Apr. 17th, 2015

tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
I've been heavily involved in the Geek Feminism Blog and Wiki for somewhere between 4 and 5 years, depending on how you count. I've been a feminist since I knew what the word meant, but I had a bit of an awakening in 2011 when I got constructively dismissed from grad school. Now, I'm waking up again.

My own role as a male ally in GF has been something I've struggled with for most of that time, and I really am pretty comfortable calling myself a "male ally" now. To be clear, "ally" is something I aspire to be, and have often fallen short of and sometimes been called out about, and is rarely something I actually say I am. I say it now because when I started, I most definitely didn't see myself as a male ally. I saw myself as a guy who usually got misgendered and who was actively burning from the heat of the many indignities of being seen as a woman in tech (which burn regardless of whether you are actually a woman underneath your frayed startup T-shirt).

Over time, that burning has subsided down a bit and I've gotten to a point where people don't believe I was coercively assigned female at birth even if I tell them straight-up. In place of that anger is sadness about my friends' experiences, my younger self's experiences (a younger self who is no longer me), and yes, some guilt about the role I've played myself, sometimes, in making things worse. (I like to think I've also made things better, but it's not for me to do the accounting).

I quit my job and career this week, and wrote about it. Part of what I tried to reckon with in that post is a transition I've made from feeling squarely (and to some extent, correctly) that I was facing the same struggles that women in tech face, to feeling like that set of burdens has lifted off me and been replaced with a different set. The new set is definitely lighter but still not something that I want -- but the reasons I don't want it are different than the old outrage.

As a trans man, I've often felt uncomfortable with my relationship with feminism since I came out, and to be clear, I think I should feel uncomfortable with it! Like any man, I benefit from male domination, and I can't change that -- I can imagine there are ways I could make myself be seen as a woman again (not that the violence to myself would justify any hypothetical gains from that), but I would still be somebody who had the choice. Certainly, just as race, ability, queerness, and any number of intersecting factors modulate what benefits each man enjoys from that, my transness modulates what I get out of male domination. But the benefits are real. My leaving salary in 2015 was 2.55 times what my starting salary was at my first job out of grad school in 2004. This is not just inflation. I was perceived only as a cis woman (perhaps a gender-non-conforming one, but that wouldn't have helped) back then, and am perceived as a cis man by default now. So it's awkward, advocating for the dismantling of the platform I'm standing on with two feet. I try not to be afraid of falling, but it does happen.

But I think I'm ready to say what John Darnielle (my favorite songwriter as well as being a cis guy who won't be first up against the wall when the revolution comes) said in an interview: "My feminism is for me." Like him, I'm a survivor; that's part of why my feminism is for me. Unlike him, I was abused by a woman -- and that is still part of why my feminism is for me, because she, in turn, was a survivor of a violent time and place that got that way through war and colonialism (in other words, toxic masculinity on an epic scale). When working with GF, I've often felt like I had one foot on each side of the fence: that on the one hand, I was advocating for women in tech, and always having to walk a line that, if crossed, will get you written up (justifiably) on our wiki timeline of incidents. That on the other hand, I was advocating for myself as someone perceived as a woman in tech, a person whose flame flickered out (and it was a relief when it did) over the time I contributed to GF.

I no longer feel like I'm riding the fence. I am squarely on one side. I am male (something I was uncomfortable saying outright until fairly recently in my life), I'm socially recognized as male pretty much all the time, but most importantly, I am not "outside" the legitimate ways in which patriarchy hurts men too. I am not an objective observer of those slights and hurts. I live them! And, in fact, I was living them when I was a 5-year-old boy who was having my subjectivity erased both in the way that many cis survivors of childhood trauma talk about, and in an additional way because not only my abuser, but everybody else in the world, was telling me I was a girl.

My feminism is for me. But Geek Feminism isn't for me, anymore. It does, and should continue to center, feminism that's for women. Those of us who are men need to make our own feminist spaces, not ones that exclude women but ones that can occupy a space that doesn't suck attention and resources away from the more pressing needs (in terms of day-to-day getting-a-paycheck-and-paying-the-rent stuff) of women and non-binary people. Everything in Maslow's hierarchy of needs is important, but as men we need to be brutally honest about where we are in that hierarchy relative to everybody else.

I will still continue to comment on the blog and maybe edit the wiki once in a while, but I've already begun the process of stepping down from my administrative roles and, since I'm also leaving tech, don't plan to be heavily involved in creating content in the future. My name is already under "Former Contributors" on the blog, and shortly I'll be surrendering the wiki banhammer as well. I am excited about the new volunteers -- and re-energized old volunteers -- who are going to be taking these resources into the future. My involvement in Geek Feminism has been the most important force in my life for the past five years. I hope to carry through the friendships that resulted from it into the future, but it's time for me to make space in my life to do a different kind of activism. A friend of mine says that allyship should be seen more in the sense of "allies" in a military context: people who have a shared agenda up to a point, but at some point, have to diverge because the allies' interests no longer fit with each other. It's time for me to fork. Not to go backward, just to take a different path forward. So long, until we converge.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
So I used the term "burnout" in my tableflip post (by the way: tableflip.club), and also used it when I was telling colleagues I was quitting. But "burnout" is a euphemism in my case, and in a lot of people's cases (I suspect).

I mentioned it in my post, but only in an after-the-fact edit, so: I have complex PTSD. On some level I've known this for a long time, on another level I only knew as of 4 days ago when my therapist told me that the things I was saying were things characteristic of CPTSD and I heard what she said. I'm going to quote a Bessel A. van der Kolk, who's quoted in that Wikipedia article, because this seems pretty on-point:
Uncontrollable disruptions or distortions of attachment bonds precede the development of post-traumatic stress syndromes. People seek increased attachment in the face of danger. Adults, as well as children, may develop strong emotional ties with people who intermittently harass, beat, and, threaten them. The persistence of these attachment bonds leads to confusion of pain and love. Trauma can be repeated on behavioural, emotional, physiologic, and neuroendocrinologic levels. Repetition on these different levels causes a large variety of individual and social suffering.

Anger directed against the self or others is always a central problem in the lives of people who have been violated and this is itself a repetitive re-enactment of real events from the past. Compulsive repetition of the trauma usually is an unconscious process that, although it may provide a temporary sense of mastery or even pleasure, ultimately perpetuates chronic feelings of helplessness and a subjective sense of being bad and out of control. Gaining control over one's current life, rather than repeating trauma in action, mood, or somatic states, is the goal of healing.

(From an article called "The compulsion to repeat the trauma. Re-enactment, revictimization, and masochism", which I'll have to look for.)

I think, though, this realization actually came to me a week ago, but in the form of a realization that I had to quit tech. As of then, I was thinking I would quit, maybe take a little time off, and then get into my career plan B (or rather, preparation for it) pretty quickly. What I only realized after I actually quit is that no, actually, I'm going to need a couple of months to recover. At least. And those are going to be a couple months in which I don't leave my apartment much and generally feel good about not leaving it. (I'm lucky enough to have just enough savings to allow for a couple months of this, though not a couple years; hopefully it won't take that long.) You don't recover from 29 years of trauma overnight.

Did the tech industry cause my CPTSD? I want to be clear: absolutely not. Not the "industry" in general, not Silicon Valley, not any one of the individual places where I've worked. As bad as some of them were, situations you enter into as an adult that you are able to leave do not generally cause CPTSD (they can cause PTSD). As Roast Beef in the "Achewood" web comic said, I come from Circumstances; I was born into Circumstances. On the one hand I could say the Circumstances were my mother, but to be honest I would have to acknowledge the Circumstances -- big ones, to do with war and colonialism and coming from four generations of refugees -- that she was born into herself. That doesn't excuse her from responsibility for her actions, or me for mine (for that matter), but must be understood.

But as I hope I already explained in my article, tech didn't make it any better, nor do I think I'm the only one by any stretch of the imagination. I'm gratified that many people on Metafilter agreed that tech attracts people with trauma, exploits us, and compounds the trauma to boot.

I'm not taking back anything I said, I still agree with it all. I guess I'm making this clarification in order to say: if you read that article and felt that you feel like I do, take yourself seriously; it's not "just" burnout, which usually clears up on its own with some rest, but quite possibly something more than that that I would urge you to get competent professional help with. The Resources for therapists page on the GF wiki is something you can show a potential therapist to determine whether or not they might be helpful if you're a tech person with some problems to work through. If they get confused, you might want to look elsewhere, but if they understand or at least have questions that reflect thought, that might be a good sign.

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tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

May 2017

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