POWER IN NUMBERS
Porn’s Norma Rae Moment
After years of struggle, adult performers have banded together to create its first coalition: The Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC).
When porn stars toil for the good of their industry, some might question their motives. After all, it’s an industry that thrives on stiff competition, not altruistic behavior. Nonetheless, some adult performers have banded together to create the first coalition of adult entertainers, now known as the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC).
With an educational focus, the Los Angeles-based meetings, which occur every other month, often begin with a panel of experts discussing specific topics, ranging from “how to deal with personal relationships while working in porn” to things like “banking for adult entertainers.” (In light of last year’s banking controversies, APAC created an alliance with First Entertainment Credit Union to ensure performers banking rights.) After the panels, performers have the opportunity to voice industry concerns or request topics they’d like to explore further. More importantly, these get-togethers provide a center for adult performers to share experiences with one another and explore available resources.
Nothing like this existed when I entered the business, but I wish it would have. Having a place to turn to for advice or embarrassing questions can be invaluable.
Newbies are often thrown to the wolves, tossed into the intimidating new world of adult entertainment with little insight other than: pass your test, show up, and do your job (whatever that entails). Those that are sexually inexperienced rely on directors, agents, or peers to guide them through that process. Things like how to clean out the caboose and what you shouldn’t eat the night before an anal scene don’t have to be trial and error. Adjusting to life as a sex worker and learning how to navigate personal relationships can become manageable when you know you aren’t alone.
Demand for adult entertainment is high, as is the request for fresh new talent. With a disproportionately large number of performers compared to job opportunities, the adult industry is a hotbed of competition. An infinite number of men and women make up the constant cycle of ambitious newcomers, young and old, eager to pay off student debt, make quick cash, or become the next big star. There’s always a performer willing to do what another isn’t—often at a lower price.
Companies and producers profit by creating competitive bargaining amongst hungry performers, most of whom live paycheck to paycheck. Adult entertainers purchase their own STD/HIV test every two weeks, not the companies they work for. Performers pay to keep up appearances, provide wardrobe for sets, and pay agent fees. Most performers will never earn residuals on their work, no matter how many hundreds or thousands of times it is paid for. Never mind workplace safety—an issue few performers dare to broach. No one complains. It’s how the industry has always worked. Empowered by the steady churn of new laborers, the business has had little incentive to change.
After an unprecedented syphilis outbreak and several HIV scares that temporarily shut down the industry, some adult performers were scared and discouraged with no place to turn for answers. As problems in the industry grew, so did talk amongst performers about what to do. Gathered in homes, discussing the state of their livelihood around kitchen tables, there was a desperate need for empowerment. Those home meetings of a dozen or so performers voicing concerns to one another birthed the APAC. Their mission: “to provide representation for performers in the adult film industry and to protect performers’ rights to a safer and more professional work environment.”
Chanel Preston, current president of APAC, has been with the organization since the beginning, nearly three years ago, as it transitioned from idea to reality. According to Preston there are over 250 members—all adult performers either currently active or retired.
“I want to see performers educated. When people are educated they make better decisions for themselves,” says Preston. “There’s no centralized place to go for accurate information, so you’re either relying on your agent or your peers and you have to hope they’re telling you the truth.”
Some wonder why it’s taken this long for performers to unite.
“This is an individual industry, its not about teamwork, you’re kind of on your own,” says Preston. “The turnover rate of performers is insane, some might be in for a month, a few months, even a year isn’t a long time, so they aren’t invested in it. I think that’s why it’s so hard to maintain a performers’ organization.”
No wage transparency, no residuals, no retirement, and little recourse for injuries sustained on the job, not to mention the stigma. There’s a hundred reasons why adult performers need a union, but that may be asking too much of the newly formed advocacy organization. APAC may be the closest the industry has ever come to unionizing and so far it functions more like a non-profit. All board members work on a volunteer basis, though donations are welcomed on their website. It’s not a moneymaking organization (yet), which might be why it’s taken this long to happen.
“We’re not a union for a lot of reasons but we do things that look union-y. Our main focus is improving the lives of performers and that filters into safety, wages, quality of experience in the industry, etc.,” says Conner Habib, vice president of APAC. “Before APAC existed it was very hard to convince any law or policy-maker that performers had any unified stance other than the one that was predetermined for us. We don’t have the political power of a union but now we are recognized.”
Whether it was the desperate need among performers to have their voices heard or because the stakes are higher now, with less industry money to go around, the need to organize has become more urgent. What remains clear is now performers need help.
The greatest success of APAC may not be in fighting initiatives but in the coherence of its members, through education and informative resources. “For new performers it’s a link to peers who have been there before, people getting into porn need guidance just like you do for any job but you don’t get it in porn,” says Habib.
Adult actress April Flores believes APAC is just the beginning. After over a decade in the business, Flores is excited to see the newly evolving strength in numbers mentality amongst performers. “APAC brings everyone together on an equal playing field. We are here for one another to have each other’s backs because if we don’t do it who else will?” says Flores. “I’ve been going to the meetings for the last year and I always walk away feeling empowered, inspired, informed. These are pioneers; no one has done this before. I feel like I’m part of something at the grassroots.”