A personal challenge to allies

May 6, 2014 2 comments

(Blows off dust. Taps mic. Uh… hi! It’s been a while…)

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve shared a lot of really great and assertive articles about privilege and feminism. I do this a lot. I really enjoy signal boosting writers who say things better than I can, especially about topics that tend to bring out the trolls like feminism and privilege.

There are two articles that really resonated with me lately. The first, from Guerilla Feminism was titled “Please Shut Up About ‘Not All Men.’” The second was a Jezebel response to the Princeton kid who refused to “apologize for his privilege” called “To The Princeton Privileged Kid.” Both were great! Both had some great points! Both were a little snarky and wry, but addressed things that I’m usually not capable of discussing without wanting to set things on fire because they make me so angry!

What I haven’t enjoyed are some of the really disappointing comments from some friends on those threads I started. I watched people, overwhelmingly male friends, sift through entire articles to pull out one or two lines that might have been overly snarky or, at worse, mildly condescending. Whole articles, rich with commentary and insight, getting dismissed as “navel gazing,” “othering,” and “hostile.” All because of “aggressive” one-liners that wouldn’t even get a second glance if they appeared in an article about literally any other topic than feminism.

The easiest way to undermine someone’s point is by attacking their tone. It doesn’t actually matter if you’re making this criticism with the intention of making their argument more accessible, because when you do (especially if you do it publicly with an audience) you are inarguably shifting the focus away from the importance of what they are saying and making it about them and their failing to make activism accessible to you.

This is especially true when it comes to discussion about feminism, where there is limited space and men’s voices are disproportionately amplified by default. Even the most well meaning criticisms of tone are unhelpful at best because they, once again, shift focus away from the issues at hand and onto men’s feelings about feminism, which is absolutely not the point.

So, I have a personal challenge to the men I know who think of themselves as allies, but who still tend to derail discussions about inequality with tone arguments. Consider it a dare, in two parts.

1) Do you feel the urge to share an article about feminism, racism, or unpacking privilege, but feel put off by the writer’s tone? That’s OK. Instead of using your platform to criticize or undermine someone’s writing, find an article whose tone is more accessible to you, and share that instead. Worse case scenario is that you might end up reading more things that make you think, and at best you don’t end up using your platform to amplify an article you can’t stand behind *or* perpetuate tone policing!

2) Can’t find a replacement article whose tone you agree with? Write and publish your own!

I have to admit, Anil Dash’s article titled “The Year I Didn’t Retweet Men” kept on popping up in my mind while I was writing this. So in the grand tradition of “someone said it better than me,” I’m going to end this with a quote directly from his article:

“Try being mindful of whose voices you share, amplify, validate and promote to others. For me, it was giving a platform to women where I wasn’t able to mansplain the things they were already saying, but instead just sharing out their own thoughts in their own words.”

Yep. That. That right there just about sums it up.

Categories: activism

stringing together the pieces

December 30, 2013 3 comments

Conor, from his own flickr stream

Conor Fahey-Latrope: 10/06/77 – 12/27/13

But if you stand and stare across the sea
It’s like you’re standing right next to me
You’ll hear my whispers carry on the breeze
As you close your eyes to sleep
Its like you’re lying right next to me
(The New Trust – Absence Makes The Heart Go Wander)

 

Last Thursday my friend Conor took his own life.

Ever since, I have been trying to string together the pieces, trying to make sense of what a world without Conor looks like.

There are the pieces that exist in memory. There are the memories of me dragging him to Ukiah for an impromptu trip to the shooting range, where in his truck he asked me to recommend good metal and I obliged, blasting Darkest Hour and Children of Bodom the whole drive up. The times where he’d come into the cafe I was working at and just hang out with me at the counter. There was the dinner we shared at my favorite restaurant across from my ex’s house, where he was staying for a while. That was the dinner where he confided in me that despite the troubles he and his wife Ava were facing, that he loved her dearly and wanted to have more children with her. There are so many other memories that I barely dare share on an, ahem, public blog. The shenanigans in Reno hotel rooms. The cocktail parties in the middle of the desert.

There the pieces that exist as interrupted memories. There are the text and gchat messages between us from the day before he died, where we were planning to go to an epic punk show at 924 Gilman on Friday. There are those awkward, lingering pieces of digital ephemera that I wish I could take back, like the text I sent him before I got the news asking, “You alive? Gilman tonight?” The text message from Ava that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to delete where she told me the news. There’s the fact that he’s still signed into chat, his name right near the top of my chat list. Like he’s going to suddenly return from away and message me, apologizing for flaking.

I’m sure there are many memories of him that I’ll never remember simply because they seemed insignificant at the time. Things I never thought were worth remembering because I thought they would be repeated, over and over.

There are the visceral and intense pieces that I haven’t quite processed but feel like I needed to experience in order to understand the reality of my friend’s death. Pieces like seeing his apartment before it was cleaned. Pieces like watching a friend spackle over the bullet hole in the ceiling. Pieces like carefully packing away his clothes into a box labeled “FUNERAL.” This is not the first time I’ve experienced the death of a friend, and certainly not the first friend I’ve lost to suicide, but never before have I been involved with the immediate crisis-management process of losing someone suddenly and unexpectedly. I’m incredibly thankful to Ava for letting me be a part of that process, and thankful for all the other friends who showed up and have been helping too (even if it has involved a lot of crying on the floor surrounded by boxes).

There are the little pieces and clues, the things that fit together to form a picture of an impulsive mistake rather than a planned action. The book about how to prepare for a new puppy. Uncashed checks on the counter. Plans that he’d made with me and others. I don’t know if knowing that this was a lapse in judgement, a big stupid mistake, makes any of this any easier. I feel like much of managing my own struggle with depression is finding ways to put as much distance as I can between myself and the opportunity to make a similar impulsive mistake. I’m heartbroken that my friend ultimately got too close to that edge.

There are pieces from people who are better at making sense of things than I am, including this piece from our friend Suzanne that was so on target that I’ve only been able to read it through once: Depression is a disease, and most of us aren’t doctors.

The biggest piece in all of this is what he left behind. A beautiful baby daughter, Finn, and his wife Ava, one of the strongest women I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Holding Finn on that first day after was a welcome moment of solace in the middle of this incredibly hard storm.  They have a huge well of support now, including friends like me who are totally willing to look like a crazy person on BART, sobbing into a paper bag stuffed with sandwiches to deliver to those holding down the fort and packing up his apartment. They’re going to need even more support in the coming months and years. A couple of our quick thinking friends have set up a website here with information on how to help Ava and Finn, including a fundraiser for immediate and long term costs.

I wish I could end this artfully. I wish I could string all these pieces together into something that makes sense, a picture of a life and death that is both complete and comforting. But there are pieces none of us will ever have, explanations and apologies and expressions of love that we will never see.

There is one last piece, I guess.

I love you.

Categories: personal

Worse than a walled garden

May 28, 2013 1 comment

So, Google has a  known history of axing things that people like. My eye gets twitchy every time they funnel a new service through Google+. I whined and moaned when they axed sharing on Google Reader. I was even more pissed when they axed Reader altogether. But none of these were things that I desperately needed, so I sort of grinned and bore it, all the while chalking it up to the perils of using a free service run by what is basically an advertising company.

But now that Google is dropping full XMPP support, I’m not just pissed off. I’m actively worried.

Here, have some flowery quotes from the shills at Verge responsible for this fluff piece:

But today, the wait is over as Google introduces a new messaging platform it’s calling Hangouts. It spans Android, iOS, Chrome, and Gmail. It’s a fusion of Google’s strengths in cloud computing, search, and mobile.

Hangouts keep your messages in the cloud — which isn’t exactly revolutionary, but since it’s Google’s cloud, there are some unique benefits. Every Hangouts conversation is stored online (and is accessible from any Hangouts app), but there is an option to toggle off history if you’d like to go off the record.

XMPP is an extensible chat framework that, among other things, delivers instant messages to desktop clients. Personally, I use Adium to funnel chats from a range of my friend’s jabber addresses into one place.  I actually use a handle associated with a Google Apps domain to communicate with my friends, and XMPP support means I can talk to users on different instant messaging networks.

More importantly, I use Adium because it enables me, at any time, to switch quickly and reliably chat off the record. OTR chat provides encrypted end-to-end messaging between chat clients, allowing two people to communicate in a mostly secure fashion regardless of what their chat provider is. I’m aware there are vulnerabilities to OTR security across platforms like Adium (and also other clients like Pidgin). Anyone looking for a good primer on how off the record messaging works should pop on over to the cypherpunks.ca page on OTR. There’s a FAQ! There’s documentation! There’s a big donation button that you should click.

So what the Verge article (along with most of the other coverage on the Hangouts switch) tellingly fails to mention is that this switch to Hangouts will drop all support for users who wish to use third party clients to communicate with people on other XMPP servers. If I want to talk to, say, someone with a handle run through @jabber.ccc.de, then I’m shit out of luck. Google’s XMPP servers will no longer federate with other people’s servers. There are a number of servers out there that exist almost exclusively to cater to people who have reason to want to protect their privacy and security (riseup.net specifically comes to mind). Now, they’ll still be out there and able to communicate with each other… but not to any Google server.

This article from Ars Technica sheds only a little more light on what Hangouts mean for OTR users:

“The good news is that Hangouts will still support client-to-server connections via XMPP, though only for one-to-one text chat. That means that Web and client-side chat applications that have used XMPP to connect to Google Talk will still be able to see presence information about their contacts in Google+ and chat with them via text in Hangouts.”

So there will still be some basic XMPP support. However, the implications for OTR support are still foggy at best, and in my opinion merit a closer look. But “chatting via text” doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence.

This is much more sinister than Google simply building the walls on their garden a bit higher. This move actively disrupts a chat ecosystem that supports the most vulnerable and the most sensitive users. If Google cripples third party client XMPP support, they will be booting people who rely on OTR chat to ensure their digital safety squarely out of their walled garden altogether. It seems that OTR support will still exist for gmail-to-gmail chat within their walled garden… for now.

Now, I know that a number of people in the security community are already highly distrustful of Google. While I have always at least understood their concerns in the past, I’ve often defended the big G. I’ve known a number of Googlers who have demonstrated with both their work and occasional drunken rant with me at some security con that they deeply, sincerely care about the privacy and rights of the users who rely on them. They consistently get high marks from organizations like the EFF. Anyone who wants to get an idea of hours they log to protect their users should look at a few pages of their Security Team’s public blog. There’s some hard work there, and it’s for reasons like these that when people ask me if I trust Google, I have answered (with reservations) yes.

But this move to drop XMPP support makes me question that. It also makes me question what I should tell my peers, especially journalists who wish to better protect their sources, when they ask me about things like OTR chat. When I was in journalism school, one of my hobbies was showing my peers in the newsroom how to set up OTR chat on their desktop clients and how to verify keys. It was easy, and people could use their ubiquitous gmail addresses instead of having to set up some new jabber handle. What am I supposed to say to those peers seeking my advice now? “Well, this is the easiest and most reliable way to go OTR with the credentials you already have and a few clicks, but who knows how long that will last!”

Although this post feels a bit like shouting into the abyss, I wish there was a way I could address the Hangouts team and remind them how vitally important it is that Google’s XMPP servers continue to federate with other XMPP servers. I wish I could remind them of the journalists, activists, and other vulnerable people on the ground who rely on this support and ability to communicate securely across platforms.

This is more than bolstering a walled garden. This is a slashing and burning of the crops in that garden that people were relying on.

Categories: activism, security

Trains and mortality

March 29, 2013 6 comments

“No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.” – Euripides

I don’t often use this space to talk about things as deeply personal as my thoughts on mortality and death, so writing this entry feels uncharacteristically awkward. Like I’m typing while wearing big heavy gloves and also juggling a badger. So. Bear with me.

I love trains. I am also, on a primal level, completely terrified of trains. This is why.

I am someone who has struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide for a nontrivial amount of time. I have good weeks. I have fantastic months. I have terrible days. I have worse years. Being honest with myself and the people I love about my current state, whatever it is, is one of the things that helps me navigate the most difficult (for me) part of chronic unmedicated depression: the fluctuation between OK and NOT OK. On the OK end of the scale, there’s a notch labeled “these feelings are hard but I am working through them.” On the NOT OK end of the scale, there’s a notch labeled “nothing is OK and nothing will ever be OK and I’m not sure how I am going to survive.”

The thing is that no matter where on that scale I fall at any given time, I can’t help but think about jumping in front of trains. Bart. Muni. Caltrain. Every single time. On every platform. With every pass of thundering metal. It isn’t so much that I want to jump in front of a train. It is more the realization that I could. The awareness that there is not a single thing stopping me from doing so other than my own willpower.

The dividing line between life and death is as monumental as it is flimsy and easy to cross. We are made of highly impractical, fragile sacks of meat that stand no chance in a fistfight with a rolling mass of steel like a train. Most people stick around through a combination of self preservation and good fortune. But anyone who has ever considered facilitating the demise of their own meatsack is acutely aware that sticking around also involves a heavy dose of self control.

Some days not jumping feels like a victory. A tiny battle won in the war against my brain. Some days not jumping feels like a failure. Most days I just want to use public transit without contemplating the fragility of my continued survival on this planet.

I’m really just recording this for posterity, because it feels good to have this visceral, intense feeling that I’m familiar with out in writing (I’m making words out of my feelings! Like a real adult!). Also, between last week’s Bart suicide and the ongoing saga of M’s neighbor’s suicide and resulting apartment cleaning nightmare these things have been on my mind lately. Now I’m left wondering how many other people have a similar relationship with trains.

Categories: personal

On big art and being in on the joke

February 27, 2013 1 comment
antlineup

Me on the left, part of the lineup of Passport Control ants before our entrance. Photo by April Blackman

When I first moved to San Francisco, some of the first people I met were ones who had hands in making big art. I was lucky. My first acclimation to the art and maker scene in this city was watching my (mostly new) friends build something insane and beautiful called Syzygryd. I was too new and too on the fringes to be involved in a meaningful way, but I definitely remember watching a steady stream of photos and updates come from people like Slim and thinking, “Wow. So this is how they make art in San Francisco!”

If I have one complaint about large scale performance or installation art in this city, it is that the novelty seems to wear off fast for those involved in building it. I’m thankful that I’m still new enough to this to be enchanted by the supreme weirdness that characterizes a lot of the things I help out with. But even I’m not immune. When I ran the Bad Reggretts Tattoo truck at the last Lost Horizon Night Market (along with the unstoppable Colin Fahrion), it was magical and exciting and fun, but even I was a little blasé. I have a phrase I use in situations like this. It’s called “knowing how the sausage gets made.” Once you’ve seen the process, once you know how these things get assembled… well, the final product can lose some of its charm. “Knowing how the sausage gets made” is another way of saying that you’re solidly “in on the joke.”

In San Francisco, there are a huge number of artists are who in on the joke. They get it. Doing something spectacular and complicated on a large scale isn’t intimidating. It is just what they do, and they are good at it.

So when I offered to help my friend Paige with her crazy idea to outfit twelve girls in stylized ant costumes to serve as passport agents for the All World’s Fair, I thought I knew what I was getting into.

You guys- I was terribly, terribly wrong.

Over the course of a few weeks, I went from helping buy fabric to sewing some pieces of our costumes to running errands to painting set pieces to stage managing a group of completely stellar performance artists who put on a highly coordinated and whimsical act. The whole time, I thought I was in on the joke. The whole time, I was thinking that I knew how it worked, and knew what I was getting into. Costumes. Performance. Set fabrication. Audience interaction. I have done these things before, and I thought I had a pretty good idea what the result would be. I’m willing to bet a fair number of the audience thought they were in on the joke too.

You guys- we were all so terribly, gloriously wrong.

What we ended up creating was something so thoroughly, profoundly magical that no one (audience member or performer) could have known what they were getting into. We created something so massive and multifaceted that I don’t think anyone could have seen the whole picture from one vantage point. We made something so unique and on such an unprecedented scale that no one, not even the ones in charge, could have possibly been in on the joke.

There were a few really special moments for me that I feel the need to record for posterity, even if they reveal a tiny bit about how this sausage got made.

  • One of the few things that actually went wrong before the event was a can of paint that got spilled in the green room, effectively blocking the path that the passport laides had planned to walk out. People were freaking out, when someone (Sly?) came up with the idea of leading the ant ladies out the back loading dock door and entering from behind the line of audience members waiting to get in. The effect was so great that it turned into a part of our performance for the rest of the fair.
  • Twice, we managed to get dangerously low on the nonsensical immigration forms that we were handing out. The first night we were saved by Simon, who showed up to the green room toting a stack. The second night we were saved by friend and roommate Reed, who showed up with an office box of forms he printed out minutes before. Both times, the group of passport ants descended upon them in joyous celebration, screaming “FORMS! YAY FORMS! GOOD FORMS” in a completely unplanned and spontaneous in-character display.
  • After the passport ants sent the last group of ticket-holders inside, we were done and got the chance to explore the rest of the fair. Getting to interact with the other artists while still in character was a lot of fun, but what made it really special was when the invitation to “fall asleep” with the rest of the basement actors during the “ascension” phase was extended to us. I remember laying down in the hallway and one of the audience members coming up to me to “see if I was OK.” She poked me and I got to sleepily mutter something along the lines “Good forms… dreaming of good forms…”

So, thank you. To everyone. To Paige: thank you for being such an amazing creative force, and thank you for letting me collaborate on this with you. To all the organizers, docents, and crew who kept us on track and cared for. To Tatiana: thank you for being a true professional stage manager. To Rubin and Sly: thank you being our timekeepers and sanity-preservers. To the dudes on the Arbollax crew: thank you for helping us assemble our passport desks and signs. Thanks to every single traveller who loved or hated our heroic dose of bureaucracy, with special thanks to those who made a special effort to fill out their forms in creative and entertaining ways (though most of them got ripped up, your collective wit did not go unnoticed). Here’s a whole list of credits- every single person on that list deserves props and a personal cake delivered via unicorn.

Thank you. Thank you all for making something that made me question how in on the joke I was.

Categories: art, personal

SoMa’s secret fashion alley

January 29, 2013 1 comment

I’m really into documenting the living history of this neighborhood, and the alley I live on is a great example of that.

If you walk down Washburn Street not knowing what to look for, the alley looks like any other in SOMA. But just like LA has its Fashion District, SoMa has a fashion alley and this is it.

Let’s start at the top of the alley.

Native Graphix

Native Graphix

As you turn the corner onto Washburn from Mission Street, there’s a three-story building on the corner that is painted close to fluorescent yellow. The first story is plastered with a gigantic mural that has against all odds survived without being majorly tagged.  This building is home to Native Graphix, a screen printing shop that is staffed by volunteers from the at-risk youth program it shares a floor with. They will print anything for a fee. Come in with your design and a week later you’ll have a stack of freshly printed shirts.

Kryolan!

As you continue down the alley, you’ll hit Kryolan. Kryolan is a makeup company based out of Germany, but they have a small storefront and production center on Washburn Street. You would be hard pressed to find a drag queen in San Francisco who doesn’t have at least a few jars of Kryolan’s beard-covering wax in their kits. A lifetime supply of Kryolan makeup was even provided as a grand prize for the televised drag queen competition “Ru Paul’s Drag Race.” A large chunk of that makeup probably came out of this behemoth white and blue warehouse.

The Opera Warehouse

The Opera Warehouse

Right after the halfway home on the middle of the block you’ll find the crown jewel of fashion alley. If the big warehouse roll up door is shut you would probably walk right past it. The only clue about what is inside is a faded stencil on the door that reads “SAN FRANCISCO OPERA COSTUME SHOP.” This is where the ornate costumes for the San Francisco Opera are born. Yards of silk and bags of sequins enter this industrial looking shop and emerge as glittering pieces of art. If you’re lucky you can catch the crew on days when they’re loading out for a new production. It isn’t often you get to see a rack of period costumes rolling across the sidewalk that is usually strewn with broken glass and discarded syringes.

Trust me, there's a sewing shop in there...

Trust me, there’s a sewing shop in there…

The last part of the tour isn’t especially remarkable, however it is an oddly appropriate contrast to the opulence of the costume shop. Located directly across the street from the gems and flash of the opera costumes is a drab looking warehouse. The front of the building is a sewing machine repair shop, and then the warehouse in the back is what I lovingly refer to as the sweatshop. When the roll up door is open you can see why. Rolls of cheap fabric stacked four high often fall out the door when one of the workers emerges for a cigarette. Tiny asian women hover over rows of sewing machines as shirtless men walk across work tables cutting parachutes of fabric down to manageable sizes. The racks towards the front of the shop reveal that what they’re making isn’t destined for the runways of Parisian fashion houses. These are the types of garments destined for the dollar store. Cheap, utilitarian, simple. They also seem to do a good business doing outsourced sewing for local designers, judging from the stylish women that occasionally swing by to pick up big bundles of dresses and coats.

So, now you know a little more about my alley. I’m hoping to do a few more entries like this in the future. Also now when I start to go on about the hidden identity of my alley, you can tell me to shut it because you’ve already read about it here. Hooray!

Categories: SoMa

Tales from the Edwardian Ball – A Funeral for Boring

January 4, 2013 1 comment

This is a repost of a short blog entry  I contributed to the fine folks who run The Edwardian Ball, a yearly event that describes itself as an elegant and whimsical celebration of art, music, theatre, fashion, technology, circus, and the beloved creations of the late, great author Edward Gorey. You can find the original post here.

tales_from_ball_banner_1

This year I’ll be wearing black to the Edwardian Ball.

Now, this won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. Anyone who has taken a cursory look through my wardrobe can tell you that I make my way through life clad in varying shades of black and ash. Every once in a while I get really crazy and throw a streak of crimson into the mix. This has led to an occasional, incredibly specific sort of cat call when I’m out in public. “Hey babe,” I’ll hear someone shout on the street corner. “You going to a funeral or what?”

Well, if anyone asks me that while I make my way to the Edwardian Ball, I can confidently reply that I am. Why? Because for me, the Edwardian Ball is my own personal funeral for Boring.

There is no other city on earth and no other community I can imagine as vivacious and creative as what I’ve found in San Francisco. The Edwardian Ball serves as a perfect stage of all the whimsy, decadence, and playfulness I’ve come to love about living here. I can’t think of another event or another place on earth that has done such a thorough job of banishing boring from its boundaries.

For me, boring died years ago when I decided that I wanted to live in a city full of weirdos, artists, game changers, and troublemakers. Boring really needed to die. Boring brought complacency and blandness to my life. If I had kept boring alive for much longer I might have stayed in my sleepy hometown. If I had kept boring alive I probably would have scoffed and rolled my eyes if someone described an event like the Edwardian Ball to me.

This year’s Edwardian Ball is an especially important funeral for me. Over 2012 I lost a lot of things. Relationships, family members, and friendships died both literally and metaphorically. I’ve recently found myself wishing I could resurrect boring and go back to another place and time where things were calmer.

Then I thought about it and realized that dancing until dawn surrounded by circus performers, ballroom dancing, and ladies clad in corsets sounds like a much better time.

don’t mean for this funeral to be a somber affair. Quite the opposite, actually. This funeral is far less of the lily-scented, sobbing-into-a-tissue event and more of a raucous, joyful, sazerac-soaked jazz funeral celebration of a life without boring. The Edwardian Ball is where freaks of all flavors come out to shove boring across the river Styx. This is where we come to put on our dancing shoes and ring boring out from our lives with dancing, singing, laughing, and aerial-silk-swinging.

You don’t have to dress in your finest to attend this funeral. You don’t even have to wear black. Your attendance and participation is your way of paying your last respects to boring. By attending, you are also solidifying your place in a community so vibrant and rich that there is no chance of boring ever rising from its grave.

Come with us and dance upon the grave of boring. I’ll be there, wearing black.

Categories: nightlife, personal
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 32 other followers