Yesterday, Betty and I sat through 7 hours of depositions. Here's the back story: about two years ago we agreed to join as plaintiffs in a legal challenge to USC 2257 - the federal statute that regulates sexual imagery. We weren't sued by the government...we're not paying any legal fees...we're challenging a federal statue on First Amendment grounds.
It's kind of intimidating when you see your names in a legal caption followed by "vs. Eric Holder" because it means that you're suing the Justice Department. I don't take that lightly. I've been buried in document demands, rounds of interrogatories and countless phone calls. And I'm an attorney so I know I'm held to a higher standard. What you have to realize is that 2257 carries criminal penalties. If you're found violating this statute, it's punishable by 5 years in jail.
2257 requires all producers of sexual content to maintain certain records. For anyone who appears on camera, you have to keep a copy of their photo id and a signed release on file for inspection by the FBI. It's all about child pornography and making sure everyone is at least 18 years old.
We keep 2257 records for all our films. That's not something we're concerned with here. However, in 2009 they broadened the statute to include images of genitals. That meant that we had to take down 2,000 images from our genital art gallery because we don't have photo ids and a signed release. It hurt...Betty was depressed. This is her research project - her effort to document that there are a range of genital styles. This is all based on user submissions being anonymous. Who's going to submit an image of their genitals when they have to upload a copy of their license or passport? As soon as we posted that we'd need photo ids with all submissions, people stopped submitting to the gallery. Their speech was silenced.
The whole discovery process has been nerve racking. I had to give the Justice department a log in for the site so they could view what's left of the genital art gallery and all our videos. I wondered what they were thinking as they watched me perform on camera...if I missed anything...and how I'd look in an orange jumpsuit. I know it sounds extreme but when you're dealing with sexual repression, anything can happen.
Yesterday, I decided to go casual and wear black leggings, black knee high boots, a white Hermes button down shirt and my hair pulled back in a pony tail. Looking back on it I wore my super hero costume. I arrived at 8:30 am at the US Attorney's office a bit shakey. I wasn't there as an attorney...I was there as a plaintiff which was a new feeling. I met up with my attorney and we headed to conference room 535.
I immediately connected with the US attorneys taking my deposition (Hector and Cathy). Having worked as a state ADA, I remember the long hours, piles of paper, and shabby offices. They asked about my education, how long I've been working with Betty. They even asked about my Huffington Post column. Then came the real grilling. They were admitting into evidence print outs from the website. In a way, I'm kind of proud that D&R is part of the public record. But what they choose was interesting: Betty's statement about why she started the genital art gallery, our video catelogue and images from the gallery. I realized that I hadn't granted them access to the Carlin & Liandra clips. When they asked why my face flushed, "I guess it was a freudian thing because it's me being fisted". Cathy shot me a look of consolation.
Four hours later they were still asking questions. I made sure to maintain eye contact with Hector for every question. I think he kind of got lost in my eyes because the questions got less and less extreme. Then I excused myself so that I could meet Betty outside - I knew she'd never find the place because it's buried behind several buildings.
Betty's deposition was fucking brilliant. It would have been great to film it so I could post here on D&R. The first thing out of her mouth was, "now I have my hearing aids on but it's still hard for me to hear so speak up and look at me when you talk". She had established dominance in one sentence. Then they went on to question Betty about her education. I think the point was to say that she doesn't have any formal education in sexuality - that 35 years of field work doesn't establish you as an authority. Hector kept asking about her degree in art. Betty looked at him like he was crazy and answered, "there is no degree in art. You just do it. You become an artist".
Then the questioning turned to the genital art gallery. Hector asked if Betty had been to the gallery recently, "no, I don't go there because it's depressing. This has been my research project for 15 years and now no one submits to the gallery thanks to the fuckless government". We all laughed under our breath including the court reported but Hector kept a straight face.
For the next 30 minutes, Betty salt and peppered her testimony with the following outbursts: "thanks to George Bush and abstinence only sex education I spend my days answering questions for these poor kids who know nothing about sexuality...I should be home now answering my questions instead of wasting my time here" - "this whole case is ridiculous" - "what, why would you ask that" - "artists need freedom to create" - "I hate all censorship".
Hector showed her three images of vulvas from the genital art gallery. Betty smiled wide and Hector asked her to tell him the age of each woman (the point was to prove that you can't prove their exact age without their photo id). Betty guesstimated pointing out that all the women were adults. Then, suddenly, Hector asked for a five minute break. Betty looked up grinning and said, "the pussies got to you, didn't they?" At this point, we all broke up laughing. Only Betty could get away with that.
We reassembled in the conference room. I couldn't believe it when Hector announced that he had no more questions for the witness. They'd only questioned Betty for 2 hours. Our attorney Lorraine advised that she had a few questions for Betty. She asked Betty if she understood that 2257 carried criminal penalties including jail time. A look of horror passed over Betty's face. She turned towards Hector and asked, "you're not going to put me in jail, are you?". Hector and Cathy smiled.
When we walked out into the lobby Betty pulled the ultimate Betty move. She put her hand over Hector's heart and said, "I know you're just doing your job" and gave him a huge hug. Then she looked over at Cathy and added, "I'm going to hug you too".
As we walked past Supreme New York and all my old stomping grounds I felt proud...proud of Betty, proud of my decision to become an educator, and proud of the community we've built here at D&R.
We go to trial the week of June 3 and we'll have our ruling late July. They'll be one more appeal before heading to the Supreme Court *fingerscrossed* if they grant us certiorari. From law to sex then back to law again. What a wonderful ride.