It sounds so well-meaning — Prop 60 would require all porn films to use condoms. That’s got to be good for the actors and actresses, right? If I walked in cold to a voting booth and saw that idea, with no prior research, I’d probably say “yeah, sure” and punch in “yes”. Only it turns out that you really should listen to the people it affects the most, and the porn stars are all dead set against it. I’m not even a consumer of porn, so my opinion shouldn’t matter at all, and this bill seems to be designed to cater to the prejudices and ignorance of us straight unkinky vanilla people.
Proposition 60 looks great at first glance. I wouldn’t fault anyone who doesn’t know anything about it for voting “yes” if that’s all they knew about it. I can easily imagine myself getting suckered into voting for it if I didn’t have such strong connections to the sex worker communities. But the fact is, it’s a lousy law, the latest in a long string of attempts by the AIDS Health Foundation to profiteer off the fear of sex and the stigmatizing of sex work. I want to talk about why it’s a lousy law here, but I want to do more than that, too: I want to use it as a demonstration of why it’s important for everyone in this country who works for a living to pay attention to the organizing efforts of sex workers and support them.
It’s also good to look at who the law rewards, and who it punishes. Even if your well-meaning idea is to protect poor sex workers from their choices, like any good Puritan, maybe you ought to rethink the proposition when the consequences are to do further harm to those you piously wish to “defend”.
Where Proposition 60 is concerned, this reality isn’t just a matter of optics: It determines who the law punishes. Performers who shoot and distribute their own material are subject to prosecution under the law if condoms aren’t visible in their films. The limited media coverage of this point has focused on the argument that married couples who make porn in their own homes could be sued for not using condoms. That’s a legitimate example, but it misses one of the most important points: The porn workers who are most likely to be targeted by such a clause aren’t going to be married, hetero cisgender couples, but those with the most marginalized identities.
Besides who it targets, the enforcement mechanisms of Proposition 60 are weird and poorly thought-out. If the state doesn’t act on a reported violation, any Californian is able to act as plaintiff and sue the producer for not showing condoms in their film. If the lawsuit is successful, the plaintiff — who again, can be any Californian who watched a porn film and didn’t see condoms being used — gets 25% of the judgement. Fines can go up to $70,000 for repeat violations, which is a pretty strong motivation to sit around watching porn that doesn’t turn you on.
Oh, no. That’s all we need — a financial motivation to let yet another collection of straight-laced people to pruriently spend their time watching pornography so they can get the added thrill of passing judgment on others. Getting paid for being prudish and judgmental? Win-win for awful people!