To his benefit, I might add.
Paul Morris and his company Treasure Island Media have made and/or distributed over 145 controversial porn movies, all of which (I think) center around the exchange of fluids between sexual partners. His most recent film, Viral Load, is reported to feature the exchange of positive semen into negative men, and has some calling to make his films illegal. I have not seen the film, but I have seen and do own some of his earlier work.
First, as a first amendment advocate, I believe that the call to make any film illegal is ridiculous. However, equally ridiculous is the way we ignore our collective complicity in the phenomena of Morris’ success, and the success of the other pornographers that have followed in his footsteps. We have turned a blind eye to the pathologies and fears that run rampant in our own community for way too long, and it is high time we took stock and started talking.
In a recent interview, Morris was asked to defend his films, such as Viral Load, that glorify the spread of the HIV Virus. (This link has extremely explicit content). He says, “The number of men who have written to me asking to be the recipient of gallons of semen is virtually uncountable. These aren’t the incidental fantasies of a small fringe of outliers. These speak to the heart of the sexual imagination of most queer men.” Later he goes on to say that HIV is no longer “an issue” and that his films are only condemned because, “Gay men in their 50s and older are addicted to the notion that sex equals death, and the culture has to live under the burden of terror.”
In these two statements, Morris speaks right to the heart of the issues that made me begin to write Sally Field Can Play The Transsexual. It is the dichotomy of issues that I wrestled with over a period of more than a decade to complete the book. I had a period of my life in which I lived like his films (with all positive partners), and what I learned, or at least think I did, is that the realities expressed by Morris are not as at contradictory as one might think. One reality creates the next, in an evolution of fear and the desire to escape it. What Morris seems to be in denial about, is that some members of the newer generation, born after the terror lived by the generation before them, but with a full yet abstract knowledge of that nightmare, have indeed fetishized the danger of the exposure to HIV. This began occurring since the moment viable treatment options were made available. In fact, the rise of Morris’ first “barebacking” film in 1998 coincides almost exactly with the belief in the viability of treatment, and I feel that this fact might be linked to survivor’s guilt and PTSD. The rapid rise and fetishizing of these movies helped desensitize some members of a younger generation from the fear the “men over fifty” still carry. Over the last decade, as Morris’ business has flourished, he has simply grown bolder and more subversive. He is profiting off the pathology of our collective PTSD, and simultaneously fueling our descent into its depths. And we are collectively allowing him to do it.
The stigma of being positive and the intense practice of sero-sorting, or the weeding out sexual partners according to HIV status, strongest in the younger generations, may have had led many younger men to want a conscious choice, to take control of the questions of “if” and “when”. This would allow them to feel empowered by their choice to take risks rather than remain unsure in a world where no sexual activity has been deemed truly “safe”. For some it might be easier to choose to be positive than to live in fear of becoming positive. It is not a big leap to see how taking control of that choice could be sexually fetishized, even if that choice meant becoming a part of a stigmatized group. And in a marketplace that rewards that behavior with windfalls of cash to the producers and a level of pseudo-fame to the performers (but little cash to the poor “actors” getting infected), the appeal of being a part of that community becomes more seductive.
In the eighties and early nineties the porn industry rallied around infomercial-like introductions to their films, showing how to use condoms and practice safe sex. To my knowledge Morris has made no such attempt to promote PrEP or PEP within the context of his films. Instead he profits off the fear of infection, and the impulse to take control of it, and the rather masculine impulse to take control of that possibility with a choice rather than to leave it open as an unforeseeable outcome of being sexually active. If Morris truly wanted a world in which HIV was not an issue, he would show the pills, the regimen and the side effects as part of his “fantasy”. But I’m sure that would reduce his sales significantly.
Lastly, I take great exception to the idea that Morris films represent the “sexual imagination of most queer men.” While clearly the profitability of his work, and the fact he has no shortage of performers, shows the interest of many, in fact a lot of gay and bisexual men, I have a great deal of difficulty believing that Morris has done the necessary statistical analysis and sample polling research needed to make such a statement. He works at the epicenter of this world; in fact he may be its most powerful gravitational force. His assessment of his universe is not relative to our world. But each time you buy or watch one of his films, and do it without addressing your truest motives, your fears and your underlying impulses, you make that gravitational pull stronger. Period. In the end, what ever Morris (and the others who make similar films) does or does not do, the responsibility of its impact is on the consumers, just as much as it is on them.