tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I request that you read my comment policy before commenting, especially if you don't know me offline.

If you have a LiveJournal account and want to leave comments on my journal, you can do that without giving Dreamwidth a password or any personal information except an email address. You can follow these instructions (with slight modifications) if you have an account on a site that provides OpenID credentials, too. (For example, any Google or Google+ account should work this way.) Here's how:

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Edited to add as of February 26, 2013: There have been intermittent problems with using OpenID to log in to Dreamwidth. The most reliable way to comment is to create a Dreamwidth account, which is free.
tim: A bright orange fish. (fish)
The white flight of Derek Black, by Eli Saslow for the Washington Post (2016-10-15). I am not sure how much credit former white supremacists deserve for coming to their senses, but nonetheless, this is a pretty gripping story about the son of one of the founders of Stormfront disowning his previous involvement with white supremacist groups. Education can and does change people sometimes, even though doing the work of educating isn't any specific marginalized person's responsibility.

Discerning Emotional Abuse in Relationships, by Xan West (2016-10-14).

D&D For Young DMs and Players 3: The X-Card, by Rory Bristol (2016-10-03). Interesting example of content warnings in practice (in the context of roleplaying games.) h/t [personal profile] joxn

[CW: rape, rape culture] When Men Brag About Sexual Assault, by [livejournal.com profile] siderea (2016-10-10). I also recommend its predecessor piece, Trump's Sexual Inkblot. This is about much more than just Trump:
The "locker-room banter" excuse says to women (and others), "you don't get to make the same natural surmises that men get to make about the very same speech acts applied to other crimes". It's a double standard: when the crime being boasted about is sexual in nature, women (and others) are supposed to give it a pass. "He's just saying that. It doesn't mean he does it."

When it comes to sexual crimes and torts, women (and others) are told they are supposed to suspend operation of their common sense. What men say when bragging about sexual misconduct is to be held in a little epistemological bubble, where none of it means, signifies, or counts in any way outside the bubble. Within the bubble – the rhetorical "locker-room" – those speech acts are to be understood and evaluated only by a special set of rules, which insist such utterances are not of relevance to the (presumed female) parties spoken of, only to the (presumed male) parties spoken to. Those utterances are not to be taken outside of the bubble; they are not to be exposed to reasoned contemplation in the light of anything outside the bubble whatsoever. We are to pretend under all circumstances not to have heard that which we have heard that men arrogate to the bubble; we are to pretend not to know anything the knowing of which men arrogate to the bubble. It is, Orwellianly, knowledge that, if we know it, we are forbidden to know.

[CW: suicide, discussion of mental illness hospitalization] Suicide Didn’t Kill Me, But Capitalism Might, by Beck Levy (2016-09-09). 'The bottom line is that in this ongoing crisis, “awareness” and “ending stigma” are toothless if depoliticized. All the awareness in the world won’t dismantle for-profit healthcare. Applying free-market principles to human needs wreaks havoc on our bodies.'

North Carolina Governor: My wife and I are being shunned by friends over anti-trans law, by Nick Duffy for PinkNews (2016-10-13). The lack of self-awareness here is breathtaking.

Men, You Can Survive Without Us—Please Try, by Ijeoma Oluo for The Establishment (2016-10-14). "All of this fear that you cannot survive without us is leaving so many of us dead."

The Ada Initiative’s legacy, one year on, by the Ada Initiative, 2016-10-17. Includes a list of ways you can continue supporting women in open technology and culture!

How False Narratives of Margaret Sanger Are Being Used to Shame Black Women, by Imani Gandy for Rewire (2016-08-20). On how Margaret Sanger's views on race have been grossly misrepresented by the pro-forced-pregnancy movement.

on #notallmen, derailing, and the fury it causes, by Jay (2015-08-01). Because this can never be said enough times:
Let’s talk about metonymy.

thefreedictionary.com defines the kind of metonymy I’m talking about as “a figure of speech in which the name of one object or concept is used for that of another to which it is related, as “scepter” for “sovereignty,” or “the bottle” for “strong drink”. So, if we extrapolate, we see how saying “I hate men” could stand in for “I hate the kind of man that rapes, kills, refuses to listen to me, voids my agency, trivializes my experiences, speaks over me, and makes jokes at my expense.”

You can see how the one is quicker and easier than the other.

White Nonsense: Alt-right trolls are arguing over genetic tests they think “prove” their whiteness, by Elspeth Reeve for Vice (2016-10-09). White supremacists got their 23andMe results and you won't believe what happened next! (Truly delightful.)

Election Update: Women Are Defeating Donald Trump, by Nate Silver for FiveThirtyEight (2016-10-11). Good.
tim: A bright orange fish. (fish)
Every Body Goes Haywire by Anna Altman for n+1 (2016-10-06). Long, beautiful article about the experience of chronic illness.

[CW: discussion of disordered eating] I Wasn't Addicted To Food. I Was Addicted to Dieting, by Virgie Tovar for Ravishly (2016-10-06). "...I do have a tendency to use experiences the way addicts use substances, because I learned addictive behavioral frameworks growing up." How when food gets used in a way that resembles an addiction, it's actually dieting that people use to distance themselves from their own feelings and reactions, not eating -- the "impulse to create emergencies and drama."

Trans Girl Periods. Yes, that’s right. No, I’m being serious. Just read the damn article, by Alaina Kailyn (2016-10-06). Bodies are so fascinating! I hadn't known that for many trans women, taking the same dosage of exogenous hormones every day still causes hormones to fluctuate, producing the same emotional ups and downs many cis women experience as part of the menstrual cycle, as the body adjusts its own production of hormones in response to the external feedback.

Fuck Portlandia, by In Other Words staff (2016-09-30). "...the last time the show filmed in our space, the production crew asked to us to remove the Black Lives Matter sign on our window."

Elon Musk Follows Zero Women on Twitter, by Sarah Jeong (2016-10-04). "Of course, Musk often retweets articles about Tesla Motors or SpaceX, which means he’s probably retweeted articles written by women. After all, about half the planet is occupied by people who aren’t men, and it would take a lot of effort to manage to completely erase them."

Idiocracy Is a Cruel Movie and You Should Be Ashamed For Liking It, by Matt Novak for Gizmodo (2014-07-29). I've never seen this movie and always thought there was something deeply anti-human about it, and Novak explains exactly what it is.

Trump and the Truth, by David Remnick, Eyal Press, Adam Davidson, and Adam Gopnik for the New Yorker (2016-09). This was written before That Video was released; it's still good to see a small number of Trump's lies systematically exposed.

More Evidence That Open Offices Make People Less Social, by Drake Baer for New York magazine (2016-09-16). Not that facts are going to persuade managers to reject open offices, since open offices were never instituted based on facts, but it's still nice to have facts. "...people who work in open-office plans had worse co-worker friendships than people who had private or shared offices" is something that resonates with my experience, since the sensory overload of an open office is such a drain on my resources that it makes me want to spend as little time in my office -- and by extension, with coworkers -- as possible.

Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy Problem, by Kate Crawford for the New York Times (2016-06-25). "Currently the loudest voices debating the potential dangers of superintelligence are affluent white men, and, perhaps for them, the biggest threat is the rise of an artificially intelligent apex predator.

But for those who already face marginalization or bias, the threats are here."

Your ‘Political Beliefs’ Don’t Justify Racism, by Andrew Wang for the Huffington Post (2016-09-21). I've been waiting for somebody to connect the dots as to how "political diversity" is how fascists sneak their ideology through the back door. This isn't quite that, but it approaches that. (I tried to write about it in "Opinions Are Abundant and Low-Value", too, but since then it's gotten clearer and clearer how transparent "political diversity" is as a veneer over white supremacy and fascism.)

"Political diversity is valuable. But a definition of political diversity that does not emphasize the reality of identity politics is amorphous, and overlooks how these discussions are often the first issues to be unwelcome and disrespected in the political arena. What then forms is a guise under which racist views must be tolerated. And when such a tolerance is made explicit by an educational institution, that institution becomes an enabler of racist rhetoric."

I especially appreciated this insight into how paradoxically limiting it is to use American two-party politics as the metric for "diversity of opinion": "...it becomes almost impossible to move beyond a partisan realm of discourse when traditional politics have been selected by institutions as the starting and ending point of debate."

[CW: discussion of fatphobia and bullying] Emotional Implications of Weight Stigma Across Middle School: The Role of Weight-Based Peer Discrimination, by Jaana Juvonen, Leah M. Lessard, Hannah L. Schacter, and Luisana Suchilt in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. I read the abstract and another article summarizing this one, about how it's weight stigma, not being fat, that harms the mental health of fat middle school students. (Chorus of "well, duh" from every fat person in the room.)

This Transgender Boy Gave A Powerful Speech To Counter Fear At His School, by David Mack for Buzzfeed (2016-09-14). In a better world, adults would come for other adults who terrorize 12-year-olds because of their amorphous fears -- in this world, 12-year-olds have to stand up for themselves against those adults, and Ari Bowman, a 12-year-old trans boy, did that; you can watch a video of his speech to school board officials.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
Being an ally to queer people (or any other group, but in this essay I'm going to be talking about queer people) is a process -- it's not a label you can affix to yourself once and for all, but a title that has to be earned by continued effort. What kinds of work does an ally do? How do you create a space that's safe for queer people?

As a general principle, you can show through your behavior that with everything you do, you're thinking through what effect it might have on queer people. The way to demonstrate your intent is not to tell people what it is, but to act on it.

When I was 16 I was dating a guy who was older than me. I won't say how much older -- if I did, you would probably think poorly of him. But what I wish to recall here is a way in which he was wiser than me, perhaps due to being older, perhaps not. At this point in my life, I believed that I was a heterosexual girl, and as far as I know, everybody else also believed that about me. My boyfriend and I went to Boston Pride together. It was my first Pride event, and I don't remember why I wanted to go. I didn't know that I was queer until about two years later. Maybe there was a band playing that I wanted to hear. In any case, I tried to hold hands with him while we were walking through the park to get to the festival. He said that no, we shouldn't hold hands, because it wasn't tasteful for us as a hetero couple to do that at a queer event.

I was ashamed of myself both for having broken a rule and for not having known the rule existed, but I didn't want to admit that, so instead I was mad at him for pointing it out. Surely, I thought, everybody around us should know that we're people who think it should be safe for everyone to hold hands. They should just know that our hand-holding was saying that; not "Look at us, it's safe for us to hold hands in public but it's not safe for you."

I don't hold it against my past self that much for being so narcissistic -- I was 16 and had pretty limited life experience. But nevertheless, I was wrong. I was wrong even though we actually were a gay couple. It's just that neither of us knew it at the time. We experienced heterosexual privilege because we could both be sure that no one was going to look at us and react in the way that homophobes do when they think they see a queer couple.

I also want to note that 1997 was a different time, and context is important. Maybe it would be okay for a couple with heterosexual privilege to hold hands at Pride now. What remains the same, and what will remain the same as long as there's inequality between queer people and heterosexual people, is that there are things that have a different meaning when somebody with heterosexual privilege does it. Indeed, that's precisely what "privilege" means: that the same action can have different consequences, different risks and benefits, depending on who's doing it.

If you are a person experiencing conditional heterosexual privilege at any given moment, what I expect you to do in order to be an ally is to quietly reflect along these lines: "Hmm, am I in a space where it's safe for queer people to make out? Because if I am, then great, I'm going to make out with my partner with reckless abandon. But if I'm not, then I'm not going to do that, because I don't wish to take advantage of my heterosexual privilege. If queer people would get hurt for doing it, I don't want to be the one who's doing it all the while knowing that my queer friends in the same room can't do the same." I expect this more strongly from people who are in a life stage where they've been exposed to enough different perspectives that they can take other people's point of view. (In other words, I don't hold 16-year-olds in 2016 to higher standards than I hold my past 16-year-old self.) And so if someone isn't making this mental calculation, I notice, and I conclude that they're not thinking about how queer people will feel about what they're doing. And then I conclude I'm not safe, because I'm not in the group of people whose welfare is being looked after.

Why might people (any people) engage in public displays of affection, anyway? They might not have any private place in which to be affectionate, which is another reason I don't hold younger people to this standard all that strictly. That can be true both for people with, and without heterosexual privilege in a given situation. They might be swept away by the tide of overwhelming lust -- again, I cut younger people more slack here, since overwhelming lust does tend to take precedence over awareness of others when overwhelming lust is new to you, and that's OK with me. But there are other reasons. Maybe you decided "I would like to let other people here know that I'm a man who has the status that comes from a reasonably attractive woman being willing to let me stick my tongue down her throat." Maybe you didn't, but if you have a choice in the matter -- if you're getting all up on your partner because you weighed the costs and benefits and concluded the benefit to you was greater -- then there's a reason why you're choosing to do it in public.

For people who are affected by homophobia and/or transmisogyny in a given context, at a given moment, displaying affection can be an act of defiance; there's a reason that kiss-ins are a form of protest. I think that we would all agree there are still boundaries as to what it's acceptable to do, sexually or romantically, in front of others who didn't consent to see it. Within the community, we might disagree as to where those boundaries are (for example, some queer people would prefer not to see nudity at Pride marches, others prioritize moving the Overton window when it comes to what kinds and degrees of sexuality are acceptable in public), but we agree that there are boundaries. But systematic homophobia means that the same actions have a different meaning when the people doing them are perceived as being a heterosexual couple.

I don't think it's too much to ask that people think about how what they're doing might affect other people in the context they're in, because I think if you already assessed your surroundings well enough to make the decision to neck in public, I'm going to expect that you also thought through what effect it has on the people around you -- you already concluded that it was safe for you to do this, so I don't think it's asking too much to consider others' well-being too. (And again, I expect more of that consideration from people who are past the age where sex is so new to them that it's easy to get pulled under by a wave of lust and act without thinking.)

So when people with heterosexual privilege who are roughly grad-school age or older are smooching in public, to me that's a signal of an unsafe space. (If they're younger, it doesn't give me enough information to draw that conclusion.) It's unsafe because I know that the people doing that aren't thinking about how queer people might feel about it, and if they're not thinking about that, it's probably not the norm to think about it here. Inattention to (relatively) little slights goes hand in hand with callous disregard for bigger ones.

You might reasonably ask how far it goes, the obligation not to rub in other people's faces "here I am, safely doing the thing you can't do without risking your neck." For example, in the US when the right to marry wasn't universal, there were heterosexuals who refused to get legally married until everybody was allowed to do so. I think that's a nice gesture, but I don't think anyone was obliged to do it. Marriage has financial and social benefits (which is precisely why we were fighting for it in the first place), and I don't think that the collective benefit of a heterosexual person forgoing marriage exceeds the individual cost to that person of not getting married when they would have done it otherwise. If refraining from marriage isn't obligatory whereas being discreet about what you do with your partner is, where do you draw the line? That's really up to you and what you can be comfortable with -- there's no rulebook for how to be a decent human being.

I don't think it's too much to ask when I ask middle-aged people with heterosexual privilege to refrain from making out and heavy petting in, say, the front row of a concert. After all, if you're that age and you can afford concert tickets, you can probably make out later at home, without bothering anybody else. (I don't mind heterosexuals as long as they don't flaunt it in public.) Not every queer person is going to agree with me on this, and ultimately, if you're heterosexual or if you're in a relationship that doesn't make you susceptible to homophobic violence, who you agree with is up to you and your conscience.

I'm trying to be careful to address people with heterosexual privilege here -- conditional or not -- rather than heterosexual people because the effect of two people who really are cis and heterosexual laying it on too thick in public is indistinguishable from the effect of two people doing the same thing who aren't cis, or who aren't heterosexual, or both. It's important to respect people's self-identification, but also important -- if we're going to live in an interdependent world -- to recognize that privilege exists and that both self-identification and others' perceptions of your identity mediate that privilege. If you're trying to tell me that I can't call out any instance of heterosexual privilege in action without first interviewing the people involved as to their sexual orientation, I'm going to say that you're gaslighting me. "What if they're actually pansexual or genderqueer?" re-centers the conversation on the people doing harm rather than the people being harmed. It's a silencing tactic, because the effect is to shame people out of talking about privilege. And it's a gaslighting tactic, because the effect is to cause marginalized people to question their own perceptions of reality. ("You're not really seeing what you think you see.") Saying "this shouldn't affect you because I'm not heterosexual" is more or less the same as saying "I didn't intend to to harm", and we know that intent doesn't determine effects. Both statements are demands that one's own narrative be privileged over anybody else's.

What matters more than the specific subject of PDAs is that if you tell me there is literally nothing you would give up -- no way in which you would make yourself uncomfortable, no matter how small -- for the sake of making queer people more comfortable, then you're just saying you don't care about queer people. If you're not willing to put anything on the line for us, then at least be honest about it and don't gaslight us by telling us you care.

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tim: A bright orange fish. (fish)
A bit late, because I've been on vacation. But linkspam doesn't take a vacation!

The Psychology of Victim-Blaming by Kayleigh Roberts for the Atlantic (2016-10-05). Good outline of how the just-world fallacy causes people to blame victims.

Protect Your Irritated Nervous System by [personal profile] sonia (2016-10). Good stuff about understanding chronic stress.

The Importance of Paying Attention in Building Community Trust, by [personal profile] mjg59 (2016-10-03). If your community doesn't handle the little things, no one will trust you to get big things right.

It’s Not About Race!, by John Metta (2016-09-18). 'When a white person says “It’s not about race,” they are pretty much always saying it when a Black person, or a Latino person, or a Muslim person is not acting the way a white European would act or wants them to act.' (I probably would have cited this in "The Filter of Unemotionality" had I read it sooner.)

Language in Emergency Medicine: A Verbal Self-Defense Handbook, by Suzette Haden Elgin (1999). I am thinking about this approach to communication and would like to read and think more about it. "In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true, and try to imagine what it could be true of" isn't advice I follow all the time, or even most of the time, and I especially don't want to assume that what somebody is saying is true when what they're saying is that I don't deserve to live. However, there might be more times when it's useful than I've accounted for.

A Health Benefit of Roller Coasters, by James Hamblin for the Atlantic (2016-09-26). Now this is the kind of science I love: "So I used real urine … to avoid criticism."

The Sexist Response to a Science Book Prize, by Thomas Levenson for the Atlantic (2016-09-30).

Some links about weight and fatphobia. CWs apply to all of them, but particularly the two articles by Gina Kolata, which are quite wrong-headed and pathologizing (having a body size and shape that some people find sexually unattractive isn't a "disease", folks), but still contain some useful information.

The Mythology Of Trump’s ‘Working Class’ Support, by Nate Silver for FiveThirtyEight (2016-05-03).

A Pox On Your Box: The Problem of LELO Hex, by Lorax of Sex (2016-09-25) -- about a supposedly-revolutionary new condom design that's anything but.

Life-Hacks of the Poor and Aimless, by Laurie Penny for The Baffler (2016-07-08):

'Can all this positive thinking be actively harmful? Carl Cederström and André Spicer, authors of The Wellness Syndrome, certainly think so, arguing that obsessive ritualization of self-care comes at the expense of collective engagement, collapsing every social problem into a personal quest for the good life. “Wellness,” they declare, “has become an ideology.”
When Penny writes, "There is an obvious political dimension to the claim that wellbeing, with the right attitude, can be produced spontaneously," it reminds me of the blog post I want to write about the political uses of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (not offended)
A road sign that says 'emotion' with a right-pointing arrow'In subcultures like computer science academia and the technology industry that are dominated by white men, self-identification as "rational" is a cornerstone of many members' self-image and social status. In these groups, people who make sincere, vulnerable comments invoking their personal stake in an issue rather than objective, rational truth are often shamed for being "emotional".

All speech is motivated by emotion: we don't speak unless we feel that it's important to us to do so. Cognition is impossible without emotion: emotion directs our attention, tells us what's important and what's not. People who can't experience emotions become completely unable to function. Speaking requires effort, and expending effort requires an emotional reason. If it wasn't important to you to say something, then you would be silent. Derailing comments, too, are motivated by emotions: primarily, fear and insecurity. When people re-center a discussion on themselves, they are motivated by fear. For example, attempting to reframe a sentiment like "Black Lives Matter" as "All lives matter" may appear to be neutral, but it is in fact motivated by fear that valuing Black lives threatens white privilege.

When Alice states her lived experience and Bob says, "Prove it -- give me facts, citations to peer-reviewed studies," when he doesn't normally demand that level of evidence from other men, Bob is being emotional. Like all speech, his response is driven by an emotion: in this case, the desire to silence Alice.

So framing some speech as neutral or unemotional exploits a social loophole that puts an outbound filter of rationality onto whatever privileged people say. If all speech is emotional, then we have to ask what political reasons here are for labeling some speech as emotional and some speech as unemotional, and what political purposes this labeling has.

Cold and detached responses

"To me, all of this seems like typical geek behaviour: something is making them uncomfortable, and so they attack it on "rational" grounds. Most likely, they aren't even aware of the gut reaction fueling their logic." -- Jessamyn Smith
The hallmark of an Trojan horse emotional response -- the kind of words that slap you in the face while telling you that you're unhinged for crying in response -- is its cold and detached vantage point. The people delivering these cold remarks typically position themselves as authority figures, rather than citing lived experience. They're likely to use language that disclaims responsibility ("Some people say..." or "Some people might be alienated by this...") or to employ the word "should" ("You should understand that I have good intentions.")

An example of hidden emotion is the idea of "meritocracy". We all know that meritocracy is a lie, but here I want to call attention to the concealed emotion that the concept is pregnant with. Consider the following dialogue:

Alice: Why is your company 90% male when the population is only 50% male, and 95% white when the general population is only 60% white?
Bob: You see, Alice, we're a meritocracy. I only hire the best people for the job.
Alice: Fuck you, Bob.

Who is being emotional here? Bob is terrified of being found out: he's terrified that other people will believe Alice when she points out his discriminatory hiring practices. He's probably also scared that he, himself, won't measure up -- merit-wise -- in a fair contest that didn't exclude most men of color, women, and non-binary people. Moreover, he's scared of not seeming objective, because to not seem objective and rational is -- in his culture -- to come off as unmasculine. If he can frame himself as making decisions only based on merit, he can conceal the role of personal relationships in who he favors. If he can make other people think he's immune from the human tendency to filter assessments through the lens of how much you like somebody, then they'll treat him as a leader, because we've been taught that leaders are (emotionally) above it all.

So the meritocracy trope is an emotional argument, though it's rarely treated as one. Alice's frustration is nothing compared to Bob's terror of being revealed for who he is. The abuse of the "neutral point of view" concept on Wikipedia -- whose editors and bureaucrats constitute another white- and male-dominated subculture -- is another example. If you can call your own point of view "neutral", you won't have to answer questions about what caused you to have that particular point of view. If you don't have to answer those questions, you can appear as cool, detached, and emotionless as possible.

The emotional content of tone arguments

In general, respectability politics and tone arguments are always emotionally driven:

  • "I agree with what you're trying to accomplish, I just think your tone is unproductive."
  • "If you expect to win allies over, you're going to have to meet them where they are."
  • "If you don't educate me, then how can I learn?"

More important than the specific words are the subtext that all of these remarks share: "I'm cool-headed and thinking rationally about the best tactics for achieving social progress. You're unable to think clearly because of your emotions, and can't liberate yourself without help from somebody like me."

But tone arguments are deeply emotional.

I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one's own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness. -- Audre Lorde

In response to listening to the anger of somebody whose oppression you benefit from, you might experience guilt (because you've done nothing to effect change) and fear (that your power and privilege will be taken away if enough people listen to and are moved by the message you perceive as angry.) Your feelings of guilt or fear tell you to do one thing: everything you can do to make the pain stop, to silence the speech that is causing you to experience narcissistic injury, to feel guilt and fear -- feelings you don't want to have. Your emotions also tell you that if you feel hurt by somebody else's anger, they must be expressing that anger only to hurt you -- they can't possibly have any other reason for sharing their thoughs. This is a form of narcissism.

As another example, suppose that Alice says, "hey, fuck you if you think women quit jobs in science and technology because they're not interested -- we quit because of harassment." And suppose Bob says, "Stop being emotional. We should study whether women leave because they just have different interests." Bob's detachment from the issue may cause others to perceive his statement as unemotional, where Alice is perceived as emotional. But Bob's statement is motivated by emotion too: the fear that something bad will happen if Alice is allowed to share her personal experience. Terri Oda pointed out that if you think biology explains the low numbers of women in CS, then you're bad at math: the "logic" that leads men to speculate about causes for women's lower participation in science that don't involve men's active efforts to exclude women is actually emotional. Their emotions about their own power and privilege and whether or not a more egalitarian science culture would jeopardize those things stop them from seeing the truth.

False empiricism can be another form of emotional argument. Suppose that Carol says, "hey, it hurts me and makes me feel excluded when you address a mixed-gender group I'm in with, 'guys.'" Don might respond with, "Well, actually, 'guys' is used in a gender-neutral way." This is false, but more important than its truth value is the emotional charge that Don's statement is imbued with. While at first blush, it might seem that he is making a factual point about language usage or descriptive grammar, attempting to shut down Carol's first-person account of how she feels being called a "guy" is an appeal to emotion: it is motivated by Don's discomfort with examining his behavior and with being told that something he didn't intend as harmful is harming people. Don doesn't really care about what the dictionary says "guys" means; he cares about stopping Carol from speaking, and the dictionary argument here is an ex-post-facto justification for Don to try to shut Carol up. Appealing to empiricism is how Don channels his discomfort with hearing Carol be open about how it makes her feel when she's casually misgendered; it's irrelevant, since how common misgendering is doesn't obligate Carol to change how she feels about it, but he knows that accusing her of being factually wrong is likely to create an emotional reaction in her -- or at least in the people observing -- that will silence her, and that's what matters to Don.

Another form of false empiricism comes up in discussions of trans people. The discourse of "biological sex" is something cis people use to derail discussions in order to de-center trans people's lived experience in favor of making trans people seem "unscientific" and therefore crazy, illogical, or emotional. In reality, biologically essentialist narratives have very little to do with biology and a lot to do with cis people's fear of a world where gender and sex are consensual. (I've written about this before, starting with "Chromosomal Politics" and continuing: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6].) Cis people are terrified of the gaping void that opens when it becomes impossible to define your identity solely by appealing to your genitals. So they say things like, "Gender is social, sex is biological," or that sex is determined by someone's assessment of your genitals at birth.

People who say these things don't actually understand biology, so their comments -- sciency-sounding as they might seem -- are based in emotion, not fact. It's emotion that lets them make the leap from "most of the time, men have penises and women have vaginas" (an empirical observation) to "any posited exceptions to this rule are because someone's lying rather than because the rule could be incomplete." Emotion blurs the mind enough to confuse this sloppy thinking with rigorous analysis. But sciency-sounding stuff has cognitive authority. Meanwhile, trans people who state our lived experience of being men or women, as well as non-binary people who state their lived experience of being other genders, are labeled as "emotional", which goes along with the idea that gender is different from sex: gender is said to be all in your head, therefore not as real when it doesn't match your sex, which is real and observable by others. So fake-scientific discourse motivated by fear wins here over honest avowals of lived experience. Borrowing cognitive authority is a tool to avoid addressing how cis people would feel if we accepted both gender and sex as traits that are impossible to determine through objective observation.

Another example is the drive to disbelieve marginalized people who report sexual assault, discrimination, or harassment: common responses from privileged people tend to sound like, "Let's give them the benefit of the doubt" (where "them" always refers to fellow privileged people), "We shouldn't jump to conclusions; not all the facts are in yet", "We should hear both sides", or "There could have been other reasons why she was fired." Privileged people who obsess over proof in these situations tend to be motivated by a need to discredit and invalidate whatever a marginalized person says, especially when it threatens the power of someone they identify with. Their fear drives them to sow doubt about marginalized people's authority to speak about their own life experiences. "We need to hear both sides" may sound logical, but the selectivity with which white men employ their skepticism is guided by emotion: disproportionately, it's used against the people they fear and hate. When somebody only demands extraordinary degrees of evidence in response to claims made by marginalized people, you can be sure that they make these demands for emotional reasons. The end result of a double standard that demands extraordinary evidence to support patriarchal actions (e.g. women being raped, people of color being discriminated against, trans people being harassed) without requiring the same evidence for assertions that don't challenge patriarchy is to uphold patriarchy itself. Patriarchy perpetuates itself through emotions -- fear and insecurity -- rather than logic, and part of how it works is characterizing typically-masculine emotional outbursts -- outbursts that include repressing other people's emotional expressing -- as logical.

Pattern recognition and the paradox of openness

What do all these people have in common: the meritocracy-citers, the pseudo-scientists, the selective skeptics, the phony empiricists? They hope that their fear will look like neutrality when they use magic phrases like "innocent until proven guilty." They don't feel secure letting somebody else who has a different life experience talk -- they fear their privilege won't stand if disprivileged people are heard.

They forget that we are capable of recognizing patterns and that we notice when they reserve all skepticism for claims that threaten the status quo. They think ticking off a list of logical fallacies will fool us, that we won't notice their terror at having to engage with the substance of an argument that poses a threat to their power. Fear doesn't become invisible when concealed by a veneer of faux-rationality and pseudo-logic. When someone says "you're just being emotional," we know to look harder at what they're trying to hide. We can't smell fear, but we can infer it logically from the presence of rhetorical strategies that have the function of guarding privilege.

"Female emotion itself is being portrayed as a destructive force that must be tamped down, contained, and (if at all possible) totally denied, because if it ever breaks through and becomes visible, that woman will become dirty, shameful, and disgusting." -- Sady Doyle, Trainwreck

To a much lesser extent, men expressing emotions that are usually coded as "female" also receive the treatment Doyle describes. Masculinist definitions of "emotion" often construct the anger men often feel and express as non-emotional. Anger is often a veneer for fear, which is also an emotion, as much as gender-conforming men do their best to conceal the fear they experience. Fear of having to compete with women and minorities is emotion too, and drives all manner of behaviors, from enforcing sex segregation in competitive sports to pseudoscientific arguments as to why women are worst at math. Anger is also an emotion: as marginalized people we frequently hear "don't be so angry, you'll scare people," but we rarely hear anyone tell us directly that we scare them. Meanwhile, we are expected to tolerate their anger as they browbeat us about our tone or scold us for believing a woman "before all the facts are in." Privileged men are scared of emotions outside the narrow band that men are allowed to express, and will do pretty much anything to suppress their expression.

There's a paradox that dictates what speech gets labeled as "emotional." Often, it's speech from people who are being open and vulnerable about their emotions (which is a rare thing for people to do, by the way, outside the context of close relationships in private.) But speech doesn't become less emotional when the speaker is frantic to cover up their fear, insecurity and worry with logical-sounding words and phrases. Just because the speaker may not be fully aware of the emotions that underlie their speech doesn't make the speech less emotional.

Ironically, sincerity will get you tagged as "emotional" and not credible; when you conceal your motives, you get tagged as "logical", and the more social status you have, the more logic gets attributed to you.

The drive to side with people who have power and status is also emotionally based: it's grounded in the belief that seeking the protection of people who have power will keep you safe.

"You're being emotional" means "I'm trying to make you feel shame." When you are trying to make someone else feel ashamed, it's a pretty good bet that you are feeling shame or guilt yourself and are trying to displace it onto somebody else, as if shame were a hot potato. in reality, shame is more like a virus: it spreads.

"You're being emotional" means "I have more credibility than you." Most of the time, accusations of "emotional" motivation are driven by the need for power. Fear of powerlessness and helplessness is also an emotion.

"You're being emotional" means "I'm feeling an emotion I would prefer not to feel, and it's your fault." (I wrote about this before in "The Second Job, or, Men Feel Entitled To Not Feel Things".)

"You're being emotional" means "I feel upset because of what you said, so you must have said it because you were upset, too."

"You're being emotional" is a form of false dismissal. The "false dismissal" pattern, which I previously wrote about in "Gendered Language: Feature or Bug in Software Documentation?" is a sign that someone is being emotional and trying to hide it. We see this in a common class of ad hominem attacks (which are rarely recognized as ad hominem) along the lines of: "You care, so you must be wrong" or "You have strong opinions, so you must be wrong." Beyond the logical flaws inherent in dismissing an argument because the person making the argument cares, bringing up your own assessment of somebody else's emotional state or intensity is generally not conducive to logical argument unless you've been asked for it. I think people who jump to the "you're being emotional" silencing tactic often confuse the absence of emotion with the presence of truth.

"You're being emotional" means "I'm uncomfortable with my own emotions, especially those that are coded as female, and I reject them in you as a way of acting out my rejection of the same emotions in myself."

Maybe we should just retire "you're being emotional" and stop obsessing over eradicating emotion from conversations about social and political issues. What would happen if we treated speech that comes from a place of emotional vulnerability as more compelling, not less? If all speech is motivated by emotion, isn't it better if we state and examine our emotional states in regard to speaking and listening, rather than desperately pretending we don't have emotions -- which in itself is motivated by desire to protect ourselves and our status? Can we view reason and logic as tools for accomplishing goals that our emotions guide us to, rather than letting our emotions govern us by pretending they don't exist?

Further reading

Thanks to Gwen for her comments on a draft of this essay.

Image credit: Creative-Commons-licensed image by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr.

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tim: A bright orange fish. (fish)
'Ladies' Is Gender Neutral, by Alice Goldfuss (2016-09-15). "I hope this has opened some people’s eyes to what it feels like to be excluded, and how something so simple as a shirt that fits can make an impact."

My Childhood Was Appropriate For Children, by Annalee for The Bias (2016-09-23). "Bisexuality is perfectly appropriate for children, because many children are bisexual. Treating bisexuality as an ‘adult’ topic? As if it’s a deviation kids couldn’t possibly understand? That’s what’s not appropriate for children."

Valuing chronically ill graduate students, by Sarcozona for Tenure, She Wrote (2016-09-22). "None of my colleagues would ever say to me that they think I shouldn’t be a scientist or that chronically ill and disabled students should be barred from academia, but when there isn’t (adequate) funding for sick students, chronically ill students are effectively excluded from academia."

ADHD Tipping Points: Why people with ADHD suddenly seem to fall apart, and what you can do about it, by Emily Morson for Mosaic of Minds (2016-09-15). About why people with chronic illness (whether that illness is categorized as mental or physical) often seem to function normally up to a point, then fall apart during adulthood -- writte about ADHD, but I think it can apply just as well to C/PTSD and probably many other illnesses.

[CW: rape] Cockblocking Rapists Is A Moral Obligation; or, How To Stop Rape Right Now, by Thomas MacAulay Millar for Yes Means Yes (2013-10-20). Lots of good points in this, including the importance of noticing boundary-pushing, and this: "What can people do with unsubstantiated accusations? Quite a lot, actually."

Two pieces on the trash fire that is Out magazine's decision to profile professional harassment campaign organizer Milo Yiannopoulos:

Occupy Wall Street, five years on: fire in the dustbin of history, by Laurie Penny for the New Statesman (2016-09-17). 'Being on the left is, in some ways, an exercise in learning how to fail. Of course, all resistance movements eventually fail, because those which do not succeed in overhauling the existing order invariably become the existing order. Wilson, writing as Bey, reminds us that the Temporary Autonomous Zones are, by their nature, ephemeral. “Such moments of intensity give shape and meaning to the entirety of a life. You can't stay up on the roof forever — but things have changed, shifts and integrations have occurred — a difference is made.”'

Take the Cake: Fat Fury, Fat Love — Claiming 'Fat Space' In Activist Communities, by Virgie Tovar for Ravishly (2016-09-08). "I too feel intense pressure to be perpetually kind, patient, and educational whenever I write or speak about fat discrimination and body image. Often, I do genuinely feel kind and patient and educational. The problem is that when I don’t feel that way, I am expected to bypass feelings of anger or disappointment in favor of sublimation, with the idea being that this sublimation benefits me/all people (since I am a subset of all people)."

Why I Quit My Job To Live Off My Private Wealth, by Fiona Pearce for Reductress (2016-09-20). "Life is about choices, and you only get one life to live. The only way to take control of your destiny is to decide how you really want to spend your time—which is why I chose to quit my job and live off my vast personal fortune."
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
I thought I would make a list of my favorite Geek Feminism Blog posts, since it's a bit hard to find some of the great older posts there. I omitted my own posts as well as most cross-posts. (Excluding cross-posts excluded some of my favorite posts, alas, but I wanted to focus on content originally published on the GF blog.)


Why We Document, by Mary Gardiner. "But what makes it worth it for me is that when people are scratching their heads over why women would avoid such a revolutionarily free environment like Free Software development, did maybe something bad actually happen, that women have answers."

Questioning the Merit of Meritocracy, by Skud.


But Women Are an Advanced Social Skill, by Mary Gardiner.

Is requiring Open Source experience sexist?, by Mary Gardiner.

Self-confidence tricks, by Terri Oda.

Geek feminism as opposed to mainstream feminism?, by Mary Gardiner.

How to Appear Incompetent in One Easy Step, by Amber Baldet.

When You Are the Expert in the Room, by Mary Gardiner.

Meritocracy? Might want to re-think how you define merit., by Terri Oda. "It’s not the intelligence of the group members that matters; it’s their social sensitivity."

"Why don't you just hit him?, by Mary Gardiner. "Harassment is not a private matter between harasser and victim, and it’s not the victim’s job to put a stop to it."

Letting down my entire gender, by Terri Oda. "You feel like changing the world rests in your hands, and you let the world down because you had to say no. You had to quit. You had to hide."


On competence, confidence, pernicious socialization, recursion, and tricking yourself, by Sumana Harihareswara. "It’s as though my goalposts came on casters to make them easier to move"

Impostor syndrome and hiring power, by Mary Gardiner.

in memory of nina reiser, by mizchalmers

Geeks as bullied and bullies, by Mary Gardiner

Online harassment as a daily hazard: when trolls feed themselves, by Mary Gardiner.

On being harassed: a little GF history and some current events, by Skud. 'I didn’t quit because I couldn’t handle the technology, or because I had a baby, but because I had become fundamentally disenchanted with a “community” (please imagine me doing sarcastic air quotes) that supports the kind of abuse I’ve experienced and treats most human-related problems — from harassment to accessibility to the infinite variety of names people use (ahem ahem Google Plus) — as “too hard”.'


What she really said: Fighting sexist jokes the geeky way!, by Jessamyn Smith.

How I Got 50% Women Speakers at My Tech Conference, by Courtney Stanton.

I take it we aren’t cute enough for you?, by Mary Gardiner. "I want to get this out in the open: people love to support geek girls, they are considerably more ambivalent about supporting geek women."

Pipeline Guilt, by Jessamyn Fairfield. "It’s a heavy burden to want to be the best example for women in your field, at the expense of your own happiness. And it’s easy to hear about the leaky pipeline and see it as prescriptive, implying that individual women have to choose to stay in the pipeline in order to help solve the problem."

How do you look for jobs in an industry known for biases against women?, by Terri Oda.


Dear male allies: your sexism looks a bit like my racism, by mizchalmers. "Here’s what I want to tell you, dear male allies. It is such a relief. Listening to other peoples’ voices? Is incredibly moving, and humbling, and endlessly interesting. Shutting the hell up while I do it? God, how I love the sound of not-my-own-voice. Going into battle against racists and so forth? So much easier, now that I have a faint clue what’s actually going on."

Book Club: Three times a Geek Feminist walked away from Omelas (and two times she didn’t), by mizchalmers. "Now I think the best we can do is practise vigilance. To watch out for people who might be locking children in rooms. And to refrain from locking children in rooms ourselves."

Tech confidence vs. tech competence, by Alex. "This is in stark contrast to communities where tech competence is valued above all else: where people feel they have to hide their mistakes. In such settings we routinely observe low volunteering rates from people in marginalised groups, with low retention from beginning volunteers, because people are too scared to ask for help or too scared to admit that they don’t know how things work."


It is easier now that I look like a guy, by Fortister. "Instead of spending my weekend hacking open source I spend my weekend figuring out how to defend the notion of my humanity."

Dropping the F bomb, by Skud. "Women in tech groups are not necessarily feminist. Some actively work against feminist ideals."

tim: A bright orange fish. (fish)
Adult Film Site XHamster Buys Alexis Arquette Sex Tape, Immediately Destroys All Copies, by Don Crothers for Inquisitr (2016-09-18). Good.

White Woman at Her ‘Most Authentic’ When Appropriating Other Cultures, by Taryn Englehart for Reductress (2016-03-08).

To find Hillary Clinton likable, we must learn to view women as complex beings, by Caroline Siede for Boingboing (2016-09-15). "So why is Clinton critiqued for raising her voice like Sanders, speaking hard truths like Biden, and making an awkward Pokémon Go reference we almost certainly would have dubbed a “dad joke” had Kaine said it? Why do we find their flaws likable and Clinton’s flaws off-putting? Why isn't she seen as America's awkward aunt or nerdy stepmom?"

26 Things Emotionally Strong People Do, by Jeremy Radin (2016-08-25). "Emotionally Strong people have four emotions: strong, abundance, no I am not having a panic attack I’m just tired from being so busy manifesting what I am blessed about every day, and hashtag."

The lasting impact of white teachers who mispronounce minority student names, by Clare McLaughlin for Quartz (2016-09-07). '...it’s okay to make an error, “but it is not okay to ignore the mistake or not learn from it.”'

All 314 Bruce Springsteen Songs, Ranked From Worst to Best, by Caryn Rose for Vulture (2016-09-13). I feel personally attacked by this list in all sorts of ways, but I enjoyed reading it.

Mansplaining: how not to talk to female Nasa astronauts, by Laura Bates for the Guardian (2016-09-13). "In the meantime, here is a good rule of thumb for overenthusiastic men on Twitter to follow: if she’s wearing a Nasa spacesuit, take a minute to consider whether you really want to tell her how to do her job."

Why You Shouldn’t Label People “Low Performers”, by Ryan W. Quinn for the Harvard Business Review (2016-09-14). In general, labeling is a cognitive distortion. In specific, this article talks about why labeling employees as "good" or "bad" workers undermines an organization.

The Collective Gaslighting of the Trigger Warning Debate, by Miri (Brute Reason) for The Orbit (2016-09-13). "If people are telling you that they are trying to engage with trauma-related material and you insist that they’re actually saying that they want to avoid it–or literally ban it from being taught–you are gaslighting them. You are insisting that you know better than they do what’s inside their own heads. You are pretending that they said something other than what they actually said, making them doubt their own thoughts and words."

Real Talk: Women in Tech and Money, by Cate Huston (2016-09-15). "...if you know that part your career is likely to be over within ten years, you (if you are sensible) factor that into your financial planning. Looking at the data, it makes sense for women in tech to do the same."
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
[CW: child abuse, trauma]

There's gonna come a day when you feel better
You will rise up free and easy on that day
And float from branch to branch, lighter than the air
Just when that day is coming, who can say, who can say?

-- the Mountain Goats, "Up the Wolves"

I came across an extended excerpt from Catherine Woodiwiss, "A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma" on Facebook. I was struck by how much of it made the assumption that "trauma" doesn't refer to complex trauma; that when you address trauma survivors, you're necessarily addressing people who survived a single traumatic event (or a few discrete events) rather than an extended period during which we were repeatedly traumatized and could not escape. Like being held prisoner, which usually means being a child, since all children are held prisoner, though some prisoners are treated better than others.

So, point-by-point, I want to ask whether each of these ten statements applies to people like me who survived complex trauma.

"1. Trauma permanently changes us."

This is true, and this is even harder to reckon with when you have no "old me." The desire to go back to the "old me" is still there when your trauma began before you can consciously remember it, but the difference is that you have no idea who that "old me" is. Is there even an old me when the only "you" before trauma is a less-than-three-month-old baby?

I don't think the idea of "recovery" makes sense for complex trauma that begins in early childhood. You don't heal. You learn to live with what you have; to work around your limitations. If surviving trauma is like recovering from an illness, surviving complex trauma is like managing a chronic illness; it's more like a disability, which must be recognized and accommodated. Searching for a cure isn't useful.

And how do you know what is "you" and what is "only a result of the trauma", anyway? I imagine that people who have survived a single traumatic event as an adult have an easier time sorting that out, since after all, they remember the baseline of who they were before and can compare. We don't get that. So I think we might as well accept that our traumatic experiences are an inextricably part of who we are -- beyond "trauma permanently changes us", and into "trauma is us." People, usually those who are not survivors, tell us "don't let your trauma define you", but the alternative is to have no self at all.

2. Presence is always better than distance

I suppose that in some abstract sense, it is. But surviving childhood with no reliable caretaker teaches you that other people are dangerous; that it's not safe to be close to anybody, that all expressions of love are Trojan horses. And when people who do show up ask questions like, "So what did your mother do that was all that bad, anyway?" it seems better to avoid them; and to, when you have to be around people, put in the huge amount of energy required to fake normal.

3. Healing is seasonal, not linear.

Can't argue with that, with the caveat about healing.

4. Surviving trauma takes “firefighters” and “builders.” Very few people are both.

What does this look like when you had a fire burning for 16 years and everybody refused to see the flames, pretended they didn't smell the smoke, because parents are considered all-knowing when it comes to what's best for their children and so if they're setting the house on fire, it must be because it was cold? If nobody helped then, why would they help now, especially when survivors of childhood abuse constantly hear the message that we should just get over it, when adult survivors who exact revenge on their parents -- or even just talk about their experiences -- get labeled as whiny spoiled kids?

The author says "trauma is a lonely experience", and I agree -- but even more so when you can't describe what happened and if you try, few people hear you and then you have to experience the trauma of being unheard or unseen again. The risk of being unseen and unheard is so much more pernicious when your trauma centers around an extended experience of being unseen and unheard than when it's a one-time blip in a life where the people around you were mostly good enough. Who's going to show up for you when you look fine? And if someone does show up, how can you trust them?

5. Grieving is social, and so is healing.

The problem with grief about complex trauma is that the change that precipitates the grief is not trauma, but the achievement of consciousness that trauma occurred. And, possibly, the realization that it's not occurring now, despite what all of our bodily and emotional reactions tell us. These realizations are their own kind of trauma. By means of awareness that it is better, we feel worse. And sometimes we "get worse" -- we become less functional -- once we're no longer dissociating or numb all the time. We feel that other people might prefer us in our dissociated state, during the time when we weren't so "sensitive" and didn't ask for accommodations, when we didn't defend our boundaries.

So grief looks completely different for those of us who have survived complex trauma -- perhaps unrecognizable as grief to those who have only grieved the loss of a loving person in their life. How can grieving something you never had be social? Not very many people want to confront the reality that many people who raise children aren't competent to be parents, and that resilience is mostly the product of environment rather than character. How can you show your grief to others when you're not even sure what it is you lost? And when it's not so much "lost" as "never had"? Does that even meet the definition of grief? Are you entitled to ask for help if that's what your grief looks like?

6. Do not offer platitudes or comparisons. Do not, do not, do not.

I agree with this: "What we need in the aftermath is a friend who can swallow her own discomfort and fear, sit beside us, and just let it be terrible for a while."

7. Allow those suffering to tell their own stories.

Also agreed.

8. Love shows up in unexpected ways.

I suppose. But again, if you've had no practice dealing with love that wasn't the kind of love that puts your needs ahead of its own need to express itself, love may not be recognizable at all when it does show up.

9. Whatever doesn’t kill you …

Again, I suppose. But again, how can there be an "after" if there never was a "before"? "insatiable anxiety in places that used to bring you joy" implies there were places that used to bring you joy "before it happened". If everything that did really bring you a little bit of joy while it was happening was a coping mechanism, it's hard to figure out which of those could be set aside once you're in relative safety, and which ones can still bring you life.

10. … Doesn’t kill you.

"In the end, the hope of life after trauma is simply that you have life after trauma." Except that -- again -- when there was no "before", "after" is complicated. I take a few moments most days to appreciate that I'm now free to go where I want (except in those dreams where I'm somehow living with my mother again, despite being an adult and am trying desperately to find a way to move out), free to choose who to be with and who to reject. I appreciate the magic of that in a way that people who aren't survivors of complex trauma probably never will. I remember the deliciousness of moving into my dorm room at Wellesley when I was 16, having a space that was shared only with a roommate close to my own age who had no desire to control my life, and feeling that from now on, I got to make the rules. It wasn't that simple, but on that day, it was. I think most people get a rush from the sense of freedom of moving out of their parents' house, whenever that happens, but it's that much of a sweeter memory for me. So yes, this part of the advice isn't wrong. But I still wish there was more written for those of us who can't partition life easily into "before" and "after".

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One Tweet Shows What Silicon Valley Really Thinks of the People It's Crushing, by Jack Smith IV for Mic (2015-08-03). "Washio doesn't create or provide goods — it's really just a middleman. It doesn't replace laundromats, it just takes your laundry to other laundry facilities and "third-party providers" and does it for you." (The free market doesn't work) "If we stop sharing risk and responsibility, only those who already hold wealth and privilege will benefit."

HSAs are the worst new hotness in healthcare, by Amy (2016-08-29). Health insurance sucks.

Trauma, Trigger Warnings, and Making a Little Space, by Emily C. Heath (2016-08-27). "But that’s not what trigger warnings are about. They’re not “get out of hard conversations free” cards. Rather, they are conscious ways of telling the people involved in a conversation what they are about to see and hear." If you're a hospital chaplain warning a family about what their loved one who's been in an accident might look like before they go in to see them, that's a form of trigger warning. When not contextualized as "trigger warnings", somehow a lot of people have an easier time understanding why they're needed.

Teaching with Trauma: Trigger Warnings, Feminism, and Disability Pedagogy, by Angela M. Carter (2015). Suggested by [personal profile] jesse_the_k. So many good quotes from this, including:

  • "Whether or not we consider the affect and effects of trauma on pedagogy is a choice only for those whose lives are not already shaped by trauma. For us, there is no choice; our experiences of trauma shape how we move through the world. "
  • "...experiences of re-traumatization or being triggered are not the same as being challenged outside of one's comfort zone, being reminded of a bad feeling, or having to sit with disturbing truths."
    'When this occurs, the triggered individuals often feel a complete loss of control and disassociation from the bodymind. This is not a state of injury, but rather a state of disability. Because others understand this lost of control and the other related affects as emotionally disproportionate, the traumatized individual is no longer seen as reliable, or as having the ability to "make sense."'
  • "Throughout their report, the AAUP repeatedly equates trauma with being offended, made to feel uncomfortable, or responding negatively with a claim of injury. As noted above, being triggered or re-experiencing trauma entails a fully embodied shift in affect wherein any number of psychosomatic responses may occur without one's cognitive control. This is not the same thing as, for example, the discomfort that comes with confronting one's white privilege, or the feeling of personal injury that may come when someone challenges your belief system. With this fundamental misunderstanding grounding their response, it is no wonder the AAUP argues against trigger warnings."
  • "Those in opposition to trigger warnings in classroom reinforce the individual model of disability, suggesting that the traumatized or triggered individual seek help on their own from the proper medical establishments. It is the responsibility of the traumatized to deal with their excessive bodymind, not the society that produces and then pathologizes it as such."
  • 'Margaret Price argues there is a "popular conception that unsound minds have no place in the classroom" and that the academy is driven "to protect academic discourse as a 'rational' realm, a place where emotion does not intrude (except within carefully proscribed boundaries), where 'crazy' students are quickly referred out of the classroom to the school counseling center"'
  • 'In the most basic sense, accommodations are not about "safety," but about access to opportunity for a more livable life.' [I'd note that this is a bit dismissive here of the concept of safe spaces, but it's true that safe spaces are a different different concept from TWs/CWs.]
  • "...trigger warnings do not provide a way to "opt out" of anything, nor do they offer protection from the realities of the world. Trigger warnings provide a way to "opt in" by lessening the power of the shock and the unexpectedness, and granting the traumatized individual agency to attend to the affect and effects of their trauma. Traumatized individuals know that trigger warnings will not save us. Such warnings simply allow us to do the work we need to do so that we can participate in the conversation or activity. They allow us to enter the conversation, just like automatic doors allow people who use wheelchairs to more easily enter a building."
  • "A college classroom, or campus, that adequately accounts for the material realities of diverse bodyminds is almost inconceivable within an institution built on awarding individual merit over acknowledging structural privileges and inequalities." [Emphasis added]
  • 'nothing is "wrong" with person who is experiencing a moment of re-traumatization, or any other kind of disability-related affective experience.'

The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism, by Audre Lorde (1981). A classic.
I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.

The ignorance aimed at Caster Semenya flies in the face of the Olympic spirit, by Katrina Karzakis for the Guardian (2016-08-23). I get furious every time I think about it.

Two more posts on enabling narcissists and why we should stop doing that: The Blood-bag: Cutting the IV line (2016-08-23) and
The Blood-bag: Patterns of Blood-bags and Narcissists in Tech
(2016-08-24), by Marlena Compton and Valerie Aurora. "We learn all of our relationship patterns in our families of origin and bring them to work or to our chosen communities every day."

Those Trump Statues Aren’t Funny, And They Sure Aren’t Progressive, by Marissa Jenae Johnson for The Establishment (2016-08-19). Body-shaming isn't the way to fight fascism.

Stop Devaluing Black Women’s Labor, by Kronda Adair (2016-08-18). If you want something, it's worth paying for. Especially emotional labor.

The Comedy World Can’t Handle Rape Allegations, by Emily McComb for The Cut (2016-08-18).
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
Today is the fifth anniversary of my post "Emotional Labor Day", chronicling how I was constructively dismissed from the computer science Ph.D program at Portland State University because of sexual harassment.

Thomas Dubuisson, the grad student who sexually harassed a fellow student in front of me, left the program not long after that to take a job at Galois, a software company in Portland. He still works there now. He still has a career in the research field the three of us all started in -- and is welcomed by that field -- whereas his victim and I lost our careers.

The victim of the harassment left the program several years later after trying extremely hard to make it in a program that continued to show active hostility to her for being a trans woman.

HASP, the research group that the three of us were all part of dissolved; I can't help thinking that the loss of several grad students played a part. When faced with the choice of including a student who made a rape threat, and the recipient of that threat along with a student who spoke out to say that rape threats are unacceptable, they showed that they believed the student who made the rape threat to be more of an asset to the group. They also went out of their way to say that they believed calling out rape threats to be worse behavior than making them. The HASP faculty were willing to sacrifice their group to protect rape culture rather than discipline a harasser and keep the group threatened by his behavior together.

In the intervening five years, lots more stories like ours have come out. It turns out that it's the norm for universities to silence harassment victims and protect their predatory faculty members and grad students. While there is more awareness now of the role of universities in recreating and reinforcing rape culture, that awareness hasn't yet been accompanied by action -- at least, not action on the part of people with institutional power. The ever-increasingly profit-centric academic realm continues to make it clear that those of us who are devalued due to our gender, sexual orientation, class, race, or disability have little value to contribute, regardless of our ability to teach or do research.

And I'm still paying the bill, literally, for the program I got kicked out of without a degree; I'm still paying off the student loans I took out while I was at Portland State to cover the cost of student health insurance and other medical expenses, as the university didn't consider the research that graduate students did for low wages to be work and thus didn't provide us with employee benefits. Grad school isn't for people like me who've had no financial support from parents since the age of 17. At age 35, I have no savings and I don't expect to retire -- all because I made the mistake of thinking that a person like me could have an academic career. But those careers aren't for me -- they're for people born to wealthier parents, into more acceptable bodies.
tim: A bright orange fish. (fish)
[CW: child abuse, medical abuse] Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter To Be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom To Be Murdered, by Michelle Dean for Buzzfeed (2016-08-18). An incredible piece of writing about a survivor of a parent with Munchausen's by proxy who gets revenge.

Assimilation, fetishisation and the problem with white queer activism, by Muhammad Taha for Archer (2016-09-02). About the problems that happen when queer movements are dominated by the most privileged (i.e. white peopl).

Why do evangelicals think everyone is addicted to porn?, by Dianna E. Anderson (2015-08). "...the pathologizing of everyday human interaction with their own bodies and their own sexuality is a further example of purity culture and the evangelical fear of our own bodies. "

[CW: police violence, domestic violence] Officers who abuse their partners are a greater threat to public safety, by Jarvis DeBerry for the New Orleans Times-Picayune (2016-09-02). Cops are more likely to abuse their partners than the general population is, and abusive cops also pose more of a danger to their partners than abusers who aren't cops do.

So You Think You Should Respond to That Facebook Post About Race/Gender/Etc, by thespanofmyhips (2016-09-01). On why you might not just want to jump into any conversation even if it's public, especially if it involves experiences you haven't had.

The Woman You Want to Be is Rich, by Chelsea Fagan (2016-09-01). On how the goals that get sold to us are usually only attainable by rich people.

[CW: abuse, trauma] Kaleidoscopes of Chaos – How Traumatic Boundary Violations Destroy The Capacity for Self-Care, by Heidi Hanson (2016-08-12). On how cPTSD can leave you not knowing what self-care is. Hit home for me.

Prefer Narratives with Hope, by [personal profile] sonia (2016-09). 'Whenever you find yourself thinking that you are crazy and wrong and bad, try a new narrative: “My perceptions and responses make sense. I am intrinsically good. I am doing my best with the resources and knowledge I have.”' So good!

The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle Loves Amy Grant, Rich Mullins, and the Book of Jonah by Kate Shellnutt for Christianity Today (2016-09-01). A great interview with a great artist, talking about the relationship between religious belief and his work.

Participation Awards Don’t Suck. You Suck by Jef Rouner for the Houston Press (2016-08-18). I love this! "There is absolutely nothing wrong with the best player getting a trophy, but there's also nothing wrong with everyone getting a little medal that says, "You were here with us. You didn't quit. You tried, and that matters." The only people who hate participation awards are those who feel like losers because they didn't even participate...

Political correctness isn’t the problem. The assholes who made it necessary are, and they want you to see them as the good guy, just like all bullies."
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
CW: explicit discussion of sex, rape, and sexualized violence

"The common erotic project of destroying women makes it possible for men to unite into a brotherhood; this project is the only firm and trustworthy groundwork for cooperation among males and all male bonding is based on it." -- Andrea Dworkin

I work at a company that provides its employees with free breakfast and lunch five days out of the week. (Dinner, too, at some of the other offices.) We have a free gym on-site. We get free yoga and meditation classes to ease the stress of getting paid generously to sit at a desk all day (though we also get expensive sit/stand adjustable desks for those who think that sitting will shorten their lives -- not as a disability accommodation, but for everybody) and we don't even have to wipe our own asses, because most of the toilets have built-in push-button-operated bidets.[*] We have on-site haircuts and massages. You can drop off your laundry and dry-cleaning at work and it'll magically re-appear clean. If the coffee from the automated machines in the kitchen on every floor isn't good enough for you, a barista at the free in-office coffee counter will make your drink to order. If you want to take a break and play arcade games, shoot pool, or practice the piano, you can do all those things without leaving the office; our comfort is considered important and valuable because it's supposed that the more comfortable we are, the more work we'll produce.

None of those things are enough for some people, though, without freedom of expression. Specifically, the freedom to create internal URLs with the word "fuck" in them. Somebody was, apparently, asked not to do that, and now everybody else is in a tizzy about this heinous abridgment of their free speech. Of course, it's not like they're going to be thrown in jail for saying "fuck", and nobody is telling us we can't say "fuck" at work at all, just that perhaps it might be a better idea to not use "fuck" in URL shortcuts. We could quit and go work for a startup, but then we might have to leave the office to eat lunch.

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

I like getting fucked. I can't talk about that at work, though, and I doubt anybody would argue that I should be free to talk about it at work. I don't have the freedom to talk about fucking as a source of pleasure, but I do have the freedom to talk about fucking as violence, as something that I could do to you. Of course, nobody says that either, we talk about how this or that piece of code is fucked up or about how it's fucking annoying that the kitchens on every floor only have healthy snacks. If something is annoying, then we know it's even more annoying if it's fucking annoying, because "fucking" is an intensifier because we all know being fucked is a terrible fate. Something that's broken is "fucked up" because to be fucked is to be damaged, to lose the asset of your virginity if you're a cis woman, or to lose your masculinity if you're a cis man. While (nominally) you can't directly threaten to fuck a co-worker, but every time someone perceived as a man says it, we're reminded of what he could do to us.

To be a man is to fuck, and to be fucked is to not be a man, or at least, not a man who's doing masculinity the right way. We're reminded of this with every "fuck that" or "fucked up." To be a man is to fuck, but of course you don't get the chance to prove to very many people that you are capable of fucking, so by saying it you get to remind people: "I could fuck you. If you fuck with me, then I'll fuck you up." One of the many ways in which cis men are fragile is that they react to being asked not to say "fuck", even if it's in an extremely limited context, as if they've had their manhood taken away, because if you could only prove that you are a man in front of people you fuck, who would know you're a man? If we stopped using "fuck" as a negative, then people might get the idea that being fucked could be a nice thing, and then cis men would have to find other ways to dominate everybody else.

Women get to join the party too, these days, but to be seen as a woman is to be seen as potentially fuckable; what terrifies heterosexual cis men is the norm that women are assumed to live with. So while you can say "fuck", while you can use the same words the men use, you can't do it without reminding them of your vulnerability. For men who are perceived as trans or queer, it's a reminder of our pitiful fate, to be born this way or to be in thrall to our uncontrollably peculiar sexual desires. We don't gain power by using the word, we just pledge our allegiance to heterosexual cis male power. And white heterosexual cis men react about as well to being asked not to say "fuck" as patriotic Americans react to people who don't want to pledge allegiance to the flag. "Fuck" is liturgy in the secular religion that worships heterosexual, cis, male sexual potency.

I mentioned that I like getting fucked. Every time I say "fuck you" or "that's fucked", I betray myself. It's something that's all but unavoidable if I'm going to fit in. Heterosexual cis men, at least those who don't like getting fucked, don't have to make this choice. They can bring their whole selves to work. I can't bring my whole self anywhere: if I say "fuck", I'm conceding that liking dicks in my ass makes me less of a man. If I don't say it, I'll still be judged as less of a man for my supposed prudishness. The same men who are so attached to their free speech rights would be pretty quick to curtail mine if I talked about what it's like to be a man who has a vagina -- and who likes getting fucked in it -- in front of them, or about what getting fucked in the ass feels like. They get to define the limits of acceptable discourse. Reminding us that they can fuck us is allowed, but reminding them that they, too, could be fucked is not.

One of the things I like to see the most when I watch gay porn is a man who's obviously aroused just by getting fucked in the ass -- knowing that he's not turned on in that moment by anyone doing anything to his cock, just by being penetrated. I think I like seeing that so much because of the alchemy of taking a scenario that terrifies so many het men -- the fear not of being fucked per se, but that they might enjoy it -- is so powerful. And because it reminds me that being fucked defines what it means to be a man more so than fucking does -- fucking is an obligation to prove one's masculinity, while being fucked is an illicit thrill. Does any of this make you uncomfortable to think about? It makes me uncomfortable when people use my sexuality as a threat, a joke, or a warning.

To use "fuck" as an expletive is to participate in a social order that prioritizes hetero cis men's comfort over everybody else's safety. It's to reassure hetero cis men of their power while simultaneously agreeing that their mortal terror of getting fucked is reasonable. To reserve "fuck" for expressions of consensual pleasure, rather than for describing violence or disorder, is to refuse to reassure scared men that they'll always be the fucker, never the fuckee. The use of "fuck" as a swear is part of what keeps fucking as an action violent -- what keeps it something that I do to you instead of something two people do together. Like a barking dog, every man who uses it in this way is signifying both that he's in mortal fear, and that he's dangerous. If a woman says it, it's amusing, since she's presumed to pose no threat. But every "fuck" a man utters is a reminder of what he could do to you, or at least wants you to think he could do to you. Every "fuck" is a threat.

Why else would men get so angry if it's suggested to them that maybe -- at least when constructing shortcut URLs -- they could use some other word? Because there is no other word that carries the power that "fuck" does. If the worst thing that can happen to a man is to lose his masculinity, and if being fucked renders you less-than-a-man, then that's the worst thing you can threaten a man with. No wonder men don't want to give it up so easily. What would they have left? Actually doing it to somebody has consequences, sometimes, anyway. Just threatening to do it doesn't.

If it sounds like I'm conflating fucking with raping, then so is everybody else who uses the word. Andrea Dworkin and other feminists have been mischaracterized as saying that all heterosexual sex is rape -- but the ones who really believe that are hetero cis men, who talk about fucking as if it's something that nobody in their right mind would want done to them. To explain why women might appear to choose to be fucked, they need to say that women consent to it in order to get pregnant or to control men or to get a man to share some money or power. To explain why queer men might seem to choose to be fucked, they need the "born this way" narrative: poor things, we can't help it. To claim power as a man is to claim that sex is intrinsically an act of violence and aggression, and that you will always be the aggressor, never the victim. Our language gives us no other tools to do so.

People care about free speech because their words affect other people -- if they didn't, there would be no reason to care. By saying "fuck" you can evoke all kinds of unconscious fear, insecurity, desire, and accompanying shame. If you can make somebody feel those feelings, then you have power over them. Words can have a lot of power. I don't know if I will ever remove this word from my vocabulary. After all, "fuck" also serves to convey strong emotions or to express and reinforce social bonds. But maybe there are ways to express feelings or get closer to each other without evoking an ever-present specter of violence. I don't really want to participate in social structures that make me inferior because I like to get fucked by men and because I'm a man who has a vagina. But that's exactly what I do when I enact the ritual of renewing "fuck"'s negative connotations. "Fuck" works for cementing social bonds precisely because of what Dworkin wrote about how men bond -- it works so well for that that women can participate in the bonding too, if only as second-class citizens. And it works for expressing feelings because fear of emasculation is one of the strongest feelings men are allowed to have.

I doubt I'll stop saying "fuck" overnight, and maybe I won't at all. I'm much more comfortable using it in an overtly sexual context than at work anyway -- sex is always going to be messy, full of power imbalances, and hard to disentangle from violence, and maybe it always will be. I don't have the patience to save myself for the day when sex becomes completely unproblematic. But unlike in a workplace, sexual situations entered into with consent tend to encourage vulnerability rather than suppress it. (For that matter, unlike work, sex can be consented to.) I would really like "fuck" to be a sexual word, which is to say that I would like sex to be about sex, rather than being a proxy for all of our less thrilling and more petty desires for power and control.

So I don't think I need to be perfectly consistent or pure to say that I want to see the day when liking to get fucked has no more moral or political significance than liking to ride a bicycle or raise tropical fish. And if that day comes, I doubt we'll still be using "fuck" as a dirty word, as an insult, or as a threat.

[*] Paragraph edited for clarity about a tangential point.

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tim: A bright orange fish. (fish)
This week, the dean of students at the University of Chicago released an appallingly ignorant and anti-intellectual letter sent to incoming first-year undergrads that decried "trigger warnings" and "safe spaces", assuring students that he would make sure professors weren't free to use these concepts in their teaching. I'm linking to two articles related to this attack on academic freedom and on disabled students, though neither article recognizes that content warnings (or trigger warnings) are disability accommodations: Neither author really seems to understand what PTSD is, either, and I wish I had an article by someone who actually has PTSD about the recent events to link to -- particularly one who thinks in a disability rights framework -- but alas.

Other links:

tim: A bright orange fish. (fish)
[CW: rape] I Anonymously Reported My Rape for the Anonymous Attention, by Nicole Silverberg for Reductress (2016-08-17). See, you can write humor that deals with rape and that's actually funny.

The Blood-bag: Co-narcissists and Narcissists in Tech, by Marlena Compton and Valerie Aurora (2016-08-22). On people who enable narcissists (i.e. most people who work in the tech industry.) The "blood bag" metaphor is so good.

How To Make a Real Commitment to Diversity, by Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (2016-08-17). The description of professors who give lip service to diversity in their programs but refuse to take the slightest risk to encourage it (or even to, you know, discipline predatory people) is so familiar.

“You Do Not Exist To Be Used”: Dismantling Ideas of Productivity in Life Purpose, by Gillian Giles for The Body Is Not an Apology (2016-08-17). "You do not exist to be used."

Shameless plug: buy a "San Fran Trans Co" shirt from my friend's collective!

What It's Like to Have 'High-Functioning' Anxiety, by Sarah Schuster for The Mighty (2016-06-27). In general I don't find "high-functioning"/"low-functioning" typologies to be useful, and I don't find everything in this article rings true for me, but some of it does.

Meeting the Free Speech Crusaders Who Want to End Political Correctness, by Sam Kriss for Vice (2016-08-17). This line is brilliant, about why Internet trolls love citing the notion of "debate": "It's not hard to see why: only in a formal debate do you have to give stupid and boring ideas a hearing they don't deserve."

The Troubling Trendiness Of Poverty Appropriation, by July Westhale for The Establishment (2015-11-23). "It’s likely, from where I sit, that this back-to-nature and boxed-up simplicity is not being marketed to people like me, who come from simplicity and heightened knowledge of poverty, but to people who have not wanted for creature comforts. For them to try on, glamorize, identify with. "

I, Racist by John Metta (2015-07-06). "But here is the irony, here’s the thing that all the angry Black people know, and no calmly debating White people want to admit: The entire discussion of race in America centers around the protection of White feelings."

Activism, Language, and Differences of Opinion, by Julia Serano (2016-07-19) -- links to some of Serano's greatest hits re: language, politics, and social justice.
tim: A bright orange fish. (fish)
Clean Eating and Dirty Women, by Flavia Dzodan (2016-08-03). "...the marketing of 'clean eating' is an extension of historical associations of womanhood with dirt, fear of female sexuality and a desire to control it."

Worthless Intent, by Cate Huston (2016-06-23). "The thing about intentions is that they are the start of conflict resolution, but we often talk like they are the end of conflict resolution. This is completely wrong. Believing that someone means well might get you to the table to talk to them, but it does not get you to agree with them."

“A Honeypot For Assholes”: Inside Twitter’s 10-Year Failure To Stop Harassment, by Charlie Warzel for Buzzfeed (2016-08-11). "On Twitter, abuse is not just a bug, but — to use the Silicon Valley term of art — a fundamental feature."

A massive new study debunks a widespread theory for Donald Trump’s success, by Max Ehrenfreund and Jeff Guo for the Washington Post (2016-08-12). Suggests Trump's popularity is due to racism more than economic insecurity.

Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation (a follow up), by Julia Serano (2016-08-11). Followup to Serano's essay on trans kids and "desistance" from last week.

[CW: pregnancy, childbirth, blood/gore] Monstrous Births, by Sarah Blackwood for The Hairpin (2016-08-10). "Fuck empowerment! Children are little death machines, they rip through your body. They chew on you. They are animals. We are animals, left bloody and with vulnerable bellies sliced after a good fight."

Fascinating Photos from the Secret Trash Collection in a New York Sanitation Garage, by Dylan Thuras (2016-03-17). Lovely pictures of well-organized things.

How MSG Got A Bad Rap: Flawed Science And Xenophobia, by Anna Maria Barry-Jester for FiveThirtyEight (2016-01-08). I share this every time it comes around. MSG sensitivity doesn't exist, yet even doctors believed it did for a long time because of racism.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
[CW: Discussion of child abuse.]

We all know about the distinction between ask culture and guess culture, right? If we've read about the difference between these two approaches to communication, we've probably read that ask culture is better, whether the writer phrases it subtly or not-so-subtly. Jonathan Chait, a guy who's wrong like it's his job, does his job here by saying:

"This is actually pretty simple: Guessers are wrong, and Askers are right. Asking is how you actually determine what the Asker wants and the giver is willing to receive. Guessing culture is a recipe for frustration. What's more, Guessers, who are usually trying to be nice and are holding themselves to a higher level of politeness, ruin things for the rest of us...

Lots of people agree with Chait. It's best to be explicit, to ask for what you want, to not play guessing games, right? If you wait for your roommate to notice that you end up with flies in the kitchen when they put the compost bin lid on loosely rather than just emptying the compost, for example, you're just going to get frustrated and treat them negatively because of your bottled-up resentment, right? And it'll all be your fault: if you had just said, "Hey, I prefer it if you take out the compost when it gets full," they would have known what you needed and probably would have done it; then your need would have been met. Isn't it best to be explicit, to ask for what you want, to not play guessing games? It's bad to be passive-aggressive. It's a sin.

Maybe you've read about learned helplessness. If you have, you've probably come away with a lot of value judgments about people who experience it, too. They just sabotage themselves. They just stand in their own way. If your friend says, "I'm not going to ask my manager for help because he's just going to tell me I'm stupid," you should tell your friend, "You'll never get what you want if you don't ask for it, right?"

When it comes to school projects, open-source projects, or that job you get paid to do, it's best to collaborate, right? Nobody ever accomplished anything big by working on their own, so if somebody is more comfortable working alone, they just need to get over it, right? It's nobody else's responsibility to make them feel comfortable reaching out to others -- rather, they need to get over themselves and reach out. If you prefer to work alone, or you don't feel comfortable working with others, you must not want to be productive, and in a capitalist society, we know that it's bad to be unproductive.

In the valuation of ask culture over guess culture, of pulling yourself up by your emotional bootstraps over learned helplessness, of collaboration over solo working, there's a common pattern: the attachment of moral virtue to personality traits. In all three cases, the personality traits that get imbued with negative moral value are the ones that people who have survived trauma tend to have. (If you're a survivor and you don't feel that you're a guesser, that you experience learned helplessness, or you're a lone wolf on the job, great! That doesn't mean your trauma isn't real, too. It might mean that you've had some counterbalancing experience that helped you trust people more than your traumatic experiences would have taught you to do.)

Personality as Survival Strategy

"Personality is a strategy for getting out of childhood alive." -- Frank Sulloway
People who grow up in environments where it's not okay to express their feelings or needs, where they're punished for asking for things or where they just don't bother asking because they know that if they do, they won't be heard, learn that they need to take on all the emotional labor themselves. They learn that to ask explicitly for what they need is to step out of line, to do something incredibly dangerous. Other people operate by mysterious rules, and the only way to survive is to work as hard as possible to infer those rules based on what you can observe, because asking will just lead to the humiliation of being ignored altogether or worse, given an answer that shows that the person you thought you could rely on actually isn't listening.

For example, maybe you're a child with sensory sensitivity that causes most foods to taste overwhelmingly bitter or otherwise unpleasant to you, and when you tell your parents that you don't like the food you're being given, they just tell you that you have to eat it anyway. You've just learned that what you want doesn't matter -- there's no point in asking for food you can eat without experiencing intense discomfort, because when you say what you need, you'll be ignored. If you're raised by people who consistently respond this way, you learn pretty fast that the way to survive is to suck it up, perhaps to dissociate from discomfort rather than doing something to stop the discomfort. And that lesson will manifest itself when you're older in situations that seem very different, and which no one coerces you into: maybe you'll do a form of exercise that you think is good for you even if it's physically painful, or continue wearing clothing that no longer fits you because you feel buying new clothes would be un-frugal.

"Guess culture" is just the aftermath of being a child who's punished for asking things, or who grow up in environments where they can't rely on other people to be responsive to their feelings (whether because no one expresses feelings, or because when they do, they're ignored). Similarly, passive-aggressive people are those who feel they're not allowed to say outright when someone hurt them. If your parents hit you, for example, and when you say you don't like being hit, you're told that they're "spanking" you, which everybody says is normal, and it's for your own good, then you learn that coping with other people violating your boundaries has to be done in any way other than directly defending your boundaries. To suppress all communication when you're being hurt is highly self-destructive, so when saying it explicitly is forbidden (either because you fear retaliation for doing so, or when you've internalized those rules so well that nobody needs to retaliate), you have to let it out somehow.

And lone wolves are just people who haven't had trustworthy people in their lives. Even if you desperately want to connect with other people, if your experience is that close relationships are dangerous -- that people who you need to rely on are likely to violate your boundaries and use you as if you're an object (say, by demanding physical affection that you don't want to give) -- then you'll do anything to avoid close relationships. That includes working relationships, since intellectual intimacy is still intimacy. To admit you don't know something, or to express a half-formed idea, or to rely on somebody else to carry out a commitment they've made to you: these all require the ability to be vulnerable without experiencing intense fear that you will be destroyed. If you grow up getting laughed at for not knowing the things other people know, or if people shame you for saying things they don't understand, or if they don't follow through when they say they're going to do something, that stays with you for the rest of your life. Better to do things for yourself. You might let yourself down, but at least in that case you experience famiiar shame -- rather than the feeling of disappointment in somebody else, something you've spent your life so far protecting yourself from.

Survivors survive. We "guess" because guessing allows us to survive an environment where it's not safe to ask for anything, and where we have to intuit others' emotional states in order to avoid physical or emotional violence and can't just ask people how they feel. We are passive-aggressive to preserve our autonomy in an environment where we can't express ourselves directly. And we are lone wolves because we've learned that intimacy is dangerous and likely to be disappointing. In many cases, we've been punished when we tentatively try to interact with people a different way. We learn that by punishing ourselves with isolation, we avoid a worse form of punishment.

So when you expect somebody to just ask their roommate to take out the compost, or to ask their co-worker for a review of some half-finished code, or to tell their partner they like this thing and not that thing sexually, you're expecting a person to change behavior patterns that have made their survival possible. Letting go of a survival mechanism is risky, and can rarely be done individually, but rather, sometimes happens when other people have established themselves as trustworthy.

Shame is Not a Motivator

My friends and I live in a culture where shame is considered a motivator. For example, we suppose that being thin is healthy (a questionable assumption on its own) and conclude from there that the way to make fat people healthier is to make them feel ashamed about their bodies. Likewise, people like Jonathan Chait shame those of us who don't ask; lots of people shame loners and passive-aggressive folks. Learned helplessness is considered shameful, without regard to how you might have learned that. But shame doesn't change behavior. Perhaps paradoxically, shame locks you into maintaining the exact behavior patterns you're being shamed about: if you are inherently broken, then why should you change how you act? You're just bad, or broken, or unwanted, or unlikeable.

The relentless insistence on labeling character traits as "good" or "bad" is useful for making people feel inadequate, but not useful for helping people be everything they could be. What if we stopped judging people for being passive-aggressive, or for being guessers, and asked ourselves how we can understand the circumstances that lead somebody to be the way they are? It's scary to admit that "character" counts, in fact, for very little, and that we are largely the product of our experiences. To admit that we're strongly shaped by our experiences, especially childhood experiences, means admitting dependence on other people. We live in a culture that expects people to be able to collaborate, to make friends, to make small talk, but also expects people to be equally happy if they're denied social connections, as encapsulated in the pop-psychology lie "You have to love yourself before you can expect anybody else to love you." (This isn't true.) It's an impossible set of demands -- useful if you're trying to get people to channel their feelings of shame and inadequacy into buying lots of consumer goods, but not so much otherwise.

We also need to stop expecting trust as a given. When you say, "I say what I mean, and I expect you to say what you mean, or else I won't make any effort to understand you," you're demanding trust without necessarily having done anything to prove that you deserve trust. When you say, "Why don't you assume good faith? It seems like you're taking the worst possible interpretation of what I'm saying," you're talking to somebody who has had to figure out the worst-case scenario in every interaction in order to defend themselves, somebody who has never had anybody to step in and defend them -- how can you expect them to assume, without proof, that you're different from the others? Sure, it's not fair that you might have to do more work to earn the trust of somebody who's survived trauma -- it isn't your fault that that happened to them. But it's not their fault, either.

And when you're a manager and you tell your employees that it's their responsibility to ask for help when they get stuck trying to solve a problem -- and then assess their performance negatively when those who have learned that asking for help is a trap -- you're setting trauma survivors up for failure. I guess you could take the approach of weeding out everybody who hasn't always been treated as if they were welcome in the world, but why would you do that when we have things to offer, too? Why not take on some of the work of communicating that your team is someplace where no one will be punished for not knowing? This goes against the "RTFM" attitude that's so popular in technical scenes particularly, but rarely do we benefit by picking an arbitrary group of people and deciding we're only interested in working with them.

In her article "Nurturance is About More Than 'Tasks'", Nora Samaran addresses the dismissal of survivors -- specifically women who've survived abuse -- as crazy or broken:
Rather than blame women who have had early trust bonds break (for instance by complaining about how ‘women like jerks,’ or attachment-shaming anxious, disorganized, or insecure attachers) feminist men can put the pieces together. Want to be a feminist man? Contextualize, don’t stigmatize, the insecure attachment that may show up in your romantic relationships, including short term ones.
While contextualizing insecure attachment styles is particularly important for men in romantic relationships with women, it's important in all kinds of relationships, not just romantic ones. When someone behaves in a way that confuses or frustrates you, you have a choice: you can treat the other person as disposable, you can give up -- break up with them, fire them, or do all the work on the group project yourself instead of talking with them. Or you can try to figure out what you can to show that you're a safe person. In Samaran's words:
If you find yourself involved with women who don’t seem secure with you, consider the effects of patriarchy and misogyny across the lifespan, and ask yourself if perhaps you need to be more securitizing: available, responsive, and attuned.
When Samaran refers to "attachment-shaming", she's talking about the stigmatization of behavioral traits shown by people who have attachment styles other than secure attachment. What popular culture calls guessers, loners, and passive-aggressive people tend to be, in psychological terms, people with insecure, avoidant, or disorganized attachment styles. But every attachment style is a completely sensible adaptation to the circumstances that a young child finds themselves in. A person's attachment style isn't an indicator of their inherent virtue, or their merit, but rather, how people treated them when they were helpless. You can demand that people with a different attachment style change to suit your needs, or you can recognize that people with different attachment styles exist in the world and that it's everybody's responsibility to figure out how to live with each other. If you're privileged enough to have been raised in circumstances that resulted in having a secure attachment style, you have the option of using that privilege to create safer spaces.

It might be difficult to confront the reality and pervasiveness of child abuse and trauma -- it might be easier to dismiss survivors as flawed, lazy or broken rather than people doing the best they can with what they were given. It's easier to believe in a just world than to accept that good people experience pain and suffering for no good reason, that in fact everyone is born good. It's easier to blame individuals for their adverse experiences than to recognize how we all benefit from social structures of domination, from institutional sexism to domestic violence. Recognizing that personality differences aren't character flaws also puts you at odds with a criminal justice system centered around punishment, indeed, with a society fundamentally structured around discipline and punishment: when you start asking what you can do to make it easier for other people to do the right thing, rather than how you can coerce them into doing it, you become an outsider.

I can't convince you that the reward of challenging conventional wisdom about character, trust, and punishment is worth the cost. It's more comfortable to make fun of passive-aggressive people, to sneer at your frenemy who always seems to be fucking up their own life, than to create relationships and communities where it's safe to express feelings. The reason it's uncomfortable to try to understand why people do things you find shameful is that it forces you to admit that it could have been you -- that you don't carry any protective crystals inside you that gives you the strength to ask, "hey, could I have some plain noodles instead?" no matter how many times you get ignored. It's easier to say, "No, I'm not like that -- I'm direct, I say what's on my mind, that could never have been me."

So when you react to someone's personality, consider: are you actually horrified at the circumstances that must have caused them to adapt in the way that they have? Are you redirecting your anger at what you know they must have gone through onto them, because they're an easier target?

The cost of living comfortably is cognitive dissonance. If you believe that no child deserves abuse, how do you reconcile that with blaming and shaming adults with non-secure attachment styles? If you believe that guessers are just lazy and could be askers like you if they just pulled up their socks and dealt with it, aren't you saying it's fair that people who have survived abuse ought to have to do more emotional labor than those who haven't? And if you think having to do more emotional labor just to exist in the world is a suitable punishment for surviving abuse, doesn't that amount to saying that abuse only happens to people who deserve it? Every abuse survivor was an abused child once, and you can't consistently say that no child deserves abuse while rejecting adults for once having been those children. You can't claim you think all children deserve to be safe if your belief in our safety ends at the point when we become your co-workers, classmates, or friends.
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[CW: description of experiences with childhood trauma and transmisogyny] Lack of abuse isn't enough, by Amy Dentata (2016-08-08). This quote stood out to me: "Now I feel more real when my girlfriend is around than when I’m by myself. I realize my life is full of negativity and emptiness. The war is over, but that’s not the same thing as being at peace." When abuse ends, that doesn't redress the void that comes from the absence of memories of being seen and heard.

Trust Yourself Despite Everyday Gaslighting, by [personal profile] sonia (2016-08-01). Not just how to deal with gaslighting, but how to support people who are targeted by it.

The Abuse of 'Feel-Good' Cop Videos, by Ijeoma Oluo for The Establishment (2016-08-02). Speaking of gaslighting: 'Watching this video I understood what these “feel-good” video and picture campaigns put on by police departments really are—abuse. They are designed to remind us that they are in charge, and that they are capable of taking our lives in an instant—but if we are good and they are feeling benevolent, they won’t.'

Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates, by Julia Serano (2016-08-02). The definitive debunking of arguments for withholding medical care from trans kids.

"Normal America" Is Not A Small Town Of White People, by Jed Kolko for FiveThirtyEight (2016-04-28). It turns out that the towns white people think of as being representative of the US are more like those that would have been representative 50 years ago, and the most representative cities given current American demographics are coastal urban areas. Who knew?

How Trump Happened, by Jamelle Bouie for Slate (2016-03-13). How white fragility, and backlash against President Obama, brought us the nomination of Donald Trump. Obama's election didn't end racism, but rather, sparked a reactionary resurgence of it.

Telling white people the criminal justice system is racist just makes them like it more, by Dara Lind for Vox (2014-08-07). From two years ago, but I doubt anything's changed.

How We Pronounce Student Names, and Why it Matters, by Jennifer Gonzalez (2014-04-14). I know from a lifetime of experience that somebody refusing to pronounce your name right is an act of bigotry. Try not to be a bigot.
tim: A bright orange fish. (fish)
People resort to violence because their moral codes demand it, by Tage Rai for Aeon (2015-06-18): Violence isn't the product of mental illness. It's the result of the same, very mainstream belief system that frames morality in terms of coercion and punishment, from parenting to prisons. So long as we keep teaching people that violence is what must be done to people who transgress social norms, supposedly-senseless (but actually quite explicable) mass shootings and terrorist acts will continue. Tage Rai explains in detail how violence serves to "regulate social relationships":
Across practices, across cultures, and throughout historical periods, when people support and engage in violence, their primary motivations are moral. By ‘moral’, I mean that people are violent because they feel they must be; because they feel that their violence is obligatory. They know that they are harming fully human beings. Nonetheless, they believe they should. Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations.

Internet trolls are even more hostile when they’re using their real names, a study finds, by Michael J. Coren for Quartz (2016-07-27). A good companion piece to Rai's article, this one about online violence. Coren writes, "People are actually trying to enforce social norms against a perceived violation by a public figure or group," and they are so eager to enforce social norms that anonymity or lack thereof has little if any modulating effect on the desire to regulate others' behavior.

Donald Trump Is a Republican, by Tom Scocca for Gawker (2016-07-29). Trump isn't an anomaly, but rather, the logical conclusion of the past four decades of Republican politics:
Donald Trump is the product of half a century of Republican strategy and ideology. Republican voters nominated him because he’s what generations of Republicans have been guided by and encouraged to vote for.

Nothing about Trump is outside Republican mainstream precedent. It’s just that it’s never all been assembled so blatantly in one package before.

[CW: suicide, ableism] The Effects of Stigmatizing Language on Suicidal Autistics, by M. Kelter (2016-07-30). When you talk about people as if they're burdens, or if people like them should be wiped off the face of the earth, or as if they have no empathy, it turns out that that has an emotional effect on them: "I don't buy that the topic of autism compels us to denigrate autistics. You can tell your story ... and you can refrain from using stigmatizing language. Both of those things are possible, at the same time."

[Content seems to have been removed] It looks like Russia hired Internet trolls to pose as pro-Trump Americans, by Natasha Bertrand for Business Inside (2016-07-27). Ever wondered how some Internet trolls could be that awful? Maybe they're getting paid to be.

"i was asked by @misfitreindeer to make a post about skeletons and debunk a lot of typical transphobic myths about how, y’know, females look like X and males look like Y and that everything works in 100% black in white but it doesn’t actually...", by [tumblr.com profile] werewolfxo on Tumblr (2016-01): turns out that you can't ascertain how somebody would have been placed in sexed or gendered categories based on their skeleton.

A poem about Silicon Valley, assembled from Quora questions about Silicon Valley, by Jason O. Gilbert for Fusion (2016-04-28)

Dog Whistles and Insults, by zvi LikesTV (2007-07-30). Yup, this is nine years old, but every word of it still applies as far as language and power: "Sometimes people have a problem when it comes to stopping using offensive language. They think that once they explain that they didn't mean to use the word 'that way' the offended party should change their feelings instead of trying to get the white person to change their behavior."


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Tim Chevalier

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