New everything.

1 Aug

I’m not sure if I’m manic or whatever, but as I set out to write this update, I realized, wow, I’ve been doing a whole lot of stuff.  That means next time you see me, I welcome butt rubs and loving kisses on the top of my head and also hugs.  Below is a sampling of all the stuff I’ve been doing since my last blog update.  On top of all this, you can always hire me for lectures or writing coaching.  Check back here soon for a complete bibliography and curriculum vitae for my lectures.

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NEW COURSE

Introduction to Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy

On August 22nd (the day before my birthday!), I’m teaching a one-shot course, introducing people to the ideas and work of the late 19th-early 20th century mystic, scientist, philosopher, and artist, Rudolf Steiner.  Steiner’s worldview, anthroposophy, is connected to the Western esoteric tradition, and deeply informs everything I do.  When you sign up, you’ll get to hang out with me for awhile, do some exercises, learn, and then interact with me – it’s really the next best thing to being in the room.  Click here for more info and to sign up!

I just completed my last online course, “How To Start A Sexual Revolution” and it was a huge success – Along with Samuel Delany, Duncan Trussell, Buck Angel, and Tristan Taromino, we discussed sex, culture, spirituality and art, and answered participant questions.

***

NEW WRITING

“What’s in a (Porn) Name?” on buzzfeed.com

(on my birth name, my porn name, and discrimination against porn performers)

“Because sex is so compartmentalized — it’s often considered separate from the rest of life and hidden away — porn performers, who have sex publicly, are in a unique position to consider and talk about integrating private and public aspects of life. Of course, compartmentalizing different aspects of our lives has become more and more of a problem for everyone, not just porn performers. Potential employers investigate drunken Facebook photos, and there’s a pervading anxiety of making a public and YouTube-able misstep or off-colored comment.”  Read more

“You’ve Got To Make Them Feel It” on buzzfeed.com

(on what’s “real” and what’s “fantasy” in porn, what it’s like to be on the set)

“The lights are always on, above you and below you, held underneath your balls and on your face. You’re supposed to be aware of the cameras, without looking into them. People shout instructions: Slow down. Stop. Start. Speed up. Move your hand, it’s casting a shadow, and keep going, keep going, even if it’s uncomfortable. There are times when you’re bottoming while balancing on a parked motorcycle or standing between two guys on a ladder or giving a blow job while doing a handstand (really!). You fuck, you get fucked, you take a minute while the crew re-rigs the lights, and you eat a banana to keep your blood sugar leveled. Sometimes you’ll go for two hours, sometimes you’ll go for twelve.  So it’s work, and it’s staged. But it’s also fun and sexual.”  Read more

torso

“Facing the Torsos” on TheStranger.com

(on phone hookup apps, the future of pornography)

“With apps, we create living pornography on the spot; they embody exhibitionism and voyeurism par excellence. They’reportable, they’re accessible when we want them to be (in your office! In the Starbucks bathroom!), they’re not one-way like much live cam porn, they’re not expensive, and everyone who signs up is agreeing to the same basic premises.” Read more

***

NEW MEDIA

Podcasts:

I’ve been on a few podcasts and have made some other appearances recently – perhaps most noticeably on Sex at Dawn author Christopher Ryan’s podcast, Tangetially Speaking.  We talked about science, sex, evolution, revolution, and more.  We went really really deep – perhaps deeper than I ever have on a podcast before.

I’ve also appeared on mystic and media and technology analyst Erik Davis’s podcast, Expanding Mind, and thoughtful, poltical-themed podcast The David Seaman Hour.

speedwell

Music:

Did you know that when I was a kid, I started and ran my own record label (sport.records, and Sell-Out records)?  I also set up punk shows for years in my little PA town.  One of the bands I put out music by, Speedwell, is having all their stuff re-released by Coolidge records, and you can download it at bandcamp.  It’s very good late 1990s post-punk stuff, and the singer, Meredith Bragg, went on to become a bit of an emo sensation.  To the left is the cover of the Speedwell single I released.

Publications:

I got two fun shout-outs from New York Magazine‘s website, The Cut – Once when they asked me about the rise of “daddies” as a gay identifier, and another time when they wrote about Anthony Weiner and sexting.

I was also recently interviewed by German-language newspaper, Taz.die Tageszeuitung. It’s in German, but you can also do google translate for a more hilarious version.

Movies:

I’ve had a few porn scenes come out from Titan (NSFW), and I’ve filmed a few scenes as well.  Most notably, I shot for legendary director, Joe Gage (NSFW).  I have two scenes and lots of dialogue in the movie.  Dialogue in most porn films is sort of a throwaway.  But in a Joe Gage film, much of the eroticism lies in the set up, so it’s always good.  While shooting, I took tons of behind-the-scenes photos and mini-videos via the Vine app.  Most of them are  collected here on Queer Me Now (NSFW).

I also just finished filming my section in a documentary called Straight Guys, which is about gay for pay performers.  Perish the thought that I’m gay for pay, but I have worked with a lot of straight-identified men in gay porn, and have written about it here and here.  There’s a quick write up on my appearance here. Below is me and the filmmaker.

daniel-conner-wp-1

Other:

My little vine (which can be found on vine under Conner Habib or here (NSFW)) was just named “The Best of Vine Porn” by Salon.com! Huge honor.  Sometimes I vine porn, sometimes I just goof off.  So if you like alternating pornography with sheer silliness, there you go.

My NewNowNext.com show, Ask the Sexpert, is off for the Summer!  I’ll be back in the Fall to answer your questions.  The last episode on the season – about how to stay hard while you’re topping – is right here for your viewing pleasure.

I’m looking for an intern and a web designer, hopefully both can be the same person – but welcome inquiries in either one as well.  Someone who’s into what I’m up to is the biggest requirement.  Preferably you’d be located in San Francisco or Los Angeles.  I won’t be paying initially, but am happy to provide college credit for independent studies, and to ask you what your goals are and help you along.  I’m also willing to trade writing coaching.  There are lots of details to go over – If you’re interested, send me a quick note via connerhabibsocial at g mail dot com.

fuck freedom.

4 Jun

my first online course

How To Start A (Sexual) Revolution

Taught by Conner Habib, featuring Samuel Delany, Duncan Trussell, Buck Angel and Tristan Taormino!

June 19th, 26th, and July 3rd

brought to you by Evolver and The Center for Sex and Culture

HTSASR

So excited to offer my first online course via Evolver Learning Labs, and to be joined by such amazing guests speakers – and we’re talking about sexual revolution; investigating how sex and new perspectives on it can help create a better world!  Each episode features a live video and audio session, where you’ll get to interact with me and the guests – You’ll also get sex-related exercises between episodes (it’s not homework, if it’s about sex, right?) and unlimited access to recordings of the course afterward.  If you sign up before June 7th, you get 10 bucks off the already super cheap price of 50.00.  This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity; all you need is a computer (which you have if you’re reading this) and an interest in sex (which you have if you’re human)!  To sign up and for more information, follow the link.

Session by session:

First Session – Samuel Delany

Our first session will explore the furthest reaches of the sexual imagination with iconic and visionary author, Samuel Delany.

Samuel Delany is the considered by many to be one of the most important writers of our time, and is the author of nearly fifty books, including science fiction novels (Dhalgren; Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand), memoir (The Motion of Light in Water; Heavenly Breakfast) and social criticism (Times Square Red, Times Square Blue).
 
Delany’s writing investigates lust and desire, and the sexually explicit nature of our imaginations.  Because of this, his work has frequently been banned and scrutinized by lawmakers.  Taking no boundary or concept for granted, we’ll discuss what it means to  incorporate sex into creativity, how to confront societal norms around sex and art, and the power that comes from understanding transgression.
*
 
Second Session – Duncan Trussell

Duncan Trussell is a stand-up comedian, mystic, and host of the wildly popular podcast, The Duncan Trussell Family Hour.  He’s also a regular guest on the Joe Rogan Experience, and has appeared on Drunk Historyand Mad TV.  Each week on his podcast, Duncan explores the spiritual, political, and social landscape blending humor with deep thinking.

 
In our second session, we’ll explore the everyday nature of sexuality and openness, sexual feelings of longing and anxiety, and how humor intersects with the sex in our lives.  We’ll also look at the intersection of sex and spirituality – both taboo subjects in polite conversation – and how radical openness and honesty can create change in ourselves, invite others into new types of conversation about the sexual experience, and inspire new perspectives on the intertwining of sex and spirit.
*
 
Third Session – Buck Angel and Tristan Taormino

For our third session, Conner will be joined by Buck Angel and Tristan Taormino to talk about sexual activism, sexual identity, and sexual images.

 
Buck Angel is a filmmaker and educator, as well as an adult film star and transgender activist.  His popular culture appearances include The Howard Stern ShowMuch MusicThe Tyra Banks Show and more.  His critically-acclaimed documentary, Sexing the Transman, explores the lives of FTM men and was featured at festivals worldwide.
 
Tristan Taormino is an author, pornographer, and feminist.  She’s the author and editor of many sex-related books, including the recently-released Feminist Porn Book (which features an essay by Buck Angel) andA Girl’s Guide To Taking Over the World.  Her internationally-acclaimed radio show, Sex Out Loud explores the intersections of sex and culture.
 
Together with Buck and Tristan, we’ll undo the cultural programming of sexual identity politics, and work towards creating our own sexual identities.  We’ll examine how sexual imagery and pornography can be a healing force for many marginalized communities and how the can enhance rather than hinder our sexual lives and imaginations.  We’ll end by discussing on-the-ground ideas for activism against sexual repression and for sexual – and ultimately cultural – freedom
 
Special thanks to the amazing Center for Sex and Culture for their support!
 

Guys I Wanted To Fuck In High School, Part 4. (Senior Year)

19 May

soccershirt

 

Guys I Wanted To Fuck in High School is a series of short essays about growing up  frustrated in small-town Pennsylvania.  (This is the last entry in the series, and will be followed up later this year with a series of limited edition print chapbooks, each with a different cover by a different artist.)

Senior year is the year time gets all fucked up and also the year I fall in love and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

See because at the end of this year, summer won’t be summer anymore, it won’t be a break between school and school, like the place you go after you die but before you’re kicked back into life.  It won’t be a way station, it’ll just be hot and hotter and then collapse into red leaves and puffs of breath you can see and everyone will say, hey, it’s Autumn now.

And morning won’t be morning, no rushing to get ready, to hurry through the park, across the bridge, up the hill to the school, where the kids congregate and tease each other and tease me and hide their cigarettes till the doors open and swallow us all up.  I’ve known most of those kids since I was four or five, and they’ll all be gone and morning will just be the time when I wake up.

And I won’t be me, I’ll be this person with a mark, an empty little square of loss inside of me that never gets filled in.  That’s love.  Everything will change.

Which is how I know that almost everything I thought was real is arbitrary.  I figured out some of this early on – like why do we have to raise our hands to go to the bathroom?  What’s a “grade” and why should I care? Why do we have to raise our hand to ask a question?  Or sharpen our pencils?  When you see through all that haze and there’s nothing behind it, the teachers don’t like you much.  But now I’m starting to see that even more of it makes no sense, it’s all like a tight coil, unraveling.  You know, like how you twist up a straw wrapper and then let a drop of water fall onto it?  That’s what this year is like, what the right questions are like, what love is like.  A knot turning into a snake, slowly coming to life.

*

His name is Thom and he spells it it with the h and he’s new.  He has a vaguely Canadian accent, like he transferred here from a high school on a Nickelodeon show.

In the cafeteria, a few weeks into the year, he’s standing there lost and unfamiliar to everyone, with his pale blue lunch tray.  There’s an empty seat at out table, where I sit with Becky and Gwen and some boys, and I wave him over.

He’s taller than anyone else at the school, I swear – six two? six three? – so it seems like it takes longer for him to sit down, to bring his body into the seat.  When he gets there, I really see him.  He has brown hair and plain, unintentional clothes.  His face is sort of…sad?  Like he’s a little tired.  Sad and handsome.  And you know? I’m not excited about him right away.  I think he’s handsome, but it’s not love at first sight.  It takes a few minutes.

He looks at my lunch – I’m mostly vegetarian so I don’t eat much except the Tasty Klair pies, which are like eclairs but made out of pie crust.  I bite off the ends and shove Cheetos in the custard.  I drink ice tea from a carton.

We don’t eat anything that has a face, Gwen says to him.  Except chickens, because they’re ugly.

What year are you, I ask.

Senior, he says.

But you’re not in any of my classes.

That’s because I’m in with the dumb kids, he says.

You’re not dumb, I say.  Or at least, you’re different.  I can tell.

How? he asks.

There’s just something about you, I say.

Thanks, he says, and then touches my shoulder, just for a second.  His eyes are green or blue; lake-like.   He smiles, and he has a smile that makes me smile too.  And that’s when I fall in in love.  Not quite first sight, but only a little late.

*

I walk Gwen home that day – it’s out of the way, but I want to talk with her.  She’s been one of my best friends since this whole school business began twelve years ago.  If anyone knows I like guys for sure, it’s her, even though we haven’t talked about it.  You can’t just say it, because even if everyone already knows, once you say it, they’ll feel different.  No matter what you do, they’ll never forget that distance between you.

It’s just like how I know better than Gwen does that she’s a lesbian, but she’s never told me.  How did we find each other all those years ago and become friends before we knew?  See?  Time.  It’s bound up in ways we don’t understand, so we just make it all up.

Thing is, I think she’s started taking drugs or something. She’s out of it, she’s around less in our last year.  She’s skinnier.  I don’t maybe, maybe it’s just in my head.  Everyone suddenly starts taking drugs except me.  People do cocaine at parties I’m not invited to.  People shoot heroin.  This is still the suburbs, but something weird is going on.  We’re all growing up in wrong ways.

Do you know where Thom moved here from? I ask her.

No, she says.  She’s thinking about something else.

Why do you think he moved?  Does he seem sad to you?

I don’t know, she says.

Are you okay? I ask her, and she stops and jumps a little, like she’s been shaken awake.

On the sidewalk, right there at our feet, is a squirrel with broken bones, pulling itself across the cement.  There’s some blood and it’s straining with each inch.  I can see its teeth, how long its teeth are.

What should we do? I say.  We can’t just leave it.

I think, there must be people who take care of problems like this; they take animals in and usher them back to health.  I imagine a woman with a house full of little bottles to feed the animals by hand.  Cages that have hawks with broken wings, rabbits with smashed feet.

I’ll call the police and see if they know, Gwen says, and she runs to her house.

You’re going to be okay, I say to the squirrel.  It’s terrified and doing its best to move, flat on its belly.  You’re going to be okay.  I don’t like anything that comes next.

A boy, Jonathan, that I used to be friends with when we were boys – because we were all friends when we were children – walks by and sees me kneeling.

What are you doing, he says.  Praying on the sidewalk?

Then he sees the squirrel.

Jesus, he says.

I have to stay here with it, I say.

Jonathan laughs and walks away like nothing’s happening. But before that, he says, You know this isn’t the kind of thing you do if you want people to like you.

I don’t even know what that means, but I know it hurts when he says it.  Just like, when Gwen comes back, a cop shows up and says he’ll take care of it, go away now.  We linger for a minute until he tells us again to get out of here, and there’s no note of thanks or mercy.

Did he call a…I don’t know, a wildlife protector person or something? I ask.

Try not to think about it, Gwen says.

We wait for the time-stopping pop of a gunshot, but we don’t hear anything.

I really thought there was a person who took care of that sort of thing, I say to her.

Maybe there isn’t anyone though, maybe I just made that up.

*

I’m confused about what’s real and what isn’t.  All the real stuff, the stuff that’s not arbitrary, comes out of nowhere.  Like Thom, like falling in love with him.  Last year, I started automatic writing and it scared the shit out of me, but I couldn’t stop.  It’s this thing I do now, almost every day.  I have notebooks filled with phrases that don’t make much sense, phrases that sound like they’re channeled from somewhere else. I AM A PERFECT BLANK AND WILL FOLD UP TIME one says.  GIVE ME YOUR LEGS AND KNEEL IF YOU WANT MERCY says another one.  And there are stories too – one about a man who is crucified to to the ground, one about a woman who falls in love with a glass statue.  All of them have that frantic gesture.  I close my eyes and get this sort of overheated feeling and words come out in huge excessive loops across the page, the ink gathering into pools so heavy and the pen pressing down so hard that the paper tears.  I’m always in a sort of wavering trance when I write them, like I have to blot myself out so they can come through.  They all feel true, but writing them is scary.

Do you want to come over? Thom asks me.

School’s just let out and I’m talking to Becky near my locker.  Becky’s a year younger than us; she has blonde hair and wears vulgar plastic jewelry, and uncomfortably red lipstick, but somehow it looks good on her.

At first I think he’s talking to Becky, but she looks over at me like, well? Then Thom puts his hand on my back again.

When we we get to his house – an apartment in a huddled complex on the hill near the high school – his mom is smoking a cigarette.  She’s looking at her Dungeons and Dragons map, spread across the table.  She looks happy that Thom has made a friend.

Do you play? she asks, gesturing to the map and the little pewter figures.

When I was a kid, I say.  With my brother, I say.

You have a brother? Thom asks.

I do, but he’s my half brother and thirteen years older than me, and I don’t see him that much.

We just did it normal style, I say, no figures or anything, it was all just in our heads.

Well we’d do that too, Thom’s mom says, But Thom forgets everything.

Then she laughs and whips her hand out to smack his butt.  I realize she’s also chewing gum.  Chewing gum, smoking a cigarette, smacking Thom’s ass, this place feels weird.

This is it, he says, when we go into his bedroom.

There’s a mattress on the floor and a pile of clothes.  There’s one window with a white venetian blind.  We talk, and later, when his mom leaves, we watch TV.  But even though she leaves, the entire time it feels like his mom is in the room with us.  The whole apartment smells like smoke and it’s so small.  Only poor kids live in apartments in my town.  In my house, in my other friends’ houses, someone could call your name on the first floor and you’d never hear it up on the second.  In an apartment, you’re always close to someone else, but I bet you never feel like you can hear your own thoughts.

The kid who gave me a blowjob when I was thirteen lives in this complex.  We were best friends, but we’re not really friends at all anymore.  I still see him in homeroom and stuff but after the blowjob, I don’t know, I couldn’t talk to him anymore.  I think that officially makes me a terrible person.  I came in his mouth and it was like I wasn’t even there.  I didn’t feel it, I almost want to say it didn’t happen.  He’d already had sex with plenty of guys by then; he used to have a card that said “escort” on it, and the number on it was his home phone number!  Old men would call his house and his mom would answer and he’d say, “Mom, get off the phone, it’s work.”  They’d fuck him, I guess, which I’m sort of envious of.  Thirteen and getting fucked! You might see that kid now, and you might think, “just a kid.”  But he knows more than most of us about a lot of things.

If Thom gave me a blowjob, I know I’d feel it.  When we’re watching TV, I rub shoulders and I feel a flush, like I’m going to start writing something.

*

We start hanging out every day.  After school, two boys.

At lunch, I start putting my hand on his leg underneath the cafeteria table.  No one can see my hand on his leg, and if I’m afraid they will, I pull it away.  And he never pushes it off.  I always keep it just above his knee.

And I start imagining him when I jerk off.  Not just sucking his dick, but him holding my hand and putting his arm around me at night, him kissing me.  I start to imagine what it would be like living with him.  Waking up with him in the morning.

One day at lunch, he puts his hand on my head and messes up my hair, right in front of everyone at the table.  I smile and smile, right through the rest of the day.  If time stopped right there, I’d be okay.

*

The day Thom asks me if I want to sleepover, I have English class last period, and I’m staring at the clock, black lines in a circle.  I don’t usually stare at the clock during English class because it’s my favorite class.  Mr. Rothrock, my English teacher, is sort of crazy.  Not in necessarily a good way, not in the way caring English teachers are in movies.  Instead, he’s sort of unhinged.  He has a very, I don’t know…flowery? voice.  Some of what happens in his class is ordinary, some of it is bizarre, and you have no idea what you’re going to get.

Today, he’s telling us to make sure we keep an eye on our wallets in New York, because later in the year, he’ll take us to New York to see Showboat onclock Broadway, and all the jock kids will talk about how they loved it; they were so surprised they loved it, like their loving it is some grand stamp of approval.  Really, Showboat is just mediocre, but okay.

You don’t want anyone undesirable reaching into your back pocket, Mr. Rothrock says,  Someone desirable, well that’s a different story.

I stare at the clock.

The period is about to end and Scott Franklin says he has an announcement.  He just got a new car. Why is he announcing this?  Like who cares if Scott got a new car.

But Mr. Rothrock asks him if it has leather seats and when Scott says yes, Mr. Rothrock says, So you like to get naked and rub around on them?

Outside, Thom is waiting; he’s talking to Becky and Gwen and Becky’s laughing too hard at something he’s said.  People file past us, and then Gwen and Becky leave and the school looks exhausted and empty.

Do you want to hold my hand? I say.  And then, quickly, Like just friends, I mean girls hold hands and they’re just friends, right?

If anyone saw us holding hands, they’d tease us.  If Thom weren’t so tall, they’d probably beat the shit out of us.  But no one sees us.  We walk all the way back to his apartment that way, holding hands.  I’ve never done this before, and he’s so tall that I have to lift my arm up a little to meet him, but it feels perfect.

At his place, his mom isn’t home, and he reaches under the kitchen counter and comes back up with something clear, which he drinks a lot of and I drink a little of until we’re equally drunk.  I’ve had almost no alcohol in my life.

Where’s your mom? I ask.

Dunno, he says.

Then he takes off his pants.  He’s wearing white boxer shorts with thin blue vertical stripes.

I was going to ask her to get movies, he says, but whatever, let’s just watch TV.

For hours, I don’t know what we’re watching.  I don’t know what we say when we talk to each other.  Thom’s mom doesn’t come home, and we sit on the couch, close.  I mess up his hair and he leans his head back onto my chest.

Kiss me on the cheek, I say.

What?

Kiss me on the cheek.

And he does.  I expect to be totally immersed when he kisses me.  But instead, I think a lot of things.  I think about how I was too scared to try to kiss him on the mouth.  I think about how he’s taking a risk, kissing me on the cheek, how it’s brave.  Mostly, though, I think, did he only do that because I told him to?  Or did he really want to?

What do you know about Becky? Thom asks.

Nothing, but she’s one of those girls, I say defensively.

What do you mean?

Nothing, I say.  Can we go to bed?  Can we lie down in your bed?

We’re both dizzy.  We’re both drinking.  We’re both in his room, on the bed.  His shirt is off, and mine is off too and I put my arm around him and feel his back against me, his chest, his belly, the soft hair beneath his belly button.  My dick is so hard up against him, and everything else is soft.  I want to say, I love you.

You’re not going to move again, are you? I ask.  You’re going to stay here.

I’m going to stay here, he says.

I have no idea why he moved.  All that time we spend together and he remains totally mysterious, like he came out of nowhere.  I don’t know what happened to his dad, or where his mom goes, or where he lived before he lived here.  I’ve convinced myself that people at his old school found out he was gay, and harassed him, so he had to move.  Every time I tried to ask, he changed the subject.  Like that weird movie my punk rock friends showed me about the rich people who are stuck in a house.  It was black and white and strangely boring and terrifying at once.  All these people get stuck in one room of a house and can’t leave; every time they try to, the find out they just don’t have the will to do it.

You never told me where you came from, I say.

What about college? he says.

Fuck that, fuck thirteenth grade, I say.  I’m not going to college.

I listen to him breathing and wonder if he’s asleep.

What about your dad? I ask.  Does he live around here?

Thom rolls over and looks into my eyes.  I can feel his breath on my lips.

Are you hard? he says.  He grabs his dick through his boxer shorts and shakes it at me.  It’s huge, even though it’s still flaccid.

I think I drank too much he says.  Can you roll over?

I roll onto my side, facing away from him, and he puts his arm around me.  I think I might start crying but I don’t.  Instead, I kiss his arm as his breaths get longer and longer and he’s asleep.

I can’t sleep.  I can’t jerk off.  I don’t want to wake him up.  I lie there for hours, with his long, heavy arm draped over me.  I love you, I think again and again, but never say it.

In the middle of the night he mumbles something into my ear, but I can’t make it out.

What? I say.

But he doesn’t repeat it.  Whatever he said in his sleep, with his eyes closed, I’ll treat it as if it were totally clear, as if I know what he meant and it was his most alert, awake moment.  I tell myself that we only say what we mean when we’re not trying to say anything at all.  The light starts to open up through the venetian blind and I can hear the birds.

*

Thom, I write on a page in my notebook, and I underline the h.  It’s cute, that h.  Also in my notebook, is a photo of him I took from his house.  I took that and his white-with-blue-lines boxer shorts.  I know it’s stealing, but I’ll tell him about it.  And anyway, he could have anything of mine that he wants.

The photo was in a jumbled pile of photos in his bathroom.  Most of the photos were of his mom and people I didn’t know.  Maybe one of the guys was his dad, but none of them looked like him.  There were a few pictures with him in them, but in all the other ones he’s got one of those weird half-developed dirty mustaches.  They look silly.  In the one I have, the one I keep in the back of my notebook, he’s caught in mid-laugh, his eyes partially closed.  There’s a blank wall behind him.  It’s not a great picture, and I want it with me all the time.

In the school stairwell where there’s a giant Jesus painting, I drop my books and my photo falls out and all my papers are all over the place.  It’s between classes, so everyone is trampling down the stairs, and I’m holding everything up, clogging the hallway.

One kid stops and takes his gum out and jumps up to stick it on one of the crucifying nails.

Oh shit, someone else says, laughing.

We go to a public school, so that painting shouldn’t be here, but it was done by a student forever ago, so it’s not “religious,” it’s “student art.”  On the floor, in front of the painting, I’m on my hands and knees, looking for Thom’s photo. The gum unsticks and falls off the nail onto the floor.  I feel weird about the temporary vandalism and I don’t know if Jesus is made up or real; if he’s arbitrary or something else.  Maybe there’s a third thing, something that’s not real or fake; something beyond all of that.  When I find the photo, I hide it again in the back of my notebook.

*

Then the night comes when we’re supposed to go to Gwen’s house; me and Thom and Becky, and I have to tell you something, a confession.

You know how else I know time is all fucked up?  That time is arbitrary?  Because this isn’t me writing this.  I mean, it’s me, but it’s weird; I’m not myself. There’s this voice coming through from nowhere, through a black cloud when my eyes are closed.  There’s this Future Version of Me that’s messing with my voice, making me tell you this.

Maybe it’s because summer isn’t going to be summer anymore and the morning is over and there’s this moment coming.  If nothing matters the way it used to, there’s an absence where all the stuff I used to think was, and now it’s filled up by this Future Me, who just slipped through.

And because it’s from the future?  All these words pouring out of me?  Well from the beginning I knew everything that would happen before it happens.  So when it happens, it’s like I’m not there.  Like I’m in the sway of things instead of directing them.  Like someone being shown their life, touring around it with a ghost.

Me and Thom and Becky will go to Gwen’s house.  Thom and Becky will sit on the couch, and I’ll go upstairs.

Gwen will be in her room, she has to tell me something.

In the room, where she still has stuffed animals, and a book of her drawings on the floor, she’ll be crying, I can see it.  She’ll tell me about some girl she likes.  I’ll tell her I love Thom, but I won’t cry.  We’ll reveal ourselves to each other, even though we already know it all.  Even though we could see it coming.

She’ll be the first person I just come out to and tell about any of this stuff to.  It should be a big moment, it should be the thing that marks this night.  But it won’t be, because then we’ll go down the stairs.

Please Future Me, I don’t want to see it.  Please don’t make me watch my life.

On the couch will be Thom.  On the couch will be Thom and Becky.

I can see them holding each other, and their faces will be touching and their eyes will be closed and I’ll close my eyes too and that will be the truth of it all.  No one’s looking at anything.

You are a fucking whore, I’ll say to Becky.  You are fucking bitch and a whore.

The words just show up; even though I don’t like them.

The two of them will pull apart and she’ll have this look on her face.  It’s the look of someone who does not deserve to be hurt, who’s done nothing wrong.  I know how it feels to have that look on your face.

I won’t look at Thom’s face at all.  I’ll run out of the house.

That night, no one will see me for hours.  I’ll walk around our little town, in the dark, by myself.  It will be cold, and my jacket will be on the floor of Gwen’s room where I left it.

There’s the little bridge in the park that I cross when I walk to school, and I’ll walk down the hill to the creek and I’ll sit under that bridge, right by the water I’m used to crossing over.  In the dark, I’ll hear the frosted up edges of the water crack under my feet, but the rest of the creek isn’t frozen yet, the water’s still rushing by.  I don’t know how long I’ll sit there, but that’s where I’ll stay and cry.  I’ll forget everything except what it felt like to see him kissing her.

When I get back to Gwen’s house, Thom will be  gone.  I’ll have no idea what time it is.  Becky will still be there.  She’ll be smoking a cigarette outside in the cold, and I can see the makeup messed up all across her eyes.

I’m not a whore, she’ll say,

I know, I’ll say, although I don’t really know much about her.

Do you love me? she’ll ask.

And I’ll be struck at how ridiculous and unknowing the whole world can pretend to be, even when everything is laid out in front of us.

No, I’ll say.  Not you.

Oh my God, she’ll say, figuring it out.

*

A few days later, on the little bridge, in the morning before school, I tell Thom I love him.  I haven’t seen him since that night that still feels like it couldn’t have happened.  He doesn’t sit next to me at lunch anymore, he’s moved to a different table with Becky.

I’m too late.  I should have told him before.  Like we were too late for the squirrel, like I was too late coming down the stairs.  Nothing catches up to where it’s supposed to be.

I’m not gay, he says.

But you care about me, right?

Becky’s my girlfriend and you have to accept that, he says.

Where is this coming from? I ask.   I turn my head away so he can’t see my eyes tearing up.

Nowhere, he says.

I reach for his hand and he pushes me away.

Do you want to be friends? he asks, and I run away from him, up the hill back to my house.

My mom and stepdad aren’t home.  I stay inside the whole day doing nothing, being no one.  It’s the day of yearbook photos, and I miss it, so at the end of the year, I’m missing from the yearbook.  Or not even “missing,” because there’s no mention that I’m not pictured.  All those years in this place, and at the end, there’s no trace of me.

*

The next day, I go back to school in a dull haze.  Thom passes by me in the hall, but doesn’t say hi.  I know right then that he’ll never talk to me again.  The day unknots and uncoils, and I’m in and out of feeling it.

At the end of it, Mr. Rothrock’s stands in front of all of us and breaks down, crying.

I have Lyme’s disease, he tells us.  It’s interfering with my speech.  There was a tick lodged in my back, can you imagine?

I feel a hundred miles away from him.  Everyone is uncomfortable.  We’ve been making lists of all his verbal fuck ups for a couple months now, thinking about how funny it is that he uses one word when he means another.

Did everyone read the boom? he’d say, when he meant book.  And when we read Lord of the Flies, which is great, he said Lord of the Lies.  And instead of the Mayor of Casterbridge, which is boring, it’s the Sailor of Casterbridge.

I understand there’s a list, he says to us.  Is there a list?  I need to see that list.  It will help me figure out what I’ve been doing wrong, so I can improve my speech.

Gwen, who sits in front of me turns red.  She’s helped make the list.  Now all these marks against him, these terrible things – he needs to see them.

Do you know what it’s like for a man of words such as myself to be deprived the ability to speak? he says.

Then he starts crying again.  Really weeping.

Is there a list, he says again.

But no one gives him the list.

Why would he cry in front of us?  He has other classes.  Did he cry in front of all of them?  Maybe he feels close to us, but no one will ever stop seeing how different he is.

Everyone is still for a second; we have no idea how to react, time stops.  Then the bell rings and we know what to do and we’re off.  Time’s up.

He’s crazy, one boy says in the hall.

You can’t cry in front of everyone and expect them to like you, says a girl.

Yeah, someone else says, what a faggot.

New Events, Old Prejudices

5 Apr

A quick update on my goings ons, and some excerpts from a recent essay!

SexAndYourCellphone benefit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have two appearances this weekend in San Francisco – One on Saturday, April 6th, and the Center for Sex and Culture.  I’m speaking with sexologist and Logo TV Star, Chris Donaghue – who hosts the show Bad Sex.  We’re talking abou how Scruff, Grindr, and social profiles are changing the face of gay sexuality.  The event has a suggested donation, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.  See the flier, left, for details, and feel free to copy the image and share it! I’m also hanging out at a charity event on Sunday, April 7th – helping out Bevan Dufty who occupied Harvey Milk’s seat as supervisor in San Francisco and now does homeless outreach in the city.  The event is to help raise funds for the new LGBT homeless shelter in SF – the first of its kind in the nation. Bevan is spearheading the operation, and it’s a great cause.  See the flier to the right for details.  Please come out! I’m also appearing at Truck bar in SF on the 11th at the release party for Truck (NSFW!) – a movie filmed at Truck last year.  More events soon – I’ll post details here. Finally, I just appeared on The Disinformation podcast.  I talk with host Matt Staggs about old AOL chatrooms, the problem with the HRC, listener questions, and more.  Of course it’s lots of sex sex sex, but there’s a lot else besides.  It’s a fun listen and you can hear it/download it for free here.

*     *     *

Recently, I was asked to speak at Corning Community College in Corning, New York.  My talk was cancelled by the President, because I’m in porn, a week beforehand – which, of course, turned into a national news story, as these things do, covered by NBC, the Huffngton Post, and a slew of local New York news stations.  I’ll be writing about the aftermath, including the event that I did participate in at the Corning Public Library, soon.  Until then, here’s a link to buzzfeed’s coverage of the cancellation.  And below are excerpts from my piece for buzzfeed, which was in response to the President’s spurious claim that LGBT rights are not connected to pornography.  The essay is short, so I haven’t provided too many excerpts, and you can read the entire essay here.

On the decision to censor the talk:

In an miniature echo of pornography’s place in culture, where millions of people watch and want pornography but are told not to want it, not to watch it, the students and community — particularly the LGBT community, which was singled out in the president’s reasoning — were told not to want or hear a discussion that they’d asked for. The school had undone the work and determination of the LGBT community. What could be left but loneliness? I started to hear from and receive emails about students — in the LGBT community and otherwise — expressing their frustrations, and saying they felt threatened and intimidated by the administration.

On the positive effects of gay porn in the lives of gay men:

1970sAs a porn performer of Arab descent, I’ve received hundreds of emails from men in Middle Eastern countries expressing gratitude and relief for my having portrayed gay sex in a positive light on camera. When a gay man lives somewhere where his identity is threatened, it’s clear how sex – including pornography – and sexuality are intertwined. His sexual imagination, which is criminalized, matches the sexual images of gay pornography (which are also criminalized). Since acting out his imagination through sex would be to risk his life, the access to the images is safer. The images, created by gay men wherever it’s legal to create them, provide empowerment and diminish alienation.

On the difference between tolerance and true understanding:

Porn, a form that has been with us for thousands of years and which deeply intertwines with all cultures, deserves deep and serious thinking, not off-the-cuff dismissal and a silencing of public discussion.  This is especially true when it comes to how porn relates to gay men’s lives. To be an ally to gay men, and by extension the LGBT movement, doesn’t only mean being comfortable with gay men’s sexual orientation, it also means being comfortable with their orientation to sex. This is why, when someone claims to be an ally of gay men, pornography exposes – just as surely as it exposes naked bodies — where they really stand.

Live Gay High Fives! Aka: The latest Syrian-Irish writer/gay porn star/ lecturer/anthroposophist news:

8 Mar

There’s been plenty going on here lately.  So while the next blog entry is in progress, here’s some info on upcoming Conner Habib events, as well as excerpts from a recent essay.

EVENTSConner Poster-Library-01

I was recently asked to NOT speak at Corning Community College – a decision made by the president, against student wishes.  There will be an essay up about this is soon (probably today).  But I rescheduled the talk at the  Southeast Stueben County Public Library in Corning.  If you’re in the Buffalo/Syracuse/Rochester area, please come.  The talk is free – I’ll be addressing the whole fiasco and having an open discussion with the audience about pornography and culture.  For details, see the flier to the left.

Just did  a webinar with legendary futurist and mystical thinker, Daniel Pinchbeck, as well as ex-CIA employee and psychic researcher Russell Targ.  One of the craziest most exciting things I’ve done.

Sexo_BeyondOurBodies On Sunday, March 24, I’ll be speaking at The William Way LGBT Center in Philadelphia from 12:30 – 2:00, about sexual health beyond the bedroom.  Check out the flier to the left or learn more about the Center by going to their website.

In April, I’ll be speaking at The Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco with Chris Donaghue, the host of Logo TV’s Bad Sex.  The talk is called “Sex and Your Cellphone: The Death and Rebirth of Technology, Sex, and Relationships.”  We’ll each be talking for a bit, then interacting with each other and the audience.  I’ll also be speaking at USC in Los Angeles!  I’ll post more on those events here in the future, but keep an eye out!

***

ESSAY

Recently, I read pop philosopher Alain de Botton’s book on sex, How To Think More about Sex.  It wasn’t just a hugely disappointing book from a writer that I’d previously felt some affinity with, it was dangerous and reactionary.  I was surprised at his anti-sex rhetoric, and his flourishes of fundamentalist thought.  So I wrote a review article for Full Stop magazine, an excellent online literary journal.  You can read the full review here, and below are some excerpts. 

“There are a lot of ways to go to war against sex and to champion repression. Because sexual freedoms depend on clear thinking about sex, these attacks always have a strong ideological component. Religious leaders have used The Almighty to shame the body. Psychologists have reduced vast regions in the landscape of desire to mere pathology. Evolutionary biologists and anthropologists have claimed that there is nothing essentially human about sex; that the natural male instinct is toward animalistic violence and rape, the natural female instinct is to be dominated.  Certain feminists have claimed that the act of heterosexual sex is itself an act of aggression against women.

One common feature of these attacks on sexuality, sexual liberation, and clear thinking about sex, is that they present at least one component of their arguments as self-evident. A simple example of this can be found in attacks on pornography, which often angrily and urgently detail the sexual acts in the scene — threesomes, foursomes, the use of fetish objects, rough sex, etc. — but offer little explanation as to why we should be outraged by portrayal of these acts, hoping instead that whoever’s listening will have an automatic sympathy with the critic’s unthinking revulsion.”

“or de Botton, sex is not a giving capacity; it isn’t valuable in and of itself, and it doesn’t add to life through its own merits. Instead, sex is a means to an end. One end is procreation. The other — more thoroughly examined in the book — is the temporary relief from loneliness. The result is — and Alain de Botton doesn’t seem to have noticed this — that How To Think More about Sex is a book that is far more about loneliness and alienation than about sex itself. Because alienation is the book’s main concern, and because de Botton tells us that we all feel alienated by sex, the book is permeated by and never quite shakes the feeling of Original Sin; in other words, he assumes we all start from a fallen place, since we are born into loneliness.”

“To introduce us, in the book’s worst chapter, to the “poison” of pornography, Alain de Botton brings us his thoughts via his favorite Greek, Aristotle. He writes,

‘Nobility, as Arisototle conceived of it in the Nichomachean Ethics – ‘the full flourishing of what is most distinctively

human in accordance with the virtues’ – has surely been left far behind when an anonymous woman so

ADB

mewhere in the former Soviet Union is forced onto a bed, three penises are roughly inserted into her orifices and the ensuing scene is recorded for the entertainment of an international audience of maniacs.’

One wonders if Alain de Botton has read anything about Greek culture. He might have at least tried to indicate Greek sexual attitudes and their graduation into all-pervasive sexual imagery in ancient Rome. He avoids the historical context of sexual imagery all together. For him, pornography is severed from history and starts with the Internet.”

Why do gay porn stars kill themselves?

13 Feb

Why do porn actors kill themselves?  Who is responsible?

Image

Whenever a porn star – especially a gay porn star – commits suicide, theories show up, and people act very, very certain about them.  Arpad Miklos, who was as much as a porn “star” as anyone can be in a time when we are hyper-saturated with porn, killed himself on February 3rd, 2013, at the age of 45.  As usual, many people felt sure they knew why he committed suicide, without much evidence.  It was drugs, it was studios not treating him well, it was the feeling of dehumanization, it was the vague but all encompassing “porn industry” that did it, it was the feeling of being hollow, it was it was his loss of validation after being a star for so long.

I can’t claim any special knowledge about his death, I didn’t know him very well.  We met in passing on a set; he’d just finished a scene, and I was about to start mine.  He was huge and handsome; I’m not saying anything new.  If you met him, you were impressed by his smile and his body and his presence.  Looking at him almost made you feel a sense of unbalance in the world, like his handsomeness and flawless physique were proof of some deep inequality between people.  But then you’d forget that feeling and be drawn back into the intense attraction.

He gave me a kiss and his phone number and asked me if I’d like to spend time with him later that night.  My scene ran over schedule, and I was exhausted, so I told him I couldn’t meet.  We communicated a few more times over the years by text and phone, and that was that.  I mention all of this to say:  I don’t know his motivations or who he “really” was.  We kept passing through each other’s lives without ever truly meeting.

But others who knew him even less than me flooded twitter, wrote articles, posted to facebook about what had happened.  The theories appeared as soon as the news did.  It was immediate, like flies to a corpse.  Theories arrived before grief, before honor and love and the experience of loss.  When a gay porn star dies, instead of an outpouring of grief, what we are usually witness to is a buzzing.

All of this is to say that not even death can trump many people’s confused and hostile attitudes towards porn and porn performers. That is how deeply injured we are as a society when it comes to sex, sexuality, and love.

***

It’s natural to turn events like suicide into cultural concerns.

Tragedies are supposed to pose questions to us – the feelings of discomfort that sadness brings can create meaningful action.  But these actions are always most effective when we don’t bypass grief and compassion to get to them.  Unfortunately, the people that make up the largest group involved in porn – the viewers and consumers – may not understand what it’s like to be a performer or to work for a studio.  The porn industry remains obscured by unexamined attitudes towards sex.  So compassion isn’t always available.

There’s a general confusion for outsiders about performer motivations for making porn, how much money they make, what happens during a shoot, what health and safety precautions are in place, how a scene is organized, what it feels like to be a crew member and more. The result is that a monolithic image of “gay porn star” and the “gay porn industry” is formed.  But unlike ideas of other industries – banking or agriculture, say – people’s perceptions are colored by a broader societal confusion: a difficulty in thinking and communicating clearly when it comes to sex and desire.

This confusion is generated by many factors, most importantly by social and cultural institutions that have historically leveraged sex as a way to control people (I address some of those forces here, and will write more about them in the future).  Because these forces create pressure and guilt around sex, when someone like Miklos, who had sex publicly, kills himself, people tend to think he was sad because of his public sex life.  They don’t focus on the fact that he was trained as a chemist nor do they ask what his relationships were like or if he was generally happy.  Instead, a knee-jerk reaction links his sadness with porn.

People want to know: How was porn involved in this death?

This isn’t a totally unfair question, but when left unrefined, it’s not a good one; it’s misguided at best, damaging at its worst.  Aside from not taking all the other factors of Miklos’s death into account, it’s misguided because it’s not nearly a deep enough or complete enough question. It focuses too much on the performer as victim and not enough on sex in society, nor how the porn viewer receives porn and thinks about porn performers, or how sex is legislated, or what our unquestioned assumptions about the “porn industry” are.

The porn performer is, in general, not a victim. This image of the performer as starting porn because of bad circumstance or compulsion is largely a lie (perpetuated, in part, by confused critics of porn).  Part of this false image comes from the idea that porn performers just “fall into” porn or that they’re “discovered” by unscrupulous studio moguls with big, villainous mustaches.  But the majority of would-be porn performers now approach studios, not vice versa.  They’re seeking porn work for different reasons.  Some of those reasons are aligned with the performer’s heart and integrity, others are not, but almost none of the reasons merit the label “victim,” at least not for deciding to be in porn.

The result is thousands of healthy, thoughtful, happy porn performers in gay and straight porn that haven’t killed themselves. And their ways of enacting being a porn performer are very different.  There are performers that make one movie to try it out.  There are porn stars who make a career out of it like Miklos did, appearing for years in different movies by different studios.  There are performers who shoot scenes with their boyfriends and post them to XTube; there are performers who wish they could make more.  There are people who long to be in the porn industry but can’t break into it, or are too afraid to start.

Many (though not all) have other jobs: Along with porn stars who are also escorts and personal trainers, I know gay porn stars who are lawyers, farmers, doctors, meteorologists, and artists. Some don’t have much overhead at all because they live with their parents, who know what they do and are proud of their children.

While there may be some vast archetype that encompasses all porn stars, there’s no such thing as a typical “gay porn star.”  We’re all different.

So sadness and mental health problems are not an industry epidemic – that perception is inaccurate, as is the notion that porn stars don’t have any other skills or feel compelled to do porn out of a lack of options.  Such statements simply aren’t true.

Of course, some performers do have mental health problems.  Some are suicidal, some are drug addicts.  The same is true for lawyers, farmers, doctors, etc. who are not porn stars.

If we strip misconceptions away, we still have a question of porn and mental health before us.  But it appears in in a refined version, a version that makes sense.  We can ask ourselves, what are the specific pressures of being in gay porn?  How can we make those pressures less of a burden?

***

None of the pressures that face porn stars are exclusive to porn – many of them face mainstream actors and athletes, for example.  One of the main problems is the constant inflation and collapse of a performer’s ego.

Once, after shooting a scene for a studio I hadn’t worked with before, one of the staff enthusiastically invited me to the “family.”  He told me how great I’d done and how excited he was to work with me again.  I was in a towel, exhausted, and happy to hear the news.  We were interrupted by a phone call.  He answered and entered into an urgent sounding discussion with a performer on the other end.  The studio just couldn’t hire him, the employee said, for the rate he wanted.  Then he relayed to the performer, studio by studio, how much other studios were paying.  It was significantly less than I’d been paid for work that day.  I felt a little sad for the other performer, but didn’t think much of it.  I became friendly with everyone at the studio, and we’d talk outside of work, too.

Months later I was the performer on the receiving end of this conversation.  Another staff member of the studio had warned me that I was “fat” and that I was asking for too much money.  My appearance hadn’t changed since they’d last hired and praised me.  If anything, I was more toned. I explained that I was only requesting the same rate they’d always paid me.  He went down the same studio-by-studio list, detailing rates, saying that everyone was paying less now.  But the rates he quoted were incorrect. I knew that now, because I’d worked for everyone on his list, appearing in a scene for one of them just a week ago.  It was a canned speech, created to dock performers’ pay.

Why was someone who I thought was my friend lying to me?  The first answer that comes to mind isn’t quite right : money.  Such a simple answer doesn’t explain why we couldn’t have had an honest conversation about money, rather than one coupled with insults and constructed to intimidate me in to accepting less.

Another time, I saw a hopeful newcomer come to the set for some preliminary casting Imagephotos.  A director photographed him, and gave him many encouraging words when they were done.  When the aspiring performer left, the director started complaining about how fat the guy was.

“What a fucking slob,” he said in front of me and the other performers hired for the day.  Everyone was quiet.

“Did you tell him he wasn’t ready?” I asked, finally.

“No, he should have known,” he said.

There’s a fear among many performers that what we hear from employers is not reflective of how they actually feel, and this fear is, at least in part, justified by stories like these.  I’ve heard these complaints echoed again and again by other performers.   On top of this, like many entertainment-related businesses, porn studios are extremely busy but often disorganized.  Not hearing back from a studio in a timely manner after initial emails or calls creates a  flashing anxiety; is it because they’re ignoring you, because they forgot, or are they simply, reasonably, busy? Until you learn how to navigate it, all this puts you in a weird split state.  Are your employers your smiling and nodding friends or are they harboring thoughts about you that they’re not expressing?

Again, this isn’t a complaint confined to the porn industry – it’s a problem with many American business models, where honesty and forthrightness are not properly valued.  But in porn, it’s  compounded by the fact that these concerns mix into performers’ anxieties about their bodies.  Every porn performer I know has at least some fear of how the public will receive our bodies or how “fat” or “skinny” or “small” we look, even though we may not be fat or skinny or small by any means (and if we are, that brings in a separate set of societal issues).  This situation isn’t made any better by unscrupulous internet commenters and bloggers, who are happy to leave the cruelest comments they can think of under photos of our naked bodies.

***

Seen in this light, working in porn has a healthy aspect and a dark shadow.

Porn is healthy for a performer to the extent that it allows him to detach, rather than immerse himself in his body.

***

Porn offers an amazing opportunity to think about your body.  You have to think about how it looks, what food to put into it, what exercises to do to refine it, how to relax it, how to take care of it.  You even have to consider that other people may not like your body, no matter what you do.  Your dick might be too small (or too big!) for them.  They may not like your face or think your abs are undeveloped.  In porn, you have the opportunity to hear these complaints and to love yourself anyway.  It’s very freeing if you can achieve it.  When you can think about your body, you create a loving distance from it, a detachment.  It becomes an honor to have a body when you know it’s only an aspect of your being.

One happy and surprising side effect being in porn has had on me is that it’s loosened up my response to societal standards of beauty, allowing me to see who I actually find attractive.  Before porn, I found myself having a reflexive response to men with huge pecs and six pack abs.  If a huge guy walked into a bar, I (along with a lot of the other patrons) would turn instinctively to look at him.  Maybe I’d compare myself or other guys at the bar to him.  After being paid to have sex on camera with men like that, the feeling has totally left me.  Sometimes I’m still attracted to men who fall into society’s standard of beauty, but it’s not reactive.  Being in porn, being detached from my body, has helped me see the real contours of my desire and attraction, rather than conforming to what I’m told to think is attractive.

The same detachment is what allowed me to hear from the studio owner that I was “fat” and not breakdown, or to read mean-spirited comments on blogs, or to resist the command to do steroids from another studio worker.  My body is linked to my worth, but it’s mine, after all.  I’m a caretaker for my body.  The more detachment I get from it, the more clearly I see that.  I can feel this way most of the time now, but I still dip into the shadow every once in awhile.

The shadow side is that, as a porn performer, you can begin to completely identify with your body.  You can think it’s who you are. You can stumble off to the gym and onto the set and through parties and bars, cutting off your mind from other aspects of experience.   When you’re in this immersed state, an internet commenter or mean-spirited blogger or tactless industry employee calling you fat can feel devastating.

This is problematic enough, but it becomes crushing when you start to believe that your body is all you have to offer.  While I think most arguments about objectification are shallow, I also notice how porn performers can limit their own freedom and destroy their happiness by equating their bodies with their worth (and their worth with how much people are willing to validate their bodies by paying to film them.)  This is where a cliche comes from, the one where the ex-porn actor says desperately, “But porn is all I know!”  How to perform on camera is never all anyone knows, but being in porn creates the possibility of that self-delusion.

It’s good to equate some self-worth with the appearance of your body.  Too little emotional and thoughtful investment in our bodies can lead to poor health and compulsive daily patterns.  Equating too much self worth with our bodies can do the same, but the damage is often to mental health.  We become sensitive, obsessive, or prone to taking mood- altering steroids which for some can amplify the problem.

***

But these are just the pressures porn performers face directly through their involvement in porn.

Since porn is a global phenomenon, watched by millions and millions of people, the largest part of the porn industry is the consumer.  Consumers make up a special and powerful part of pornography.  Since viewers derive pleasure from porn, they are connected to it, not exempt from shouldering some of the responsibility for the well-being of porn performers.

Despite the global popularity of porn, prejudice against performers has not diminished. Teachers have been fired, simply because they had consensual sex with another person on camera; but no one is prepared to say why being in porn should make someone unfit to teach.  Olympic hopefuls with a porn past have been banned from competing under the auspices that they wouldn’t properly represent their country; but isn’t porn part of the country’s culture?  Reality TV stars – have been disqualified from their shows for being in porn; but pornography was the original reality TV, a blend of real and unreal, and certainly full of performers that people are willing to pay to watch.

Involvement with porn becomes an automatic, unthinking grounds for discrimination.  The same people who fire or “out” porn and former performers must have watched porn.  But the porn viewer can conceal his/her enjoyment of pornography.  So long as this is true, the many people who have masturbated to pornography – and this includes most men and an increasing number of women – don’t have to feel any connection to the well-being of porn performers, who have provided the viewers with sexual pleasure.

All that is a broad, societal issue.  But what about smaller, personal instances of discrimination?  Porn viewers make discriminate against porn viewers on a smaller scale, through unthinking slut-shaming. But porn performers aren’t just a spectacle, they are, in one sense, the sexual partners of the people who watch them.  Their images and actions tie into the arousal and orgasm of the viewer.   Why are we asking, “What is it with gay porn?” but not asking, “What is it with the way society treats people who bring them pleasure?”

These are larger questions that I – and many other sex workers – continue to work through, and that are larger than the scope of this essay.  One of the reasons many sex workers are interested in these questions is because they expose something fascinating about Western culture and sex.  But another is that we want to be able to stop this unwarranted discrimination, to be able to be ourselves without reproach or dismissal.

***

So: Why do porn actors kill themselves? is not the right question.  It’s bound to prejudices, misconceptions, and shame.

A better question: What can we do to make involvement with porn easier, less stressful, and healthier?

Each of us, depending on our relationship to porn, can approach this by asking a series of different questions, and by working towards honest answers.

Performers can ask themselves: 

Am I ready to be in porn? Does porn fit into the context of my life and my vision of my future?

Can I endure the misunderstandings of others without lashing out in anger or being weighed down by sadness?  Will I be okay when my parents and loved ones find out (and they invariably find out)?

Most importantly, can I maintain the knowledge that I am not only my body, that my body is a part of me, not all of me?

 People who work for studios can ask themselves:

Am I ready to put in effort to deal with performers, who may have sensitive feelings about their bodies, in a gentle way that is at the same time honest and open?

Am I being honest and open with the performers I work with and hire?

Am I being transparent (with myself and my performers) about pay and why certain performers are being paid the amounts they are, and why they were hired or rejected in the first place?

Studio employees and owners can also ask performers the questions that performers should be asking themselves:  Are you ready for this?  Can you do this and not put your self-worth into it?  Does this fit into the context of your life? Etc.

Viewers can ask themselves:

How do I feel about porn performers?

Am I grateful for the pleasure that porn gives me, or do I feel shame about it?

If I met a porn actor I liked, how would I react?

Viewers can also talk more openly about watching porn (and sex in general), which will help give voice to just how commonplace a phenomenon pornography is.

Of course, these questions don’t have to be phrased the way that I’ve written them.  They don’t have to all be asked at once; any one of them might be difficult to answer honestly.  I’m also familiar enough with the many problems we face in pornography – the way it tangles in with some of the best and worst aspects of economics, desire, and shame – to know that questions alone won’t solve all the problems facing us. But asking questions like these can help cultivate more kindness within porn and more acceptance in those outside of it.

When Arpad died, many people rerouted their guilt about porn – stemming from a lack of openness, reflection, and care about sex, pornography, and desire – onto his life.  Instead of sympathy, many people projected guilt and shame.  It’s up to all of us involved in porn – not just performers, and studio workers, but viewers as well –  to be more loving, open, and honest with ourselves and each other.  That way guilt, shame, and confusion can be redeemed and transformed, rather than absorbed by the empty space where a beautiful man used to be.

For John Bruno and Arpad Miklos

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Come give me a hug in New York = Two events, new publication, new podcast.

23 Jan

I’ll be updating with new entires soon.  In the meantime here’s what I’m up to:

Bidoun

On January 27th, I’m speaking at the MoMA PS1 Dome – the event is from 3-6.  It promises to be a completely bizarre and hilarious afternoon featuring outsider art, screenings of Jack Kevorkian’s TV show (no, really) and me.  I’ll be talking about sex, of course – and would love to meet you there.  Admission is free, and so is the hug you’ll get if you come and say hello.  Click here for the rest of the details.

The next day, January 28th, I’ve got a more low key but probably deeper presentation in Pennsylvania at The Independent Space in Kutztown (near Allentown).  I grew up not too far from there, so the event is a big deal for me, even though it’s in a humble place.  I’m very excited.  The flyer is posted below with all the info.  The title of the talk is The Sacred and the Profane.  I’ll be talking about how sexuality, freedom, and spirituality all interact, and why we have troubling dealing with all of them.  It will be a fun, light-hearted but still in-depth lecture followed by a Q&A.  It’s a pretty intimate space, so come by.  There’s a suggested donation of $5.00-20.00, with no one turned away for lack of funds.  This is the rare chance to catch me right near where I grew up, talking about the things that matter most to me.  The flyer is below, or you can click her for more.

I also just recorded a podcast with stand up and TV comic, Duncan Trussell.  I was on his show once before, and it was one of the Me and DBbest conversations I’ve ever had.  This time, we were joined by mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and religious scholar (again – no, really!) Danielle Bolelli.  It’s a deep and hilarious conversation.  We go all over the place – from suicide to science to God to a world that is made completely out of dicks.  You’ll see what I mean.  You can download the podcast on iTunes or for free here.

I just published an essay on Reality Sandwich about near-death experiences, the problem with proof in science, and the trouble with new age beliefs.  It’s called When Proof Is Not Enough and uses the near-death experience of neurosurgeon Eben Alexander as its starting point.  I’ll probably repost the essay on this blog at some point, but if you’d like to read it now, you can check it out here.

I’ve got a lot more going on – my essay about biologist Lynn Margulis is now available in a book alongside James Lovelock, Niles Eldrege, David Abram, and more (!!!).  My essay on rest area sex is in the upcoming Best Sex Writing 2013 – alongside Jonathan Lethem and Carol Queen (!!!).  a movie from Titan coming out,  a book in the works (!!!), a podcast conversation with Emily Morse on the Sex with Emily show, and more.  As always, you can check out my web show on Logo TV’s NewNowNext website and keep in touch with me on my twitter, @ConnerHabib.

IndieSpace

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