The following post was originally published by Josh Robbins. You can visit the original posting on Josh’s blog HERE.
Treasure Island Media owner usually stays clear of media interviews but when asked about Weinstein, porn and HIV fears, and Prop 60–he will not shut up.
Since launching imstilljosh.com, I have attempted to get the opinion and voice of Treasure Island Media‘s Paul Morris on the record. I have emailed him and typically received replies until it was time to go on the record and be interviewed–and then he vanished. I would tweet him and randomly get favorited and retweeted by the dude. But again, when I wanted to ask questions for a post, Morris would be weirdly non-responsive.
I do not know whether to thank Michael Weinstein, the force behind the pro-condom/anti-performer self-regulation ballot measure in California–Prop 60–that has Paul Morris butthurt, or like every other activist almost in the HIV space–if I should just give Weinstein the bird. I haven’t ever met Weinstein of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. I would like to speak with him, actually. But although AHF’s media team would always send me their news releases for coverage (both good pitches on great work AHF is doing across the globe and strong pitches filled with propaganda that was at times laughable) every time I would bring up the topic of Weinstein being interviewed by me, the same team of Weinstein’s handlers would ignore my request for an interview. It’s a shame, right??? Once again, I’m extending that offer.
“The sole common thread is that this man has undercut them, stabbed them in the back, and served his own peculiar agenda regardless of the consequences for anyone else in the community.” – Paul Morris on Michael Weinstein
Back to Paul Morris.
The following interview was conducted over email–at Paul’s request and my agreement. He did also request to review a draft of this article before I post it– I denied that request by ignoring it.
JOSH: Paul, describe who you are and what you do.
PAUL: I’m a gay pornographer who takes his work very seriously.
JOSH: You are pretty elusive. Why do you make yourself so unavailable for media?
PAUL: I’m not elusive at all, really. But I do my best to avoid everything that has anything to do with celebrity, recognition or fame. Years ago I was interested in all that because the experience of celebrity is similar to anonymity. Celebrity is a form of anonymity. And since being anonymous is a kind of gateway to many of the things that are important to me, it seemed like it might be interesting. But celebrity—being recognized—requires that you be something that others aren’t. It’s exclusive and necessitates an imbalance. I’m driven by a need to explore the possibilities that derive from a radical equality.
So, for example, if I walk into a room to photograph a man, it’s best for me if he has no idea who I am. If I think they might know who “Paul Morris” is, I’ll give them a different name. I want to see what they do naturally and honestly, from a basis of equivalency.
That’s a big reason why I think the less known about me the better. The men and the work are what’s important. Over the years people have imagined me as being a lot of different things: an angry straight man intent on killing gay men, a crystal addict who lives to slam, a man who sold his soul to Satan, Satan himself, an hiv-negative man getting rich on the suffering of poz men, a Russian Jew, a woman, a pedophiliac cannibal. Briefly in the 90s there was a rumor that I was a group of people; that was followed by the idea that I didn’t exist at all and was just a corporate logo. I’m fine with all of those. Anything anyone wants, really. The abiding interest for me has always been the sexuality and sexual expression of men. Promiscuity has been the basis of my experiences, and anonymity is a prerequisite for true promiscuity. Sex among men is a language and a mode of thinking—corporeal thought—and I’ve devoted more time than you can imagine to experiencing it as encyclopedically as possible. To do that you have to be anonymous.
JOSH: What is the state of gay porn today?
PAUL: In some ways robust, in others quite precarious. For every sexual identity other than heterosexuality, porn has carried a specific and crucial function. Particularly for subcultures or splinter cultures, porn is a source of information and empowerment. Porn is by definition the explicit performance of your corporeal desires. And if you live in a small town somewhere and figure out that you are singular or “different” in your desires, porn can demonstrate for you how those like you behave. Simply watching other people doing what you would enjoy doing corroborates the rightness of your identity, the possibilities of being with others happily. This may sound like a simple or even obvious thing, but it’s absolutely critical—and nothing performs this function except for porn.
So in this sense I think gay porn—which I’d place under the rubric of queer porn—is healthy and robust. There are lots of independent producer/performers who are connecting honestly with others who share similar or overlapping desire sets. Their work is fresh, experimental, vital.
Unfortunately—and this is where the precarious part comes in—as soon as a niche, fetish or identity gains a significant audience, you’ll have straight-owned corporations coming into the picture. This is dangerous. Very dangerous. A good number of strong gay studios have been taken over in the last decade by corporations that have no interest in anything other than profit. Once that happens, things go south pretty quickly, and the result—you can see it today—is the demise of risk-taking, specificity and cultural honesty and the rise of porn that is all cliche and enforced repetition.
Creative growth in porn requires that production serve the performers and that the performers are members of their own audience. Because the identity of “gay” is becoming standardized, many producers are becoming lazy. For example, they depend on repetitive storylines, vapid stereotypical behaviors. Of course there are some small gay production houses that should be watched, but not as many as there should be. The interesting work is being done by queer performer-producers. They are rigorous about not compromising the integrity of their vision, their work and their identities. Offhand, I’d say that a company like Bonus Hole Boys is on the right track. And a director to watch is Shine Louise Houston. There are many more, of course.
JOSH: What about performers– what are your thoughts on performers these days. And what is the best way for performers to take care of their safety?
PAUL: The best way for performers to be safe is for performers to be empowered. Porn that is alive is entirely the result of the people honestly showing you their very specific and individual sexuality. In my porn—and let me say right away that I fail as often as not—the entire apparatus of production is organized around the primacy of the people in front of the camera. At no time are people slotted into generic functions or performances. We work—always!—from the basis of the actual practices and desires of the men with whom we work. At every step you interrogate their motivation not only for being in porn but also for having sex as they do. And you have to do it obliquely and in-depth.
If I do an interview, for example, one of the first questions I ask is about their very first sexual experience—How old were you? Where was this? What was it like? What effect did it have on your sense of yourself? Tell me about the other boy. What was his name? Begin at the very beginning and then ask about their entire sexual development, their history. But also ask what books they’re reading, what movies they love, whether or not they’re living the life they want to live. Gathering this sort of information is a bit obsessive, certainly, and it doesn’t make for the most efficient work process. But for me that’s the real point of making porn: it gives you the privileged opportunity to listen to another man describing in detail his unique development as a man and as a sexual being. From that you begin to understand who he is and what he wants to do in front of the camera. Then you discuss a possible scene.
So to make effective and meaningful porn, it’s essential to do your best to engage with the authentic and individual agency of the men or women with whom you hope to work. I find it impossible to separate the positive agency of an individual and the safety of that individual. It’s not possible, in my opinion, to bureaucratize or legally circumscribe a person’s agency. To try to do so has always had the result of diminishing personal power or responsibility, of relinquishing it to the unreliable vagaries of some inevitably inept political order.
JOSH: Is porn–particularly bareback scenes and/or fantasy scenes including “poz me” type scenes dangerous?
PAUL: Porn—if it’s doing its job—should cover the full range of the human id. And, as is the case with any human activity— like climbing or surfing, for example—some people are driven to conquer Everest while others are ok with following an easy trail to a pleasant vista. I have friends who surf and they’ve never surfed anywhere but their relatively tame home spot. Others surf the world. For the latter, if I say Pipeline, Teahupo’o, Maverick’s or Pe’ahi, their eyes glaze and they’re ready to go. They live for it; it’s in their blood. It’s very much like that for sex, particularly for gay or queer male sex. The practice depends on the man and on his temperament.
So if a man comes to me and he’s the sexual equivalent of Sir Edmund Hillary, John-John Florence or of a Navy Seal, it’s my job and my duty to document and present him faithfully, accurately—which means that I give him that which is appropriate to his drive, hunger, ability and courage. If I do less, I’m failing him—and in failing him I’m losing an opportunity to document an aspect of our true nature as gay men. Imagine the world of documentaries if they were forbidden to chronicle anything dangerous. Nothing about lunar exploration, nothing about extreme sport, nothing about free climbing, big wave surfing, free diving and so on ad infinitum.
It’s important to remember that our identities are defined not only by the similarities that we share but also by the range of variations within that set of similarities. Documentary—and porn is a form of documentary—is responsible for depicting and disseminating not only the common behaviors but also the farthest reaching and most extreme instances of what we do because of who we are.
Scientists and philosophers who study the human brain and the nature of awareness and consciousness are coming around to the fact that our perception, imagination, language and behavior are all aspects of the same integrated process. In other words, the nature of our identity is projected and expressed in how we imagine ourselves, how we talk about ourselves and how we behave as ourselves. In my work I’ve seen from the beginning that gay sex is a particularly dense behavioral nexus and this means that it’s crucial to collect and present samples from the full behavioral spectrum. I’d say that it’s particularly important to be accurate and honest about queer sex because what we are—our nature as gay or queer men—is currently violently contested throughout the world. There are those—and they are many—who firmly believe that we aren’t actually human, that we’re subhuman and deserve to be outlawed, killed, thrown off of buildings, exterminated. And even among those heterosexuals who more liberally support us, their natural inclination is to effort toward simplifying or domesticating us, corralling us into behaviors that they can more easily understand and support.
So from the beginning I’ve been obsessed in my porn with capturing and presenting the full range of desires and sexual behaviors that illustrate and illuminate our deepest nature as gay men, everything from nervous camera-shy masturbation to wanton gang-bangs that involve massive amounts of semen. This is why it’s of paramount importance that the sex not be a sanitized and theatrically performed version of itself. Any work that purports to be documentation but allows the sanctioning of its content by either society or the state is nothing more than propaganda. Truth requires ruthless accuracy; accuracy requires constant vigilence.
The sex of gay and queer men is without doubt a core behavior that in every sense delineates, defines and creates our identity. I’ve said it countless times: it is a language and because it tells us who we are it must be depicted with honesty. You could say then, certainly, that there is danger—even great danger—in what we do with our bodies as gay men. But there is a far greater danger in not doing it, not documenting it, not seeing it. Given the state of the world, it’s literally a choice between honesty and death. To compromise this would be tantamount to cultural suicide.
JOSH: Why do you think porn is a focus of Michael Weinstein?
PAUL: I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because he needs to see people suffer. It clearly has nothing to do with health since there are so many ways he could’ve used the millions of dollars he’s foolishly thrown at his various misguided follies, including the current California Prop 60. I remember I was in the audience at a conference about the great promise PrEP held for hiv prevention. I asked the panel—which included the directors of Stop Aids San Francisco and Grant Colfax (who went on to become “aids czar” for President Obama)—why they thought Weinstein—and no one but Weinstein—was fighting against PrEP, spending millions of dollars to try to turn the public against it. They shook their heads and said that they had no clue, that Weinstein has his own personal agenda. Obviously that’s the case with porn as well. It is irrational.
There’s also the possibility that Weinstein has an addiction to getting public attention. A few years ago, Weinstein wrote what I found to be a tremendously sad article. It was called “Not Gone but Forgotten” and I think it was more revealing about his nature than he meant it to be. He described being on a gay cruise and how he hated the fact that he was surrounded by gay men who were having fun, enjoying themselves. At social events on the cruise he made a point of announcing that he was, as he loves to say, the president of a large aids organization. And he relished the discomfort that he caused.
JOSH: So why is he interested in porn?
PAUL: Possibly because porn has no interest in him.
JOSH: What about the adult stars he parades at press conferences?
PAUL: I haven’t met them personally so I can’t say anything about them as people. But it’s telling that they’re all being paid by Weinstein and they only speak from scripts. At the last Cal-Osha hearing, every person speaking for AHF literally said the same thing because they’d literally been given a script to read. And it’s come out, of course, that they stretch the truth quite a bit. One, for example, claims that he sero-converted on set at a gay porn shoot. But it turns out that the shoot was a condom shoot and he literally had done nothing even remotely risky. Coincidentally, he’d had escort ads up and in the ads promoted himself as someone willing to have unprotected sex. Another of the AHF reps told a similar tale involving his seroconverting in a porn scene. He repeated the story until someone in porn checked up on it and learned that the guy he’d had sex with in the scene was and is hiv negative. He stopped telling that part of his tale after that. This seems to be a fairly typical situation for the AHF reps. They’re paid to tell whatever story that AHF pays them to tell.
No one who speaks against AHF is paid to do so. No one is given a script, and no one suggests what to say or not to say.
JOSH: Tell me about Prop 60. What will happen if it passes?
PAUL: To be blunt, people will die. Not in porn, of course, because the truth is that porn is one of the safest work environments in the world. But in the industries in California that depend on regular and thorough industrial safety oversight by Cal-OSHA, industries like farming, construction, factories, trucking and so on, the number of deaths will rise. Prop 60 would change things to make it law that Cal-OSHA has to investigate every complaint brought by any random citizen against anyone involved in porn. Let me repeat this: Prop 60 would make it law that anyone can sue anyone in porn—performer, director, producer, distributor, affiliates, owner of tumblr blogs, etc—and the lawsuit can be initiated years after the production had occurred.
“To be blunt, people will die.” – Paul Morris on Prop 60
So if you’re anyone who, for example, has a religious bias against porn and you find a video in which it doesn’t seem that condoms were used (and you can sue regardless of actual condom use) you are financially incentivized by Prop 60 to file a complaint. Even if the shoot happened in another State or country, so long as any income was derived by anyone in California, lawsuits can be initiated—at taxpayers’ expense.
If Cal-Osha finds that the complaint is without merit, the case would then be referred to the new porn czar—Michael Weinstein—who, again at taxpayers’ expense, will be paid to sue the performer and/or the company and/or anyone who has been involved in any minor aspect of production—the make-up fellow, the gaffer, the food serve workers—distribution, promotion, etc. There’s no limit to the number of lawsuits that will result.
And as you likely know, Michael Weinstein’s loves suing people. You could think of it as his signature form of adult tantrum-throwing. Prop 60—which he wrote, by the way—would give him carte blanche to sue anyone in porn at any time for the rest of his life.
Part of the Prop 60 lawsuit process is that the personal information of the performer would be given to the person initiating the suit. While this wouldn’t have much effect on producers, it would be disastrous and dangerous for the performers. A stalker, for example, could lodge a complaint with Cal-Osha and acquire the home address of any performer cited in the complaint. The stalker, on the other hand, would be allowed to remain anonymous. Weinstein/AHF has already done this, by the way, resulting in a young female performer losing her home and having to move into a safe house to avoid stalkers.
Prop 60 is condemned by the Democrats, the Republicans and the Independent parties; it’s been condemned by the SF Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, the Fresno Bee, etc. by Buck Angel, Sister Roma, the Free Speech Coalition, APAC (the union for adult performers) and by hundreds and hundreds of adult performers, male and female, gay, straight, bi, trans, and on and on.
It’s a bill written and sponsored by an organization that makes condoms (and profits from tax write-offs related to their condoms) and it requires that condoms be used everywhere. Weinstein/AHF is literally the only organization in support of Prop 60. It doesn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to see through this sham.
Let me add here that the only reason it has a chance of passing is because of the public’s misconceptions about porn. The fact that it’s called “Condoms in Porn” makes it all too easy for voters not to take the time to actually read the thing. I can imagine sweet little blue-haired matrons automatically approving of anything that reigns in what they imagine to be the lawless wilderness of pornography. What they wouldn’t realize, of course, is that in voting for it they’re actually reducing the on-the-job safety of their grandchildren who work in factories, on farms, in offices, for trucking firms, at construction sites.
- Adult performer physical safety would be seriously compromised by the bill. Productions would be forced underground and made covert. This would serve to diminish the agency and well-being of performers. It should be noted that at no time did Weinstein/AHF actually consult adult performers about the bill. Nor did they attend meetings to which they were repeatedly invited at which adult performers voiced their ideas about the matter.
- Critically important smaller/independent producers of alternative porn would be forced out of business by, among other things, costly and Byzantine permit requirements as well as the unending threat of random lawsuits and stalker intimidation that could be instigated by anyone at any time (and paid for each time by the tax-payers).
- The resources of Cal-Osha would be swamped by Michael Weinstein’s complaints—all of which Cal-Osha would be required by law to take seriously. This would make it literally impossible for Cal-Osha to effectively monitor all the other industries in California. Prop 60 would sacrifice the safety and well-being of California workers so that Weinstein’s obsession with porn could be attended to.
- The covert and actual purpose of the bill is to create a government position for Michael Weinstein that’s equivalent in power to the State Attorney General. If the bill passes, Weinstein is automatically legally installed in a job that can overturn decisions by the State Attorney General and Cal-Osha. The job would be for life. The only way to remove him would be by obtaining majority votes by BOTH houses of the State legislature.
- As I mentioned above, Weinstein/AHF have a history of instigating lawsuits for any reason whatsoever. To say that Weinstein is litigious is like saying that Golem was fond of his “precious”. If Prop 60 passes, he will have a financial incentive to instigate lawsuits since Weinstein would be paid for each and every lawsuit—again, by taxpayers. This basically creates a tidy bureaucratic machine that could be used to drain the taxpayers’ funds and funnel it right into Weinstein’s pocket. To put it plainly, Prop 60 creates a sweet “cash cow” with which Weinstein could line his pockets.
- Prop 60 would significantly bolster the Weinstein/AHF program of inciting systematic stigma against the use of PrEP. As you know, they’ve spent literally millions of dollars trying to fight the approval of PrEP by the FDA. They spent additional millions propagandizing against PrEP, calling it a “party drug”. Having failed at those, mandating the use of condoms in all situations and requirement governmental oversight for condom use—and simultaneously making Weinstein/AHF part of the government!—is a desperate attempt to impede public support for PrEP. This is a very, very dangerous step in the wrong direction.
- The California bill is intended by Weinstein/AHF to be the first step in a nation-wide program that would do the same thing for every state in the union—including the installation of Weinstein as a government official in each and every state. If Prop 60 passes, it will signal to Weinstein/AHF that they can do the same in all the other states. Do you want Michael Weinstein to be porn czar for life for the US?
These are only a few of the more obvious problems with Prop 60. All you have to do is actually read the complete bill, verbatim, and the overreach, the loopholes, the brazen attempts to fool the public are all right there. It is a shameful and cynical bill, and the results of its possible implementation would be bad not only for every person associated in any way with adult work, but also for every responsible citizen of California. AHF has a history of social malfeasance and has consistently and notoriously put their own narrow corporate agenda above that of the greater community. But with Prop 60, they’ve simply and finally gone much too far.
JOSH: How are you working to stop it from passing?
PAUL: Everyone in porn is working hard and feeling great pride and solidarity as adult workers. We’ve all been joining forces, communicating and fighting on social media—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram—as well as at street fairs and other public events. We’ve been putting up posters, handing out pamphlets, writing letters to editors, calling friends, educating family members. Organizations are throwing benefits for the “No on Prop 60” cause.
We have a webpage that consolidates the opposition to Prop 60: http://stop60.com .
And our efforts are paying off wonderfully: California news agencies are now solidly opposing Prop 60: the LA Times, the SF Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, the Sacramento Bee, the Fresno Bee, the Huffington Post. The California Democratic Party AND the California Republican Party oppose Prop 60. The California Independent Party opposes Prop 60, as does the Courage Campaign (a network of over a million California progressives) and the San Francisco and Los Angeles Young Democrats. That’s just a fraction of the list, and that list is growing. Once someone simply reads the bill all the way through, they inevitably see it for what it is: a very expensive mess.
For much too long, porn has been an easy target for haters. In the same way that for many decades, queers were an easy target in movies, literature and television—always portrayed negatively—porn has been the object of innumerable ludicrous misrepresentations. And those lies and parodies fuel the sense that we are an easy target. Like any oversized and insecure bully, Weinstein/AHF tends to attack those it sees as weak. I think that’s a big reason behind their obsession with porn.
The truth, however, is that porn is a strong, difficult, varied, creative world of production and identity. The truth is that workers in porn are dedicated, incredibly hard-working, intelligent and committed to the social and cultural value of what we do. Again, in the same way that society used to laugh at and malign queers while at the same time depending on their creativity and productiveness, society today has an ambivalent relationship to adult work and pornography. It’s commonplace, for example, to point out that porn has consistently been at the forefront of new technologies. And it’s a fact that every social identity has depended on porn to explore and represent the concrete corporeal expressions of that identity. And the wonderful work of an ever-growing number of indie producers stands in shocking contrast to the sort of slanderous misrepresentations that Michael Weinstein and his ignorant ilk are attempting to perpetuate. I truly believe that in a real sense the battle against Prop 60 will stand as the moment when adult creators and performers as a group finally joined together and said “No more. We will not be denied.”
We’ve had enough of the lies and the nonsense. And we are standing up against it not just as an industry but as a creative community of responsible and empowered adults.
JOSH: What’s next for you? Any cool projects you want to give me the scoop on?
PAUL MORRIS: I’m working on a number of new projects that I’m extremely excited about. I’m talking with Joe Gage about a co-production, for example. I’m also working on explicit theater works. And I have several rather academic writing projects underway, one of which is a dry-as-bones analysis of the production processes—including editing—that are endemic to and have historically determined the enduring meanings of gay porn.
I also have some mind-bending porn projects lined up featuring hordes of truly astonishing men. And that, of course, is my deepest passion.
But before I throw myself wholeheartedly into any of those I’m putting everything I’ve got toward defeating Prop 60. And certainly part of defeating Prop 60 is striking back and striking hard at the corporation that has gotten away with a history of irrational attacks on porn, including broad, inaccurate and legally libelous depictions of the industry, the community and every individual within that community. One doesn’t perpetrate a history of slanderous attacks like this, causing massive income loss and emotional and physical hardship industry-wide, without incurring serious and enduring repercussions. We are going to hit back. They have hell to pay—and trust me: they will pay till it hurts.
“They have hell to pay—and trust me: they will pay till it hurts.” – Paul Morris
Thanks, Paul, for the answers and sharing very detailed responses to my questions.
Full disclosure: I have spoken out against Prop 60. I do not support Prop 60. And I think it’s a crazy thing that I’ve been told that Weinstein hasn’t ever been to a adult porn set– but wants to regulate it. Weird to me…