Redemption: The Curious Case of Mr. Marcus and Nica Noelle

Sep 5, 2012
Editorial
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Op/Ed by Michael Whiteacre

      Nica Noelle’s latest written effort is a departure, in that its aim is neither self-promotion nor the debasement of those she perceives as enemies. Instead, she has constructed a cogent defense of her friend, Mr. Marcus, and a critique of the flawed, patchwork system that allowed him to slip through the cracks.

      Her article, ‘The Curious Case of Mr. Marcus,’ posted on Xbiz.com, was apparently spawned by a series of conversations on social media — particularly one involving industry attorney Michael Fattorosi and myself (although Noelle refuses to address me directly) in which both Noelle and I challenged the widely-held belief that adult performer Mr. Marcus purposely altered his STI test results so he could work while knowingly infected with syphilis. Fattorosi challenged Noelle to compose an article about the case, and the result emerged yesterday on Xbiz.

      The article represented a series of challenges for Noelle, which she undertook with commendable bravery. She not only had to defend a man now widely viewed as a pariah in the adult industry, but do so when standing in his defense placed her on the side of one of her favorite targets, industry trade association, Free Speech Coalition (FSC), and in conflict with FSC’s opponent in the struggle over industry-wide testing and treatment protocols, popular testing center Talent Testing Services (TTS).  The result is a fascinating literary tango, which only seldom misses its mark.

While it represents an apologia for Marcus, its essential goal is to clear him of premeditative culpability, even at the risk of portraying the veteran performer as a confused, desperate guy who “didn’t fully understand the situation” when “confronted with a tricky STI“ — and later, a victim of the “fear, distrust and paranoia” and even overt racism which Noelle claims is emblematic of the adult film community. In sum, Noelle is saying that perhaps, as Marcus claims, “this situation isn’t what it looks like.”

Noelle dismisses the notion that Marcus intentionally placed any performers at risk by hammering home the point no fewer than three times that, prior to his syphilis diagnosis on July 12th, Marcus was performing with a valid “clean” STI test dated June 13, 2012.  She also notes that, after being treated for syphilis from his private doctor on July 13, Marcus did not have sex for 10 days, as directed by his physician. Lastly, she reports that, when Marcus tested at TTS in early August and discovered that his “RPR levels were back up”, he “chose to cancel the scene for which he was booked that day.”

“Such behavior does little to support a theory that Marcus altered his test results so he could work while infected.” Noelle concludes. “Instead of reporting to the set, Marcus called his doctor to report the heightened RPR numbers.”

The adult industry’s syphilis scandal began shortly thereafter, initiated by rumors that a TTS manager blabbed to patients about four positive cases. Then, on August 16, 2012 XBiz reported that, according to talent agents Shy Love of ATMLA and Derek Hay of LA Direct Models, a male performer altered his paper test and worked in the industry while knowingly contagious with syphilis.

After being ruthlessly ‘outed’ online, a remorseful Marcus went public at an FSC press conference held at his studio on August 23, during which FSC Executive Director Diane Duke, and board member Christian Mann expressed support for the performer, who had come forward to assist in assembling the genealogy of the outbreak by providing information on his shoot dates and scene partners. He admitted to altering his test, but only doing so after he had undergone antibiotic treatment, and thus no longer contagious with syphilis. 

At that same event, Marcus also alleged misconduct on the part of TTS, which Noelle refers to as “one of the industry’s most trusted test facilities.”

As Noelle notes in her article, Marcus’ “post-scandal” interview with San Francisco Weekly appeared to retract his charge from the press conference that a TTS employee was implicated in helping alter his STI tests. “It was all me, no one else helped,” he was quoted as having told reporter Vanessa L. Pinto.This apparent “public flip-flopping,” writes Noelle, “raise[d] new suspicions that the FSC, who seeks to control industry testing protocol, had ‘paid off’ Marcus to ‘throw TTS under the bus.’”

However, in Noelle’s article, Marcus stands by his original claim, and defends FSC: “The FSC didn’t tell me to lie about anything,” Marcus insists. “I just didn’t realize when I told the story it would shift all the attention to [TTS]. I didn’t feel right about that, so I tried to fix it by saying, ‘no it was all me.’”

      Noelle’s article contains a few factual errors and omissions, and although I do not attribute them to mal-intent, these should be corrected.

Early in the piece, she states that, in the wake of the syphilis scare, FSC called for “an industry-wide moratorium on shooting and a controversial, unprecedented ‘preventive care’ strategy that would require every adult film performer, regardless of his or her health status, to receive a shot of penicillin before returning to work.”

In truth, FSC laid out three options for performers at that time, none of which constituted a mandatory requirement:

  1. receive the shot of penicillin and re-test in ten days; or
  2. take an oral substitute if allergic to penicillin, then re-test in ten days; or
  3. wait 90 days (the incubation period under the RPR test which was then the standard) and then re-test.

Furthermore, after it adopted the newer TREP-SURE test as part of the APHSS basic performer panel, FSC canceled all further preventive care treatments, and replaced it with a 14-day waiting period and a clean panel (including a TREP test).

      Noelle also notes that “straight performers (and studios producing straight content) have come to be aware that in the event of a talent HIV positive test production will halt, performers will flock to test clinics for fresh HIV tests, and phone calls will be made to anyone who may have been exposed to the virus, instructing them to immediately get tested.” What she omits, however, is that production moratoria were traditionally called by AIM, which no longer exists, and are now called only by FSC’s APHSS (usually over the objection of certain talent agents). Talent Testing Services has never called for any kind of moratorium – even during last year’s HIV scare in Florida (which thankfully turned out to be a false-positive) – and in fact lacks any protocols for work stoppages or performer notifications.

TTS demurs that it’s only a testing center, and has demonstrated again and again an utter lack of any sense of duty to the health of the performer pool as a group. It has refused to join APHSS, and backed out of its announced plan to share work availability data with APHSS in order to make it a truly comprehensive testing database (a la AIM). At Marcus’ FSC press conference, Diane Duke mentioned that she reached out to TTS on behalf of APHSS “to tell them that if there’s more than one [syphilis positive] please give me information so we can start partner notification. I did not get any cooperative response back from them on that, so that was unfortunate.”

This lack of care on the part of TTS is also evident elsewhere in Noelle’s Xbiz article:

“When you tested positive for syphilis at TTS on July 14, did they say anything to you about what you should do?” I asked him. “Did they tell you that you might have exposed other performers and you should contact them or anything like that?”

“No.” Marcus said.

This struck me as suggestive of a dangerously weak link in the industry’s already loose chain of “safety protocols.”

Again, Noelle is correct: Talent Testing Services IS the weak link in the matter of adult performer health and safety, and the point may be illustrated more fully by Noelle’s report of what Marcus alleges transpired at TTS on August 7th.

“I started talking to the guy who works there, while I was getting my blood drawn,” Marcus said. “I told him I got the penicillin shot on July 13 but my test keeps coming back reactive, and is there any way I can show that I’m cured?” 

Marcus and the worker had spoken on previous visits, he said, and had developed an easy, casual repoire.

“He said maybe he could leave off the syphilis test when he sent [my blood samples] to the lab,” Marcus said….

When Marcus later returned to TTS for his test results, the worker handed him a hardcopy. As promised, it did not show any results for syphilis, he said.

“It looked like a normal test,” Marcus said. “It wasn’t altered; [syphilis] was just omitted.”

But the worker told him he’d “gotten in trouble”  for the special request, Marcus said. The lab had rejected it and tested the blood for syphilis, anyway. The worker told Marcus he would not be able to do it for him again, he said.

“He told me another syphilis case had just come up at TTS,” Marcus said. “He said it was all new to them and they were still learning how to deal with it.”

This new account is consistent with what Marcus first told the world under the auspices of FSC, and later confirmed elsewhere.

Despite Marcus’ assertion, “I don’t blame anyone but myself,” (placed by Noelle at the most ennobling spot in the article: its conclusion), elsewhere in the piece Marcus does still search for someone to share in his own culpability — and he’s right. There is indeed plenty of blame to go around.

Of the now-infamous July 24 BangBros shoot, stills from which clearly show light-colored lesions on his scrotum, Marcus recalls, “Nobody said ‘wait a minute, that doesn’t look right,’… The girl I was working with didn’t mention it and neither did the director.”

Without excusing his own fault in the matter, that Marcus is torn and troubled by this is not unnatural, and his disconcertion raises larger questions about the duties that everyone in the adult community owes to their fellow members.

At one point in his interview with Noelle, Marcus asks, “After 18 years in the business, why would I do that?” Ultimately, some questions are impossible to answer, but the terrifying, potentially deadly consequences of anyone doing or failing to do what Marcus, and perhaps dozens of others, did or failed to do, can and must be anticipated and planned for.

In light of the current political climate, there is little margin for error. As Noelle notes, “The integrity of the STI test may be the last thing standing between an industry fighting to keep its autonomy and a looming ‘mandatory condoms’ law.  Like burning the American flag, it’s not the physical destruction that causes patriots to recoil, but the threat to that which the flag represents. A performer’s STI test has become for many a symbol of safety and liberty worth fighting for.”

Says Marcus, “I just hope what happened with me inspires some kind of change. If I had to go through this so the industry could learn and improve from it, I can live with that.”  In fact, the industry has no choice.

      The adult industry must unite in the realization that, absent a single, comprehensive system of testing, test result verification, treatment, partner notification and moratorium protocols, ground zero for the next Mr. Marcus debacle might be your next movie shoot. And the soundtrack to that debacle will be the sad song of safety, economic security, and liberties lost.

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