Treatment As Metaphor: What Happened When Susan Sontag, My Mom, and I Were Diagnosed with Cancer

22 Jan
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My mom and I on my 22nd birthday. She died a little over two years later.

My essay“When You’re Sick You’ll Wait for the Answer but None Will Come,” was the cover article of a recent issue of The Stranger.

In 2007, a doctor told me I had lymphoma.  Looming over this diagnosis was my mother’s slow death of bone cancer in 2001.  My literary hero, Susan Sontag wrote about cancer and our attitudes about it so convincingly; but I found that when I was confronted with fear for my health and life, her thoughts on illness weren’t complete.  What about our attitudes about treatment?  I’ve been mulling over this essay for year, and am happy to have written (exorcised?) it and to have it finally out.

Read the entire thing here, read some excerpts below, and feel free to share your experiences in the comments.  Thank you.

***

I was on a hospital gurney in a hallway, and I’d been there, confused, for hours. I was wheeled out there after a CT scan on my abdomen.

Am I okay, I’d asked the CT technician. She looked down at the floor.

“You’re going to die,” she said.

And then, animated, “Just kidding! The doctor will see you in the hall.”

She patted me on the shoulder. That’s the kind of person she was.

I was there after being assaulted by my boyfriend; it was the first and only time he’d hit me, and I promised myself I’d never see him again. I didn’t have a job, I’d just finished grad school, and now my rib was broken and I had internal bleeding and bruised intestines that would scar up. I wasn’t sure what was next for me. The CT scan was for my liver and spleen to make sure they hadn’t split open.

My spleen was fine; my liver was fine.

“Your spleen is fine; your liver is fine,” the doctor said. I was in the kind of pain that’s not just dull or sharp but also frightening.

“The suspicion is that you have lymphoma.”

I’d talked to this doctor hours ago, when I checked in for my injuries. We talked about police reports, and he checked my breathing.

What? I asked.

“Your lymph nodes are irregularly large; you’ll have to get another CT scan. The suspicion is lymphoma,” he said again. Suspicion. Was that a diagnosis?

A smiling nurse appeared next to us. “At least you caught it early!” she said. “Think about it! The assault saved your life!”

***

Death comes, and when it does, it sounds like a creaking door. I know this because when my mom was finished with cancer, a noise uttered its way past her teeth. Like something being crushed slowly, but there was no burst or relief at the end. She died on a bed in our house. She’d spent a lot of time before that moment disappearing. No more fat or muscle on her, no more talking; she was like a piece of paper with bones in it. Each breath was a disjointed heave and hiss, and then it stopped.

I was 24; she was 56.

None of this will tell you enough about her, nothing could, but I’ll try:

My mom would tug at my sister’s hair or pinch me when we misbehaved, because she was a big sister to us. Her mother died giving birth to what would have been my mom’s first younger sibling. My mom corralled and held us against harm. She wouldn’t let us watch violent movies. She wrote a short story about a woman who slit her wrists in a library and everyone walked by quietly, trying not to notice. She read a lot. She gave classes for women at Barnes & Noble. She told me that as a little girl, she had a dream about looking out her open bedroom window as nickels rained in from the sky until the entire room was full. Sometimes she’d make me or my sister or anyone laugh so hard that we couldn’t breathe. She had a John James Audubon bird book that she’d pull off the shelf and page through with me: the colors and the brushstrokes and the scenes of struggle and beauty.

They’d told us she had cancer, bone cancer. First it was breast cancer, and then it was bone cancer. Ten years ago, they amputated her fleshy left breast. She said that on surgery day, she put a sticky note on her breast that read “Good-bye.” Treatment came to a temporary halt in a curved line of black stitches across her ribs. That should be enough, but no! A breast wasn’t enough for them. Not the cells, not the doctors. Ten years later, there was a tumor on her sternum, and then her leg. Then she was in pain. Constant pain. From diagnosis to death, it was a little more than two years.

***

Treatment” is a word made up of different words.

“Treat” is from the French traiter, derived from the Latin tractare. To handle, deal with, conduct oneself toward, tug, drag about.

“Ment” is a magical suffix that turns actions into things. To add “ment” to the end of a word is to draw it into the world.

That means treatment may be “the state of conducting oneself toward something.” That’s as gentle as a quiet, correct step.

It also means that treatment may be “the state of being dragged about, the state of being pulled violently.”

When we’re sick, or when we think we’re sick, we seek treatment. Since we all get sick sooner or later, treatment is a part of being human. It’s not separate from our lives, it’s not a feature of certain people’s experiences, it’s not optional.

EPSON scanner image

Susan Sontag

Writer and intellectual Susan Sontag, in her book Illness as Metaphor, wrote of this obligation to be sick in our lives. And she also wrote that to decorate our illness with metaphors and melodramas was to make matters worse. “Illness is not a metaphor,” she wrote. “The most truthful way of regarding illness—and the healthiest way of being ill—is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking.”

She was diagnosed with cancer on three different occasions. First, breast cancer in 1975. She responded to it with Illness as Metaphor, a radical mastectomy, and chemotherapy, which she opted for over a “modified radical” mastectomy, which was a less invasive treatment. She viewed cancer as a growth, so radical treatment was necessary to getting to its root (radicalis from the Latin radix or “root”). An extremity of uprooting. When a friend came to her with a cancer diagnosis and fears about the pains of treatment, she told him that when he was in such terrible pain that he may have to stop, that’s when he should take another treatment. Then another. She was expressing sympathy by encouraging defiance. I wonder why she didn’t notice that her approach to treatment echoed perfectly her approach to living, and so was alive with metaphor.

Radical in her heart, radical just above it.

***

Looking up treatment was a treatment itself. Perhaps I could calm down if there were cures.

Night sweats, itchy skin, fever, abdominal pain, cough, fatigue, weight loss, rashes, back pain. None of these are disease-specific. I found myself suddenly scratching my legs more and waking up in the middle of the night. I found myself exhausted. Was it lymphoma or just “normal” or had I been hexed?

“You should calm down,” one friend said.

“You should rest before you drive across the country,” said another.

I didn’t go back to the doctor. I wanted to escape everything, and I had to make sure I would never interact with my boyfriend again.

I put my things in my car and drove across the country alone, from Amherst to San Francisco, wondering if my back pain was from sitting or impending death. In one of those states in the middle, the ones that are so beautiful that they blend together and make you forget their names, I stopped my car and watched pronghorn antelope grazing. I’d never seen antelope before. The only sound was the wind, which rushed up fast like the grass was exhaling. Then I remembered: lymphoma. I wondered if the states were being granted to me, one by one, showing up to say good-bye or calm me down. I’d felt my lymph nodes in my neck every day. I still catch myself feeling them. I wonder how my hands got up to my throat, searching for something.

There was a feeling of spinning.

***

A question that is bound up in illness for us: Who’s to blame? If the person who chooses to pray as treatment dies of cancer, is it their fault? If so, isn’t the same true for someone who chooses chemotherapy for cancer and dies of cancer?

People will be quick to tell you that some attitudes toward health are “dangerous.” This is true. They’re all dangerous.

…But what if we eat raw food? What if we drink enough water, if we take vitamins, if we sleep well, if we exercise, if we meditate, if we go on “retreats,” if we take psychedelic plants, if we get massages, if we become vegetarians, if we eat more organ meats, if we force ourselves to laugh, if we take morning walks?

We try to avoid illness and treatment, and in avoiding it create a constant state of illness and treatment.

JANUARY 22 EVENT: Sexpert meets DeathXpert – Me and New York Times Bestselling Author, Caitlin Doughty, in Discussion

13 Jan

Thursday, January 22 at 8PM at the Body Well in West Hollywood:

I’ll be speaking with New York Times Bestselling author of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory Caitlin Doughty.

flyer

Event Description:

Human life starts with sex and ends with death; they’re life’s only requirements.  So why do we have so much trouble talking and thinking about them?  Why are the fundamentals of the human body so scary and confusing?

SGIn this event, we’ll investigate:

  • How to cultivate a healthier attitude towards sex and death
  • How sex and death are intimately intertwined
  • What happens to the body in death and during sex
  • and more!

Join New York Times bestselling author of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory, Caitlin Doughty, and acclaimed writer and sex expert Conner Habib for a night of lively discussion about death and sex, moderated by The Body Well’s Dr. Mike Carragher.

Audience members will join in after the talk with a question and answer discussion including the panelists.

Suggested donation: $15 – $25  All are welcome.  No one turned away for lack of funds.

Parking: There is a parking lot behind The Body Well accessible via the alley. There is also metered parking available on Santa Monica Boulevard.

2014: The Best Stuff

1 Jan
MeandCM

Connor Maguire is a smooth motherfucker. Also, he fucked me while I hung upside down from a tree branch (see “Other Stuff”)

Happy New Year, everyone!

This is my best stuff.

It doesn’t have to be your best stuff.

But if you want, you can tell me yours in the comments.

Last year, I went into this-is-good-because-of-this and on and on.  This year, just a list.  I’ll meet you in the New Year.

***

NP

Nina Persson, singing her animal heart out.

Music:

Nina Persson: Animal Heart 

Augustines: Augustines

These were also the two best concerts of the year for me.  Augustines played an acoustic set in Nashville – stripped down and personal and intense.  Nina is the best singer of our time, and her albums don’t ever quite capture how powerful her presence is live.  If she comes anywhere near to where you live, see her.  Her voice is unforgettable.

***

th

Tom Hardy. Oh, Tom Hardy. From The Drop.

Movies:

Calvary

Jodorowsky’s Dune

The Drop

The Babadook

The first two about spirituality and the paths it takes, echoing out into the world.  The third, a crime drama with an amazing script.  The fourth, a psychosexual horror movie that scared the shit out of me and made me cry.  When does that ever happen?  I keep thinking about them all.

***

AJ

The occult intensity of Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Books: (as usual, I didn’t mostly read books that came out this year, so these are the favorites of what I read, not of new releases):

The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson

The Magus of Strovolos by Kyriakos C. Markides

Psychomagic by Alejandro Jodorowsky

Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock

The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

On the list, in order, a book-length poem about lost love; two books about spiritual healing that scramble your mind; a brutal collection of short stories; a hilarious and dark play; a fucked and undeniably entertaining novel about a woman who gets a job as a middle school teacher to seduce kids.

***

me and connor

This was a fun thing.

Other Stuff:

Took the year off from porn to eat donuts, focus on writing, and chill out in Los Angeles.  I might do more, I might not. On the one hand: filmed gay sex with insanely hot guys.  On the other hand: donuts.

My scene with Connor Maguire came out in January of 2014.  I can’t believe that fuck in the woods is a year old now.  Aaaw.

I now have a boyfriend, which looks crazy written down like this, but feels awesome.

I went to Mexico for the first time.  It was awesome.

I was elected as Vice President of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC) in the summer.  I help improve the health, happiness, and quality of life for adult performers (gay, straight, queer, etc) currently working in the industry.

My essay, “What I Want To Know Is Why You Hate Porn Stars” was the cover story for the Stranger and became, like, a thing.

I met Scott Caan.

I appeared in the storytelling show, Risk!, for a second time, sharing the stage with Nicole Byer, among others. I talked about having sex with a straight dude in the Amherst Brewing Company bathroom when I was in college.  So, you know: general interest story.  That story is featured on the Risk! podcast, in an episode featuring Aubrey O’Day.  Yes, that Aubrey O’Day.

Farewell, 2014.  So much coming up.  Can’t wait.

shirtless

Love, Your pal, Conner Habib.

Fight Science with Science: A conversation with Skeptiko host, Alex Tsakiris

9 Dec
onstage1

This is the most interview-y photo I could find.

Over a year ago, I conducted a series of interviews with thinkers/scientists/artists who were pushing on the boundaries of our world views.  I planned on releasing these interviews as part of a podcast.  I decided to scrap the podcast (maybe I’ll work on another one sooner or later), but the interviews were just hanging out on my computer.  So I’ll be posting them periodically on here.  

Alex Tsakiris is author of Why Science Is Wrong…About Almost Everything and host of the Skeptiko podcast, where every week or so, he has a conversation with near-death experience researchers, skeptics, debunkers, neuroscientists, philosophers, conspiracy theorists, UFO investigators, and other people in the great cultural battle over the shape and worth of science.  Almost everyone who comes onto Skeptiko is pushed on (sometimes pushed on quite hard) to confront their own assumptions, prejudices, and holes in their logic.  It’s sort of like a how-much-can-you-endure reality show for thinkers.

Many critics of the show point out that Alex can misunderstand science, that he can be a bully, that he “sandbags” his guests.  You can listen to the episodes and see for yourself whether or not you think that’s true.  I certainly don’t agree with all of Alex’s positions, nor the thinkers he sometimes champions.  Often, while listening to the show, I’ll be yelling out loud to no one like a crazy person – But why didn’t you say THIS, Alex?  My disagreements inform my own thinking, but are irrelevant to my enjoyment of the show, or what I find so valuable about it.

The value of Skeptiko isn’t that Alex is correct all the time.  Sometimes he is, sometimes he isn’t, and sometimes I don’t know how to tell which is which.   What’s valuable is that, each week, Alex confronts his own assumptions and prejudices.  To listen to Skeptiko is to hear Alex’s world view changing and his understanding of science refined, little by little.  This display of personal growth is inspiring, particularly since he’s constantly talking with people who are deeply attached to and embedded in their own perspectives.  A shift in world view, without some serious trauma, is a slow and grueling process.  Alex exposes himself to this shift with every conversation, subjecting himself to the revealing and sometimes painful Skeptiko mission statement, “Follow the data… wherever it leads.”

***

Conner Habib: What are the red flags for you when you’re talking to people in paranormal/spiritual communities that you’re not getting a consistent story or rigorous investigation?

AT

Alex Tsakiris

Alex Tsakiris:  I think it’s challenging on so many levels because when you get into the paranormal there does get to be this degree of strangeness no matter where you start.  You walk in and you wind up in this very strange spot.  I guess I’m kind of an idealist in that I’ve always felt like I should get a straight answer.  I’m upfront and I should get the same back. 

I have to say, when I first encountered the skeptical crowd and found out the deception that was going on and how they’re not consistent in any kind of logical way, I really felt compelled to push on that because it directly contradicts the front that they’re putting up that they are interested in critical thinking, that they are interested in the scientific method.

Take Hazel Courteney (author of Countdown to Coherence on Skeptiko episode 136) for example – I love her message, and I think her topic is extremely important – this spiritually transformative experience that totally knocks someone on their butt.  I think those things happen and I think they can be a real distressing moment – an extremely unsettling part of someone’s life.  People right now are locked up in mental institutions in a very dark place all over the world because they’ve had some kind of amazing transformative spiritual experience and they’re unable to orient that with in a way that our culture can understand and accept.  So I feel challenged when someone like Hazel goes through that experience.  You better be on your game! Don’t go through that and start mixing it up with some other new age mumbo jumbo.  You have an important story to tell and an important job to do, go do it!

I want to hear the message, but I want to hear it’s coming from someone who’s applying good critical thinking skills.

CH: How is that different from science proceeding from a series of wrong pathways and wrong alleys and having its foundation resting on something that’s not correct?

AT: My point is: There’s a standard that all of us that are seeking this higher degree of truth need to hold to.  And it’s not some sort of impossible standard.  It’s just common sense.

We all bring our personal credibility to the table, and we also bring our process to the table.  I love being public in the way that I am.  I love doing posts and putting my name on them, and then you (the audience) are my fact checkers.

CH: Skeptics do things the other way around – they investigate individuals under the shadow of dismissal.  You’re saying, I talk to each person and try to get a feel for what they’re doing and how true what they’re saying is.  I wonder if there are any phenomena where you think, “I don’t think so. This doesn’t seem to be true to me at all as a phenomena,” from the outset.”

AT: That’s a tough one because I  feel like I’ve been proven wrong so many times.  I’d say “no way that that’s true,” and then six months to a year later…

CH: In materialistic science it’s the same thing, where so much seems crazy and then I realize, whoa, that’s true!

But for me, it’s sort of backwards – I’d say a materialistic universe isn’t possible.

AT: I agree! That’s off the table.

CH: Interpretations can seem wrong to me.  Retro-science UFO stuff, that UFOs built the pyramids, stuff like that.

AT: I’ve been digging into the UFO stuff and like you was pretty dismissive and really if you look at the evidence, it’s just overwhelmingly convincing that there’s a real phenomena there.

And the government cover up has been completely outed.  You have thousands of documents from the FBI after saying for years they had no documents.  CIA, army, navy – thousands of documents where you have lie after lie after lie.

What you really have to do then is step back with that as a base and say if the deception is that well-orchestrated and complete, then where do we draw the boundary on what’s really happening here?

On all this stuff, you have to consider the deception.

Without knowing the motives, you just have to look at the data.

The same is true with scientific-spiritual stuff.  Like near-death experience (NDE). If you look at study after study, it’s backed up.  But then these insignificant little studies that seem to refute NDE data, suddenly become hot topics.  Why?  It’s so easy to look at the refuting data and say it doesn’t amount to anything.  How could that really stand up to any of the data in favor or NDEs?

CH: I think that’s something scientists and scholars of science have trouble seeing – power structures in the scientific community, and then beyond that power structures of intentional deception. 

There are power structures in science itself as well.  I wanted to talk about one of those –

I want to talk about how people in power in certain positions in discussions about science what the argumentative moves are made.  Because when I hear your show, I hear those moves again and again.

Lynn

Lynn Margulis (1938 – 2011)

It’s not just between skeptics and believers.  It’s between people in science and other people in science.  The best example I can think of is this debate between my teacher Lynn Margulis – who is pretty much a naturalist/materialist – and Richard Dawkins.  Dawkins has a meager body of scientific work – not many people know that, of course. 

So Lynn had a different theory of evolution based on symbiosis called symbiogenesis.  I don’t want to get into all the details of symbiogenesis and its merits or problems, but let me go through a debate she had with Dawkins.  It was at Oxford and you can hear it at Oxford Voices.

So Lynn was invited there to be a professor, and she’s debating with Dawkins and other neo-Darwinists.

The challenge starts when Lynn says during the debate,

“You give me any example, documentation either in the fossil record, in laboratory cages or in the field, any case where it’s documented from the beginning to the end: this is one species, these are the events that are the accumulation of random mutation and this is it transforming into another species.”

This is a direct challenge, and the first move Dawkins makes is interesting to me.  He doesn’t respond, because he can’t.  He realizes that he has no documentation.  So what he does is he moves into a sort of dismissive I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I assumption.  He says, “Well you don’t have the documentation either!”  (It’s interesting to note here that he is admitting there is no documentation).

So she responds with details.  She says, no, this isn’t a guess.  She gives one example of flatworms that show beyond any doubt that new species arise from symbiogenesis.  The example is established and irrefutable by any scientist.  So she gives these well-documented and concrete, observable examples of how her model works.

So then the next move Dawkins makes – since she does have documentation – is to say, “Why on earth would you want to bring symbiosis into this when we have a perfectly good theory over here?”

Notice here it doesn’t do anything to substantiate his own theory.

I love her response.  In response to why would you want to bring symbiosis into it, she laughs! And she says, “Because it’s there!

So it’s there – can you (Dawkins) incorporate this into your model or not?

So then Dawkins is forced to contend with it being there.  So then he says – and I hear this move from skeptics on Skeptiko a lot – that she’s using a really isolated example.

“Once in a blue moon!” Dawkins says.

No, she says, it’s multiple examples.  And she then proceeds to give multiple examples.  Example after example of how it’s true.

So the debate goes on, and as she’s talking, he chuffs and says, “We don’t want another anecdote!”  Anecdote?  She’s providing verifiable scientific evidence.  And who is “we” here?

So now all evidence is anecdotal.

And then the final move, which is the most interesting to me:  Dawkins goes on to detail his version of evolution, and instead of talking about organisms you can see or concrete examples, he gives this long story about fire and a blue flame jumping to another patch of fire and he creates this completely imaginary example.  It’s powerful, but totally imaginary.  And he says that that shows how neo-Darwinism could completely work.  So in the end, he overturns all the concrete evidence by presenting an imaginary example.  And that’s supposed to trump what’s really there.

You’ve interacted with these moves all the time in your show.

AT: There’s a lot to pull apart there.  I love the final bit – we have to pull it apart from the psychological aspect of the individual and the sociological angle and the political angle…

As far as the moves, one of the things I’ve come to understand – and it’s comforting in a way – is how different people seem to be wired for how much change they allow in their worldview.

My worldview is pretty open to reinterpretation based on the evidence. Encountering people who aren’t that way is comforting to me in a way, because it helps me understand how the world really works. 

There are people who will just not change no matter what the evidence will do.

The moves you’re talking about in a lot of cases are often basic psychological tricks people are playing with themselves to preserve their ego.  The real goal is: Please don’t require that I change the way I think!

I think we have to look at that whole phenomena differently than the higher power structures – whether there is someone nudging things this way or that way.  I think a lot of these people are useful idiots.  They’re doing the bidding of other folks without even realizing it.

For example, when you connect our society with materialism, you step back in awe and you think, “My gosh, all our power structures are based on materialism.”  And I used to say, “materialism? you mean scientific materialism, not consumer materialism,” until someone said “no, they’re both the same!” 

And they are; there’s no one without the other.  So if you see materialism and how totally enmeshed we are with it, then you start to see just what’s at stake, and why it plays out the way that it does.  Those are the ideas that will be advanced in science, in academia, regardless of the data.  And then you’ll have the players that emerge on their own and play out these little scripts. Like Dawkins: No one has to wind-up Dawkins.  he just goes on his own. You just identify who these people are and promote them through the ranks.  It becomes a self-sustaining system.

CH: The “selfish gene” is in complete lockstep with the economic system.  So you don’t have to have a vast conspiracy, you can just have people who are participating in  capitalist economic systems seize onto this version of evolution because it’s so much like the rest of their lives.  So this is the version of evolution that gets the most airplay.  It just seems right because it matches up with buying stuff and cost-benefit analysis.  So there is that level of it.

ARW

Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913)

AT: A few episodes ago we did a show on Alfred Russell Wallace (covered in both Skeptiko episode 149 and Skeptiko episode 247).  Fascinating, fascinating to me. I was not that familiar with it.

It’s so clear that from the beginning that Darwin completely stole the idea of evolution.  If you go look at the time stamp when Alfred Russell Wallace sent the letter to Darwin and then Darwin says, “I didn’t get it for six months later!” and then he sends another one and Darwin says, “that one was delayed by 18 months!” as well… You know, fool me once!

The point is here’s Wallace, who unlike Darwin, from the beginning stated the obvious: survival is more of a group function; survival of the fittest is survival of the fittest group. 

But you can understand what the political and social implications of survival of the group.  Oh that’s socialism, communism! We don’t want that! Survival of the individual, that’s individualism, capitalism. 

Let me say, I have benefited greatly from the capitalist system, and if I look at capitalism, I sure as heck would choose that over socialism just in terms of functioning of a society.  But as you’re saying, and as I’m saying too, we have to separate that from the best evidence we have for a scientific theory.  It just doesn’t match up.  And this neo-Darwinism does seem like a script to sell us a political and economic idea, which it doesn’t need, because I think it has merits on its own.

CH: That presents us with a challenge.  As these more spiritual, less materialistic ideas start to filter into science there’s a certain point that we’re going to have to filter those out.  It’s not like we get over that hump.  We’re going to have all sorts of new challenges – whether it’s Dean Radin’s work or whoever, the people you talk to.  How do we separate them? I think it’s important to always be vigilant and not forget once we have this one victory.

AT: Right, I think it gets back to the old axiom: Science is a method, it’s not a position.  If you just hold to that, then it’s a method of discovery and to that end, you’ve got to look at skepticism too.  One of the things that I’m exploring more and more is that we’ve been conditioned to believe that skepticism has a place in science. A key place in science. What if it doesn’t?  What if that’s a false thing we’ve been sold?

I can credit Dr. Peter Bancel (experimental physicist on Skeptiko episode 102) who was working on the Global Consciousness Project.  He said, “Look, science is about asking questions, and we just continue asking questions.  Skepticism doesn’t really come in other than it’s another question.  Oh you did this experiment?  Did you apply this control?  Was your method better done this way or that way?”

It’s about questions, not the idea we’ve been sold about skepticism, that you have to be skeptical, which is an idea that’s come about to support the atheistic materialistic skeptical community that really extends way beyond the James Randis and Michael Shermers.  It’s really entrenched.

CH: Something I hear you banging your head against sometimes is the scientific method itself.  I wonder if you’ll begin to question the method itself in the way it’s practiced now.  I remember when you interviewed Tom Clark (Skeptiko episode 24) and he said that with science, “the method isn’t a moving target.”

In fact, that’s not entirely true.  The method and the way science has been practiced over the centuries has drastically changed and has become something now that it wasn’t always. 

So with Peter Bancel he says, “we’re supposed to keep asking questions,” well that to me seems like a way that science isn’t practiced now.  That would be the of gathering data first and letting conclusions arise on their own, rather than blocking everything off by a framework of assumption.  That blocking things off is the way a lot of people practice science now. 

I studied the way Goethe practiced science, for example.  It’s also the way Da Vinci and

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

other geniuses practiced science, and that’s not what he did. He just observed and observed and observed. 

And then there’s this other component that the skeptics leave out completely, which is that Goethe included his inner experience of his observation of the phenomena as part of the data he gathered.  So it was, I was thinking this when I looked at it, I felt this when I looked at it.

In other words, laying everything bare that was in the interaction, and observing his own interaction with the phenomena he was studying as part of the science.  Sometimes he’d do that to get some truth about the phenomena from those observations of himself, but a lot of it was just to wave away the clouds.  Skeptics don’t do that at all.  The skeptic line is, “I’m going to be objective, I’m not interacting with the thing I’m studying, and I have a detachment from it.”

AT: I love your quote from Tom Clark, the naturalism guy, because I think you’re spot-on, I hadn’t thought of it quite in that way.  To say, “science is not a moving target”?  Yeah, it is a moving target, and I love the example with Goethe because it really gets us back to the whole consciousness thing.  Because we know with quantum theory that we are totally enmeshed in what we are observing and that the observer is affecting the outcome.  It also gets back to what we were talking about before (the interview started) – this whole game is being played in what we call consensus reality. 

You’re observing the green in the trees, well it’s not really green, it’s just we get together and collectively say that those photons hitting us makes green, and well that poor guy is colorblind it’s not green to him, but hey for the most part it’s green and that’s how we’ll go.  That goes on over and over again.  And it’s just a game, it’s a convenience we use.  And I think you’re right to extend that to science, it’s a game, it’s a rule, and we’re trying to nudge ourselves a little closer to a better understanding that helps us sleep better at night.

CH: And there probably is a reality to green, to use your example, but we have to understand our inner reaction to green to be able to bring the reality of it out.

AT: But it would be an individual reality, right?  Because otherwise I’d say, “see that bug outside my window crawling on that green leaf, he’s not saying, ‘wow, this is green!’”

CH: I mean that it’s not an outer objective reality, but it’s a shared inner experience.  Can we talk about that shared inner experience as well as the “objective” outer reality in our science? That’s something that doesn’t really happen, so the shared inner experience is just sort of left out.  But in fact, the inner experience is what’s connecting us in consensus, we just pretend it’s the outer phenomena.

AT: I think that touches on a really important word, “experience.” Look at what a challenge it is for science to deal with it. 

You asked me earlier what’s a red flag.  A red flag for me is the wholesale dismissal of a large body of human experience. 

Using the anthropological example – that really struck me (before the interview) – when you said “look at experience, experience, experience” in cross cultures.  When I see that, I say, “there’s something there!”

People having the same experience, well that’s a reality.  I think that’s so important, because you look at the issues we wind up spending a lot of time fighting about, which we really shouldn’t because they’re obvious. 

So: near death experience? Come on! There are too many people experiencing that to dismiss it.  Deathbed visions, medium experiences, ghost encounters: Too many cases to wholesale dismiss it.  I don’t have to pin it down or say what’s causing it, but don’t tell me it’s an illusion, it’s delusion, or give a stupid explanation.  It just doesn’t fit.

CH: As I was delineating Dawkins’s moves before, it’s like that. Before they’d say, “that’s not real!” And now a lot of people say, “well we all admit the phenomena is real.” Like they always admitted that which we know they hadn’t.

AT: Right!

CH: And at this point, we’re at the move of, “we don’t need another anecdote.” All of it is supposed to be an anecdote somehow, it’s not evidence.  On an even grander scale than just dismissing experiences of individuals in present time, what science as it’s practiced is doing now is dismissing literally all the experiences of every culture that existed before this Western materialistic culture, and all the ones that exist now aside from that.  And that to me is just preposterous.  You really think that every one is history and every other culture was and is wrong? Really?

AT: Good point!

CH: When you talk to Tom Clark or James Randi, there’s this funny assumption that people bring to the table, when they say, “anything paranormal that’s explained would suddenly be ‘normal’ if we could explain it.”  And that’s something else I want to talk about with the moving target of science.  Because if we could begin to talk about this so-called paranormal world, wouldn’t that raise the normal world up into it?  It wouldn’t be “normal” in the way we think of it now. 

I wonder if you have a vision of what would happen as these phenomena become more and more accepted.

AT: It kind of irks me a little bit when even people I like and respect in the paranormal are quick to say, “well this won’t really change things too much. It’s gonna be business as usual, we’ll just have to tweak this or that.” 

No, I don’t think we should say that.  One of the things that comes to mind is what you were mentioning – the different conceptual consciousness frameworks that different groups might have.  If we look at it from that standpoint, an anthropological standpoint, and look at our own cultural bias, we think, “wow, the limits are even lifted up higher in terms of what that new knowing might mean for us.”  That goes beyond a little tweaking of our scientific model.

At the same time I don’t think we have to worry about that too much, I don’t think that’s our job.  I think our job is just to push forward with what’s on our plate right here and kind of let that stuff happen.

EVENTS: Me. Sex. Comic Books. This November.

29 Oct

flyershot

 

I’ve got two great and totally different events coming up, both in Southern California.  Come to them and say hello and give me a hug and tell me everything about yourself.

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WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 7:30 PM (doors) at The Body Well in West Hollywood

flyer promo

Sex is everyone’s favorite taboo.  We do it, pursue it, and think about it, and it’s an essential aspect of our physical, mental, and emotional health.  But we have a hard time talking about it, even with our doctor.  To make matters worse, our doctors are usually only qualified to tell us about the basic biology and mechanics of sex.  But our sex lives extend beyond the bedroom and the actual act of sex.  What does it mean to be sexually healthy outside the bedroom?  How can we think and talk about sex in a healthy way? How can we contend with our sexual feelings when we’re not having sex, and what’s the best way to interact with everyone else’s sexualities?

Join me, Loveline co-host and Sex with Emily sex advice podcaster Emily Morse; and the host of Logo TV’s Bad Sex, author of Sex Outside the Lines, sex therapist Chris Donaghue, for our lively discussion about how to have a sexually healthy life.  The discussion will be led by Dr. Mike Carragher at The Body Well, followed by YOUR questions for the panelists after.

Suggested donation: $10.00-$20.00  No one turned away for lack of funds.

Parking: There is a parking lot behind The Body Well accessible via the alley. There is also metered parking available on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Here are bios for my two co-panelists!

chris
Dr. Chris Donaghue is a licensed clinical therapist, nationally certified sex therapist and doctor of clinical sexology and human sexuality.  He is host of the new TV show, Sex Box, airing in early 2015, and host of Logo TV’s “Bad Sex”. Dr. Donaghue has been featured in Newsweek, and seen on National Geographic, CNN, OWN, Piers Morgan, and Dr. Drew’s “Lifechangers.” His bookSex Outside the Lines will be out in July 2015
emily
Dr. Emily Morse is a sexologist, relationship expert and host of the top downloaded sex and relationship advice podcast Sex with Emily, co-author of Hot Sex: Over 200 Things You Can Try Tonight, co-founder of Emily & Tony, weekly co-host on Loveline with Dr. Drew, and has been featured by numerous media outlets such as CNN, BRAVO, E!, New York Times and has a Sunday sex column in glamour.com

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SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 8

Sex, Pop Culture, and Comic Books: A conversation with Conner Habib and Phil Jimenez at Bent-Con

Phil

at the Los Angeles Burbank Marriot Convention Center/2500 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank, CA

Bent-Con is the big queer sci-fi/comics convention here in Southern California.  Last year, I wrote an article on the convention for Vice magazine.  This year, I’m immersed in the queer geekdom.  I’ll be having an hour-long conversation with legendary – and I mean legendary – comics artist Phil Jimenez.  Phil is an is primarily known for his work as writer/artist on Wonder Woman from 2000 to 2003, as one of the five pencilers of the 2005-2006 miniseries Infinite Crisis, and his collaborations with writer Grant Morrison on New X-Men and The Invisibles. Also, he’s awesome.

We’re going to go all over the place: Comics, fucking (well, um, talking about fucking, anyway), queer identity in comics culture, sci fi and geekdom, and more.

Gayternity

Me and a presumably queer Eternity.

 

Here’s the description of the event from the Bent-Con site: A salon style conversation between Conner Habib (Author, The Sex Book; Adult Film Actor) and Phil Jimenez (Comic Book Writer, DC & Marvel). Join us for an un-moderated, free-for-all conversation between these two pop culture stalwarts. Pull up a chair, grab a bean bag, listen in, ask questions, and let the fun begin!

 

It’s all true.  It’ll be a free-for-all.  I’m not sure what that means exactly, but yes! It will be that.

You can register for the conference for one day or two or three.  Phil and I would love to see you there.

 

Fall Update and I’m the Vice President of Something

14 Oct

 

MAP

I’m a very professional person.

See that tie I’m wearing?  Professional.  Nevermind that I don’t have pants on underneath the frame of the photo.  I’ve got to be profesh now that I’m the elected Vice President of a non-profit organization!  Along with straight porn superstars James Deen, Chanel Preston, Veruca James, and Ela Darling, I’m now on the board of The Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC), and I couldn’t be happier.  APAC is an organization whose membership is exclusively made up of porn performers, with the aim of encouraging performer health, safety, happiness, and quality of life.  The organization was formed over a year ago by James Deen, Stoya, and others and membership has swelled as word has gotten out that we’re the only non-profit in town actually considering performer viewpoints and voices.  We’ve fought against AB1576, created a Model Bill of Rights, raised thousands of dollars for related charities, and more.  Part of my job is to create a bridge between the gay and straight industries, and to also make sure trans*, queer, and alt – performers are featured in the public discussion of porn, which too often leaves them out.  I’m also one of the media spokespeople/contacts (along with Chanel) so f you’re not a performer and have questions about the organization, feel free to hit me up.

If you are an adult performer and interested in becoming a member, click here.

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I am on a couple podcasts talking about the occult and sometimes it gets deep, y’all.

– First up: The Modern Witch Podcast.  Even though I’m not a witch, my own occult interests intersect with magickal religious traditions.  We talk quite a bit about God and what anyone means, anyway, when they mention God.  I answer a few audience questions and it’s kind of gay in the good way.

– Also: Why Are People into That? with sex-savy host Tina Horn.  Lots about how magick and ritual relates to sex.  I also talk about my first memory and anal sex as an act of powerful transubstantiation.  So.  There you go.

*

I am interviewed by these magazines and say a lot of crazy shit and it’s fun.  Here are some quotes from them.

– I’m in Playboy! Not, alas, as a centerfold. Someday!  Until then, there’s a little write up of me and my work, and I feel really flattered to be featured.  “Pornography represents a flipside and balancing-out of the cultural expectations of college students.”

– There’s a long an in-depth interview with me in Polari Magazine – we conducted the interview awhile back, but it’s recently posted, and there’s a lot there.  “For me, the impossibility of Christianity is a profound thing for me. I was hanging out with a friend the other night, he’s an atheist and a comedian and he makes these jokes about being an atheist. But he asked me “So you believe in Jesus Christ? That this smart guy preached all this good stuff? You don’t believe in the entire walk on water or water to wine stuff?”. I said, “I totally believe in that, that’s the most important part”. What atheists say to all is “that’s impossible, it couldn’t have happened”. Whereas a more religious aligned person would say, “it’s impossible but it happened anyway”. Ultimately, it’s irrelevant whether it happened or not. The thing that is vital for me is about existing in a conceptual world where I can think of things impossible. I allow myself to think outside of the structures and confines of what I’m told is supposed to have happened, even down to the laws of physics and science. It allows everything to be possible.

MG2

Me and my porn bestie, gay-for-pay icon, Girth Brooks.

I have that approach in everything in life. In an election you’re told that you can vote for one guy or vote for the guy that’s slightly worse. There’s more to it than those options because I’m going to do everything in my power to make the world a better place. If you think that you only have these two little options, then you’re stuck with that. It’s always about doing the impossible thing and seeing past what we’re told. That probably comes from the punk rock thing! When someone says, “You can’t do that”, I might agree; but I will always take a minute to think or imagine a way outside of this.”

– Finally, my appearance in a recent issue of LA’s big free gay magazine, Frontiers. They wanted to know what I thought about gay for pay – which is something I get asked about quite a bit, and have written about here and here.  But the subject is endlessly fascinating, I suppose.  After all, it links into all our questions about what the heck sexuality is, after all.  “What about gay men who were married for decades, came out late in life and decided to express their true feelings? Are they bi, straight or gay?”

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Finally – have you noticed? I’ve been updating my blog more regularly.  I think I deserve a big kiss on the cheek for that.  Or a hug.  Or a handy.

XXXo,

CH

Porn-ing Your Way through College 101: A Syllabus

3 Oct

Porn-ing Your Way Through College 101

Syllabus

Instructor: Conner Habib

blackboardCourse Description

Every year, hundreds of thousands of barely legal teens are coerced by people more powerful than them, as well as societal pressure, to make the life-altering, no-going-back, always-on-your-permanent-record decision to go to college.

There are serious consequences for this, including discrimination based on your performance, not being able to find a job after college ends, and having to disclose to your partners and lovers what your major is.

Nevertheless, here you are, in a financially and sexually exploitative environment with no foreseeable way out.

Never fear!  Pornography is here to help.  Porn-ing Your Way Through College will help navigate the ins and outs of pornography, how to enhance your pornographic experience by being in college, and how to pay your way through porn by being in college.

Course Goals

Porn will help you develop valuable skills for navigating the difficult world of college and beyond.  These include:

Understanding your sexual boundaries.

Sex is constantly present and potentially dangerous in any college environment.  Being in porn will help you develop your boundaries by providing a safe space to experiment with your sexual preferences, constitution, and comfortability.  The general rule on porn sets is that performers have a right to say no at any time to any sexual act.  Developing this detailed understanding of what boundaries are absolute, and which of your own boundaries you’re interested in pushing, will make sex and the possibility of sexual interaction more pleasant for you off set.  Porn will help you understand not just how to say “no” when you don’t want to engage sexually, but also how to say “yes” when you do.

Understanding Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).

Most porn studios have some STI protocol in place.  This means you’ll be engaging with some combination of basic STI education (including how STIs are transmitted and how to prevent and be aware of transmission), STI testing, and condom or other barrier use. You’ll also learn how to be more aware of your body and sexual health, since your livelihood will depend on it.  This will give you important information in your four years of college, as well as potentially transform you into a valuable health resource for your friendly but reckless peers.

Understanding How To Choose What You Want.

Choosing to be in porn is like choosing to be art history major: It’s widely discouraged by our culture.  Yet many people find porn and a career in other humanities rewarding and fulfilling.  By deciding to be in porn, you’ll be casting away social pressure by deciding your desire and integrity is more important than what our culture says you “should” do.  This makes you an ideal role model for incoming freshman who would otherwise throw their lives away traveling a path and choosing a major that’s expected from them.

Understanding How To Create Intimacy.

In porn, you’ll be expected to perform sexual acts with people you may not find immediately attractive.  While some people may deem such sexual acts “mechanical,”  you’ll find, instead, that they can be fun, athletic, and create a sense of healthy detachment.  One of the reasons sex workers are sometimes hired as hospice caregivers in other countries is because they don’t fear the touch of or touching a body that they may not feel drawn to.  The detachment that being in porn can help develop the ability to create intimacy rather than to expect it.  This will make you a better listener, communicator, and less apt to make kneejerk decisions with strangers, professors, or administrators.

classGrades

Whether you pass or fail in Porn-ing Your Way Through College will be assessed by a few factors. 

These include:

Integration of Porn into Your Present and Future Life. 

Let’s face it: Your friends, family, and coworkers, as well as your future employers will probably find out that you’ve appeared in adult scenes.  Make sure you’re ready for that.  Be able to approach them without apology (ie “I’m just working my way through college!”) or resentment (ie. “Yeah I’m in porn, fuck you, so what?!”).  Being able to calmly own your choices and sexuality presents a strong statement to other people and culture, and is more respectable than trying to hide your porn career, which is mostly impossible.

Managing the Rest of Your Affairs.

The down-to-earth nature of performing filmed sexual acts for money may make college, with its emphasis on theories, obedience, and beauracracy seem ungrounded and arbitrarily demanding. Make sure you keep your affairs in order, though.  Even though the academia is unreasonable and demeaning, it’s important that you stay the course and attend to your responsibilities.  It’s also important to keep your financial situation in order by keeping track of your taxes (ask your accounting professor for help!) and saving some money in the event that you’re unable to appear in porn during busy times like finals week.

Responsibility to Promoting Sex-Positivity and Other Sex Workers.

Now that you’re in porn, you’re in the public eye, people are going to have expectations of you, and be looking to you for guidance when it comes to the confusing and culturally fucked up world of sex.  People will appropriately or inappropriately bring up sexual topics and express their curiosities prejudices about what you and other sex workers do.  Everyone should have the right to express themselves sexually provided consent is present for all parties, sex work is work, and you should hold your head high for yourself and others. Make sure you’re able to patiently hear questions about your sex worker peers, including other porn performers, escorts, strippers, online sex cammers and amateurs, and to answer with compassion.

Don’t worry about being perfect, just do what you can!

Join an organization like the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC) or lend a helping hand at St. James Infirmary to interact with and support your peers.  Meet with your on-campus LGBT or sex positive student groups.

textbooksRecommended Reading

Playing the Whore by Melissa Gira Grant

My Dangerous Desires by Amber Hollibaugh

Porn Studies edited by Linda Williams

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With thanks to Christopher Frizzelle, Bravo Delta, and Belle Knox for the inspiration.

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