Tales of Kink.Com: Speaking Up In Light of Their CEO's Recent Arrest

I used to look at the pride flags on top of the armory and see it as a grand victory. But I’ve long since been ashamed of myself for what I haven’t spoken up about inside those walls.
Publish date:
February 13, 2013
porn, sex work, kink.com, maggie mayhem, peter acworth, M

So I rage tweet, sometimes. I’ve been doing a lot of that over the recent scandal of Kink.com CEO Peter Acworth being arrested for drug possession charges.

But what’s interesting to me is how quickly people will act as though my tweets all pose a mortal threat to Cybernet Entertainment, also known as Kink.Com which is located at the San Francisco Armory. What a long strange relationship it’s been.

Most people don’t walk into porn in their mid twenties. I look back now and say that I committed social suicide at age 24 when I walked into the Armory to exchange a short nude, bondage, orgasm, and masturbation video for a few hundred bucks and a lifetime of stigma.

My first day in Dar Es Salaam and my very first video porn shoot, the point of no return, the obvious line before the plausible deniability of weird art modeling in still shots that would ruin politics but not your reasonable job prospects are pretty much the same. I came into that shot after running an outreach shift from my job as an “HIV Senior Specialist.”

I wasn’t even wearing lingerie. I had been handing out condoms, lube, crack smoking and safer injection drug shooting harm reduction kits, hygiene supplies. I had walked from the tenderloin to Dolores Park and then down to the Mission for my first porn shoot in what I had walked out of my apartment in Oakland wearing for just another day.

I did porn because I couldn’t come up with any reason not to do so that didn’t involve the stupid stigmas and bullshit that people project onto people who work in porn. I guess I wanted to cut the strings that kept me accountable to the standards of my society rather than the extent of my dreams.

What do you consent to when you make porn? If you ask most people, they seem to believe ANY AND ALL BAD THINGS THAT HUMANS CAN EVER DO, FOREVER, GO FUCK YOURSELF, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT WHORE. This is literal.

Look at the comments on all articles about porn on the internet. They use a lot of caps and I’ve taken a great deal of liberty in spelling and grammar. Tautology, moving goal posts, and outright directed physical violence, stalking, and rape are par for the course. I am still amazed by the ways that people will rage against sex workers and do great harm of all kinds to them as the bastion of sin when we know about and read about actual horrific crimes taking place everyday.

I showed up to the Armory and did my paperwork with sweaty palms. I have long since memorized my driver’s license number because of porn, but it was still new to me then. That’s a quick tell of a newbie not to know your DL# ; not only do you have to look it up, it probably isn’t coming out of that plastic holder as easily as it does at the bar.

Before I did the shoot itself, though, I was told that there was a writer who was interviewing people for a potential reality show about Kink.Com and it was a great opportunity to sit down with someone before they actually went through with it for the first time. There’s all kinds of energy around a first time, it seems.

I was led into a small and relatively dark office where “this writer guy, Stephen” was waiting for me. He was mild mannered, shook my hand, and introduced himself. It wasn’t until this moment that this “writer guy, Stephen” was the author of some books on my shelf. One was about BDSM and being a masochistic bottom. The other was about being a kid in and out of the system that often reflected the kind of stuff I was doing for a living.

I never told him that. I played cool, calm, and collected.

What did I say about my motivation? I said I wanted to immortalize my youth. I should have said “I want to commit social suicide,” but people take that kind of stuff seriously. I made it a concerted decision to maintain a calm smile to highlight the fierce autonomy and willingness to be there.

The hardest part of that day wasn’t the bondage or the awkwardness of a first porn shoot. It was interviewing with someone who reminded me of my ambivalence and conflicts with career job and my nicewhiteladiness but also the frustration of social mobility and the shifting line of when you’re a whore and when you’re an artist. Stephen is still an artist even though he’s totally written about being a whore. Intersectionality is confounding like that.

Right after that interview, I was asked to conduct yet another about my work as an HIV test counselor which you can see here from Behind Kink. I was impressed that Kink would let me express my humanity so much before the shoot and there’s no place for the mutterings that it’s like the last time you’ll get to.

I used to look at the pride flags on top of the armory and see it as a grand victory. The armory had been a place of war training but now it was the biggest kinky film studio in the world. I thought that if the freaks could siege the armory, they could take anything. But I’ve long since been ashamed of myself for what I haven’t spoken up about inside those walls.

I remember back in the earliest days of Kink Live, they would attach a locking collar that needed an allen wrench to unlock it from the back to 200-300 feet of chain to depict how we were “slaves” of the castle. We were handed off-camera buckets to pee in because it was a nuisance to unlock us.

I was asked for 6-hour shifts with nothing more than a quick smoke break and maybe one off-camera piss I saved up. There was a time when an executive came into one of my shows under his own official login at 4 AM asking me to describe a fantasy and perform for him, for free, and describe a fantasy about a threesome with his wife.

There are at least two occasions in which the larger caliber equipment on the cams alone exploded in flames. Some of the staff had to be reminded that it wasn’t OK to wash the company buttplugs in the same exact sinks they filled the work water bottles up with for while we were performing.

I had a meeting with the executive producer with two other models at my side listing complaints. I articulated my problems to people at multiple levels. All it ever got me was less work.

This producer was later fired. The chains did go away and the form and structure of Kink Live has changed. There were still major problems, though. I never sued anyone, I never threatened anything. I only spoke in my defense and moved myself out when it was apparent that no one respected me or my body or labor.

When I would mention blatant and inarguable problems, safety, and ethics concerns to people with the power and ability to speak up, I got the same response: Yeah, you’re right that was really bad but it’s better now, it won’t happen again, don’t worry.

Legal contracts designed to protect companies from industrial espionage and trade secrets are utilized a lot to bully people into being silent about their experiences out of fears that they’ll be sued and unable to afford the ability to fight back even if the legal threats were bullshit. I have never signed any of these. Still, it’s hard to speak freely and this is still the surface of my persistent ethical problems with the great porn castle in San Francisco.

I’ve never asked to be treated like a diva but I do ask that porn directors not ask me to fuck them off hours so they can fuck me again on camera as though it were some kind of gift to do my job and make them money.

It just came out that Peter Acworth was arrested for cocaine possession and that officers of the law entered the facility because of people were firing weapons in a makeshift shooting range inside a decommissioned military space. It’s amazing how so many people bought into the great Burning Man and Gonzo myth that THIS IS THE LIFE. Life wild! Fuck hard! Do a line! Do another line! Get your dick sucked and shoot a gun and feel like a god in your Mt. Olympus made of brownstone!

What this forgets is the fact it’s a workplace and porn is a job. Of course it’s the white man’s prerogative to fire a gun anywhere and any place he wants because it’s fun for him. It’s just a quick fine of $5-15K for your average hush agreement when a boo-boo happens but no accountability beyond that.

Show me another porn company that has someone running a website based around non-compensated people who get drunk and fuck for free, where the leadership and primary active recruiter also helps run private youth-focused parties at community venues.

Tell me, San Francisco, why we’re so happy that a porn company has created the great unpaid internship of smut called “The Upper Floor,” where people give them free content that they sell because it’s their ‘sexual expression?’ Are we really fucking to make sure that the millionaire in the castle is a bigger millionaire?

Peter Acworth has now been charged with cocaine possession after there was an investigation into guns being fired for target practice unrelated to a shoot. Porn and coke have gone together like peanut butter and jelly. When you mix that with guns, bondage and a workplace it’s a problem.

I’m not going to moralize guns or drugs. I have a fondness for both. But Peter should be thanking his lucky stars someone didn’t die. There is a systemic reckless disregard for workplace ethics and logic at the armory.

You don’t get the right to decide for the employees in your workplace that it’s OK for people to just bring guns to work because it would be fun to shoot them in a decommissioned armory. It’s still a place of work and it employs more than directors and models. It has staff that includes cleaning staff, editors, code monkeys, set designers, production assistants, and more.

It’s stressful to work in the sex business. You’re isolated. You’re often facing terribly disrespectful treatment from people you love. There’s no reason for guns brought to work purely to be used to fun after work. How are those guns stored? Who can access them? I’m not a boyscout calling for everyone to be prepared when I say that accidents and bad decisions happen inside the armory all the fucking time. The knowledge that guns are there ups the ante.

I walked into the Armory to commit social suicide and get a better idea of who I was underneath all of my fears and anxieties about finding my place in this society. I love being a pornographer. I have fun learning how to make a film and with every year I get closer and closer to artist.

The “porn” that I make is an explicit examination and interrogation of sexuality. Yes, you can respect the people with whom you make porn. Yes, you can. I know that it takes effort. It’s not convenient and it means fewer profits. It’s easy to forget that you owe that to everyone you hire, every single time. Workers are humans.

I assure you, even in the absence of more words, that people have most certainly been hurt inside the armory.

Some people stay quiet because they are afraid and don’t have power. Many others do have the power and choice to be silent because it would be inconvenient for them to speak up and do the right thing.

Having money doesn’t buy you the right to have all the fun without ever picking up the tab. It’s long since time for Kink.Com to have a reality check about the way they treat the humans that they throw into their profit soup and we all need to think about how we’re complicit in this.

My projects are in the process of stripping out all affiliate links to Kink.com. This will be a slow process as it’s only me and my partner Ned taking care of our projects. We don’t have a staff and we have the rest of our lives to build and work. I refuse to cash those checks any more, even when they’re just for $50 in affiliate signup money.

Most of all, I’m ashamed of what I remain still silent about and I struggle to find what I can do about it. I don’t think the answer is cops. I don’t think the answer is a law. I wish I could sit with everyone and just talk until they remember that we’re all humans and operating in a world with less power and resources does change the terms of work negotiation.

Just because you can take advantage doesn’t mean you should and the only people who make a habit are sociopaths. Porn can be made in good faith. Kink.Com should stop issuing press releases about how ethical they are and start to look at the series of actions make up what it mans to actually be an ethical employer.

This post was excerpted with permission from MissMaggieMayhem.com.