The Actor Factor
Bill Cosby was convicted this week on three counts of aggravated indecent assault. For me, the mix of feelings was familiar—anger, grief, anxiety, shock.
Like so many people, the relationship I had with Mr. Cosby was based on early memories of my best friend and I lying on her living room floor in front of the stereo, laughing ourselves sick listening to one of his comedy albums, and in later years sitting on the couch watching his TV show and laughing loudly at the smart and loving humour of the Huxtables. I knew he wasn’t really Dr. Huxtable, but there was no hard line in my mind between who he appeared to be as an entertainer and who he probably was in real life. His humour was clean and we all knew how his marriage to Camille endured while other famous couples failed to make it.
But all that time, he led a secret life as a sexual predator with many victims. He was not faithful to Camille even though they remained married. The person he presented himself to be was always an act, onstage and offstage. I call this the “Actor Factor”, and it’s one we understand from our own experiences. It generates the same feelings of anger, grief, anxiety and shock after discovery for wives and partners of the men called sex addicts. Our husbands and boyfriends are also actors, and for them “all the world’s a stage.”
The men called sex addicts often have roles in society that afford them believability as people whose core values include decency, concern for others, and honesty. They are considered good neighbours, caring family men, and community assets. But like Bill Cosby, they, too, have secret lives that reveal core values of indecency, apathy, and dishonesty. They are covert abusers who prop up misogynist enterprises—legal and illegal. They perpetuate shame and hypocrisy around questions of human sexual identity, and damage others who are vulnerable. They destroy families and inflict financial, physical and psychological hardship on wives who try to get out themselves and get their children out of harm’s way. They continue to lie and project delusional constructs of reality about “what happened”, presenting themselves as victims or as men admitting to minor offences that their wives could not forgive. The “Actor Factor” ensures that the show has a long run with ready audiences, even after wives and partners find out the truth. They are just that good.
Bill Cosby convinced people that his act reflected at something of who he truly was. In our relationships with men called sex addicts however, we don’t know there is an act. We don’t know we were in a relationship with an actor at all. And when we find out, others don’t want to learn about the “Actor Factor”. Friends, family, counsellors, treatment programs, lawyers and the court systems don’t care about the con because it hasn’t negatively impacted them.
So that brings me to the one feeling about Bill Cosby that is a different feeling for me—relief. I have relief that his victims were heard and believed, that the justice system named and convicted him of what he actually did to these women, that new victims might not be created, and that some of the public has engaged the hard truth of these facts and brushed up against how the “Actor Factor” works. I’m relieved he has to live in the same truth as his victims.
Meanwhile, my clients are tortured by the injustice of a prevailing treatment model and its practitioners who pay lip service to their lived experience of trauma and never name the abuse endured as abuse, who do not hold these men accountable and try to off load responsibility onto the women instead of working for their safety, and by court officers who diminish the damage to their lives and the lives of any children and similarly do not work to protect the victims of this con from further hardship. In addition, friends and family ignore the trustworthy character of the woman, and move to protect the man, remain ignorant of his abuse, overlook what they think they know, and further isolate his victim—often called “trying to stay neutral." But abuse is not a social category that can justify neutrality.
So what happens to relief—the one feeling that is missing?
There is sometimes escape, starting over, the end of direct abuse, and for some there are genuine steps in forgiving—and all of these things are precious—but there is no relief, the kind of relief that comes with being heard and validated by your community and your peers, and with the offender required to live in the truth and its consequences, not just you. This kind of relief is what creates the deepest opportunity for the healing of all parties, including the wider community. This is the most important thing of all. We miss the chance for healing that everyone so deeply needs and deeply deserves.
Here is what I believe. It is unjust to use another person’s life to perpetuate a con that harms them, puts them at ongoing risk and compromises their security in the future without any chance to protect themselves—especially if the perpetrator made binding promises to do just the opposite. But they were able to do it because of the “Actor Factor.” Lives were harmed and will never be the same again.
I am angry, grieving, anxious, shocked, and relieved that Bill Cosby was found guilty. There’s still a ways to go with addressing how misogyny harms women, children, and the whole of society. Understanding the “Actor Factor” is part of how that happens.
If you are wondering about how the “Actor Factor” might be present in your relationship, please reach out and contact me, because your story is safe here.