[Opinion] The Real Shame Behind Mr. Marcus’ Altered STD Test

Originally published at The Well Versed

It’s been more than 20 years since Ice Cube directed the world to “Look Who’s Burning” on the classic hip hop effort Death Certificate.

In 2012, the answer to that question, apparently, is a whole lot of people.

The porn industry was rocked by accusations that Mr. Marcus was patient zero in a recent syphilis outbreak that shut down the industry. As Vanessa Blue told me a few years ago – ironically after a syphilis outbreak hit the industry – “when was the last time you heard of that s*it?”

When things like this happen, society tends to react in one of two ways depending on the person involved. Shock, followed by outrage if patient zero is known to be a person of shady character or shock followed by confusion if patient zero is one of good character. Mr. Marcus, without a doubt, falls into the latter category.

Regardless of how outsiders feel about pornography, Mr. Marcus is an industry veteran and you’d be hard pressed to find anybody in the industry to say something bad about him. As one of very few crossover stars in the business –a business that boasts even fewer crossover stars of color – Mr. Marcus put safe sex at the forefront of his dialogue with fans, devoting an entire chapter to disease and prevention in his first book. During an interview with The Well Versed, he touched on it further:

TWV: You also have a chapter on HIV, STDs and safe sex practices. That’s something I don’t see in a lot of books. And our people tend to have higher rates of infection. Is safety something you always wanted to touch on?

MM: That’s a great question because it’s something I talk about a lot. A lot of people on the streets ask me, “What about HIV? Do you get tested?” I use that as an opportunity to educate them on our industry and how we protect ourselves. I think I made it pretty clear when I discussed that, it was totally different from the rest of the book. Maybe you should know your status. What’s wrong with adults talking about this? I thought this was a perfect example; we’re a bunch of adults fucking each other. We should get tested.

The battle cry for safe sex advocates the world over is “know your status” – and rightfully so. With HIV/AIDS ravaging communities in the United States and abroad, along with climbing STD rates, knowledge and prevention can be truly life saving measures.

What happens when due diligence fails?

In the case of Mr. Marcus, the performer tested positive and was treated for syphilis and waited the prerequisite ten days before returning to work. “I figured I’d give the medicine enough time to work. And I had lost work. I canceled stuff, so I decided to come back,” he told industry publication X-Biz in a recent interview.

Marcus also admitted to doctoring test results on two separate occasions to continue working. This isn’t about pornography, and to paraphrase dead prez, “it’s bigger than” getting it in for money. For the average man or woman, keeping it real and keeping it thorough can still go wrong. Conventional wisdom says testing and treatment should make one good to go (though health professionals will almost always recommend a re-test just in case). Conventional wisdom says seeing negative results from a partner means everybody is good to go.

This story turns everything we thought we knew on its head. And while it’s not the first, it’s the latest reminder that we no longer live in a time period where you can catch a bug, get a shot and be as good as new. Welcome to the new normal.

Last month, news sites reported that a new, anti-biotic resistant form of gonorrhea was making the rounds. “Antibiotic-resistant superbugs have been a threat for years, but the dreaded future in which available medicines don’t work on deadly diseases seems to be closer than ever,” journalist Melanie Haiken wrote in a Forbes article. “Experts say some bacteria – and gonorrhea appears to be one of them – have an astonishing ability to mutate rapidly, allowing them to evade the drugs meant to kill them.”

What may ultimately get lost in this story is the element that fear and shame play in the prevention of open and honest communication. “I tried to cover it up. I didn’t want to have to share that part,” Marcus adds of his positive test. “Because I said it was like the scarlet letter. It’s the word. Syphilis, whoa. Mr. Marcus, syphilis? Mr. Marcus, the one I worked with? The one that everybody works with? The one that’s been in this industry forever?”

As of 2010, the Centers for Disease Control reported 300,000 cases of gonorrhea, 1.3 million – with an M – cases of chlamydia. Syphilis was down slightly, but alarmingly up 134 percent in black men. Untreated STD infections can lead to infertility in women and even death.

While the public may be quick to point the finger and cast out adult performers as the “other” while feeling like “this can’t happen to me,” the numbers indicate otherwise. If there is to be a silver lining in this story, hopefully it will be that sexually active men and women can begin an honest dialogue about sexual history and sexual futures – without fear that they’ll be treated like pariahs for telling the truth.

After all, with the number of people infected by STDs in the seven figures, it’s safe to say that sometimes the “good ones” get caught up too. What’s shameful isn’t that people catch diseases – our sex-happy culture all but guarantees that something will happen, even to the most careful.

It’s shameful that in 2012, we can’t be adults and talk about it.

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