tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)

October 15, 1982

Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement—the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?
Q: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?
MR. SPEAKES: I don’t have it. Do you? (Laughter.)
Q: No, I don’t.
MR. SPEAKES: You didn’t answer my question.
Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President—
MR. SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.)
Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?
MR. SPEAKES: No, I don’t know anything about it, Lester.
Q: Does the President, does anybody in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?
MR. SPEAKES: I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s been any—
Q: Nobody knows?
MR. SPEAKES: There has been no personal experience here, Lester. -- quoted by Ben Dreyfuss in "Flashback: The Reagan White House Thought AIDS Was Pretty Hilarious In 1982" Mother Jones

October 15, 2015

altI remember the year I began to think for myself. It was 1995, and I was fourteen. 1995 was the year that I started thinking it might be okay to be queer (although I would have said "gay" then) and that maybe abortion should be legal.

Now, it's easy for me to forget that I ever thought otherwise.

But I did. In 1995, I dared for the first time to believe something that the adult authority figures in my life (of whom there was really only one) had not authorized me to believe.

The sacred nature of that moment is not recognizable at the time. At the time it feels uncomfortable, the way many parts of adolescence are uncomfortable. I missed out on a lot of the parts of what's normally constructed as "adolescence" in my culture, but I did get to have that magic moment, or series of moments, where I realized my mind was my own and I could disagree with the person who raised me, which meant that I could be something other than what the people who raised me were. I don't know whether people ten years younger than me, or ten years older, understand the atmosphere of fear that us children of heterosexual parents were breathing during the 1980s. The first time I heard about the existence of queer people, it was because my mother told me that my Girl Scout troop leader, who was rumored to be lesbian, was "trying to have a baby with another woman". I had already been taught how babies are made, so there was some missing piece of information there. A vacuum that contained something frightening. I was told that gay people deserved to get AIDS because "they should know it's not clean to have sex that way", and I didn't have any reason to doubt it. What did I know about sex? I believed what I had received: that gay people weren't quite people. In 1994, I wouldn't have seen too much wrong with what Larry Speakes said in 1982.

I went to college instead of high school, and when I was 14, and taking a sociology class called "Social Movements, Democracy, and the State", I read AIDS DemoGraphics by Douglas Crimp and Adam Rolston; we also watched the documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk". I was uncomfortable -- I was experiencing cognitive dissonance between what I had been taught and what the beginnings of my own independent moral sensibility were telling me. It wasn't just that I was rejecting something I had been taught, but something that had been glued down in my mind with the adhesives of shame and silence. "It's not clean to have sex that way", I was told at the same time I was being told in so many tacit ways that it wasn't okay for me to think or talk about sex at all. Slowly, a light came on, and I saw that the small room constructed by that shame and silence had an exit door.

In the same sociology class, I learned about the concept of "cognitive liberation" from Douglas McAdam's book Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970. McAdam explained that a prerequisite for organized social change is internal personal change: the process whereby individuals (potentially working together to do so) free themselves from the beliefs that limited them. Without freeing themselves from the beliefs that limit them on the inside, people can't organize to demand change on the outside.

Without knowing it, I was experiencing cognitive liberation myself at the time. I was developing the ability to conceive of bodily autonomy as a fundamental human right. I wasn't raised to believe in bodily autonomy. I had to learn about it as a teenager and as a young adult. I don't remember the moment when I became pro-choice, but that, too, happened around the same time. I couldn't formulate the concept of bodily autonomy then, but I remember deciding that if enough people disagreed about a moral issue, it was better for the government not to legislate one side of it or the other.

To recognize that my body belonged to me, and that other people's bodies belonged to them, I had to take ownership of the inside of my own head first. That wasn't something I could have done at home -- I had to go to college to do it. 14-year-olds today don't have to go to college in order to be exposed to non-family-approved ideas. At least, not if they have access to the Internet.

Maybe this is why it's so popular for adults to dismiss "Tumblr culture", Tumblr being the current chosen stand-in for a forum where young people's voices get heard. As a culture, we haven't really made up our collective minds about whether young people's bodies are their parents' property or not. It's threatening when people you think are your property start getting ideas about autonomy.

That's why it's even more threatening to adults when teenagers get to experiment with ideas, in a space unsupervised by parents or parental proxies, than it is when teens experiment with sex or drugs. On the Internet, teenagers get to talk to each other in a way that isn't constrained by adult rules, or by geographical homogeneity. They get to compare notes. They get to find out firsthand that their parents' beliefs are not always fundamental truths. "Thinking for yourself" sounds so clichéd; it feels inadequate to describe that moment of moral awakening that, for me, was just as powerful as sexual awakening.

Teenagers going through cognitive liberation remind adults that when they were that age, they weren't free. That makes some adults angry and uncomfortable.

All hail the Internet, all hail young people daring to be wrong in public, and all hail all of us stumbling towards freedom in our minds and bodies.

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

Content warning: Discussion of violence against women, gun violence, death and rape threats, workplace harassment, suicide (and threats thereof as an emotional manipulation tactic), online harassment, abuse of the legal system to further sexual harassment and domestic violence, and neo-Nazis.

Italicized quotes are from Stephen Fearing's song "The Bells of Morning", which he wrote in 1989 about the École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.

It's All Connected


"Tonight I am speechless
My head is filled with pouring rain
As the darkness falls on Montreal
When violence is shrieking
The city streets will run with pain
Until the moon can shed no light at all"

"Gamergate": the word we dare not write on Twitter, for fear of a torrent of harassment. It started with a spurned ex-boyfriend doing his best to try to drag his ex's reputation through the mud. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, because she makes video games, and he -- as well as an army of supporters initially rallied using the 4chan hate site -- weaponized male video game enthusiasts' terror of women encroaching on their turf.

Why this fear of women? The term "witch hunt" is overused, but Gamergate is one of the closest modern-day analogues to a witch hunt. Teenage boys, frustrated in a culture that doesn't have much use for teenagers at all, were so dedicated in their zeal to spread lies and hyperbole that a major corporation, Intel, acted on the fear they spread. (I use "teenage boys" here to refer to a state of mind.) Like a toddler who has figured out something that annoys their parents and keeps doing it, and like the teenage girls of New England in the 17th century who figured out that they could set a deadly chain of events into motion, these boys are drunk on the power they have stumbled into. Their goal? Stopping a woman they believe to have strange powers: the power to pass off what they see as a non-game as a game, through bewitchment of influential men ("bewitchment of" here means "sex with"). I am being literal here. Read more... )

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

"Here's the thing, I don't care if you're convinced.
If you want me to care about you being hurt you have to convince me that you're being reasonable. And if you don't I don't care if you're hurt, and I won't care to convince you that you shouldn't be hurt."

I guess this reflects a fundamental values difference, which is why I'm replying on my blog and not directly to the commenter.

If someone says they feel hurt, I'm going to believe them. They don't need to convince me. That's because as a general rule, I don't want to hurt people. It's important to me to not hurt people. That's more important to me than logic or being right.

So, if someone says "hey, it hurts me when you do that thing", I'm going to stop doing that thing -- assuming, that is, that I don't have a compelling interest in doing that thing. So if "that thing" is breathing, yeah, I'm not going to stop doing it. On the other hand, if "that thing" is using a word that I could easily find alternatives for, then sure, I'll stop using it! Even if I think they're being unreasonable, even if I don't understand why it hurts the person. The important thing is that they're being vulnerable by telling me it hurts (there's no reason for them to lie about it), so why should I keep hurting someone for no good reason?

Here's another example that I've used before. Suppose you are a person who has testicles. If I feel like giving you a swift kick to the crotch, does you have to convince me that it would actually be painful for you if I did that? After all, since my testicles are silicone implants, it doesn't hurt (especially) for someone to kick me in the junk. So why should I believe you when you tell me it hurts for you? If I think you're being unreasonable, does that give me the right to kick you in the junk? (The answer isn't "no, because it's illegal", since that doesn't give us any insight into why it is.)

So if I call you "hypersensitive" because a kick in the crotch hurts you more than it hurts me, when that's really because you were born with testes and I wasn't, what does that really mean? Likewise, if you call me "hypersensitive" and say I need to "grow a thick skin" because I've had experiences that you haven't, and thus am hurt by things that don't hurt you, what does that really mean? Is it different from me telling you that you should "grow a thick skin" by getting your balls removed so that I can kick you more easily?
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (work)
I used to think that arguing on the Internet was a way of procrastinating, and that if I got into an argument it would distract me for the rest of the afternoon because hey, I'm a lazy procrastinator. Now I'm not so sure. I don't want to appropriate the language of triggers, because I'd rather leave that for the people who actually have PTSD (and I'm not one of them, as far as I know). But I am tempted to appropriate it because I'm not sure how else I can talk about the physical effect on me that it has when someone makes a boundary-crossing remark (usually not personally directed at me, but at a group I'm part of, for example); I engage because it's my reflex to; and they respond by shitting all over boundaries even more so. It's a heart-racing, dreading-opening-up-the-next-reply but doing it anyway and then it just gets worse kind of thing. And then I either stay in the argument, or do other equally non-productive things because my ability to focus on anything else is ruined for the next few minutes, the next few hours, or the whole day, depending.

Knowing what I know now, I'm less inclined to explain it in terms of conscious mechanisms (I don't want to do work -- or I don't want to go to bed -- so I procrastinate by seeking out wrong people on the Internet so I can tell them they're wrong) and more inclined to explain it in terms of subconscious mechanisms. Except I don't know how the latter work, or how to talk about it, or whether that even applies to me because my mental health is "not that bad". This doesn't tend to happen to me when arguing about anything work-related, and it doesn't even always happen when arguing about politics. That, I think, has less to do with the content, and more to do with how invalidating the other person is being (which is why the Mozilla code of conduct discussions ruined my ability to do much work for a few weeks -- but that's another post I'm still writing); while there are some technical communities where emotional invalidation is common in technical discussions, I'm fortunate to be in one that's not like that. (It's happened a few times in work-related discussions at places where I used to work; essentially hasn't happened in those discussions in the past year, though.)

I don't recall being actively invalidated or dismissed as being a big part of my early life (although being ignored sure was). I'm almost tempted to posit some sort of collective memory shared by abuse survivors that would explain why it's so upsetting to me to feel like I'm actively not being listened to or not being heard (when someone replies to what they think I said, or to what I represent in their mind, rather than what I said), when I don't have clear memories of having experienced that early on in life. Then again, there's a lot I can't remember.

Does anyone have ways of explaining / thinking about this kind of thing that doesn't step on anyone else's feet? I'm not sure any of this is even understandable; hi.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
The problem with pointing out that there's something a little bit off about somebody telling you to be more respectful, and telling you to (verbatim) "shut the fuck up" in the same paragraph, is that there's just no way to point that out without looking like a jerk.

(Yes, I know that it's probably just as obvious to everybody else as it is to me, and hence there's no need to point it out -- but I'm a programmer; my job is to restate the obvious.)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (work)
While walking down the street today to get lunch with my four co-workers from my job that I found out about on LiveJournal, two of whom I originally know from LiveJournal, we ran into a friend of mine who I originally met on LiveJournal who, it turns out, my boss also knows. (Not from LiveJournal.)

Modern communication technology destroys community and makes us anti-social, though.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
In a post on Jezebel, a guy writing about his experiences pre- and post-transition wrote:
"I can't deny that testosterone has changed my behavior. I used to cry to let my rage out. Now, the tears rarely come, even when I'm sad. I am more assertive, but in control. I channel my anger and aggression into running and weight lifting, into creative projects that set me free from pain. I go for long drives and take more risks on the road. I'm less likely to ask for directions."
In response to that, one commenter wrote:
"So we're to assume that before transitioning, you were a hysterical crybaby? And that testosterone is the reason why men don't stop for directions? For realz? It couldn't possibly be that since your transition to, identification with, and perception of being male you've started performing gender in a way that you have internalized as acceptable male behavior? That gender binary, man, it's pretty....intact.... Also, congrats on your ability to engage in homosocial bonding, gain the respect of other men, and walk alone at night. It must be real nice to be a dude. Sorry, but I really don't like the laguage of this article and think that being so quick to give preference to "biology" or "hormones" over socialization when it comes to gendered behavior only furthers to restrict us to our roles, male and female.
To which I wrote:
"I find it a bit odd that while no one would deny the evidence that someone who begins taking testosterone from a baseline of an average-female hormonal balance will probably (after a few years) sprout some chest hair that was not previously present, and while no one would claim that it's a social construct when testosterone causes the same person to stop menstruating, some people *do* seem to have a personal investment in vociferously denying that testosterone could possibly have an effect on subjective mental states. The brain is part of the body, no? Then wouldn't it be more surprising if introducing a powerful chemical into one's body *didn't* affect one's brain than if it did?

What I think you're trying to do in this comment is deny trans people's lived experience and suggest that they are deluded when they testify that their experience is more than just a social construct. You seem to be suggesting that only cis people can possibly transcend the limitations of social constructs and critique trans people's lived experience based on objective *truth* (that only cis people can access), while when a trans person critiques a cis person's assumptions about trans lives -- assumptions that usually reflect more about that cis person's individual insecurities than what it's like to be a trans person -- that person can be automatically dismissed as a poor victim of oppressive gender roles. That's, frankly, fucked up."

tim: Mike Slackernerny thinking "Scientific progress never smelled better" (science)
Arguing with people on the Internet is compelling for me because I have a thing about not being heard, and almost all the time, when someone disagrees with me (and bothers to engage with me about it), they don't believe anything fundamentally different from what I believe -- or so it seems to me. It's just a misunderstanding, and if only I keep trying to explain the truth well enough, to be a good enough teacher, the other person will see the light and agree with me.

When it doesn't immediately descend into profanity (which is boring, but which actually usually doesn't happen), talking to people on the Internet about gender is even more compelling, because it's just so easy to expose fundamentally wrong assumptions with a few well-honed questions.

For example, everyone is convinced that chromosomes are what make a person a man or a woman -- what give people some fundamental essence of being male or female that is both socialy significant and that no amount of social or medical adjustment can change -- but everyone is also happy to fling about "man" and "woman" all the time for people whose chromosomes they have never examined.

Everyone is convinced that it's easy to spot a transsexual, but nobody actually knows how many people they've seen and believed were transsexual actually weren't trans, or how many people they've seen and believed were cissexual were in fact trans.

Everyone is convinced that, even if one makes the politically correct concession of calling trans people by the right name and pronouns, it's still appropriate and meaningful to call a trans woman "biologically male". But nobody can conjure up the objective, biological characteristic that differentiates cis women from trans women. No, it's not the subjective, social characteristic of having been assigned female (or not) at birth; no, it's not the internal, psychological characteristic of knowing oneself to be a woman or a man. Then what is it? Everyone knows there's something there, something measurable, that denotes your woman-ness or man-ness independently of your beliefs or those of a specific person or group of people observing you. But no one can actually name or describe that very concrete, very objective criterion... whatever it may be.

Of course, you can tell people as many times as you want that some boys are born with penises, some girls are born with penises, some boys are born with vulvas, some girls are born with vulvas, and some people are born with either but aren't girls or boys, and none of these groups are intrinsically more authentic than any of the others. But it's much more fun to try to find the right questions to ask that will force them to say that themselves, if you can get them there before the Shitcock Effect sets in.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
How much did this reddit comment potentially cost you, user valhalla_coder? I suspect you have absolutely no idea.


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

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