A subtweet from a small town queer

So, I help produce an art and music campout that happens in California every summer. I’m on the People team (dealing with conflict, consent violations, etc) and am a general coordinator for the overall event. I’ve done this on and off for about 5 years of the 18 years it’s been running. And after this year, I have to say: are the straights and younguns ok? This entire entry is a subtweet to both straight people and young people who seem to think they can’t be in community with their exes.

Continue reading

Missing Persons Application!

This is a draft of a blog entry. The idea needs further refinement, and we welcome your feedback!

When a disaster occurs, whether fast like an earthquake or slow like a drought or war, people go missing. As outsiders wishing to contribute to restoring the stability of our worlds, the desire to reunite friends and loved ones through the technology we know so well can be tempting. Making use of our knowledge of social platforms, geotagging, and databases is far easier than addressing the long-term systemic injustices which allow these crises to affect entire populations in the way they do, afterall. But let’s say a typhoon has just made landfall, or that there’s a sudden influx of refugees from a drought-blighted country, and you and a group of your friends have gathered to see what you can do about it. This is beautiful — we need to learn how to work in solidarity with those in other geographies. But it’s also a delicate space. This particular post is about whether or not you should build that missing persons app, or spend your time contributing to something like Google Person Finder, OpenStreetMap, Sahana, or Standby Task Force instead.

The missing persons/reunification domain of humanitarian response is not just about people logging themselves so as to be findable by those missing them. It’s also about those individuals being protected during the process, having support in finding those they’ve been separated from, and the infrastructure which surrounds these actions. Software has a lot to contribute to connection, information security, and sorting through indexes, but missing persons is a delicate space with real humans in the mix.

This is an inhabited space

There are already missing persons tools and organizations which have been vetted for capacity and integrity for follow-through and security. Here are the few most successfully used ones: American Red Cross’ Safe and Well, Google Person Finder, Sahana, Refugees United, International Committee of the Red Cross’ Restoring Family Links, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Please offer to help improve and maintain these existing tools (code repos and communities are linked to from each name)! If you are uncomfortable or unsure of how to contact them, please let me/Tim know!

However, we also understand that the world changes. We gain access to new technologies, there are new clever people in the world, and our understandings of situations change. There is *always* room for improvement in this space, just as any other. Want to do something substantively “better” or different than what the existing tools and organizations already do? Here’s what you need to know:

A component, not a solution

The software-based frontend and backing database are a TINY FRACTION of the overall system of missing persons reunification efforts. People are often missing for a *reason*, possibly because of political unrest, domestic violence, or displacement. If your platform publishes photos of someone or their geographic location, will someone try to come after them? Can you protect their physical and emotional wellbeing? There are national and international laws in place to protect such individuals, especially children, and your component of the system must be in alignment with those laws (or have a damn good and intentional reason for not being as such). Ethically, you should also respect an individual’s desire or need for privacy. In the Missing Persons Community of Interest, organizations handling missing persons data are reviewed by external parties for their ability to perform long-term maintainence and protection of said data. You and your tool will need to undergo the same rigor before being launched.

Complications versus easing interaction

Your goal is to make finding loved ones easier, right? Think about how many tools are already in play (see “This is an inhabited space” section above), and what adding one more to the mix would be like. Every new missing persons platform is another point of decision-making stress on the missing persons and those seeking them. Imagine being asked for personal information about yourself while under extreme duress over and over and over again.. or having to repeatedly enter in the details of someone you love and are deeply worried about while on a desperate search for them. The listed existing tools have gone through (and in some cases, are still working out) data sharing flows to reduce these stressors while still maintaining their committments to privacy and security of the data they hold. If you launch your tool, you’ll need to adhere to the same levels of empathy, respect, privacy, and sharing. (Side note, please don’t start a “uniting platform,” either, lest we get here. That’s what sharing standards are about.)

We look forward to your heartfelt, well-thought out contributions to this space.

Tim and Willow

Adventures with the TSA

In the last month, I’ve had two interesting experiences with the TSA. Both times, the airline ended up saving the day. I’m writing this not as a “LOOK HOW BAD THIS HAS BECOME!” as I have friends in targeted demographics as well as friends on lists who consistently get detained, and they already write far more eloquently and intimately about that side of things than I could wish to. This is more a “look at what this is like, for someone who is socially aware but also not in a tracking system” (that I know of).

What’s in a Name?

The back issue on my end is this: I like my first name, but it’s not my social name – that’s “Willow,” my middle name. I have no desire to change my names, especially not to simply make the job the state has taken on easier. This means, when I travel internationally, my full name is listed with the airline from my passport, which also means my frequent flier programs have FIRST MIDDLE LAST. Which means when I book an intra-continental flight, my FIRST LAST shows up, while MIDDLE LAST are on all of my locally-relevant IDs (driver’s license, credit cards, academic IDs, etc). I have usually just brought an ID which indicates my first initial, and everything’s dandy.

This hasn’t been an issue until the last two months, when it has suddenly become enough of a red flag that merits extensive measures be taken that I’m not a dangerous person. Which means going through all of my stuff and a thorough pat down. Which is often used as a threat, not as a heads up. As someone who has consistently opted out of scanners which can store and transmit images of your body (and therefore into pat-downs) for the past 5 years of heavy travel, I’m pretty acquainted with the less aggressive version of this process. I asked to see the policy stating that they had a right to touch me, based on my name. TSA informed me that no one is allowed to see their policies, and to please wait on a supervisor.

A gold sticker replicates a TSA-agent's badge and reads "TSA Team Boston, Junior Officer" with the Department of Homeland Security emblem and eagles all over the place.I waited. And waited. My flight began to board. I was still on the other side of security. Finally, I went to the airline desk and told them what was going on, and they changed the name on the ticket to match the ID I had on hand. I made my flight. I’m not sure if the airline did a legal thing, so I’m not naming them, but holy shit am I grateful.

Victory point: the TSA staff felt so badly about their process and supervisor being so shitty that they gave me a junior TSA agent sticker. To which Jenbot responded “You’re just two more pasties away from the world’s funniest private screening.”

Nonconsensual Pat Downs!

Last night had significantly less humor. I, for once, went for the full-body scan thing. My emotional fortitude to opt out of every process is slowly being worn down, which just pisses me off even more. I hate rolling over and showing my belly, but I also hate being touched by strangers who think I’m a fucking villain 3+ times a month. The scan showed an “anomaly in my pants” (lulz), and the female-identified TSA agent started patting me down before verbal acknowledgement nor even eye contact were made. I stopped her, saying I hadn’t consented to a pat down, at which point she indicated the anomaly and stated a pat-down needed to happen. I said I understood, but I hadn’t yet consented. She asked if there was going to be a problem, I said “with you touching me without my consent? Yes.” She then deployed the mantra of “going through all of my stuff and a thorough pat down,” but this time with about 3 additional TSA agents, a manager, and 2 federal officers around me, with them holding onto my stuff.

I balked. I’d rather spend another night where I was than deal with this (I was in a lovely place with lovely people). They tried to take my ID to scan it for a report I wouldn’t see. I instead put on my boots, got my bags (they didn’t resist my taking my things, but they also didn’t make it clear in any way it was possible), and walked towards the airline counter to sort things out. As I was walking away, one of the federal officers told me in a surprisingly friendly tone that if I attempted to make it through a different security line that night, I would be arrested and criminal charges pressed against me.

The airline informed me that I could use the ticket’s cost towards a future flight, but that they couldn’t book me on another flight the next day free of charge. That was between me and the TSA. I went back to the security line and talked with state officers, the TSA manager, and their manager about my general work, large-scale conflict resolution, sexual assault survivors, trans friends, and the TSA’s lack of empathy and effectiveness. I should have left the last part out, but I was pissed off. They allowed me to go through the process that night, if I were willing to go through the pat-down and stuff-going-through. And fuck it, my going home was more important in that moment than my civil liberties. And yes, I’m also well aware that basically no other demographic would have been able to have this privilege (because while it was personally deeply uncomfortable and not ok, it was still a systemic privilege to be able to have a re-do).

A friend who happened to be in the airport at the same time (small world is small) had seen some of this happening, and waited past security for me to be sure everything was all right. I’m deeply thankful for this act of kindness and manifestation of social fabric. Also that the TSA manager enacted the pat-down, as a personalized moment of “I know I’m a part of a fucked up system.” I made it through security at the core of the airport just as my flight was meant to be taking off in a peripheral gate, but I jogged to my gate anyway. And the goddamn airline held an entire flight for 15 minutes just so I could still get out that night. So much gratitude.

Internal Consistency is How the Terrorists Win, Apparently

It’s worth noting here that I fly a fair amount. I also tend to detect patterns and systems fairly well. I dread the inevitable next agent-splaining of how TSA policies work, which are always attempts to be kind and to let me in on “how things work,” but are never remotely consistent. Fuck you. The haphazard nature of enforcement has little to do with “let’s keep ’em guessing!” and far more to do with “what equipment is working today and what rules we’ve been chop-busted about most recently.”

Which Just Adds To…

The cycle we’re caught up in right now does little to nothing to “catch the terrorists” (which is also just slapping a band-aid on a gaping wound of systemic problems) and a whole lot in further ostracizing and demeaning historically marginalized demographics.

I have no idea what to do with this – the work I can’t not do (for passion, for frustration, for specialization) merits traveling a fair amount. The people I love are a distributed lot. But I also can’t handle instances like this happening too much more before… something has to change. Me, or it.

Here’s something I used to do a lot more, and which now I’ve been worn down out of doing, so I can still have emotional capacity for other things I care about. And that also pisses me off.

You belong to society

I’ve been unable to continue ignoring a notion that most people I see in online debates about gender1 carry, which is that those in these debates do not think they impact society, and subsequently have no individual responsibility towards it. It is simply a soup of which they are a part, where they are a stone — immutable to the broth around them, of no consequence to the overall flavor.

Let’s talk about emergence, here from the Complex Systems perspective, as the interaction between the parts and the whole. “Can’t see the forest for the trees,” as not being able to see the big picture because one is so focused on the next-scale-down of units (trees), despite these composing the next-larger-up scale (forest). Each has different behaviors, which slightly or drastically effects the other. Or, “the devil is in the details,” in which the opposite happens, the smaller-scale being skipped over while the next-larger-scale is focused on. You’ll note that these things matter to each other. They influence each other. In many circumstances, these two scales are caught up in creating each other in at least some small way2. To claim that one is more important than the other glazes over this connection. Plus, the math doesn’t work out right.

Let’s talk about values. I would like a just and equal world. I bet most of the people I talk to would also like some version of this. Some folk hold other amazing core values such as inclusion or empowerment. Here’s the thing to understand: anyone you interact with3 will be holding something like this inside of them. Maybe not so explicitly, maybe not as an active part of their interactions, but it is there.

Let’s talk about fault. The people that got us to where we are now were doing the best they could under the circumstances. Maybe some were malicious, but generally. they were just surviving. People in power tend to want to continue doing well. People who are out of power generally make do, though they’re likelier to have a generally more shitty time. Inequality makes both sets unhappy. It’s not the fault of the people in power that the structures which allow them to be in power exist; it’s not the fault of those out of power that they were born into a setting that keeps them out of power.

Let’s talk about responsibility. While no one currently alive is to blame for history, we are currently building the next generation’s history. Hell, we’re building our own. And we have a responsibility to act in a way which upholds our values, rather than shirks responsibility as bizarrely tied to fault. I don’t want to take the responsibility to respond kindly to this person because their upset is not my individual fault. I don’t want to help clean up after dinner because not all the plates are my fault. I don’t want to take responsibility for mending the rifts in society because they’re not my fault4.

In each of these, it is not just what you are asking for yourself, but what you are changing in the people around you. When a child is being surly, and a parent reacts badly because a nerve got struck5, the wrong lesson is being imparted. It’s not about the parent’s feelings in that moment. It’s about how the child learns how to react to someone expressing their feelings in a not-yet-eloquent way6.

Sometimes taking on this responsibility to society means shutting up, even when you’re right. Sometimes taking on this responsibility means speaking up, even when your voice trembles. Sometimes this means cleaning the common area, even though you haven’t even been around for the past week. It means having differences and resolving them in a way that makes sense for future generations to also resolve them, even if you’re not happy with the results.

When anyone says “my individual experience matters more in this moment than how we as a society deal with moments like these” I see them as throwing a tiny tantrum rather than building a better world. It’s not their fault. Why should they have to do anything to fix it? This is why I continue to think Laurie’s piece is so great and I get filled with rage and bile at StarSlateCodex. This is why I find GamerGaters outright laughable7. This is why I find some of my geek feminism friends so aggravating at points7. In all of this, I see why they’re saying what they’re saying. Of course those feelings are valid. But that’s not the whole point, is it?

Get our shit together. Focus on where we want to be, and manifest that in each interaction we have. This is what I assume most people are doing, and why I’m now so comfortable saying “I don’t like how we’re doing this, can we try another way?”

I don’t like how we’re doing this. Let’s find another way.


1. And race, now, too!
2. Exceptions of pragmatic lock-and-key example, and the theoretical molecule representation of same self model.
3. With incredibly rare exception, not based on if you get along with them or not.
4. Are you fucking kidding me, this is how we get ants.
5. children can be astute little fuckers
6. I am in no way claiming to be amazing at this, merely that I am aware of, and subsequently actively working on, it.
7. “You need to listen to me!” they say, while not listening.

Expressions of Solidarity


I wonder if, what Scott means, in this whole storm recently, is actually:

“Your struggle is my struggle. While I had a really rough time growing up, it must have been just as hard for people like me, and even harder for those facing structural oppression. I want to fight these systems with you. When you say I’m ‘privileged,’ I feel like my experience is being discounted and it makes it difficult for me to be in solidarity with you.”

I feel like this is what Laurie is asking for. I know it’s what I would ask for.

Teaching People to Fish

When people tell me that Cartesian systems are optimized, I want to laugh. Of course they are, but we’ve optimized for the bits we know about. We’ve focused on optimization of output, not on optimization of adaptability. And the Quest for the Upper Right Quadrant (aka Capitalism, aka the Singularity, aka any overly simplistic idea of infinite growth and eventual overall simplicity) is always about output. In systems in which the power distribution is also hierarchical (aka, the ones we’ve got), people are not empowered to deviate from set tasks to cover those unknown parts. This is why the idea of innovation and entrepreneurship is so fraught. To some, it’s about empowering for adaptability and connection, for gap filling. For others, it’s about hurry up faster to that upper right.

Which brings us to this article I referenced a bit ago as abhorrent.

The following comments are worth looking at, as well.

Please Do Not Teach This Woman to Fish

After all, which economy is more productive — one in which every single person is an entrepreneur, or one in which a minority of entrepreneurs employ the majority of people?

To understand why, consider a common-sense question: How big can a business be in a rural village? There aren’t many customers there, and incomes aren’t very high either. A business would have to serve several villages to start creating jobs in any significant numbers. Now, consider rural women with families. They may be reliable repayers of loans, but they’re much less mobile than single men. Single men can move to cities, or at least cover a lot of ground in the countryside, in an effort to win new customers.

Of course, these jobs won’t always go to the rural women helped by microfinance programs. Microfinance programs may be one of the best ways to help them, short of having their children take jobs in cities. Nor are these jobs necessarily the ones that fulfill the social goals in the mission statements of Western nonprofit organizations. But they are the kinds of jobs that brought hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty and could someday do the same for Indians, Haitians, and Congolese. In these countries, the quickest way to escape poverty is likely to be via bus to the nearest city for a manufacturing job. Hundreds of millions of economic migrants know this, but so-called antipoverty experts are just beginning to understand it.

Two things in this that bring out my “are you fucking kidding me” reaction.

  1. I find it distracting and ridiculous when untenable living situations are equated to financial poverty, and focus only on the funds, not on the conditions which the funds MIGHT alleviate. It’s possible to work and still be miserable. Wage labor rant. Being slowly crushed by capitalism (or communism!) rant. Capitalism is but one way to attempt to interact, not the only way. Sure, it’s good at propagating ideas quickly, at fast iteration, etc, but too often it leads to:
  2. The idea that we have a hierarchy as a necessity in any business. That there are employers, and there are those who do the shit jobs to keep things running. We are all humans, we are all equal, and it is just as possible to find joy and honor (or misery and bitterness) in driving a taxi or gutting fish as it is to find the same in leading a multinational business or making the internet work. To insist otherwise is to discredit the experience of millions (billions?) of people. To want to reinforce the idea that those jobs are actual shit is to actively demean everyone doing them.

No business, organization, relationship is dependent upon power structures being in place, where some work is “more important” than other work. A business, organization, and relationship where all parties are encouraged and expected to examine, innovate, and contribute is one which is adaptable and successful. It is one which is scalable in a complex and networked world. So yes, teach that woman to fish. Better yet, ask her to teach you. She’ll catch more than you ever will, with all your business and economics training.

editor’s note: While this entry was initially posted as password-to-view in September of 2014, I made it publicly viewable on April 22nd, 2016. I did this because 1) the court case with Diggz is now settled and GWOB is the rightful owner of its collateral, 2) I had made it clear that Diggz should only ever contact me again if he had gone through an abuser- or substance-abuse-recovery program. He violated this boundary a few months ago, and while I don’t have the bandwidth to take legal action against him, 3) I am in a stable enough place that I feel like I can cope any potential fallout from this. I do not want this to become A Big Thing, I’m just wanting to be sure my truth is in the public record.

I really hadn’t wanted to write this. This is one thing I really didn’t want to have to learn in public about. Because it’s without the consent of all involved. It’s not giving props to someone. But it’s been terrible, and now have people and something I care deeply about under attack. Obviously, this is the story of one person, and I’m sure it differs from other takes. Get those stories if you can, discretely, and be sure you’ve read to the end before doing so, so you can understand my concerns. Here goes.

When we tell the story of Geeks Without Bounds, it’s always about Diggz talking about (then) Geeks Without Borders at Gnomedex, right after my speaking about Transhumanism, and us sitting down to lunch together and talking about how to actually make it happen. He helped be sure it could be funded through Tropo, which is an organization full of incredible and gifted people. We went on tour to ask people in hacker and maker spaces what they would want to see out of an organization like GWOB, how they would want to help the world be a better place. It was a month on the road after just meeting someone, and we didn’t talk for 3 months afterwards.

Part of that was because there were attentions he directed at me, which I very clearly indicated were unwelcome. Hotel rooms with shared beds (an issue I’ve never experienced discomfort with, when involving friends, near-strangers, unstated crushes, etc because most people in this world understand that “not interested” transfers to the whole shebang, not just the current thread of interaction) became uncomfortable after boundaries were drawn but not-quite-respected. He dropped it, but brooded. I was just glad to be home.

After a few months had passed, we picked things back up. We wanted to keep building GWOB. But an unhealthy trend formed: about once a quarter, Diggz would indicate interest. I would decline, and we would have long, heart-felt conversations about relationships, love, desire, etc. He seemed to be getting a lot from the conversations, growing, being accepting (as proven by his change in attitude around non-heteronormativity). But always, a few days later, I would get explosive phone calls and emails about how everything in the set up wasn’t working, that he was going to fix it, that I needed to get out of the way or be run over, that he was going to pull funding. At first, I would be upset – what was he talking about?! How dare he act so arbitrarily. But this was also accompanied by his pulling hard with me for the thing we both cared about, and getting it funded, and supporting my broke ass while all that was being worked out. I realize in writing this just how abusive this is.

Eventually I saw the pattern, and tried to broach the subject with him. It wasn’t me being narcissistic, it was clearly response to his being turned down. He had none of it. I finally took the matter to the person connected to our joint endeavor. I had written a letter to Diggz’s superior, and I wanted solidarity in sending it off, honest feedback on how it might land. Instead I got a “I will take care of this” – exactly what I didn’t need. Getting shut out of my own restoration was infantalizing. I expressed as such, and was told I had dealt with enough already, and should let the person take care of it. I dropped it.

Just as upsetting to me about all this is not simply how I was treated, what these people thought was acceptable behavior — but also that I thought it was just par for the course. Which is is. But just as I experience righteous indignation when someone tells me a rule is upheld because “it’s policy,” I am outraged that they thought this was acceptable simply because it’s widely accepted.

Tired of the drama and constantly being in jeopardy, I set up a stand-alone non profit, filed all the paperwork, and asked that the name and collateral (trademark, domain, etc) be signed over to it (and so much love to the person who helped with this path). This would be less complicated. He did sign all the things, and it was less complicated. For a long time. Diggz pulled his funding, but stayed nominally involved. The transition of assets was slow, but forthcoming. There were a few loose ends, but we were friends again, so it was ok. There weren’t the complications, we got to hang out in a way that didn’t have a power struggle in it, and he’s honestly a good friend in those circumstances (this is why it’s so hard for even those close to an abuser to see that they can be so awful to others). There were still moments of “heyyyyy” when he had been heavily drinking, but those can dealt with, despite it not being ok.

GWOB evolved, and Lindsay and Lisha became the main carriers of it. I was doing work at Civic and Berkman, related to GWOB, but I was now focusing more on the work itself rather than the maintenance of GWOB as an entity. We had internal turmoil, but always with each others’ best interests in mind. Lisha stepped into the role of executive director for a multitude of reasons, and we updated the advisors, and the teams, and the website, etc.

While this was happening, Diggz was going through some rough times. He claims to have been blacked out while he sent me pornographic messages regularly over a week. I finally got tired of talking to him in the mornings about what he was going through, and told him he needed to see a therapist before I’d be willing to talk to him at all. He messaged me a short time later to indicate he’d gotten sorted out, and was ok again.

At the beginning of a very long series of trips for me, Diggz finally read some emails about role transition at GWOB and flipped his shit. The night before I gave a keynote, he kept badgering me about giving GWOB back to him, that Lisha was going to ruin everything, etc. I asked him for space, he didn’t listen. I insisted on space, he didn’t listen. And I finally snapped. I informed him that I was going to block him on every platform, and if he attempted contact, I would file charges.

And then, as always with a turn-down on advances or shutting down of aggression, there was a period of strange calm followed by an explosion. Which is what his happening on Twitter and Facebook right now. But this time, it’s worse. One of those last threads from collateral transfer was the domain registration. Which he used to get to our servers. Which he then nuked, cascading to ability to use email. Which disrupted work, AND is just an awful thing to do.

So now we’re figuring how legal courses – can we talk about this online? Defamation suits are winnable if you’re telling the documented truth (which we are), but still expensive. So I can’t talk about this in public. And I have to ask you not to talk about specifics online for the same reason. Getting the domain back will either entail either his agreeing to hand it over, or going through expensive channels of domain contestation.

I’m tired. We’ve got other shit to do. It’s upsetting to me that his desire to control a thing (I assume to make it awesome?) is what is currently messing it up. So. That’s where things are.

Expressions and Understanding

We have such an investment in the written word in our world right now. And it’s beautiful. Uses different parts of the brain at the same time, allows for storage of thought to be passed down and through and re-examined and loved through time. I love the written word.

But I am also dyslexic. I love books, but I hate reading – I feel like an idiot. I have to read each sentence twice (at least), at the same pace that I’d read aloud. I still don’t always understand what I’m reading – not the concept, mind you, simply the written words which are used to express it. I know the deep knowledge represented on each page, and yet I dredge through it like a 7 year old, frustrated by the time it takes to get through the simplest components. Still. At 30.

Listen – I ingest information best audibly, loving stories read aloud, going through most of my online reading through text-to-speech (thanks, Quinn), and learning best from the lecture, not the readings. Because of this, my writing cadence matches my speaking cadence nearly exactly – mainly because there were years where I would record myself speaking, and then transcribe it. It wasn’t writing. I don’t know how to write. I know how to speak. But that dyslexia isn’t just in reading, it’s in general language processing, and that includes the spoken word. Which means I miss chunks sometimes – able to hear beyond the normal audio range, but the content simply doesn’t land at times.

When I started drawing, 4 years ago, it helped me link together what I was hearing, with what I knew, in a way I could see how it all connected. No more missing gaps. There was something new that was coming out in this way of understanding and expressing the ideas that were already being expressed verbally or textually. It seemed that I like to ingest information audibly, but process and re-state visually. And try this out – I can make a proportional sculpture, because it feels right, while my stick figures are disproportional in order to indicate movement, and because I can’t get two dimensions to be technically correct. Each method lossy in its own way.

At Wikimania, I’ve been surrounded by incredible, intelligent people… all of whom place a huge value in cataloging, expressing, and defending through the written word. They use copyright to protect copy. It’s been like visiting an alien world I know I can never emigrate to, where my methods of expression are valued but not import-able. Something you’d see in a museum, but never purchase a gift for your loved one as you exit through the shop.

Understand this: When Tricia gave her talk at Berkman, she had visual cues, she delivered verbally, on a subject she had written about, and I expressed that visually. Each of these is a different expression of the same idea. It is not the same expression re-done verbatim (ha!) in another format. I don’t want to listen to a re-reading of the transcript of the audio. I want to listen to the writing on the subject she did. These are different aspects of the same knowledge set.

Another example: when the always fantastic RadioLab did a particularly stunning episode on color, there was a bit on the visual capabilities of the Mantis Shrimp. While a diagram of the eye’s capability can be drawn and compared (see diagram), and what happens with that extra perception vectors can be described in text, it was the choral rendition of complexity of vision that made what was actually going on readily understandable to we who have 3 vectors in our eyes.

Coding and software, and more recently the opening up of fabrication technologies, are about more people being able to express themselves in a way that is best for them, and that also means people who ingest information in those formats have a better chance to understand more of the world. The more vectors we have of expressing, the more vectors we have of understanding. And isn’t that what being human is about?

If that’s not enough, consider this: one of the things about code is that it has opened the doors for some to income and prestige that otherwise would have been closed. It broke down entrances to what “legitimate expression” is. When we stick to only the knowledge expressions and storage we understand, those who are best able to use those (i.e., those who have already been in long practice) will continue to benefit. And now, so many other things are possible to digitize, to pass on and posterityze. Why remain so hyper-focused on the written word?

“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”
Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History

I care less about “accessibility” as “bringing ‘disabled’ people into a world as ‘able’ people experience it,” and more into “everyone having the best opportunity to express themselves, and to be understood.”


Donning my angry feminist hat.1

First, let’s get the initial argument out of the way. Sexism exists. It definitely exists in tech communities. There are long-standing scientific studies on it, whole departments of colleges based around it, and the next person who thinks we’re past it (not “doesn’t want to talk about it,” but thinks it doesn’t exist)2 is being taken out back to be flogged as a fundamentalist3. Here’s a handy timeline. This entry deals mostly with women and sexism. You all should know by now that “women” is but one word used to refer to an area of a matrix, but I feel like using my wordiness on other topics today. Know that I’m focusing on one facet of an entire intertwingled object of marginalized populations4.

Everyone grows up with social scripts, unless they are raised in a box with no interaction with anything (no way IRB is letting you do that one!). The cadence of your voice to your posture to how you indicate interest are all influenced by social scripts. These scripts abstractly guide how we interact with one another – we are cued from past interaction, seen or participated with. This is part of why it is difficult to get women to speak at conferences – because they don’t see the value of their words, because the bulk of interaction has pointed at that5. Individuals from the projects won’t take a promotion because authority is seen as negative, and they don’t want to have authority over their peers. And because these roles continue to be filled by not-that-demographic, that-demographic never sees that it’s possible for them to do it. Women specifically are also socialized into letting people down easy and into making space and providing support for other people and the group over themselves (which is great when it’s reciprocated!). So, a society that objectifies women also sets the expectation that they will be objectified. We tend to grow into the expectations set on us6.

When women talk about being cat-called on the street pretty constantly, and the response it “I don’t see that” from her male peers, that is because they don’t. It doesn’t happen (as much, or at all) when they are with her7. And they don’t know how to be aware of it when it does happen around them (and are often participating in it). As someone in the penumbral8 space of gender norms, let me queersplain something to you. I don’t get catcalled much, because the way I walk and interact with people is pretty head-on. I am not scared to get in fights, to make eye contact, and to call people on things (most of the time). My upbringing is to thank for this. My parents consciously reduced the amount of exposure I had to mainstream social scripts through television and magazines. They made sure I felt comfortable in my own skin. My self-possession is a learned behavior9, and one that I am privileged to have obtained early on. But because I apparently also have hips, harassments still happen to those around me. I see it on a regular basis, and have to constantly decide if it is worth engaging in conflict.

Persistent, low grade harassment is so invisible until seen in aggregate, that when someone does snap, it’s seen as out of proportion. We have the ideas of straws and camels backs, and practice of drip water torture for a reason. Small things add up. When asked to laugh with you about the absurdity of the situation, and that “dongle” is indeed a funny word, maybe the laughter will be a beautiful moment of shared understanding. But when it’s not about the abhorrence at the system itself, such comments are instead just another straw. It can’t be taken lightly because it’s one of many. The individual voicing that comment is responsible for being a part of that load, when in fact they should be actively lightening it. The people who share that load with you get to joke with you about how utterly ridiculous it is that you can’t be using your strength to carry other things. It would be easier to just roll with it, but that also continues a culture that makes such comments ok. It is harder to fight.

Which gets us very smoothly into this whole Pycon thing, and how Adria is a very public figure.

When you are a highly visible person, you are expected to adhere more closely to the outlines of social scripts. For privileged populations, that means being MORE of what indicates success – demanding, manic, callous. If you are from a marginalized population, it still means fitting MORE closely to those expectations within that demographic. We call them archetypes for a reason. Individuals from those populations, rare already in roles associated with success, are demure and muted so as not to tip a boat they already feel shaky in10. At the same time, people of privilege are socialized to retain their privilege. Two to tango and all that. Because of all this, I feel a public response to a systemic issue occasionally trumps individualized response11.

The thing about this specific situation is that the same startup culture which claims Safe Space To Fail for tech doesn’t provide the same support and space for learning social lessons. Social lessons which are hard, but somehow the technical community has persuaded themselves and the rest of the world they are exempt from learning. That inability to care for our own, let alone others, is killing us and keeping our brightest from finding home.

The reason this debate is so visible is because it shows the tension between what we think is the case (why some will think this is dead-horse beating) and what is (many people’s daily existence). It shows the tension between where tech and social affect each other. And perhaps most tangibly, it shows the tension between the ideals of our society and our shitty labor laws. No one should have been fired over this, though we should still be having discourse. Hate to say it, but the same patriarchy12 that makes all this shit a part of everyday experience for so many is also what upholds the idea that your employer knows best and you have no desire nor ability to stand up for yourself and each other.

The response here is not more in-fighting and drama (which are not even true responses). The action here is to realize where the flaws are and to band together, to have nuanced conversation. We need unions. We need to support marginalized groups while not infantalizing them by taking control of their own ability to stand for themselves. It’s hard work. No one said it would be smooth, but brilliant people are used to sticking to what comes easily.

1. (Can it be a wizard hat? You bet your fingers it can be)
2. This is like saying racism is done in the US because we have a black president. Your desire to move forward blank-slate does nothing to the actual starting point of a vast majority of the population. Lack of acknowledgement of history is what is preventing many potential allies from doing anything except perpetuate the current state. Handy Infograph.
3. It’s the equivalent of someone saying “I don’t believe in webpages” and you saying “but you’re reading one right now” and them saying “silly coder, you really should look around you.” If they actually decided to figure out what you were talking about, you might sit and explain it to them, open up conversations, give them a book. Here’s my favorite starting place for feminism: Said the Pot to the Kettle: Feminism for Anarchist Men.
4. Which is what meant by references to “minority,” we mean “represented in the minority” – a language misstep that I do not intend to keep making. This misunderstanding of “minority” as “population minority” is similar to cracks implying scientific “theory” is a wild guess.
5. I challenge you to observe a room of people and tally how often people are checking their phones when a man is talking versus when a woman is talking. Audiences indulge in distraction far more when a woman is speaking, and not because of subject matter knowledge nor presentation style. Imagine how that effects your self-assurance when doing public speaking. See if you catch yourself checking your own phone more often in different cases.
6. Whole other entry in the works about halo effect and expectations vesus desire. But I didn’t want to overload you right now.
7. If your response to this is just always having a male companion, you are an event-addressing, non-systems fuck.
8. (insert favorite word into a ranty post +10 points)
9. Just as yours, or lack thereof, is learned.
10. I keep my blue hair, let me tattoos show, don’t hide my sexuality not only because it’s me, but because it also sets the tone for future people. It is a conscious choice, and one that sometimes detriments my ability to make professional progress. My subcultural markers are opt-in. My sex and sexuality are not. My desire to have all of them show is something I choose at personal cost for societal gain.
11. Only addressing these things individually is like playing whack-a-mole.
12. Look how far I made it in this entry without using the word! Look look look!


I run into the problem a lot that one of my favorite folders in TheOldReader is my NSFW one. It contains images of beautiful tattoos on beautiful bodies of all kinds, of intimate exchanges, of expressions of gender and love. But it’s labeled “NSFW” because I can’t load it in airports or coworking spaces or .. most anywhere, really. But that also transfers pretty clearly into how I filter myself for professional situations. I have ranted about this before. But this particular day prompted a tiny rant on Twitter about how much it sucks to have to constantly keep parts of my personality under wraps. There were a myriad of responses.

The general trends of feedback were as follows: female-bodied and queer folk affirm through response or favorites. Some folk suggest a division of presentation (public/private). And some say “what’s the big deal with expressing such things?” I would like to lovingly point out that the people in this last category are cis gents, whom I adore and with whom I am friends (hey, I have plenty of friends (and lovers) who are straight!).

Given that I work with all sort of populations from all sorts of backgrounds, my appearance and expressions have been carefully shaped in some ways. I no longer sport my mohawk. I tend to wear long pants rather than stompy boots and fishnets. My tattoos and piercings are easily covered. This is not so much an issue of subculture, this is much more an issue of how sexuality and respectability tend to be mutually exclusive. Which is to say: if I were to act and dress as I like, I would be sexualized, and therefore viewed as less competent. Which is a funny trade-off, as in especially technical communities, competence is seen as sexy. But the moment you enter one sphere, the other attribute goes away (for most people) (the link is about promoting sexualization to obscure the competence). Welcome to one of the tightropes which must be walked by the simple act of being female bodied. (But I don’t do that! you might say. Well, it’s not just about you. It’s about a long line of actions and incidents which by necessity make me wary of any sexuality-respect-shaped exchange. Both of those links have a trigger warning, and are more severe than what I’m personally speaking of, but they do get the point across.)

I say this because the idea of “just be awesome, and everything will work out!” is a privileged viewpoint. It’s something that can be said when you play on the easiest setting. Here is the thing – I have jeopardized jobs, missed opportunities, and lost friendships because I thought my competence was more relevant than my attractiveness (whatever the level of either of those). (I have also jeopardized jobs, missed opportunities, and lost friendships for other reasons. I am not scaping the goat here, as it were). For most of my life, and to some degree still, what is (or is not) between my legs has meant passing up those opportunities meant I might not get another such opportunity. This is not a “screw that person, something better will come along!” life. Now that I live in the enchanted world of people who “get it”, this is less of a problem. We can share dark humor, stories about compersion, and analysis of queer theory. But the path to here was long, and that’s from a privileged white girl.

From “Said the Pot to the Kettle” by Margaret Killjoy

It’s hard to talk about these things in public, because respect for me goes down, and therefore respect for what I do. We do not see individuals as many-faceted beings (something I think is deeply tied to our idealization of geniuses rather than polymaths), and so if I talk about gay rights or safe words, that is suddenly what I am to the exclusion of all else. I’m supposed to “pick my battles.” Which brings us to the second sort of response, which is to divide profiles. Now, I do have a snark twitter account, which very few people have access to. That is where I am snarky, which is something I don’t want other people to see. Unwavering optimism tempered by experience is what I think is most effective in public discourse (at least for the things I like to do), and so I keep my “really? seriously?” things to myself.

In contrast, my sexuality is a big part of my personality, and I would like it to be ok to share that. One of the reasons I find sexuality in general so fascinating is because it is the most basic part of being an organism (ANY organism), but is the most socially constructed for humans (the link as but one recent striking example). In general, I am wary of fracturing identity online, because I feel it’s important to stick your neck out (again, privilege talking) to make it safer for others to fully express themselves. (Caveats here about pseudonymity, activism, finding a new self, etc etc etc inserted here). Only by presenting ourselves respectfully as multi-faceted creatures, and calling bullshit when such a thing is not treated as the norm, can we build this better future.

So while I would really, really like to be able to crack a joke about Jesus dying on the cross because he forgot the safe word to a group of educators, humanitarians, and military folk, it’s just not going to be the case. It’s considered inappropriate coming from me. Which sucks, because Ye Olde Boys Club still can, if they want. What I have decided on, while writing this entry, is that it is worthwhile for me to be more outspoken so that it is easier for the people who come after me. But maybe I’m only saying that because I’m sitting in San Francisco right now, and it seems so easy. And I hope that my competence and ability to execute now fully trump whatever does or doesn’t happen between my bits and other people’s bits. And as in the links I’ve included here, I’d prefer people go after me than after someone else. I like the fight.