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I stayed at the office until about 11 PM trying to git bisect this performance regression (that it's possible that only I am experiencing; perhaps the space-time continuum around me and my MacBook is just flawed; 20 seconds for parsing libcore instead of 8 seconds seems like a big deal, though, and that applies to other phases as well), got results that didn't make sense, started over, and left without finishing (each bisecting step takes 5 to 15 minutes, depending whether it's rebuilding LLVM). If I were cleverer, I'd have figured out how to write a script to automate it.

In any case, as I so often do, I left feeling like I was the worst programmer ever *and* hadn't even succeeded in doing anything that was just for me today. I'm way behind schedule on rustpkg, what I'm ostensibly supposed to be working on; I started bisecting performance stuff because that was blocking me on rustpkg, and I started doing other stuff in the background like bug triaging since I needed *something* to do while waiting for compiles, but still, there's something I'm supposed to be doing and I hadn't gotten very far on it.

But before I left, I read the news that the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River -- over which I would otherwise have been driving tomorrow night (I'm driving down to Seattle so I can catch a plane to San José so I can look for apartments on Saturday and Sunday, then fly back up to Seattle and drive back to Vancouver on Sunday for my last week) -- collapsed, because a truck driver ran into part of the bridge, which caused the bridge to collapse.

I started thinking about how it would feel to be that truck driver. If I make a mistake at my job, usually I just feel bad about it, or in the worst case, a few people get annoyed with me. This person made a mistake at their job and caused a bridge to collapse. All by themself! (Probably some of the blame goes to the civil engineers who designed the bridge, but even so, lots of other people managed to drive over the bridge and not make it collapse.)

When I get frustrated with my work, lately I've been thinking, "well, if all else fails, I could become a truck driver." I like driving and I'm happier when I'm in motion. There are lots of things that appeal to me about it, actually.

But the fact remains that as a programmer, no matter what I do, I know I'm not going to make a mistake that will immediately destroy a bridge.

So I think I'll keep my day job for now.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I've got a new blog post up at geekfeminism.org about structureless organizations and whether or not they are good for people experiencing marginalization in the tech industry. You can also read my past posts on geekfeminism.org.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
When I was a grad student at Portland State, during 2008-2010, I took a second job in addition to my research assistantship, doing scientific and technical editing for a company called American Journal Experts (AJE). AJE hires grad students to copy-edit academic articles written by authors whose first language wasn't English. The rates they pay are very low -- because the rates are based on the article length rather than on time spent, and because many papers were in seriously poor shape, I usually found it necessary to spend so much time on a single paper that my rate came out to minimum wage or below. But, it was a job I could do from home at any hour of the day, and because my research assistantship didn't come with health insurance, I had very little choice but to take a second job so I could pay the student health insurance premiums (which tripled in cost during the four years I was at Portland State).

Anyway, AJE hired grad students as independent contractors, and for all I know, they still do. However, in the US, "independent contractor" is a term with a very specific meaning. A company can't just hire anybody they want to as a contractor -- they have to follow certain rules for how they treat that individual. As AJE began to exert more and more control over how I did my editing work, I began to think that I was really an employee, so I filed an SS-8 form with the IRS to request reclassification as an employee. That was in April 2010.

I never got a reply from the IRS beyond the initial one saying my letter had been received... until this past weekend, when I happened to be at my former housemate's house for a party and she handed me a letter that had been sent to me there. The letter was dated January 2013 and in it, the IRS stated that I had indeed been an employee of American Journal Experts, as per the legal definition of what "employee" and "independent contractor" mean in the tax code. The letter also stated that normally, the IRS tries to get both sides of the case in an SS-8 reclassification -- the employee and the employer -- but that AJE never replied to their request. I guess this may have been why it took more than two and a half years for the IRS to process my SS-8. (I was surprised by the length of time, since in 2006 when I requested (and was granted) reclassification as an employee after I'd worked as a contractor for Laszlo Systems, I received a response from the IRS very promptly.)

What this means for me concretely is that although I paid self-employment tax for the years when I worked for AJE, I didn't really have to, because AJE should have been paying half of my FICA taxes. Unfortunately for me, the statute of limitations on tax refunds is three years (from when I filed my return), so I can only file an amended return for 2010; 2009 and 2008 are water under the bridge.

This means something for a lot of other people as well: AJE has hundreds of grad student contractors, or rather, employees, and because their jobs are no different from my former job, they can all file SS-8 forms as well. I don't know what will happen if AJE continues to hire new employees while misclassifying them as contractors.

To help anyone who might want to do this, here's a PDF link to my filled-out SS-8 form that I submitted in 2010. The form mentions an auxiliary letter, and here's another PDF containing both that letter, and the reply I received from the IRS 2 1/2 years later. The IRS really gets a bad rap, but both times I've gone through the SS-8 process, I've been impressed by the clarity and thoroughness of the letters I've received in response. My auxiliary letter mentions some supporting documents that I haven't included in the PDFs, but if you want to see the whole package for whatever reason, let me know.

At this point, you might be saying, "what's the big deal, Tim? Don't companies abuse independent contractor status in this way all the time?" Yeah, they do, but I think it's a big deal every time that they do, because every time that they do, it's one more reminder to all of us that corporations get all of the privileges of being people and none of the responsibilities. If people (specifically poor and working-class people and people of color) get punished when they break the law, corporations should have to follow the law too, whether or not they like the laws, and whether or not the laws are convenient to follow.

Feel free to pass around this link to people -- it's public -- either because they've worked for AJE, or because they've done similar work, or just because they want an example of a filled-out SS-8.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Over on geekfeminism.org, I wrote a reflection on Joseph Reagle's article "Free as in sexist?": "Open Source, Closed Minds?" I've written a few other posts on geekfeminism.org that I forgot to link to here:
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
"So, it's meme time. Describe-what-you-do-using-the-most-common-thousand-words-in-American-school-fiction time." [personal profile] pseudomonas pointed out that the corpus used here is a bit weird, but constraints are fun, so I'm going to roll with it anyway.

People tell computers to do things by writing words. To make it easier, they come up with different "word sets" for the computer. There are word-sets that are built into computers, which we say are "low". And there are word-sets that people use to tell the computer what to do, which we say are "high". I work on one of the high word-sets.

One of the things that happens when people tell computers what to do is that people can get confused. Then, the computer does the wrong thing. When that happens, cars might not want to stop, or an up-goer could burst into fire. To make people less confused, a high word-set can have "types". A typed word-set doesn't let you put one sort of thing where a different sort of thing is supposed to go. We say a typed word-set is "safe" if someone showed that if your words use types the right way, then your words will do the thing they stand for and the computer won't get stuck trying to do it.

When people tell computers what to do, they usually want the computer to do it quickly. Some of the high word-sets are safe, but not so good for making computers go fast, because the words in them are very different from the low word-set that the computer uses. Other word-sets are very close to the low word-set, but they make it easier to get confused when you're writing words. The word-set I work on makes it easy to tell the computer to do things quickly, and also easy to be less confused while using it.

Finally, a computer you buy now is usually made of lots of little computers. It's hard to think about what all of the little computers should do at the same time, because you only have one brain to think with. One way to think about telling all the little computers to do is to stop them from sharing memory with each other. Instead, you can make them talk to each other by sending notes to each other. The word-set I work on lets you use this "note-passing" way of getting all the computers to do work at the same time.

How do we turn the words we write into things a computer can actually do? The answer is that we write more words to tell the computer how to turn words from our high word-set into words from the computer's low word-sets. Those words we write help the computer turn a few big words into a lot of small words. I work on one of those "computer-help things" for our high word-set. I fix parts of it where people got confused before, and sometimes I help change it to handle new and different words.


I'll just make one observation here: "computer" is in the corpus, but "language" isn't.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
On January 2, 2012 I started work at Mozilla as a seasonal employee working on the Rust team. In March, I was offered and accepted a permanent position, and as of today I've been full-time (which is to say, not an intern -- sometimes "full-time" gets contrasted with "contractor/seasonal", in which case my one-year anniversary wouldn't be for 3 more months) for one year. Post-master's-degree, I've had five different full-time jobs including my current one, and three internships including Mozilla, but I've never stayed at any of them for more than ten months other than Mozilla. I guess that says I like it here?

This year was full of more heartbreak, fury, grief, and difficulty than I would have ever expected to experience in conjunction with a job. On the other hand, working with the Rust team has been as much of a pleasure and a joy as I can imagine any compiler engineering job being. There's a change that I'm hoping to make happen early this year that I'm hoping will help me contribute more fully, but in the meantime, I'm just taking a moment to remind myself that I made it. Especially after how I got pushed out of grad school, it's been a relief to work with people who support me. Thanks to Dave, Graydon, Patrick, Brian, Niko, Alon, Donovan, Andrew, Jesse, Lukas, Christie, and everyone I'm forgetting about for the laughs/lunch companionship/collaboration/help/advice/IRC conversations/etc. Also thanks to the summer interns -- Lindsey, Paul, Eric, Brian, Sully, Ben, Margaret, Stephen, Elliott, and (again) everyone else I'm forgetting -- for bringing needed enlivenment to the office :-D
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I was working on a post about impostor syndrome, but it got long, and it's not going to get finished tonight. So instead, a quick look into the geekfeminism.org archives: back in August, Mary Gardiner (the other co-founder of the Ada Initiative, along with Valerie Aurora) pointed out: "people love to support geek girls, they are considerably more ambivalent about supporting geek women." It's a great post, and you should go read the whole thing.

I think the issue of why adults seem more willing to support young female (or, possibly, just CAFAB) geeks while (for example) criticizing programming events for teenage or adult women as being "exclusionary" also relates to the issue of ownership that I talked about yesterday. A five-year-old who wants to take a Star Wars water bottle to school isn't a threat to adult male geeks' turf. She's not competing with them for jobs, and she's also not doing the same work as them and (in their minds) lowering its status by making it work that a woman could do. She's just a cute kid. Talking about the structural factors that exclude young adults and adults from working in tech and being part of geek culture (where the latter is often necessary for the former) if they happen to be socially placed as female is harder. It's less comfortable; it's more threatening to the systems that reinforce some men's notions of their value and worth, as well as giving them unearned advantages, like getting paid more than women for doing the same work. It's also hard to talk about how endemic sexual harassment and sexual assault are in supposedly "professional" spaces in the tech industry -- an issue that (we'd at least like to think) is not so looming for kindergartners. It's hard because talking about it honestly means beginning to acknowledge that rape and abuse happen because all of us get taught to accept and sometimes even encourage them; not because a few aberrant individuals are monsters.

Changing minds -- even just creating a space where we don't stop encouraging everyone who's not cis and male the minute they turn 11 -- is long, hard work. The Ada Initiative is doing that work, and if you support them, you'll be helping with it. And if you let me know, you'll be helping me get 8 more people -- for a total of 20 -- to donate for my 0x20th birthday! By doing so, you can join the ranks of the fantastic [personal profile] miang, [personal profile] yam, [personal profile] cidney, [personal profile] nentuaby, [twitter.com profile] leilazilles, [personal profile] pseudomonas, [twitter.com profile] davidcarr_2001, and [personal profile] pastwatcher! (Just to name the people who donated non-anonymously, in the past 24 hours.)
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I promised I was going to post something related every day until I reached 20 donors for the Ada Initiative for my 32nd birthday. So far: 3 down, 17 to go!
I'm going to start with Valerie Aurora's absolutely brilliant post, 'Connecting the dots: "Everyday sexism" and the École Polytechnique massacre'. Valerie Aurora is a co-founder of and executive director of the Ada Initiative.

Really, I could just link to this post, tell you emphatically to read it, and leave it at that. But there's a little more I want to add, since the topic of Aurora's post is an incident that directly affected me: not the École Polytechnique massacre, that is, but the most recent events involving the the Planet Mozilla controversy and the harassment of my colleague Christie Koehler that resulted from it.

Aurora writes:
This anniversary is important for women in technology in part because it connects obvious, overt crimes against women in technology with the ugly root system of "everyday" sexism that feeds and sustains it. Lépine left a long note explaining why he targeted women: feminists had ruined his life ("les féministes qui m'ont toujours gaché la vie"). In particular, he told people that women in technology caused him to be unable to get a job or complete a university degree in technology.


It's pretty obvious that there is a parallel -- in intention if not in effect -- between the massacre and the death threat that Christie received from a person who had an interest in what goes on in the open-source community. In my opinion, these two examples of hostility -- from men in the tech community, aimed at women in the tech community -- clearly show the source of a lot of the more everyday, more insidious hostility towards women in the software industry and especially open source. The hostility comes from men defending what they believe to be their property. Lépine believed that he was entitled to have an engineering job -- to the point where he should not have to face competition from women who were as qualified as he was, or more qualified than him. To defend his turf, he literally murdered women who were potential rivals with him for jobs. As with any hate crime, his action also served as a warning to all women who might consider studying or working in engineering: that if you encroach on a man's turf, he might defend it by killing you, and that engineering is a man's turf.

While less harsh in its consequences, a death threat from someone who believes that the open-source community should be a heterosexual men's club serves the same purpose: to terrorize, to instill fear in any women who participate or might think about participating that if they question anything about how they're being treated, someone might hurt or kill them. Hans Reiser, who was at least formerly an accepted and influential member of the open-source community, made this less hypothetical by murdering his wife, Nina Reiser. While Nina Reiser was not a programmer herself, this incident shows that committing extreme violence against women is not incompatible with being in the open-source community -- that you can't assume that just because someone is your colleague, or works on the same project, that they're not capable of hating women enough to kill one.

So far, I don't expect what's been said to be too controversial. But, as Aurora did, I also want to problematize the incident that set off the Planet Mozilla controversy and gave rise to the discussions that made at least one person (whose identity is not known at this date) feel so passionate about defending the right of some other people to use a work space to say certain things that they were willing to threaten somebody's life over it. That is: a paid Mozilla contributor made a statement on his blog, which was syndicated on Mozilla's blog aggregator, encouraging readers to sign a petition that says: "I support the legal definition of marriage which is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman."

Now let's talk about what this means. Opponents of universal marriage might say that they don't hate or fear gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, intersex, genderqueer, transgender, or transsexual people -- just that they want to make sure that "marriage" "means what it's always meant". But clearly, this "always" statement is based on universalizing a very particular white, heterosexual, monogamous, middle- to upper-class, Protestant, Western European definition of "marriage" (and it might be something even more specific than that) in a way that denies history. So the concept of "not wanting to change what it's always meant" is a red herring, since there is no single thing that marriage has "always meant".

I think what's really going on is about ownership as well. The aforementioned privileged group (a subset of individuals who are white, heterosexual, Protestant, and so on) believe that they own the concept of marriage and have the right to exclude people from it as they choose. They think marriage belongs to them. Let's make a table. By the way: when I say "fundamentalists" in the heading, I'm not meaning to imply that all opponents of universal marriage are religious. I also don't mean to blame the abstraction of "religion" for the misguided beliefs of real, concrete human beings. They are responsible for their beliefs, which can't be blamed on an abstract concept. I'm religious myself, so I know that many religious people hold open and accepting views, and many non-religious people hold bigoted, narrow views. Rather, the group I mean to name is that group that uses obsessive, almost fetishistic attention to the literal meanings of words (always according to dictionaries they wrote) as a weapon. Many of these people identify as religious, but not all.

Violent, misogynist men in the tech industryFundamentalists
Believe themselves to be superior to womenBelieve their relationships to be more sacred than, more moral than, better for society than, better for children than, just all-around better than queer people's relationships with each other
Rely on their roles as hackers, programmers or engineers to reinforce their self-esteemRely on the concept of "traditional marriage" in order to feel good about themselves and their relationships
Feel that open-source belongs to them and they have the right to enforce who enters geek/nerd/hacker spacesFeel that marriage belongs to them and they have the exclusive right to decide whose marriages the government recognizes
Are sometimes willing to use outright violence, or at least threats thereof, to protect their turfUse legislative and rhetorical violence to protect their turf, diminishing the quality of queer people's lives in real and concrete ways

Some people might say that fundamentalists don't deserve to be compared to murderers. Honestly, I couldn't care less how fundamentalists feel about being compared to murderers. When fundamentalists start thinking about how it feels for me when they tell me their relationships are better than mine, maybe then I'll start thinking about how they feel about the comparison. My activism is not to "convince" or "persuade" fundamentalists that it's more rewarding and enriching to see oneself as equal in worth and dignity to others than to see oneself as others' master, anyway -- I don't think I'm clever enough to convince them of that. My activism is to convince people like me to not sit down and take it.

I'm not saying that fundamentalists' feelings don't matter. Everyone's feelings are real, everyone's feelings matter. But there's a difference between having a feeling, and compelling someone else to care about it. If a fundamentalist tells me it hurts their feelings to be grouped together with violent people, I'm sure that they really do feel that way. But I can't address their concern if, when I engage with the person, all that happens is that they:

  • tell me that their intentions ought to govern me (i.e., that I'm not allowed to have any feelings about their words or actions that they didn't intend to make me have)
  • tell me that I'm obligated to sacrifice my autonomy to protect their abstractions (e.g. "traditional marriage")
  • refuse to acknowledge that it hurts to be told that you're inferior
  • even, sometimes, refuse to acknowledge that their actions could make people feel inferior

I have seen this pattern from both fundamentalists and misogynists too many times. Were I to spend my compassion on such people, I'd be entering into an abusive relationship: one where I am asked to consider another person's feelings, but they don't consider mine. I can't afford to pay that price. And that's the long way of saying that yes, I've considered what it means to draw an analogy between people who advocate that the state should repress queer people and people who commit violent crimes, and no, I'm not going to censor myself for the sake of the feelings of people who already hold power and privilege.

And, of course, I am not saying that rhetoric and murder are literally the same. They are different. But we can all agree on that. Where I disagree with some is that I'm not satisfied being told "You should be grateful we're only suggesting to other people that you're disposable, rather than killing you directly." Saying that we're second-class -- by designating us as the one class of adults that isn't allowed the basic freedom of having our relationships recognized as serious and committed -- as adult -- does send the message that we're disposable.

So, I believe that when an open-source community like Mozilla tolerates anti-universal-marriage rhetoric in a form that lives under a Mozilla domain name, that is tacit endorsement of an entitlement, on the part of fundamentalists, to claim marriage as their own and to use rhetorical violence -- language that implicitly (through appeal to a host of cultural baggage about the relative value of heterosexuals' and queer people's relationships) proclaims people like me as less good and less deserving of fair treatment than heterosexuals are. The spirited defense, in terms of so-called "free speech", that quite a few members of the community mounted of their right to use the blog aggregator in this manner -- as well as the total failure of Mozilla leadership to condemn the anti-universal-marriage statements as contrary to Mozilla's philosophy of openness and inclusion -- connotes, to me, the way in which violence against women and subordination of queer people are intertwined. And if it wasn't clear, the fact that one of our colleagues, a person who works in the same office as I do, explicitly told Christie and me that we didn't belong at Mozilla and should go somewhere else, as well as the fact that this person faced no concrete consequences for what he did, drives that message home. And if that wasn't clear, the fact that somebody with a stake in it was so passionate about fundamentalists' right to use any platform to defend their turf that they were willing to make a death threat drives home -- tellingly, aimed only at Christie (not at me, though I've been equally vocal) and shot through with disgusting comments about her gender, sexuality, and body -- that it's all connected.

You might ask me at this point whether I'm engaging in mind-reading when I argue that fundamentalists are really defending their turf, rather than defending "traditional marriage". I don't have time for that question. I'm entitled to interpret what you say, just as you're entitled to interpret what I say. A basic measure of respect adults grant to each other is to recognize that other people won't automatically trust you, assume you're telling the truth, or believe you when you state your motivations. I'm happy to hear someone tell me that I'm wrong or that I'm right, but deflecting attention from the content of what I'm writing by questioning my right to have higher-order thoughts about my social superiors -- insinuating that I'm obligated to believe that cops never lie, teachers tell the truth, and authority figures are always open and honest -- is just a way of derailing the discussion from substance into vacuous meta-discussion.

So what does this all have to do with the Ada Initiative? Well, I think the problems we have in open source are not primarily due to the relatively small number of men who are willing to commit physical violence or threaten it in order to keep open source a boys' club. Rather, I think they're due to the large majority of men in the community who are sympathetic to women's issues, who want to change things but aren't sure how, or who stay silent at everyday sexism -- the remarks that, as Aurora showed quite well, create an environment where more serious acts of violence flourish. The work of the Ada Initiative is helping make it easier to do the right thing instead of staying silent. Their work on codes of conduct for tech conferences has already made it easier for a woman in the software industry to attend a professional conference without worrying she'll be sexually assaulted or harassed -- something that almost all men in the industry take for granted.

I support the Ada Initiative because I stand with cis women, with trans women, with trans men, with genderqueer people, with queer cis men, who don't want to own the world -- who don't want to control a community or an industry -- but who just want to govern their own lives. People who want to make a good living, do honest work, and collaborate with others to build tools that will make life easier and better for people. These are modest goals, but if enough of the industry remains complicit in misogyny, they won't be achieved. Likewise, as queer people, we don't want to define marriage for everybody else and exclude people who aren't like ourselves from deciding what it means. We just want to live our lives, too: paying our fair share in taxes, visiting our partners in the hospital, raising children if we choose to, transferring property when we die, and so on. And where these two threads come together is that I still work in an industry that doesn't recognize that opposition to universal marriage is both a mainstream political view and hate speech that makes people in a minority group feel unwelcome and unsafe.

If you agree with me that the Ada Initiative's work is important, please wish me a happy 32nd birthday and make a donation. And then let me know. By doing so, you can be as cool as [personal profile] juli, [personal profile] etb, and Henry!
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I've mentioned obliquely that I've been dealing with some money issues this past year. I'm paying off a large amount of debt for health care (both emergency and planned care). Though I've been covered by health insurance the entire time, because as a trans person, I'm considered a second-class citizen, my insurers can arbitrarily decide not to cover my care. So a third of my net paycheck every month goes to paying off those debt. I'm about to move to a place without indoor plumbing just so I can pay back that debt faster and waste less money on interest.

Even so, I decided to donate to The Ada Initiative (TAI) this year, which is a non-profit organization that works to increase the representation of women in open-source software as well as other open culture projects (like Wikipedia). I've donated to TAI before, but this time I donated at the Ada's Angel level. Partly, the timing was because TAI just completed a successful fundraising drive and while I wasn't able to be part of helping them reach their goal, I wanted to get in on the tail end of that (and snag a totally sweet T-shirt); partly, it was because I just got my quarterly bonus at work. Given that I make my living writing open-source code, donating 10% of my net bonus to TAI seemed more than fair.

I donated to TAI because I benefit from sexism, and I donated to TAI because I benefit from having a more inclusive and more egalitarian work environment. Paradoxical? Not if you're familiar with intersectionality. Because I'm male, and have conditional cis privilege (that is, it's rare for people to question or invalidate my sex and gender unless I choose to mention that I have a transsexual body), unearned privilege accrues to me that makes my life and, particularly, my career easier. Other guys in my industry recognize me as "one of us". It wasn't always that way for me, so I know what the difference can be between being seen as a man and being seen as a woman. Maybe because I was never seen as a typical woman (whatever that means!), I avoided a lot of the worst of sexism and harassment. But I know that it's easier to work in software now that I'm being seen as who I am; fortunately, being seen as who I am also makes me happier than pretending to be someone I'm not. It's easier to interact with colleagues when they don't make joking comments about how they hope your spouse doesn't mind them going to lunch with you. It's easier to form social connections when you're not seen as useless because you're perceived as neither male nor available for sex. It's easier to work when people are willing to talk to you behind closed doors, because they don't see you as a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen. I enjoy those benefits now not because I work harder than women, or because I'm smarter than they are, but simply because men recognize me as being like themselves. Donating money hardly makes up for having that unearned privilege, but it's a start towards leveling the playing field.

The other side of it is that I'm a queer man and a trans man, and a man who's not comfortable being in environments that subordinate women. I find homogeneous groups to be toxic. While TAI doesn't focus specifically on addressing homophobia and transphobia in open-source, what makes the environment safer for women is frequently also what makes the environment safer for queer men, trans men, and non-binary-identified people as well. The same kinds of "humor", "jokes", and political comments that get used to mark a space as unsafe for women are also used to marginalize those who are seen as men who aren't doing masculinity well enough: queer men. While some of the details are different, as a queer man I want the same thing that women in my industry do: to be seen as an equal partner and to be able to get through the day without hearing casual reminders that the people around me see me as inferior. So while it's easier for me to work in tech than it is for many women, I would still be more comfortable if it wasn't the case that my comfort comes at the expense of somebody else.

That's why, even though I didn't have a lot of money to spare right now, I donated to TAI as an investment in continuing to be able to work, continuing to be able to use the skills I've spent a lot of time developing. There's not much point in saving money if a month or a year or three years from now, I'm no longer able to work because the stress of being in a marginalized minority group gets to be too much for me. I trust Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner, who lead TAI, to choose the right priorities to change the culture. Already, TAI has had a significant effect in encouraging open/tech conferences to adopt anti-harassment policies. Making it possible for a woman to attend a technical conference without being afraid she'll get groped is hardly all that needs to be done to make the field open to everyone, but it's a necessary step along the way.

With that said, I think it's important for the voices of trans women, women with disabilities, and women of color to be heard more often and in greater numbers when determining our priorities. The movement to include women in tech shouldn't just be for white, abled, cis women. I think that there needs to be way more diversity even within the group of women interested in pushing for greater inclusion and equality. Women facing intersecting oppressions have issues that women whose only axis of oppression is gender either don't face, or don't face as severely, and only they can say what their own liberation would look like. And if "include women in tech" actually means "you have to be white, cis and abled to be a woman in tech", that isn't really inclusion at all, because it means there's a restrictive standard that women have to meet to get included that men aren't subject to. So I think there's change that needs to happen in this department, but that isn't a reason not to support organizations that exist right now.

My inner concern troll, which is harder to ignore than any real-life concern troll on the Internet, says, "With so many bad things in the world, why support women in tech, who are already privileged enough to have gotten the training required to even consider entering the field?" But that's a false choice: it falsely frames an unjust distribution of resources as genuine and inevitable scarcity. Justice for one group of people doesn't inherently come at the cost of justice for another group. Really, a better question is "when privileged men in tech enjoy so much status, why shouldn't women have the same opportunities?" It's awful to use the suffering of some "other" (whether that's people in another country, in another social class, or whatever) as a distraction because you're terrified that you might lose your privilege if more people have access to it. It's also awful to suggest that women should be satisfied with having enough food, where white, cis, hetero men in developed nations consider themselves entitled to far more than that.

The fact is that almost every issue in the world is less important than something else. Perhaps every issue, because how can you come up with a total order that ranks all problems by importance? Such an ordering would inevitably be biased to one person's, or one group's, priorities. I believe that no one is going to look out for my survival as a queer trans man if I don't, and by investing in my own ability to continue to make a living as a queer trans man in the world, I'm just doing what anyone who is obligated to be responsible for their own survival would do.

You can derail with "many bad things in the world" all you want -- deciding on the most important thing is a great way to stop people from doing anything -- but the fact remains that a world in which the best jobs are unavailable to women is not a just world. And a world where women can only have these jobs if they're ten times better than the average man and willing to undergo humiliation is not a just world either. Saying I should support "starving people" (othering!) instead is saying that everyone should settle for less. It's deflecting attention from what the most privileged people have in order to urge us to accept whatever standard of living is slightly higher than the lowest possible one. All we're asking, after all, is for people to have the same opportunities regardless of the gender they're socially placed in.

If you're someone who has enjoyed the privilege of working in the tech industry, particularly in open source, and particular if you haven't had to fight exclusion because of your social placement, I encourage you to give back just a little bit of what you've reaped by donating to the Ada Initiative. That is, at least, if you think everybody should have the same opportunities that you had.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Edited to add, 2014-09-23: There's no point in protecting a harasser anymore; X is Al Billings. As of this writing, he is still employed by Mozilla as a Security Program Manager on the Security Assurance Team.
Back in July, a person claiming to be a Mozilla community member made threatening comments on my colleague Christie Koehler's blog. The comments were also directed at me, referring to "you two" -- Christie and me being two of the people who have been most outspoken about Mozilla's problems with equality. The anonymous commenter wrote "we don't want you around", and told us that if we didn't like Mozilla's policies about discrimination and harassment, we should go somewhere else. It's unclear which "we" the commenter intended to speak for.

These comments were absolutely a threat. Saying "we don't want you around" strongly suggests intent to create a working environment that will be hostile for us, and indeed, on its own, it is a comment that contributes to a hostile working environment. The nebulous "we", as well, is the kind of comment that provokes fear over just how many colleagues of ours "don't want us around".

And these threats were in retaliation for Christie's and my public speech about our grievances as LGBT employees of Mozilla. The message is clear: if you speak out about how you're being treated, you will be threatened and harassed.

On the Internet, few actions are truly anonymous. Christie's blog software records commenters' IP addresses. Also, every time you send an email, the headers include the IP address of the computer you used to send it (unless you go to some effort to obscure your identity). Mozilla has some well-trafficked internal mailing lists, and I save a lot of the email I receive in them. These facts together meant that I was able to confirm with a high degree of certainty that the comment really was written by a Mozilla community member: a Mozilla employee who works in the Mountain View office, where I also work. I'll refer to this person as "X". Christie contacted Mozilla's HR department, who contacted X, who admitted that they did indeed write these comments, giving us total certainty about the commenter's identity.

The article from a former Kixeye employee using the handle Qu33riousity, in which he calls out the company for its environment of homophobia and racism, has been making the rounds. Some people find stories like that one shocking. To me, it's just a much more extreme example of what happens when companies tolerate casual homophobia, sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression. When there are no consequences for abusive behavior, that behavior escalates to an arbitrarily great extent: an absence of consequences for small violations gives people permission to disrespect others in bigger ways. And that's one reason why it's so harmful to tell a person who is experiencing oppression to "just get over it" and "not be so sensitive".

After X made their comments, and during the long interactions with HR that Christie shared with me, in which she tried to convey to Mozilla administrators that X's behavior was abusive, not just part of a "conflict" between two employees, I experienced stress in a couple of ways. My IBS (a stress-induced illness) got worse. I had trouble sleeping. It got harder for me to focus on work. It's hard to concentrate on what you're doing when you've been told your co-workers don't want you around.

What should a company do when an employee has engaged in public retaliation against other employees for speaking up in favor of civil rights? I think that since the original hostile comments were public, the person who has made those comments should make a public apology, with their name attached. A public apology shows that they take seriously the harm they have done to the community. And X did harm the community: for one thing, they harmed me and Christie, who are part of the community. For another thing, they increased the level of hostility in the community towards LGBT participants. X is a person who has previously claimed to be an LGBT ally, but their actions make clear that they are okay with LGBT people as long as those people merely participate in a social order controlled by heterosexual men, and don't question heterosexual male dominance. Excluding LGBT contributors hurts the community because it arbitrarily excludes people who have something to bring to the project based on criteria having nothing to do with merit.

Instead, Mozilla HR treated X's actions as an individual slight against other individuals, completely ignoring the way in which X hurt the community. The message I take from this is that I'm not part of the community. X, as well, denied having harmed the community and even threatened to report Christie to HR for harassment after a brief email exchange in which she requested that X make their apology public. By encouraging Christie to resolve the matter directly with X, then Mozilla HR put Christie in a situation where she would be the target of more abuse.

Though X refused to make a public apology, and HR declined to ask them to do so, I still have the option of naming them in public. I'm choosing not to, since I fear that I would experience further retaliation for doing so. Several of the comments on Christie's blog post from earlier expressed disbelief that someone who was really in the Mozilla community would do such a thing. If I were to name X, they (and others) would have to deal with the cognitive dissonance of knowing that yes, it really could be one of us. My past experience tells me that people often deal with this kind of cognitive dissonance by blaming victims. Perhaps some people would decide X's comments weren't so bad after all, that there was a justification for them, that Christie's and my actions somehow justify abuse. I don't feel like there is a right answer for me in this situation: naming X would expose me to further abuse, while by declining to name them, I know that I may be accused of making it all up. Because there is no right thing for me to do in this situation, I'm choosing not to name X not because I think it's right for them to have privacy while we pay the costs of the actions, but rather, out of fear for my personal safety and my livelihood.

X's actions were one point along the same continuum that includes what Qu33riousity describes at Kixeye. They also lie along the same continuum that Skud describes in "On being harassed":

Have you ever had to show your male colleagues a webpage that calls you a fat dyke slut? I don’t recommend it.

Christie's and my experiences, and Qu33riousity's experiences, and Skud's experiences, are all different. I don't mean to equate them. But the common element involves environments that enable harassment: that make people feel like it's okay to harass a colleague because they're queer, female, or a person of color. The common element is environments in which people who are queer, female, and/or people of color are routinely considered less than other people, where they're treated unequally.

I just want a working environment in which I, and all of my colleagues, can be safe, and free to collaborate productively together. And many people at Mozilla feel that they have that already. I don't feel that I do. I just want to be treated the same way as everyone else; I want to be able to expect what many of my colleagues expect, which is that they won't be treated unfairly because of their sexual orientation. I also want to feel confident that if I speak out about how I'm being treated, my concerns will be taken seriously and that I'll be respected. I want to know that I won't be shamed for "playing the victim" or be treated with contempt if I say that it hurts when people attack me. I'm just asking for what most people who are not in a gender and sexual minority can already expect.

A public apology from X would help ameliorate the harm to the community that they chose to do with their anonymous comments. I'm sad that creating a safe and productive environment for everyone isn't important enough to Mozilla for that to happen. X told Christie that, in effect, they refused to make a public apology because it would make them look bad. This is the definition of abuse: being asked to put your abuser's needs ahead of your own. We were effectively told that our safety was not as important as X's reputation. And no one in a position of authority stepped in to counter that message.

I'm also copying what Christie wrote below, since I think it's that important.


Back in July, someone claiming to be a “Mozilla member” made threatening comments here on my blog, directed towards myself and my colleague Tim Chevalier. I reported the comments immediately to Mozilla HR. It look nearly three months, but I can now report a resolution.

The person who left the comments is a Mozilla employee. They have been contacted by Mozilla HR and directed not to make these kind of comments to Mozilla employees or community members in the future, or else face disciplinary action. They have also issued an apology to me personally. Unfortunately, the person has declined to provide a public apology and isn’t being compelled to do so.

I find the lack of a public apology disappointing and a detriment to the Mozilla community. Those who violate community conduct standards should face the consequences of their actions and they should have to face them publicly.

Why? Many reasons. Without having to face consequences, abusive behavior is likely to continue, and likely to escalate. When those who violate conduct standards are held publicly accountable for their actions, it gives those who might have been a target of such behavior in the past a chance to finally speak up. And, it demonstrates that the Mozilla community takes its employees’ and contributors’ conduct toward one another seriously and doesn’t tolerate abuse. A public apology gives those who transgress an opportunity to make amends with the community.

In the case of the person who left the threats on my blog, their desire not to look bad is being placed above our (mine, Tim’s and others from marginalized groups) need to feel safe, and thus represents a refusal to acknowledge their deleterious effect on our entire community.

The commenter’s actions harmed not just the two of us who were the direct targets, but the Mozilla community as a whole by setting the example that if a queer person feels they are being discriminated against at Mozilla and speaks out about it, they will be penalized with a public threat. Why was the original comment a threat? Because saying “we don’t want you two around” implies that they would do their best, either directly or indirectly, to make sure Tim and I were not able to continue to be around. Furthermore, their use of “we” created anxiety that there was not just one, but many people at Mozilla who wanted to force out people who speak out against discrimination.

More generally, the commenter’s actions set a precedent that if somebody is in a vulnerable minority group, they must choose between being silent and accepting what they experience as discriminatory treatment or risk being humiliated and threatened if they speak out against it. Being in a situation where the only choices are to accept abuse without criticizing it or be retaliated against for speaking up, is unfair. A community where people in minority groups are treated unfairly is one that many such people will either leave, or not join in the first place, because they don’t feel welcome. And driving away people in minority groups hurts the community. It deprives the community of all that minority group members can contribute, and means Mozilla won’t have the best employees and contributors it can possibly have.

In the lack of acknowledgment that the commenter’s actions harmed the community, I hear unwillingness to say that Mozilla values its contributors who are queer. If harming us does not harm the community, then the only logical conclusion is that we’re not an important part of the community. It’s hurtful to see that the facts apparently point to this conclusion.

While it’s true that I could reveal the identity of the anonymous commenter, I don’t feel comfortable doing so publicly, here on my blog because I fear a lack of support from the Mozilla community. On the one hand, many of you expressed your outrage and disapproval of the commenter’s behavior, but on the other hand, some of you also expressed doubt that the commenter could even be part of the Mozilla community. Also, I have not seen a lot of outspoken support for those who speak up on these issues, and have certainly experienced a lack of institutional support on behalf of Mozilla leadership.

What I will do is encourage those of you who have been the target of threatening behavior, even if it seems insignificant, to document and report it.

tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
This post is cross-posted to the Geek Feminism Blog.
"Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. " -- Rebecca Solnit, "Men who explain things"

A Problem with Equality

In March 2012, Gerv Markham, who works for the Mozilla Corporation dealing with issues of community and governance, ignited a controversy about what kinds of content Mozilla tolerates on its Web properties. That debate opened the broader question of whether the Mozilla Corporation should have a code of conduct for its employees, as well as whether the Mozilla project as a whole should have a single code of conduct for its employees and volunteers. An internal -- but world-readable -- discussion on Mozilla's online discussion group, mozilla.governance, ensued, examining the nature and desirability of community standards for inclusion.

That was about as neutral and objective as I'm going to be in this essay. In what follows, I analyze the controversies of March and April, while sharing a hefty quantity of my own feelings and opinions about them. These opinions are my own and solely my own. While I'm an employee of the Mozilla Corporation, in what follows, I am speaking only for myself. I'm not writing from the perspective of someone who has formal education in political and social analysis; the only authority I claim to have is on my own lived experiences. Thus, I don't have citations at hand for every idea; moreover, much of what I am saying here has been said before, by people who make it their calling to interrogate sexism, homophobia, racism, and other social structures of domination. I'm writing for an audience of people who think critically, reflect openly, and draw their own conclusions.

Disclaimers: please read them.

About 30 more paragraphs )

tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
The first place to look in determining the scope of harassment law, of course, is the legal definition of "harassment." Speech can be punished as workplace harassment if it's

  • "severe or pervasive" enough to
  • create a "hostile or abusive work environment"
  • based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability (including obesity), military membership or veteran status, or, in some jurisdictions, sexual orientation, marital status, transsexualism [sic] or cross-dressing, political affiliation, criminal record, prior psychiatric treatment, occupation, citizenship status, personal appearance, "matriculation," tobacco use outside work, Appalachian origin, receipt of public assistance, or dishonorable discharge from the military
  • for the plaintiff and for a reasonable person.

Note what the definition does not require. It does not require that the speech consist of obscenity or fighting words or threats or other constitutionally unprotected statements. It does not require that the speech be profanity or pornography, which some have considered "low value." Under the definition, it is eminently possible for political, religious, or social commentary, or "legitimate" art, to be punished [18].

[...]

[18] The definition also does not require that the speech take place in the workplace; even speech outside the workplace can be considered if it creates a hostile environment at work. See Intlekofer v. Turnage, 973 F.2d 773, 775 (9th Cir. 1992) (relying in part on a coworker "telephoning [Intlekofer] at her home" to support a hostile environment claim); Bersie v. Zycad Corp., 399 N.W.2d 141, 143, 146 (Minn. Ct. App. 1987) (relying in part on a coworker "calling [Bersie] at home" to conclude that plaintiff had made a prima facie showing of harassment, expressly applying Vinson); cf. Bartlett v. United States, 835 F. Supp. 1246, 1262 (E.D. Wash. 1993) (finding that two instances of sexually suggestive conduct, including "[p]laintiff receiv[ing] a sexually explicit card at her home from a coworker," did not rise to the level of sexual harassment, but not even hinting that the card was somehow categorically disqualified because it was received outside the workplace); Myer-Dupuis v. Thomson Newspapers, No. 2:95-CV-133 (W.D. Mich. May 9, 1996), reported in Mich. Law. Wkly., May 27, 1996, at 12A. These cases are eminently consistent with the harassment definition given by the Supreme Court: It's quite plausible that speech by coworkers outside the workplace may create a hostile environment within the workplace.

-- Eugene Volokh, 'What Speech Does "Hostile Work Environment" Harassment Law Restrict?'

Spot-on

Apr. 24th, 2012 04:37 pm
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Currently I’m struggling with the fact that what one needs is not just the ability to say “Fuck you”, but the ability to keep saying it for years and years on end, through ups and downs and uncertainties, in the knowledge that mostly what you get in return for this is the opportunity to keep having to say “Fuck you” for the rest of your life.

I don’t know where that struggle will take me, right now.

-- GemmaM, in a comment on a post about being a woman in tech.

I'm not a woman, but that's still how I feel in being in tech.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
In the space of 24 hours, a place that I thought was relatively safe for me has flipped to seem totally unsafe. I linked to the Planet Mozilla admin post before; most of the subsequent comments have defended "free speech" (which is to say, bullies' right to bully) and demanded that those of us who are LGBTQ prove our humanity. I had this to say in response:

Most of the replies I'm seeing are replies that ask me to engage in a debate to prove that I'm human and that I deserve the same rights and respect that heterosexual cisgender people with cissexual bodies do. I refuse to engage in that debate, because being asked to prove I'm human in a work space is exactly what is making that space a hostile environment for me. (Mozilla prides itself on its distributedness, thus there should be no denial that online spaces with mozilla.com or mozilla.org domains attached are no less work spaces than the physical offices are.) White, heterosexual, able-bodied cisgender men who have cissexual bodies are never asked to provide an intellectual argument that they're human -- their humanity is taken as a given. That the rest of us apparently have to have a debate contest to prove it is why we're not, apparently, welcome or equal.

The blog software just gave me a blank page when I hit submit, so I'm not sure if the comment went through; I'm posting it here for posterity.

Of course, it's not that I'm surprised that any individual in my organization holds views that are inimical to my life and existence. Individuals are entitled to hold those views and express them using personal resources, during personal time. What I'm surprised about is that the institution has so far vociferously defended using institutional resources to promote the view that says I should be stamped out.

If you're hiring software engineers in the Bay Area (especially to do work on advanced programming languages) and your workplace doesn't tolerate hate speech against people in any protected class, please take a look at my résumé.

Edit: I have always maintained an internal rule that I'll delete any comments on this journal that use any of the silencing tactics listed at Derailing for Dummies or the Geek Feminism Wiki's list of silencing tactics. I've never had to employ that rule until now. There is plenty of derailing and silencing speech everywhere on the Internet; my blog doesn't need to be a place to host it.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (work)
I'm starting a job as a software engineer on the Research Team at Mozilla (where I interned from March to September this year), on January 2, 2012. I'll be working mainly from the San Francisco office and living in San Francisco (though I don't have housing yet -- let me know if you know of someone looking for a roommate or lease-taker-over!), spending some percentage of my time in the Mountain View office.

My term of employment concludes at the end of March, so anything is possible after that. Goat farming? Bicycle messengering? Returning to grad school, this time with mace? Or proving myself irreplaceable? Stay tuned...

What's in store for me in the meantime? Well, it probably looks a lot like this:

Lulu

(I'm the gray and white furry one with the green eyes.)
tim: Mike Slackernerny thinking "Scientific progress never smelled better" (science)
The International Conference on Functional Programming (ICFP 2010) program
committee is delighted to inform you that your paper #64 has been accepted
to appear in the conference.

Title: A Certified Framework for Compiling and Executing
Garbage-Collected Languages
Authors: Andrew McCreight (Portland State University)
Tim Chevalier (Portland State University)
Andrew Tolmach (Portland State University)


Uh, so, yeah. We're going to Baltimore!!!!111 And for those who didn't know, this is my first academic publication, ten years after attending my first ICFP and nine years after entering grad school for the first time.

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