During August 6-9, 1998, I attended and gave two papers at the first World Pornography Conference, held at the Sheraton Universal Hotel, Universal City, Los Angeles, California, under the auspices of California State University/Northridge. The following account, written during the week after the conference, is based on my contemporaneous notes and my recollections.
(In what follows, quotation marks are typically used to indicate what I believe to be close paraphrase.)
Professor Linda Williams, UC/Berkeley, gave one of the keynote addresses of the conference. Her topic was the way in which evolving motion-picture technology has over the last 100 years changed both the ways in which people think about porn and their bodily responses to it. She began with an analysis of nickelodeon cranking in the late 19th century, and ended with an analysis of the subtly different forms of response elicited by contemporary interactive computer sex games such as Virtual Vixens; slides were shown. She also noted that recent discussion of the "Presidential penis," during the Lewinsky/Clinton scandal, has changed community standards and shown the political value of sexually explicit representations. (For background on the recent development of academic study of pornographic material, for which Williams is in large part responsible, see this story in Lingua Franca.)
The conference panels that I attended featured fully-clothed people from the "adult entertainment industry."
"Women and Porn: Victims or Visionaries?" was moderated by Candida Royalle, with Veronica Hart (real name - Jane Hamilton), Annie Sprinkle, Nina Hartley, Juli Ashton (whom some describe as "the next Nina Hartley" - see comments below), and Betty Dodson (author of the best-selling Sex for One, known in the Bay Area for her masturbation-for-women workshops, and, most recently, as a senior-citizen sex-worker). Royalle had exhorted each panelist to tell "the worst and the best" they'd experienced in making porn.
Royalle, who is an experienced public speaker as a result of her advocacy of feminist pornography, repeated stories that she has told in print. Her worst experience was being told by director Alex de Renzy to urinate on a male performer during filming; when, in line with the restrictions in the contract that they'd signed, she refused (as did some others), de Renzy said he'd never hire her again, and he didn't - though she found plenty of work with others. The best part of being a porn performer she said was getting beyond her Catholicism-induced guilt and learning about the power of her own sexuality.
Veronica Hart, a former performer who now produces and directs pornography for VCA (e.g., Love's Passion, just then released) and acts in "legitimate films and theater," opened by saying, "Thanks to all the men out there ... - you've supported me and my family very well. Thanks for letting me be your "victim"! She quit performing when she fell in love with the man she then married, and no longer enjoyed performing. Her worst experience occurred when she was walking with her two sons in NYC, one of them an infant in a stroller, the other a toddler. A male fan recognized her, and said, "You're Veronica Hart! I'd love to get [oral sex] from you!" Although her children had no idea what he was talking about, she was furious, took him aside and told him never to talk that way in front of any children ever again. (Hart attributes her strong sense of right and wrong to her religious convictions.) Earlier this year, she caused some controversy in the industry when she objected very publicly to some of the more extreme videos that have begun to be made during the past two years by a few directors (e.g., Rob Black and Max Steiner).
Juli Ashton, a former high school Spanish teacher from Florida, said that she came from a "traditional "white picket fence family, with no sexual abuse, no violence, no substance abuse, no divorce." She was introduced to the joys of porn by her [former] husband and then began watching three times a week, going to strip clubs, and joining fan clubs. When she decided five years ago to "cross over" from fandom to industry, she was fortunate to join VCA Pictures, "more like a family than a business," and has had similar experiences with Wicked Pictures and more recently Adam & Eve (based in Hillsborough, NC, for which she is now an official spokesperson). Her experience filming VCA's The Devil in Miss Jones - Part'v, which took five consecutive 18-hour days, with some sex scenes requiring 6 hours to shoot, pushed her to discover herself sexually. She also co-hosts Night Calls, a phone-in show on the Playboy Channel, where she enjoys sharing fans fantasies. "I've never been a victim in my life, thank the Lord." She read a piece of fan mail from "Melissa in the Deep South," expressing gratitude to Ashton for helping Melissa to learn, by watching her videos, how to enjoy herself sexually and to exercise the power she has to ask for what she wants. Ashton gives an impression of intelligence and unusual sweetness.
Annie Sprinkle (real name Ellen Steinberg, from NYC; aka Anya):
"I lost my virginity at 17 and got into porn after I was busted at age 18 for selling popcorn at a theater showing Deep Throat." "I ve always seen politics, creativity, art and sex together." "I dutifully made a list of worst experiences": (a) She was offered an extra $25 for an anal sex scene at the end of a long day of filming, accepted it, and felt badly afterwards. "I learned to say "no ." (b) She was jailed for 48 hours in Rhode Island for helping to produce a sexually explicit fetish magazine. (-) She was offered royalties for appearing in a film and never received any money. "I learned to be a better business person." ('d) She had some "casting-couch problems, e.g., with an Academy Award winning sleaze who never really had any intention of casting her in a film. "I built better self-esteem." (e) She has been harassed by sleazy fans. "The male gaze is not a problem - it's men with bad manners." (f) During the rape scene in The Devil Inside Her, which she wanted to do as a way of acting out her rape fantasies, the five guys got rough with her. She enjoyed it and she was afraid. "My rape fantasies went away. I ve never been raped." (g) At age 30, she became depressed, so she helped to create Club 90, a support group of female porn performers who met every Wednesday night for 16 years. (Royalle and Hart were among the other members.) (h) She got fed up with creepy, sleazy, coke-head bosses. "I became my own boss." "I ve sometimes felt like a victim, but I ve always come out a winner." "It's great that there's now an older generation of performers around to help out the younger ones coming into the industry." She projects both strength and vulnerability, as well as an intelligent and generous spirit.
Nina Hartley has a very high profile as an unofficial spokesperson for the adult industry and as someone who looks out for younger performers. As someone with a BS in Nursing, she has always sought to look after others. She has published a number of essays about her work and life, and is featured prominently in Dr. Robert Stoller's psychoanalytically informed ethnographic accounts of the industry. He describes her (c. 1987) in one book as "like a multiple personality but without the dissociation." I saw a hard candy shell with some sharp edges, which I assume she's built to protect her (formerly?) shy self from the vicissitudes of public life as a sex performer. I think that she was the only performer there who always appeared in full costume (except for Annie Sprinkle, who's in her own, different category and has many costumes). Juli Ashton, for example, was heavily made-up only for the panels she was on; similarly for Christi Lake. Because she was so prominently featured at the conference, which was attended by about 100 media people as well, she probably thought, quite reasonably, that she had to be "on" throughout. Despite the shielding, her warmth and humor came through; no amount of shielding could hide her sharp, quick mind. Much of what she said at the conference repeated what she's written or what's been written about her (see also the interview in the September 1998 Playboy, "The Smartest Woman in Porn.") "Betty Dodson's Sex for One was a lifesaver for me at age 14, when I was discovering that I was sexual and bisexual." "I was raised by a man-hater in a man-hating time," and it took her years to overcome the hatred. "Men are stigmatized if they speak [non-negatively] about porn." Her fan mail and her contact with fans have shown her that men do care about the performers and do not think of them simply as objects. The worst parts of the industry: "there are plenty of infantile, substance-abusing, mom-hating, girlfriend-hating misogynists;" "my three arrests (for public performances);" "the boat sinking - I should not have trusted the film producer and the captain;" "no royalties;" [and, the saddest remark I heard during the conference] "people's fear of me around their children." The best parts: mentoring younger women; post-HIV, post-men-hating feminism; meeting under-25 college students who are more positive and open about sex than her and older generations (she's in her late 30s). She exhorted new performers not to confuse "love sex" with "sport sex "; people get into trouble when they enter the industry looking mainly for the former.
Dr. Betty Dodson, originally from Wichita, KS, began her career in "very fine art" in the 60s in NYC. In 1981, Evergreen published 16 erotic drawings of hers from a 1978 gallery show. She was called to Groton, CT to meet with a library board who wanted to ban the book; this was her introduction to the irrationality of censorship and community standards. "I attended my first group sex party in 1966. It was my sex education - and it was safe. There is safety in numbers. I learned how to say "no," "yes," or "take a ticket ." "Fine art got me into pornography." "If I had it to do over again, I'd be a porn star. I had my first on-film orgasm at age 60, and got paid for sex just last week." "It's been wonderful beyond imagining."
In response to a question about the likely prospects for crossover from adult to "legitimate movie industry," the panelists were pessimistic.
At Friday's luncheon, Stanley Fleishman, a prominent First Amendment attorney during the past 50 years, was given an award. He recounted some of his most famous cases and talked about how important it is to keep fighting for free speech since the government has a strong impulse to censor. Because of his legal advocacy for unpopular speech, he and his family, including his children, were harassed, he said.
The luncheon address was a speech by Professor Nadine Strossen, President of the ACLU. It seemed to be a fund-raising pep-talk, taken in part from her Defending Pornography, with some exaggerations of opponents views and influence. For example, she overstated MacKinnon's current level of influence and derided Thomas Grey, of Stanford Law, who designed the Stanford University "speech code," describing him and Frederick Schauer (Harvard, Kennedy School of Government) as having taken "pro-censorship stands." (She did not mention Cass Sunstein, of University of Chicago Law, who has argued for views closer to MacKinnon's.) Two stories bear checking: (a) David O Brien, University of Virginia Law, was editing an anthology on free speech issues. When MacKinnon found out that an essay by Strossen was to be included as well as one by her, she pulled her article when the anthology was in galleys. [verified by O'Brien] (b) The National Association of Women Judges withdrew a speaking invitation to Strossen because MacKinnon had subsequently accepted an invitation to speak at the same conference on a different day. Strossen was told that the association didn't think that MacKinnon would like being heard at the same conference. Strossen also reported the charge that MacKinnon and Dworkin's newest book [In Harm's Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings (Harvard University Press, 1997)], which is supposed to be a definitive and complete historical record of the public hearings on their proposed anti-pornography ordinance, excludes much opposition testimony. [See http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/lawbooks/revjul98.htm#McElroy]
The World Pornography Conference was politically unbalanced, but through no apparent fault of the organizers. As noted in the program, the organizers invited anti-pornography academics and activists to participate, but they all refused. This is a standard practice for feminist anti-pornography activists, at least. [MacKinnon has in the past refused to debate feminists about pornography because getting her to appear with them is, she said "the pimps current strategy for legitimizing the slave trade in women." (quoted by RL Abel, 56)] It would nevertheless have been a far better conference had they participated fully.
The next panel I attended was the very small, informal "Commercial Environment for African American Pornography." Running concurrently were a number of panels featuring either higher profile industry people (and academics) or showing Sharon Mitchell's previously unreleased documentary video, Daddy Make Me a Star; it was difficult to find the room (not unique in that respect); and most of the panelists were very late in showing up, so the audience wasn't much larger than the panel. I still wonder why more didn't attempt to attend. The moderator was Christian Mann (CM), the (white) owner of Video Team, the largest producer of avowedly non-racist black porn. The panel members were Jonathan Bruce Schechter, the (white) founding editor of Source (now with Game) and a nationally recognized expert on hip-hop culture; Julian St. Jox, Mr. Marcus, and Sean Michaels, three black performer-producer-directors; and black female performer, director, dancer, singer and song-writer Midori (real name "Michele Evette Watley," Jodi Watley's sister), the first black woman ever nominated for an industry Best New Starlet of the Year award. While the audience waited for several panelists to arrive, Mann gave some background about himself.
Mann is a second-generation pornographer whose father began selling "dirty magazines" in 1964. He began working on his own in 1978, after college. In 1990, he, along with three others of Video Team-CPLC, were indicted on obscenity charges in Dallas, TX, and tried that summer in the Northern County district, which drew jurors from small, rural communities. He was eventually acquitted. The prosecutor used a common strategy of indicting a low-level employee (Mann, in this case) along with owners and managers so that jury members could let at least one person off, and feel better about convicting the others. The prosecutor also employed the strategy of pairing a "vanilla-sex, whites-only" video, Monday Night Ball, with an interracial video, Interracial Anal, featuring "some pretty rough sex" between two black men and one white woman, in the hope of appealing to jurors' racism. The strategy appears to have worked: two co-defendants were sent to jail; one was sentenced to home-confinement, and the company was hit with a huge fine. (It appears that a similar racist strategy failed last year in a Virginia case.) Mann was able to buy the firm at a "good price."
Video Team was located in a black neighborhood in LA, and Mann learned that there was substantial unmet demand by people of color for videos that were not filled with the most outrageous stereotypes of people of color. Mann was convinced that the videos with outrageous stereotypes - these included some Dark Brothers videos - appealed neither to black nor white men who found black women attractive. With the spread of VCRs into the black community, the demand grew; between 1995 and 1997, the number of households with VCRs grew from 60% to 99%, and most of that growth was in black households. Mann sought to avoid those stereotypes when he made the new Video Team's first series, In Loving Color.
He does find some irony in his being the biggest producer of non-demeaning black porn, someone who immerses himself in contemporary black culture both out of appreciation and for business reasons.
"The world of porn is a place of exaggerations anyway," but Mann tried to stay tasteful and not offend his target audience. The widening demand was part of changed styles in music, fashion - hip-hop culture - and the advent of the Clinton administration, which placed less emphasis on obscenity prosecution - and all of this changed the porn business. Just two years ago, LA police raided a number of porn production sets, but prosecuted only those on the sets of black videos; this would probably not happen now.
At this point, several panel members arrived and joined the discussion. (What follows is paraphrase and is incomplete.)
Sean Michaels (SM): I began performing ten years ago. I thought I could make a difference. I was deeply offended by the ethnic material I saw.
Midori (M): I felt the same way when I began doing videos two years ago [after years as an exotic dancer]. There was a lack of women of color in most porn and I thought I could make a difference.
SM: There's still a lot of underlying racism, and it's still tough to find non-demeaning videos, but it is better now.
Julian St. Jox (JSJ): I started producing and directing for SM two years ago after (six?) eight years performing because I wanted to help get rid of the stereotypes - to get rid of the gangbanging, drug pushers and users, pimps, etc. One can see more positive images in black-produced black porn.
SM: Diversity is the key for the adult entertainment industry [he prefers this term to "porn"]. Fans write in to say how videos make a positive difference in a very personal way, in the bedroom.
M: When are we going to reach the point when we no longer talk or think about black videos, white videos, etc.? When is it just going to be sex videos, with lots of different kinds of people?
[An audience member remarks: And then there's this panel, with black porn off by itself.]
Mr. Marcus (MM): John Leslie, SM, Ron Hightower were my teachers. I try simply to make good sex videos, but I do hire black crews because I want to give as much work as I can to my own people.
All panelists agreed that black owned companies would produce better black videos. SM remarks that over 90% of the companies are now owned by white males over 50. (Mann is under 50.)
[The middle-aged, white male ownership of the adult industry was repeatedly remarked upon during the conference, and I've heard the same comment in other venues as well. While it is these white males who are bankrolling both women and younger people, the latter often seem to feel that things will change significantly only when they assume ownership. Dr. Robert Stoller once guessed that pornographers had a lot of information about sexuality, because they needed it to stay in business, and there must be some truth in that guess. But I wonder how much of the existing material reflects the money men's more personal biases rather than any systematic market research - how much of it is a matter of consumers simply taking what they can get. After all, not everyone who uses it is wild about Windows.]
CM: I first found out about hip-hop in 1990. Domonique Simone, a black performer telephoned to complain about not being chosen as one of the "fly girls" for the In Living Color TV show, having been dismissed with the remark, "You ain't got back." CM asked her what that meant. At the time, he didn't know about Sir Mix-A-Lot's "My Baby Got Back."
Jonathan Bruce Schechter (BS): About 50% of the music sold now is urban, either hip-hop or R&B; with their emphasis on speaking one's mind and not holding back one's feelings, there's a natural tie-in with erotica. Over 50% of rap fans are white. Source magazine realized that this affects clothing, music and videos; Video Team has been on the cutting edge. Lil' Kim sings about Heather Hunter, Janet Jacme, Midori and other black porn performers. Ron Hightower has begun to direct rap videos. So there's considerable influence between music and porn.
CM: White America likes to adopt black culture. Will they co-opt it again as they did with blues and jazz?
BS: Americans want the real thing. Vanilla Ice was an anomaly. So black rappers are now achieving economic parity with whites in popular music.
[Is there a blues - porn connection too? A lot of blues songs, many written and sung by black women, are extremely raunchy.]
CM: How much racial prejudice is there now?
MM: I just finished the World's Luckiest Black Man - me and 101 women, most of them white, of course - and I see little prejudice now as opposed to four and a half years ago.
JSJ: Companies would often discourage white women from working with black men, advising them that it would stereotype them and limit their performing opportunities because of prejudice among viewers.
SM: There's still underlying discrimination. I've seen jealousy of my success and have been discriminated against.
M: As a female performer, I have two careers - dance and film - and I had to cut my rates to get dance gigs, but white women who can't even dance will get more in clubs, even, say, in Detroit. I resent this.
CM: Even now, black women (e.g., Onyx) will refuse to work with black men, either because they are turned on only by white women or because they don't want to be stereotyped.
M, SM: We both chose to do interracial and to avoid derogatory stereotypes.
BS: In hip-hop, there's more open discussion of race issues than anywhere else.
M: Even among blacks, there's racism, e.g., light vs. dark-skinned [Midori is dark-skinned].
SM: I try to follow the advice my mother gave me always to do my best to change things for the better. I do this in my performing and in my other career as a nurse. Five years ago, I was offered the lead in Malcolm XXX produced by Jay Shanahan, but when I saw the script I found it demeaning to all groups and nationalities, so I refused to participate even after being offered an extra $500. Domonique Simone was also cast in the same movie but decided ultimately to leave. But other black performers were hired in their places.
M: I have turned down work I don't believe in, with loss of money, knowing that others will take the money.
JSJ, SM: Things are better now. We were both in Black Moriah (8-9 years ago) [set on a plantation]. We had no idea how racist it was [since they simply did their scenes and did not see a script, the other scenes or the editing - a common situation for porn performers].
MM: Rob Black's A Week and a Half in the Life of a Prostitute is deeply offensive. It shows guys in black face eating watermelon.
CM: Video Team is now on cable, so some barriers are falling.
Audience: Are you treated differently overseas? Is there more of a market there?
M: BBC Channel 4 just completed 3 weeks of filming with me for a documentary on blacks in porn.
JSJ: The European and Asian markets are opening up. I lived in Europe for all of 1995 because there was so much work for me.
MM: I 'm treated much better in Europe. Although I 'm an American, I feel more at home there.
SM: I went to Europe to get work and found it in Germany, France, Budapest, London, etc. The US has the worst case of racism of any place I ve been.
Audience (journalist): Would you work with gays or transsexuals? Have you worked with Lady Paré, who's rumored to be a transsexual?
SM: I ve turned down gay and transsexual films. I like women.
JSJ: I 'm not turned on by transsexuals. I have worked with Lady Paré.
MM: I did a photo shoot with Lady Paré, but was not turned on by her. She looked like a woman.
M: I don't work with women and I 'm very picky about my partners. Ultimately it depends on the person.
Q: What are your favorite films that you ve appeared in?
JSJ: Midori's Flava
SM: Brooklyn Knights or Women of Color
MM: Show Me the Money, Mobster's Life
M: Showtime [which she also directed and wrote original music for]
Since the panel ran late, I tried to catch the remainder of Milton Diamond's general session presentation, "The Effects of Pornography," in which he reviewed
the real-life and lab data to show that just about everywhere it has been studied it has been found either 1) porn has no measurable effects on any sex crime or measurable feature of society; or 2) the effect of large increases in porn has been correlated with significant decreases in all sex crimes and rape. This goes for Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Japan and the U.S., for starters. The lab findings of Zillmann and Bryant have nothing to do with reality and are even internally inconsistent. (One of my papers about this is presently in press in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry.)
as he described it in subsequent e-mail. But I was late, the sound system was malfunctioning very noisily, and I decided to study the relevant papers instead. [The use of the term "measurable" is an important qualification. I'd agree that some studies are so ideologically biased in their design and analysis that they are of little or no value.]
The next morning began with a the panel "Pornography: A World Perspective," moderated by well-known sex and law researcher Professor Richard Green, MD, JD, now at Oxford, formerly of UCLA.
Australian Fiona Patton of the EROS Foundation was first. She said they've tried hard to make porn political and have succeeded: the conservative Prime Minister has endorsed nonviolent erotica. One of the chief sources of opposition is the gun lobby, which blames recent gun massacres on the availability of nonviolent erotica. "Please stop sending your Southern Baptists to us. And Judith Reisman's done a lot of damage too." (Reisman is held in exceedingly low esteem by almost all academic sex researchers, arguably having defamed some of them. She has reportedly asserted that Mapplethorpe's nude photo of a young boy in a kitchen has a sadomasochistic theme because a black refrigerator power cord is visible in the background.) Under current Australian law, the Classification Act rates all films; ratings are compulsory, unlike in the US. One Nina Hartley video was banned because she "slapped her own bum" in it. A protractor is used by the ratings board to determine if a film can be banned for showing an erect penis - if it's under 45 degrees, it's not officially erect. With the advance of technology, the lines are blurring among types of material. Prostitution is legal in much of Australia. Is a prostitute video-taping herself an instance of prostitution or performing in porn?
Stephen Rohde, a US First Amendment lawyer who has studied Canadian law, reported on the practical effects of Butler v. Regina, in which the Canadian Supreme Court adopted some of the provisions of the MacKinnon/Dworkin approach to regulating sexually explicit material. He reports well-known incidents of censorship after that decision, e.g., the conviction of lesbigay bookshop owners for carrying the magazine Bad Attitude; the finding that the comics Hothead Paisan and Peenie-Weenie were "degrading to men" and hence illegal. (MacKinnon has argued that at least some such interdictions constituted misapplication of the Canadian law by Canadian officials.)
Slawek Starosta reported on the current Polish situation. There's been little change in the highly restrictive law since 1968, but since the revolution in 1989, it's been more difficult to enforce. During the last two years, there's been a battle over a new penal code under which only pornography with minors under 15, violence or animals will be prosecuted. The code's not yet been adopted and the situation remains very unclear.
A high government official from Russia talked, through a barely intelligible interpreter, about the current Russian legal situation. Any depiction of sex is considered porn. 20-30 criminal cases per year were prosecuted under the old law prohibiting all porn. Since 1980, Russia began to allow some porn, though it still remained against the law. Since then, about 100 people have been convicted for the private use of porn. Since 1986 (Gorbachev), hundreds of video parlors have opened, despite Gorbachev's (unsuccessful) efforts to for the legislature to make them illegal. Russian parliament started working on a new law three years ago in response to the sexualization of the media, establishing the Working Group on Pornography Law (which this official chairs). Its efforts have been hampered by procedural problems, as well as profound ignorance of the issues. Communists are opposed to any liberalization and changed the Group's charter. In the current draft law, violence, necrophilia, pedophilia and zoophilia are outlawed, but the Communists favor restricted access to other sorts of porn even for adults. He hopes for approval of the current draft by year's end and asked this conference for a memo endorsing the current draft.
Ed Powers, producer/director/star of the very successful Bus Stop Tales and Dirty Debutantes pro-am series, was supposed to speak about the US perspective. He said that he hopes for mandatory condoms in all porn and monthly DNA/PCR tests, and he urged producers to "open the envelope before pushing it." He now has a weekly radio call-in show (Saturday midnight-3 am, 97.1 KLSX in LA); where his guests are various industry people.
Professor Richard Green reported on the United Kingdom and its relatively strict laws. Under current law there, a copy of an image file on a disk constitutes pornography. Also, it is up to a jury to determine the age of those represented and if it decides that the image is one of someone who looks underage, then the material constitutes child pornography.
Christi Lake, Minnesota-born porn star (producer/director/performer of the Dripping Wet Productions-series, in which she swings with selected fans), reported on her recent trip to South Africa and presented a video she made of conservative, religious protestors at a porn emporium she visited. Before Nelson Mandela, the law was very restrictive, prohibiting even Playboy. Now both men and women are anxious for porn; the cash register lines in the store stretched around the block and women customers were often more numerous than men. Although there were about 200 protestors outside the store, there were always more than 300 customers inside the store. One of the protestor's signs read, "Pornography will make you wrinkled and make your body decay." [There appear to be many counterexamples to this claim, even considered as a less than strict universal.] (For a very different view of the current situation in South Africa, visit the site of Diana E. H. Russell.)
I then presented one of my papers, "(Sexual) Quotation without (Sexual) Harassment?" Other presenters were Professor Carolyn Gerdes of Kean College, NJ, and Virginia Elwood, Women's Studies Librarian at CalState/Northridge (CSUN). Gerdes is less risk-aversive than I am, and was also talking about classroom use of less extreme material than I was concerned with, so she recommended modest measures, such as letting students know on the syllabus that some explicit material would be viewed, but recommended against securing informed consent by having students sign syllabi or special forms. She reported that she's "never had any trouble, though some colleagues have." Elwood recounted ultimately unsuccessful attempts about ten years ago by some feminists, including Women's Studies faculty, at CSUN to have Playboy removed from the campus store and from the library. Playboy again disappeared from the bookstore recently when an employee decided to remove it in response to one complaint from one female student. It was soon put back on the shelf. Among the questions asked were ones from Professor Constance Penley, Stephen Rohde, Esq., and Dr. Carol Queen; Juli Ashton also attended. Penley was concerned that going to any trouble to get informed consent from students would backfire by sending a message that there was something wrong with the material in the first place. She said that her Film and Women's Studies colleagues had been very supportive of her "Pornography as a Popular Film Genre Course," and that she simply let students know via the syllabus that they'll be required to view and analyze pornography (the class has had about 75 students with a mix of men and women). I 'm glad that she works in such an environment, but not everyone does or should assume that they do. Queen asked me about the application of the notion of harm in the principle that I'd proposed for discussion. I said that the feminist focus on harm, as opposed to "mere offensiveness," seemed right, but that we should remember that teaching is "soul-tampering," and teachers should aim to disturb their students sometimes. Furthermore, I said I thought that it was very unlikely that any serious harm would be done to many students by viewing such material, though they could be shocked, embarrassed or upset by it; but that the key question is whether the student can continue to learn. After the panel, several people asked me for copies of my paper and Rohde asked me for my card. After my surprise abated, I confessed that I had no card and instead wrote my's- and e-mail addresses on a scrap of paper he provided.
The next panel I attended was "Porn Worlds," with Sharon Mitchell and Christi Lake. Dominatrix Kym Wylde (On the Edge B&'d series) and female gonzo pornographer Shane ("Seymore Butts and Shane," Shane's World) never showed up for the panel, though Shane and Wylde did arrive at the conference later, I 'm told.
Mitchell, now 45 and working as a (CA state certified) chemical dependency and HIV counselor for porn performers, recounted her long history in the industry, including 16 years as a drug addict, when she produced and directed 46 films. She went straight three years ago after a crazed fan, previously convicted of murder, raped and beat her, breaking her nose and larynx. "I thank God every day for that person since it's what I needed to get off drugs." She repeatedly described her fellow performers as a family and thanked them for their support during her struggles. She hopes to stay in the industry to help younger women avoid her mistakes.
Christi Lake has been performing for three years and has been in 160 videos. "I like to be close to my fans - so close I have sex with them." Five years ago, her SO was a swinger and she began swinging, too. She was also a member of Misty Rain's fan club. After attending a Las Vegas Lifestyles convention of swingers, High Society asked her to do a photo layout. She was then invited to a photo shoot with Nina Hartley and Danyel Cheeks and was so excited at the prospect she offered to do it for free. As a tomboy from the mid-West and a worker in a hearing aid factory, she was surprised to be invited into the industry, but pleased by being wanted. She decided to be open with her family, which had always been very supportive of her (making sure she had birth control pills, contraceptive foam and condoms from before the age of 16, when she began having sex). When she told her parents they said, "we can't disown or reject you for doing movies since we watch porn ourselves." She's closer to her parents now because their relationship is so honest and open. Some of her friends, however, did reject her and stopped watching porn altogether. She's found many of her films very exciting to make, and has afterwards gone home for hours of more sex with her SO's. She finds the industry like a big family and has decided to make a career of it, through her 50s, 60s and 70s. Because producers make the most money, she now produces her own films. To stay within the law, she pays her fans $100 to have sex with her on video - as long as one pays a talent fee, video tapes the sex and then distributes the tape, it's not solicitation. Fans must get tested for STDs the week of the filming and must show proof of freedom from disease. She always uses condoms and barriers and gets tested every three months for STDs, monthly for HIV. The only infection she's ever gotten was one yeast infection, from using a lot of extra lubricant. Her only "drugs are Mountain Dew and cigarettes."
CL and "Mitch" were asked about arrests. CL was arrested in Corpus Christi, TX for promotion of obscenity and had to spend a night in jail with drug addicts who were suffering from withdrawal. Her alleged crime was being present for the opening of a new adult video store; she herself sold nothing. In San Antonio, four police officers came into a club where she was to dance and warned her that she could be arrested if she brought one hardcore video into any dance club. She wondered why it took four officers to do this. Since dancers make extra money by selling their videos, this cuts into her income.
Mitch (as everyone appears to call her) has had three run-ins with the law. (1) In 1977, she was dancing at Show World Center in NYC when the entire three-floor building was raided. Though she'd not taken all her clothes off while stripping there, she was arrested for obscenity. When she arrived at Riker's Island jail, she was asked, "What's your sex?" since many transsexuals worked at Show World. (It was from them that she'd learned how to make eye-shadow from matches.) She said she was a man. When she was taken to urinate, she did so standing up and hid her genitals from the guards. This masquerade appealed to her rebellious side. (2) For a while after 1986, it was illegal to shoot porn in LA. Someone recognized a palm tree in a Malibu back yard used in Zane Productions Backside to the Future. Since she'd performed in it, she was jailed for three weeks but was released without being prosecuted. The law itself was eventually overturned. (3) Five years ago, she and Nina Hartley were hosting a Free Speech Coalition benefit in Las Vegas when they were arrested for pandering. Her experience in Texas was somewhat better than CL's: she was arrested for completely uncovering her breasts, but since she has inverted nipples, they're not visible and the judge dismissed the charge.
At the next panel, "The Role of Fetishism," I presented my paper, "Why is "Period -Porn So Rare? An Explanatory Mess." Also presenting a paper (as well as herself) was Fetish Diva Mistress Midori, a Japanese/German-American woman and former Air Force intelligence officer, who read a postmodernist-Marxist paper on the role of BDSM toys in the commoditization of sex. The moderator was the ebullient Kat Sunlove (aka Mistress Kat, dominatrix, lobbyist for the Free Speech Coalition and publisher of the San Francisco Spectator); Dragon, a heavily pierced blood-play enthusiast was in the audience, as were Carol Queen, Robert Morgan (Queen's SO) and Nina Hartley, among many others. (I doubt that they were there to hear my paper.) Mistress Midori translated for the other panel member, Hiroko Nishino, a Japanese face-abuse fetish model who'd traveled all the way from Osaka, Japan to attend the conference. Nishino said that she very much enjoyed her work.
An audience member suggested that the link between face ("saving face") and shame in Japan eroticized facial distortion there, whereas in the US the face is more closely associated with guilt and is therefore more often shown hooded or covered in BDSM photos. Mistress Midori suggested that the hooding and masking might also be a reaction to the cult of individualism and narcissism in US culture.
Several dominatrixes corrected an audience member who asked why there are no professional female submissives. Mistress Midori explained that professional submissives, esp. gay ones, are much maligned and have no voice in the wider culture. But they do exist.
A dominatrix in the audience said that she'd been hoping my paper would be about menstruation and not about, say, 19thC porn. She reported that she'd never had a client ask her to arrange a menstrual scene, though she has ordered a few to do some menstrual clean up, and they followed her orders.
The second day's panels ended with "The War Stories: Some Cases that Shaped the Issue of Obscenity." The first presentation was by Kinsey Institute librarian Jennifer Yamashiro, who outlined US'v. 31 Photographs (1957) one of the very few cases that explicitly recognizes the in-context scientific value of pornographic material when it is a subject of legitimate research. Burton Joseph, attorney for Playboy, talked about Congress's recent cutting of $318,000 from the Library of Congress budget - the exact amount it cost to provide a braille (text only!) edition of Playboy. H. Louis Sirkin, who defended the museum curator in Cincinnati charged with disseminating obscenity for hosting the Mapplethorpe exhibit, discussed the backlash against his side's victory in that case. Marjorie Heins, ACLU, a lead attorney in Reno v. ACLU, overturning the Communications Decency Act, spoke about her current work on a book, "Indecency Laws and the Concept of Harm to Minors." She also warned that CDA II was on its way [it arrived - Child On-Line Protection Act (COPA) - though its enforcement has been stayed by the courts], and that it would be the first of many successors to the unconstitutional CDA.
Sunday, the third and last day, I attended a morning panel, "Personal Stories: Couples in Porn," moderated by Veronica Hart. On the panel were Maureen and Carver Ward, Diane Marie Leger, Carol Queen and Robert Morgan, and James Weiser and Shayla LaVeaux.
Maureen Ward and her husband Carter Ward own the Dry Gulch Ranch, where many porn shoots are done. Her sexual growth began with psychoanalysis, and then she became a sex surrogate with 16 clients per week for ten years. This period of her life was ended by a car accident that almost killed her and which left her disfigured; she thought that she would never be loved by anybody again. But she met Carter after the accident but before she had corrective surgery (which did not erase many signs of the accident) and they were married. While their whole house is open to performers, she does have a gate on her office, which she considers more private than their bedroom. She showed part of a video of sites at the ranch.
Carol Queen began her career as a prostitute and peep-show performer at age 31. During her 20s, she'd been an "anti-porn dyke feminist." The f!!karama at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality changed her life. (The f!!karama is a multiple screen porn showing for new graduate students at the Institute, to help get them used to seeing genitals and sexually explicit media.) Soon thereafter, she met Robert Morgan, and they ve been together for 9 years. Morgan grew up in a small farming community outside San Francisco. His mother was a nurse and his grandfather worked in burlesque in the 40s and 50s as a drag queen. At 15 or 16, Morgan went to San Francisco for sex with men. At home, his parents gave him "the freedom of his bedroom," and respected his privacy. He is a former sex-worker, trucker and dock-worker, was put through chiropractic school by fellow sex-workers, and is now chiropractor to the sex-workers in San Francisco. He regularly teaches genital exam skills at Stanford University Medical School (where Queen also guest lectures and demonstrates). Neither of them has any problem with the paid part of Queen's sex life; despite their open relationship, they do have some problems maintaining suitable boundaries when money is not there as the barrier. They recently ended a one and a half year three-way relationship with a woman; both felt very wounded but reacted differently, with Morgan on the rebound and wanting to play with someone else, and Queen wanting to be more alone - "a very odd situation for both of us." They recently made a video together, Bend Over Boyfriend, with a 12 person crew consisting of dykes; during shooting, many crew members would offer Queen enthusiastic encouragement. At the end of their panel segment, Veronica Hart exclaimed, "I feel so inadequate!"
Diane Marie Leger is a 45 year old prostitute from Denver, who began sex work at age 23. She saw her first porn film at 19 in her small Louisana home town - she had to pay $20 to see this stag film and she enjoyed it. In her private life, she's always enjoyed BDSM and now is a professional dominatrix with her own dungeon, as well as a Betti Page Room. She's done phone sex work for Nancy Ava Miller and is now also a Prostitutes Education Project (PEP)/Denver B&D support group leader. She attends monthly fetish parties at At Play in the Fields of the Weird. "The business has been very good for me personally and business wise. I chose to do this work. My life is not shameful but very pornographic."
Shayla LaVeaux and James Anthony married in 1990 after they met as strippers working for the same company. During 1990-92 they started their own business in Denver. SL wanted to do some magazine work and then got into movies. It was a "rude awakening" because (she said through tears) she wasn't honest with JA initially. "I think he's been more supportive of me than I've been of him." JA didn't agree. They do agree that being in the business accentuates any relationship or personality problems one already has. Jealousy can be a problem, even though it's often "just work," and relationships require constant work and good communication. SL's problems abated significantly after she was diagnosed as having ADHD and medicated with Wellbutrin. They also described another, related problem that's less troubling now: JA: "The last thing a mechanic wants to do at the end of a long day working on cars is to go home and work on her own car. But after watching her have sex for days, I 'm pretty ripe." SL: "I used to need a full day entirely alone after two days on the set, but now I'm merging my lives and am much happier." "Nina Hartley has become the big sister I'd never had."
The closing session at noon, Sunday, was "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Actors and Actresses in Erotic Films and Video from the People Who Know," with Annie Sprinkle, Nina Hartley, Meridian, Juli Ashton, Candida Royalle, Christi Lake, Johnni Black, Gloria Leonard, Veronica Hart, Shayla LaVeaux, Annabel Chong, Vanessa del Rio, Veronica Vera, Sharon Mitchell, Richard Pacheco, Will Jarvis, Ron Jeremy, Rodney Bolla, Bill Margold, Dave Cummings, Mike Horner, and Gino Colbert, among others. (There were so many on stage, with three tiers of seating, that it was difficult to see those who were not in front.)
Veronica Hart: "This conference has been great because there's so much negativity about the business."
Vanessa del Rio (to loud applause; she'd been given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Night of the Stars event the night before and is obviously admired and well-liked by her colleagues): She introduced herself in a thick Spanish accent, then reverted to standard New Yorker: "I'm super-proud of my sister sluts." She criticized Mayor Guiliani's re-zoning initiatives in NYC.
Gloria Leonard: recommended the continued use of the term "pornography." "The difference between porn and erotica is the lighting." At a recent awards show, she said, she remarked to the audience of younger performers, "I have implants that are older than many of you." She's glad to make available the lessons she's learned in her long career to younger performers. "I ve seen the progression from 8mm to 16mm to 35mm to 70mm to video, which is comparable to 8mm." [This remark echoed a theme of Williams talk.] Although there's been some controversy about the more extreme videos directed by Rob Black, "women have their Gothic romance bodice-rippers and their rape fantasies; men's fantasies are no less valid." (Veronica Hart disagreed sharply.)
Gino Colbert: My aunt ran a burlesque theater and baby sat for me since I was 5 years old. I'd often catch the clothes of strippers from off-stage. He saw Vanessa del Rio and Sharon Mitchell on film and decided he wanted to direct films, beginning in 1979, at the end of the "golden era." Now, as a gay man, he does bi, gay and transsexual videos.
Ron Jeremy: "I got a BA in theater and an MA in Special Education from Queens College, and taught retarded children for two years before getting into porn." He regularly talks to Professor Garrett Capune's class on sex and the law.
Annie Sprinkle: begins with some heavy breathing. "Oh, it's been orgasmic being here. I'd like to give an orgasm to the conference. Thanks so much also for being so nice to my mother, who had a good time here." She offered free Public Cervix Announcement buttons to everyone and urged them to "support your local pornographer." She also repeated, "We're the happy pornographers. There are some who have had less happy experiences and we need to remember them."
Sharon Mitchell: "I ve had a wonderful time. It's been an amazing journey for a kid from NJ. I want to thank the industry again for being so supportive."
Johnni Black: (for 6 years an Army officer, retiring as a Captain and paratroop/medic battalion commander): In two years, she's done 200 movies, and won an award as Best New Starlet. "I 'm happy and proud to be in the industry."
Christi Lake: repeats some of her remarks from previous panels, adding "many of us are available as college speakers."
Dave Cummings: (58 year old performer/director/producer of 150 movies; retired Lt. Col., US Marines, former West Point faculty): "I have several points I want to make. I 'm upset by the intrusive government laws on obscenity and sex. The point should be made that economic and social strength derives from the industry. Normal people accept sexual pleasure as healthy - they should speak up and vote. For more of my views, see my web site."
Meridian (a new performer): "In 2 years I ve done 145 films, girl/girl, boy/girl, all sorts. I grew up in the mid-West as a tomboy and put myself through college and graduate school as a model for straight and fetish magazines. Then I got into the film business not out of financial need but through sheer horniness."
Richard Pacheco: He read a funny and sad excerpt from his forthcoming autobiography. "I got out of the industry when AIDS hit and tried a career as a mortgage banker, among other things. Can you imagine ME as a mortgage banker? Neither could I." He became a Diet Coke and peanut butter addict and finally was hospitalized for a breakdown after he ran, screaming, out of his house, having spent days watching soap operas. He described the peaceful "death" in the hospital of "Richard Pacheco." [standing ovation]
Nina Hartley: "This has been a magical and wonderful weekend. It's an amazing time to be in the sex industry." "I like working in this business because if you can't f!!k your friends, you can you f!!k?" She thanks Vanessa del Rio for inspiring her. "We're not alone, we're not crazy, not self-haters - we're self-lovers. Keep pushing the ignorance of opponents away."
Alannina: "I 'm a transgender person ... and a student at USC, with Anabel Chong. I started just this year in the business."
Anabel Chong: (of the 251-man first World's Biggest Gangbang) "I like my f!!ks in bulk," she asserted enthusiastically. She entered the business to finance her schooling, went back to USC and loves the industry to which she's returning. [A documentary about her life is one of the biggest draws at this year's Sundance Film Festival.]
Juli Ashton: "This has been an incredible conference for me. It's frustrating to be part of a silent majority, so the conference has been exciting. It's especially exciting to see academics here - please go back and challenge young minds."
Mike Horner: "I ve had a great time during my 21 years in the industry, though there ve been times when I cried. Since we sometimes feel isolated, the conference has been good for me."
Veronica Vera: "Let's not forget the Prostitute's Rights Movement, and the opening ceremony for the Dumas Brothel [museum] in Butte, Montana. Decriminalization of prostitution is very important to those in the porn industry, too." "I was able to establish my Academy of Cross Dressing [NYC, "for boys who want to be girls"] because my experiences in porn enabled me, a repressed Catholic girl, to know my own sexuality.
Candida Royalle: "It just gets better ...." "There are lots of women's voices in the industry now." After she left performing she was at first ambivalent about her work, until she realized that it was society making her feel guilty about it. After starting Femme Productions, she talked with her father about her work; he said, "All you re doing is bringing pleasure to people. You shouldn't feel guilty." "I 'm high from the conference."
[In the only such personal attack I heard during the conference, one of the more senior women on the panel sneered that Andrea Dworkin "looks like two" opponents. She was promptly reprimanded by a white male audience member. There was, of course, plenty of criticism made of anti-pornography feminist's views and a lot of anger expressed at their attitudes towards women in the industry. The critics were not always careful to distinguish among different types of feminism, and this sometimes sounded like "feminism bashing" even when the target was specifically anti-pornography feminism.]
Tim Evanson, one of the moderators of rec.arts.movies.erotica, and an authority on contemporary gay porn, had criticized the organizers for not paying enough attention to gay porn, which represents about a third of the industry. There were very few panels highlighting or devoted to gay porn. While Evanson's criticism is well-taken, two things can be said in partial (but only partial) reply. While not a focus in many panels, gay as well as other non-straight porn was discussed in a variety of panels nevertheless, where the atmosphere seemed decidedly non-homophobic; and next year's conference will be "Queer Activisms for a New Millennium: Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender Politics in California," which aims to "bring together activists, attorneys, academics, business and professional leaders, and community members to examine the "state of civil rights and political activism in California for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered people." But I would still like to know why gay porn did not receive more attention at the conference. Were the reasons political? financial? some other kind?
While I'd fully expected those in the adult industry to be angry at MacKinnon, Dworkin, and allied feminist anti-pornography activists, I'd not previously realized how deeply hurt the women (and men) felt by anti-pornography feminists' attacks - I'd not realized how much women in porn cared, how vulnerable they were (and still are), and how betrayed and abandoned by feminist attackers they felt.
Could I have been "taken in" by the performers, who, after all, specialize in appearing to give people what they (think) they want? That's possible, but I think it's unlikely, given their willingness to admit faults and continuing personal problems and to air dissent within the industry (though I suppose some might say that this, too, was "part of the act"). But it would also have taken acting skills equal to or greater than those of, say, Meryl Streep's or Robert DeNiro's, used consistently over three and a half days. No offense intended, but if all of them were that good, some would probably be doing much more "legitimate" film and theater.
Those from the industry who attended were, as Annie Sprinkle stressed, the "happy pornographers," and not all people in the industry are happy. (It isn't clear to me, or, I suspect, anyone, how much more unhappiness there is in the adult industry than in the "legitimate entertainment industry, or how much of the difference is caused by the quasi-legal status of the adult industry, where the legal climate is itself a product of a sexist, guilt-saturated and sex-ignorant society.) Judging in large part from what the performers said, what seems required for such happiness are these four things: a supportive family and/or network of friends, which at best includes an SO with whom one strives to be honest; at least some exhibitionist tendencies; an ability to distinguish "love sex" from "sport sex" that keeps expectations reasonable, lightens the burden of guilt, and allows at least a peaceful coexistence between professional and private life; and, most obviously, a very high degree of interest in sex itself. The first of these is generally required for happiness, and the second is typical for almost anyone who is a performer in any medium. The third requires a degree of maturity and self-esteem that very few people have. On the last thing: I doubt that even in a guilt-free, sexually well-educated society, everyone would be equally interested in having sex, and I think that only a minority would be as interested as are most of the performers.
Chart based on data compiled by Adult-FAQ, July 2001, from Internet Adult Film Database
("20" should be read as "20 years or more performing")
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