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A lot of ink has been spilt over trigger warnings lately. And I don't want to write about it because I feel like I don't have much to add to the conversation. But when I stop, that feeling nags at me. You can't think with your mouth open; and as someone who always had issues keeping her damn mouth shut, it took me a long time to learn that to listen you must be silent. ... And yet. ... And yet, when someone experiences strong emotions about her own marginalization, but feels compelled to self-silence: that's when you need to listen harder.

Because there are a lot of voices I know full well, and I don't hear them talking.

I know them because they're the voices of my friends, and among friends we talk about things we don't talk about. In the workaday world we put on our faces and never hint at the behemoths raging through our china cabinets. And when we let down our hair, those faces stay on, because you always know who might be listening. And behind closed doors, still, we keep them on because elsewise love would be too tragic. But in secret spaces, we talk. We are, every one of us, damaged. I may not know who hurt you yet, I may not know your story of pain, but I never assume there isn't one; because every single person I've known, when we get close enough, they tell me things we don't talk about. Sometimes it takes years before they feel safe enough, sometimes they never feel safe enough, but if they've ever lowered their guard to me, they've told me. Every. single. person.

We are born and raised and live in a world drenched in abuse. And that abuse doesn't leave scars, it leaves open wounds waiting to have dirt rubbed in them. The first rule of what doesn't happen is that it cannot be spoken of. So healing only happens in those secret spaces, one-on-one, in the dark of night, far far from friends and strangers alike. This privatization of healing only compounds the problem of abuse. When we cannot see past others' faces, when we cannot see the living wounds they bear, when we do not hear their daily resistance against reiterations of violence, we come to think that somehow maybe they haven't been hurt as badly as we. When we see our own people succeed, or see leaders of resistance and "survivors" and "healed" voices speaking up against the injustice of the world, we think that somehow maybe they must be stronger than us, more resilient than us, more determined than us. When we cannot witness their struggle, we think that somehow maybe when they go to bed at nights they need not take the time to scrub out that daily dirt from their wounds. And when we cannot bear that witness, we see ourselves as lesser, broken, impostors.

These are the voices I do not hear speaking out, or hear speaking in only roundabout whispers. These are the voices for whom trigger warnings are writ. As so precisely put by Aoife,

Here's something I need you to understand: the vast majority of students when 'triggered' don't write howlers to department heads or flip laptops over in crowded classrooms for YouTube counts.

On the contrary, they most often shut down and collapse into numbness.

That numbness, that collapse, is the last tool our minds have to keep our faces in place when some sudden shock reopens sore wounds. The second rule of what we do not talk about is that wounds never heal, not entirely. We —some of us— can manage not flinching when someone raises their hand. We —some of us— learn to laugh along when someone touches our back. We —some of us— learn to feel safe in a room alone with a man. We —some of us— learn to turn blind to the "tranny" jokes, to the blackface, to the jibes about trailer parks and country living, to the "sex" scene where she lay sleeping, the scene where he takes the other man 'round back, the man who slaps his wife, the mother who cuffs her child, being told to go pick a switch, to the child starving on the street, to the college kids playing "tricks" on the homeless. We —some of us— learn to live as stone. But stone don't heal, and we all have our rituals of self-care we won't talk about. But when everywhere all you ever see is stone, you know your flesh will never make it if the light still shines in your eyes.

And I too am guilty of this silence culture. Because the fact of the matter is, in this day and age, to speak is to jeopardize my career. I can talk about being trans or being a dyke, and I can at least pretend that the laws on the books will mean a damn. But if I talk about my childhood, I won't be seen as an adult. If I talk about my abuse, I won't be seen as stable. If I bring up my mental life, I won't be seen as professional. If I talk about spoons, I won't be seen as reliable. And so I stuff it down and self-silence and hide what it's like, that daily living with depression and PTSD, til some trigger sets it off and out comes that rage which grows on silence. Some full-force punch to the gut, some words like "I'm not sure suicide is ever the answer" and my eyes go black, and words come out, and they sound nice enough, but every one means "I hate you".

Not to be rude, but sometimes suicide is the answer. It may not be the best answer, but it is an answer. And, unfortunately, sometimes that is all that's required. Sometimes a terrible fucking answer is the only answer to be found.

I say this as someone who's spent more of her life being suicidal than not, as someone who's survived multiple attempts, as someone whose friends have almost invariably spent years being suicidal. Yes, it sucks. And no, it doesn't "solve" anything. But think of the suffering of the victim. It is incredibly difficult to overcome the self-preservation instinct. Profoundly difficult. Imagine the volume of suffering it takes, the depths and duration of misery required to actively overcome the single most powerful compulsion any living creature can experience. There comes a point, long after endurance has already given out, when the full weight of that volume cannot be borne.

Whenever this happens, my thoughts are always with the victim. I cannot help but empathize with that terrible terrible suffering

Because the fact of the matter is, I'm too scared to talk. We live in a culture where suicide is "the easy way" and you're supposed to "take it like a man", but the fact of the matter is noone can take it. We are, every one of us, damaged. We privatize our healing because the first rule of abuse is that it must never be mentioned, must never never be discussed. The learning of silence is the first abuse: it is how we are taught to abuse ourselves, to never never hear that we're not alone.

This isn't about suicide and depression. Isn't about rape and racism. Isn't about violence and neglect. This is about silence. About the words we don't use to not say what you can't talk about. This is about learning to speak using words. About how we must open our mouths in order to listen.

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I'd like to take this moment to point out that all forms of binarism are bad. (Including the binarist notion that all things are either "good" or "bad".) I feel like this has to be pointed out because we, every one of us, has a nasty habit: in our overzealousness to tear down one binary, we do so by reinforcing other binaries. So let me say again. All forms of binarism are bad.

It's well-known that I've had a long, fraught history with certain "feminist" communities, due to which I have heretofore disavowed that label. Because of these persistent conflicts, around ten years ago I retreated from feminist circles and communities. However, over the past year I have rejoined a number of feminist circles— or rather, I have joined womanist, black feminist, transfeminist, and queer feminist circles. And thanks to this reinvolvement with feminist activism I have come, once again, to feel a certain attachment to that word: "feminist". The attachment feels strange to me now, having disavowed it for so long in favor of "womanism", "black feminism", "transfeminism", and "queer feminism". But because of this attachment I feel, once more, the need to reclaim feminism away from those "feminist" communities whose philosophy and political methods I continue to disavow.

So, to piss everyone off once more: a manifesto. )

Edit 2014.07.13: Added footnotes [2] and [3].

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As discussed last time there's a deep-seated problem with performativity as a theory of social categorization. Specifically, it puts the focus on the wrong thing. That our actions are performative in nature gives us important insight into the role agency plays both in forming our own identities and in defending those identities against silencing, marginalization, oppression, and colonialism. But, by centering discussions of identity on our own personal agency we miss out on other important facets of the issue. When we say that someone belongs to a category, we do so because we've decided they belong to the category, or because we think they belong to the category. The statement that they belong to the category is not merely true (or false), we are projecting it to be true (or false). That is, we do not passively observe people's gender, race, class, etc; instead we actively project our own notions of gender, race, class, etc upon them. This projecting of beliefs onto others is called projectivism[1].

Interestingly, by localizing "truth" as the beliefs we hold to be true[2], the projective act is itself performative: by projecting something to be true, one comes to believe that it is true. And yet there is no reason to suppose these beliefs are correct (local truths need not be global truths), nor that they will agree with others' beliefs (local truths need not be true in other locales). Crucially, in the case of categorizing or identifying ourselves, we have access to our own personal thoughts, feelings, memories, subconscious inclinations, etc. Whereas, when others are categorizing us, they do not; they can only observe our bodies, our actions, and the results of our actions. Thus arises the discrepancy in cases like transgenderism. When self-identifying, we may well prize our internal observations over our externally observable state. Nevertheless, others will continue to project their categorizations upon us, regardless of our self-identification.

Not only do people project categories onto others, we do it compulsively. Our persistent and ubiquitous gendering of others is an especially powerful example, but it is in no way unique. Projecting race is another example. And in professional cultures where there are sharply contested borders between "tribes" (e.g., academia and hacker culture), projecting these "tribes" is yet another. This compulsive projectivism —or, more particularly, our unconsciousness of it— is where issues arise.

When we are not typically confronted with evidence that our projections are mistaken, our projectivism becomes almost unconscious. Once there, we fail to notice the fact that we are actively projecting and we come to believe we're passively observing truths about the world. So when our projections turn out to be mistaken, we get a feeling of betrayal, we feel like the person whose identity we were mistaken about was "lying" to us. This subsequent projection that they were "lying" stems from the fact that we mistook our earlier projections for mere observations. Thus, because of an original error on our part, we end up imputing that others are being dishonest or deceptive.

When the identity one desires to be seen as (which may differ from the identity they claim for themselves) is often or easily at odds with the identities projected upon them, they understandably become concerned about trying to avoid these projections of "lying". If one can successfully avoid projections of "lying" they are said to "pass", terminology which turns around and suggests that they were in fact lying the whole time and only managed not to get caught. This terminology is, of course, deeply problematic.

Simply acknowledging compulsive projectivism is not enough. To undo the damage caused by misgendering, racial profiling, stereotyping, and other misprojections, we must lift this knowledge up and remain consciously aware that the beliefs we project onto others are not an observation of their identities. We must denaturalize the projectivist assumption that our beliefs are others' truths, by discontinuing the use words like "passing" which rely on that assumption. And when we feel betrayed we must locate that feeling within ourselves and stop projecting it in bad faith. The performative theory highlights the positive role of agency in our lives, but agency alone is not enough. The projectivistic theory extends this to highlight the negative role of agency when used to deny or overwhelm the agency of others.


[1] I do not mean this terminology to be the same as Hume's notion of projectivism, though of course both terms have the same etymology. Hume's projectivism is popular in the ethics literature, with which I am largely unfamiliar; thus, my use of the term here is not meant to entail whatever baggage it may have accrued in that literature.

[2] While it is not usually presented as such, Austin's original definition of performative speech acts should also only hold up to localized truth. In the classical example "I now pronounce you married", by saying the words one does the deed of pronouncing the couple to be married. However, the pronouncement of marriage does not cause the couple to be married in a universal sense; it only causes them to be married in the current jurisdiction, and a different jurisdiction may or may not recognize that marriage as valid. Because the marriage must be localized, therefore the pronouncement of marriage must be localized: one can't pronounce a couple to be married (everywhere), they can only pronounce them to be married (here, or there, or wherever). Thus, the deed performed by the utterance of the words is a localized deed: the pronouncement of a localized wedding.

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Chapters 4 and 5 capture much of the experience of transitioning and of being trans, respectively. These are the chapters which so many trans memoirs convey in their narration, though often they avoid stating it quite so directly. Both chapters do a good job of conveying the lived experience of trans women, and are well worth reading by cis audiences for that reason.

Read more... )


Chapter 5 especially was nice to read as it cuts to the core of the fact that there are both conscious and subconscious components to our experiences of (our own) gender. Read more... )

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I'm finally getting around to reading Julia Serano's Whipping Girl (2007), and I thought I'd make a few comments as I go along.

The first couple chapters are, by and large, an introduction to the terminology standard in gender studies and transgender circles. For those already familiar, it's light reading; though there are a few important notes of positioning. The first, and one I agree with wholeheartedly, is explicitly stating that "sex" is a socially constructed concept— exactly as "gender" is. Read more... )


The second positioning Serano makes is one I take issue with. Serano names herself a feminist and considers her work in exposing and discussing trans issues to be part of the feminist enterprise. Read more... )


The most interesting point so far is her distinguishing between anti-female ideologies and anti-feminine ideologies. The distinction between femaleness and femininity should make sense to anyone. Serano goes a bit further in trying to systematically distinguish them and to identify when particular acts serve to subjugate women vs subjugating femmes. Feminism, for example, is very pro-female and has successfully built a world where it is natural to say "men and women are equal"; however, it has done so largely at the cost of sacrificing femininity— a woman can do anything a man can do, just so long as she's not too girly about it. I very much hope Serano delves into this topic more.

Women in FP

May. 4th, 2014 06:43 pm
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Katie Miller is giving a talk about FP outreach and diversity at next month's Erlang User Conference. She sent a questionnaire to the Lambda Ladies mailing list about our experiences, and I thought I'd share my responses here.

What led you to pursue functional programming?

Curiosity. I was in grad school, working towards a masters in computer science. And I was particularly interested in programming languages, though I was only familiar with imperative and OO languages at that point. I saw a course on functional programming, so I signed up. Best CS decision I ever made.

What sort of perception did you have of functional programming before you learnt more about it? Was this a barrier? If so, how did you overcome this?

All I knew at the time was that it was some sort of paradigm completely different from imperative and OO. That's it really. This was before FP started becoming popular; so, long before Clojure or Scala were invented, and long before C++ considered adding lambdas/closures to the language. Even within the FP community, Haskell was still considered the new kid on the block (despite having been around for quite some time).

What were the challenges for becoming part of the FP community?

The main challenge was just in figuring out where the community was and how to take part. As I said, this was long before FP became popular. My first FP language was Haskell, but I'd learned it in that course on functional programming so I didn't really know what the community was like. It was a year or two after taking the class that I decided to start really using Haskell for projects. At the time I was taking part in the Perl community, so I thought I'd go searching for some Haskell mailing lists to join. That's when I found the firehose that is Haskell Cafe.

Why do you think women are underrepresented in FP, more so than in programming generally?

I think there are a number of reasons. One of the big ones is how academic the community is. I don't mean that in the way people usually do. I'm an academic, and I love it here! No, the problem is that this creates a huge selection bias. I only really found FP by stumbling into it, and I only stumbled into it because I had a number of supportive advisors who helped foster my interest in programming languages. By the point I found FP, many women would have already been filtered out. Just getting into and affording college is a huge thing, especially for women of color. Let alone making it through undergrad and then getting into a masters program in CS without a bachelor's in CS. Let alone ending up at a school that can offer good FP classes, and finding those supportive advisors to help you along and guide you in the right direction.

If my story is anything to go by, it takes a lot of privilege (and luck) just to get to the point where you discover FP. After that, then you add on all the issues about maintaining community involvement. Because the community is so academic, this heightens issues of impostor syndrome. (Even men are driven out of FP due to impostor syndrome!) And since FP tends to be sold in a hyper-intellectualized manner, this evokes the "math is hard" brand of anti-intellectualism. While this drives a lot of people away, I think it has a differentially powerful impact on women due to the way we gender the sciences. That is, FP propaganda has a habit of taking the things which cause women to be underrepresented in STEM generally, and then cranking them up to eleven.

Another issue, and one I haven't seen discussed very often, is the fact that many FP communities are also FOSS communities. Women are more underrepresented in FOSS than in other CS communities, so the fact that FP tends to be FOSS means that women will tend to be more underrepresented in FP than other CS communities.

What strategies do you think the community could employ to address this problem and improve the (gender, and other types of) diversity in FP?

Setting up communities which aren't so hyper-intellectualized is a big step. Getting rid of all that propaganda and just treating FP like any other paradigm will do a lot to mitigate the impact of impostor syndrome and "math is hard" anti-intellectualism. It's no panacea, but it's probably the easiest thing we can tackle. Addressing the systemic issues is a lot harder.

Do you think it helps to have a women's group like Lambda Ladies? How has it been helpful for you?

I do think it helps. Over the years I've seen a lot of women come and go (mostly go) on Haskell Cafe. Overall I feel like the Cafe is one of the safer and more welcoming communities, but we've still had our misogynistic flareups. And after each one, I've watched the subsequent evacuation as women no longer feel quite so safe or welcome. By offering a safe space, women's groups are an important form of resistance against this sort of problem. It's a space where you don't always have to be on your guard against harassment. It's a space where you don't have to worry about how you present yourself, don't have to worry that femininity will undermine your credibility, don't have to worry about how asking "stupid" questions will affect the way people think of women as a whole.

Also —we don't really do this on LL, but— women's groups can provide a safe environment for venting about the sorts of problems we encounter online, in the work force, etc. Venting is always a tricky topic, but I think the importance of venting is grossly underrated. Whatever community you're a part of, bad things are going to come up sooner or later. When that happens, having a side community where you can let off steam or discuss why the particular thing is problematic is an important way to deal with the emotional fallout of these bad things. Once you've dealt with it, you can return to the main community; but if you have nowhere to deal with it, then things build up and up until you're just done and you quit the community.

In addition to providing a safe space, women's groups also serve an important role regarding announcements for jobs, conferences, etc. The announcements we get are tailored for women and so include important details like how welcoming they are of women, whether they can offer travel expenses, whether they offer child care, and so on.

For me, LL has been helpful mainly as a place to witness women in FP. Just seeing other women is energizing, and keeps me interested in being out there as part of the general FP community. The bit about announcements has also been helpful.

TDOR

Nov. 20th, 2013 02:06 am
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On this day we remember our dead.

When right-wing bigots lie and fabricate stories about trans* people, you look at our dead and tell me with a straight face who should fear whom. While you worry about your kids feeling nervous about nothing happening, I'm too worried for the children who will one day soon be shot, strangled, suffocated, stabbed, tortured, beheaded, lit on fire, and thrown off bridges simply for existing.

And you on the left: I love all you queers, and I'm glad for your victories; but the next time you celebrate an "LGBT" victory you take a long hard look at your history of throwing that "T" under the bus and you look at our dead and tell me with a straight face how it's not yet time to fight for trans* rights.

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Anyone who thinks sexism isn't such a big thing anymore, needs to read the following articles. Anyone who has been raised as male and thinks women's lives are essentially the same, needs to read the following articles. Anyone who wants to believe they aren't sexist or who wants to think of themselves as an "ally" to women, needs to read the following articles. Anyone who lives or works in academia, needs to read the following articles.

The terrible bargain we have regretfully struck
quoth @juliepagano: "If you are a man and have been confused about some of my anger and frustration recently, read the post."
Teaching Naked, Part 1
quoth @jenebbeler: "Incredibly thoughtful post about how a young female prof handled an inappropriate student comment"
Teaching Naked, Part 2
Followup to the first post, on how the administration responded to how she handled the sexual harassment.
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So, one of the things I've been up to in this long silence since posting regularly is getting caught up on my Vernor Vinge reading. I first got started reading Vinge a couple years back, picking up A Deepness in the Sky whilst traveling through Union Station. I fell in love with Deepness and kept meaning to read some of his other work, but found it oddly difficult to locate it in the local bookstores. At the beginning of the summer I picked up copies of Marooned in Realtime and A Fire Upon the Deep from Amazon. Marooned reminds me a lot of G.R.R. Martin's Dying of the Light (which I very highly recommend). I'm still reading through Fire, which has a lot of what I loved about Deepness: namely detailed consideration of the cognitive nature of alien life, especially the effects of alien bodies on cognition, as opposed to the "everyone's human(oid)" perspective familiar from Star Trek and most SF.

For those unfamiliar with Vinge, one of the major themes in his works is the idea of the Singularity. Much of this was novel when he was first writing about it, though it's a mainstream idea these days. There's been a lot of discussion on the technical, technological, and philosophical considerations behind Singularities; just google for transhumanism and you'll run into it. However, I just ran across a post by Elizabeth Bear which comes at it from, IMO, a more interesting direction: namely, analyzing the Singularity as an artistic movement in literature and analyzing it through the lens of critical theory, feminism, etc. I definitely believe that SF is, and has always been, a tool for exploring the current world around us and especially for trying to interpret the effects that current technologies have on social life; but the problems we're working out are not always obvious at the time. Perhaps the Singularity is now old enough that we can start to untangle all the concerns it was invented to address. Bear's posts (both the one I linked to, and the 2006 post cited therein) are a good start in that direction.

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I've said it all before (and been harangued for doing so), but maybe it'll be heard better coming from someone else's mouth. Here's the shortest excerpt I can give from Why I'm leaving feminism:

My ‘issues’ being things like the rape of people in institutions, the fact that the average transgender person can expect to live for 23 years, forcible institutionalisation of people whom society doesn’t want to look at, ridiculously high domestic violence and sexual assault rates for transgender people and people with disabilities. The widening pay gap between white women and women of colour, the fact that the median net worth for Black women is $5. The fact that fat patients die without treatment due to fat hatred in the medical community. The fact that industrial pollution disproportionately impacts communities of colour, that class mobility is at an all time low, that the rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer, that protections for worker safety are steadily being eroded, that unions are under attack in the United States.

These barely scratch the surface of ‘my issues.’ Because I believe that no human is free until all humans are free, no human is equal until all humans are equal, no gains for one group at the cost of another are acceptable. I believe in social justice, in liberty for all. These are my issues. And many people who identify themselves as feminists tell me the issues need to wait. They pay lip service to them until something more important comes along and then it becomes all-consuming. They repeat the same mistakes make by older generations and appear surprised at the inevitable outcome.

[...]

People who continue to be celebrated as feminist heroes leave a legacy of ableism, racism, classism, transphobia in their wake. The feminist movement has never gotten away from this, despite the best attempts of many of its members.

For a long time, I genuinely believed I could change the feminist movement from within. I thought if I fought hard enough, and long enough, feminism would make a place at the table for me, that I would be welcome in the feminist community. But it’s painfully evident I am not wanted, not in mainstream feminism, which is the ‘feminism’ most people are exposed to. I know well enough to know where I’m not wanted. The leaders of the feminist movement don’t just have a lack of interest in ‘my issues,’ they actively want to suppress my voice, and the voices of people like me. They want us to shut up and go away. It’s evident from the palpable sighs of relief when they manage to quash us, it’s evident from the total silence when a disabled women talks about why she is leaving feminism and not one person, not one, says anything about it.

So many disabled people, nonwhite people, transgender people, people of colour, poor people, adamantly refuse to identify with feminism in its current incarnation in the United States. ‘Feminists’ talk about this in the sense that we’re all really feminist in how we think, behave, and act, we just have some irrational resistance to the label. No, we’re not really feminist. The model of feminism we see is one where oppression perpetrated in the name of ‘activism’ is acceptable, where casual ableism, racism, classism, transphobia run so deep that many of us don’t even bother to point it out anymore. The model of feminism we see is one where a handful of people profit at the expense of others. And that’s not how we think, behave, and act. That is not what we believe.

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I've always been a fan of the Metroid series because it was one of the few franchises with a strong female protagonist. From the first game, her being a woman was not a plot detail, but rather just a fact about the character. She can wield a gun with the best of them and wears real armor instead of prancing about in neglige. Being tough as nails doesn't mean you have to be a sexbot, the most competent and effective women can be practical too! But this well-done analysis of the latest installment calls all that into question.

August 31st marked the release of Metroid: Other M, the latest installment of Nintendo’s Metroid franchise, and the most aggressively marketed game in the series. Produced, directed, and written by franchise patriarch Yoshio Sakamoto, with game design by Team Ninja, it represents a significant change of direction for the series. Plenty of reviewers have already dissected its gameplay, with mixed but mostly favorable impressions.

But this is not a gameplay review.

I’m here to address the game’s writing — not so much where it failed artistically (though there are some legitimate complaints to be made on that front), but unfortunately where it succeeds. When it comes to the game’s story, there is an elephant in the room which very few reviewers have addressed head-on.

To put it bluntly, Metroid: Other M is a story that consistently portrays an abusive relationship between two of its main characters, and romanticizes it, painting the depicted behavior as justifiable, even laudable. No single moment in the game bears the blame for this (though a couple are problematic on their own); the entire story, taken as a whole, is the problem.

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