If you follow me on twitter, you might have seen me singing the praises of my shiny new cane a couple weeks back.
I have a neurological condition that causes, among other things, dizziness. I bought a cane because having a third foot is really handy when I’m feeling unsteady.
Since I’m not dizzy every day and not in the office every day, my cane didn’t make its first appearance at the office until this Wednesday.
Wednesday looked a lot like this:
for colleague in colleagues:
curiosity = random.randint(1,20)
if curiosity > 5:
print(colleague.name() + ": what happened?")
print("me: nothing, I just have a neurological condition\
that causes dizziness.")
(For the non-programmers among you, that means I was answering the same question all day).
I don’t particularly mind answering questions about my cane-use. It’s natural to be curious when someone you work with suddenly shows up with an assistive device. If I had it to do again I would have dropped it in the office slack to get the explanation out of the way all at once, but I didn’t find the question invasive or uncomfortable.
But sometimes, these questions are uncomfortable. Some people don’t want to talk about their health or disabilities, especially at work. People with disabilities have good reason to fear discrimination. Even when we’re not concerned about that, sometimes we don’t want to have to be the walking brochure for our conditions, or we’re not up for well-intentioned advice from people who are not part of our medical team.
Which is why I want to give a shout-out to my boss, for asking the question a different way. Rather than asking “what happened,” he asked, “are you okay?”
You know this because you’re a decent human being. You want to see all people treated fairly. You know there is nothing even remotely funny about rape. If you could do something to reduce the prevalence of rape in the world, or even just affirm the humanity of those who’ve survived it, you’d do it in a heartbeat. You’re a hero, after all.
But Cap, when your buddy Tony Stark cracked a rape joke, you dropped the ball.
I get it. You froze. You didn’t want to make things weird, or blow one vulgar joke out of proportion. I mean, what do you even say to something like that?
I’m glad you asked. Here’s what you say:
“Dude, not cool.”
“Rape jokes aren’t funny.”
Go ahead and try those out a few times. I’m serious. It might sound goofy, but standing up to your buddies is hard. If you practice, you’ll be a lot more prepared to respond in the moment.
I’ll tell you what, though. As hard as it is to stand up to your buddies, when you do it, you won’t do it alone. When you make it clear that you’re not okay with rape jokes, you make room for others to say the same.
I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure that this is how the story would go if you’d told Stark he was out of line:
“I will be re-instituting prima nocta,” Tony said, reaching for the hammer.
Steve lowered his drink, looking at Tony as if he’d just ripped a noxious fart in the middle of the party. “Really, Tony?”
“Wait,” Tony said. “You get jokes now? When did that happen?”
Thor frowned. “Are not jokes supposed to be funny?”
“He’s got you there,” said Bruce.
Tony yanked on the hammer. It didn’t budge. “Fine. Cap, let’s see you lift it.”
Steve rose and walked to the hammer, rolling his shoulders to loosen his muscles before grabbing the handle.
The hammer was lighter than Steve expected. It was half an inch off the table before he even realized he’d lifted it.
He dropped it immediately, and spent the next ten seconds pretending to pull.
Tony already felt like a jackass. There was no need to rub it in.
That’s how it would have gone.
And you want to know the best part?
You don’t need to be a super-soldier for these lines to work. Normal guys can use them, too.
Author Jim C. Hines wrote an excellent post about depression on Tuesday. Unfortunately, while most of the comments are good, some of them are textbook examples of obnoxious things people say about depression (‘be at peace with yourself?’ What does that even mean?).
While I’m doing pretty well these days, I’ve dealt with depression in the past. It’s likely that I’ll deal with it again. I’ve spent time medicated. I’ve spent time essentially non-functional. I’ve spent time going through the motions of normalcy even though it required an exhausting amount of willpower, only to have my exhaustion held up as a sign of my weak moral character.
Jeff’s language about “major changes in a person’s life” make it sound like he’s talking about situational depression. While situational depression is real and difficult, it’s a very different animal than chronic depression. Chronic depression tends to come in cycles. It can be beaten back, but never fully ‘cured.’ Advising people to see it as a ‘catalyst for change’ is, at best, insensitive.
What’s actually bothering me about this comment, though, is the suggestion that depression can inspire creativity. People with depression hear this a lot. Tortured artists are part of our cultural zeitgeist. And while I’m sure that many of the people who trot out this line mean well, I want to take a moment to unpack why it’s problematic.
First, we don’t actually have a lot of evidence that depression ‘inspires creativity.’ We know that a small subset of people with depression have produced skillful and moving works of art. It does not automatically follow, however, that depression ‘inspired’ their art. It could be that they created in spite of their depression.
Even when people use art to help work through their personal demons, it still doesn’t necessarily follow that their depression made them better artists. We don’t know what they would have created if they weren’t depressed.
Some people with cancer create incredible works of art, but most people know better than to tell them the ‘glass is half full.’ Rather, we appreciate what they’re able to create in the face of their devastating disease, and mourn their deaths if their disease proves fatal.
Depression is also a potentially fatal disease, and glamorizing depression in artists trivializes that. It reduces artists who suffer from depression to martyrs for the cause of artistic greatness, as if their suffering is some kind of gift to the universe.
People with depression don’t owe us their pain. They don’t owe us their exhaustion, their anxiety, their boredom, or their anger. They certainly don’t owe us art.
If they’re able to find comfort or pleasure in artistic endeavors, good for them. If they’re able to use creative work to process and heal, all the better. If their depression makes creating more difficult but they do it anyway because that’s how they put food on the table, we should respect that work without romanticizing their struggles. And if they need to spend time focusing on their own health and not making anything, then good on them for taking care of themselves, and they should get to do so without bystanders telling them ‘the glass is half full.’
Artists with depression are whole people whose struggles and triumphs do not belong to the rest of us. They deserve to be recognized for their hard work and talent without having their accomplishments reduced to a symptom of their disease.
Were you to express your condolences to us today, we would of course thank you for them — we know they’re sincere and we know they’re meant from the heart. But we would hope you would also understand when we said “thank you” and then chatted with you about something else entirely, it’s not because we are pained about revisiting the grief. It’s that the grief is like a shirt that is six sizes too small. It fit once, but it doesn’t fit now, and trying to get it back over our heads would be an exercise in futility.
That describes pretty much exactly my relationship to the trauma I ounce felt around being assaulted.
Our society has some weird taboos around talking about assault that are very much tied in with the guilt and blame we place on survivors. There was a time when I internalized those narratives, but that time is long, long behind me.
So while I appreciate folks’ concern, please understand that I’m the same person I was before you knew this about me. This is not a gushing hemorrhage. It’s an old, faint, faded scar, easily hidden. There is no cause for alarm.
I disclose my survivor status because I want society to be a safer and more compassionate place for survivors.This is a political discussion for me, and I talk about it politically.
But the fact that I talk about it on my terms, for this specific purpose, does not mean that I’m interested in discussing it in other contexts.
This is a fraught and difficult subject, and like many other fraught and difficult subjects, it needs to be approached with care.
It’s not, for example, something I particularly want to talk about at work, or when I’m socializing at a professional conference.
A simple “Hey, I read your post” is perfectly fine–I’m not ashamed of having written it. You don’t need to pretend you didn’t see it. But please respect that I’m unlikely to want to have an involved discussion about it.
Third: For Other Survivors
If you are an assault survivor who needs someone to talk to: I’m really sorry things are rough for you right now. You matter, and you deserve the very best care and support. Please seek out organizations local to you that assist survivors. I’m not a crisis counselor, and I cannot provide the quality of support that you deserve.
I’m going to go ahead and turn off comments on this. Feel free to head over to Jim’s blog to comment on the original post.
[Content warning: violent misogyny, organized hate campaigns, abuse, harassment, stalking]
Folks who are familiar with the tech and gaming communities probably already know that there’s an ongoing campaign of terror being used to stalk, harass, threaten, assault, and abuse women out of the tech and gaming communities. It’s actually a loosely-interwoven set of campaigns of terror stretching back years, but it’s getting more central and more organized, and it’s picked up steam in the wake of conservative actor Adam Baldwin endorsing it and giving it a ridiculous name.
Some folks are going to use Greenhall’s account of abuse and erasure as a justification for the campaign of terror being leveled against Kane. Greenhall has plainly stated she does not want this. When you see people doing it anyway, be clear that they’re using her and her story in a manner explicitly contrary to her wishes. They are not allies, and they have absolutely no interest in protecting women from harassment and abuse. They are perpetuating both.
Stated plainly: none of this justifies the campaign of terror aimed at Kane. Nothing makes it okay to publish her family’s addresses, to threaten her with rape and death, to violate her privacy, to butt into her sex life, or to otherwise participate in the organized campaign of abuse being leveled against her.
None of it.
If you only support abuse victims if they meet your standard of ‘deserving,’ then you don’t support abuse victims at all. You’re using abuse and your ability to withhold support as a means of manipulating and controlling vulnerable populations.That’s an abuser tactic, and if you’re going to try it, kindly do so very far away from me. 92,960,000 miles should be far enough. Preferably in the direction of our friendly neighborhood gravity well.
I also want to be clear, however, that the people who are going to twist Greenhall’s words are people who would use any convenient weapon to attack Kane. This campaign of misogynist terror is not a force of nature. It’s a group of people making conscious choices, and they, not Greenhall, are responsible for their behavior. Appeals to ‘unity’ and ‘supporting the cause’ are common tactics to silence abuse victims, especially when the abusers are popular and respected figures within a community. It isn’t right to ask Greenhall to be silent while people uncritically support someone who has perpetuated the same pattern of credit-taking and erasure that women face throughout the tech community.
Now. Speaking of uncritical support.
Yesterday, before I’d heard Greenhall’s story, I tweeted about Kane’s work:
Every woman who unapologetically speaks out in support of our basic humanity gets painted as mean, rude, bitchy. There is no 'nice' enough.
The point I was trying to make in those tweets still stands. Trying to separate the ‘good,’ ‘nice,’ ‘worthy’ activists you’re willing to listen to from the ‘mean,’ ‘bitchy,’ ‘rude’ ones you can dehumanize and ignore is a means of control. It’s saying “I’ll recognize your humanity if you behave in the way I dictate.” It’s saying “Your anger is valid only so long as it is palatable to me.” It also ignores the very concrete ways in which refusing to court the approval of those in power creates space for other women to speak.
But in the course of making that point, I uncritically supported someone who has erased another activist from her work. Even if you don’t believe Greenhall about the verbal and emotional abuse (and again, I do), the trail of evidence regarding Kane erasing her from the history of Model View Culture speaks for itself. That evidence lives on the public internet, and I completely failed to notice.
For that, I apologize to Greenhall. I’m sorry she went through what she did. I’m sorry I didn’t pay attention, and I’m sorry I perpetuated a reductive view of this whole situation as a binary question of either wholeheartedly supporting Kane or co-signing the campaign of misogynist terror that is being leveled against her.
Kane’s work, and the work of other women who are willing to publicly, loudly refuse to cater to the egos of powerful white men in tech, directly benefits me. It widens the Overton window and creates space where I can speak more safely, because I’m behind the front lines. It’s a tactic I have used myself to help make space for others, so I know firsthand that it takes a toll.
Supporting her also benefitted me–as of this writing, I’ve picked up something like seventy followers off those tweets.
But this system of lifting up individual people as heroes doesn’t benefit any of us. Even in the very best cases, it’s a lot of pressure to put on a person. We expect these ‘heroes’ to fulfill our narrative that The Hero Always Wins; to bear up under abuse and terror and triumph in spite of everything. We send them forth to the front lines of the struggle, but leave them without an adequate support structure to fall back on when the worst parts of the internet come gunning for them.
When we’re not at the very best case, it can lead to situations like this one, where a leader in our community behaves badly, and we’re left with the choice of either continuing to accrue the benefits of their work without regard for the people they’ve hurt, or else withdrawing support, which leaves a gap in the shield wall that violent misogynists will use to hurt them.
In her post, Greenwall calls for a third option with regard to Kane:
This option lays aside the hero narrative. It requires seeing other activists as human beings who can do important work but who can nonetheless be flawed and problematic, rather than reducing them to symbols whose flaws and weaknesses must be ignored in the name of the greater good.
When we acknowledge people for doing good work rather than for being a hero, it eliminates some of the cognitive dissonance that will lead us to ignore or silence evidence that they may not be everything we want them to be. It can serve as a safeguard against perpetuating the common pattern of ignoring victims and closing ranks around abusers. And, at the end of the day, I hope it can also take the pressure off people who are in the ‘hero’ role, so that they don’t have to shoulder the burden of being invulnerable, bulletproof ideas.
Every once in a while, I’m reminded that there are people who think that bisexuality and monogamy are inherently incompatible. That bisexual people are incapable of maintaining successful monogamous relationships, because being attracted to more than one gender means that we need to be in a sexual relationship with at least one member of every gender to which we are attracted.
For the longest time, I had no clue where people got this idea. I was utterly baffled by it. I eventually came to understand that some people have this idea that bisexuality is basically an overabundance of lust. They construe bisexuals as essentially being so lustful that we can’t limit our attraction to just one gender, like ‘normal’ people do.
Ancient Greeks thought that’s how homosexuality worked. They were wrong too.
This assumption is really quite tiresome. A bisexual person telling you a basic fact of their identity or history is not inviting you ask invasive questions about their sex life, but people do it all the time. People will say things like “But–aren’t you married?” Or “So do you switch back and forth between being attracted to men and women?”
I still remember the high school peace studies class where someone said they thought that bi people were “greedy,” and I was suddenly expected to have a ‘class discussion’ about this, as if their small-minded, ugly, ignorant bullshit deserved equal consideration with my personal experience of what it was like to live my life.
Like I said. Tiresome.
So here’s a little thought exercise, for those of you who experience sexual attraction to one gender (hereafter, monosexuals) and who are confused on this point.
Think of someone you find sexually attractive. Could be your significant other or a celebrity. Doesn’t matter.
Okay. Now think of someone else you find sexually attractive.
Still with me? You probably are, because most people are capable of finding more than one person sexually attractive at the same time.
People who are capable of this when they’re single tend to remain capable of it if they become monogamously-partnered in some way. Most of those people are capable of maintaining successful monogamous relationships, even if they happen to find someone other than their partner sexually attractive.
So now, here’s the kicker. This is the part that apparently blows people’s minds. Ready?
It works the same way for bisexuals.
Obviously, not all bisexuals are monogamous. Some bisexuals are polyamorous, meaning they have consensual romantic and/or sexual relationships with more than one person at a time. But guess what? Some monosexuals are polyamorous, too. Poly folks are poly because that’s what works for them, not because their underlying sexual orientation is wrongly associated with an overabundance of lust.
But for those of us who are monogamous, and who are capable of finding more than one person sexually attractive at the same time, it doesn’t affect our ability to maintain monogamous relationships any more than it affects a monosexual person’s ability to do the same.
We do not need to ‘turn off’ our attraction to people who are not the same gender as our monogamous partner, any more than monosexual people need to ‘turn off’ their attraction to other people of the same gender of their monogamous partner(1).
Like anyone else in a monogamous relationship, we may occasionally experience a sexual attraction that tests our commitment to our partner, but that has nothing to do with being bi. Infidelity among monosexuals has been a thing since pretty much always.
But even if there was a much higher incidence of non-monogamy among bisexuals. If someone indicates that they’re in a monogamous relationship, shouldn’t you assume that they, you know, want to be? Absent any direct evidence to the contrary, shouldn’t you assume that it’s something they have chosen for themselves, and that they probably chose it in good faith and with every intention of keeping their promises to their partner?
Shouldn’t you then also assume that monogamy is probably compatible with their sexuality, since they’re choosing to be monogamous?
People are actually pretty good at being the bosses of their own lives.
For those that aren’t good at being bosses of their own lives–that’s probably a thing you know about them already, if you’re close enough to them that the manner in which they conduct their relationships is your business.
And if you’re not that close to them, you should probably assume that they’ve got it handled. Because even if they don’t, it’s no concern of yours, and asking invasive questions about who they sleep with and how they manage the staggering feat of keeping their word is really quite rude.
(1)Also, ‘turning off’ sexuality isn’t really a thing, because sexuality is not a choice. If you’re a gay man or lesbian woman who beats that ‘not a choice’ drum in the march for your own rights but then treats bisexuality like it’s the ability to choose which gender to find attractive, you should maybe think about that for a little while, and then knock it off.
This Thursday, I’m headed to fabulous Detroit for ConFusion, which is without a doubt my favorite annual Science Fiction and Fantasy convention.
Here’s where you can find me at the con:
5PM Friday – What About Peaceful Societies? – Erie Room Utopias are often described to be perfect, peaceful societies. Peaceful societies in Sci-Fi are almost without fail a reference to enforced peace and a situation to be escaped from – the dystopic novel. But what happens to peaceful societies that aren’t part of a dystopia world? Can any society truly be peaceful? And what’s the conflict worth writing about in an inherently peaceful society?
10AM Sat – We Have Alwats Fought (In Real Armor) – Michigan Room When it comes to armor, women in genre fiction tend to get the short end of–well, everything. We’ll look at real women’s armor from history through the present day, and discuss how to design science fiction and fantasy armor for women that’s as impressive as it is protective.
5PM Sat – Clothing Your Characters – Warren Room They say ‘clothes make the man,’ but they also make his physical and social world. Help our panel of writers and costumers build and dress a fictional world, and learn how you can use costume details to enhance the depth and verisimilitude of your work.
7PM Sat – The Masquerade! I’m helping out behind the scenes at this year’s masquerade. If you’re coming and you’re into costumes, I really encourage you to enter–we have an excellent lineup of judges, and our prizes include a free ticket to next year’s ConFusion. It’s a great show.
11AM Sun – Costuming From Ink and Pixel – Allen Park Room From anime to comic books to CGI and video games, animated worlds are full of iconic, stylish characters. But it often takes a little work to translate their costumes into the real world. Come learn how to examine your source material to choose the right fabric, colors, and construction techniques to bring your favorite animated characters to life.
ConFusion has a reputation for taking good care of guests and putting on a great con. I’m really looking forward to hanging out with friends from cons past and meeting fabulous new people.
I won’t bore you with the technical details (although if you’re looking for a blog platform, hit me up and I’m happy to tell you why I chose Squarespace). The practical effect, aside from the shiny new template, is that the new back-end will make it easier for me to blog more frequently.
My wordpress install was crashing every time I put up a post, which meant that trying to get content up meant not just writing it, but also logging into the server and rebooting MySQL. It was a pain. So when I’ve had things to blog about, I’ve frequently just strung tweets together instead. This was a less-than-ideal solution for a number of reasons (hi there, Twitter followers who’ve gotten used to muting me when I’m on a blog-length twitter roll).
So, welcome to the new digs. I hope to get a lot of use out of them.
This is a story from the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the streams are fast and rocky and the soil is as dark as coffee grounds.
There, in the old hills, there is a roofless cabin with crumbling walls. Soot stains the gaping windows. A doll’s burned head sit propped against a rusted bed frame, staring vacantly through the empty front door.
Though those woods are so thick with mountain laurel that even the deer can’t pass, nothing grows inside the ruin of the house. Even the leaves the wind blows in run scared, skittering across the cracked concrete.
They say she left the mountain to get milk. Her children were sick with fever.
An ember blown from the wood stove caught the old straw mat.
The children did not wake. They slept like bees under the blue grey wool of smoke. They were dead before the fire even reached them.
The shattered remains of a milk bottle still litter the flagstone path.
They say she ran straight into the flames.
She never made it to her children. The smoke and fire overtook her just inside the door, and she died where she fell. She never found her babies’ bodies, still tucked into their beds.
But they say she is still looking. They say that children who sleep in those woods sometimes wake with milk in their hair. They also say that if you find a path between the laurels on a cold clear night, you might glimpse her walking the ridge in her milk-white dress, wailing the names of her children into a wind that smells of smoke.
If you ever hear her cries, you should turn away. Retreat into the laurel bushes and follow your feet until you hear children’s laughter in the rush of a stream.
Because if you meet the white lady on that ridge, the last sound you’ll ever hear is her glass milk bottle, shattering.
In their book Writing The Other, Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward talk about how to avoid building characters that are mere stereotypes. This is especially tough for secondary characters, because we tend to see them only through the eyes of viewpoint characters, so we may only get a very shallow look at who they are:
Generally, a secondary character has one main character trait. However, a secondary character shouldn’t be that one trait exclusively. Neither should all the secondary character’s few illustrated traits point to the same ROAARS [Race, Orientation, Ability, Age, Religion, Sex] category. That makes a stereotype of even the most minor of “bit players.”
I took their workshop in June, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot since–especially in light of my own transition to Plain Dress. I’m getting used to people making assumptions about me because of the way I dress. I’m getting used to people staring, photographing me without my permission, and asking me about what my deal is, because my clothing is unusual. It’s a Marked State.
Nisi and Cynthia’s advice about writing secondary characters so their traits don’t all line up with stereotypes rings very true to me, in light of this experience. I’ve seen how laughably wrong people’s assumptions can be.
It is weird to me how many folks seem to rail against such a sensible suggestion–I’ve heard it called “PC bull” that “distracts from the story” over the wailing of “but stereotypes exist for a reason.”
Indeed, they do. That reason is confirmation bias.
If you only see me occasionally, or in transactional contexts, you’re going to notice that I’m a plain Quaker. I wear long sleeves. I cover my hair. I don’t drink alcohol. I make an effort to recognize the humanity in others, even when I’m having a bad day–not because I’m saintly but because I’m really, really not, and dressing the way I do can remind me of my commitment to being a good person when nothing else does. I can be stringent about my religious beliefs, and I’m not afraid to quote the bible if I think it’ll get someone off my case about not taking oaths or using honorifics. If you see me only through a mirror, dimly, it is easy to imagine that the parts of me occluded by the old glass line up in ways that you expect with the parts that show.
I know because I’ve watched people imagine this. I’ve watched them peer at me through their clouded glass and interact with the reflection their mind has made of me, instead of with the real me in front of them.
We are all accustomed to not knowing much about people we’ve just met. But the more marked your state, the less likely people are to know how little they know about you–their mind fills in the space behind the flaws in their glass so seamlessly that they forget the flaws are there at all. They’ll believe their picture of you is much more complete than it really is.
As we get to know people, the view through our glass naturally shifts–we see them from more than one angle, and in different lights. Through this process, we learn to see around the flaws in our glass to what’s actually there.
I have a motorcycle.
The plain clothes I wear are actually typical of men’s plain dress, not women’s, because women’s plain dress made me feel out of place in my skin.
I’m a computer programmer.
I’m bisexual, but that’s never been a crisis of faith for me. God made me this way, and God doesn’t make trash.
I’m trying to stop, but it’s an ingrained habit.
There’s not much of the bible I can quote without looking it up. And by ‘looking it up,’ I mean ‘with google,’ because I can’t remember where anything is in there.
This summer, I went to a science museum with some friends, including two other plain Quakers. I bought a plush space shuttle from the gift shop. Shortly after leaving, I realized the space shuttle looked like a penis (seriously, it does). I giggled about this, because I’m secretly twelve, and the others started giggling too. Another member of our party didn’t get what was so funny, so one of my plain compatriots explained the joke by, uh, gesturing with the toy.
A cab driver stopped at a red light nearby nearly died laughing. “You’re so bad!” he called, before driving away. We laughed. Even from a distance, the cab driver could tell the toy designers were having a laugh at the expense of unobservant shoppers.
Later, I realized that what made it so funny to the cab driver probably wasn’t the toy, or even the pantomime. It was that my friend was making a lewd joke while plain.
No one expects people in religious dress to make dick jokes.
Some of us do it anyway.
It would be easy to dismiss me as ‘an exception that proves the rule,’ but that’s confirmation bias as well. The saying doesn’t actually mean ‘prove’ as in ‘confirm.’ It means ‘prove’ as in ‘test, challenge–‘ if you’ve found one exception, how many others might there be? If you’ve met one butch bisexual feminist Quaker biker with a pottymouth and a gutterbrain, how many other plain Quakers might be people you don’t expect? None of these traits are unique to me. For each one, I can name another Quaker who shares the trait.
We can’t always repair the flaws in the glass through which we see the world. These scratches, clouds, and nicks are borne of a lifetime of conditioning.
But when we’re aware of them, we can look around them–shift our view and actively look for the things confirmation bias would have us discard. It’s hard work, but rewarding. We live far more interesting lives if we interact with people face to face, instead of through a dim glass.
And you never know what kinds of jokes your glass obscures.