, but now they are circling the wagons and sharpening their knives, going after the infected performers who took part in an AHF press conference on September 19.
That would be partly true that four performers who were HIV+ did speak at that presser. Problem was, the four that did speak weren't the four that Dines implies were affected. Cameron Bay and Rod Daily (whom Dines neglects to mention until just in passing later, and never as Bay's boyfriend) did indeed speak....but the other two HIV+ former performers to speak were Darren James and Derrick Burts..who just so happenn to be paid employees of AHF as well as being the respective Patient Zeros of the 2004 and 2010 porn HIV "outbreaks".
Weinstein did bring forth two former performers -- one live, one via teleconference -- who made a claim that they were HIV+ due to the current "outbreak", but they made no attempt to verify any evidence that they were indeed affected at all.
The "live" addition, a gay male model named Patrick Stone, testified that he had heard of his supposed "infection" from an email sent to him by PASS saying that he was HIV positive...in complete contradiction of stated PASS policy which states that any positive testing performer be physically recalled for followup testing and counseling and informing possible partners. Stone also claimed that he had tested negative in subsequent tests, and was awaiting final testing before declaring his original results as a false positive.
The other "addition" was an unidentified performer who claimed that he had been infected "nearly six months ago"...but gave no other information about where he got his positive test or how he got infected.
For all it seems, these two new additions were just plants by Weinstein to artificially inflate the casulty count in this "outbreak" and scare people into supporting his condom mandate crusade. Yet, Dines simply accepts their claims as fact and recruits them as supports in her general war against porn.
Dines' attempt to recruit Cameron Bay as the prototype victim now under attack by the Vast Porn Corporate Lobby is equally fascinating for the misassumptions and outright lies spilled forth in almost every paragraph. For someone who claims to do detailed research, Professor, would it be a bit of a stretch to actually get FSC CEO Diane Duke's name correct?
After essentially plagarizing Kathleen Miles' Huffington Post reset of Bay's telling of that infamous shoot for Kink.com's Public Exposure, Dines riffs thusly:
Following the press conference, The Free Speech Coalition (the lobbying arm of the porn industry) did what most industry organizations do: blame the victim. According to Diana Duke, the CEO of FSC, “While producers and directors can control the film set environment, we can’t control what performers do in private. We need to do more to help performers understand how to protect themselves in their private lives”. That the performers contracted HIV in their private lives is now the official line of the porn industry. Mouthing almost the same words, Steven Hirsch, CEO of Vivid Entertainment, is quoted as saying, “Unfortunately, we can’t control what people do off-set”.
What evidence does the industry have for making such claims? According to Mark McGrath of the AHF, “In order to definitively prove how HIV was transmitted, you would need to do detailed molecular analysis of the HIV strains of known cases. This includes genotyping the viral strains, determine nucleotide sequences, then compare these sequences phylogenetically to comparable sequences from available reference strains.” Of course, no such research has been done by the industry; it has been too busy digging up dirt on the performers.
Considering that all subsequent testing of all performers working with Cameron Bay since her last negative test have turned up negative with NO new infections, the conclusion that she got infected from activity outside of porn might have a bit more relevance and truth than what Dines will allow. Then again, if you are willing to get your information on HIV serotransmission from someone like Mark McGrath, whom is one of AHF's chief ideologues for the condom mandate, and who has been implicated in paying Derrick Burts' legal charges among others, then I guess that the truth would seem fungible.
As for Dines' attempt to turn the Public Disgrace shoot into the Point Zero of the current outbreak....well, it doesn't turn out so well. Turns out that the performer who did get his penis cut (by Bay biting down too hard, no less), did in fact offer to step aside before continuing with the scene and allow Rod Daily to fill in and complete things...but Bay decided to continue on, saying that as long as he wasn't hurt, it was all good. And, that performer -- named Xavier Corvus -- has tested negative multiple times since that shoot, as has the only other performer that Bay performed sex on (a blow job).
And, her effort of accusing The Real Porn Wikileaks of a smear campaign against Cameron Bay and Derrick Burts? Nice try, but no cigar...I'll just reference you to TRPWL themselves for that defense. (Warning, potential link NSFW)
But the real cynicism comes when Professor Dines attempts to give a left-handed smack to Tristan Taormino for her change of heart. Keep in mind that Dines has no love lost for "feminist porn" in general and especially "sellouts" like Taormino in particular, since she sees that genre as simply window dressing that cloaks the supposedly far more popular body-punishing "hate sex" that men use to degrade and humiliate women. Nevertheless, any port that can help exacerbate the storm is a good port for Dines:
Not surprisingly, Taormino, the only porn producer who has acknowledged that there may well be health risks on porn sets, is now being hung out to dry as a traitor to the industry. She was until last week the golden girl of the porn industry because she branded herself as a fun, cool, hip “feminist” who could build a female consumer base (even though she has been filming condom-free anal sex scenes for a decade and seems to have shown no concern whatsoever for the health risks until now). Now the industry is after her like a pack of wolves, arguing that her condom-only policy is a cynical PR ploy aimed at building an image of herself as a feminist pornographer who cares about performer safety.
Ernest Greene, a well-known director of violent porn (Roxie Loves Pain, Jenna Loves Pain, McKenzie Loves Pain) and one-time Taormino collaborator, wrote a scathing article accusing the latter of jumping ship because “she tacks with the political wind however she perceives it to blow”. Similarly, the blogger Red Garter Belt Club denounces Taormino for putting “her own personal enrichment and political posturing above the principle of defending true performer choice and the actual facts and merits of protecting performers,” but doesn’t actually explain how performers are better served by having unprotected sex.
Ummm, Professor Dines?? I do not and did not "denounce" Ms. Taormino; I respectfully disagreed with her position for the reasons I stated in my posts. The same goes for Ernest Greene....though, considering your natural hatred for him and his wife Nina Hartley (Oops, I'm sorry...did I say some bad words, Professor??), I perfectly understand your confusion of critique for "trashing".
And, so sorry, Professor Dines, but nowhere in either parts of my posts do I defend "unprotected sex"; since I happen to believe that performers themselves, as should people in real life, should be the ones to best define how to protect themselves based on their own individual situations. Or, does Dines think that even married couples who are totally clean and monogamous with each other should be forced by the State to use condoms just for the sake of sex education?
BTW....BDSM porn is not "violent", and cherry picking three titles out of the hundreds of erotic BDSM movies that Greene has done over his 25 years of production merely because they contain the word "pain" in them, does not say much about Professor Dines' expertise. At least, nothing other than her lack thereof.
I suppose I should be pumping my chests for being mentioned as one of the industry heavyweights since I moderate BPPA and own Red Garter Club, in spite of not only not receiving ONE RED CENT from the porn industry, and actually paying $50 a month of web hosting fees to keep my blogs alive.
However, that's far from the issue, and I'd never deny Gail Dines her right to make as much money off her book or her activism, however hypocritical she may be calling herself an "anticorporatist". Or, a "radical feminist", in spite of defending a woman whom has a verified criminal record of abusing other women and threatening a fellow sex worker with "gang rape". Or, a supporter of mandated condoms as a "performer choice", in spite of defending a former gay escort whom still can't explain how exactly he managed to get infected on a condom only gay male shoot. (Warning: embedded links NSFW)
Then again, I'd much rather be working poor with integrity and decency and mutual respect, than to get rich off lies and deceit and distorting facts to fit groupthink.
And at the very least, I get the names right. It's called "owning it", Professor Dines. Some of that would do you some good.
[Anthony Kennerson is a part-time blogger on progressive and sexual expression issues who blogs on his off hours when not working his night job. He is the Chief Editor of the Blog of Pro Porn Activism (http://bppa.blogspot.com), and operates his own Red Garter Club Blog (http://www.redgarterclub.com/RGClubNetwork/rgclub3dot2).]