Archive | December, 2010

to suffer with

11 Dec

Love is the only passion which must not be discarded in the search for truth.
– Rudolf Steiner

Recently, Derrick Burts, aka Derek Chambers aka Cameron Reid, came out as “patient zeta” in the HIV/porn industry scare that led to many porn performers being “quarantined” and tested.

I’ve only had brief interactions with him. When we met in West Hollywood, months before this all happened, he was sweet and generous with his words. He was handsome and excited to begin the adventure of being in porn. He gave me a kiss goodnight and sent me funny texts afterward.

In different articles and blog appearances before and after the incident, Burts gave conflicting information. The reportage is confusing and does not add up to a clear picture of the case.

On twitter, as well as in blog comment fields and in conversations, I heard and read that he is a “liar,” a “fucking moron,” “deserved what he got,” because he didn’t wear a condom during sex.

* * * *

In the essay, “Some Freaks,” playwright, director, and screenwriter David Mamet writes, “Sometimes, an individual is thrown up who does not fit the norm…” that individual (he uses the example of a medicine man in indigenous cultures) must take a different path in life, because he can’t help it; because it’s what’s in his head and his heart.

“…and that Individual and Society as a whole benefited. They benefited, perhaps, from his visions and…most importantly, from the endorsement of the notion that all people born into the society are precious.”

In other words, there is worth in the outcast, in the marginalized, in those who are by their very nature “exempted” from a regular way of life. The worth isn’t merely in their contribution, but in their very way of being – because it is through their way of being and the difference it evinces that society finds its compassion. Society must learn compassion if these outsiders who “do not fit the norm” are going to be allowed to live and be content.

This is the homosexual. This is, to a more intense extent, the porn performer.

We are teachers – not because we are all equally intelligent or equally articulate. We are teachers by our action and our way of being. When we come out of the closet, we choose what we love over societal pressure. Instead of living in fear, we pursue what’s in our hearts.
Similarly, when we choose to be porn stars, we express an amplified version of this great step: We choose, against all societal advice, to do publicly what we love and care about.
This is a great lesson to everyone – we are not afraid to choose what is forbidden, because to deny ourselves of what’s in out hearts would be the real crime.

All teachers carry a burden.

At the margins in our work, we salute in the public eye, we have sex with one another, we laugh and share our bodies with the world. In our lives, porn actors demand patience and compassion. Our lovers must be understanding. Our families must accept us. Our world must be willing to allow us this freedom. These things are all reasonable requests, and we are correct to make them, whether we do so consciously or not. But the world hasn’t caught up to this yet. The shape of our lives is, for many, the shape of shame and fear. In fact, many of us still feel this fear and shame, even as we proceed.
Sometimes we forget this; we forget that for many who aren’t in the porn industry, watching and buying porn is still difficult to admit to, much less appearing in it.

Our lives are radical acts that demand radical compassion to be understood.

In other words, though our jobs are about sex, our lives are about and sustained by compassion. Since this is so, who are we and what do we become if we forget our own compassion?

* * * *

And what is compassion?

Three clues for me:

1. Shortly after Proposition 8 was passed, the country’s largest environmental expo – Greenfest – was being held in San Francisco. I’d volunteered months ahead of time to support a (then small) counter-cultural website at the festival. Greenfest was scheduled the same day as the monumental protest in the streets of San Francisco, ending on the steps of City Hall.
The night before both events, someone asked me if I was attending the protest.
“No,” I responded, telling him I was volunteering at Greenfest that day. In a frustrated growl, he said, “How can there be an environmental conference when our rights are being taken away?”
I paused, not knowing what to say, shocked. Not even able to point out that of course the environmental conference had been scheduled months beforehand, I stared into my drink.
“It’s bullshit,” he said impatiently.
“Well,” I reasoned, “gay people live in the environment, right?” I was making a joke, but a light dawned on his face.
“Oh yeah, I guess you’re right,” he said.
I saw this isolated thinking echoed again and again, sometimes blatantly. At subsequent marches, people carried signs saying, “Save the chickens but screw marriage?” referencing a proposition that passed which protected farm animals from torture. I felt sickened by this pitting of issues against one another. Doesn’t our treatment of animals tie into our treatment of each other? What if I’d carried a sign that said, “Fuck clean air, we want the right to abortion!”

2. Later, when the gay teen suicides were (finally) being reported, many people stood up against bullying in schools. They embraced the “It Gets Better” line – and it was true to some extent. It certainly got better for me after I left my small, conservative Pennsylvania hometown.

But as many pointed out (some harshly, some reasonably, and some in pitying tones), it doesn’t automatically get better. “Better” is our lifelong task – it is our individual duty. We may escape our childhood bullies and enter into a new sort of danger. Like getting a driver’s license, we experience freedom coupled with the danger of dying or killing in new ways.

Or maybe just different versions of old ways. Many of the people who tout “It gets better” or “No H8” are on twitter, their blogs, and elsewhere mocking others, nitpicking at faults, gossiping.

These are all human actions – in other words, we can’t expect anyone to never gossip, to never nitpick. But what happens when we escape the bullies and fight for the right to love while unwittingly becoming loveless bullies ourselves?

In the light of bullying and suicide, Perez Hilton issued an apology for his public cruelty. Many said it was too late and that the apology was forced and painful to listen to. It did, indeed, come across as poorly planned and off-the-cuff. But we’ve got to let ourselves apologize again and again for our mistakes and missteps and to constantly begin anew. None of us is immaculate.

3. I remember as an undergrad watching an early examination of gays in the military. A soldier who’d been kicked out of the army said in his defense, “when I’m the showers, I’m not looking at other guys, I’m there to take a shower.” I suppose it’s possible to take some of the showers during your duty with other naked men and not look – but all of them? All the time? He was substituting honesty for what he supposed would get the job done – presenting an isolated issue over the whole truth.

* * * *

In each of these instances, the higher truth – the truth that seeks to perceive the whole, was abandoned.
The state of the world is abandoned in favor of focusing on marriage, leading to a war between righteous causes.
The systemic causes of bullying are abandoned for escape, leading to a forgetfulness and more bullying.
The reality of sexual attraction (not to mention the question of war) is abandoned in favor of the cause of participating in the military, which leads to silence about who we are as sexual beings, and isn’t that what got us into the oppression in the first place?

* * * *

The word compassion comes from the Latin compati, meaning, “to suffer with.”
When we isolate one issue from others, we do not allow ourselves to experience compassion, because we alienate the whole, the “with” of “to suffer with” from our experience. This limits our understanding of the world and our ability to change it.

We’ve got to learn to think interconnectedly, about the whole, in systems, not isolated instances. Our guide to this new way of thinking is compassion, which is the loving inclusion of others – however full of contradictions this may seem. If, for instance, we want to care about gay marriage, how can we be compassionate towards those who don’t want to get married? How can we include them in our argument? If we want to end disease and illness in our community, how can we include those who are already sick? When we divide the non-married from the marriage issue or the sick from the healthy, we quarantine the teachers of compassion.

Similarly, if we want to be in the military, how can we do so without giving up our sexual identity? What would have happen if as a culture we’d say to heterosexuals, “Yes, sometimes we look at each you and have sexual feelings. It doesn’t have to be threatening and we’re not afraid to tell you about it because it’s natural.” Compassion demands honesty: an impulse towards courage to suffer the consequence of being truthful with one another. Honesty is how we act while thinking of the whole. What kind of change would such honesty win us?

* * * *

Since compassion, to suffer with, means understanding issues and people as deeply interconnected so we can suffer with them, it also means forgiving others of their stumbles as they strive to see the bigger picture.

This does not mean we cannot be angry or vent to our friends. It absolutely does not mean we have no right to be critical. But gossip, pettiness, and self-righteousness are deformed versions of criticism.

Philosopher, scientist, and mystic, Rudolf Steiner once declared that,
We cannot on the one hand want to take part in the processes of the cosmos, and on the other hand make derogatory remarks about our fellow human beings in the widespread way this happens in restaurants and clubs in this bourgeois age.

This is not merely metaphorical or moralizing speculation. When we gossip about others, when, for example, we write on Twitter that Derrick Chambers is stupid or deserves his HIV diagnosis, we are distracting ourselves from seeing the connections between him and us by preferring to need him to be a perfect, infallible example of a human being. What’s worse, it’s public, so we’re encouraging others to do the same thing by proliferating this distraction. Instead of suffering with, we laugh at suffering.

I don’t feel comfortable with the contradictory stories that Derrick has given to the public. But I remember him being sweet and happy months ago, and I can only imagine the frustration and fear this sort of media attention has created in him.
How often have we ourselves made the errors that he’s made in our personal lives? How often have we mistaken what we want to be true for what is true?

He may have done the wrong thing by confusing his statements and casting blame in the wrong places. But do I have to do the same thing to feel okay about the situation? Or can I break out of the pattern and create something new?

We are all beyond being purely innocent or guilty.
When we want someone to be infallible, we fall back on our childhood fantasies about our parents – that they will protect and always be there for us, that they can do no wrong.

But as adults, we are obligated with the task finding a new type of relationship – based on the understanding that everyone is full of contradictions, capable of kindness and cruelty, capable of blunders and mistakes. We work on becoming secure with ourselves so that we can interact with others lovingly.

Since we have, as theorist Amber Hollibaugh put it, “chosen desire where desire is forbidden,” gays, lesbians, transgendered people and porn actors have lives that are magnetic to compassion. Let’s not forget it’s what our being is made of, and that we can charge others with compassion if we live out of it.

We must (and actually, this is first and foremost), be compassionate with ourselves. I will, of course, lapse into errant words and stray comments that injure and hurt my friends and loved ones. I will, no doubt, gossip in the future, and insult someone. I’m not proud or excited about it, but I understand that it’s not easy to change a pattern and it’s important to be gentle when learning something new.

The much-repeated statement that “If one person is oppressed, no one is free,” is true even down to our comments in our social profiles. No matter what, we’re in this together. We are all organs of this community – if one of us fails to work, to breathe, to gesture, the entire body fails.

There’s no hope for health unless we take care of one another as individual cells in a living, dynamic system, with a simultaneous love for the individual and a vision and respect for the whole.