I recently posted a super in-depth interview with Tyler Knight. For those of you who may have missed it, check it out here. For those of you who read it, you already know that Tyler is rather poised, enigmatic, and hott as hell. He also has some very sharp critiques of the adult industry. Tyler directly discusses and/or alludes to several hot-button issues related to worker commodification and safety (among many others), which of course got me to thinking…
I already posted some discussion of worker commodification (if you missed it, go here), but I thought I would take a moment to discuss the issue of worker safety and some of the things Tyler’s comments on the issue raised for me.
When I asked Tyler about the most surprising or unexpected aspects of working as talent, he responded: “…I am surprised by the lengths some will go to make a dollar… even when those lengths and decisions, legal or not, may put lives at risk – it’s astounding. And I don’t just mean ‘theoretical’ lives; I mean in general practice…” (among other things).
He elaborated on four specific examples of “general practice,” and then said “Without digressing too far, my point is: there seems to be no limit to the lengths some will go to make a dollar. And, in general, talent are seen as expendable as any other piece of equipment used to make porn.”
Dang!! Essentially, according to Tyler, some porn producers are not at all concerned with talents’ (workers’) safety. In other words, performers are a dime a dozen to some; and what’s being done, how, or to whom is no matter as long as dollars are being made. Within this context, I’m going to comment on what effectively amounts to worker exploitation by discussing each of the four “general practices” Tyler raised. Let’s see what comes up!!
“A. The cavalier attitude regarding HIV tests by many [members of the industry]. The tests are seen as an expensive annoyance, rather than a failsafe.”
What Tyler is referring to here is the industry’s practice of having talent test for HIV at least every 28 days. This practice is technically voluntary, but it has evolved into an informal requirement – both producers and co-performers require proof of a clear and current test from talent. According to Tyler, these tests are taken lightly by some members of the industry.
…but I cannot say that I have gotten a similar impression. In addition to having many informal conversations over the years, I recently conducted a series of focus groups with 28 currently working performers, and 26 of them stated successively and in various ways that they took testing very seriously (the two “dissenters” worked in the gay segment of the industry, which has its own population-specific health related practices).
Producers seem to care too. For example, to my understanding, the vast majority of producers pay to access talents’ most up-to-date test results via Adult Industry Medical’s (AIM’s) protected database.
Regardless of why, it seems to me that people at both the production and performer levels care about testing and take it pretty seriously. (pictured: Tyler Knight courtesy of Tyler Knight)
Now this is not to say that all producers and performers regard testing practices as they should (which is seriously). Certainly there are persons who do not fully comprehend how important this system is, and certainly there are those who are willing to cut corners to make a dollar. The industry is large and diverse in general, thus there is likely a great deal of variability surrounding this issue. It’s possible that Tyler and I just happen to have interacted with completely different groups of totally opposite people. It’s also possible that people have misrepresented what they “actually” think.
“B. The mixing of the gay and heterosexual sides of the industry – by allowing gay male performers to cross over and perform on both sides, the risk/reward matrix is raised further for all involved.”
This is an interesting point that addresses a complex issue. What Tyler is referring to here are men who are colloquially known as “gay-for-pay” (although some of these men may very well be “straight-for-pay,” no one says this… maybe it’s because it doesn’t rhyme?) – men talent who work in both the gay and “straight” segments of the industry.
Gay and straight segments of production employ different STI precautionary procedures. In general, straight productions employ HIV/STI testing and gay productions use barrier protection (condoms), although there is certainly some procedural crossover. These practices have evolved with health issues and market demands in mind; however, political and social justice concerns have also shaped each population’s particular practice.
These practices are complicated, though, by men talent who work in both segments of the industry. Conceivably, men talent may work in gay scenes while simultaneously having an STI, including HIV. Or, their co-performer(s) may have an STI, including HIV. The presence of condoms (coupled with other filming and editing magic tricks) minimize the chance of exposure and/or the likelihood of infections spreading while shooting these sorts of scenes.
What Tyler’s point alludes to is the heightened risk that comes from, essentially, crossing precautionary protocols. Regardless of individual HIV/STI status and barrier protection, a person who has sex professionally with members of a high risk population (in 2006, over half of all new HIV infections occurred in gay and bisexual men; see the CDC’s stat here) is a “risk” to a population the employs HIV/STI testing only/predominately.
This gives rise to a series of complex questions/issues… Are straight companies to abstain from booking gay-for-pay men talent? Is such refrain (discrimination?) permissible? Conversely, is increasing other talents’ risk of STI exposure via gay-for-pay men talent permissible? What happens when/if talent refuse gay-for-pay co-performer bookings? And what motivates these sorts of bookings in the first place?
Like I said, complex …and very very charged.
Here, Tyler is referring to AIM not informing performers who may have been exposed to HIV during occurrences such as October’s “Patient Zeta” incident (details here and here)… but, apart from those who were directly effected, AIM didn’t inform anyone – not performers, producers, the mainstream, or county and state officials – who was exposed. Legally, they aren’t allowed to. This is an issue of state and federal jurisprudence and well beyond AIM’s control. (pictured: boxcover featuring Tyler Knight courtesy of Tyler Knight)
“D. The laissez faire attitude about production moratoriums during [possible] HIV outbreaks…”
Here is Tyler is referring to some companies willingness (and ability) to stop production during times of a possible HIV outbreak in the industry’s talent population and others’ lackthereof. This is also a tricky issue…
Case in point: during this past October, some companies stopped production and some performers refused to work while AIM investigated Patient Zeta’s first and second generation work and personal sex partners. Other companies and performers did not.
Although I think production cessation during potential crisis moments is the humane and “correct” choice, I do not think decisions to continue shooting during industry initiated moratorium periods necessarily indicate disregard for internal-industry regulation or some form of “fuck it, I’ll do what I want!” attitude. Some people and some companies can’t not work, produce, be open, whatever …but this is not unique to the adult industry or adult performers.
Like most small business, production companies operate with a very small budgetary window. Readers who were up on industry news in October may have noticed that it was only relatively larger, established production houses that were able to stop shooting; but even then, this does not mean that they had an easy time of it. And as is the case for other independent contract workers, support services for talent in times of financial crisis are tricky, if not non-existent.
Although there may be some entities that are dismissive of health and safety issues and/or that simply just don’t care, I think the reasons why some companies and performers didn’t stop production were/are more complicated than just laissez faire-ness.
I always tell my students that there is no such thing as either/or – social issues always seem to be more complicated than all or nothing. Issues surrounding worker safety in the adult industry are not exceptions (however, saying that everything is more complicated than either/or sounds a little “all or nothing” to me – haha, ironic!!).
Questions? Comments? Email me!
You may quote anything herein with the following attribution: “Reprinted from Porn Valley Vantage, copyright © Chauntelle Anne Tibbals, PhD (www.pornvalleyvantage.com).”