tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
'We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.'

-- Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", 1963
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I think Yonatan Zunger's essay "Tolerance is not a moral precept" is mostly right-on (and I'm amused to see my friends' bicycle club/radical agitprop collective The Degenderettes in the featured photo), though I wish we'd been listening to the Black women who have been saying similar things for years (decades, maybe?)

I don't agree with the essay's framing of war as justifiable, since war is generally not a matter of self-defense but of offense to enrich capitalists. ("War ain't about one land against the next / It's poor people dying so the rich cash checks." -- Boots Riley.) What I do appreciate about the essay is that it calls attention to the existence of fundamental conflict of interests between groups that can't just be resolved through peaceful negotiation. I think radical redistribution of power and wealth is a better solution than war, but of course, some people might think the opposite.

That said, I agree with the central point that tolerance is not an absolute moral law, but rather, conditional on others' behavior. Zunger phrases this as a social contract, but I would phrase it instead in terms of relationships. As your roommate, it's wrong for me to leave my dishes in the sink every night if you always clean up your messes. But it would also be wrong for me to berate you about leaving a cup in the sink one night if normally, you do most of the cleaning (and that's not part of our explicit relationship agreement).

Tolerance is not about what I'm allowed to do to you, but rather, an emergent property of the relationship between you and me. It must arise from a relationship with back-and-forth and reciprocity. It is not given for free.

Almost 3 years ago, I wrote "Against Tolerance", for which I also chose a deliberately provocative title. My take there isn't so different from Zunger's. I was describing a situation like the "war" scenario that Zunger describes: the question of whether homophobes can lead diverse companies is ultimately about a situation in which somebody has already declared war on you. Brendan Eich declared war on me when he started paying politicians to strip away my civil rights. Under those circumstances, I had, and have, no obligation of tolerance towards him. In Zunger's phrasing, my primary priority becomes self-defense.

As I said, I dislike leaning on war metaphors, since they legitimize state violence (which is very different from the violence that individual oppressed people or small organized groups of oppressed people may use in self-defense; by definition, states are not oppressed), the basic principle is the same. Tolerance is not the operating principle when you're under attack, nor should it be.

In fact, I'm inclined to scrap "tolerance" altogether as a counterproductive word (like the phrases "pro-life" and "political correctness", which mean the opposite of what they superficially seem to) than to rehabilitate it as Zunger tries to do, but he provides a helpful framing for those who don't wish to abandon the signifier completely.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
In engineering we ask what-if questions all the time, for example: "What if the datacenter loses power?" This is a descriptive "what-if" because it's trying to identify a scenario that might happen. Further, you're probably asking this in a group of people who share a common goal: keeping a service running. And finally, you're willing to take "it doesn't matter" for an answer: if you're running on a managed platform where somebody else takes care of failover to another datacenter, and someone tells you that, you'll say, "OK, cool, we don't need to care."

In politics, what-ifs are much more likely to be prescriptive. Consider:
"What if women lie about rape?"
"What if women are biologically predisposed to be uninterested in science?"
"What if there's no discrimination against Black people in tech job hiring, and the absence of Black people in the field is solely due to inadequate education?"
"What if resources are scarce and there's not enough for everyone to meet their basic needs?"

People ask these questions, and others like them, because they want to influence how power gets distributed -- in other words, to have a political effect. They don't ask them in order to be prepared for something, they ask them in order to make something happen.

Asking about the datacenter doesn't make power failures any more likely. But asking whether women lie about rape has a direct effect on whether women report rape. Merely asking the question changes reality. Likewise, asking whether women are biologically predisposed to be uninterested in science has a direct effect on whether women choose to follow their interest in science as well as on whether male scientists believe "women shouldn't be here" and feel empowered to harass female colleagues. Asking whether there are no qualified Black candidates for engineering jobs has a direct effect on whether your colleagues see Black candidates as qualified. Again, merely asking the question changes reality, even before hypothetical answers get discussed.

The questions we ask have a direct effect on how we allocate resources. (Also see: [CW: anti-Semitism] Are Jews people? Find out after the break on CNN.) "I'm just asking questions" is not a "get out of thinking of the consequences of my speech, free" card.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I want to remember to quote these tweets from Samuel Sinyangwe from now on every time someone opens their mouth about "lowering the bar." To wit:

"Of all the facts I've tweeted #onhere, trolls seem to direct the most vitriol at those re: how obscenely white and male US institutions are.

These facts, I'm convinced, are the most challenging to white supremacy.

Because to acknowledge that white men make up nearly 90% of the governing party brings you to one of two conclusions...

Either you believe racism exists or you think white men are so uniquely qualified for nearly every position and nobody else in America is."


There's a dialogue in tech companies that often goes like this:
A: "We need to recruit more diverse candidates."
B: "How can we do that without lowering the bar?"
A: "I'm glad you ask! You see, we're going to hold 'diverse' candidates to the same standards and... [1/937]"

I would like to see it go like this:
A: "We need to recruit more diverse candidates."
B: "How can we do that without lowering the bar?"
A: "Your question is ill-formed, because the purpose of recruiting more diverse candidates is to raise the bar: to improve the quality of our staff by hiring people on the basis of their qualifications rather than because they look the same as existing staff."

B's question is inherently racist. You cannot ask that question without a base assumption that the explanation for the paucity of Black people in tech is that Black people are less competent than white people.

We need to stop justifying why women could be competent, why Black people could be competent, why Latinx people could be competent and instead: (a) call out the assumption of incompetence as unshared (B asks this question because they assume A shares their prejudice, and in the first dialogue, A neglects to make clear that they don't share it); (b) demand evidence for a competence gap rather than rushing to provide evidence against it.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)

"Assume good faith" -- ancient liberal proverb

"Treat every poisoned word as a promise." -- Liel Leibovitz, "What to Do About Trump? The Same Thing My Grandfather Did in 1930s Vienna" (2016-11-14)

"Should I encourage my employer to take a public stand against creating a Muslim registry? I don't know. Of course I wouldn't knowingly participate in the creation of a registry. But Trump wouldn't really do that, would he? Sure, he said he would, but it's such a ridiculous plan. Doesn't he know that? He must. He must have only said that to get votes; surely he couldn't really want or intend to do it."

This is what some of my fellow workers in the tech industry have been saying. Sure, everybody thinks the idea of creating a Muslim registry (or substitute any one of a number of other seemingly-ridiculous Trump campaign promises) is abhorrent, but we also think it's silly and impractical. Why bother taking a public stand in favor of something that's not going to happen?

"Assume good faith" is something that gets taught to white, middle-class Americans. Not all white, middle-class Americans internalize the message, and we're not the only ones who absorb it. But it's most present in those who have enough privilege to be able to suspend vigilance temporarily, while lacking the privilege needed to suspend vigilance for good. We are taught to assume the most charitable interpretation: when interacting with our family members, partners, co-workers, friends, or neighbors, we're taught to not jump to assuming the worst, to assume the other person means well and that if you perceive them acting in a way that's threatening or hostile towards you, to question your own assessment before you take defensive action. If your roommate never takes out the compost, maybe it's because you've never told them that you prefer the compost not to pile up in the kitchen -- to greet them when they get home from work one day with a cry of "Take out the goddamn pile of rot!!" would be unfair. If you get left off an email about a meeting to discuss the project you're leading at work, assume it was a typo rather than a plan to exclude you. And so on.

And in interpersonal relationships, that's often a good principle. That is, assuming good faith, as a personal practice, is a good principle; telling other people when they should assume good faith is a bad one (more about that in future work). The reason is that to the extent that you can choose who to live with, work with, and sleep with, it's a good idea to choose people you can trust. If you trust people, then it's not helpful to assume that they're out to get you. And if you don't trust the people in your life, you have to either work on your own ability to trust or get them out of your life, depending, before you level accusations. That's just common sense, right?

But "assume good faith" is very bad advice when dealing with fascist dictators. If your neighbor says something that sounds offensive or threatening to you, it's probably a good idea to at least make sure you heard them right before you call your lawyer. When a fascist dictator -- someone who's both inclined towards using violence to get what they want, and who has the power to act on that inclination -- says something that sounds offensive or threatening, it's a safe bet to assume that whatever the worst possible interpretation of their words is, that reflects the dictator's intent. That might be a bad way to operate in your close relationships, but is a good way to protect yourself and prepare for violence.

Treat every poisoned word as a promise. When a bigoted blusterer tells you he intends to force members of a religious minority to register with the authorities—much like those friends and family of Siegfried’s who stayed behind were forced to do before their horizon grew darker—believe him. Don’t try to be clever. Don’t lean on political intricacies or legislative minutia or historical precedents for comfort. Don’t write it off as propaganda, or explain it away as just an empty proclamation meant simply to pave the path to power. Take the haters at their word, and assume the worst is imminent.
-- Liel Leibovitz (ibid)

"That's just ridiculous." This is a comforting thing to tell yourself and others. Denial is one of the most powerful tools humans have for tolerating the intolerable. If you think the worst might happen, saying it won't happen will protect you against it, right? It's worked up until now, right?

"That's just ridiculous." Overreacting runs the risk of shame: of being told "you're too sensitive" or, worse, "you showed insufficient chill in the face of something that turned out to be no biggie." We face two possible futures. In one, we're all still alive and I've lived to be seen as someone who overreacted to the threat of a violent, xenophobic rapist with access to nuclear weapons. In the other, we're all dead, but my gravestone says "He had enough chill." I prefer the first one.

"That's just ridiculous." The more you call an idea ridiculous, the more ridiculous it will be, and the less likely it will be that anyone will act on it, right? Kids regulate each other's behavior with words like "you're being silly" -- the same strategy should work when we as citizens level it against a tyrant-in-waiting, right?

It's not ridiculous. It is scary. It's hard to face fear. No one who has power to do so is stopping a fascist from taking control over the United States. That's a scary situation to be in.

Many people associate this kind of fear with childhood, and remember when their parents or other adults would step in and let them know the monsters under the bed aren't going to eat them. Now that we're adults, it's comforting to assume that some benevolent authority figure is going to step in and tell the fascists they have to respect the rule of law. But there are no adults, except us. Denial, shame-avoidance, and dismissal are tools for surviving a situation in which you're powerless. But we still have power.

It's psychologically safer to laugh things off than to admit you're scared. But if you're so concerned with saving face, with protecting your self-image as a chill person who doesn't freak out over nothing, that you put up no resistance in the face of a violent, repressive regime, then how do you think you'll be remembered -- assuming there's anyone left to remember you?

tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I wanted to pull out so many quotes from The Hidden Author of Putinism
How Vladislav Surkov invented the new Russia
, by Peter Pomerantsev for the Atlantic (from 2014) that I thought this deserved its own post:


The brilliance of this new type of authoritarianism is that instead of simply oppressing opposition, as had been the case with 20th-century strains, it climbs inside all ideologies and movements, exploiting and rendering them absurd.

[describing a novel apparently written by Surkov] 'Egor is described as a “vulgar Hamlet” who can see through the superficiality of his age but is unable to have genuine feelings for anyone or anything'


Like liberals working for Fox News, the new Russian authoritarians use compartmentalization and cognitive dissonance in order to live with their own complicity:

When I asked how they married their professional and personal lives, they looked at me as if I were a fool and answered: “Over the last 20 years we’ve lived through a communism we never believed in, democracy and defaults and mafia state and oligarchy, and we’ve realized they are illusions, that everything is PR.”'


"Everything is PR" is similar to the phrase "virtual signalling" as used by white supremacist: the propaganda that no one holds sincere beliefs and anyone who appears to do so is just performing or trying to make you think they have beliefs:

'“Everything is PR” has become the favorite phrase of the new Russia; my Moscow peers were filled with a sense that they were both cynical and enlightened. When I asked them about Soviet-era dissidents, like my parents, who fought against communism, they dismissed them as naive dreamers and my own Western attachment to such vague notions as “human rights” and “freedom” as a blunder."


Who does the next paragrah remind you of? If his first name rhymes with "Kylo" and his last name rhymes with "Viannopoulous", you might be right.

'Surkov himself is the ultimate expression of this psychology. As I watched him give his speech to the students and journalists in London, he seemed to change and transform like mercury, from cherubic smile to demonic stare, from a woolly liberal preaching “modernization” to a finger-wagging nationalist, spitting out willfully contradictory ideas: “managed democracy,” “conservative modernization.”'


If this sounds like 4chan or rationalism, then you're right too:

"Surkov’s genius has been to tear those associations apart, to marry authoritarianism and modern art, to use the language of rights and representation to validate tyranny, to recut and paste democratic capitalism until it means the reverse of its original purpose."


I think the antidotes to the destruction of meaning and morality are science, math, engineering, emotional self-awareness, genuine art, earnestness, sincerity, vulnerability, relationships, and queer sex (and as a friend said, all good sex is queer to some extent). There is no divide between science and art, only a division between intellectual fields that suffer under toxic masculinity and ones that have a little more individual and group balance in terms of gender.

And that part about the description of Surkov's novel jumps out at me. Hipsterist detachment and irony as a direct path to inhumanity; 4chan's in charge now, not because they're fascists but because of their use of irony to evade the imperative to take moral stances. Shitposting is not a good system of government.
tim: Solid black square (black)
[CW: violence against women]

27 years ago today, 14 women were killed in an act of sickening violence at the École Polytechnique engineering school in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. They were targeted for being women and for being engineers.

Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

The man who murdered Bergeron, Colgan, Croteau, Daigneault, Edward, Haviernick, Laganière, Leclair, Lemay, Pelletier, Richard, St-Arneault, Turcotte, and Klucznik-Widajewicz said — before he killed himself — “I am fighting feminism”.

More
tim: Solid black square (black)
I can't sleep, so I'm writing down the things I wrote down on post-its over the past few days when I wasn't sure where to put them:

Racism is neither absurd nor irrational. It's self-interested. You can't teach something their salary depends on them not knowing.

What "diversity of opinion" means is that saying what's happening right now is normal and fine.

All y'all told me that I had to show more respect to white cis het men, more deference to white cis het men, because "diversity of opinion" etc. etc. But you don't get my labor today. I'm grieving; if you're not going to grieve with me, stay out of the way. If you've lost nothing, then you can't understand the loss that I'm grieving. If you can't accept without understanding, then stay out of the way.

What America stands for is racism, xenophobia, transmisogyny and other forms of misogyny, and rape culture, and it showed us that this Election Day. Don't forget that. When someone shows you who they are, believe them.

Right now, my friends and I are trying to decide between fight, flight, or freeze, and not everybody has the first two options. If you have other options, consider yourself lucky.

the rest of this is addressed to my friends and allies, known and unknown

You don't need to be better. This didn't happen because you weren't good enough.

You don't need to forgive, understand, listen to or empathize with Trump supporters. You don't need to comfort them about what they did, or temper your expressions of rage and grief to make them feel less guilty, because you do not need to set yourself on fire to keep somebody else warm.

You might feel like you didn't do enough to stop this. Forgive yourself, then start doing whatever it is you wish you had done.

"All the petty demons trying to break me in two
I was born stronger than any of you
It's alright
It's alright
It's alright"
-- the Mountain Goats, Hail St. Sebastian
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
[CW: homophobic slurs]

A friend forwarded this statement From Julie Norem, a professor at Wellesley College (my undergraduate alma mater):

There is now a lot of discussion of those in a "liberal bubble" having ignored the alienation and desperation of many Trump voters, and some claim that the widespread fear and analogies to Kristallnacht are overblown. I would have more sympathy for the first point and would be more reassured by the second if some white guys in a truck hadn't driven around campus yesterday, yelling about Trump's win and Hillary's defeat, screaming about "Wellesley dykes," and spitting at African-American students.

She adds that the two men were students at Babson College, a business school near Wellesley. These men, who will soon graduate with prestigious business degrees, are not being left out of the new economic order.
Edited to add: The names of the two men are Parker Rand-Ricciardi and Edward Tomasso.

Where I work, we have a tradition of posting memes on our intranet. I posted this today:
Cut for an image that includes a quoted slur )

in response to something an executive was telling us about the right way to respond to those who supported a fascist president-elect.

I learned as a child not to empathize with people who had no empathy for me. I learned that it was dangerous to do that. Reserving my empathy for those who were able to reciprocate was one way in which I survived; in which I kept myself as an individual rather than being absorbed into the organism of my mother's narcissism. (I wrote about that yesterday.)

Now as an adult, I'm being told to "reach across the aisle", to listen, to understand.

I'm being told to get out of my "filter bubble" and my "echo chamber", which is to say, to spend less time in the few spaces where I'm relatively confident I won't be called a faggot by people who think I'm cis or a dyke by people who think I'm trans.

I am being told to empathize with people who have no empathy with me. That thing I learned I had to not do in order to stay alive? I'm being told I'm a bad person if I don't do that.

On top of what blood I've already spilled, y'all want my emotional labor, too. Because empathy is emotional labor -- when entered into voluntarily, that's no bad thing. But the kind of empathy being demanded here is coerced emotional labor.

And I'm wondering if people who voted for Donald really want empathy from me, even if they say they do.

To empathize with somebody, you have to be in relationship with them, even for a moment. You have to recognize their humanity and they have to recognize yours. A relationship where that recognition only goes one way is a relationship between a child and their abusive parent, or the moral equivalent thereof.

(I do think it's possible to genuinely empathize with people who have no empathy for you. Some people do that. There seems to be a historical precedent of nailing them to a cross.)

So if you, Trump voter, want my empathy, you're going to need to see what my grief looks like, because you're going to have to see me if I'm going to have to see you.

What is it like to watch people grieve en masse because of something you did? I don't know. If I'm to try to empathize with you, I would have to know how you would answer that question.

I don't think you would answer. I think you would talk about how uncomfortable my grief makes you, and how it's cruel for me to make you suffer in that way. Maybe that is the answer.

We've been told "You need to have conversations with people different from you." If I'm going to have those conversation, I need an answer to this question. What is it like to watch people grieve en masse because of something you did?

Do you really want to see what my grief looks like? If you tell me that I'm not really grieving, it means you don't. If you tell me that it's not fair for me to hold you accountable for voting for a xenophobic rapist when you aren't personally a xenophobic rapist, then that means you don't. If you say that you personally did not drive through the Wellesley College campus and spit on Black students, refusing to acknowledge the part you played in making those Babson College students think it was okay to do that, then that means you prioritize not seeing my grief. If you deny that my feelings exist and derail the discussion to be about your feelings instead, then it means you don't want to see what my grief looks like.

You say you want me to reach out to you. You say it, and yet, you hide from me -- if you talk to me at all, you hide from me under narcissistic defenses like "You don't really feel the way you say you do", "It hurts me when you say you feel the way you do", or "Sure, I lay down with dogs, but I have no idea where these fleas came from."

You hide from me because you're scared to look at the damage you've done to me, to us.

When I posted that meme, the only response I got from someone on the "other side" I was supposed to reach out to said:

"And yet, you call people racist and sexist."

Paraphrasing: "you deserve to be called a faggot, because that is the punishment justly meted out to people who name racist and sexist behavior, people who question white and male cognitive authority."

Kiese Laymon wrote, about being called a racial slur:
I think and feel a lot but mostly I feel that I can't do anything to make the boys feel like they've made us feel right there... ("How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance")

You can't empathize with me because there is nothing I could call you -- not "racist", not "sexist" -- that would ever make you feel like I feel when you tacitly excuse anti-queer hate speech.

You can't empathize with me, and you don't want me to empathize with you. You don't want to see what my grief looks like.

Fear

Nov. 10th, 2016 02:40 am
tim: Solid black square (black)
I grew up under authoritarian parenting. I was not allowed to have a self, only to be a projection of what my (single, though that's only relevant grammatically) parent wanted me to be, wanted me to be to fill the holes in her own self-conception. What I thought and felt didn't matter; what I liked didn't matter. I left home at 16; more than half of my life has passed since then. I am just beginning to learn how to live as a survivor rather than as someone who denies they have anything to say they survived.

We elected a fascist president. Fascism is authoritarian parenting applied to an entire nation. Fascism says that if you have power, you get to do what you want, that the voices of the people you're doing things to don't matter. That was how I grew up. It's how all children grow up to some extent, but extremely so for me (that's been confirmed by an independent expert.)

And we have people saying it's not that bad. That the president-elect, whose to-do list before inauguration includes appearing in civil court to be sued for raping a 13-year-old girl, couldn't possibly be as bad as all the things he said he wanted to do. That the president isn't really all that powerful. That it's all going to be okay. That he couldn't possibly have meant any of the things he said while campaigning. That we're all going to be safe. Nobody has any factual basis to be saying any of this. If Donald can't become president for some reason (for example, if the civil suit against him concludes that he really did rape a 13-year-old girl), then Mike Pence will, the guy who wanted to legally require trans kids and teenagers to undergo electroshock therapy to try to make them cis, and who wants anyone who has a miscarriage to be legally coerced to hold a funeral for the embryo.

But anyway, most of the people who are saying this are either in denial or have little to lose as a result of a fascist regime taking over their country.

But not only am I in danger -- more so, my friends, my chosen family who are essential to me being alive as a queer person with no family of origin that is capable of loving me -- I'm being retraumatized, as a survivor of emotional abuse perpetrated by a narcissistic parent.

Like many narcissists, my mother was (or is) charming, and few people who meet her see her as a threat. So the questions people ask me when I talk about being a survivor tend to be along the lines of: "What did she do that was so bad? Was it really all that bad? Parents have it so hard, how can you blame them? They all do what's best for their children."

He can't really that bad, he won't really round up Muslims to put them in internment camps even though we have historical precedent for similar acts within the past 100 years, maybe some of the women who say he sexually assaulted them are lying about it.

This is traumatic for many of us, but for some of us, it's retraumatization as well.

As an adult, I thought that whatever happened in my life, it couldn't possibly be worse than what I experienced as a child, because children are completely powerless and I'll never be completely powerless again now that I'm grown. Now, I'm not so sure that's true, because fascist politicians' goal is to make us all their children, and they are not good parents. I still think that the worst times in my life are over forever, but now that I have people in my life who I care about and who care about me, I'm not sure that watching them get hurt will be easier to endure than what I endured alone from birth to age 16.

Experience teaches me that most people don't want to hear about trauma, even some people who have survived trauma themselves. So those of us who are the canaries in this coal mine will be ignored, and instead we'll keep hearing "everything is going to be okay" until we can't hear each other anymore.

Rita Mae Brown wrote "Never hope more than you work." Working requires learning from the canaries, not trying to tell them they're not really as dead as they think they are.

As survivors we get shamed for our learned helplessness, but having adapted to situations where we have no power might turn out to be a useful adaptation.
And I'm not kidding when I say that as survivors, we're adapted to situations like the ones we're in right now, where the one we're in right now is importantly different from abusive childhoods in that we have the freedom to work together with other like-minded adults to protect ourselves, our families (chosen and otherwise), and our children or future children. I'm no longer a powerless child, but an adult with a good credit score, employable in a skilled profession. I plan to make myself useful.

Some things I've been called for speaking truth:

"professional scolder"
"naïve relativist"
"toxic individual"
"a central pole of attrition within the FOSS community"
"anti-individualist, illiberal"
"misandrist"
"collects 'people he has slandered' the way some people collect stamps."
"the loud bitch responsible for the Debian takeover right now" [I've never had anything to do with the Debian community]
"professional histrionic victim"
"fat neck beard transgender scum"
"the meanest bitch on campus" (blast from the past)

To all of the people who said these things: you ain't seen nothing yet.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
[CW: rape]

In my state, California, there's currently a proposition on the ballot to abolish the death penalty: Proposition 62, on which you should vote Yes if you're eligible to do so. You should also vote No on Proposition 66, whose goal is to make the process of state-sponsored murder more efficient. So it seems like it's a good time to think a little bit about the desire for capital punishment as a socially-acceptable response to trauma.

Racism and Capital Punishment

The death penalty persists in the United States is to punish and control people of color, primarily Black people. The legacy of kidnapping and enslaving Black people and using their labor as the foundation of a new state is one of the things that differentiates the United States from almost every other economically powerful nation, and capital punishment is another. Historically, the application of capital punishment to people convicted of rape is one of the most clear-cut instances of the disproportionate application of capital punishment to people of color. The specific case I address here is a case of rape and murder, so keep in mind the history of how capital punishment has been applied to Black men accused of rape even though this particular case was a white-on-white crime. While capital punishment advocates often claim that the death penalty should be reserved for the "worst of the worst" criminals -- and the case I'm about to talk about is just such an example -- in general, the application of capital punishment to white defendants is quite inconsistent, and understanding that helps us understand how "worst of the worst" arguments serve to obfuscate the irreducible racism of capital punishment in the US. While the occasional white death row inmate might help dissemble the racist goals of the death penalty, the thing that predicts where it will be applied most strongly is race, not the severity of the crime.

Of course, people who support capital punishment don't generally try to be overtly racist, so they enlist survivors of violent crime -- generally, white survivors, who other white people sympathize with -- to camouflage their real agenda. Moreover, many survivors of violent crime don't want the people who hurt them to be executed. Nonetheless, there are survivors of violent crime who willingly enlist in the pro-state-sponsored murder campaign, as well as family members of murder victims, and I mean to clear away the cobwebs (well aware as I am that other people have expertly documented the white supremacy that lies beneath.)

Acceptable Trauma Survivors and Revenge

Survivors make good camouflage because most people find it at least somewhat understandable why people would want revenge against people who hurt them or their loved ones in the worst possible ways (sometimes misleadingly called "closure"). The desire for revenge -- specifically the form of revenge that involves having the government murder somebody for you -- is considered within the realm of reasonable responses to trauma, even though there is no consensus among the public on whether or not capital punishment is good public policy (among experts on law and violent crime, of course, consensus exists, and that consensus is that it's bad policy.) And yet we might ask: why?

Read more... )

Acceptable trauma survivors -- those who are victimized by people unrelated to themselves -- are supported when they wish to deal with their trauma by having the state kill people on their behalf. Unacceptable trauma survivors take violence into their own hands -- frequently against themselves, rarely against others. Honesty about the prevalence of violence and abuse requires empathy for all survivors, without granting any class of survivors special permission to potentiate violence. Breaking the cycle of abuse requires ending capital punishment and confronting our collective desire to punish. We can acknowledge that we are hurting while working as hard as we can to control our natural desire to hurt others in response, to show them what it feels like. We have to confront our collective desire for vengeance in order to be freed from the misguided hope that further bloodshed will heal us.

Thanks to Gwen, Jon and Ken for their comments on a draft of this essay.


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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: 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: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
[CW: Brief discussion of rape]

Alice: "You stepped on my foot! Ow!"

Bob: "It hurts my feelings when you say I hurt you by stepping on your foot. I'm a good person, and you're attacking me."

I hope we all agree that in this interaction, Bob is wrong. He's treating Alice as if she said that he stepped on her foot for the sole purpose of hurting him -- as if all her actions revolve around him, erasing her desire and need to protect herself.

But what about this interaction?

Carol: "Hey, guys, does anybody know the phone number for CVS?"

Eve: "Not all of us in the group you're addressing are guys. It would help if you used gender-neutral language."

Carol: "Stop attacking me! I'm not some kind of sexist asshole, and anyway, 'guys' is gender-neutral."

In this interaction, as in the first one, Carol is being narcissistic. She is treating Eve as if all of Eve's actions center around Carol: as if anything that Eve does that has the effect of hurting Carol must be done with the sole purpose of hurting Carol. Carol can't conceive that Eve might be asking Carol to use gender-neutral language because Eve doesn't like being misgendered (or because Eve doesn't mind, but knows other people in the group who aren't guys don't like it). She can't conceive that something might hurt her feelings, but not be done in order to hurt her feelings. So Carol changes the subject from Eve's feelings of hurt (or desire to protect others) at the misgendering use of "guys" to her own feelings of narcissistic injury over having her behavior corrected.

Now how about this example?

Faith: "I think you should know that Oscar is a rapist."

Grace: "I hate call-out culture so much. You're just trying to ruin Oscar's reputation. It's so mean of you to try to exile him from the community."

Grace's response reflects a similar misconception (perhaps accidental, perhaps deliberate): she hears Faith's damaging statement about Oscar, and she assumes that Faith only said it in order to harm Oscar. Perhaps Faith wishes Oscar no harm, but also wants to protect her friends from being raped. To keep her friends safe, it's necessary for her to say something that reflects poorly on Oscar. Grace assumes that because Faith says something negative about her friend Oscar that she's only doing it to hurt Oscar. Again, it's apparently inconceivable to her that Faith might value Oscar's well-being, but not enough to put her friends in danger by keeping quiet about Oscar's behavior of raping people.

When someone says you did something hurtful and you change the subject to how you're actually a good person, how your interlocutor doesn't really know you, and how you feel attacked, you're behaving like a narcissist. And you're committing a logical error: the assumption that nobody would act in a way that's disadvantageous to you unless they did it in order to hurt you. (This is also true when the person you're defending is a friend rather than yourself -- in that case you're still defending yourself, since you're attempting to protect yourself from the pain of having to admit someone you like and trust did something wrong.)
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Language affects thought, and part of why science isn't objective is that communicating scientific knowledge relies on language, which is always imprecise and governed by politics and culture.

In "The Egg and the Sperm", Emily Martin wrote about how the language used to describe human reproduction distorted the truth. Scientists, mostly cis men, were biased towards seeing sperm as active penetrators as the passive egg. In fact, as Martin detailed, eggs do a lot of active work to reject weak sperm and entice strong sperm. (Of course, even the metaphor of "weak" or "strong" sperm reflects socially mediated beliefs.)

Another example from reproduction is the misunderstanding of the biological function of menstruation that also arose from sociopolitical biases about gender. In a 2012 journal article, Emera, Romero and Wagner posited that the function of menstruation has been misunderstood due to sexist beliefs that bodies coded as female are intrinsically nurturing: the endometrial lining was previously construed as the uterus creating a nurturing environment for a potential embryo, where in fact, it might be more accurate to view it as a hostile environment that only the strongest embryos can survive (there's that "strong/weak" political language again.) I'm not qualified to assess on the accuracy of Emera et al.'s idea, but I am qualified to observe that assessing its validity has been so far hindered by the misapplication of gender stereotypes to biology.

Yet another example is that of same-sex sexual behavior in non-human animals; Bruce Bagemihl's book Biological Exuberance details the history of (again, mostly heterosexual cis male) scientists getting itgrievously wrong about the nature and function of sexual behavior. It would be funny if it wasn't so harmful. Just one example is the publication of a paper, in 1981, entitled "Abnormal Sexual Behavior of Confined Female Hemichienus auritus syriacus [Long-eared Hedgehogs]". It's not objective, rational, or scientific to label hedgehog sex as "abnormal" -- rather, it reflects social and political biases. And in that case (and many similar cases), politics kept scientists from understanding animal behavior.

In all of these cases, bad metaphors kept us from seeing the truth. We used these metaphors not because they helped us understand reality, but because they were lazily borrowed from the society as it was at the time and its prejudices. This is why scientific research can never be fully understood outside the context of the people who produced it and the culture they lived in.

Master/Slave: a Case Study

In computer science and electrical engineering, the term "master/slave" has been used in a variety of loosely related ways. A representative example is that of distributed databases: if you want to implement a database system that can scale up to handling a lot of queries, it might occur to you to put many servers around the world that have copies of the same data, instead of relying on just one server (which could fail, or could become slow if a lot of people start querying it all at once) in one physical location. But then how do you make sure that the data on all of the servers are consistent? Imagine two different whiteboards, one in the computer science building at Berkeley and one in the computer science building at MIT: there's no reason to assume that whatever is written on the two whiteboards is going to be the same unless people adopt a mechanism for communicating with each other so that one whiteboard gets updated every time the other does. In the context of databases, one mechanism for consistency is the "master/slave" paradigm: one copy of the database gets designated as the authoritative one, and all the other copies -- "slaves" -- continuously ask the master for updates that they apply to themselves (or alternately, the master publishes changes to the slaves -- that's an implementation detail).

A lot of the historical background behind the use of "master/slave" in a technical context already got covered by Ron Eglash in his 2007 article "Broken Metaphor: The Master-Slave Analogy in Technical Literature". Unfortunately, you won't be able to read the article (easily) unless you have access to JSTOR. Eglash examined early uses of "master/slave" terminology carefully and pointed out that "master/slave" entered common use in engineering long after the abolition of slavery in the US. Thus it can't be defended as "a product of its time." He also points out that "master/slave" is also an inaccurate metaphor in many of the technical contexts where it's used: for example, for a system with multiple hard drives where the "master" and "slave" drives merely occupy different places in the boot sequence, rather than having a control or power relationships.

But I think the most interesting point Eglash makes is about the difference between power as embodied in mechanical systems versus electrical systems:

A second issue, closely related, is the difference that electrical signals make. Consider what it meant to drive a car before power steering. You wrestled with the wheel; the vehicle did not slavishly carry out your whims, and steering was more like a negotiation between manager and employee. Hence the appropriateness of terms such as "servo-motor" (coined in 1872) and "servomechanism" (1930s): both suggest "servant," someone subordinate but also in some sense autonomous. These precybernetic systems, often mechanically linked, did not highlight the division of control and power. But electrical systems did. Engineers found that by using an electromagnetic relay or vacuum tube, a powerful mechanical apparatus could be slaved to a tiny electronic signal. Here we have a much sharper disjunction between the informational and material domains. And with the introduction of the transistor in the 1950s and the integrated circuit in the 1960s, the split became even more stark.

This coupling of immense material power with a relatively feeble informational signal became a fundamental aspect of control mechanisms and automation at all scales...

In light of Eglash's observation, it's worth looking harder at why some engineers are so attached to the "master/slave" terminology, aside from fear of change. The "immense material power" of an electronic signal can't be observed directly. Do engineers in a white-male-dominated field like talking about their systems in terms of masters and slaves because they need to feel like they're somebody's master? Does it make them feel powerful? Given that engineering has become increasingly hostile to people who aren't white and male as it has become more dependent on leveraging smaller and smaller amounts of (physical) power to do more and more, I think it's worth asking what work metaphors like "master/slave" do to make white male engineers feel like they're doing a man's job.

Bad Metaphors

"Master/slave" both serves a psychological function and reflects authoritarian politics, even if the person using that term is not an authoritarian. No one needs to consciously be an authoritarian, though, for authoritarianism to distort our thinking. Language derived from societies organized around a few people controlling many others will affect how systems get designed.

A master/slave system has a single point of failure: what if the master fails? Then there's no longer any mechanism for the slaves to keep each other consistent. There are better solutions, which constitute an open research topic in distributed systems -- discussing them is beyond the scope of this blog post, but I just want to point out that the authoritarian imagination behind both societies organized around slavery (we still live in one of those societies, by the way, given the degree to which the economy depends on the prison industry and on labor performed by prisoners) impoverishes our thinking about systems design. It turns out that single points of failure are bad news for both computer systems, and societies.

I conjecture that the master-slave metaphor encourages us to design systems that have single points of failure, and that the metaphor is so compelling because of its relationship with the continued legacy of slavery. I don't claim to be certain. People who design decentralized, peer-to-peer systems may not be any more likely to have egalitarian politics, for all I know. So I'm asking a question, rather than answering one: do fascists, or people who haven't examined their latent fascism, build fragile systems?

Names are important. Lazy evaluation, for example, wasn't too popular when it was only known by the name of "cons should not allocate." So master/slave is worth abandoning not just because the words "master" and "slave" evoke trauma for Black Americans, but also because flawed thinking about societies and flawed thinking about technology are mutually self-reinforcing.

Good metaphors have the power to help us think better, just as bad ones can limit our imagination. Let's be aware of what shapes our imagination. It's not "only words" -- it's all words, and people who write software should understand that as well as anyone. Metaphors are powerful. Let's try to be aware of how they affect us, and not suppose that the power relationship between people and words only goes one way.


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tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
Arguing over the terms of reform means trying to get people to understand complexity. It violates the old adage that in politics when you are explaining you are losing. Better to let the other side explain complex formulae while you line up behind an easily articulated view.
-- Michael J. Graetz and Ian Shapiro, Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight over Taxing Inherited Wealth
"Transphobia comes from ignorance. Cis people treat trans people badly because they just don't understand gender. If we take the time to educate them, it'll pay off in respect."

That's my impression of the premise behind most "trans 101" workshops, handouts, and books that I've seen. I think the premise is flawed, because asserting boundaries is incompatible with education. This is not to say that education is never necessary, just that exchange of ideas and boundary-setting shouldn't be intermingled freely, much as developing software and doing code review -- or writing a book and editing it -- are different activities. While I suspect what I'm about to say applies to other social power gradients besides just trans/cis, I'm going to focus here on "trans 101" education.

I believe education is extremely oversold as a means for effecting change. You cannot convince people that you are in possession of facts and truths (borrowing Rebecca Solnit's words) while you are educating them. And in the case of "trans 101" education, what we need to teach people is exactly that: that trans people are reliable narrators of our own life stories. But in order for us to teach people what they need to know, they have to believe it already! This is why the ubiquitous advice to "educate people before you get angry at them" is as ineffective as it is smarmy: you can't educate someone into treating you as a person.

"Trans 101" workshops, on the other hand, are situations where someone or a group of people (sometimes a trans person, sometimes a cis person, sometimes a mixed group) has volunteered to do the work of educating in a structured and planned way. This isn't like randomly telling people on the Internet that they should educate strangers for free -- there's a better return on investment, and it's not something people are coerced into doing.

In practice, though, most "trans 101" content I've seen, well-intentioned as it is, is fundamentally flawed. "Trans 101" materials often rely on infographics like various versions of the "Genderbread Person" diagram, and these pictures illustrate the fundamental flaws of the educational approach. Rather than embedding any version of that diagram in this post (bad publicity is still publicity, after all), I'll defer to an illustrated critique of the 'Genderbread Person' trope that articulates why all of the diagrams are reductive and misleading.

Rather than teaching cis people what sex is, or what gender is, or about the difference between gender identity, expression, and role (I can never remember what those all mean anyway), or what "performativity" means, you could save everybody a lot of time and set a boundary, specifically: "Everyone has the right to have their sex and gender, as self-defined at a given moment in time, recognized as valid. If you are a respectful person, you will respect that right and not cross a boundary by denying the validity of someone else's self-defined sex or gender." Here's how.

Tell, Don't Ask

A hidden assumption behind most "trans 101" content is that the educator's job is to persuade. It goes without saying in much trans 101 content that the speaker (if trans) is asking the audience for permission to be a person, or that the speaker (if cis) is trying to explain to the audience why they should treat trans people as people. No matter who's saying it, it's self-undermining. If you expect to be treated as a person, you don't ask for permission to be one.

"Meeting people where they are" is a commonly cited reason to tone down or simplify discussion of boundaries and self-determination in "trans 101" content. I think most people grasp the basic concept of boundaries, at least those who are old enough to have learned to not grab the other kids' toys and that you don't get to pull your mom's hair just because you want to. So if we "meet people where they are" on the common ground of boundaries, we'll share the understanding that boundaries are not negotiable and require no justification. Justifying a statement implies it's not a boundary -- it implies that you can negotiate or debate with me on whether or not I'm a person. Actually, I know more than you do about what my subjective experience is; your opinion isn't equally valid there.

I think the premise that "meeting people where they are" requires a great deal of explanation arises partially from the difficulty of functioning in a system where it's still not widely accepted that everyone gets to have bodily autonomy. Disability, children's rights, the right to an abortion, sexual assault, or consent to being assigned a sex/gender, are all examples where the conditional or contingent granting of bodily autonomy causes significant pain.

So stating boundaries isn't easy. But piling on the explanations and justifications doesn't help either. You don't take power by asking for permission. You don't demand respect by asking for permission. And there's no "please" in "I am a human being, and you had better treat me as one."

Eschew Obfuscation

You know those people who ask for a checklist, right? "Give me a list of words I should avoid using, so that I can be sure that no one will ever get mad at me again. If they get mad, I'll tell them you gave me the list and they should get mad at you instead." A lot of "trans 101" content panders to the desire to avoid doing hard interpersonal work yourself -- to formalize and automate empathy. Unfortunately, that is also self-defeating. Ideally, a "trans 101" talk should provide as few rules as possible, because checklists, flowcharts, and other rule-based approaches to respecting other people are just another site for people to exploit and search for loopholes.

The flowchart approach goes hand-in-hand with the peddling of various oversimplified models of sex and gender that have the supposed benefit from being different from the one that white American children were taught in elementary school in the fifties (that boys have a penis and grow up to be men, girls have a vagina and grow up to be women, and there's nobody else.) But trans people don't get oppressed because cis people don't sufficiently understand the nuances of sex and gender. Rather, cis people construct models of sex and gender that justify past oppression and make it easier for that oppression to continue. For example, teaching people that sex is "biological" and gender is in your mind doesn't make them any more likely to treat trans people as real people. We see this in the ongoing legislative attacks on trans people's right to use public accommodations: cis people who have learned that "gender identity" is self-determined while other people determine what your biological sex is have adapted to that knowledge by framing their hateful legislation in terms of "biological sex."

Remodeling sex and gender doesn't fix transphobia because a flawed model didn't cause it. You can't address fear with facts. Models are interesting and potentially useful to trans people, people who are questioning whether they're trans, and people who study science, culture, and the intersections between them. Everybody else really doesn't need to know.

Compare how pro-choice rhetoric fails when it revolves around enumerating reasons why someone should be allowed to have an abortion: what if you were a victim of rape or incest, or young, or sick, or you can't afford to raise a child, what if, indeed. What if nobody has the right to be in somebody else's body without that person's consent? You don't need a reason or an explanation for wanting to keep somebody else out of your body -- dwelling in your body is reason itself. Likewise, we don't need to furnish reasons or explanations for why you need to use the names and pronouns for someone that are theirs. We just need to say you must.

Know Your Audience

In "The Culture of Coercion", I drew a line between people who relate to others through coercion and those who build relationships based on trust:
  • A person operating on trust wants to be respectful, even if they don't always know how. These people are who "Trans 101" workshops try to reach. They are the majority. You don't need to give them reams of scientific evidence to convince them to be -- they decided to be respectful a long time ago. You don't have to bring reams of scientific evidence to convince them to respect. It muddies the waters when you do.
  • A person who operates on coercion isn't really sold on that whole "everyone is human" concept. Workshops cannot persuade these people. If someone doesn't accept the reality of others' personal boundaries, no amount of evidence or civil discussion will change that. Firmer enforcement of those boundaries will, and an educational workshop is not the tool for enforcing those boundaries.

Education requires being really, really clear on who you're trying to reach. And unfortunately, even trust-based people are likely to try to game the system when given a flowchart on how to be respectful -- well-intentioned people still look for ways to avoid feeling like they did something wrong, because because narcissistic injury is uncomfortable. The only circumstance under which you can teach is when your audience wants to know what your boundaries are, so they can respect them. So tell them!

Against Education?

I'm not really against education. Consciousness-raising, cognitive liberation, freeing your mind, getting woke, or whatever you want to call it is a prerequisite for organizing for change, especially when you're trans and are systematically denied language for describing who you are. But that is self-directed education, and I think that intentionally directing your education inwards -- in the company of like-minded people, with the goal of discovering the power you already have -- is the only way education changes the world.

In any case, education can't take place without boundaries -- classrooms have ground rules. Ask any teacher.


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tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
[twitter.com profile] moscaddie once wrote, "Dick is abundant and low-value." As she acknowledged later, this statement is cissexist, but I can borrow the phrasing without endorsing the cissexism:

Opinions are abundant and low-value.

[twitter.com profile] _danilo summarizes the co-optation of "diversity" in this Twitter thread: he observes that those who feel "marginalized by those who live in reality" demand inclusion because of "diversity of opinion."

Contorting "diversity" to demand more airtime for already-well-known beliefs relies on a fundamental misunderstanding of diversity. Diversity is a well-intentioned (if flawed) intellectual framework for bringing marginalized beliefs to the center. "Diversity of opinion" is a perversion of these good intentions to reiterate the centering of beliefs that are already centered.

Failure to explicitly define and enforce boundaries about which opinions a community values has the effect of tacitly silencing all but a very narrow range of opinions. That's because speech has effects: voicing an opinion does things to other people, or else you wouldn't bother using your time and voice to do so. (Stanley Fish made this point in his essay "There's No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It's a Good Thing, Too" [PDF link].) Everybody thinks some opinions are harmful and should be suppressed -- invoking "diversity of opinion" is a derailing tactic for disagreements about which opinions those are.

We do not need more opinions. We need more nuanced, empathetic conversations; more explicit distinguishing between fact and opinion; and more respect for everyone's expert status on their own lived experience. People who say they want more opinions actually want fewer opinions, because they are invariably arguing for already-privileged opinions to receive even more exposure. We do not need to value diversity of opinion; there are other values we can center to guide us closer to truth.
Read more... )


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tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
Edited to add: The quote turns out to be from a fake news site, but calling the governor's office can't hurt!

At a press conference today, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory took further steps to ensure that his controversial bill, HB2, will be upheld when it comes to law enforcement. McCrory announced that his office has setup a 24-hour hotline for individuals to call if they witness someone not abiding by the new law.

“If you see a woman, who doesn’t look like a woman, using the woman’s restroom, be vigilant, call the hotline, and report that individual.” McCrory told reporters. “We need our state to unite as one if we’re going to keep our children safe from all the sexual predators and other aberrant behavior that is out there.”

Tom Downey, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office, explained the new hotline to reporters.

“Beginning today, individuals that notice any kind of gender-suspicious activity in the men’s or women’s restrooms are encouraged to call the new ‘HB2 Offender Hotline’,” Horner said. “We encourage North Carolina’s residents to take photographs and report as much detail as possible when calling. With the information gathered from this hotline, we’ll be working closely with local law enforcement agencies to make sure this law is enforced and those who break the law see jail bars. We are sending a clear message to all the transsexuals out there; their illegal actions and deviant behavior will no longer be tolerated in the state of North Carolina."

[...]
To report suspicious bathroom activity, North Carolina residents can call the ‘HB2 Offender Hotline’ at 1-800-662-7952. For individuals living outside of North Carolina, please call (919) 814-2000. To file a complaint after normal business hours, call (919) 814-2050 and press option 3.


-- ABC News report


(Note: I struck out the 919-814-2000 number. It doesn't accept voicemail and when I called during East Coast business hours, I got a recording saying to call back during business hours. The 800 number appears to reject calls from non-North-Carolina area codes.)

I encourage you to use your own words, but if you don't know what to say, here's a script you can use when leaving a message at the 919 number, or both numbers if you have a North Carolina phone number you can call from. I adapted this script from a post on Tumblr by [tumblr.com profile] lemonsharks.

I am calling to report suspicious activity.

It is very suspicious that the state of North Carolina is spending money enforcing a law whose sole purpose is to harass trans people and stop them from participating in public life. This would be suspicious even if North Carolina didn’t have a child poverty rate of over 25%. 

It’s suspicious that people who are not trans are enacting this kind of legislative violence against trans people. It’s suspicious that they have not reflected on their own fear, asked themselves what they are so afraid of, rather than projecting their unexamined fear outward onto vulnerable people.

I think you need to investigate this immediately. Thanks for your attention. Goodbye.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
Much of the conflict between "social justice warriors" and their antagonists arises from a conflict between mutual trust as a political foundation, and coercion (arising from distrust) as a political tactic. (I previously wrote about this conflict in "The Christians and the Pagans".)

People who are used to operating on coercion assume the worst of others and both expect to be coerced into doing good, and expect that they will have to coerce others in order to get what they want or need. People who are more used to operating on trust assume that others will usually want to help and will act in good faith out of a similar desire for mutual trust.

I want to be clear that when I talk about coercion-based people, I'm not talking about sociopaths or any other category that's constructed based on innate neurological or psychological traits. In fact, people might act coercion-based in one situation, and trust-based in another. For example, a white feminist might act like they're trust-based in a situation that involves gender inequality, but coercion-based when it comes to examining racism. And I'm also not saying people never cross over from one group into another -- I think it can happen in both directions. But to stop relying on coercion requires work, and there are few incentives to do that work. There are, however, a lot of incentives to give up trust in favor of coercion (or at least pretend to) and give up your empathy.

If you assume the worst of other people, of course you won't be able to imagine any way to achieve your goals other than coercion. Assuming the worst isn't a character flaw -- it's taught, and thus, can be unlearned. At the same time, experience isn't an excuse for treating others badly (and people who assume the worst of others will treat others badly, partly because it helps make their assumptions self-fulfilling, removing the need for them to change their assumptions and behavior). We are all obligated to do the work that it takes to live with others while minimizing the harm that we do to them.

Read more... )


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tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
The question of whether "male" means something different from "man", and whether "female" means something different from "woman", has come up in two different situations for me in the past few weeks. I like being able to hand people a link rather than restating the same thing over and over, so here's a quick rundown of why I think it's best to treat "male" as the adjectival form of "man" and "female" as the adjectival form of "woman".

I prioritize bodily autonomy and self-definition. Bodily autonomy means people get to relate to their bodies in the way that they choose; if we're to take bodily autonomy seriously, respecting self-definition is imperative. If you use language for someone else's body or parts thereof that that person wouldn't use for themselves, you are saying that you know better than they do how they should relate to their body.

For example: I have a uterus, ovaries, and vagina, and they are male body parts, because I'm male. Having been coercively assigned female at birth doesn't change the fact that I've always been male. Having an XX karyotype doesn't make me female (I'm one of the minority of people that actually knows their karyotype, because I've had my DNA sequenced). Those are male chromosomes for me, because they're part of me and I'm male. If I ever get pregnant and give birth, I'll be doing that as a male gestator.

I don't know too many people who would want to be referred to as a male woman or a female man, so i'm personally going to stick to using language that doesn't define people by parts of their bodies that are private. And no, you can't claim parts of my body are "female" without claiming I am - if they're female, whose are they? Not mine.

If someone does identify as a male woman or as a female man, cool. The important thing is that we use those words to describe them because those are the words they use to describe themself rather than because of what sociopolitical categories we place them in based on their body parts.

For extra credit, explain why the widespread acceptance of the sex-vs.-gender binary is the worst thing that ever happened to transsexual people.

Further reading: [personal profile] kaberett, Terms you don't get to describe me in, #2: female-bodied.
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