WHAT ROD DAILY’S POSITIVE HIV TEST MEANS
Rod Daily announced this morning over twitter that he’d tested positive for HIV. The announcement came two weeks after the his girlfriend, performer Cameron Bay, tested positive during a routine screening. A little background on HIV testing in the industry — and why Rod’s story is important — after the jump
Since the late 80s, the gay porn industry has used condoms rather than testing to prevent HIV transmission on porn sets. The reason for this is not just safety — by using condoms, gay producers do not have to be in the position to discriminate against people with HIV. Maybe some of you don’t remember the 80s and 90s, when such discrimination was rampant — when Hollywood stars refused to have their hair done by gay hairdressers and when were afraid of sharing water glasses with gay men. But most of the producers — now primarily men in their 50s and 60s — do. So even as testing became more reliable, condoms kept producers from having to handle people’s medical records, or treat HIV positive performers as outcasts. As gay men coming of age during the epidemic, we were taught to treat all potential partners as a prospective positive.
It helped prevent HIV hysteria. HIV hysteria — as well as victim-blaming and homophobia — runs rampant in straight porn. Straight people, the general argument goes on blogs and Twitter and news reports, catch HIV from gay people — either from gay-for-pay (or “crossover” talent) like Rod, or TS/trans performers. There is segment of the straight industry which regularly bashes gay-for-pay not as fakers, but as bearers of disease who should be banned — the same way gay men (and bisexuals) were demonized in the 80s. So at a time when Rod and Cameron need support, what you see are a lot of pitchforks. I read a post today by someone who claimed that Rod had gotten HIV by performing in a TS scene — despite the fact that both scene partners had been tested AND had used condoms. People don’t like science, they do like ready-made devils. We’re gearing up for ugly season among the HIV commentariat.
Rod, despite testing positive, can continue to work (though it seems like he might retire). Cameron can not. She is now effectively banned from shooting any more porn. So in addition to having a life changing experience, she also loses her livelihood. It doesn’t matter if she uses a condom or not, if she plays it safe or not — at one the most difficult times in her life, she’s left without a net. This is one of the most unfortunate parts of the testing protocol.
The other is the lack of privacy — she and Rod have their medical status outed in national media. No quiet discussions with potential partners, no time to call the family and break the news.
We don’t know how Rod and Cameron contracted HIV. From the available data, it doesn’t seem to be on set (for Cameron, whose scene partners have all been tested, that’s pretty clear). I expect Rod’s scene partners are being tested as well, but as he didn’t shoot bareback, it’s unlikely. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter — what does is that we try and find a way to treat people with HIV with respect.
I’ve struggled a long time with the issue of bareback in the gay porn industry, and the efficacy of testing in straight (there hasn’t been an on-set transmission of HIV in the straight industry in nearly a decade — despite hundreds of thousands of scenes being filmed). And I’m not even talking Treasure Island or the HIV-fetishists. I’m talking studios that are condom-optional, that test in some regard and at least make an effort to stop transmission of HIV. I don’t think that performer’s should needlessly take risks, but I also feel that HIV should be treated in the public sphere as it is in the private one — as a discussion between two people.
Most of us have been in situations where a prospective partner has told us he is HIV positive. For some of you, it’s a deal breaker. For others, something that requires increased vigilance, or limits what you’re willing to do in bed. Maybe you don’t swallow (even if the chance is minuscule), maybe you don’t have anal. Maybe you’re just careful. Maybe you talk about viral loads. Maybe you take a PrEP like Truvada. Maybe you don’t discuss it at all, but treat everyone the same.
A few years ago, a lot of gay studios started testing quietly, even when condoms are used — straight studios like Manwin (owner of the Men.com sites) test as well as use condoms. Companies that use the industry-standard PASS tests don’t find out what a person has (HIV or another STI, like syphilis), they just get a “fail” — the performer is not cleared for work. There is some legal liability to knowing the HIV status — and risk in keeping those medical records. (The porn wikileaks scandal of a few years ago, when the performer medical database was breached, is just one example.)
In case you were not aware, there are plenty of HIV positive performers in the gay adult industry. Healthy, active, safe performers. When someone tests positive, it’s a personal matter — and perhaps something discussed with future scene partners or directors. But what about Rod? Will he be afforded that as well? Either way, it’s time perhaps, that we treat HIV on set the way we treat it in private —with disclosure, limits, negotiation and vigilance. A performer should not be exiled because they have a virus, but discussion and disclosure — even if not legally mandated — should be encouraged more.
Rod may not have gotten HIV on set. But porn will be blamed just as surely as his bisexuality. It’s been over thirty years since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, but we’re still quick to point fingers and quick to discriminate. How do we come up with a system — gay, straight and in-between — that allows for honest conversation and adequate protection? I don’t have all the answers, but conversations, privately on-set and publicly in the media, need to happen in a way that avoids hysteria and condemnation, and treats performers — gay and straight, men and women, positive and negative — as humans grappling with all the same decisions that we do in our own lives.
Rod Daily: “I’m Positive” (via The Sword)