“Scoundrel Time” Re-Redux: MY Own Personal Thoughts On Tristan Taormino’s Condom About Face

OK…since you all have had some time to marinate your brains with Ernest’s rebuttal against Tristan Taormino (both the original piece and the repost I just crossposted here), I think that I will supplement his lenghty and worldly prose with some thoughts of my own.

It should surprise no one that I tend to favor Ernest and Nina on most issues, and I happen to do so here on this one as well.

As much as I do respect Tristan and her legacy as a pioneer sex educator and anal sex pleasure activist, and as much as I have defended her (and still will, though with reduced vigor) against the Gail Dineses and Shelley Lubbens of the world who would dismiss her as just another “tool of the patriarchy”, I have to say that I am more than a bit disappointed by her move.

That I cede to her her right to run her shop as she wishes does not diminish the sadness that I feel that Tristan made a hasty and ill considered choice which put her own personal enrichment and political posturing above the principle of defending true performer choice and the actual facts and merits of protecting performers.

Nevertheless, I join with Ernest and Nina is saying explicitly and unabashedly that personal threats and ad hominen attacks against Ms. Taormino are absolutely and unequivably out of line, and simply will not be endorsed or tolerated…either here or at BPPA or anywhere else.  I will enforce that edict to the letter.

Instead, like Ernest did in his essay, I will address my criticism toward some of the possible motives behind Tristan’s shift of position (though from some slightly different angles than his critique), and why I think that they are potentially counterproductive.

First off, there is the trigger mechanism that launched all this: Cameron Bay’s revelation of getting infected with HIV, followed by her boyfriend Rod Daily revealing his own infection, followed by a third performer confirmed to be infected…who just so happens to have been found to be intimately related with the first two both in companionship and in professional status. The fact remains the same that, contrary to all the hype and BS propaganda that certain trolls in PornBlogistan and AHF would have you to believe, there really is no evidence that any of the three confirmed infected cases were either infected on set or even infected anyone else on or off set. Every performer whom has shot with Bay and Daily since their last clean test of July 27th has tested negative for HIV…and that even includes those who shot that now infamous Public Disgrace shoot of July 31st. Likewise, every performer who has shot with confirmed “Performer #3″ since her last clean test has also tested negative. The other two cases put forth by Michael Weinstein have such dubious credentials and their stories far too many loopholes that they can easily be dismissed as just so propaganda tales. (And let’s not forget that AHF’s favorite spokesperson, Derrick Burts, still seems incapable of the ability to adequately and fully explain how he was able to get infected with HIV on a condom-only gay shoot…and why that justifies mandating condoms as a replacement for the existing “straight” testing/screening regime.)

Now, the fact that Cameron Bay was scheduled to do a shoot for Tristan before the proverbial tornado hit the proverbial sewage treatment plant could have been the trigger that scared the latter enough to reconsider her previous “condom optional” stand. That would be understandable, given the fear and uncertancy of the first few days of the crisis.

But, the facts I mentioned were of public record as soon as the beginning of last week. Why would a smart person like Tristan Taormino — and undoubtably, she is pretty damn smart — simply ignore the actual evidence disproving the emergence of an “outbreak”, and react as she did to undercut her own previous position? Could it have been legitimate fear and an honest reappraisal of her previous position?

Or, could it be, as Ernest opined, a not so subtlely timed cynical move to break herself off from the “mainstream porn” position and make inroads with certain political/cultural interest groups?

That segues me into Point #2 of my criticism of Tristan: the limits of “feminist porn” as a political and cultural movement for sexual liberation and free sexual expression.

It is of great irony that Tristan Taormino cut her teeth as a “feminist porn” icon behind the work of Femme Productions head Candida Royalle…whom also happened to feature Nina in many of her original works. Indeed, it was through mainstream porn channels that Tristan was able to secure many of her most profitable works, including the aformentioned Tristan Taormino’s Ultimate Guide To Anal Sex For Women. Nevertheless, much of the growth of “feminist porn” as an avant garde alternative to what passed for “mainstream porn” was based on its potential to sell explicit sexual media to a previously overlooked demographic, as well as its potential to integrate progressive/liberal values into the medium of porn.

The problem with all this, of course, is that there is still a huge disconnect between what is considered to be “feminist” and even “progressive” with what is considered to be “liberated” sexual behavior, and the “Sex Wars” within feminism between the radical “cultural feminists” and the more openminded “sex positive feminists” has enabled sharp and embittered battles over which sexual behaviors or acts can be considered to be “politically correct”.

Within that diaspora, the “feminist porn” groups fase the constant pressure to prove their feminist credentials lest the fear that the antiporn radicals like Gail Dines and Catharine MacKinnon gain enough hegemony to toss them out of the “movement”.

Given the dynamic to retain some form of “feminist” cred while also promoting themselves as sexual “liberators” in resistance from the obvious sexual fascism of the Religious Right, it’s often easiest to take on one seemingly conservative position and make it seem “moderate” as a means of casting off charges from the antiporn feminists of “abandoning true feminism”.

This is where the condom comes to the rescue. (I’m talking here about condoms for men here; female condoms do have the potential to radically change the game, but no one supporting the condom mandate has even mentioned, let alone advocated, mandatory female condoms.)

Male condoms count as unabashedly “feminist” in that it clearly puts the responsibility of its use squarely on the man, thusly removing all of the traditional stigma and weight on women who seek to be sexually active. But, in addition to all that, condoms hold a special place in sexually liberal avant garde communities because they seem to give a safe legitimacy to sexual experimentation without any of the traditional risks of pregnancy or infection.

In short, condom usage advocacy tends to fall into that seemingly “respectable” slightly left of center “moderate” niche between unfettered and unregulated “promiscuity” (what some would call the “libertarian” position on sexuality) and the tightly restricted and harnessed sexual mores of the traditional Religious Right (updated and modified slightly by the antiporn radical feminists).

It’s not too surprising, therefore, that it is the broader “progressive” feminist  community, along with other broad based middle- to upper-middle-class “liberals”, whom have become the biggest boosters of using condoms as a hook for a broader “safer sex” education program which seeks a more restrained and controlled “liberation”.

The “feminist porn” movement combined with the condoms-as-safer-sex-education movement, therefore, finds its proverbial G-spot with a broader progressive base in its calls for better sex education and more massive condom usage as a means of countering both unwanted pregnancy and mass STI pandemics such as HIV/AIDS.

Combine that with a pseudo populism depicting the modern day porn industry as the epitome of “corporate capitalism”, with a ruling class of multinational world corporations (HUSTLER, Manwin), a managerial class of production companies selling various niches of sexuality to a public “brainwashed” to accept them (see Kink.com or VIVID), and a “working class” of “damaged” women/men allegedly used up and thrown away like other disposable workers such as undocumented immigrants, and you can see how the AHF advocacy for the condom mandate has taken off so deep with even seemingly smarter sexual liberals.

The only real diference between AHF and the more right-wing antisex groups is in the slightly greater degree of openness of sexuality that liberals would allow more than their conservative brethen would. But, that small difference is more than enough to ensnare otherwise smart liberals into supporting restrictive laws against and restrictions on sexual behavior that they don’t like….ahhh, I mean, sexual behavior/acts that they think are unsafe and pose a threat to spread infection and disease.

The most prominent activists for “feminist porn” tend to be independent avant garde artists who see themselves as rebels against what they perceive as the restrictiveness and misogyny of “male-dominated” conventional porn, and they also tend to sell themselves as self-made businesswomen fighting against the corporatized system of “cookie-cutter” mainstream porn, or the profit-killing threat of free amateur porn available through tube sites.They also see themselves as pioneers tapping into a supposedly previously untapped demographic of potential porn consumers, looking desperately for an alternative to the “conventional” style of “mainstream” porn.

In my personal view, it’s that audience whom Tristan Taormino was shooting for when she made her change of tactics. Of course, the followup disclaimers about not supporting actual AHF policies make for either a wonderfully nuanced moderate position, or a classic CYA to cover a tack to the Right, depending on your POV.

Problem is, even if Tristan really does consider it to be a more nuanced moderate position, in the end it still ends up to be a major tack to the Right that ends up strengthening their position at the expense of, and to major betrayal of, an authentic progressive position against the bad law that is the condom mandate.

When I return here with Part 2 of this essay, I’ll elaborate further on that.


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