Porn Industry Reacts to Syphilis Outbreak, Mr. Marcus
LOS ANGELES — Producers and performers are expressing mixed emotions over the syphilis outbreak that has put livelihoods on pause and endangered the health of performers. At the center of the controversy is veteran adult performer Mr. Marcus, who on Aug. 21 admitted he had performed in three sex scenes after doctoring his STI test to conceal that he had contracted syphilis.
The revelation struck the adult film community as a betrayal and reaction was swift and merciless. While Marcus drew the brunt of people’s outrage, many also suggested that industry testing lab Talent Testing Services and the Free Speech Coalition’s Adult Production Health & Safety Services may have mishandled the crisis due to “politics.”
Now, two weeks into a moratorium that is close to being lifted — thanks in part to the availability of a new syphilis test (Treponemal EIA) — some have softened their outlooks and are prepared to move on, while others remain hurt and angry. Both sides, however, agree on one thing: change is necessary, whether it means more due diligence and/or supporting mandatory condom use in adult films.
“Obviously there was a lot of confusion, and it has taken awhile for all the facts to surface,” Wicked Pictures owner Steve Orenstein said. “I appreciate the Free Speech Coalition and APHSS stepping up to try to work this issue out from the start, but I also realize it was an uphill battle that didn’t come with a ‘magic bullet’ solution. I am happy to hear that a better and quicker test was found to offer to all talent and specifically to those who were opposed to taking medication if not infected.”
Kink.com CEO and FSC board member Peter Acworth was pleased to see the majority of adult studios put performer well-being ahead of profit, and felt the industry responded to the crisis in a more uniformed manner than it had in the past.
“As soon as the first case was confirmed — before even — we shut down production. And we weren't the only ones,” Acworth said. “A lot of bigger companies immediately agreed to halt production in order to stop it. There was no wait and see. There was only stop-and-treat. Porn doesn't get a lot of support from outside agencies, so it's really important that we take care of our own.
“I think we've made real leaps in the past few years, thanks to groups like the FSC and the APHSS,” Acworth continued. “You didn't see the suspicion or doubt that you might have a few years ago. There was a unified front, and it's a good argument for self-regulation in the face of detractors who'd like to push it to the fringes, or outside the country."
Thirty-year industry veteran Tom Byron saw things differently. “It couldn’t have been handled any worse,” he said.
Alluding to the industry’s lack of syphilis education, Marcus’ allegations that TTS aided in the doctoring of his test and the ongoing debate between TTS and APHSS in regards to testing practices, Byron painted a picture that presented the industry as anything but unified.
“I think syphilis threw everyone for a loop,” he said. “There were loose protocols in place for HIV, but since syphilis is curable, but more dangerous than chlamydia and gonorrhea, people were confused about how to isolate it. Throw altered test results into the mix; it was just a big mess. The infighting didn't help, one side claiming the other was being complicit in said altering, differing opinions about inoculations, agents fining girls for refusing to work during the moratorium. We've really shown the world we can't police our own.”
Immoral Productions proprietor Dan Leal echoed Byron’s sentiments, and took issue with the FSC’s support of Marcus.
“Things have been handled very poorly since the syphilis outbreak,” Leal said. “The supposed leaders in the adult industry who jumped the gun and tried to defend the actions of someone who has jeopardized the health of hundreds of performers need to step down."
As those following this story will recall, Marcus had been advised and assisted in the crisis by Free Speech Coalition Executive Director Diane Duke and FSC board member — and Evil Angel General Manager — Christian Mann since Aug. 18 when the APHSS identified him as a syphilis carrier.
Duke and Mann stood by Marcus on Aug. 21 when he officially confessed to altering his syphilis test, commending Marcus as “courageous” for his decision to tell the truth.
“[Mr. Marcus] didn't come clean; he was outed,” Byron said. “Had he not been caught, who knows how much longer he would have continued? Seriously, how do you show up on set with your penis in the condition his was in on that Bang Bros. shoot?
“People need to understand that what he did was monstrous,” Byron continued. “He didn't ‘make a mistake.’ He deliberately and deceitfully exposed other talent to a very serious disease, forced a moratorium that cost not only talent, but lighting crews, makeup artists, a whole host of people who make their living in the biz.”
Byron, who said he has known Marcus since the 41-year-old California native joined the industry as a “pup,” called for Marcus to retire.
“Pete Rose was banned from baseball forever because he gambled on his sport,” Byron noted. “Marcus gambled with people's health and potentially their lives. This is the one thing you don't get a second chance on. I think Marcus should never be allowed to perform sex in this business ever again.”
Director Jim Powers is less forgiving. “I think it is horrible that Mr. Marcus knowingly worked with a disease and gave it to women,” Powers said. “I think he should be forced to sit in a cocoon of yeast infection scrapings for six months.”
For those who have known Marcus as a friend and/or role model, his deception has cut even deeper.
Evil Angel producer/performer and 20-plus-year industry veteran Sean Michaels said he and his family were “highly disappointed and sad.” Adult performer Prince Yahshua described Marcus’ actions as “mind-blowing and very, very crushing.”
“I’ve known Marcus for almost eight-and-a-half years now,” Yahshua said. “I didn’t even call him Marcus; I called him what he was to the industry. I would say ‘what’s up legend?’
“I never would’ve imagined that somebody of his nature, his status, would put hundreds and hundreds of his co-workers at risk with something like that,” Yahshua said. “Not only would we have passed it around to each other like giving out candy on Halloween, but more than 70 percent of us, we go home to our families… girlfriends, wives, husbands, whatever. I have no more love [for Marcus] at all.”
Not everyone has turned their back on Marcus.
“His actions have been selfish, irresponsible, and reprehensible,” Mercenary Pictures owner and adult star Lexington Steele said. “That being said, my feelings toward Mr. Marcus are unchanged. He has been a friend of mine for 14 years. He has been my mentor. While what he has done put me and my livelihood at risk, I will not turn my back on him as a friend. None of us know the depth of circumstance that led him to make such a selfish and unforgiveable decision.
“The XXX industry is indeed a glass house, its' constituents, including myself, should not throw stones. It is only the magnitude of his stardom that has made this front page news. Perhaps we should continue to protect our own, both on set and otherwise, instead of excommunicating them when they falter. We as an industry have experienced and witnessed, in the not too distant past, far worse than a treatable STD. My heart goes out to those who have been exposed and are now being treated, including Mr. Marcus.”
Those with a little more emotional distance from Marcus see his actions as an example as to why the industry must ban closer together to govern and protect itself less it render those duties to outside organizations such as the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and/or Cal/OSHA.
“The fact is that we need to be vigilant about STIs regardless of how they enter the industry,” Acworth said. “We need to look at ways to make the tests less alterable, to look at various notification systems that might prevent an industry shut down in the future. Performers should abide by their own code of ethics, but that doesn't mean we can be content to sit back and point the finger. The truth is the responsibility is on us as well as them.
“Kink has always been committed to providing a safe working environment, and we're going to continue to work with performers, to work with health organizations, to work with our competitors to help make this industry a leader in worker safety.”
Hustler President Michael Klein praised adult studios for halting productions to ensure the safety of their performers during the crisis, but stressed the importance of due diligence when checking a performer’s test, regardless of that individual’s status in the adult business.
“It needs to be clear that we have to make sure that everyone verifies that the proper testing within the proper time frame is done for all performers,’ Klein said, “No matter if they are someone well-known in the industry or not.”
Wicked Pictures contract performer Jessica Drake, who described the outbreak as being chaotic, appreciates the FSC’s efforts, despite acknowledging that solutions are not easy to find.
“There was so much misinformation and speculation out there; no one really knew what to believe,” Drake said. “As details leaked out slowly, it became very obvious to me that we had a colossal problem on our hands — not that the performer had tested positive for syphilis, but that he attempted to cover it up.
“Although it hasn't been smooth sailing at all, I do applaud the FSC. They are actually trying to do something. I can't criticize them for the way they are handling the situation unless I have some suggestions on how to do it better.”
Leal, however, does have a suggestion: “A testing facility needs to be independent of the influence of individual companies.”
The syphilis outbreak regrettably arrived during a time when not only is the city of Los Angeles and the AHF looking to enforce condom use in adult films, but also in the midst of an ongoing dispute between TTS and APHSS regarding testing protocols, with TTS refusing to send performer testing data to APHSS’s database, and APHSS encouraging performers to use APHSS endorsed testing center Cutting Edge.
The back-and-forth between the two organizations had already caused a split in the adult community — with many demanding the freedom to pick their preferred testing facility — and now appeared to distract from finding a solution to the syphilis outbreak.
“All these arguments between testing facilities is out of greed, especially when companies step in like Manwin,” transsexual performer Wendy Williams said. “I hope that companies out there that say they are looking out for our best interests are really doing so.”
“The battle lines have to stop,” Byron noted. “We are going to have to find common ground. That compromise may include the dreaded C-word: condom. That's not to say I support AHF or the Health Department's agenda. They are unrealistic. I believe in testing combined with other safer sex practices… double anal and creampies are just asking for trouble. AHF just says put a condom on it, no testing. That is dangerous.”
Parody director Lee Roy Myers said he was pleased to learn about the syphilis test Treponemal EIA, which shortens the testing window from 90-days to 14-days, and hopes it will allow performers to “relax” and “focus on their health.” In regards to the adult community’s initial reactions to the outbreak, he added a little levity.
“I feel like the outbreak was contained as much as it could be,” he said. “Of course, there was a little extra porn industry drama playing out live on Twitter to keep everyone entertained while solutions were being researched.”
Drake, however, doesn’t find it quite as amusing, and cautions the industry to watch what they say during this hot political climate.
“[Something] that really upsets me is that people in the industry really don't seem to realize that the mainstream media has discovered our social networking sites, and our proclivity to use them to air all of our dirty laundry,” she said. “They feed off that.”