CHATSWORTH, Calif.—Performer Alex Gonz, who became the center of an industry controversy in mid-August concerning his allegedly having worked while knowingly carrying the virus for hepatitis-C, held a phone-in press conference Thursday moderated by his agent, LA Direct Models owner Derek Hay, to give his own account of the events leading up to and following said charge being leveled against him.
Gonz confirmed during the call that he does carry the virus, but only at trace levels not communicable to others. Nevertheless, he stated that he fully intends to comply with the new industry protocol, instituted August 19, mandating that performers test negative for hep-C in order to be cleared to work in the Performer Availability Screening Services [PASS] system.
The detailed timeline of events Gonz relayed stretched back to around January 2010, when he said "Vivid was asking for hepatitis B testing for all performers during that time." He explained that in accordance, he tested at the now-defunct AIM Healthcare clinic for hep-B and was called back because hep-C antibodies had been detected in his blood sample.
After he submitted to a secondary test, Gonz recalled, "They said, 'You're not in any danger, you're good, you're fine, we're going to clear you to work.'"
It was not until June of 2013 that the issue came up for him again, during which time primary industry testing facilities Talent Testing Service (TTS) and Cutting Edge Testing (CET) both added hep-B and hep-C testing to their standard panel for a limited period—though neither was yet an industry requirement.
According to Gonz, when he went in for his regular test that month at CET, he was not informed that his blood sample would be tested for hep-B and C; it simply was submitted for such as part of the standard panel during that time period. "The next day they called me to let me know that my test was positive again for antibodies," he said.
Because he had been cleared to work in 2010 when he first learned he carried hep-C antibodies—by the very same staffers who then worked at AIM and have manned CET since its opening—"to be honest, I kind of blew it off," Gonz said. "And again, I wasn't aware that it was going to become a mandatory test."
He then maintained that his results for hep-C were sent to him separately from the rest of his results for the then standard industry panel of chlamydia, gonorrhea, Syphilis and HIV. So he continued to work using the test showing only the standard panel.
"Once that test expired, which was in 14 days, I didn't want to go back to CET and deal with this whole hepatitis-C stuff," he went on. "So I retested at another [PASS] facility, and it was through LabCorp, but it was approved through [PASS]. When I got my test results back, it said, 'You have been cleared to work by the APHSS [the former name of PASS] as of this day,' and they gave me my regular test that they were requiring for the industry, which was gonorrhea, chlamydia, Syphilis and [HIV]."
Gonz asserted that he does not have access to the online PASS database and therefore could not check it himself to see whether it showed him as cleared to work at the time, but assumed that it did based on the email he'd received from PASS saying as much. When his test expired again two weeks later, on July 31, he said he returned to the same clinic for a retest. This time, he decided to ask his then roommate, an industry producer who did have access to the PASS system, to check his status for him. And he saw that he was in fact cleared to work on the website.
"So I say, 'perfect,' and I continued working," he related. It was then on August 9 when fellow performer Lisa Ann—with whom he'd been booked to work a few days later, and who had requested a copy of his test, which he'd supplied—contacted him via text inquiring why his test contained no results for hepatitis. It was through this text exchange with Ann, he said, that he first learned his status had been changed to "unavailable" on the PASS website, which he confirmed with his roommate.
From that point forward, Gonz cut off communication with Ann and all others seeking to clarify the situation, which Ann made public via Twitter late August 11. At the time, he did not have medical insurance, he explained, and wanted to sort out the proper path to take on his own before speaking further on the matter with anyone.
Because showing up positive for antibodies to hep-C did not count as a diagnosis of the disease, he was able to secure insurance and began seeing a string of doctors to determine the severity of his condition. When his primary physician asked him why he thought he might be carrying the virus, he told the doctor it was possible he'd contracted it either from being tattooed or from a blood transfusion he received when he was born.
Gonz proceeded to undergo a number of tests, all of which rendered the same prognosis: that while he has carried a miniscule hep-C viral load for many years, possibly since birth, he is not infectious, nor would treating him for the disease be warranted.
"I did what I felt was the most responsible thing to do, which was to get away, take care of it on my own and go to real doctors and get a real determination," Gonz said. "And at the end of the day it looks like the levels I have are so non-infectious ... in reality, I haven't been working since 2006 with it, I've been working since 2003 with it, my entire 10 years of my career I've been working with it, and it's something that I've had since I was born. I've never put my life at risk, I've never put anyone's life at risk by doing anything harmful or dangerous or putting any needles into me."
Still, he conceded, "I respect the new industry protocols with hepititis-C, even though I'm not infectious. You can't work, and I respect that; I don't expect people to work with someone that has something even if they are not infectious at all."
At question for Gonz at this point is how the fact that he'd tested positive in 2010 for hep-C became known—as well as why his status in the PASS system changed without his knowlege before hep-C testing became part of the organization's mandatory protocol.
"To get treated the way I got treated, it was just a slap in the face," he said. "I gave 10 years of my life to this industry, and I just wanted to be clear that I never, ever forged anything and I never tried to put anyone's life at risk at all."
Looking forward, Gonz offered, "I would like to try maybe other things in the industry, other endeavors. I'm not sure at this time, I'm not sure what I'm going to do."
Of course, with today's announcement by the FDA about a possible hep-C eradicating drug on the horizon, Gonz's chances of returning to performing may not be nil after all.