Now that California’s AB 1576—which would mandate condom use on porn sets—is in committee in the California State Senate, we wanted to follow up on our earlier coverage of the legislation. We asked two progressive porn performers, Jiz Lee and Conner Habib, about how they felt the proposed law would affect the future of California porn.
Jiz Lee is a genderqueer porn performer known for their genuine pleasure and unique gender expression. In the past nine years, Jiz has worked in over 200 projects spanning six countries within indie and mainstream adult genres, and balances sex work by working behind the scenes at Pink & White Productions, as well as writing and speaking about queer porn as a medium for social change.
Conner Habib is an author, gay porn star, and lecturer. His book, Remaking Sex, will be released in 2015 by Disinformation. His Twitter handle is @ConnerHabib.
Do you feel that AB 1576 will be helpful to porn performers?
Jiz Lee: Not at all. In fact, it will only be harmful. It legally controls (“forced consent”) the way performers have sex, eliminating—and criminalizing—their choices. It also creates major legal concerns that would force productions out of the state of California, creating relocation, decreased work opportunities, and other difficulties for performers and people working behind the scenes. Testing and barrier use is great! I should know! I’m a performer who is in the minority; because I perform infrequently and like to use my work to promote pleasure and safer sex practices, I often prefer to use barriers. I value having the choice to use risk-based assessment to practice safer sex, something I do on screen, and off. But this bill would do nothing to actually ensure safer practices and only make the situation worse. Having attended the Appropriations Hearing in Sacramento, it was obvious that the AHF and AB 1576’s sponsor, Isadore Hall, had no interest in listening to performers’ needs, including those of over two dozen industry professionals who traveled to City Hall to testify. It was incredibly disappointing.
Conner Habib: No!
Do you think the legislation will merely drive porn business out of CA, and/or underground? If not, how do you think the law will affect the industry?
Lee: If it’s result is anything like LA’s Measure B, which was an earlier (and tamer) variation of the bill, it will absolutely drive business out of the state. Companies have already moved to Nevada and several performers fly out to work. Other companies are operating in New Hampshire. (CA and NH are two states which have specifically legalized porn production.)
Habib: I’m not sure how the porn industry would respond to the legislation. The larger companies will no doubt be affected, but the law would be nearly impossible to enforce—it’s a bit like musicians trying to track down each and every instance of their song being traded and downloaded for free online. There’s simply too much data to track.
How do you feel about the mandatory testing provision in the legislation and the fact that porn corporations would be storing performer testing information?
Lee: Though the bill seems to imply that companies would have to store performer testing, at the Appropriations Hearing, AHF representative Whitney Engeran-Cordova stated that companies would merely have to report to a government agency that a test had occurred. They did not extrapolate on the details of how this would work and be recorded, however, and stated that it was predicted to cost the state $150,000 (per year? It was not specified) for this reporting.
Habib: I think this is a clear violation of human rights. A positive result on a confidential test (as opposed to an anonymous test) is also submitted to the State and to insurance companies. This can have all sorts of implications: for insurance, travel, mental health, economic stability and more. I’m not opposed to confidential testing as a choice, but this bill mandates testing and thereby creates a sort of quarantine mentality about people who do sex work, even as it demands they use protection (which would make the tests unnecessary).
The language of the bill also utterly ignores people who are already living with HIV. There’s no structure in place to protect HIV+ performers from being blacklisted. Which they will be, even if HIV- [performers] are—as I am—happy to work with them using protection. Because I’m not anti-science, I have no worries about having sex with an HIV+ performer if I use protection. The bill would also require two HIV+ men to get tested and used condoms if they wanted to do a scene together. That’s lunacy.
At the root of this bill is a proposition: Find HIV+ people, expose their status, exclude them from sexual representation.
Whether or not you think AB 1576 is a good step, what labor reforms would you like to see happen in the porn industry? How do you think the sex workers’ rights movement can help make these changes?
Lee: I think unionization of performers would be a good step, though I imagine it would be difficult to implement. Several performer-lead organizations have formed, such as APAC (Adult Performer Advocacy Committee) who have begun identifying performers’ needs with intentions of providing services and resources. I think that business incentives for testing subsidies would encourage smaller businesses to offer testing for performers. (Most performers in the industry are independent contractors, and rightly so: the majority of performers work with a number of different companies month to month, year to year. When tax time comes, I file a number of 1099s from the porn companies I work for, and the academic institutions that I lecture at. An important part of AB 1576 is that Hall believes performers are not independent contractors, but employees, and this is just not the case.)
As a performer, subsidized tests and the freedom to CHOOSE whether or not to use barriers would be ways to keep me safer. [And I’d feel safer with] the knowledge that I can perform having made these choices, without the possibility that myself, and everyone involved behind the production, can be arrested.
This bill is a solution in search of a problem. Proponents say it will prevent porn performers from contracting HIV, but there hasn’t been a single on-set transmission in the last ten years. Honestly, I am skeptical of it, because [its] […] loosely defined precautions read more like an anti-porn crusade. It’s frustrating to see that performers are not being listened to. But the real insult is that it’s a LOT of money being spent on this, when actual communities at risk are being largely ignored. Zero performers contracted HIV from porn between 2004-2014 in California. Compare that to nearly 7,000 Californians who contracted HIV in just the last year. Performers are clearly not [a] high risk demographic when it comes to HIV. The money is better spent on at-risk communities, and in age-appropriate comprehensive sex education.
- More access to education —real information about HIV and STDs from specialists in those fields (general healthcare providers or vague info from the CDC will not do).
- A network of former performers on how to exit the business without anxiety.
- Access to sex-positive mental health resources.
- Better wages for performers and a decreased wage gap between performers and people that work for studios.
Tits and Sass is still looking to interview porn performers who support the legislation. If you’re interested, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org