Gay Phoenix Forum: Barebacking Seminar Addresses Tough Issues
Lines have been drawn and battle stances have been taken on this hot button issue, with many industry professionals — both for and against — making strong, adamant and often publicly-stated opinions on the topic. Up until this point, it has simply been a series of screaming matches that span thousands of miles.
But the Gay Phoenix Forum’s “Barebacking” seminar handled the topic with respect.
Moderated by Miranda L. of DickWadDollars, members of the panel included Andy Moore (Channel 1 Releasing), Mark Kliem (Lavender Lounge), Chad Belville (Kink.com counsel), porn performer Ken Mack, Chris Kren (PornTeam.com) and Scott Haverstock, a master level social worker with Body Positive in Phoenix.
The seminar was almost filled to capacity as attendees nervously waited for the panel to start. There was an air of tension in the room, with many of the audience members unaware of just how heated the debate might get.
As it turned out, it was a waste of good tension.
Miranda L. began by proclaiming to the audience: “We’re not going to let things get personal.”
That seemed to set the tone.
Each panelist gave a brief description of who they were and what their company’s stance on barebacking was.
Kren explained that PornTeam.com did distribute bareback product but did so because of customer demand.
Kliem, a member of San Francisco’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, passed out a pamphlet that offered his suggestions to both performers and producers of content on how to be more responsible in this day and age of AIDS.
"What concerns me," he said, "is that a whole generation has gone by that hasn't had to watch their friends with KS (Kaposi's Sarcoma) lesions all over their bodies and hasn't had to watch friends and loved ones die from this. Because of the medical advancements, they haven't had to — but my fear is that there's this disconnect that might make them think that this disease isn't dangerous. Because so many people are now living with HIV, these young kids are thinking it's more acceptable. It's up to us to educate them.
"I was at another conference not too long ago," he continued, "and we were talking about the state of the industry. I raised my hands and asked about barebacking and it was silent. You could hear crickets chirping. So I'm so glad that we're having this discussion. It's long overdue."
Kliem went on to say that he worked closely with the San Francisco AIDS project and that "this seminar has gotten a lot of buzz this week [here in Phoenix]," and that Nancy Reagan's mantra of "Just Say No" is not going to cut it any more.
Haverstock mentioned that he was a founding member of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as well as Mr. Bear of the West and said that with "both of these titles, it is part of my job to go around helping to educate young men and women on the risks of HIV and AIDS."
Moore, who represented staunch anti-bareback advocate Chi Chi LaRue's Channel 1 Releasing (C1R), said that "we will not shoot any films without condoms." He also mentioned the new public service announcement recently launched by LaRue: SafeSexIsHotSex.Com.
Performer Mack explained that he was currently HIV-negative, was the general manager for the Phoenix-based Echo magazine and that he had worked for studios including Titan Media, Falcon, Raging Stallion Studios and Channel 1 Releasing.
"I prefer not to do bareback," he said.
Miranda posed a question to him. "Did you ever feel pressure [from the studios] when performing to perform with or without a condom?"
"I started work at AmateurStraightGuys.com," he said. "They test every 90 days. With Titan, they're adamant about their barebacking policy. Generally, if a model has performed in bareback scenes, Titan will not work with them. But I've never once been pressured on set by any studio."
"This industry is made up of a bunch of outlaws," Kliem said. "The attitude now is that of 'Fuck the establishment.' Many of these newer websites and smaller studios have taken that attitude to heart. 'No one's going to tell me how to run my businesses,' they'll say.
"Bareback has become a niche," he said. "This is a generation of young people who have grown up with the show 'Jackass.' We're glamorizing danger. Some of these kids growing up, these 18 year olds (and younger), are taught abstinence in schools, and are never educated about the risks when growing up. They're not taught safe sex education in schools so they don't know any better."
"When you go to the popular VOD sites," Miranda L. said, "invariably, the most popular movies on those sites are bareback. Why is that?"
Moore: "A lot of people want what's not good for them."
"We've polled our customers," Kren said. "The demand for bareback is off-the-hook. We want to retain customers."
"I'm still waiting for the real numbers to come in on bareback titles," Kliem said. "Most people inflate their numbers — it's not 100 percent accurate. I think a lot of it has to do with bragging rights."
Miranda L. turned to attorney Belville. "What is the legal responsibility of the studios?" she asked.
"They don't have any legal responsibility," Belville said. "The models just have to be 18.
"The way I look at it, " he said, "is that the Governor of California has made movies where he's gone out and killed hundreds of people. I watch one of those films and I don't go out and kill people. A stunt person in one of those films understands the risks of their job. If they get hurt, it's par for the course. In bareback films, these young people don't understand the risks. They make educated decisions. But if they're not educated properly, those decisions are worthless."
A hand was raised in the audience and a woman asked, "Why can't you make a condom that looks like a dick? With technology today, it should be simple enough."
The panel said that there was a company that produced custom-made condoms that could be ordered and that there were condoms made with the band removed that looked realistic.
Talk turned to numbers, and Moore's Channel 1 Releasing was asked if they had seen a change in their sales figures.
"We've always been a condom-only company, so our numbers haven't changed," he said.
Kren: "Have you surveyed your customers?"
Moore: "Not recently, to my knowledge, but it's something we can certainly do."
In the audience, a representative of popular bareback studio Treasure Island Media raised his hand.
"We offer testing," he said. "We make that an option. Our company generally works only with HIV-positive performers. We work with the San Francisco Stop AIDS foundation and the San Francisco department of Health. If a model turns down the testing, that sends a red flag to us, so we will sero-sort. We'll put positive performers with other positive performers. If there's a question as to their negativity status, we'll put them in a scene where they will be the top, and therefore be at less risk."
A brief discussion of "bug chasing" ensued. "Bug chasing" is when a negative person actively goes out in search of an infected person so they can catch the disease.
"If we even get an inkling of that," the Treasure Island rep said, "we turn them away."
Kliem mentioned that "there's not much risk of two positive performers reinfecting each other. Back in the day, during the Reagan administration, there was talk about putting AIDS patients into concentration camps to help prevent the spread of the disease. That is not an option. Fear is not an option."
Miranda asked Haverstock if, once you've contracted the virus, one could get sicker.
"Any unprotected encounter will expose you to danger," he said. "The third stage of syphilis comes quicker and harder to those who have HIV."
A representative of Fucklicious.com spoke about the dramatic rise of HIV and AIDS in the black community and what he should do if he finds out — through testing — if a model is HIV-positive, when the model himself doesn't know.
"Don't tell those models unless you have permission to do so. But the results will go to the models first. I know that's how AIM Healthcare does it," Belville said.
Someone asked about "locking the models in a room for a few days after the test."
"You'd have to lock them up anywhere from three weeks to three months," Belville responded. "You can have false negatives. There's no 100 percent guarantee."
"Should studios put a policy in place," an audience member asked.
"There's no such thing as a bulletproof policy," Belville said. "You have to shift the responsibility to the models. They're adults."
"It all comes down to human nature," Haverstock said. "Let's face it, everyone would have unprotected sex if the threat of HIV and STDs didn't exist."
"Many years ago, a woman was burned while drinking a cup of coffee at McDonald's," Belville said. "Now there's a warning on every coffee cup stating 'this coffee is scalding hot' to any idiot out there who may not know.
"Someone has to get sued first before there can be a precedent," he said.
"We want to avoid the government's intervention," Kliem said. "Our society exists on Freedom of Speech. We need to self-regulate ourselves. If the government gets involved, we could all pay the price — straight companies, gay companies, what-have-you. The minute we get OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) involved, we're all fucked."
The Treasure Island Media rep directed a question to Moore. "What are you doing, in your condom-only company, to help reduce the risk of Hepatitis-C, which is the fastest rising STD out there?"
Moore said that C1R has been looking into it and are trying to get a better grasp on it. "But we are very aware of it," he said.
Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, mentioned a survey done by NakedSword sent out to performers that found that "a lot of performers don't understand the risks.
"We are starting to self-regulate," she said. "I love this panel because this is something that needs to be talked about and I want to thank everyone for treating this topic with the respect it deserves. We are all fighting for the same thing and I admire this panel for having the guts to speak on it."
She explained that on April 20 in Sacramento, California there would be a lobby day that she encouraged all to attend.
Miranda L. turned back to performer Mack and asked if the models themselves were discussing this issue.
Mack, who said he was 40 and was educated on HIV, said that he had no exposure to the bareback community. "But I was on a shoot once and my scene partner didn't show up. A replacement was found and I thought that he had certain characteristics that indicated he was HIV-positive. I understood the risks and we had unprotected oral sex. It put me in an awkward position but I never felt any pressure from the producers or director to perform the scene. Nor did I fear future employment opportunities would be taken from me if I refused."
A representative of Next Door Buddies, a studio that uses straight or "gay for pay" models and gay models, raised his hand.
"Eighty-five percent of straight guys have unprotected sex with their girlfriends.," he said. "A good percentage of kids on drugs have unsafe sex. And 99-percent of the straight models say they'll do bareback. What do we do with these kids?"
"Schools need to educate those kids," Kliem said.
Another audience member brought up billing.
"We're all here at the [Phoenix] Forum to make money," he said. "In the BDSM community, you have Visa saying 'consent is important. Ease our fears.' So when you have a particularly violent BDSM scene, you show the performers happy and laughing in the beginning, go into the scene, whether it's spanking or bondage, then, when the scene is over, you show the participants laughing and happy again. It puts Visa’s fears to rest. And Visa carries 70-percent of all sales. If Visa takes a stand and says, 'If you carry bareback content on your site or in your films, we won't work with you,' that's it. End of story."
The last question of the day was posed to Moore and C1R.
Speaking of C1R's recent acquisition of Catalina Video's vast library, she asked, "Where's the justification for pre-condom classics?"
"We are not glamorizing the pre-condom classics," Moore said. "We have warnings beforehand. It's not just 'a different day and age.' We still need to be responsible in letting these viewers know the risks."
The seminar came to a close with that question, yet many more questions went unanswered due to time constraints.
The one thing the panelists all agreed on was the need to start teaching safe sex in schools.
"The only way we will all get through this battle," Kliem said, "is if we all stick together."