It probably says something that I’m doing a New Year’s post two weeks into the year, but as John and Sherlock would tell you on the BBC, it is what it is.
This post isn’t about the clusterfuck that was 2016 in the world, or the Trump presidency, but rather a short collection of personal thoughts about what 2017 might mean for me and what 2016 did. Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been quieter in public in recent months. A large part of this has to do with wrestling with what actual accountability means as a white person trying to be involved in countering white supremacy. I’m less comfortable with public activism than I used to be, because I don’t want my voice to be one of the loudest. But I expect that I’ll continue to write, albeit at this slow pace I’ve settled into, for many years to come.
While I do less public speaking and writing about general queerness, wanting to make space for QTPOC voices, I have been still thinking about areas where my contribution might be more appropriate. So I’ve done a few talks on trans-inclusivity in data, melding my day job with my side hustle, and I’m excited that B Cordelia Yu and I will be presenting together at the Nonprofit Technology Conference in March on that topic. I’ve also toyed with a podcast idea, but it burned bright for a few weeks and then energy drained away, much as it’s been with wanting to learn to draw comics, designing games, etc. And that brings me to the real point of this post, which is figuring out how to make contributions when your mental health just doesn’t want to let you.
In this post, I’m addressing my peers: white folks who are marginalized along some axis other than race. Poor and working class white folks, queer and trans white folks, white folks with disabilities, etc.—we need to be honest about whether we’re leaning into the identities under which we’re oppressed, at the expense of doing honest work around our whiteness, racism, and anti-Blackness.
I don’t think it’s an uncommon experience to focus on how we’re oppressed and marginalized, nor is it blameworthy on its own. Of course we notice those identities more—that’s what white privilege is. It makes whiteness the invisible norm, whereas our other identities are what make us targets of slurs, violence, economic disparity, and other injustices. But at some point in our journeys, once we get through our excitement of consuming all the literature about queerness/class/disability/etc. and sharing in righteous anger with our comrades (or ideally, even before then), we need to also address the fact that we are white and therefore in a position of extreme privilege. We need to read what people of color have to say, to listen to what people of color have to say in our communities and workplaces. We need to sit with the discomfort of our racism and fucking do something about it.
If your reaction to reading the words of people of color on racism (and particularly black people, as anti-Blackness is its own thing in this culture), is guilt and a desire to run back to the safe enclave of writing about your own people, good. Keep reading.
I saw a femme on the metro the other day, and for whatever reason, this person’s gender presentation got me thinking. They were dressed relatively simply, their clothing all sharp black lines, but the combination of hairstyle, eyeliner, and a bold red lip pushed them into the femme box in my perception. They also had this challenging stare that made me blush and look at my lap, and for some reason, start thinking about the way I do femme in contrast.
Femme is one of the few identities that totally speaks to me—no doubt in part because, as an identity, it’s so fluid and can be so many very distinct things all at once. FemmeCon 2012 was one of the few events where I really felt community. One of the best things about it was that, as an entire conference for femmes, there were so many varieties of femme representing, and your femme was taken as given by virtue of being present there. There was no femme bar to entry, and so I saw femmes like me (“lazy femme” or “blah femme”) alongside a million other different expressions. I didn’t need to prove myself, or think too hard about the difference between what I’m able to show the world physically, who I am, and what I might want to be.
To clarify a bit: my gender exists somewhere between squishy shy alien creature and calm, helpy robot. It’s not really something I can represent in physical space. I am drawn to things coded feminine and to queering them, so I experience delight in the color pink, in spoonie communities of care, in fannish frivolity. Many of the things I love can most easily be interpreted through a femme lens—except, I sometimes fear, for me.
Confession time: I’ve actually had the book reviewed below for quite a while, and with apologies to the Arsenal Pulp folks. I spent so much time thinking about it and how to write about it that this blog has been stalled out for a while as I go through that process. But hopefully, better late than never, as it’s a volume I think many of you should absolutely pick up.
One of my favorite poets, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, recently released a memoir that is somehow both a gut punch and a sweet femme-of-color lullaby, telling a story that is neither completely linear nor what you might expect from what frames itself as a survivor’s tale, but bursting with sense memory and relevance—particular for QPOC and migrant readers. Dirty River (published by Arsenal Pulp Press) focuses mainly on a period of Piepzna-Samarasinha’s life in the late 90s where she lived in Toronto struggling with both poverty and relationship abuse, but it is neither a sob story nor a clichéd “overcoming adversity” narrative. The complexities of the story are conveyed with a tight relationship to geography, the confusing nature of memory, and a sense of celebration for queer brown crip femme survival.
Like many great books, particularly those by women of color, this memoir made me think about the nature of storytelling. The path to healing is often not very simple, and this story wrestles with that. It’s a narrative complement to all the great radical books on violence in the context of racism and colonialism published in recent years — with all the references to Courage to Heal in the text, I actually found myself thinking much more about how Piepzna-Samarasinha’s story lines up with the lessons of The Revolution Starts at Home.
Fact: this blogging thing never does get easier.
I keep hoping that consistent posting will one day become natural, that I’ll be able to write and schedule posts every weekend, but that is just not a thing. I’m being honest with myself about emotional and mental labor, and the fact that this world we live in doesn’t give us enough time to heal and just be present outside of our paid working hours. I’m also realizing that as an ADD adult, my attention span will never stick with a particular project for more than a month or two, and that’s okay.
This blog isn’t going anywhere, though. I have a post scheduled for this coming week, in fact, about a really fantastic book I want you to read. I’m just acknowledging that I’ll probably never follow the best practices of posting regularly and self-promoting, that there will be spurts of activity and then months-long gaps as there have always been. But I’ve also been blogging for more than ten years in some form, so I think that’s likely to stay.
There’s another fact in here, which is that I’m not totally comfortable being “a voice” in activist spaces when we don’t as a community acknowledge the labor of people of color who are doing most of the work here. I recently wrestled with the question of whether to write a book about non-binary gender and ultimately decided that I am not the person to write that book right now–because I don’t have the time and energy to do a full, comprehensive survey of non-binary people, focused on the voices of people of color, and the world just doesn’t need a white centered 101 to non-binary identity. I also think that if I do write that book in the future, I likely can’t in good conscience do it without a co-author of color. Since I don’t have collaboration/social spoons right now, I’m instead stepping back. If you’re hungry for queer voices, I recommend you start with checking out black girl dangerous and proceed from there.
1. A queer-identified person who is geeky about data and shares an affinity with other queer data geeks.
2. A philosophy or orientation towards data that focuses on (a) challenging the norms of a data-driven culture or the data industry and (b) approaching data collection, use, and maintenance a way that may seem counter to generally accepted principles
At a recent conference, I only half-jokingly encouraged people to Tweet about my talk with the tag #dataqueer because I kind of wanted to make it a thing. I’ve been thinking a lot about dataqueerness lately, and what it might mean in relationship to my work.
As someone who works in data with other queer people, and enjoys geeking out about data with fellow queers, sometimes just being queer and being into data is a social affinity that I can happily share with others. But I’m also thinking of dataqueer as an orientation or approach to data. Smushed with a prefix this way, queer is often used to imply critically challenging norms, destabilizing or decentering hierarchies and binaries, and applying creative redefinition to a particular area of focus. If we think of it this way, dataqueer could be an identity that signals a particular approach to data.
What Does It Mean to Queer Data?
One possibility is that dataqueerness is simply about questioning the central principles of a data-driven society or industry. In business, this could mean looking at how we can use data for something other than increasing profitability and revenue or reducing risk. In academia or policy or the technology industry, we might think about how we can both be data-oriented and also question the value of a data-driven society. Rather than thinking about privacy as an afterthought or an extra layer, following the core assumption that More Data Is Good, dataqueerness might mean always asking why we need data as a first principle rather than just how to collect more.
Being dataqueer might also be about focusing on data that is messier or less obvious to analyze, spending time on the unusual data points or outliers. It might mean thinking critically about established categories and instead looking for new and different ways to slice information. Why, for example, is it always 18-35? Why are gender categories in marketing data always male and female? (What is the value of gender as a marketing demographic in the first place?) Someone who is dataqueer might take risks in going beyond how the standard data professional would approach data, and instead think creatively, applying different values or looking for different outcomes. A dataqueer person might even use data to show the harms of collecting data, or work within data with the aim of destroying or complicating data.
These are just some nascent thoughts, of course. What does #dataqueer mean to you?
As this post goes live, I’ll be sharing a talk at AlterConf DC called “5 Simple Steps for Trans-Inclusive Data.” This talk originally crept into my brain as an idea for a very long blog post, and as I was preparing to cut that idea down to twenty minutes with Q&A time, I decided to also execute the original plan, since I can’t possibly say everything I want to about how to make data more trans-inclusive in fifteen minutes.
The post that follows is a detailed guide of specific steps you can take to make whatever data you work with more trans-inclusive, building off of the talk content. Skim through the list below and use any tips that you find applicable! I’m drawing from my experience working with member and donor data at national non-profit organizations, but you can apply this advice to any kind of human-centered data you collect including data on customers, employees, patients, survey respondents, and app users. My starting point here is that trans people can show up in any data set, and so it’s important to address the needs we have around privacy, comfort, and affirmation not as a special population but as a regular part of data strategy. Rather than othering trans people, consider our experiences an opportunity to improve your data collection, storage, and analysis practices for everyone!
If you’d like to hear more after reading the tips below, check out my speaking page for more information. I’m hoping to do more “dataqueer” talks and workshops in the future.
Greetings. It’s time for a somewhat odd end-of-year post, but bear with me. As anyone sticking around here can tell, I’ve been struggling for years to update this blog regularly. I’ve considered writing about the process many times, because I think it’s important to talk about mental health and capacity in activist communities, but it’s also tough to put myself out there and be vulnerable about my own mental health. I wanted to speak up today, though, while I’m in a particularly introspective place with regard to my mental health, have a good support structure to back me up, and have been reading some really thought-provoking work that’s made me think about how we rate our own “issues” as serious, or not serious, “enough.”
The posts I’ll reference here have very little to do with one another, at first glance. One is about executive function, another about sex-negative feminism, and the third about strategizing when to “call in.” The common thread, though, is that all three got me thinking about things in my life that often seem too “mild” or trivial to focus on or use as justification for behavior. And this is a thread that’s been incredibly prevalent and challenging for me in my attempts to practice self-care.
So, readers, I’ve gone through a lot of relationship changes in 2015, and thus a lot of personal introspection. My local partner (I’ll call her the QA, as I do on Twitter) joked just the other day when I was trying to figure out some things about my own sexuality, “you should probably take your own Workshopping Your Sexual Orientation class.” And it’s true—do as I say, not as I do. But of course, deciding what one wants out of romantic (or any other kind) of relationship takes time in practice, and also changes over time. Personally, I’ve realized that what I want in a relationship has fundamentally changed, particularly in the last 6-9 years or so, and I thought a little post about how I’ve been thinking about these things might be helpful for others, particularly other poly folks. (And if you think your community group, conference, etc. could benefit on a class that helps participants clarify their thinking around this topics, just shoot me a line.)