The Porn Industry Scored A Huge Election Victory With Prop 60's Defeat, But They're Just Too Bummed To Celebrate It

It may still feel difficult to embrace any positive outcome of the 2016 election, but while much of the news cycle continues to focus on anxieties over our president-elect, there were some progressive triumphs to come out of that night. Among the victories providing a flicker of light is California's decision to strike down Proposition 60, a hotly contested ballot measure that was basically publicized as "the mandatory condoms in porn law."

But the proposition had far more baked into its legislative language than simply mandating condom use in porn: it would also, as The LA Times put it in one headline, "deputize every Californian as a condom cop." Prop 60 introduced legislation that would allow any Californian watching porn made in their home state to sue its producers if they spotted a condomless scene. This critically important element of the bill, however, wasn't publicized to the average voter.

The reality of modern porn-making is that many performers self-distribute via indie operations, camming, and other forms of amateur work. Under Prop 60, this meant that even a married couple who shot amateur porn together in their own bedroom and chose to distribute it could be sued by a California viewer if they didn't use a condom in their scene. It also meant that adult performers who self-produce could effectively be "outed" by any California resident suing them for making a condomless scene, with the performer's name, address, and other personal information entering the public record when the suit is filed.

While shooting porn is perfectly legal in California, sex work is still a deeply stigmatized profession. Publishing a porn performer's personal information easily targets them for harassment and compromises their safety. Most importantly, though, Prop 60 was drafted under the guise of "protecting" California's porn performers without bothering to ask any of them what they actually needed. 

An Industry-Wide Effort

That's why the state's porn industry stepped up, pouring their energy and resources into a Vote No On Prop 60 campaign. Ask them, and they'll tell you that porn industry folks are doing a fine job managing their own health, thank you, using guidelines created by the people they actually affect. Condoms aren't the only safer sex option to exist, and they certainly won't work as a protective mandate for the way all performers choose to have sex.

"Crucial to our defeating Prop 60 were the performers who stepped forward and expressed intelligent arguments against the prop," John Stagliano, who owns the porn company Evil Angel, tells Bustle. "Many of us did everything in our capability and Prop 60 was all we could talk about for several months. It was an industry-wide effort, comprised of a lot of diverse voices and experiences."

The Free Speech Coalition, which is the trade association for the adult industry, spearheaded No on 60 under the leadership of Executive Director Eric Leue and Director of Policy and Industry Relations Siouxsie Q. Gay porn studio Treasure Island Media fronted much of the opposition's advocacy and labor, as well, with its casting director Kenny Host serving as an informal outreach director of sorts. Porn industry insiders Chanel Preston, Jessica Drake, Mia Li, and Jiz Lee were also credited for their work leading the opposition. 

"It was inspiring to see so many adult film workers volunteer their time and share their skills and resources to come together in ways big and small," Lee, who recently appeared in a recurring role on Transparent and authored the essay collection Coming Out Like a Porn Star, tells Bustle. "Performers wrote articles, set up booths at universities, brought reporters with them to get STI tested, and many 'outed' themselves or risked doing so, in encouraging people outside the industry — whether family members or people at the grocery store — to vote No. I was on the set with performer Jessica Creepshow and I learned she had canvased with 'No on 60' pamphlets in her walk from the BART station to our set. Many of us did everything in our capability and Prop 60 was all we could talk about for several months. It was an industry-wide effort, comprised of a lot of diverse voices and experiences."

[Twitter Embed: https://twitter.com/AandJstudio/status/803119442397777920]

Elected officials came out against Prop 60, too. Scott Wiener, a Democrat currently serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was cited as one of the politicians most vocal in his support of the sex work community against Prop 60. This, of course, was not without consequence. The forces working in favor of the proposition, namely Michael Weinstein and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), who poured over $4.6 million into their efforts, sent out a mailer across the San Francisco Bay Area accusing Wiener of being "in the pocket" of the adult industry.

"It was this last ditch, hail mary personal attack on this politician who dared to speak up against this proposition," journalist, educator, activist, and sex worker of over a decade Andre Shakti tells Bustle. "[Wiener] got a lot of flack for that, especially right before the election."

The work of ensuring Prop 60 didn't pass came with consequences for performers, too. Many of them lost out on gigs and otherwise put work on hold to throw their efforts into No on 60 advocacy. Shakti, who has been in the porn industry for four years, revealed, "A lot of us are really struggling financially now, those of us who put in all this work, because none of this is paid labor. We were all doing this unpaid."

Following these efforts, however, editorial boards of all seven major newspapers in California, including The LA Times, The Sacremento Bee, and San Francisco Chronicle, came out in opposition to Prop 60. This hard-fought, grassroots campaign won and Prop 60 was voted down on Election Day by a margin of 54.3 percent to 45.7 percent.

[Twitter Embed: https://twitter.com/ms_dinii/status/796521870350684160]

Winning, And The Awkwardness Of Celebrating

Unfortunately, the ballot measure's demise and the porn industry's victory was overshadowed by other sweeping losses for progressivism on Election Day. Had it been another election with less at stake, there may have been a moment to celebrate Prop 60 being voted down: a victory against legislative concern-trolling, supposedly on behalf of a stigmatized community, without actually asking for that community's input. That's huge. But because it happened during this particular election, even the porn industry folks and sex work activists directly responsible for the proposition's defeat felt awkward about celebrating.

"It's like getting to the top of a hill and finding there's huge mountain left to climb," Shine Louise Houston, founder and director of Pink and White Productions, tells Bustle. Pink and White is the production studio behind queer feminist porn outlets like Crash Pad Series and PinkLabel.TV, which focuses on representing a diverse and fluid array of sexual and gender identities, kink identities, and body types, including sexual representation for often overlooked fat, non-white, and disabled bodies.

"It's so bizarre. It's like, I'm trying to be excited for it, and I can't be. Like my soul is incapable of making space for it."

"No one has been celebrating this win," agrees Shakti. "It's so bizarre. It's like, I'm trying to be excited for it, and I can't be. Like my soul is incapable of making space for it."

She admitted that the porn industry had, in fact, been "expecting a loss" on Prop 60, "though not nearly as devastating as the one we actually experienced." The $4.6 million which Weinstein and AHF funneled into Prop 60 far surpassed the top nine donations that went into opposition combined. No on 60 was working with barely $1 million.

"In the end," Shakti says, "a lot of us were assuming that the opposite of what actually happened on election night would happen, which was that Prop 60 would pass — narrowly — and that Hillary Clinton would clinch the nomination."

Of course, the defeat of Prop 60 wasn't exactly a clean win for the sex industry, either. Both California Democrats and California Republicans opposed the bill, though obviously, for very different reasons. "I have mixed feelings," columnist and porn performer Tasha Reign tells Bustle. "I want the message to be, 'Porn matters! Performers matter! What we do is important and sex workers have a voice!' which is something that many people do believe. On the flip side, there is the consumer who just doesn't want to pay higher taxes and have condoms in their porn, which is selfish and counteracts my efforts to increase sex worker input."

What The Win Means

But, on the whole, porn industry workers acknowledge that the win was historic.

[Twitter Embed: https://twitter.com/augustazaber/status/796454753995726852]

"We've seen our industry unite in unprecedented ways," Lee says. "We're mobilized. We've got organizational strength. Sections of our industry that would have never crossed paths are now collaborating on projects. We've begun to identify our media writers and leaders. Despite the uphill struggle, we've gained long-lasting allies and supporters. No matter what happens tomorrow, the silver lining in Prop 60 has been that we'll be better prepared for the next challenges, and more able to keep improving our industry."

Shakti believes that with Prop 60's defeat, the state of California becomes "the safest in the country" for sex workers, even though doing client-facing advocacy lost her some business in her pro-domination work. "I knew that a lot of those clients were never going to call me back, because I 'shattered the fantasy' or whatever," she says. "People are recognizing that porn performers are educated. We have basically been putting our brains on display instead of our bodies for the past six months and the folks who have been doing that — we've lost fans. We've lost fans, we've lost clients, we've lost customers. Because when people realize your Twitter feed isn't going to be naked pussy photos and it's just going to be political statements — people get pissy about that."

[Twitter Embed: https://twitter.com/AndreShakti/status/789567039450980354]

But, she offers, "A lot of the people who consumed our work really had our backs. They want to see us healthy and happy and protected. That, I think, for a lot of sex workers was really profound."

What's Next?

Prop 60's defeat temporarily safeguards California's porn industry workers, although, as Pink and White's producer Syd Blakovich tells Bustle, "a much larger threat to our communities as a whole has manifested." That means that the work — and the threat — is far from over.  

"The President-Elect has instated a transition team that not only has a history of suppressing freedom of speech and being anti-porn, but has also made it tremendously clear that civil rights violations and hate-mongering are both acceptable and were a part of their actual campaign strategy," Blakovich says. "As a business that values and sits at the intersections of many communities, our hearts are heavy with the prospect of what this type of leadership will have, not only on businesses such as ours, but also for our family, friends, and loved ones."

Images: Don't Harass CA (3)

Must Reads