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*86

I accept trans women in my tech feminism.

This goes out to all my fellow cisgender people in tech, both men and women. If you don’t know what cisgender means, stick with me. Content warning over the usual things.

I’m subtweeting… subposting?… sumblring? a recent personal blog post of a man whose technical work I respect, who I perceive as feminist, and who has been a good Twitter buddy to me for a few years now. I can’t bring myself to bombard him from orbit with my disproportionate social media reach, so, no names, no direct quotes. (I apologize for not being more direct about it. This is rooted in my ongoing social anxiety.) His post lamented the ongoing gender disparity in tech, but then criticized transgender women for eating up resources that should be going to real women in tech, essentially reducing trans women to a cosplay fetish and just another way for selfish men to center narratives on themselves.

I remind you for context that transgender people routinely face domestic abuse, routinely face street violence, and routinely face being driven to suicide. Transgender people are vastly more likely to be murdered than the average person. This is especially true of trans women, and extra-especially true of trans women of color. Such details are not directly tracked by most governments, making citations up to scientific standards difficult to come by. Estimates of the projected lifespan of trans individuals range from about thirty-five to twenty-seven to as low as TWENTY-THREE.

My sister is twenty-five. Imagined gods of social justice, give her more borrowed time than that.

Being transgender is not a costume you can put on and take off at your convenience; it’s not a role you choose to play. Specific people may vary their gender identity over time, but this doesn’t make them trans and then not trans any more than my bisexuality (pansexuality, really) means I flip-flop from straight to lesbian every time I see a cute girl. I can’t speak as to the subjective experience of being trans, because I am in fact Cis As Heck no matter how many times verbal abusers tell me that I, and implicitly all trans women, are “lying” by claiming feminine identities in tech. However, I can say that transgender identity is acknowledged by medical science as a Real Thing, and that the recommended course of action for one’s mental well-being is to embrace it, not suppress it. Unfortunately, prejudice is so deeply ingrained in culture that many doctors and mental health care providers are wholly ignorant, or worse, actively ignore research into transgender issues in order to enforce their gender essentialism beliefs at the expense of the well-being of their patients. Hence, repeated signs may be missed through one’s childhood, adolescence, or even their entire lives, and a transgender person may never get the help and support they need.

Several people in my personal life – blood relatives, in-laws, classmates, friends – have embraced the transition process in recent years, both designated-male-at-birth and designated-female-at-birth individuals. I have seen the same pattern repeatedly: someone struggling with depression, entire years of their lives weighed down with intense emotional distress, and suddenly – they’re happy! They’re productive! They’re going at life again! They face incredible challenges of course – possibly losing the support of family or encountering workplace prejudice, experiencing resurgences of depression and anxiety, and as already mentioned, everyone who is openly trans has to worry about their personal safety in public. However I would say without hesitation that, from my perspective, pursuing their trans identities was absolutely the right thing to do for their own sake in every case.

It seems to be true that there are a lot of trans women, relatively speaking, in tech. I don’t know that it’s possible to even estimate the numbers or ratios. However, I suspect it’s completely untrue that they exist in such numbers as to push cis women out of the frame. Just like you can put six men and two women in a movie and people will report that they perceived it as roughly 50/50, you can put a few trans women with a bunch of cis women and people will remark that there sure are a lot of trans women simply because they exist in the plural. Unfortunately, such observations seem to come with a negative connotation – too many trans women – not enough “normal” women.

The blog post that prompted this one complained that trans women have in the past benefited from male privilege, and hence someone transitioning mid-career is effectively bootstrapping on said male privilege before “changing teams” to the historically oppressed group. Specific trans women I know have confided in me that their eyes were opened to how much male privilege they really had in the past. But since a mid-career transition is a sign of not having gotten the help and support they needed during adolescence (it’s not like gender dysphoria typically comes out of nowhere late in life), being upset with a trans woman for a lingering patina of male privilege is contrary to the cause of supporting gender equality and minorities in general. The concept of “Shared Girlhood” underlying womankind’s struggle is only partially true to begin with. Black girls have a different window on oppression than white girls. Gay girls have a different window on oppression than straight girls. Poor girls have a different window than rich girls. So on and so forth. Trans girls – by which I mean trans women during their assigned-male childhood – have a very different view from cis girls. They simultaneously experience male privilege and deeply internalized repression, reinforced by every facet of culture, demanding that they bury their female identity and “man up.” The experiences are wildly different, but the common core is that culture denigrates femininity and femaleness as inferior to masculinity and maleness in most respects. A trans man will struggle with being assigned femininity he may scarcely even possess. A nonbinary person may be confronted by perfect strangers on the street angry about “mixed signals,” because these strangers feel an urgent need to know whether to put them in the masculine or feminine slot. So on and so forth.

I’m just one cis-woman-in-tech, but my stance on the subject is:

I accept trans women as women, who, like all women and DFAB non-women, from the most feminine to the most masculine, have experienced difficulties in life due to cultural bias against femininity and femaleness;

I do not resent trans women for making use of resources set aside for women, joining women’s organizations, or occupying roles that place them as a prominent face of women-in-tech;

I welcome trans women and nonbinary/agender/genderqueer people in my safe spaces.

We’re all in this together – it is the responsibility of everyone to make the culture we have, the industry we have, a safer place for people who have experienced discrimination and prejudice of any sort.

Trying to enforce the separation of trans women from other women does not support any cause I believe in – especially if that enforcement is being proposed by a man, no matter how well-meaning or feminist.

I thank the community of Unstable Systems for reviewing this post and providing feedback from several perspectives. I tweaked some wording after getting feedback from someone who wasn’t available during the preview.

*51

Useless ramblings about murderers and MRAs

This is going to cover some emotional and hurtful topics pertaining to recent events, gender, sexuality, and guns.

So – as we surely all know by now – a young man in California published an incredibly long manifesto about why he hates all women (to the point of wanting to torture and starve to death the entire gender in concentration camps) and went on a murderous rampage. Since he started with his roommates, and since he was put on the run early on in his fantasized sorority-ending shootout and started just shooting whoever, the majority of people who have actually died at his hands were men. I mention that because some people will use that statistic to show that it wasn’t “really” about misogyny, he was just plain crazy and wanted to shoot people. This ignores that he extensively documented his intentions, which were to destroy the entire sorority, specifically because they were his idea of attractive young women. It just didn’t work out like he planned. The deaths of these men who happened to be in his way are, of course, every bit as unjust as the deaths of the sorority women he did succeed in murdering, as are the injuries of the dozen or so survivors, which also includes both men and women (and possibly nonbinary people). Everyone who was murdered by this young man died for his misogynistic cause. Trying to dismiss misogyny from the discussion or minimize its importance by pointing out that he murdered men too is to miss the entire point of what happened and why. I don’t object to characterizing the desire to walk out into a crowd of strangers and murder them over ideology as “crazy.” It’s hard to imagine a more suboptimal human behavior. Stopping at “crazy,” however, which we tend to conceptualize as an inevitable force of nature, means enabling this exact thing to just happen again.

As many people pointed out on Twitter yesterday, man-on-woman violence motivated by rejection happens literally nonstop, to a far greater extent than any other gender combination, but it’s usually a one-to-one ratio of aggressor to victim. The incidents that don’t end in murder are disproportionately under-reported by the victim compared to most other types of crimes, due to fear of retribution and other societal factors that can make life even worse for the victim than “merely” being physically abused. Meanwhile, many MRAs are convinced that a large portion of rape cases brought by women against men are deliberate lies. MRAs: Men’s Rights Activists. You may not have heard of them. People (mostly men) who explicitly identify as such are relatively fringe. However, many people (not necessarily mostly men) hold some MRA beliefs. Men’s Rights Activism has an unhappy relationship with feminism, because, as a cursory glance at world history will show you, men’s rights have always preceded women’s rights on a scale of decades to millennia in pretty much everything. (This is a non-intersectional simplification with respect to things like race and class.)

At its mildest, Men’s Rights are concerned with the rights of fatherhood. And you know what? On some points, they have a good case. It really is true that (American) court systems systematically make decisions that show they assume mothers are better parents than fathers. Here’s the thing, though: I consider this a feminist issue. A modern feminist should stand for it not being knowable a priori whether a father or a mother is the “better parent” when it comes to a custody case and each situation must be handled individually. Since Men’s Rights defines itself entirely in opposition to feminism, however, this thing we should agree on falls apart. What a waste.

The sorts of men one finds on online MRA forums, however, don’t seem like fathers worried about maintaining access to their children. They may be aware of this problem, certainly, and agree something needs to be changed, but that’s not really the issue which drew them to the MRA online community. This is my perception of who they are after lurking a bit around their activity: they tend to be young – many are still boys, really. They tend to be college-educated or college-bound, which implies a host of correlations about family background, financial resources, and future outcomes. They’re the platonic ideal of a redditor, really, not to imply redditors are all MRAs. (Technically, I’m a redditor, with tens of thousands of karma.) Reddit is, in fact, a major hub for the exchange of MRA news. /r/mensrights is approaching a hundred thousand subscribers, and there are many smaller, more specialized subs. They certainly have the subs I frequent beat.

There is a lot of overlap between these young MRAs and PUAs (pick-up artists). Not one-to-one, of course, but the Venn diagram certainly cuddles close. Pick-up artistry is, frankly, a scam. A few men who have some natural charisma and flair (but probably not a good personality to establish a long-term relationship with) capitalize on it to sell how-to books to desperate young men who, for whatever reason, can’t get a date. They then try the algorithmic approach, and predictably usually fail entirely or don’t find the type of connection with a woman they were hoping for. This has spawned an entire second community of men who have ragequit the PUA system but still have the problem they started with. So, you have this loose grouping of young men who a) want sex and/or a relationship, b) haven’t gotten it or can’t keep it going consistently, c) have actively tried to remedy the problem with suggestions from other men, d) still failed. Enter the incel.

Incel – short for involuntary celibacy – describes the state of actively desiring sex but being consistently turned down by potential partners. Being “incel” is relatively common, especially at a young and awkward age, but most people wouldn’t particularly feel the need to find the word “incel” to describe it. If someone has taken the step of self-identifying as incel, they have framed their situation as adversarial: they are involuntarily celibate, which is language used to describe coercion; sexual satisfaction is being withheld from them against their will. Whether or not it’s deliberate, they’re priming themselves to see the targets of their desire as collectively working against them. (For the rest of this discussion, assume I’m referring to straight male incels, and the targets are women in general. Incel can of course work in any direction but that’s not highly relevant here.)

Whence “involuntary celibacy”? The root cause can be any number of issues, of course, ranging from physical disabilities to perceived ugliness to social problems, and most of these are not the incel’s fault, which can easily lead to entrenched bitterness against their bad luck. It genuinely isn’t fair, but that doesn’t mean it’s the people turning the incel down who have done something wrong. Consent is a two-way street. Some incels will eventually fulfill the dream of finding that special someone who is attracted to them. Some never will. Some may eventually decide that resorting to rape is acceptable. And then there’s our murderer, who, again, is not in a class of his own for using murder as a tool for vengeance; only the scale of the attack, targeted against strangers, is unusual.

I want to make a point of something: some male incels are incel specifically because they give off “I will snap and murder you the moment you no longer please me” vibes to women. Almost every woman has met a guy she got this vibe from, if not a dozen. Clearly, not all of them will ever snap and murder someone, but don’t tell us that we’re being totally irrational to fear that outcome. The murderer in question is exactly the worst-case outcome we fear and I would be willing to bet that more than one woman turned him down or backed out of the early stages of a relationship because she got that “I’m going to get murdered if I stick around” feeling. We are not imagining that this is a common problem. In my country (United States), a woman is more likely to be harmed at the hands of her sexual partner (usually male) than any other type of violent crime, and that’s after we apply the “murder vibes” filter. This means that boyfriends are literally the most dangerous threat women face. I’m sorry if you, a non-violent and consent-respecting man, have missed out on a possible good relationship because you unintentionally emitted the Murder Vibes. Please understand that women, collectively, cannot afford false negatives. We’re not trying to hurt you with overcautious rejection: we’re trying to do everything within our power to make sure we’re not the one who gets raped or murdered.

The murderer filled his papers, videos, and forum posts with the language of the male right to sex. A man’s rights, defined in opposition to a woman’s rights: sound familiar? In this extremist version – which, I delicately emphasize, is not held by all or even most MRAs – a man literally has a right to however much sex he needs to feel fulfilled, and it’s womenkind’s responsibility to provide it, which totally ignores their collective individual rights to dissent. This is not an idea he came up with in total isolation due to being infected with The Crazy. I have personally seen about a dozen other men post the exact same idea. One or two even said so directly to me online, but they usually stick to posting such things in places already known to be predominantly if not exclusively male. They post such things to forums and blogs associated with the MRA community. They meet with agreement or at the very least the toleration one affords an ideal slightly outside of one’s own. Such things are often highly ephemeral, and sometimes they are deleted after an outside group discovers them, so I can’t provide you an exhaustively cited list of hyperlinks of individual examples. Trying to dig them back up with google would only open a black hole of intense distress anyway. You can try if you feel particularly emotionally armored today.

The MRA community has not been unified in its response to the revelation that the murderer was pretty clearly associated with the MRA movement. Some insist that he’s not an MRA because MRAs don’t advocate shooting up sororities (well that’s good I suppose). Others insist that since he watched more Pokemon by volume than MRA materials on Youtube, you might as well blame Pokemon. Others yet that he just wasn’t a good enough PUA: that he was “beta,” and if he had manned up his “game” enough to be more alpha, he’d be swimming in babes and there’d be no issue. Others take it to the very extreme that motivated him to murder in the first place: the issue has nothing to do with MRA or PUA, the issue is that women failed in their responsibility to sex him up!

I think it’s irresponsible to deny that the murderer used language and articulated ideas that come from the loose coalition of MRAs. That doesn’t mean I think all MRAs are murderous psychopaths waiting to happen. It means they need to fix their movement, because, again, the murderer is not a lone wolf in his extremist version of men’s rights. They exist and they flourish, almost entirely unhindered. In the past, their existence has been repeatedly dismissed to me as mere boys posting mere words that they would never, ever act on. Never, ever, ever, and that’s why six people are dead.

I want to close with something slightly tangental. I’ve been involved in a Twitter spat over my stance on guns. My stance is: I don’t want to be in the same room as a gun. I’m scared of guns and I request that you keep them away from me. In particular I am scared of a man I don’t know and trust having a gun near me.

Several men said, to me or behind my back, that I should be thanking male strangers for carrying guns in public because it’s to protect me.

From who? Well, from other strange men with guns, primarily. It’s a nice fantasy, I guess, that they hope to be the noble hero rescuing the damsel in distress.

But usually, when a woman finds herself staring down the barrel of a gun,

There’s no male power fantasy hero there to save her. Only the male power fantasy of sexual domination, which rapes and kills her.

*3

0xabad1dea

sorry-for-what-i-said said: Hello. I don't know if you remember me or not, but I still wanted to say this. I'm not sure when this happened (if I remember correctly, it was about 6 months ago) but I made a rude, ignorant comment about feminism and you blocked me from following you. Back then, I had completely wrong idea of feminism was (which still wouldn't justify what I did) and since then I've been reading about it. I now understand feminism better (I consider myself as a feminist now) and wanted to tell how sorry I am.

I reckon it’s okay to publish this, because you made an anonymous URL for it.

I vaguely recall getting one or two messages that made me angry, but I don’t remember anything specific, nor do I seem to have a permanent record of them. Hence I also don’t remember if what I said in reply (if anything) was helpful and constructive or just angry. Sometimes I’m just angry, and I know that. I do sincerely believe that sometimes anger itself works to get people to take a step back and reconsider, but it depends both on who is angry and who is being “angered” at.

But I’m glad that things have worked out. Feminism itself is of course very broad and there are several camps of disagreement within it. If I could make just one suggestion it would be to make sure you’re familiar with the concept of intersectionality, which is about how society’s treatment of categories such as race, gender, orientation, physical ability, etc interact in complex ways, so a person may be simultaneously advantaged in one respect and disadvantaged in another. If you focus exclusively on a “pet cause” you can lose sight and unintentionally further the harm of other categories of oppression or disadvantage. 

Good luck.

*12

Misptaken Identity

Content warning: rampant speculation.

I’ve been asked the same question several times by strangers and near-strangers on Twitter. The first time I thought it a rather amusing fundamental confusion on their part, but more people asked. Then a friend told me that someone else had asked them about it too. There are probably more people who wonder but don’t ask, if that many have asked.

They ask if I am my best friend. As in, literally the same person.

He’s way nicer than I am! – note the pronoun, he’s a bit agendery but his online presence is mostly perceived as male. (Just a really kawaii one.) I try really, REALLY hard to make it impossible to misgender me. My profile screams girl, girl, GIRL in every way I could think of, because I was sick and tired of people assuming I was a guy because tech. My “brand” is hot pink even though I’d rather it be orange.

He and I tweet at each other all the time. So, like, why…?

It’s a fairly common thing for a trans* person to have two accounts with two different gender labels if they’re not ready to be 100% out yet. So, I thought, maybe they think “we” are trans, though I wonder from which direction they’re imagining. (Then I realize it’s probably a sign of bubbling that I just kinda assume random strangers are hip to the conventions of online gender identity culture.)

Then I remember another question I’ve been asked several times: “are you for real?” or “are you REALLY a girl?”

Could it be these people are so surprised by a prominent feminine person in tech/infosec/the hacking scene… they genuinely wonder if I’m a cis boy in disguise…?

I shouldn’t even wonder. I used to get accused of being a boy in disguise all the time in my IRC-wandering days as a teen. Most of the overt misogyny (and implicit transphobia!) dropped off after I started being aggressively public in my online presence.

I’m trying not to be mad/snippy about it. The most recent person to ask me was very obviously quite young. I didn’t want them to feel like I was going off on them. (In fact, I checked, and one of their Twitter friends is a trans* person I know with multiple accounts. So in their case I think the mistaken-for-trans thing is likely. I decided against making an issue of it by asking what they were thinking.) Hence, I’m not posting this to Twitter.

But isn’t it kinda weird that people would repeatedly wonder aloud whether a certain techy cisgirl and a certain techy cisboy are the same person…?

I just wanted to share this screenshot in particular because it captures the core of Twitch Plays Pokemon all in the space of one frame.

That core is suffering.

I just wanted to share this screenshot in particular because it captures the core of Twitch Plays Pokemon all in the space of one frame.

That core is suffering.

*5

0xabad1dea

quantumpsychiatrist said: My substitute physics teacher caught me writing Glory in the Thunder poetry during class today, but I managed to get out of trouble by talking about your DEF CON presentation. I just thought you might want to know that :P

Well, are you going to share?! :) 

I like to think I’m living some sort of double life. Professional hacker by day, mild-mannered writer by night. Saving the internet and crafting the delicate fictional feelings of Sad Teens. 

*7

Open access is now live!

gloryinthethunder:

Glory in the Thunder is now a free-to-read novel.

Read Book One in its entirety online: Front Matter / Chapter One

Obtain Kindle, ePub or PDF: Download

Buy paperback or Kindle (optional, supports the author): Buy

The new scene (which has been moved from Book 2 to Book 1 based on reader…

psst this is my novel

*4

Using my own tumblr as a glorified note-to-self for a possible research project. I am on a Number Stations kick. UVB-76 (or however you want to call it) has been very chatty lately… I pulled the March 20th recording myself for the thrill of finding a few seconds of vocals in 24 hours of continuous beeping.

I discovered first hand how problematic it is that the uvb-76.net archiver has a slight time domain compression problem. It drifts 15 minutes in 24 hours which means that the timestamps on Priyom (11:23 and 12:56) are both several minutes later than where the transmissions are found in the recording. I think the 11:23 one worked out to be at about 11:16 in the MP3… but the important part is about halfway through the minute of 11:08.

When I originally listened it just sounded like some blipping interfering with the buzzing. After I applied noise reduction, however (using a noise profile of both the silence and the beep), it became much clearer it was vocals. You can clearly hear the word Dmitri (which is part of their callsign, and the D in the Russian version of alpha-bravo-charlie), or at least I can. The indiscernible voice goes on for a while. In other words, they were transmitting a message without turning off the buzz. I imagine they realized their mistake and retransmitted a few minutes later.

I have been trying to get an authoritative answer on how common this is on IRC but it seems everyone is asleep :) All I know is that it’s not unprecedented. In the meantime I feel quite proud to have found it all by myself on the first try.

If wav->mp3->tumblr has slaughtered the quality, here’s the wav.

0xabad1dea

kiteinspace said: hi, i got here from a link to your twitch plays pokemon essay, kept reading on your blog, loved the way you write, read the first section of your book sample and you totally sold me, haha! just wanted to say hi, i love every word you've written that i've read so far.

Thank you very much! :D

In other news, the Tumblr for iPad’s UI is confusing and I thought I was answering this privately.

Defending the “ideological compromise” of Twitch Plays Pokemon

I won’t include here the complete history of Twitch Plays Pokemon, which you can grab from the news. I am writing this at 5 Days, 20 Hours and 40 minutes into the “social experiment,” which many people say has “failed” with the introduction of Democracy Mode.

The experiment has not “failed.” The experiment has collected a trove of fascinating player experiences, and made an adjustment in the face of a plateau to revitalize it and collect more fascinating player experiences of a slightly different sort. In artificial intelligence, plateauing refers to an AI getting stuck in a situation where it can no longer meaningfully improve itself. The players got stuck in the same small maze for more than a day straight due to an inability to further improve their co-ordination with the tools provided. At this point, Democracy Mode was introduced (and the original mode named Anarchy Mode) and a mechanism for toggling between them was installed some small time afterwards. The maze was then solved.

This has upset many fans of the game because it “ruined the point” or otherwise seemed to them to have fundamentally damaged the experience. The suggestion put forth by some of them was to simply let the game remain stuck indefinitely, until players quit by the tens of thousands so that a small number of hardcore true fans could co-ordinate their way through the maze. Ostensibly, the thousands of ejected players would then be expected to return.

I hope these people do not apply the same philosophy to everything. They are clinging to absolute ideological purity in the face of undeniable evidence it currently isn’t working. The experiment has not “failed” because a new mode of operating was established. The experiment has shown that Anarchy Mode worked well for a small number of players, was somewhat tenable for a few tens of thousands of players, and become deadlocked when there were many tens of thousands of players faced with an intricate task. When a vote-based system was introduced, it showed that Democracy Mode could sustain the game through the massive playerbase growth.

The game is now toggling between Democracy Mode and Anarchy Mode on a fairly regular basis as people tip the meter through mass voting and occasional use of the “start9” deadlock protest. Democracy Mode is more effective for intricate footwork and Anarchy Mode for battles. Both are equally ineffective at taking care of things like getting out of a dungeon to go heal and getting back, because the exact plan is not necessarily evident to all players, or agreed upon - whereas in puzzles and battles, the goal is completely unambiguous. In puzzles, in particular, the only “dissenting” option is that of the troll, attempting to destroy progress for the sake of ruining others’ fun.

Imagine you founded a town with a few hundred people, and agreed upon some laws with some novel features. All went very well as your town expanded to a few thousand people. At about twenty thousand, however, serious congestion and sanitation issues started becoming evident, and at fifty thousand, it had practically devolved into a war zone. Some relatively minor changes to the laws would clean up the situation substantially. Do you a) make minor changes to the laws or b) tell everyone that 90% of them need to leave the town they moved to because they saw something desirable about it?

Since implementing Democracy Mode, the max simultaneous views has increased by about fifteen thousand, so I don’t think the changes have “ruined the fun” for most people. It allowed the game to remain functionally a game without having to resort to kicking most of the players out. This is not a “failed experiment,” this is an absolutely awesome ongoing experiment which is allowing more and more people to participate.

Thousands of people controlling one Gameboy have co-ordinated sufficiently well, in the face of hordes of trolls, to get four of eight badges and counting. We’re going to Victory Road.