tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (not offended)
“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.” -- Audre Lorde

Do you only dislike bigotry when it comes from people you dislike? (hat-tip to [twitter.com profile] Rohboto)

In private email, I was asked what I thought about Brendan's blog post "Inclusiveness at Mozilla". Some people have been calling this an "apology", perhaps because of this sentence: 'I can only ask for your support to have the time to “show, not tell”; and in the meantime express my sorrow at having caused pain.' This means nothing to me without an understanding of why he caused pain and a commitment not to do it again, both of which are absent.

Some people have defended Brendan by saying he only made one donation to an anti-queer cause, six years ago. Actually, in addition to that well-known donation, he has also donated 22 times between 2003 and 2010 to Tea Party congressperson Thomas McClintock, who represents California's 4th Congressional district (in Eastern California, far from the Bay Area). The last donation to McClintock was three and a half years ago. You can confirm this for yourself using California's election contribution database and the federal disclosure database. (Thanks to [twitter.com profile] techgirlwonder for pointing this out.) McClintock wrote this on his own web site about Proposition 8:
Marriage is a unique institution in which a man and a woman summon a child into the world – creating a unique tapestry of responsibilities. Our marriage laws are designed to support those responsibilities and are simply inapplicable to any other kind of relationship. Lincoln asked, “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog? The answer is four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.” And calling a homosexual partnership a marriage doesn’t make it one.
In any case, Brendan didn't directly address these 22 contributions to McClintock or his 2008 contribution to the pro-Prop.8 campaign on his blog, much less indicate that he no longer agrees with these positions or is doing anything to remedy the harm he did. (Hint: an equivalent donation to an organization that fights suicide among queer kids, or promotes anti-bullying campaigns in schools, would be a good start.)

An apology contains at least three things: an acknowledgment that you did something wrong, an explanation of why it was wrong so that others can see you understand why your actions were wrong, and an explanation of what you are doing to remedy the wrong that you did. Despite writing a few rather lengthy blog posts, Brendan has offered none of these, and thus has not apologized.

Why does it matter? Can't we just leave the past behind? [twitter.com profile] hypatiadotca posted a quotation that I like:
"Forgiveness is a link between the past and the future, it's not the restoration of the past prior to the injury." --Louise Arbour

Apologizing for past wrongs doesn't undo the past, but it does help rebuild trust and provide assurance that further abuse (or at least not the same kind!) won't occur in the future. We've seen none of that -- only tone policing and attempts at creating diversions. The message I take away from reading Brendan's blog posts is "I'lll still try to destroy your family, but I won't be rude to you to your face. Keep writing code for me!"

When someone attacks your family and wants forgiveness, you can't just hug it out. It is the responsibility of people who have abused their power to rectify the harm they've done and show that they've learned. It's not our responsibility as oppressed people to understand their motivations (beyond what we already have to do to survive in the world they run!) or to have a nice talk with them where we politely ask for the dignity they've stolen from us. Sometimes people change and stop doing hurtful things, but when they do not, it's because they stand to benefit from hurting people (or at least think they stand to benefit) -- not because we as oppressed people have failed to provide a clear enough explanation of our pain.

Honestly, I'm pretty tired of explaining this stuff and I would rather be writing some code. I have the nagging feeling that I've given the bigots far more time and attention than they're worth, but the issue is less any individual bigot than the way that organizations structurally tend to support and defend bigotry -- even to the point of calling bigots "allies" -- when there is no effort made to counter this tendency. I'm also only human and am disappointed in seeing people who I know are capable of doing better go beyond the minimum necessary for job-preservation to defend their company at the expense of our community.

I wish that I could avoid dealing with sexism, transphobia, and homophobia by logging out of Twitter or not reading blogs, but for me, it's not that easy. I can't earn my livelihood without interacting with people who, at any given moment, may remind me that I'm less of a person and make me pay for it if I object.

Edited to add:[twitter.com profile] PretendMD points out opensecrets.org, which lists several more donations Brendan made, including $1000 to Pat Buchanan in 1991 and 1992 and and $2500 to Ron Paul in 1996 and 1998. We're talking about a total of roughly $10,000 of donations over a period of 19 years, between 1991 and 2010. The man isn't being vilified over one donation.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
Tolerance: the ability to accept, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant -- Merriam-Webster English Dictionary

Today, Mozilla announced the promotion of Brendan Eich to the position of CEO. In the first half of 2012 (during my first months as a full-time engineer at Mozilla), Brendan was publicly criticized for having donated a large amount of money to support the anti-universal-marriage Proposition 8 referendum. My friend and former colleague Christie Koehler summarizes that in her blog post from today.

If I might summarize something that Christie and a few other queer Mozillans said about this, they trust Brendan as a leader because he doesn't insert his views on their relationships into professional situations. And in my experience, this is true: he hasn't made any comments in the workplace that I was present for, or aware of, about other people's sexuality.

But we know that Brendan has already inserted his views on our relationships where those views don't belong: into the workings of the government, by means of making a political donation. If I can't trust him not to spend money on making sure that I wouldn't be able to visit my dying partner in the hospital, why would I trust him not to insert his views on the genuineness of my relationships into the workings of the company?

I can't read minds. But I do have a hard time understanding how somebody could sincerely believe that queer people in relationships love each other -- that their love is just as real and valuable as the love that heterosexual people in relationships have for each other -- and yet, financially support legislation that subjugates the first group in order to elevate the second. If someone doesn't believe that I am capable of being in a loving relationship, how can that person and I have a working relationship based in mutual respect?

How much technical work do you have to contribute to earn the right to have your bigotry overlooked? Everyone, of course, has the right to be a bigot. But everyone else also has the right to hold bigots accountable. Political opinions are absolutely a valid criterion for whether or not to promote someone to a position of greater power -- when those political opinions involve whether or not a certain group of people gets to be considered human.

False Dismissal

You might say: "Isn't that exaggerating, Tim, to say that Brendan doesn't consider you to be a human being? He just opposes your relationships being accorded the same legal status as his own."

But if marriage isn't a big deal, why the hell does the right wing fight so hard -- and spend so much of their hard-earned money -- to keep it a privilege available only to heterosexuals? Their behavior shows that it is a very big deal. The freedom to marry is part of what it means to be an adult in Western culture. In general, infringement on the freedom to be with the partner of one's choice is not well-tolerated, so long as everyone involved is considered legally able to consent. The one exception is when the relationship isn't between a cis man and a cis woman. For those people who would only consider entering into a committed relationship with someone of the same gender, that policy sends a message that their relationships are not as valuable -- are not something that the state wishes to encourage. And so, in a way, those people are prevented from being considered full adults. A slightly different message gets sent to those of us whose relationships aren't constrained by gender: the government tells me that some partners I might choose are acceptable and worthy of encouragement (women), and others aren't. Actually, in my case, there's a third message: it's unclear to me whether I'd be allowed to legally marry at all if I tried, because not all of my government documents reflect the same sex marker, and I have every reason to believe that the rules would be applied in such a way as to cause maximal harm to me.

If you care about human rights, you ought to find this state of affairs to be an insult to the sanctity of human intimacy. It is a very big deal.


Mozilla is a company that claims privacy as one of its core values. Someone who advocated for universal Internet filtering of obscene content, for example, would probably not be able to ascend to the position of CEO of Mozilla. That is because most Mozillans probably wouldn't trust such a person to carry out Mozilla's mission, which involves defending a certain set of ethical principles and not just maximizing profit.

Does everybody deserve privacy, or just heterosexual people? Contributing money to ensure that, if I had a male partner who was severely hurt in a car accident and on the brink of death, I wouldn't be able to see my partner before he died -- well, I'd say that's a pretty serious violation of my privacy, since the restriction is contingent on my partner being male. So long as that person consents to enter into a relationship with me, I ought to be able to have a relationship with someone of any gender -- the details ought to be private to me, and not something that the state can incentivize.


"Why don't you let Brendan keep his personal life separate from his professional life, Tim?" Well, I'll be happy to do that when he stops interfering in my personal life. Shouldn't he be able to give money to whom he chooses? Isn't it prying into his personal life to hold him accountable for those choices? Well, it sure must be hard to have people snooping into your personal life, where they don't belong. I wonder what that's like? When people like Brendan abuse their power to try to enact policies that limit my freedom, that may be an abstract moral game for them, but it actually affects me and people like me. I can't possibly separate Brendan's views from my personal life -- by making the political contribution that he did, he took that choice away from me -- so (if I was still a Mozilla employee) I'm not sure why I would be expected to afford him the privilege of separating his views from his professional life.

In this case, as it often is, the imaginary chasm between personal conduct and professional conduct effectively shields people who abuse their power from the consequences of their actions. The fictional divide between the codes of ethics people apply in their private and public lives is, in this case, an excuse to hurt people without being held accountable for it. Brendan is the same person whether he is writing a check to an anti-marriage-equality group or giving a speech on behalf of Mozilla. His conduct in both realms reflects on his character. I don't see any evidence for the idea that each person can sustain one set of ethics for operating personally and a different one for operating in the workplace while maintaining their integrity.

The importance of trustworthy leadership

I'm borrowing the phrase "trustworthy leadership" from Matthew Garrett's "The Importance of Trustworthy Power Structures", which is essential reading.

If you are saying that you can trust somebody who spent money to ensure the continued policing of my relationships, what you're really saying is that you don't think my privacy is important. If you are saying that a person who doesn't believe that queer people are fully human can be a trustworthy leader for an organization you value, you are really saying that it's okay to dehumanize me. Especially in an organization that says it's fundamentally about preserving openness and freedom in one of humanity's most important communications media, it is simply unjustified to ignore a leader's views on whether people deserve the freedom to choose who they form relationships with.

By the way, this is not about Brendan's personal opinions or any desire on my part to change them -- I'm much more interested in structures than in individuals. Saying "I disagree with his views, but look how useful this person is" is also something that reflects on the nature of the people around him, especially those at a similar level of power in the organization. Ultimately, it's not about one person, but about an entire community that is happy to tell its queer contributors that their safety isn't as important as one person who is deemed so useful to the organization that he is exempt from upholding the ideals of fairness and equality. Did anybody who was involved in selecting him for this position think about what kind of message this would send to queer Mozilla employees, or queer Mozilla volunteers, or queer people who are thinking about joining the organization?

I respect Christie, Lukas, and other Mozilla folks who have commented with their support for Brendan. I also respect anyone who chooses to stay silent and continue their involvement with Mozilla -- earning a livelihood isn't easy for most of us, and it's an understandable choice to continue at a place that generally feels comfortable even if one can't countenance decisions made at the executive level. But I have to express my dissent nonetheless. To me, the question of whether or not I deserve to be a full citizen isn't something that we can agree to disagree on. Asking me to accept what feels like hate to me (regardless of whether the person engaging in actions that threaten my well-being feels they are being hateful) in the name of "tolerating differences" or "diversity of opinion" is an act that twists words past the point where they mean anything. Hate doesn't deserve the dignity of being welcomed as an acceptable difference of opinion. To me, denying the dignity of even a single human being is an act of violation against the humanity of every one of us.

Fifty years from now, if I'm fortunate enough to be around, I expect to be explaining to my grandchildren why heterosexual people were once afforded special privileges. I'm as certain of this as I am of anything else that I can't prove: much as nobody could be found after Watergate who voted for Richard Nixon, it won't be long until nobody will admit having voted for the acts of legislative violence against vulnerable minority groups that are today considered within the acceptable range of political variation. So why not stop hating now and avoid the rush? And why not stop enabling other people's hate, while you're at it? I say "enabling" because that is what it means to tolerate hate as a difference of opinion; there is no way to be neutral about the dehumanization of any group of human beings. Bigots who are "tolerated" feel empowered and supported in their hate; we needn't retaliate against their bigotry with violence, but neither should etiquette keep us from letting them know that their behavior is unacceptable.

The question of whether queer people should be treated as people is not a political issue, at least not in the sense that it's petty or procedural. I can agree to disagree with people who hold differing views even on some very important issues, such as gun control or traffic laws. I can't agree to disagree on the question of whether I'm a person under the law. Disagreeing with my humanity isn't like disagreeing about whether a programming language should have static typechecking. My refusal to tolerate people who want to erase my civil rights isn't some hip form of bigotry on my part. Rather, it's the only way for me to respect myself.

Postscript: Again, I don't think it's a bad thing that some Mozillans who are queer are expressing willingness to set aside the past and work with Brendan because they believe in those aspects of Mozilla's mission that can be separated from universal human rights. It would be a nice gesture on Brendan's part if he would acknowledge the sacrifice these individuals are making by donating $1000 to an organization that supports LGBTQ rights. Surely he can do that without having to agree; since he wants us not to read anything into his donation to the campaign for Proposition 8, we can certainly grant him the favor of not reading anything into his support for a pro-LGBTQ organization. It's only fair in return for the favor that queer Mozillans are doing by working with him despite their disagreement.

I find it telling that several queer Mozillans have felt they needed to make a statement that they are willing to work with Brendan even though he sees their relationships as inferior to his, whereas Brendan has made no accompanying statement that he will treat queer employees equally to heterosexual employees, putting aside his views about their ability to love others. Nor has there been a statement from any other executive that they feel that Brendan will be able to treat queer colleagues as first-class citizens in the workplace even while treating them as second-class citizens when participating in the political process. A relationship where only one party is expected to compromise while the other stands its ground unconditionally is an abusive relationship.

n.b.: I'm not a Mozilla employee any longer, though I was an intern at Mozilla in 2011 and was a Research Engineer at Mozilla from January 2012-November 2013, when I resigned in order to move to a startup.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
It took me about six weeks, but I finally finished reading Samuel Delany's recent novel _Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders_. Maybe I just have a kink for long books -- it's 804 pages and, like _Infinite Jest_ (which is even longer), I suspect it's going to be one of those books that keeps being important to me for a really long time. (The third one like that is _A Suitable Boy_ by Vikram Seth, though it hasn't stayed with me quite the same way _Infinite Jest_ has; I've also only read it once.)

In lieu of more thoughts, some quotations from it:

"'There ain't no normal," Shit said. 'That's what he always told me.' With his scruffy beard, Shit pointed his chin toward Dynamite. 'There's just comfortable and uncomfortable. And I like to be comfortable with pretty much everything.'" (p. 305)

"'Well--' Eric looked back up and put his hand on Shit's warm shoulder--'state supported marriage comes with a whole lot of assumptions about how it's gonna be, a history of who has to obey who, when you're justified in callin' it quits, all sorts of things like that. Now, you could agree with each other to change some of those things or do 'em differently, but for thousands and thousands of years gay men and women didn't have even that--except for a few Christian monasteries here and there, where the monks were allowed to marry each other. But nobody likes to think about those. For us, decidin' to be with someone else wasn't a matter of acceptin' a ready-made set of assumptions. You had to work 'em all out from the bottom up, every time--whether you was gonna be monogamous or open; and if you was gonna be open, how you was gonna do it so that it didn't bother the other person and even helped the relationship along. Workin' all that stuff out for yourselves was half the reason you went into a relationship with somebody else. We had some friends once--back when we lived in the Dump--that was faithful for ten months out the year, but for two months they'd go on vacation and do all their tom-cattin' around.' He realized he was making that up, but hell, it was plausible. 'Then they'd be faithful again. But that's how they liked to do it. Then there were guys like us that just had to make real sure that the other person was feelin' good about things, when they did it and knew they were number one and didn't mind. See, that's what people who get married don't have. Or don't have in the same way." (p. 785-786)

"'Bein' a pervert was the only was I ever learned anything worth knowin'.'" (p. 792)

There's also this epigraph, which, if I ever wrote papers anymore, I would try to include in a paper about GC:

"Except there's garbage, which is part of what we're trying to include in our work and our thought, which is to say, we are attentive still to what remains, what gets tossed away and off. We want to include the trash in many ways, thinking of this refuse according to all sorts of disposal systems." -- Avital Ronell
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
A few days ago I was listening to some Vienna Teng albums on Spotify, and her song "City Hall" came up. I realized that this post -- from my LiveJournal on February 16, 2004 -- was almost nine years old. So here it is, nine years today.

If I try to think back, I don't think I thought then that we'd still be fighting for basic dignity and respect nine years later, at least not with respect to the particular issue of whether marriage should be for everyone.

We went to City Hall, in San Francisco, and helped same-sex couples get married! And I met [livejournal.com profile] ubiquity, who I hadn't expected to see at all despite having read her post where she said she was coming here this weekend, since at that point I didn't know I was also going! ([livejournal.com profile] karenbynight and [livejournal.com profile] yakkette apparently got turned away due to an excess of volunteers, and [livejournal.com profile] wkfauna -- wisely given the former -- decided not to make the trek up. And I must thank [livejournal.com profile] wintersweet, who was there on Saturday to perform ceremonies, for passing along the information so that I could be there in the first place!)

We'll display our Assessor-Record Volunteer nametags proudly in the house, though neither of us did much assessing or recording. We handed out donuts for the first few minutes -- if there's anything happier than handing out Krispy Kremes to people taking advantage of their first chance to get married, I don't know what. For the rest of the day we stationed ourselves along the line of people waiting and checked their license application forms for validity. This was surprisingly important, since many people don't understand the concept that when they say "the name on your ID has to match the name you put on the form *exactly*", they mean "don't put down 'John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith' when your license says 'John J. Smith'."

We also had to check that they'd received the booklet on "Your Future Together" that the state is legally required to hand out, and which mostly consists of information on pregnancy (not particularly relevant, since although same-sex couples might have kids, they probably wouldn't do it accidentally) and STDs (which unmarried same-sex couples presumably know more about than married different-sex couples). As one guy commented, "We've been together 24 years." And then there was the couple both of whom were named Kenneth and both of whom were over 60, of whom the older one couldn't remember what his occupation was (he'd put down "Retired" but they wanted the previous job in those cases), and the couple whose members had the same birthdays as David and I (not the same years), and the guy who had to ask his partner what his own occupation was because he forgot...

If I were ever inclined to believe that marriage was love, today would have been that moment. And it's somehow inconceivable to think of the people who will presumably be suing tomorrow in order to protect marriage by stripping 2500+ people of their marriage licenses. I wonder how many of them are just parroting lines they've been told and have never actually met a gay person and can therefore believe that they're all purple-furred monsters with horns, and how many of them actually could have stepped inside City Hall today, watched and listened to what was going on for five minutes, and still believe that letting (mostly) normal-looking people with kids and jobs and dogs get married was a threat to Western civilization. In the first case, I can understand how it's easy to unthinkingly absorb stereotypes. I just can't possibly imagine what it's like to be inside the mind of the second kind of person, any more than I can imagine what it's like to be a jellyfish or a doorknob.

But at least for five days, love won out over hate in San Francisco, and I'm glad to have been there to see part of it.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I promised I was going to post something related every day until I reached 20 donors for the Ada Initiative for my 32nd birthday. So far: 3 down, 17 to go!
I'm going to start with Valerie Aurora's absolutely brilliant post, 'Connecting the dots: "Everyday sexism" and the École Polytechnique massacre'. Valerie Aurora is a co-founder of and executive director of the Ada Initiative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you agree with me that the Ada Initiative's work is important, please wish me a happy 32nd birthday and make a donation. And then let me know. By doing so, you can be as cool as [personal profile] juli, [personal profile] etb, and Henry!
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Back in July, a person claiming to be a Mozilla community member made threatening comments on my colleague Christie Koehler's blog. The comments were also directed at me, referring to "you two" -- Christie and me being two of the people who have been most outspoken about Mozilla's problems with equality. The anonymous commenter wrote "we don't want you around", and told us that if we didn't like Mozilla's policies about discrimination and harassment, we should go somewhere else. It's unclear which "we" the commenter intended to speak for.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Problem with Equality

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

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

Disclaimers: please read them.

About 30 more paragraphs )

tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
In the space of 24 hours, a place that I thought was relatively safe for me has flipped to seem totally unsafe. I linked to the Planet Mozilla admin post before; most of the subsequent comments have defended "free speech" (which is to say, bullies' right to bully) and demanded that those of us who are LGBTQ prove our humanity. I had this to say in response:

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

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

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

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

Edit: I have always maintained an internal rule that I'll delete any comments on this journal that use any of the silencing tactics listed at Derailing for Dummies or the Geek Feminism Wiki's list of silencing tactics. I've never had to employ that rule until now. There is plenty of derailing and silencing speech everywhere on the Internet; my blog doesn't need to be a place to host it.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
"Whenever I hear some white queer talking about moving to Portland, I assume it’s because they want to be among their white brethren, because there are more white queers in portland than there are people of color. I wish them good luck in their separatist project in getting away from the rest of us. None of you white people INTEND to do this, but it’s what it amounts to and it’s sort of hilarious whenever I hear one of you say that you’re committed to anti-racism, and you also wish you could move to Portland, thus making the blinding whiteness of that city even more pristine.

This is pretty much common knowledge about Portland, isn’t it? When I was growing up, Portland was where the racist skins came to visit from and beat up people. And even Wikipedia says: “While Portland’s diversity was historically comparable to metro Seattle and Salt Lake City, those areas grew more diverse in the late 1990s and 2000s. Portland not only remains white, but migration to Portland is disproportionately white, at least partly because Portland is attractive to young college-educated Americans, a group which is overwhelmingly white.”

IT’S GETTING WHITER ALL THE TIME! I am not surprised you couldn’t find any trans women of color."

-- Coxy Rawr Michael, commenting on PrettyQueer

An equally awesome reply:

"I haven’t ever commented here, but I have to just AMEN this comment about Portland as a white queer haven.

As a queer woman of color, I am consistently astounded by the way that white queers who flock to Portland loooove to talk a good game about their anti-racist credentials, all the while never acknowledging that their voluntary migration to an incredibly white and super racist city that I have NEVER heard a good thing about from my queer POC friends might be part of the problem.

I mean, I get it – people hate to take macro-level responsibility for the potentially oppressive impact of their individual choices, but god damn. Once in my life, I would love to hear from a white queer who claims anti-racist politics what the draw is…"

-- PissyQWOC, ibid
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
After writing my previous post, I read this editorial by Richard Kim in The Nation; unfortunately, the online version is subscribers-only, but I'll try to quote the parts that I thought were really on-target.

I think he really gets it as to how the "epidemic of antigay bullying rhetoric" sucks the meaning out of what is -- as he says -- kids acting out the beliefs of their parents and the politicians they see on TV. Everyone is jumping in to say how "antigay bullying" is just like their own experiences getting bullied for being a nerd, for being a jock, for being -- I'm not kidding here -- white. And yes, kids can be utterly shitty to each other, because they're humans, and humans can be utterly shitty to each other, not to mention that kids have a less subtle palette than adults of ways of making others' lives miserable.

But the difference between "antigay bullying" and someone bullying you because you like to play Magic, or whatever, is that antigay bullying has an entire social structure that supports it, a structure made up of adults and authority figures. As Kim says elsewhere in the article, there is not that much difference between a school bully and Carl Paladino, except that people take Carl Paladino seriously. And, if we keep reducing homophobia to "bullying", they will continue doing so.
But for some gays and liberals shaken by [Tyler] Clementi's suicide, the complexities and unknowns don't seem to matter. It's convenient to make Ravi and Wei into little monsters singularly responsible for his death. In the words of Malcolm Lazin—the director of Equality Forum, a gay rights group calling for "murder by manslaughter" charges, a demand echoed on sympathetic blogs and Facebook pages—the duo's conduct was "willful and premeditated," an act so "shocking, malicious and heinous" that Ravi and Wei "had to know" it would be "emotionally explosive." Every one of these accusations is entirely speculative, a fact that you'd think Lazin, a former assistant US Attorney, would bear in mind before rounding up the firing squad.


In each of these cases, news reports focused almost exclusively on the bullies—other teenage kids—as the perpetrators in what's been dubbed "an epidemic of antigay bullying." In each of these cases, liberals and gays expressed dismay that the bullies weren't being charged with crimes. Few of the reports asked what home life was like for these gay teens or looked into what role teachers, schools and the community played in creating an environment where the only escape from such torment seemed to be death. And at least initially, too few drew the line to the messages mainstream adult America, especially its politicians, sends every day.... ....hateful utterances from the political class allow people to think of gays and lesbians as less than human, as deserving of contempt, assault, murder.

So when faced with something so painful and complicated as gay teen suicide, it's easier to go down the familiar path, to invoke the wrath of law and order, to create scapegoats out of child bullies who ape the denials and anxieties of adults, to blame it on technology or to pare down homophobia into a social menace called "antigay bullying" and then confine it within the borders of the schoolyard.

It's tougher, more uncertain work creating a world that loves queer kids, that wants them to live and thrive. But try—try as if someone's life depended on it. Imagine saying, I really wish my son turns out to be gay. Imagine hoping that your 2-year-old daughter grows up to be transgendered. Imagine not assuming the gender of your child's future prom date or spouse; imagine keeping that space blank or occupied by boys and girls of all types. Imagine petitioning your local board of education to hire more gay elementary school teachers.

Now imagine a world in which Tyler Clementi climbed up onto a ledge on the George Washington Bridge—and chose to climb back down instead. It's harder to do than you might think.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)

Dan Savage is a bully. I say this not only because of his history of using his column as a platform from which to belittle fat women, women in general, bi men, trans women, trans men (not meant to be an exhaustive list), but also because of his most recent column where he berated an abuse survivor for the crime of being triggered. (Why doesn't he tell suicidal gay boys that they are being cruel and selfish and ought to think of someone else's feelings besides their own, rather than telling them not to kill themselves? Oh, well, guess women's lives or experiences aren't very real or important.) Most of all, though, I say it because of a segment Savage did on the "This American Life" radio show (episode 341), where he related a story about verbally abusing a student while teaching elementary school, as well as his own experiences as a parent later in his life. In apparent sincerity, Savage said:

"You can't hit 'em... and so sometimes I feel trapped, like the only way I can communicate my intense displeasure and also, to the kid, how far he's pushed it... is by sounding like I'm going to kill him, physically, like I'm going to take his neck in my hands and choke the life out of him."

"Kids are sociopaths until you beat it out of them... metaphorically beat it out of them."

"With the removal of violence from the parenting arsenal, we've had to ramp up the screaming and yelling and profanity. It soaks up the energy that might otherwise have gone into a clean, quick smack."

Who hasn't behaved like a jerk sometimes? No one's perfect. But I wouldn't be picking on Dan for his transgressions against peace, love and justice---I wouldn't even *know* about any of them---if he didn't choose for himself to assume, in a very public and intentional way, the persona of an aggressor, a screaming parent, a bully. In the story that Savage tells on this particular TAL episode, he tells a fourth-grade student of his, "Shut the fuck up, you little piece of shit," then lies about it to the school principal in front of the student; all, he says, to teach the kid the important lesson that adults are crazy and untrustworthy. If he actually meant anything he said, then Savage has about as much credibility to start an anti-intimidation campaign as the Portland Police Bureau does to start an anti-civilian-murdering campaign. And yet, people seem to take him seriously.

Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign is a wonderful way to help straight people believe in a just world. It's wonderful, really, for straight people to get to enjoy this fantasy about queer lives: Sure, maybe queer people suffer a little when they're young, but hey, a little suffering builds a kid's character. And once those kids leave home for college (everyone gets to leave home for college, right?) it's just the beginning of the ascent to a land of joy and bunnies, where gay people get accepted. As long as they're gender-normative and monogamous, but those are totally reasonable conditions, right? There's no need to actually work to mitigate the cultural factors that make everyday life hard for trans and queer people; why work when you can just send a few loving words, via the magic of the Internet, to some queer kid? And the best thing of all is that no one can criticize this particular political strategy, because if someone does, it clearly means they want to deprive kids of the one thing (a recording of a privileged adult talking about their life) that would surely stand between them and the most convenient weapon of self-destruction.

Let's be absolutely clear: "It Gets Better" is a political strategy. It is a strategy that renders the narratives of those queer folks whose lives do *not* get easier once they turn 18 invisible, and that de-emphasizes the role of political action in favor of passive waiting, of individual self-esteem.

The other fantasy that seems to be grabbing the coattails of "It Gets Better", though perhaps not part of the original campaign, is the idea that all bullying is basically the same. So, absolutely everyone can relate to the "It Gets Better" message; truly, it doesn't matter whether you're a member of a minority group or a member of a particular social class or, well, anything. There is simply nothing specific to the experience of queer people, trans people, queer people of color, or any other specific marginalized group, that isn't also shared by, for example, a rich white kid who's teased for wearing glasses.

"Bullying" is such an unfortunate term to choose here, because it attributes the crimes perpetrated by the instruments of a homophobic, misogynistic culture to the instruments themselves---you know, those wayward individuals who act as randomly as dust particles in the wind. The preferred story here, the one that "It Gets Better" helps people hang onto, is that if people would just be nicer, would respect each other more, listen to what their parents taught them (because all people have parents who teach them these things, of course), we wouldn't have such problems. There is no need to challenge fundamental values and certainly no social framework in place that supports individuals in their acts of violence against queer and gender-variant people.

Tyra Hunter wasn't killed by school bullies, but by a firefighter/emergency medical technician who refused to treat her after she experienced a car accident and he discovered that she had a penis. Though a civil lawsuit awarded her mother a bit under $2 million in damages (what is the value of a life?), the firefighter was never criminally punished for killing Hunter through negligence. In fact, he was promoted. The other firefighters on the scene, all of whom chose to joke about Hunter's body rather than save her life, as well as the doctors who provided only dilatory care once she was finally taken to an emergency room, were never punished either.

That says how much we really value queer lives. Saying that "it gets better" with no promise that the next time someone like Hunter gets murdered, there will actually be an indication that anyone valued her life, is worse than saying nothing.

Richard M. Juang, in his essay "Transgendering the Politics of Recognition" (in the anthology _Transgender Rights_, edited by Paisley Currah, Juang, and Shannon Price Minter) compared Hunter's death with that of Vincent Chin. Chin, a Chinese-American man, was murdered in 1982 in Michigan by two men who blamed Chin for "taking away American jobs". His killers were charged with manslaughter, fined $3,000, and released on probation (a decision defended by a judge who characterized the murderers as good people with responsible jobs). Juang compares Chin's case with Hunter not because there was any reason to think Chin had a queer identification, but rather, because both case illustrate---in Juang's words---"gross refusals of civil and human recognition".

The different amounts of punishment against Hunter's killers, and Chin's killers, as compared to the punishment that the killer of a straight, upper-class cis white man or of an attractive, young white girl would receive, show that bullying is not the same whether or not you're a member of a minority group. Or perhaps we can start saying "violence" instead of "bullying"? Good. To harm someone who's straight, who's white, preferably both, carries much greater social sanctions than harming someone whose life is seen as marginal, as subhuman. When the state backs those who do violence against queer people and people of color, that's when we have to start admitting that no, everyone's experience with bullying or other forms of violence is not the same.

The problem, as I hope you can see, is not confined safely within high schools. The fantasy that we're selling to kids---that escape from high school means escape from misogyny and homophobia---will never work. The problem is everyone.

It doesn't get better if you're a trans woman doing sex work because no other employer will hire you, and there are no anti-discrimination laws that say they have to hire you anyway, and you get arrested, placed in a men's prison, and raped.

It doesn't get better if you're a trans man who loses the right to see your kids, forever, because your ex-wife chose to invoke state-imposed gender regulations to render her marriage to you invalid and erase your parental rights in one fell swoop.

It doesn't get better if you can't get health care because it's legal to deny that care to trans people, and you die of a treatable illness or you kill yourself because you can't access medical transition.

When you go ahead and make your "it gets better" video despite knowing about all of these stories---all of these adults who *did* hang in there past adolescence and found that the world's designated enforcers of power structures were even more interested in using their own identities against them---you say "I don't think that these people's lives matter, because fully understanding their lives would require that I disrupt the comforting story I tell myself about *life getting better*."

All of these scenarios could improve, not for the people who have suffered through them already, but rather for the queer kids who are being born today and yesterday. It could get better if we take concrete action to dismantle homophobic, racist, and classist power structures. To be concrete, I mean things like lobbying for trans inclusion in health insurance plans (while access to private health insurance is a privilege, it would send a message that it's not okay to deny medical care to trans people just because we're trans)' like lobbying for universal health care, period; working to eliminate the state regulation of gender by eliminating gender designations from driver's licenses and passports; and working to decriminalize sex work. That's just a start, and if some of these ideas sound rather inspecific to improving queer and trans people's lot, that's because working to improve the lot of those who are disproportionately poor and disenfranchised is sometimes about taking steps to alleviate poverty and disenfranchisement, too.

Holding up the privileged, white, middle-class or upwardly-mobile gay male experience as "The LGBT Experience" does a service only to people who don't need a service; it renders everyone else invisible, while reassuring straight folks that really, everything's just fine. The solution, this strategy says to straight folks, is to coax queer kids to suck it up long enough to turn into happily assimilated members of society---not to hold those kids' tormenters accountable, whether those tormentors are some other high school kids or some candidates for Michigan secretary of state who make it their campaign issue to deny identification to trans people.

And holding up that experience as the one true queer experience only serves the people for whom it was never bad to begin with.

What I find even worse than the "It Gets Better" campaign itself is the campaign of silencing that seems to go along with it. Look: "It Gets Better" is pissing people off. It's pissing off many of the people who it purports to serve. Just in my group of friends, straight people seem to love it, and the more socially normative of a gay or lesbian person you are, the more you probably love it too. But maybe it might be worthwhile to listen to what the naysayers say about it---particular the naysayers who have their own stories of violence to share. Rather than silencing them with "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" or "You can't criticize people if their intention is good" or "It's useful if it stops one teenager from committing suicide" (what about those who die as a result of apathy and complacency?), try listening. You're not doing anyone any favors by making it taboo to talk about queer lives that aren't all sunshine and ponies. The folks who are pissed off might just be angry because their lives aren't getting better---and Dan Savage is not only failing to help, but doing active harm to the politics of queer resistance.

In writing this, I am informed by the thoughts of more than one person who does not feel safe actually relating their experiences in a public forum. The anger is real, and we're getting told not to tell our stories because it interferes with the comfortable folks' comfort zones. So, seriously, please stop using "think of the children" as an excuse to indulge your fantasies. Kids are smart enough to know that "it gets better" is a fairy tale; if you're too busy to make the world a better place for them to grow up into, just a little bit, even if in some everyday ways, then maybe it's best to let the silence speak instead.

tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
"The 'gay agenda' has been about passing our apartments to each other when we die, not about increasing affordable housing or opposing illegal eviction. It has been about getting our partnerships recognized so our partners can share our private health benefits, not about defending Medicaid rights or demanding universal health care. It has been about getting our young sons into Boy Scouts, not about advocating for the countless/uncounted queer and trans youth struggling against a growing industry of youth incarceration. It has been about working to put more punishment power in the hands of an overtly racist criminal system with passage of hate crimes laws, not about opposing the mass incarceration of a generation of men of color, or fighting the abuse of queer and trans people in adult and juvenile justice settings."

-- Dean Spade, "Compliance Is Gendered", in _Transgender Rights_, Currah et al.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Some folks have talked about the problems with the It Gets Better project -- in case you've been hiding under a rock, it's a project started by Dan Savage (an upwardly mobile cis gay guy who has made a career off boosting the self-esteem of gay folks who are kinky but not too kinky, while cracking jokes at the expense of fat people, bi people, women, trans people, and anyone who goes beyond a certain domesticated level of kink) in which comfortable adults tell queer kids, via YouTube, about their happy lives in order to encourage those kids to believe that if they just hang in and can make it four years without killing themselves, life will be ponies and bunnies.

The recent rash of suicides on the part of mostly (we're assuming) cis gay boys deserves attention. But why are there huge campaigns to save the white boys when for years, the folks who organize the Transgender Day of Remembrance have been doing so to little public notice?

No one is changing the color of their clothing to memorialize the 25 trans people -- almost all women, and many of whom were people of color -- who were murdered around the world in 2010. I should say that 25 is an extremely low estimate. Since trans people tend to be considered subhuman, even right here in the US, many such murders go unreported.

Why is it an emergency when white boys kill themselves, but business as usual when trans women of color are murdered? Where's the campaign to boost the self-esteem of the latter group? Of course, the "it gets better" message just sounds cruel and stupid when aimed at people who are likely to be murdered for being who they are. The people listed on the TDOR page ranged from 16 months to 51 years of age when they were killed. Waiting for high school to be over doesn't really change anything for some people.

So maybe Dan Savage needs to be honest and admit that his campaign is not aimed at LGBT people, but rather, at LGB people. Or possibly LGB people and trans men.

Since some people have suggested -- rightly so, IMO -- that with publicizing events like TDOR there's a risk of lulling cis people into complacency -- "I don't murder trans people, so therefore I'm doing all I can" -- here are a few suggestions for making the world a place where people are less likely to be killed for violating the norm that says that femininity is repugnant and that a male-assigned person who chooses to assert herself as a woman is a dangerous threat to any man's self-concept:

  • Don't make jokes at the expense of trans people. This doesn't just mean avoiding jokes about trans people, it means not treating the idea of a man taking on feminine attributes as an inherently hilarious concept. And if you're in a group of people where someone makes such a joke, or if you're exposed to media (whether it's "Toy Story 3" or "Family Guy") in which trans or gender-variant people get made the butt of jokes, then take it as a teachable moment and talk about why it's not funny or welcome around you.
  • Violate gender norms. I want to be careful here, because not every cis guy with a ponytail is entitled to claim the Trans Struggle as his own. But sometimes, an act like an otherwise-normative guy wearing nail polish or a woman wearing a suit with pants and a tie instead of one with a skirt can play a tiny role in letting others know the world doesn't fall down when people violate the expectations that were placed on them at birth. Maybe there are bigger ways than clothing to ask yourself whether you're being who you are or whether you're acting out some gender norm that you learned before you could question it, too.
  • Accept and reinforce other people's gender self-identification, and call out others when they don't. Talking endlessly about how trans people should inform a potential partner as to the nature of their genitalia before sleeping together contributes to a world where trans people are murdered for daring to have bodies that depart in some ways from how they present themselves. When you act on the knowledge that there is no objective gender, no "real" or "true" gender other than the one that exists in each person's brain, you take a tiny step towards creating a world where people don't murder each other in order to enforce the fiction of "objective gender".
  • Know that trans people are everywhere, and act as if they're listening. Even if you believe you know what trans people look like, you don't know how many trans people you've met who you never knew were trans. Many cis people seem to be attached to a belief that they can always spot whether someone is trans, but this belief is both logically flawed (it's unfalsifiable, since you never find out about your false negatives) and problematic as it's tied into a belief that trans people aren't real and that this difference manifests itself in some obvious, physical way.
  • Don't use transphobia and homophobia to shame others. If you're trying to motivate a guy to work harder, and you tell him not to be such a pussy or such a sissy, you're reinforcing the culture of violence against gender-variant people in a tiny way. Why not find ways to resist such violence, even in a tiny way?
  • Don't use terms like "biological" or "genetic" to delegitimize trans people's genders. It turns out that the more you know about biology and genetics, the less appropriate it begins to look to call cis men "biological men" and cis women "biological women". There's the obvious fact that everyone is biological; we're all made of the same matter, and we all need to breathe and eat in order to live. Maybe more to the point, the thing that makes cis men men is the same thing that makes trans men men: a combination of personal identification and social consensus. When it comes to gender, there is no "there" there other than that. The categories that humans develop to classify people are merely an interpretation of biological reality; the map is not the territory. Instead of "biological", "genetic", or "real" (which all tend to get used to mean the same thing), use "cissexual" or "cis" for short to refer to people whose internal self-conception matches the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Recognize that trans and intersex people are exemplars of the category "human" to the same extent that cis people are. This means, among other things, recognizing that the idea of a biological sex determined by whether one's karyotype is XY or XX is an inaccurate model of reality, because it fails to account for intersex people whose karyotypes are neither XY nor XX. To insist that the model must be maintained despite that reality falls short is to insist that some humans are more human than others. Similarly, when you insinuate that trans experience is less typical than cis experience (in much the same way that some people call art and literature about women's lives "women's writing" or "women's music" whereas when the topic is men's lives, it's just "writing" or "music"), you suggest that trans people aren't fully human.
  • Listen to trans people's struggles and accept that those struggles may be different from yours. Should you happen to be lucky enough to know any trans people, keep in mind that listening is good. But diminishing every problem by reducing it to one that cis people also face (for example, "Everyone has something about their body that they don't like! For example, I'd like to lose 5 pounds"), or insisting that love conquers all or some other such thing -- that by waiting, it will get better -- is worse than silence.

Some of the items on this list may seem to you to be a bit distant from the task of ending violence against trans people. I think not, though: this violence stems from a combination of misogyny and difficulty confronting a world in which personal autonomy has primacy over outside observers for determining gender. Just as language that suggests women are only good as instruments for sex creates an atmosphere that encourages rape, language that suggests trans people deceive others as to their "true gender", that there is such a thing as a "true gender", creates an atmosphere that encourages murder. So long as you're laughing at jokes about straight men who discover their partners are trans women, or poking fun at guys who act femininely, you are helping sustain the culture of violence.
Questioning Transphobia, as usual, has a good take on it:
This is part of the reason I am not entirely thrilled with the “It Gets Better” campaign – that for a lot of us, it simply does not. While many of us have the autonomy to begin transition, this often happens while forced into survival sex work, homelessness, and HIV, among other difficulties. Trans people have at least twice the unemployment rate of the general population....

I don’t mean to introduce these statistics to say anyone has it harder, but rather to question why with all the talk about bullying and getting better, why what trans people specifically face is not discussed at all. I mean 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide? As compared to the 1.6% of the general population? I remember when people questioned the idea that trans people really had a 50% rate of attempted suicide, but it looks like that is confirmed. This is, honestly, reprehensible that this is constantly kept invisible, in the background. And it’s not as if trans people are a such a small minority, either. Educated guesswork puts us at .2-.4% of the population, with numbers supported in multiple countries, not even counting non-transitioning trans people that were neglected by Lynn Conway’s paper. In the US that means out of 310,430,000 people (per Wikipedia). 620,000 – 1,240,000 trans people.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
"One of the things we are forced to re-examine is relationships. Unlike straight people we do not have church weddings, we are not often enrolled in the PTA, we are not clear on who is the breadwinner and who is the homemaker. We don't have relatives clucking over us, urging us to be faithful and fertile and upstanding. Our relationships have little social or legal reality. As a result, we must invent love all over again. Gay lovers must work out contracts or agreements that suit them. Household chores, money matters, social obligations -- these things must be decided and assigned. Sex roles in bed, gender-linked behavior out of bed (who cooks, who mows the lawn, who pays the bills) -- these things must be arbitrated. And fidelity, the thorniest question of all, must be arranged.... The variations are endless. My point is that convention does not govern us; we create new conventions for ourselves.... Today more and more straight couples are deciding that traditional marriage doesn't work.... Straight people might well learn something from us, since we have already sorted out the issues, even if we haven't arrived at solutions that will suit everyone." -- Edmund White, "The Joys of Gay Life" (1977)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
A few weeks ago, while reading about Peter Landin, a computer scientist who died recently and was one of the founders of my field of study (programming language theory), I came across an obituary mentioning that Landin was not only openly bisexual, but also was involved in queer activism. This particular fact was omitted from an otherwise excellent memorial talk on Landin that I attended at ICFP 2009.

While following links, I learned that an equally significant researcher, Christopher Strachey, was gay (the fact merits two sentences in an article by M. Campbell-Kelly, "Christopher Strachey, 1916–1975: A Biographical Note" -- sorry, you won't be able to read it unless you happen to have an institutional subscription to the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing), and that during the 1930s, his education was disrupted by a nervous breakdown he suffered that was possibly related to dealing with his homosexuality.

Of course, everybody knows about Alan Turing; when I read about Landin and Strachey, I asked myself "do you have to commit suicide in order to be known as a queer computer scientist?"

I felt as if somebody should have told me that two of the seminal figures in the field I've been working in for the past decade were queer men; I'm not sure who should have told me, or when. But then, I can already hear someone, somewhere asking: "Why should you know, or care? What business is someone else's sexuality?"

Eric Allman, the developer of sendmail (the program that historically has transferred much of Internet email traffic), who's gay, once said, "There is some sort of perverse pleasure in knowing that it's basically impossible to send a piece of hate mail through the Internet without its being touched by a gay program. That's kind of funny." I think that nails it. When you know that something important to you wouldn't exist without the contributions of queer people, it's a bit harder to hate them. The less ability you have to deny that queer people are not "other" but are rather your friends, family and colleagues, the more uncomfortable it is going to be for you to imagine looking at one of them in the eye and explaining why you voted to deny them rights.

Moreover, knowing that a successful person was queer puts their accomplishments in a different light. Knowing that a particular person had to work all that much harder to overcome the shame, guilt and low self-esteem that 20th-century Western culture foisted upon gay and bisexual men makes that person more admirable and creates a feeling of connection, the ability to place oneself in a tradition of people who have struggled and have overcome oppression.

I feel like conventional wisdom is currently saying that queer people have made it: now that we've attained some of the privileges previously reserved for straights, won't we please start acting like them? Not so fast.

I will keep talking about my sexuality in public, because I never chose to make my sexuality a public matter. The people who vote to recognize different relationships differently based on the presumed sexualities of the people involved are the ones who keep my sexuality a public matter. The people who make my ability to board a plane contingent on what set of genitals I have are the ones who keep my sexuality a public matter. Sexuality and reproduction have been matters for public concern forever, and they probably always will be. It's hypocritical to conduct open political debate on the subject of which varieties of sexuality are better than others, and then waggle the invisible finger of social propriety at sexual minority members who dare to engage in that debate by being truthful about themselves.

Who is helped by the taboo against discussing sexuality in public, anyway? I'm not sure that taboos against discussing any kind of sexuality, whether it be gay, bi, non-monogamous, kinky, public, or what have you, actually serve the interests of anybody I'm interested in protecting. What would a world look like where nobody hesitated to be honest about who they are sexually (and when I say "nobody", I mean "nobody" -- queer people aren't the only ones who have closets)? I don't think it would take any of the mystery out of sex; I don't think anything could take the drama and delight out of human relationships. I do think it would make it impossible for any kid growing up to believe that he's the only one who ever liked other boys, or for any kid growing up to believe that she's the only one who ever knew she was a girl despite all appearances to the contrary. Isn't it worth dealing with some discomfort in order to keep those kids away from the pills and sharp objects?

Ultimately, it's not shame about being gay, or bi, or trans, that drives queer people to depression and sometimes suicide. It's the inability to talk about it, and often an accompanying belief that talking about it would keep you out of social life for good. We are truly everywhere, and in 2009, no kid growing up should have to feel they're the only gay or bi or trans person in the world. Maybe what with the advent of the Internet, nobody (in social strata where access to it is ubiquitous, anyway) does believe that anymore. But we're still dangerously close to the time in history where young queer kids believed they were the only one who was like them.

And so although probably everybody who's reading this knows that I'm a transsexual man and that I'm a bisexual person with a moderately strong preference for members of my own gender, I'm saying it again, and I don't intend to let anyone forget it. Happy National Coming Out Day!

What are you coming out as today, and who are you coming out to?
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
A friend suggested looking up books on Amazon and, upon finding an absent sales rank, using the Feedback form at the bottom of the page to submit a complaint. Every one of the following books had no sales rank listed:
Rent Girl (Michelle Tea)
The Mayor of Castro Street (Randy Shilts)
The Normal Heart (Larry Kramer)
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (Jeanette Winterson)
Trans/forming Feminisms (Krista Scott-Dixon ed.)
Giovanni's Room (James Baldwin)
Funny Boy (Shyam Selvadurai)
The Line of Beauty (Alan Hollinghurst)
Families We Choose (Kath Weston)
The Motion of Light in Water; Times Square Red, Times Square Blue; Hogg; The Mad Man (Samuel Delany)
Dykes to Watch Out For (Alison Bechdel)
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (Audre Lorde)
Transmen and FTMs (Jason Cromwell)
The Testosterone Files (Max Wolf Valerio)
Stone Butch Blues (Leslie Feinberg)
Whipping Girl (Julia Serano)
Nobody Passes (Matt Bernstein Sycamore ed.)
Transgender Rights (Paisley Currah ed.)
Self-Made Men (Henry Rubin)
The Transgender Reader (Susan Stryker ed.)
Gender Outlaw (Kate Bornstein)
Becoming a Visible Man (Jamison Green)
Sex Changes (Patrick Califia)

The only queer-related books I looked up that *did* have sales ranks listed were:
Choir Boy (Charlie Anders)
Fun Home, The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (Alison Bechdel) -- note that her earlier books don't have ranks. Apparently, it's OK to be queer as long as you sell more copies than most straight books.
And the Band Played On (Randy Shilts) -- I guess as long as you're writing about queers dying of AIDS, it's safe and non-subversive.
Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons (Marilyn Hacker)
Valencia (Michelle Tea)
Hard Love (Ellen Wittlinger)

At that point I got bored. Pretty amazing, though.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (queerrainbow)
"Stop right now and call the Capitol switchboard at: (202) 224-3121.

Ask the operator to connect you with your congressperson (if you don't know your congressperson, give the operator your zip code). Once connected to your congressional office, simply state your support for a fully-inclusive ENDA.

Tell them: “I am a constituent and I would like you to please tell the Representative that I strongly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would ban discrimination against all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

Its that simple. Do you have your cell phone out? Take it out now and dial (202) 224-3121. Today, we are joining with coalition partners to ring offices throughout Capitol Hill on Congress' first official day at work this year. Feel free to call back and leave messages with your Senators too!"


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

March 2014

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