Cropped shot of a group of businesspeople holding their hands in solidarity

Sinnamon Love had been a part of the adult film industry for over 20 years when she founded the BIPOC Adult Industry Collective. Love found her way into the business while in college, working two minimum wage jobs and raising two small children. Having created a safe and sustainable career for herself, Love is determined to use what she’s learned to help other BIPOC do the same in the adult entertainment industry.

Love’s history in the business makes her work through the collective especially meaningful. To her, providing “a resource for education and support services to make the adult entertainment industry a safer space for BIPOC” is groundbreaking. While there are many organizations nationally and worldwide that serve Black and brown sex workers by providing direct services, the BIPOC Adult Industry Collective is implemented, driven, and directed by sex workers at every level of leadership. Direct services and support for performers and sex workers, such as assistance in negotiations with directors and agents and advocacy for those who are most marginalized in the industry, are firmly centered around peoples’ needs. 

By centering the BIPOC Adult Industry Collective’s mission on marginalized people in the industry, Love is following the example of others like Angel Kelly, an industry icon who advocated for the industry to cover the cost of HIV testing for performers at the height of the epidemic. Human-centered leadership is what drives the collective to fill in the gaps in the industry so that everyone can thrive. The need to create and maintain a safe and supportive space for BIPOC in adult entertainment is at the heart of Love’s work and resonates throughout the interview. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Vilissa Thompson: As someone who has been in the industry for over 20 years, what has been your experience as a Black woman in this space? What barriers and changes have you witnessed and been a part of? 

Sinnamon Love: As a Black woman in this space, we are largely paid less money than our white counterparts. We’re not given the same opportunities to advance our careers. Agents are less likely to take on Black and brown people in general, and if they do they tend to be more ethnically ambiguous. Some of that has changed, but generally speaking, the closer your proximity to whiteness in the business, the more likely you are to get the bigger jobs.

The budgets for films featuring predominantly Black and brown casts tend to be a lot less money than bigger budget films and companies. The racial bias is evident, not just [in] talent booking, but also in the way that projects are marketed.

Some of the slurs of the past [are] starting to no longer be used, but we’re still seeing a lot of issues with companies using terms like “spade” and concepts of the mandingo—the Black male who is using white women and white women being defiled because they’ve had sex with Black men. Those concepts in porn are still very prevalent. 

Having to learn how to do it all myself because of the lack of access has made me a very shrewd businesswoman. The average white female performer doesn’t have those kinds of limitations. The doors open more when people think that you are a more viable product because there’s a lack of imagination in the industry.

Thompson: During the pandemic, you established the BIPOC Adult Industry Collective to provide sex worker- and performer-centered support and services for industry workers to help create a safer space and opportunities for them to thrive. Tell me how this collective came to be.

Love: Shortly after George Floyd was brutally murdered, a lot of folks from the industry were taking part in Black Lives Matter protests. The adult industry was also on Twitter talking about racism in the business, which was something that had never happened before. The problematic trade publications were having town hall meetings and closed-door meetings to listen to Black performers talk about race. The business was shut down for four months because of COVID-19. There was no one shooting [and] the entire world was on fire so it was necessary for people to listen, but that didn’t mean that they were going to make sustainable change. 

I called together a group of people to help draft some practices [and] policy changes we wanted to see happen. Instead of the industry giving us what they thought they were willing to give and [what] they thought would be antiracist work, we drafted a list of [demands] to move the conversation forward. 

As a collective, we decided not to ask for the elimination of interracial and ebony categories because we felt like it would actually do more harm than good [in] an industry [where] Black and brown people are not given an opportunity for fair visibility and representation. We decided to start a mutual aid program and a microgrant program. We also started to implement stress management support groups and restorative yoga every week for free.

Last year we gave out $6,500 through the microgrant program. We’ve been able to offer workshops on everything from cyber security to managing contracts, to content development and social media management and navigating gender and sexuality [in a] heteronormative industry.

We decided from the very beginning that we would always source sex workers first. Our mission is to put money into the pockets of sex workers. Everyone, from the yoga instructors that we use, the therapists who facilitate our support group, our social media manager—every single person that helps run the collective is also a sex worker. We try to stay within the community first, and then go elsewhere.

Thompson: Are there any other barriers that people of color face in the industry? 

Love: We want to train current or former sex workers to be intimacy coordinators on sets, to ensure that people feel safe and comfortable and are empowered to say no or to say yes. We’re also interested in an industry-funded career pipeline to be able to help folks move from in front of the camera to behind the camera. We’d like to see more representation of folks who are darker than a paper bag or whose hair is kinky. There’s a huge need for more diverse representation, in not just physical appearance but also body types and other disabilities and gender and sexuality. 

We’re also looking to have the industry change the terminology of identifying talent as “boys” and girls” [to] identifying them as men and women or gender-nonconforming folks. It’s important that in an industry constantly battling these conversations surrounding child trafficking that we stop referring to performers as “boys” and “girls.” The infantilizing of sex workers within the industry is a way of being able to justify not paying people their worth.

Thompson: How do misconceptions play a role in the way we view sex work as work or not, and protecting the rights and lives of those in the industry?

Love: The stigma is that sex work isn’t a real job. People [don’t] really understand the amount of unpaid labor that sex workers do, or the fact that you are doing marketing and advertising and web development and photo editing and video editing and social media marketing. It’s like you’re doing all the things and yet people still don’t see sex work as work. 

People still view women who do this work as hoes and sluts and loose women, not as businesspeople who are taking part in this multi-billion dollar industry. People still think that you don’t pay taxes on sex work That’s harmful because that mentality and behavior trickles into everything else—housing discrimination, the ways in which people are criminalized in children and family court, and so many other systemic issues from houselessness to depression. When people are not able to house themselves because they’re being discriminated against because of their job, or if people are treated unfairly in children and family services because they are putting photos and videos up online of themselves in order to feed their kids, that can lead to a whole nother set of issues. 

Thompson: That’s something key that you mentioned, that appropriateness. It goes back to respectability politics and what is deemed respectable or worthy.

Love: Not everybody is able to find traditional employment. That doesn’t make them any less worthy of finding housing. That doesn’t make them any less worthy of being able to feed and clothe themselves. 

When I think about Black and brown folks in particular, we tend to have a higher level of issues surrounding executive functioning due to trauma, not just child abuse or childhood sexual trauma, but also trauma related to our communities, to food insecurity, to violence in our communities. [This] can make it very difficult and challenging to hold down traditional employment or function in a traditional educational environment. And when you have folks who don’t have health insurance, who have experienced trauma, who have executive functioning issues, have had a lack of medical care, who don’t have the social permission to seek psychiatric care or therapy, it can be very challenging to be able to hold down a regular job. Our culture is not very forgiving of people who show up late. What happens when those people are excluded from these environments or punished for lateness that might actually be related to executive functioning issues? 

Our society is built on wanting people to work within a certain mold and when they can’t, even if it’s due to undiagnosed medical reasons, they’re excluded—even from the help that they’re supposed to be getting. In those instances, the adult industry tends to be more forgiving. If you’re late, people might be upset but they’re not gonna never hire you again. I think for a lot of people with invisible disabilities, sex work is extremely forgiving and allows you to still be able to provide for yourself where traditional employment might [not]. The level of respectability politics when it comes to work are not as lenient towards people with invisible disabilities. 

Thompson: How does the collective fit into the legacy you desire to imprint in progressing the industry forward?

Love: That marginalized folks in this business who may not receive the kind of respect, compassion, and grace that they should be afforded will still be able to make their own way and not merely be left to the fringes of the industry. Part of the collective’s work is to give marginalized folks an opportunity to do this work without feeling like they have to be a participant in their own degradation. To help folks make money, to put money in their hands, that’s the legacy of this work, to be able to lift people, to help people lift themselves out of poverty.

Thompson: That’s phenomenal. And that’s the legacy we should all strive for, no matter what we do. We are getting people out of the trenches of which they don’t deserve to be in. 

Love: Most people are not here by their own choosing [and] folks who don’t have access to other resources, who choose sex work as a tool for their economic liberation, are criminalized for doing so. We’re okay with people using their bodies to make money in every other way except sex, and that is the one resource that people should be able to capitalize on if they so choose to and do it in safe ways. Why are we still frowning upon people who are doing this work if we’re turning to them for our enjoyment, for our pleasure, and we’re willing to turn to this work in order for us to survive? Sex work is not easy. To do it safely, it’s not easy. Decriminalizing sex work is a Black issue, just like decriminalizing cannabis is a Black issue. We have to start thinking of this as something that impacts Black and brown people. 

Thompson: Speaking of protecting people, as a Black disabled woman, what has been the history of the industry to those of us who are multi-marginalized, particularly disabled folks, and the unique challenges faced or witnessed? 

Love: Prior to understanding that I was disabled, I definitely received a lot of pushback for things like being late on sets or being unable to remember certain things. That’s always been an issue for me. I appeared in videos with little people that had derogatory titles because their height was being fetishized without understanding what was happening. Our society still views body types and disabilities as a fetish. It’s not something that’s respected and it’s just hard to acknowledge. It’s hard to look back and accept that I took part in that kind of degradation of folks. I think having a better understanding of what that was makes it even more important for me, as someone who now identifies as disabled, to make sure that those kinds of things don’t happen again. 

Thompson: How is your better understanding of this matter playing a role in diminishing the fetishization and degradation of disabled people and being more of a safe space?

Love: I’m a parent of two adult children, and having a grandson who is also neurodivergent certainly informs my work. We have a large number of people in the collective who also identify as neurodivergent or disabled, and there are more of us than people think. There are a lot of folks who are coming to understand that their brains and their bodies just work differently. Having very reasonable expectations of people, asking people about their bandwidth to take on certain projects, and picking up the slack when people can’t and not holding it against them—that’s one of the ways in which we try to level the playing field. 

We invite people to be vulnerable when necessary, approaching them with compassion and asking them what’s going on and if we can support them in any way, and not penalizing people for not being able to take on something at that point in time. We all experience moments of exhaustion. Even if it’s not disability-based, we all have these moments where we just need somebody else to pick up the pace and it doesn’t mean that we’re not capable. It just means that sometimes we need help. 

I encourage other people to do the same thing. Just because someone is struggling today doesn’t mean that they’re not gonna ever be able to do the work. It just means that today they are struggling. If we can continue to take the compassion that we would want for ourselves, and extend that out to the rest of the world in a very meta way [so] that the work in general becomes easier, whether it’s sex work or otherwise.

Vilissa Thompson, LMSW, is a contributing writer covering gender justice at Prism. A macro social worker from South Carolina, she is an expert in discussing the issues that matter to her as a Black disabled...