Two for the Road

When Houston's 1st Amendment rights were threatened, a bus full of female porn stars came bouncing to the rescue

The adult entertainment industry lights evidently need A.J. as much as she needs them, because the Sundown has managed to corral several heavy-hitters to appear at a campaign benefit for Ray Hill. The Houston civil libertarian, gay rights advocate, and First Amendment obsessive has pledged to do battle with Helen Huey, a city councilwoman who heads a committee to impose stricter regulations on Houston's adult clubs, bookstores, and salons.

Hill is vying for a recently vacated council seat and has aggressively sold himself as the fearless protector of Houston's sexually oriented establishments.

As in most municipal special elections, voter turnout is expected to be low. The Sundown's adult entertainers hope they can provide the swing vote.

Rivalry among strip clubs, adult bookstores, nude modeling salons, and other adult businesses ranks among the most cutthroat in American capitalism. (As the Sundown's Jerry delicately puts it, "If I ran a club across the street from another club owner, sure--I'd be running around whispering, 'That guy's dancers have AIDS.'")

At the same time, the different facets of the adult entertainment industry benefit from symbiotic relationships. While a titty bar might be uncomfortable cooperating with another titty bar, they're thrilled to piggyback on the film and magazine industry, whose national scope is responsible for the rag-tag "star system" that exists in mainstream pornography. Here's how it works: a woman who performs a boy-girl scene in an adult film will receive about $500 for her efforts, and quite a bit more if she's featured on the box cover of a video at your local porn shop. When she starts to appear in gentlemen's clubs, she can be advertised in newspapers to much greater effect because of her film credits. A featured actress can earn up to $15,000 per gig (not including tips) at a strip bar. Video, live performance, and the burgeoning practice of bookstore signings all fuel each other's profits.

All of these enterprises are targets of zealous district attorneys and campaigning council members, who tend to prosecute sexually oriented businesses in election years. During the last decade, as conservatives have gained power in many municipalities, adult-oriented business owners have been forced to pay larger legal expenses (and, in a few cases, serve longer prison sentences) just to keep their doors open.

These threats explain why Metroplex Sundown can pick up the phone and enlist the aid of Ron Jeremy, a 27-year porn veteran who has recently concentrated on producing and directing (he helmed that hard-core publicity coup known as John Wayne Bobbitt Uncut), and on making non-sexual cameos in mainstream movies; Christi Lake, a veteran of dozens of films who was arrested in Corpus Christi just a few days before her Houston appearance; Sunset Thomas, the platinum-blonde dynamo who autographs my program "Fuck Me All Night Long! Sincerely, Sunset"; and Kayla Kleevage, the charming, freckled star of Sperm Target and Gazongas #6, among a host of other relative newcomers to the industry.

Their $7,500 in food, lodging, and transportation expenses have been covered by the Sundown because all have agreed to appear at an all-nude Houston club to help register voters and raise money for Ray Hill's campaign.

Hill has earned the endorsement of Adults for Legal Freedom--an organization of adult entertainment business owners who, in the grand tradition of the American electorate, have rallied around their collective pocketbook.

No doubt about it, Tera Hart is lovely.MShe hides her nearly makeup-free face behind tiny round sunglasses and a Veronica Lake fall of long, dark blonde hair, but the light that streams through the bus windows flatters her. She reclines on her bus seat in sweats, tennis shoes, and a T-shirt.

Tera is the 28-year-old--"Oops, I mean 23"--star of more than 150 adult films released from 1990 to 1995. She describes herself as "a very honest girl," which she offers as one reason for her decade-long estrangement from her Chicago family.

"I've only been dancing since December of last year," Hart says. "I dropped out of the film industry because of an AIDS scare. I'm writing a book about it."

For a woman who wants money for her story, Tera Hart is remarkably forthcoming with details. Last year, she says she performed a girl-girl scene with a certain porn actress. Shortly afterward, that actress got the results of her latest HIV test.

The woman had tested positive. Those who'd recently worked with her, including Hart, were alerted. Hart was reassured by her colleagues that woman-to-woman transmission of the AIDS virus is extremely rare.

Hart took it in stride, but went ballistic when she discovered that her fellow actress had worked on other movies during the interval between her first and second HIV test, even though the second test proved to be negative.

"The fact that the first test was wrong is beside the point," she says. "I thought about trying to charge her with manslaughter, or just suing her. Everybody in the industry tried to talk me out of it. Nobody was bothered that this woman continued to work when she doubted her HIV status."

Tera shrugs. "I've got a five-year-old son who depends on me, you know? I can't put up with that kind of bullshit."

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