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.

30 Responses to “to suffer with”

  1. RandyN December 11, 2010 at 10:36 am #

    Thank you for putting things into a new perspective for me. I never saw it this way and honestly, now I just feel a little bit like a jerk for some comments I made these days. Nobody deserves to get a serious illness and I am truly sorry for what is now happening to Derrik.
    I wonder when I turned so bitter…

    • Conner Habib December 11, 2010 at 7:22 pm #

      Randy, thanks for being brave enough to consider your own thoughts and feelings. 🙂

  2. Casey Scott December 11, 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    Beautifully written and so true, Conner! Compassion is also often seen as a sign of weakness, of being blinded by emotion, but it’s a human response that connects us during times of hardship. Your words have resonated with me and I hope others will take away an important message from them as well!

  3. brendan December 11, 2010 at 3:46 pm #

    “Every morning
    I shall concern myself anew about the boundary
    Between the love-deed-Yes and the power-deed-No
    And pressing forward honor reality.

    We cannot avoid
    Using power,
    Cannot escape the compulsion
    To afflict the world,
    So let us, cautious in diction
    And mighty in contradiction,
    Love powerfully.”

  4. Rick M December 11, 2010 at 7:38 pm #

    I can’t even imagine what Derrick Burts must be going through. I only wish Mr. Burts the very best and have no ill words for him. Conner I really enjoy reading your Blogs.

  5. Tony December 11, 2010 at 7:45 pm #

    Conner, so glad you took your time to gather your thoughts and write this. Too many people shot from the hip as it were and said things that were cruel and humorless–just to say it and get printed. I hope Derek reads this & I hope it helps him.

  6. Devon Hunter December 11, 2010 at 8:28 pm #

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  7. angloam December 11, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

    Marvellous insight into the practice of saying what will get the job done (often a result of a sort of overcompensatory groupthink which uses the prejudices of the majority as its basis) instead of being honest. You crystalized the craven tawdriness of an impulse to please the majority that I often and frustratingly find myself giving in to. It’s as if we’re conditioned to view the Other as the gold standard so instead of acting in equality we act in imitation, betraying our own truths in running after theirs, warping ourselves into their molds, trying to pass counterfeit versions of our verity. Surely it doesn’t work, surely They see the fraud in it.

  8. daddycentaur December 11, 2010 at 8:58 pm #

    As a African American I can relate to your words on many levels…Loved the article…Thank you so much for taking the time to write it.

  9. Bernard December 11, 2010 at 9:35 pm #

    When I read this I was deeply impressed by the way you explained how people react to different situations and the reasoning why many people say things when they do not understand. Your words show an intelligence that I have not seen in a long time. You are truly brilliant.

  10. Sean December 11, 2010 at 10:09 pm #

    WOW ! What an impressive, articulate and well-written piece.

    While I feel for Mr. Burts and wish him all the best in this world, I have come away with another of my misperceptions completely shattered with this post.

    Mr. Habib, I must admit that our (read: my) fantasies of porn stars are completely relegated to the physical realm, but your wonderfully articulate post has forced me to re-evaluate porn stars as thinking/feeling/intellectual people also and not just lucky enough to be bestowed with beauty and sensuality.

    Thanks !

  11. Gord December 11, 2010 at 10:35 pm #

    Thank you once again Connor…you have a wonderful talent for putting thoughts into words, and leaving us with much to ponder…
    Thank you for your time and effort…it is appreciated!

  12. Brenden December 11, 2010 at 11:17 pm #

    My first thought when the news broke was ‘That poor kid has to be hating himself so much,’

    I think this is the first article i’ve read that didn’t call him a monster or a murderer.

    Your thoughtfulness and compassion are a credit to our community. thank you.

  13. Sean December 12, 2010 at 2:06 am #

    I’m at a loss of words to express how great this piece is.
    A universal masterpiece. You are a gifted writer.

  14. kloppenmum December 12, 2010 at 7:26 pm #

    Hear, hear.
    I think the key for me is that we (in the west) see emotional responses (including compassion at times) as a sign of weakness. Pre-industrial revolution it was accepted that emotions were a sign of a problem…not the problem itself.
    Love the Steiner quote…said it all really. Cheers.

  15. Josh December 12, 2010 at 10:40 pm #

    Hi Connor,

    Well written piece, as always.

    I understand your point of view.

    One of the most concerning things about Derek’s story to me is the lack of responsibility he is taking, and how negligent his comments are.

    Despite what people say about actors in the adult entertainment industry, they do have a social responsibility to lead by example to their consumers.

    I wouldn’t go as far as to say they are role models’, but anyone in the public eye holds some kind responsibility none the less.

    This case has been highly publicized and as such a perfect forum to educate people, young and old, about HIV and how certain actions can result in infection.

    Imagine the fear and panic his statements could cause for a young man coming to terms with his sexual identity.

    I do have compassion for Derek, but I would challenge him to man up and use this as an opportunity to educate those around him of the very real dangers of HIV.

    His current actions are only increasing the stigma, not only about HIV, but about all homosexuals.


    • Conner Habib December 13, 2010 at 12:23 am #

      Josh –
      Thanks for your comments. I want to be clear – I think Derek’s response to his situation is graceless and confused – and I think you’re right to have critical thoughts about his actions.

      However, I wrote this blog in hopes of addressing a needed compliment to criticism – compassion. I don’t think we can respond appropriately – perhaps we cannot even respond truthfully – without it.

      I’m sure you’ve also felt regret and confusion after the fact and that you’ve made contradictory statements or acted our of fear in your life. That’s not a condemnation – I’m sure you’ve done so, because I have too. We all have, and we’re united in this.

      My hope is that we can begin to turn away from finding where somewhere else is wrong, and emphasizing these wrongs. Instead we can seek out within ourselves where we’ve made the same mistakes so we can move forward TOGETHER through understanding. This is the difference between needing to be seen as right and truly experiencing freedom.

      I often wonder if the world would respond to pornography in a more enlightened and accepting way if the people making pornography were all raising their heads high and had a feeling of brotherhood. We’re working towards it – and I think Derek’s case allows the opportunity to see each other with compassion and consequentially HELP each other through instead of deferring to criticism and blame. If so, we can change not only ourselves, but our role in the world.

      Thank you for your thoughtful response,

      • Jason December 13, 2010 at 7:26 pm #

        “if the people making pornography were all raising their heads high and had a feeling of brotherhood.”

        Exactly!!! I doubt that the Screen Actors Guild would allow ya’ll to have membership (but who knows? has anyone asked?) but there’s nothing stopping you from having an Adult Actors Guild or something a little more clever. If you all would band together, you could demand condom use as the default, and provide a strict set of guidelines for those who wish to pursue bareback porn.

        And if you’re gonna have “stage names”, please make them realistic. Conner, you have a great stage name because it *could* be real. Same with Brandon Lewis and Jeremy Bilding. A guild of some kind could also help ya’ll in that. You all have nothing to be ashamed of, and we’ve seen time again that if someone is determined to out your birth identity, they will succeed.

        From what I’ve gathered on the internet, Mr. Burts was living a very compartmentalized life full of secrets. It’s tragic that it’s come to HIV infection for him, and potentially others… but I think it also goes to show how life in ANY closet is poisonous, first for your soul and then potentially for your physical body.

  16. Steven Daigle December 13, 2010 at 7:53 am #

    Wow.. So well written and thought provoking ;). You have some amazing things going on in that cute head of yours..

  17. Dalex December 13, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

    Wow Connor, that was so well written. I enjoyed it very much! Keep up the awesome writing!

  18. Robert Chandler December 13, 2010 at 9:39 pm #

    I feel for Derek too. He was always so nice to work with. I did three shoots with him and his sweet, funny smile always lit up the room. He must be very scared and confused now. After all of this, I hope he gets all the love, support and medical care he, and anyone in his position, deserves.
    Thanks for the compassionate piece, Conner.

  19. William Kipp December 14, 2010 at 12:52 am #

    I spoke up against the grain with Mason Wyler and I will speak up again now … if this was any outside the public sphere it would be hushed or only quietly discussed behind closed doors. I don’t feel its right to attack someone when
    1. We are paying to watch performers
    2. Even with Condoms people are at risk as professionals or private citizens
    3. Your partners may lie to you at any time.

    Remember these three things before you attack another person’s character.

  20. Rob December 14, 2010 at 1:11 am #

    Dear Connor, ‘Came to read this post as per Devon Hunter’s suggestion on his blog. I recognize that you, as does he, inhabit a higher plane with regard to intellect and thought. I’ve read other posts of yours, and I often wondered why the two of you aren’t linked in some way. Your (and his) insight and ability to convey it in a literate, cogent, honest, and relevant manner is humbling, and also, why I’d value any response you’d deign to give.
    It’s fair to say that I’ve been around quite a bit longer, but it took me far longer, than it has you, to achieve an attitude of acceptance with regard to others. I don’t necessarily feel your compassion for everyone, but I’ve come to understand that the human animal is so complex that the blame game and all of its accompanying venomous hate is both futile and counter-productive. It is what it is…Accept it; move on with all the positivity you can muster.
    Having lived quite a bit of my life BI (before Internet), for the most part (excluding celebrities/politicians), blame/hate/criticism were more locally contained (school, work place, neighborhood, gym class-yug) compared to AI, with blatant anonymity making it easy and eternally available for global consumption/comment/demeaning gossip/slander. Don’t get me wrong…I’m fully aware that at the time you’re a target, audience size matters little. For me, “It Gets Better” probably has greater meaning…You could get relief from the obvious demons – almost immediately – upon graduating from/rejecting the circumstances adolescence forced upon you. Maybe emotional peace would take work, but it was possible. But now, AI, there is no escaping the Google!
    So, Connor, in a very round-a-bout way, what I’d like to hear your thoughts on is: What do you feel are the chances for a more compassionate society given the scope of, and the cowardly covert malice with which the Internet can be/is used/abused?
    On a lighter note…Seriously, you and Devon…You’d make the MOST Dynamic Duo!
    Sincerely, Rob

    • Conner Habib December 14, 2010 at 6:38 am #

      Hi Rob,
      It’s a big question – I don’t think that there’s anything inherently bad about the internet. I think, in fact, that it has brought a lot of compassion to the world by showing us there IS a world. Before the internet, we felt less connected and had less of a vision of an entire planet full of people (and as for the “graduating” you can now see a greater range of possibility because it’s more easily shown via the internet).
      This comes with a shadow side, which you mention. There are a lot of people who have spoken more eloquently on this than I’m capable of. In particular, I recommend my friend, Doug Rushkoff – his latest book, Program or Be Programmed is about this very issue.
      Thanks for the thoughtful response!

      • Rob December 15, 2010 at 5:52 am #

        Dear ConnEr, I agree that the good of the Internet mightily outweighs the bad. And yes, I agree that it opens up the world and its possibilities in here-to-fore unimagined ways. I wish to hell computers and the Internet had been available to me when I was researching/writing papers as an under grad in college. But, I’ve been horrified by the hair raising attacks people endure just for expressing points of view which I consider to be uncontroversial and rational. Now, maybe its my bias, and I’m assigning more import and scope to it (like I do with Fox News) than is warranted in reality. I’d imagine that you must have experience with this. Maybe I just have a darker view of human nature, especially when that darkness can be unleashed with impunity behind a wall of secrecy. Thanks for the reading suggestion. I’ll let you know how it impacts my perspective.
        Sincerely, Rob

  21. Rob December 14, 2010 at 1:32 am #

    Oh for God’s Sake: CONNER…Duh!!!!!!!

  22. Marko December 16, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    Wow. What a well written and thought-provoking essay. You’ve articulated beautifully what I’ve been trying to live. You really are the whole package, Conner. Thank you.

  23. Patrique Vosges February 7, 2011 at 2:14 am #

    I don’t know why, but for some reason reading this brought me to tears. And to think I was lead here because of a tweet where you asked what was the best music to douche to. Whatever the reasons behind why I’m overly emotional or how I was led here, I will say that this was a well written and well thought out essay. I tip my hat to you.


  1. By the Time You’ve Seen It, It’s Too Late « Connerhabib's Blog - February 1, 2012

    […] new to my blog, here are some links to my posts on my experience with gay domestic violence, the nature of compassion, and working with gay-for-pay […]

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