My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything OK

My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything OK

The fourth time a Poughkeepsie police officer told me that my Vassar College Faculty ID could make everything OK was three years ago. I was driving down Wilbur Avenue. When the white police officer, whose head was way too small for his neck, asked if my truck was stolen, I laughed, said no, and shamefully showed him my license and my ID, just likeLanre Akinsiku. The ID, which ensures that I can spend the rest of my life in a lush state park with fat fearless squirrels, surrounded by enlightened white folks who love talking about Jon Stewart, Obama, and civility, has been washed so many times it doesn’t lie flat.

After taking my license and ID back to his car, the police officer came to me with a ticket and two lessons. “Looks like you got a good thing going on over there at Vassar College,” he said. “You don’t wanna it ruin it by rolling through stop signs, do you?”

I sucked my teeth, shook my head, kept my right hand visibly on my right thigh, rolled my window up, and headed back to campus.

One more ticket.

Two more condescending lessons from a lame armed with white racial supremacy, anti-blackness, a gun, and a badge. But at least I didn’t get arrested.

Or shot eight times.

My Vassar College Faculty ID made everything okay. A little over two hours later, I sat in a closed room on Vassar’s campus in a place called Main Building.

In the center of my ID, standing dusty orange and partially hidden by shadows of massive trees, is a picture of Vassar College’s Main Building. Black women students took the building over in 1969 to demand, among other things, that the administration affirmatively reckon with its investment in anti-blackness and white racial supremacy. A multiracial group of students led by Cleon Edwards occupied Main again in 1990, after Daniel Patrick Moynihan reportedly told a Jamaican Dutchess County official, “If you don’t like it in this country, why don’t you pack your bags and go back where you came from?”

I sat in a room in Main that day with a senior professor and two high-ranking administrators. We were having one of those meetings you’re not supposed to talk about. Near the end of the meeting, this senior professor affirmed his/her commitment to “African Americans” and said I was a “fraud.”

I tucked both hands underneath my buttocks, rested my left knuckle beneath my ID as tears pooled in the gutters of both eyes. I’d been hungry before. I’d been beaten. I’d had guns pulled on me. I never felt as pathetic, angry, and terrified as I felt in that room.

I came into that meeting knowing that the illest part of racial terror in this nation is that it’s sanctioned by sorry overpaid white bodies that will never be racially terrorized and maintained by a few desperate underpaid black and brown bodies that will. I left that meeting knowing that there are few things more shameful than being treated like a nigger by—and under the gaze of—intellectually and imaginatively average white Americans who are not, and will never have to be, half as good at their jobs as you are at yours.

I sat in that meeting thinking about the first day I got my ID. It was nine years earlier and I remember walking to the gym, maybe 100 yards behind Main Building and being asked by a white boy in yellow flip-flops if I could sell him some weed.

I just looked at his flip-flops.

And he just looked at my black neck. And when I told him that I taught English, he contorted his bushy brow, said “Word,” and trotted off.

Later that year, maybe 30 yards to the left of Main Building, security routinely entered my office asking for my ID despite my name on the door and pictures of me, my Mama, and them all over my desk. In that same building, one floor lower, after I got my first book deal, I was told by another senior white member of my department that it was “all right” if I spoke to him “in ebonics,” Later that year, a white senior professor walked in at the end of one of my classes and told me, in front of my students, “Don’t talk back to me.”

I wanted to put my palm through this man’s esophagus and burn that building down, but I thought about prison and my Grandmama’s health care. So I cussed his ass out and went about the business of eating too much fried cheese and biscuits at a local buffet.

A few summers later, right in front of Main Building, two security guards stopped me for walking past the President’s house without identification. They threatened to call the Poughkeepsie police on me. I told the officers, “Fuck you” and “Show me your ID” for a number of reasons, but mostly because I’d sold one of them a car a few years ago, and Vassar’s security officers don’t carry guns.

Like nearly every black person I know from the deep South who has one of these faculty ID’s, I anticipated reckoning daily with white racial supremacy at my job.

But.

I didn’t expect to smell the crumbling of a real human heart when I went to the police station to get my student, Mat, who had been missing for days. Mat was a beautiful Southern black boy suffering from bipolar disorder.

I didn’t anticipate hearing the hollowed terror and shame in my student Rachel’s voice at 2 in the morning after she was arrested by Poughkeepsie police for jaywalking while her white friends just watched. Rachel went to jail that night.

I didn’t expect to feel the cold cracked hands of administrators when we pushed the college to allow Jade, a black Phi Beta Kappa student from DC, back into school after they suspended her for a full year for verbally intimidating her roommate.

I didn’t expect to taste my own tears when watching three black women seniors tell two heads of security and the Dean of the College that they, and another Asian American woman, deserve to not have security called on them for being black women simply doing their laundry and reading books on a Sunday afternoon. I didn’t expect the Dean of the College and the heads of security to do absolutely nothing after this meeting.

I didn’t expect to have to wrap my arms around Leo, a Chicano student who stood shivering and sobbing in front of Poughkeepsie police after getting jumped on Raymond Ave by kids he called “my own people.” Didn’t expect to take him to the police station and have the questioning officer ask Leo, “Why do you use the term ‘Latino’? Can you tell me what country the boys who jumped you were from?” The officer told Leo that his partner was Colombian and could tell where a person was from just by looking at them. Leo told me that he felt “most Chicano, most Latino, and most like a Vassar student” that night.

I didn’t expect that.

I didn’t expect to see my student Orion, a black boy from Boston, sitting palms down on the sidewalk in front of a police car a few Thursdays ago on my way from the gym. I got in the face of the two interrogating officers telling them, “He didn’t do nothing” and “Leave my student the fuck alone,” when I found out he was being accused of trying to steal a security golf cart.

I didn’t expect the same two security guards who’d stopped me for walking in front of the President’s house to tell the officers interrogating Orion that the golf cart was theirs and Orion was “a good kid, a Vassar student” who was just going to get a slice of pizza.

By the time one of the heads of Vassar security, in the presence of the current Dean of the College, told one of my colleagues and me that there was “no racial profiling on campus” and that we were making the black and brown students say there was, I expected almost everything.

I expected that four teenage black boys from Poughkeepsie would have security called on them for making too much noise in the library one Sunday afternoon. I expected security to call Poughkeepsie police on these 15 and 16-year-olds when a few of them couldn’t produce an ID. I expected police to drive on the lawn in front of the library, making a spectacle of these black boys’ perceived guilt.

A few days after Vassar called police on those children, a police officer visited one of the boys while he was in class and questioned him about some stolen cell phones and iPods at Vassar. When the kid said he didn’t know anything about any stolen cell phones, the officer told the 15-year-old black child, who might have applied to Vassar in three years, to never go back to Vassar College again.

I didn’t expect that.

Vassar College, the place that issues my faculty ID, a place so committed to access and what they call economic diversity, did its part to ensure that a black Poughkeepsie child, charged with nothing, would forever be a part of the justice system for walking through a library without an ID.

There is no way on earth that a 15-year-old child visited by police officers at his school for walking through a local college library while black is going to be OK.

And neither are we.

But.

My Vassar College Faculty ID affords me free smoothies, free printing paper, paid leave, and access to one of the most beautiful libraries on Earth. It guarantees that I have really good health care and more disposable income than anyone in my Mississippi family. But way more than I want to admit, I’m wondering what price we pay for these kinds of ID’s, and what that price has to do with the extrajudicial disciplining and killing of young cis and trans black human beings.

You have a Michigan State Faculty ID, and seven-year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was killed in a police raid. You have a Wilberforce University Faculty ID and 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot dead by police for holding a BB gun. I have a Vassar College Faculty ID and NYPD suffocated Shereese Francis while she lay face-down on a mattress. You have a University of Missouri Student ID and Mike Brown’s unarmed 18-year-old black body lay dead in the street for four and a half hours.

But.

“We are winning,” my mentor, Adisa Ajamu, often tells me. “Improvisation, transcendence, and resilience—the DNA of the Black experience—are just synonyms for fighting preparedness for the long winter of war.”

Adisa is right. But to keep winning, to keep our soul and sanity in this terror-filled coliseum, at some point we have to say fuck it. We have to say fuck them. And most importantly, we must say to people and communities that love us, “I love you. Will you please love me? I’m listening.”

We say that most profoundly with our work. We say that most profoundly with our lives. The question is, can we mean what we must say with our work and our lives and continue working at institutions like Vassar College.

Listening to our people and producing rigorous, soulful work are not antithetical. My teachers: Noel Didla, Paula Madison, Brittney Cooper, Rosa Clemente, Osagyefo Sekou, Eve Dunbar, Imani Perry, Darnell Moore, Josie Duffy, Kimberle Crenshaw, Mark Anthony Neal, Mychal Denzel Smith, dream hampton, Regina Bradley, Marlon Peterson, Jamilah LeMieux, Luke Harris, Chanda Hsu Prescod-Weinstein, and Carlos Alamo show me this everyday.

They also show me that though there’s an immense price to pay in and out of so-called elite American educational institutions, the depth of this price differs based on sexuality, gender, race, access to wealth, and the status of one’s dependents.

I paid the price of having sorry gatekeepers at Vassar question the validity of my book contracts, question my graduation from undergrad, question my graduation from grad school, question whether or not I was given tenure as opposed to earning it. And like you, when questioned so much, of course I outworked them, but scars accumulated in battles won sometimes hurt more than battles lost.

I gained 129 pounds. I got sick. I kept hurting someone who would have never hurt me. I rarely slept.

I kept fighting. And praying. And I got my work out. And I worked on healing. And I taught my kids. And I served my community. And I got hit again. And I swung at folks who weren’t even swinging at me. And my best friend, who was also reckoning with the “Vassar” part of her Vassar Faculty ID, and I took turns lying to each other, sealing off our hearts in favor of arguments and unpaid labor. And when I earned leaves that I should have spent at home in Forest, Mississippi, with the 85 year-old woman who gave me the skills of improvisation, transcendence, and resilience, I stayed at Vassar College and guided tons of independent studies, directed flailing programs, helped incompetent administrators do their jobs, and chaired hollow committees.

My family needed me home. My soul needed to be there. But I was afraid to be somewhere where my Vassar College Faculty ID didn’t matter worth a damn. I was afraid to let the Mississippi black folks who really got me over see all my new stretch marks, afraid they’d hear the isolation and anxiety in my voice, afraid they’d find the crumpled bank receipts from money taken out at casinos. I was afraid to show my Mama, Auntie, and Grandma that I felt alone and so much sadder than the 27-year-old black boy they remember being issued a Vassar College Faculty ID 12 years ago.

OK.

A half an inch below my name on my bent ID is a nine digit identification number, and in the top left corner, hanging in the blue sky, is a 27-year-old black boy wearing an emerald green hoodie. An army green sweater-hat cocked slightly to the left is pulled over my eyes. A black book bag is slung across my right shoulder.

When I took the picture of that ID, I felt so healthy. I felt so worthy of good love. I didn’t feel delivered but I felt proud that I could take care of my Mississippi family. I felt that every beating I’d gotten with shoes, extension cords, switches, belts, belt buckles, fists, and the guns of police officers was worth it. I knew that our mamas and grandmamas and aunties beat us to remind us that there was a massive price to pay for being black, free, and imperfect. I knew they beat us partially so that we would one day have a chance to wield ID’s like mine as a weapon and a shield.

Twelve years after getting my Vassar College faculty ID, I sit here and know that the nation can’t structurally and emotionally assault black children and think they’re going to turn out OK.

Vassar College can’t structurally assault and neglect black children and think they’re going to turn out OK.

I can’t personally assault and neglect black children and think they’re going to turn out OK.

I think about time travel and regret a lot. If I could go back and tell my Mama anything, I would tell her that I love her, and I thank her, and I see her and I know that white racial supremacy, poverty, heteropatriarchy, and a lifetime as a young black woman academic with a hardheaded son are whupping her ass, but black parents can’t physically and emotionally assault their black children—even in an attempt to protect them from the worst of white folks—and think they are going to turn out OK.

We are not OK. We are not OK. We have to get better at organizing, strategizing, and patiently loving us because the people who issued my Vassar College ID, like the people who issued Darren Wilson and Robert McCulloch their badges, will never ever give a fuck about the inside of our lives.

I have a Vassar College Faculty ID. I write books that some people care about. I teach my students. I take care of my Grandma. I have more access to healthy choice than most of my cousins. And I, like a lot of you, am not OK. I am not subhuman. I am not superhuman. I am not a demon. I cannot walk through bullets. I am not a special nigger. I am not a fraud. I am not OK.

But.

Unlike Mike Brown and Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Tamir Rice, I am alive. We are alive.

And.

We are so much better than the sick part of our nation that murders an unarmed black boy like a rabid dog, before prosecuting him for being a nigger. We are so much better than powerful academic institutions, slick prosecutors, and the innocent practitioners of white racial supremacy in this nation who really believe that a handful of niggers with some special IDs, and a scar(r)ed black President on the wrong side of history, are proof of their—and really, our own—terrifying deliverance from American evil.

Kiese Laymon, born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, is the author of How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America and the novel Long Division. He has two new books, a novel called And So On and A Fat Black Memoir, forthcoming from Bloomsbury. He is currently an Associate Professor of English at Vassar College.

[Image by Jim Cooke]

My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything OK.

This Teacher Taught His Class A Powerful Lesson About Privilege

1. I once saw a high school teacher lead a simple, powerful exercise to teach his class about privilege and social mobility. He started by giving each student a scrap piece of paper and asked them to crumple it up.

Nathan W. Pyle / Via http://www.buzzfeed.com

2. Then he moved the recycling bin to the front of the room.

Nathan W. Pyle / Via http://www.buzzfeed.com

3. He said, “The game is simple — you all represent the country’s population. And everyone in the country has a chance to become wealthy and move into the upper class.”

Nathan W. Pyle / Via http://www.buzzfeed.com

4. “To move into the upper class, all you must do is throw your wadded-up paper into the bin while sitting in your seat.”

Nathan W. Pyle / Via http://www.buzzfeed.com

5. The students in the back of the room immediately piped up, “This is unfair!” They could see the rows of students in front of them had a much better chance.

Nathan W. Pyle / Via http://www.buzzfeed.com

6. Everyone took their shots, and — as expected — most of the students in the front made it (but not all) and only a few students in the back of the room made it.

Nathan W. Pyle / Via http://www.buzzfeed.com

7. He concluded by saying, “The closer you were to the recycling bin, the better your odds. This is what privilege looks like. Did you notice how the only ones who complained about fairness were in the back of the room?”

Nathan W. Pyle / Via http://www.buzzfeed.com

8. “By contrast, people in the front of the room were less likely to be aware of the privilege they were born into. All they can see is 10 feet between them and their goal.”

Nathan W. Pyle / Via http://www.buzzfeed.com

9. “Your job — as students who are receiving an education — is to be aware of your privilege. And use this particular privilege called “education” to do your best to achieve great things, all the while advocating for those in the rows behind you.”

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This Teacher Taught His Class A Powerful Lesson About Privilege.

What It’s Like to Date a Horse — Science of Us

Photo: Edoma/Getty Images

Bestiality, the act of having sex with an animal, tends to conjure images of a mucky, socially inadequate, desperate farmer sneaking into the barn after dark, or depraved groups of thrill-seekers forcing sex with drugged, abused, or otherwise mistreated animals (like the case of Douglas Spink and the animal-sex-tourism farm in Washington State).

But the sexual identity that can be attached to bestiality, zoophilia, remains little understood. In 2002 the sex therapist Hani Miletski published Understanding Bestiality and Zoophilia, a book based on her study of almost 100 zoophiles — research that led her to conclude that many form deep, loving, and very nurturing relationships with their animal partners. While it’s certainly not a homogeneous community, many “zoos” (as they are known to self-identify) are monogamous and live with their animals as if they were human partners. As a result of legal restrictions — sex with an animal is illegal in most U.S. states and European countries — the lived experience of being a zoo is rarely heard outside of underground online forums or secret meet-up groups.

Here, a 42-year-old man from Canada describes his life as a zoophile attracted to female horses.

When did you first realize you were attracted to horses? Do you have a horse “coming of age” narrative?
The first time I saw a horse I was 7 years old. There was a carnival in a parking lot across the street from my house and it had a parade of them walking around in circles. I begged my parents to let me go so I could ride the ponies, but when I got on a horse’s back I was absolutely horrified. I bawled my eyes out. I think I was bothered by how awful the situation was for them. All they did was go ’round and ’round; I could sense something about that in their attitude.

Did you experience sexual feelings?
No, I was only 7. I started to notice horses in “that” way when I was about 11 or 12. Everybody else was stealing their dads’ Playboy magazines, but I had a book called The Big Book of the Horse.

Your Playboy?
Essentially. It was a very interesting book — everything you ever wanted to know about horses. At the time I didn’t really think of myself as different or unusual; it was just what I was interested in. I wasn’t going to go broadcast what I was doing, but I also wasn’t thinking to hide. I feel like my sexual development was bang on — I just had a different affection.

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So the book aroused you? Did you masturbate over the images of horses?
Oh, yes. And later I’d go to pre-internet online dial-up forums and that’s where I came across bestiality porn. And I didn’t realize it was abnormal at that time, but the comments attached to those pictures were all going on about how disgusting it was. I was 13. So that would be when I was first aware that I was different. I grew up in the city, so I didn’t have much access. I always was on the lookout for horses when I was traveling. I saw farms that I’d have loved to go explore, but they were never near my home. Sometimes I wonder if I just lacked the courage.

This was during puberty. Does that mean it’s fair to say that your sexual awakening revolved around horses?
Yes, absolutely.

Did you have sexual feelings toward humans as well?
No, not until later in high school when it came to be the expected thing. But I didn’t get that close to anybody until I was about 20.

What was your adolescence like? Did you experiment sexually?
Before the age of about 10 there was no more than some “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” Then it was pretty boring until high school. My interest was horses. At school you could have called me asexual. It’s not as if I didn’t have friends or engage in activities, but I was a little nerdy and not at all athletic. I’ve always been somewhat overweight. I don’t think I had any more or less trouble with the “in” crowd than any other kid, and I know a few people looked up to me for my abilities in math, science, and the fact that I was always willing to help people.

Did you date at all?
I did ask a girl to the prom. Now that I look back, I feel so sorry for her. We sat at the table and didn’t dance. I don’t even think we hugged. As much as I later experimented with people, I was always sure I wanted horses. It was never a case of “I’m just giving this a try to see if I would prefer humans.”

When was your first kiss?
My first kiss was from a man named Mark. He was aware of my sexual preference and interested himself in dogs after a fashion. That was about two months after I lost my virginity, so I was about 22. In all honesty, I’ve never liked kissing men; rough beards do not turn me on.

So you had your first kiss after you lost your virginity? Did you lose your virginity to a horse or a human?
A horse.

There must have been a lot of buildup.
Yes, the pressure builds and builds and builds. And losing your virginity is important to becoming a “real” zoophile because you’re joining a very select group of people, and if you haven’t actually “done it,” people wonder if that’s your real sexuality. So there’s some hazing that goes on. I’d wanted to have the sexual experience as well as the street credit among my peers — the zoophiles I’d met online — because they were my closest friends, really.

How did you find a sex partner?
One of my friends had access to a nice female pony, and he let me have sex with her. She was a Shetland-cross, and she had dorsal stripes — the black line across the spine — and that’s something that’s turned me on ever since.

What was it like?
My friend was there at the time, and he was holding her head. He didn’t have to do that — it’s not like we were doing things that she wasn’t enjoying — but he was there to protect me. He had his back to me, and he was holding the lead rope to make sure that she was okay and also to prove that I’d actually done it. The sexual experience itself was incredible. To this day it was the best sex I’ve ever had. But in some ways I regret that first time.

Why?
Because I didn’t get to know her first, and I’ve since come to understand that enthusiastic participation makes the experience better. So I kind of wish it had been different. I think a lot of people build up that first experience and whether they are straight or a zoophile.

So, how do you have sex with a mare? Do you always develop an intimate relationship with her first? Is there foreplay?
I’ll tell you about the first time I had sex with my current mare friend. It’s sort of a comedy of errors. So I’d had her for about a year. I had her in the barn. I’d given her food. I’d brushed her, cleaned her under her tail, and cleaned her face. I’d scooped snot out of her nose — we know each other very intimately. We were in a barn with all the lights out and a nice warm heater; it was lovely. So, she was settling in for the night, and I went to the stall and I just sat in the corner. I let her come to me, and that’s one of the things I am very adamant about: I never use a halter or any kind of restraint.

So, she chooses to come with me, and I leave her food and she puts her head on my chest and we snuggle and I whisper sweet nothings in her ear and rub her cheeks — what she likes. By this stage, she knows I’ll rub her thighs. She really loves the area between the back of her legs touched. So, she turned around and she actually backed into me while I’m sitting down. I slip my hands up a little further up and play with her genitals.

Her clitoris?
Yes. Now, one of the things that’s a problem with horses is the height difference. So, here’s a little tip: Use a water bucket to stand on. In the case of the first time with my current mare friend I was sitting with my back to the wall, and she had actually pressed into my face hard enough that I was pinned there performing oral sex.

She was dominating?
She was enjoying it. I wouldn’t say she was trying to dominate; I think she was just expressing her enjoyment. We did that for about 20 or 30 minutes. Mares aren’t easy to satisfy. They need a lot of stimulation. This leads me to the penetrative sex. I was about 38 at the time,  and I was about 10 to 15 pounds too heavy for the bucket. So we have this plastic bucket upside down, and I’m standing on it and my drawers are dropped. I’m in the corner of the stall, and my mare friend has turned around and is looking at me strangely, and she comes over and sniffs and rubs and snuffles me. Because horses love biting things I was a little bit concerned; I kept my hand in a way that I could save myself if I needed to. But the really interesting thing is that after having oral sex she turned away from me, lifted her tail, and walked backward into me and actually onto me.

Unfortunately, the bucket was buckling, and I fell off. So while there was penetrative sex, that was my first big time with my mare friend: having to catch myself after falling off a bucket backward.

Are there health and safety concerns? How did you know how to do it safely — did you educate yourself first?
There are a lot of things to think about. I’ve had the luck and the privilege to know two veterinarians and a doctor who were open to the idea, so I talked to them and I investigated zoonosis — the transference of diseases from animals to people. Overall, it’s safer with a horse than a human. Horses have parasites, but they generally don’t, like us. STDs are only a risk if you share horses, and I don’t do that. Early on, an experienced zoophile friend took me under his wing and taught me something I’ll always remember: A horse is going to give you his butt before he will ever give you his head. Horses kick.

That’s what I was thinking. Whenever I get near a horse, it wants to kick me …
You know, it’s amazing — I don’t know if I have this innate thing or something, but only one horse has ever tried to kick me and that was while I was picking out her hooves, never during sex. Horses might bite people who come into their space, but maybe that’s because a lot of them are just used to people coming into the stall, putting on a bridle, taking them for a three-hour run, and putting them back.

I take it you disagree with the idea that it’s abusive to have sex with animals?

Each time I have a conversation about this I see other people’s darkness projected onto what I do. Yes, anyone could tie up a horse to make sure it couldn’t hurt you and then do whatever they want to it. And, of course, that does happen. But I’ve met maybe 150 to 200 zoophiles, and I’ve never seen that. There are some people whom I would never want to associate with because they are not good people, but there are bad people in life in general.

Sex with animals is just so poorly studied. We are a varied community: city folk, country folk. The popular image of that person on the farm who goes and abuses animals because there’s no other outlet, that’s not the case. That’s just not always what happens.

What sex acts do you usually engage in?
I mostly have oral sex with mares. When I first gave a horse oral sex I was in my early 20s, and one of the things I had to overcome was the thought that it’s disgusting to go down on a horse, much like the way some men feel about women. So it was at the back of my head at the time, and it’s kind of strange because there’s nothing about horses that’s disgusting to me. And, as I discovered, mares taste very, very nice, like mown grass or fresh hay, and they really enjoy oral stimulation.

I’ve always made sure, except for the first few times when I was a neophyte, that my partner has an orgasm, whether it’s a human or a horse, because I want her to have a really good time, and oral is something she almost always enjoys.

How can you tell when a mare is having an orgasm?
She tenses up a lot and “winks” her clitoris repeatedly. She makes noises and grunts.

What’s your number?
Between 15 and 20 horses, and about six or seven humans.

Can you remember each encounter?
I’d have to sit down and figure it out. When I was younger I was experimenting with stallions, and that was not really my thing, so I don’t have as much memory of those.

Is that because you’ve tried to block it out?
It’s more that it’s faded into time. I remember all the mares, but the male horses not so much. I haven’t done anything with a male horse in 20 years.

Was that anal sex?
Masturbation and anal sex. I can’t be penetrated. I have severe hemorrhoids so it’s too painful, and that made some of my gay relationships difficult, but I was always happy to pleasure my partner.

Gay relationships? When it comes to humans, do you identify as gay or straight?
That changed in my early 20s, but right now I would say I’m 90 percent heterosexual with humans and with horses.

Why did that change?
The very first human I ever loved died of AIDS about six weeks after I met him. My therapist tells me that probably had a profound effect on me

When did you seek therapy, and why?
I saw a clinical psychologist following a recent trauma around two friends suddenly dying, and this perhaps reactivated the trauma of the death of my first love. After questioning her repeatedly on what she was legally required to do if I confessed certain things to her, I decided to come clean and explain to her why horses are so important to me.

After consulting with her mentors, experts, and other sources, she told me that she felt I didn’t need treatment for my attraction. To which I went, “Well, duh.” I’m not sick.

You associated the trauma of your first love dying with your homosexual experience?
It was raw trauma. When I heard the news I was in upstate New York with some friends. I remember everyone was trying to console me, and I left the house and went out to the pasture and just screamed. I was bawling. He didn’t know he was infected. We didn’t know until after he died. But yes, that was definitely traumatic. He was the first person I ever loved. That’s how I know sexuality can change, because mine changed. My gender preference changed.

But not with horses, right?
That is true, yes. It has always been mares.

Are you monogamous with mares?
Yes, currently. I have two mares, and one is my mare friend and the other one is just a mare. I’ve never done anything sexual with her.

Does your mare friend have a name?
I usually call her Sexy Knickers, but her name is Ms. C.

How long have you been together?
Five years. I picked her up for $100 because she was going on a meat truck. She’s an Arabian. I’ve never had a relationship with a horse that was as in-depth as the one I have with her. I much enjoy her company; it’s really not just about sex. That’s something that a lot of people don’t understand.

Do you see her as a partner in human terms? Or is the human model the wrong way to think about it?
That’s sort of how I see it, but I guess it’s silly to project human-relationship standards onto an animal. You see, I’ve been married to a human woman for 19 years. So I would say I’m in a polygamous relationship, or at least an open relationship. My wife is the one who encouraged me to go and buy some horses.

Has she always known about your interest in mares?
We had very serious discussions, and I told her from the start that the horses were always going to be important to me.

How did she react?
She was very, very open. It’s never been a secret or, like, something I surprised her with or made her feel like she had to agree to or we were going to break up. I don’t want to sound trite, but communication is very important in marriage.

Is it communal? Do you do it together, or does she watch?
No, but she’s more than welcome to. She’s offered to stand guard to make sure that I get privacy because one of the issues I have at the moment is that my mares can’t live on my property. So I haven’t been living with my mare friend for almost two years. It’s really depressing. But that’s to protect her: If I get caught, I can guarantee you the first thing they are going to do is put her down.

Will it stay this way for a while?
Until I can find extra money in my budget to move her out of a public stable. It’s unfortunate because there are houses around the field and there’s not much privacy.

How do your relationships usually end? Is there a breakup? Have you ever had to grieve for a mare?
One of the things people say about horses is that they are always saying good-bye. They get sold, they move on, or someone takes them out of the country. This is the first time I’ve actually owned a horse. So she will be with me until I can no longer care for her or until she passes on. There’s absolutely no question in my mind as far as that goes.

The thought of losing her terrifies me. This summer she had colic, which can be deadly. I held her in my arms and told her good-bye because I thought she was gone. It was very bad. I was sitting on the corner of a box, and she came over and she sidled up to me and she put her belly against my shoulder so I could rub her where it was hurting, and I thought to myself at the time … sorry, this is making me a little emotional … I thought that it was something I could do to help ease her off on her journey across the rainbow bridge, which is what zoophiles talk about. When animals die they will go across the rainbow bridge and wait for their companions there. Anyway, the good news about that is she made it, and by 6 p.m. that night she was back to her old self.

That must have been such a relief …
It really was. I honestly can’t imagine what I would have done to try and get over that.

Do you and your wife have kids?
No, we don’t have kids. We are unable to do so, but we wouldn’t want to anyhow.

How would you feel if your mare friend were to have sex with another animal?
You know, a lot of people would be jealous, but I wouldn’t as long as she was happy and enjoying herself. A lot of animal sex tends to be forced, although I’m pretty darn sure my mare friend could protect herself and make sure she was getting what she wanted out of any sexual situation. I would, however, prefer she didn’t have sex with another human — one of the reasons is diseases, but also you can never be sure of people’s intentions.

Do you have a “type” when it comes to horses?
I really like the dorsal stripe and other markings. I tend to like darker horses because of the contrast between the inside and the outside. Personality is important. I’ve become attracted to Arabians after meeting my current mare friend and seeing the kind of bonding they can do with humans. My therapist actually asked me that about horses. She said, “What do you like about horses?” And I said, “Everything … everything from the hock and the hoof to the nostrils and the thighs and the neck and the way the neck curves and the muscles along the flank.” I can’t identify one thing that stands out for me, or something that I haveto have in a horse.

Is that the same with humans?
No, I do have a distinct physical type. I tend to be attracted to heavier women (I like hips), and with men I tend to like clean-shaven, younger-looking men. As members of society we are educated in what we should be looking for in fellow humans, whereas with horses we don’t have any of that teaching.

Since there’s so much stigma attached to being a zoophile I imagine that means you don’t tell many people. Does it cause a split personality? What is it like for you to have a sexuality that’s not really accepted or understood?
I’m really lucky to have my wife, because nobody would ever guess. I’m a private person, and I have no desire for people to know what I’m doing with my penis. I’m one of the luckiest zoos alive, as far as I can see. Having said that, though, you are quite correct that it’s something that makes people feel confused and alone, and they have no idea what to think about what they are, and they can’t talk to anybody. I’ve heard stories of people getting shock or aversion therapy. I really don’t understand the hatred.

Do you wish you could be out and proud?
Absolutely. I’ve always been a very political person, and one of the reasons I started seeing a therapist is because I found that lately I’m having trouble with what people say about zoophiles. The same arguments over and over again, and nobody can support me because they get labeled. It’s been very hard dealing with those emotions and the heaviness of what it would be like to get caught and what’s being said and done to zoophiles, and the fact is, rather than actually engage with us, people would prefer to ignore us.

What have I done? I am a normal, average, hardworking guy. I pay my taxes, I make fairly good money, I have a nice house. I have dogs, I have ferrets, I have cats, a couple of rats, chickens in my backyard I’ve saved from places where they were just going to get killed. What have I done that’s so wrong? What is so wrong about physical contact between my penis and a mare’s genitals? And it does bring a weight. The experience of being a zoo adolescent was extremely lonely. I had no one to turn to, nobody to ask questions, and even if I had trusted someone I feel now like I would have gotten bad, heteronormative advice. It was a silent day-to-day struggle.

I guess one of the major criticisms, aside from moral concerns, is that an animal can’t ever give verbal consent. What’s your response to that?
I believe that question is asked because there is no answer to it and so it proves the point that zoos are bad. However, I answer it in a threefold way. First of all, why are people concerned about consent when my sexuality is involved but not when it comes to drinking milk or eating steak, both of which require artificial insemination and semen collection, which are very sexual acts? You put your arm inside the cow, and you masturbate the bull. So obviously consent is not really the issue.

Second, if someone is mute and can’t write or give you a verbal response, are you allowed to have sex with them? Even if they are an adult and mentally sound? Are words the only way to get consent? I don’t know how often this comes up when a mute wants to have sex, but that’s another way of looking at it.

The third thing is, honestly, for me consent is so obvious in the relationships that I have. Consent isveryimportant to me. Nobody asks for consent for anything from animals. So I’d argue you aren’t worried about consent; you’re worried about where my penis is. Do you go up to a strange dog and automatically pat him on the head without looking him in the eye to make sure he’s okay with it? No smart person does that because the dog could bite your hand. If he’s perky and happy you go in for the pet; if he’s not you don’t want to interfere with him. So for me that’s a good way to make people understand that an animal doesn’t need words to consent to being touched.

Does your wife ever get jealous of your relationship with your mare?
I don’t want to answer that because I don’t want to speak to her feelings. That’s for her to say.

But there are points of tension in any relationship. Would it be fair to say this might be one of them?
It’s not something we’ve argued about, but does it cause tension? Possibly. But like in a polygamous relationship, everybody is aware of what’s going on. The first person I talk to about my mare friend is my wife so there’s nothing there for her to be jealous of.

Do you still look at animal literature and images? Do you find animated or fictional horses attractive?
Honestly, I really prefer mares I know in real life. I don’t watch horse pornography.

Do you ever take sexual photos of your mare?
Generally not.

Maybe once or twice?
If I happen to see a tail flicked off to the right side at the right time I might snap that photo, but it’s not something that I’m always looking at.

Is that unusual for a zoophile?
I would describe it as extremely unusual. When I was younger there was a lot of that sort of thing, but I think that’s more to do with being a walking hormone. When I look at beasty porn I see animals who aren’t being taken care of and are probably drugged. I can tell right away when a horse is not enjoying herself. A lot of it is made just for the money by the same producers as other porn, and they have about the same respect for animals as they do for women.

Are you sad that the world doesn’t understand your sexuality? If you look back over the course of your life, has it caused you more pain than happiness, or do you think that you have discovered something that is unique and special?
That’s a twofold question. I would never recommend this life to anybody. It’s very difficult. It’s nerve-racking coming to grips with having an alternative sexuality like this, and until you have a lot of experience you really doubt yourself. Am I actually doing the right thing? Am I hurting this animal?

To answer the second half of the question: I love me. I love who I am. I love my sexuality. It’s brought me so much joy being around horses, and I’m not just talking about the sex but the riding and the grooming. How could I not want to have that? While I certainly wouldn’t encourage anybody to participate in this kind of lifestyle, I do feel that I have to help people who feel the need to. One of the things that a Kinsey study showed is that most of those who engaged in sex acts with animals didn’t make it to old age.

Suicide?
I’m assuming. I do know that almost every zoophile I’ve ever talked to has had a brush with death. Some of them have had really shitty, crappy lives, and I can’t blame them. When I was 18 and coming to terms with being a zoo I got to the point where I was holding a knife to my wrist. The world is telling you you’re an awful creature of heinous proportions — what else are you going to do? The thought that came to me was if I were to kill myself now, I would never have those horses in my life. And that was why I decided it wasn’t going to happen and I was going to go on with my life. I wish we could talk more openly about sex and alternative sexual interests, or just sex in general. The fact that I hear teenagers saying they don’t know where babies come from doesn’t make sense to me

Do you want the law to change?
Having sex with an animal should be legal. There’s nothing wrong with it. But I would like to see stronger animal-cruelty laws. There’s this infamous video from Europe of a man who is having sex with chickens. Guaranteed he’s hurting the chicken, and he belongs in jail or therapy or something because that’s not right. I want people to know I’m a normal guy. I would never rape an animal. I’m a pacifist. Are there people who do that? Yes. There are also people who do that to women. That’s a problem beyond having an animal or having relations with an animal. There’s something else going on. It’s a power dynamic.

This is an odd transition, but I was wondering if you eat meat?
That’s the ultimate question for zoophiles. I look to do harm reduction to the meat I eat. It comes from a local organic farm, and I know the butcher who butchers the meat. I try to eliminate all the cruelty from it. I have backyard chickens and free-range eggs.

So, how often do you have sex with your mare friend?
I would say we have intercourse at least once a week. If she could get away with it she’d do it every day. I kid you not; she’ll back into me and ask me to rub things almost every day. I don’t have the sex drive of a 20-year-old, and she goes through seasons. It’s impacted by the sunlight and the warmth and stuff, so she’ll get exceptionally horny at certain times, and I’ll usually try to do stuff with her then. When we are going some place new there’s usually a hiatus because she’s not comfortable with her surroundings, so generally if we move stables there would be a break.

Do you ever spend the night with her without having sex?
Just being with her is more than enough for me. Sex is an extra. I’ve spent the night in her stall. Horses like having someone watching over them.

Does your wife mind when that happens?
She understands it, and it doesn’t happen very often, especially now that she’s in a public stable. I wish it could happen more often. My dream home would have the barn as part of the house.

Has Ms. C. ever rejected you sexually? Have you ever had a bad or sad sexual experience with her?
There have been times when she wasn’t interested. I always try to please my partner before I get pleased, and to be honest, I enjoy that even more.

How do you feel if she doesn’t have an orgasm?
I keep working at it until she does. It’s very important to me to know that she has had that pleasure.

What’s the longest time it’s taken, and what’s the average?
I get into some pretty marathon sessions. I’ve spent four- or five-hour evenings with a mare because she wanted more. It was multiple climaxes. Usually it takes a half-hour, an hour at most just to make sure. And, honestly, like most men I can deal with myself in five minutes.

If you are having oral or manual sex with her do you masturbate at the time, afterward, or not at all?
I’ve done all three, but often I won’t at all. It tends to happen more during summer nights because it gets quite cold in winter.

Do you dress up for her?
I just wear barn clothes, nothing fancy because I’m going to get dirty. She has no concern with what I wear, so neither do I. However, I don’t wear sunglasses. And the reason for that is so she can see my eyes and where I’m looking. A lot of communication with horses is through the eyes.

Do you do special things together, like go on “dates”? Do you buy her gifts or acknowledge anniversaries?
Our fifth anniversary was on Halloween and I groomed her extra special. I have mixed emotions about dates. I like going out into the paddock and sitting with her and watching her eat. But it’s not a traditional date; she doesn’t really have much in the way of choice except to accompany me or not come to me. I have to load her up in a trailer and take her out of her comfort zone, so I have a little bit of trouble calling it a date. But on our anniversary I spend extra time grooming her, and I feed her apples. I’ll take her for a walk around the block. It’s hard to get a horse into a fancy restaurant.

Are you proud to have her on your arm when you take her out?
I would like it to be like that, but I don’t want anyone getting suspicious. I love it when people compliment her because it makes me feel like I’m taking good care of her. I’ve tried to walk her around the town, and that’s a pride thing. I love showing her off; I think she’s gorgeous. It’s dangerous to anthropomorphize the relationship, but I’d love to say, “This is my girl, and she’s on my arm.”

How do you feel about zoophiles who aren’t monogamous?
I try not to judge, but I tend to be unhappy when people are so focused on the number of animals they’ve had sex with, when the only goal is to have another notch on the belt. I met someone who keeps a spreadsheet of the width and girth of every stallion he’s ever slept with. That objectifies the animal, and it removes the personal relationship.

If you had to choose between only ever being able to have sex with a horse or a human, from now on, what would you decide? Would that present a dilemma for you?
It would be a horse, absolutely, no question. The only reason it would be a dilemma is because my wife means so much to me, and she’d be very unhappy with that. So then the question becomes, Would I leave my horse or leave my wife? I couldn’t make that decision easily. I don’t know if I could survive answering it, quite frankly. Not because of the sex but because I love my wife very much and I would not want to hurt her.

Do you worry about your horse eventually losing sexual interest?
Ever since she’s been sick she’s been treating me differently. Part of that is because we have a new horse in the pasture, and this bothers me quite a bit.

How’s she acting? Is she being distant?
It’s so subtle it almost sounds silly, but she moves away from me, and she’s never done this before so that’s really on my mind right now because I want to repair the relationship. I assume I did something or helped the vet do something that caused her pain or upset her in some way. Also, I haven’t had a lot of time to spend with her for the last two months, partly because of work and partly because it’s getting dark early so I can’t see to do much of anything. It’s so hard to communicate the subtle things that change between me and an equine partner, but I really have to pay attention, and if I missed what happened it’s a real case of sleuthing. It puts a real damper on the rest of my life when we aren’t getting along.

When she’s acting distant like that do you wish you could ask her what’s wrong?
I would love it if we had telepathy or if there were a little machine I could pop on her forehead and see what she’s thinking, but I would never want to spend the time talking to her as if she were a human, because she’s not. I like the way we can partner without speaking. That’s something that’s quite important and a very special part of the bond. If she could talk that would make her less of a horse.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

What It’s Like to Date a Horse — Science of Us.

Men Explain Technology to Me: On Gender, Ed-Tech, and the Refusal to Be Silent


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Here are the notes and the slides from what is (I hope) my last talk of 2014. I gave this this evening to University of Mary Washington, and then turned around and presented it again (online) to Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt’s class EC&I 831.

This is (I think) the last public talk I will give this year. It has been the most difficult one to prepare.

I put a lot of myself — my ideas (obviously) and anecdotes from my life — into my talks. But when asked to speak to you today about gender and educational technology, I have found myself at a bit of a loss as to how much of “me” I wanted to include here, and how much of others’ experiences I felt comfortable invoking as well.

I have lots to say, don’t get me wrong. I have personal experiences. And I have a Women’s Studies degree, dammit! But to say something publicly — out loud, in person or online, to commit these thoughts to writing, any of it — is a little intimidating at this very moment, particularly as I can still see the fallout from Gamergate and Shirtgate wreak havoc on people’s lives. I consider myself pretty damn fierce and fearless. But I’ve sat staring at a blinking cursor trying to figure out what to say and, I admit, a little apprehensive about potential reactions, particularly if I call out -isms and/or name names.

But I know I have to come right out and say it, because very few people in education technology will: there’s a problem with computer technology. Culturally. Ideologically. There’s a problem with the Internet. Largely designed by men from the developed world, it is built for men of the developed world. Men of science. Men of industry. Military men. Venture capitalists. Despite all the hype and hope about revolution and access and opportunity that these new technologies will provide us, they do not negate hierarchy, history, privilege, power. They reflect those. They channel it. They concentrate it, in new ways and in old.

Harassment — of women, people of color, and other marginalized groups — is pervasive online. It’s a reflection of offline harassment, to be sure. But there are mechanics of the Internet — its architecture, affordances, infrastructure, its culture — that can alter, even exacerbate what that harassment looks like and how it is experienced.

For advocates of education technology, this is a bitter pill to swallow: Internet technologies are not simply generative or supportive; they can be destructive. But this, all of this is an ed-tech issue. It is a technology issue. It is an education issue. It a societal issue. It is a political issue. We cannot ignore it. But that’s precisely what most people in ed-tech seem to do.

In my head, I hear that voice, that response from certain corners of the Internet: “Well, that’s just your opinion, lady.”

OK. Sure. Indeed, all my work conceivably falls under the heading “opinion.” My analysis (that’s the term I prefer) is grounded in research, in observation, and in experience. Often I include personal experience narratives too — perhaps as a way to ground my authority in a field in which I am neither formally degreed nor formally employed.

In planning my talk today — specifically when thinking about what I have to say about gender and ed-tech — that opinion feels pretty vulnerable. Or rather, I feel pretty vulnerable. It’s not an intellectual vulnerability. Frankly, I feel some of that all the time. Like: what if this essay is dumb or wrong. What if the thing I think is a brilliant observation is just a mediocre version of what some smarter person wrote last week, last year, a decade ago, and so on. “Imposter syndrome,” I suppose.

I’m talking here about a different some of vulnerability — not intellectual but psychological and physical. That is, my work comes from a body — my body, a marked body. Gendered and therefore not objective. Always subjective. Always opinion.

Gendered. This is the lens through which I write. It is how I experience the world. White cis heterosexual American female.

It is how I experience the Internet.

There’s that very famous New Yorker cartoon: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” The cartoon was first published in 1993 — fairly interesting, I think, because it shows that by the early 1990s, the Internet had achieved if not a popular appeal, then enough of one that those who read the New Yorker could chuckle about the reference. The cartoon demonstrates too this sense that we have long had that the Internet offers privacy and anonymity, that we can experiment with identities online in ways that are severed from our bodies, from our material selves and that, potentially at least, the Internet can allow online participation for those denied it offline.

Perhaps, yes.

But sometimes when folks on the Internet discover “you’re a dog,” they do everything in their power to put you back in your place, to remind you of your body. To punish you for being there. To hurt you. To destroy you. Online and offline.

The following sentence sounds so weird, I realize, when I say it out loud: I have received death threats. I write about education technology; I write online for a living. And I’ve had people respond to my work by saying they wanted to kill me, they wanted to see me die. I’ve had death threats, rape threats — subtle and overt. Most often what I get are the sorts of comments of the type my friend Tressie McMillan Cottom describes as “Who the fuck do you think you are?” comments. I’ve been harassed. I’ve been told to shut up. I’ve been threatened. Some is sporadic; some serial. In response, I’ve taken the comments off my blog. The harassment continues via email. It happens on platforms like Twitter and Facebook and Google+. I block, I delete, I flag at spam. It’s up to me to monitor and respond to this. It becomes part of the “work” I have to do to do my “work” online. I have filed complaints and reports on these social media platforms, but rarely is anything done.

When I tell people that these are my experiences, they often respond, “Are the threats real?” That’s a question that is hard to answer. No, nobody has come to my door. But yes, they are real. I experience them as real. Even if nobody physically hurts me, these threats take a very material toll on me. They affect my work, my mental health, my physical health, my relationship with my partner, my life.

For a long time, I wondered what it was about my work, about me that was really so controversial. I hear that too. If I could just “soften it up.” “Say nice things every once in a while.” “Smile.” And true, my work is critical, sometimes bitingly, angrily so.

But I know that the threats and the harassment are not, at their core, about the content of my blog posts or the substance of my arguments. They’re not about tech or ed-tech or “ethics in video game journalism.” They are because I am, quite simply, a woman who expresses an opinion on the Internet.

Because I am a woman.

One of my favorite essays is by the writer Rebecca Solnit: “Men Explain Things to Me.” She first wrote the essay in 2008 and since then the term “mansplaining” has become so popular — we use it often to describe the Internet version of men explaining things to women — that she published a whole book on the topic earlier this year.

“Mansplaining” is a microaggression, a practice of undermining women’s intelligence, their contributions, their voice, their experiences, their knowledge, their expertise; and frankly once these pile up, these mansplaining microaggressions, they undermine women’s feelings of self-worth. Women then decide not to speak.

Let me quote Solnit (my apologies, at length):

“…I was in Berlin giving a talk when the Marxist writer Tariq Ali invited me out to a dinner that included a male writer and translator and three women a little younger than me who would remain deferential and mostly silent throughout the dinner. Tariq was great. Perhaps the translator was peeved that I insisted on playing a modest role in the conversation, but when I said something about how Women Strike for Peace, the extraordinary, little-known antinuclear and antiwar group founded in 1961, helped bring down the communist-hunting House Committee on Un-American Activities, HUAC, Mr. Very Important II sneered at me. HUAC, he insisted, didn’t exist by the early 1960s and, anyway, no women’s group played such a role in HUAC’s downfall. His scorn was so withering, his confidence so aggressive, that arguing with him seemed a scary exercise in futility and an invitation to more insult.

I think I was at nine books at that point, including one that drew from primary documents and interviews about Women Strike for Peace. But explaining men still assume I am, in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge. A Freudian would claim to know what they have and I lack, but intelligence is not situated in the crotch–even if you can write one of Virginia Woolf’s long mellifluous musical sentences about the subtle subjugation of women in the snow with your willie. Back in my hotel room, I Googled a bit and found that Eric Bentley in his definitive history of the House Committee on Un-American Activities credits Women Strike for Peace with “striking the crucial blow in the fall of HUAC’s Bastille.” In the early 1960s.

So I opened an essay for the Nation with this interchange, in part as a shout-out to one of the more unpleasant men who have explained things to me: Dude, if you’re reading this, you’re a carbuncle on the face of humanity and an obstacle to civilization. Feel the shame.

The battle with Men Who Explain Things has trampled down many women–of my generation, of the up-and-coming generation we need so badly, here and in Pakistan and Bolivia and Java, not to speak of the countless women who came before me and were not allowed into the laboratory, or the library, or the conversation, or the revolution, or even the category called human.

After all, Women Strike for Peace was founded by women who were tired of making the coffee and doing the typing and not having any voice or decision-making role in the antinuclear movement of the 1950s. Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. Things have certainly gotten better, but this war won’t end in my lifetime. I’m still fighting it, for myself certainly, but also for all those younger women who have something to say, in the hope that they will get to say it.”

Thanks to feminism, to feminist pedagogy, we can recognize when incidents of mansplaining occurs in academia or in the classroom, right? We can see when a young woman or a person of color perhaps has something terrifically smart to say — perhaps based on their research, their analysis, their personal experience — and a man will interrupt and interject and explain whatever the topic is more loudly, more forcefully, with all the assuredness and the “well, actually” that comes with male privilege.

I think — I hope — that as educators we try to elevate the marginalized voices in our classrooms. Online, we don’t do that so well. The mansplaining can be overpowering.

I speak from experience. On Twitter, I have over 26,000 followers, most of whom follow me, I’d wager, because from time to time I say smart things about education technology. Yet regularly, men — strangers, typically, but not always — jump into my “@-mentions” to explain education technology to me. To explain open source licenses or open data or open education or MOOCs to me. Men explain learning management systems to me. Men explain the history of education technology to me. Men explain privacy and education data to me. Men explain venture capital funding of education startups to me. Men explain online harassment to me. Men explain blogging to me. Men explain, they explain, they explain.

It’s exhausting. It’s insidious. It doesn’t quite elevate to the level of harassment, to be sure; but these microaggressions often mean that when harassment or threats do occur, we’re already worn down. Yet this is all part of my experiences online. My experiences. Women’s experiences. My friends’ experiences.

I started to make a list of all the women I know who’ve experienced online harassment in the last year or so. Adria. Sarah. Another Sarah. A different Sarah. Sabrina. Brianna. Shanley. Suey. Tressie. Julie. Another Julie. Rose. Ariel. Anita. Kathy. Zoe. Amanda. Ashe. Catherine. Felicia. Mikki. Mia. Melinda. Molly. Lauren. Jenn. A different Jen. Jessica. Jessie. Jess. Caroline. Katie. Sadie. Bridget. Alyssa. Lyndy. Rebecca. Roxane. I could go on, but I have to stop. I should be clear: for many of these women, this harassment has moved offline as well. They’ve been doxxed, for example — that is where your address and phone number and other identifiable information are posted online in forums like 4chan for the specific purpose to offline harassment.

Take the actress Felicia Day, who recently posted her thoughts about Gamergate — what’s become an ongoing campaign of harassment against women in gaming. “I have tried to retweet a few of the articles I’ve seen dissecting the issue in support, but personally I am terrified to be doxxed for even typing the words ‘Gamer Gate’,” she wrote.

I have had stalkers and restraining orders issued in the past, I have had people show up on my doorstep when my personal information was HARD to get. To have my location revealed to the world would give a entry point for a few mentally ill people who have fixated on me, and allow them to show up and make good on the kind of threats I’ve received that make me paranoid to walk around a convention alone. I haven’t been able to stomach the risk of being afraid to get out of my car in my own driveway because I’ve expressed an opinion that someone on the internet didn’t agree with.

HOW SICK IS THAT?

Almost instantly after she posted this to her Tumblr, she was doxxed. Almost instantly. That’s how it increasingly works.

For many of these women, myself included, our profession, our work demands we be online. We are writers and artists and journalists and actors and speakers and educators and students. We cannot not be online.

It’s easy for some people to suggest, I think, that some of us are targeted because of our high(er) profile. And we are, I suppose, easier — or more recognizable at least — targets. Perhaps. But that’s also beside the point. Because here’s the thing that comes with being “Internet famous”: as high(er)-profile Internet users, some of also have powerful connections to, say, staff at Twitter or Tumblr that elevate and prioritize our complaints, that shut down the accounts of our harassers more rapidly than “regular” users will ever experience.

And “regular users” do indeed experience online harassment.

The Pew Research Internet Project recently published the results from a survey on online harassment. Among the findings:

“60% of Internet users said they had witnessed someone being called offensive names. 53% had seen efforts to purposefully embarrass someone. 25% had seen someone being physically threatened. 24% witnessed someone being harassed for a sustained period of time. 19% said they witnessed someone being sexually harassed. 18% said they had seen someone be stalked.”

According to the Pew survey, 22% of all Internet users reported being harassed online. One in 5. About 55% of those said they’d experienced the “less severe” forms; that means 45% said they’d experienced the “more severe” forms, including serial harassment, sexual harassment, and stalking. Young women — those age 18 to 24, those we still label as “college age” — experience the most severe harassment online. “26% of these young women have been stalked online, and 25% were the target of online sexual harassment.”

All this in the Pew survey is self-reported, I should note. So when Pew says something like, “Overall, men are somewhat more likely than women to experience at least one of the elements of online harassment, 44% vs. 37%,” we should probably make it very clear, again, that the harassment that men and women receive online is different — in degree, in purpose, in intended results. A different organization. W.H.O.A. (“Working to Halt Online Abuse”) has found that 73% of cyberstalking victims are women, for example. A University of Maryland research project created fake online accounts and set them into Internet chat rooms. “Accounts with feminine usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit or threatening messages a day. Masculine names received 3.7.”

But again, I want to make the link to our offline bodies. An earlier Pew study found that “five percent of women who used the Internet said ‘something happened online’ that led them into ‘physical danger.’” From the World Health Organization:

“Violence against women is widespread around the world. Recent figures indicate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. …Women who have been physically or sexually abused have higher rates of mental ill-health, unintended pregnancies, abortions and miscarriages than non-abused women. … Increasingly in many conflicts, sexual violence is also used as a tactic of war.”

We do not escape our material bodies online, as much as that New Yorker cartoon suggests we might.

In fact, I want to argue that online — computer technologies, Internet technologies — actually re-inscribe our material bodies, the power and the ideology of gender and race and sexual identity and national identity. Why? Because of who is making these tools.

News organizations have been pushing for several years for the major technology companies to release their diversity numbers — that is, the make-up of their workforce. In fact, many of these companies have fought attempts to publish their EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) data. But this year, perhaps recognizing that they must at some point address the “pipeline issue” — how to get more women and people of color into STEM-related fields — some tech companies have released this data. And it’s not pretty.

70% of Google’s employees are male. 61% are white and 30% Asian. Of Google’s “technical” employees. 83% are male. 60% of those are white and 34% are Asian.

70% of Apple’s employees are male. 55% are white and 15% are Asian. 80% of Apple’s “technical” employees are male.

69% of Facebook employees are male. 57% are white and 34% are Asian. 85% of Facebook’s “technical” employees are male.

70% of Twitter employees are male. 59% are white and 29% are Asian. 90% of Twitter’s “technical” employees are male.

So gee, I wonder why blocking violent harassers, reporting rape threats, banning sock-puppet accounts, and so on hasn’t been a priority for Twitter. I wonder.

And I wonder too: what do these demographics look like for education technology companies? What percentage of those building ed-tech software are men? What percentage are white? What percentage of their engineers are men? How do these bodies shape what gets built? How do privileges, ideologies, expectations, values get hard-coded into ed-tech?

We tend to view the education profession as a female one. At the K-12 level, three-quarters of teachers are women, and over 80% are white. (It’s worth noting that, this school year, for the first time, minority students outnumber white students in public schools.) At the higher education level, 48% of college instructors are women; again, almost 80% are white. But it’s a mistake to think that education is somehow “female-dominated,” that women are well-represented in leadership or decision-making roles, or that women in education do not experience work-related harassment or discriminatory treatment. And once we add technology to the picture, I daresay it gets worse.

What percentage of education technologists are men? What percentage of “education technology leaders” are men? What percentage of education technology consultants? What percentage of those on the education technology speaking circuit? What percentage of education CIOs and CTOs; what percentage of ed-tech CEOs?

Again: How do these bodies — in turn, their privileges, ideologies, expectations, values — influence our education technologies?

So I’m speaking to a group of educators and students here. I’m probably supposed to say something about what we can do, right? What we can do to resist that hard-coding. What we can do to subvert that hard-coding. What we can do to make technologies that our students — all our students, all of us — can wield. What we can do to make sure that when we say “your assignment involves the Internet” that we haven’t triggered half the class with fears of abuse, harassment, exposure, rape, death.

The answer can’t simply be to tell women to not use their real name online. If part of the argument for participating in the open Web is that students and educators are building a digital portfolio, are building a professional network, are contributing to scholarship, then we have to really think about whether or not promoting pseudonyms is a sufficient or an equitable solution.

The answer can’t be simply be “don’t blog on the open Web.” Or “keep everything inside the ‘safety’ of the walled garden, the learning management system.” If nothing else, this presumes that what happens inside siloed, online spaces is necessarily “safe.” I know I’ve seen plenty of horrible behavior on closed forums, for example, from professors and students alike. I’ve seen heavy-handed moderation, where marginalized voices find their input are deleted. I’ve seen zero-moderation, where marginalized voices are mobbed.

The answer can’t simply be “just don’t read the comments.” I would say that it might be worth rethinking “comments”  on student blogs altogether — or rather the expectation that they host them, moderate them, respond to them. See, if we give students the opportunity to “own their own domain,” to have their own websites, their own space on the Web, we really shouldn’t require them to let anyone that can create a user account into that space. It’s perfectly acceptable to say to someone who wants to comment on a blog post, “Respond on your own site. Link to me. But I am under no obligation to host your thoughts in my domain.”

And see, that starts to hint at what I think the answer here to this question about the unpleasantness — by design — of technology. It starts to get at what any sort of “solution” or “alternative” has to look like: it has to be both social and technical. If, as I’ve argued, the current shape of education technologies has been shaped by certain ideologies and certain bodies, we should recognize that we aren’t stuck with those. We don’t have to “do” tech as it’s been done. We can design differently. We can design around. We can use differently. We can use around.

One interesting example of this dual approach that combines both social and technical — outside the realm of ed-tech, I recognize — is the BlockBot. Having grown weary of Twitter’s refusal to address the ways in which its platform is utilized to harass people, a group of feminist developers wrote the BlockBot, an application that when you install it, lets you block, en masse, a large list of Twitter accounts that are known for being serial harassers. That list of blocked accounts is updated and maintained collaboratively.

That gets, just a bit, at what I think we can do in order to make education technology habitable, sustainable, and healthy. We have to rethink the technology. And not simply as some nostalgia for a “Web we lost,” for example, but as a move forward to a Web we’ve yet to ever see. One that is inclusive and equitable. Perhaps education needs reminding of this: we don’t have to adopt tools that serve business goals or administrative purposes, particularly when they are to the detriment of scholarship and/or student agency — technologies that surveil and control and restrict, for example, under the guise of “safety” — that gets trotted out from time to time — but that have never ever been about students’ needs at all. We don’t have to accept that technology needs to extract value from us. We don’t have to accept that technology puts us at risk. We don’t have to accept that the architecture, the infrastructure of these tools make it easy for harassment to occur without any consequences. We can build different and better technologies. And we can build them with and for communities, communities of scholars and communities of learners. We don’t have to be paternalistic as we do so. We don’t have to “protect students from the Internet,” and rehash all the arguments about stranger danger and predators and pedophiles. But we should recognize that if we want education to be online, if we want education to be immersed in technologies, information, and networks, that we can’t really throw students out there alone. We need to be braver and more compassionate and we need to build that into ed-tech. Like Blockbot, this should be a collaborative effort, one that blends our cultural values with technology we build.

Because here’s the thing. The answer to all of this — to harassment online, to the male domination of the technology industry — is not silence. That is after all, as Rebecca Solnit reminds us, one of the goals of mansplaining: to get us to cower, to hesitate, to doubt ourselves and our stories and our needs, to step back, to shut up.

I’ll repeat: the answer is not silence.

I think the most important cautionary tale, if you will, about gender and equity and silence comes not from Gamergate or from Shirtgate but from the revelations last month about Canadian radio celebrity Jian Ghomeshi. Ghomeshi, the host of a popular radio program, was suddenly fired by the CBC, and allegations quickly emerged of violent sexual assault. Ghomeshi, for his part, said this involved spurned ex-lovers and he was being punished for what was, in his words, consensual BDSM. The women — and there are over 8 accusers now — say otherwise. It was not consensual. It was assault.

But it isn’t just these women who’ve come forward. A large number of members of the Canadian media, of the Vancouver music scene, and so on have spoken out too, confessing that “they knew about Jian.” There was talk. Chatter. Warnings. One woman wrote a piece explaining carefully that when people asked “do you know about Jian,” the question didn’t imply “do you know Jian Ghomeshi, popular radio host?” It meant “do you know.” “Just be careful. He’s weird with woman,” a male friend had warned her when she first joined “the scene.”

And she writes,

“Warned by this, I kept my distance and just watched. I saw the way he moved towards women, introduced himself, and pushed his way into their space. … Nothing you’d call a crime, not quite. Nothing you could name. Just a sense, all the little things that added up to say — this isn’t safe. This person is not safe.

Boundary issues, call ‘em, and they were persistent. I saw it on other occasions after that, though only a few — other parties, where I’d lean my head against another woman’s so that we could exchange our warnings in the night. Through these other women I started to hear stories, filtering through in little bites: it felt like everyone had a friend with a story. A friend who was was hurt or leered at. A friend who had been uncomfortable, cornered or afraid.

But how could you say that, in a way that would ever be believed? How would you describe that for the world, in a way that the world would ever believe?

So instead, you start to turn to the women around you, and you say: ‘do you know about Jian?’

And you watch them nod, and pass it on.”

That’s how networks work, isn’t it. You exchange important information. You try to build community and keep that community safe. But we can see in this anecdote how much access to that network matters. Networks offer protection. If you weren’t part of the right network, perhaps you didn’t hear the whispered warnings. Or perhaps you were part of an adjacent network, a network of powerful media people that “knew about Jian” but chose not to say anything or do anything publicly.

It’s not a perfect analogy to ed-tech, by any means. But I want to draw the comparison because I feel like the stakes are very high. We have to think about the networks we are building and we are using. How do they reflection information and power. Who do they protect? Who do they put at risk?

We can’t sit back and let harassment and abuse go on. We can’t ignore it, or pretend that it doesn’t exist or that, because it’s online it isn’t real.

We can’t retreat behind walls. Women know that violence happens there too, of course. Being out in the public space — and these days, that means being on the Internet — is how we fully participate in civic life.

Yes, we can whisper tips to our friends, our colleagues, our students. We can work quietly or loudly to resist. We can build alternative networks and alternative education technologies. But we cannot be silent.

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Audrey Watters


Published 18 Nov 2014

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Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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Men Explain Technology to Me: On Gender, Ed-Tech, and the Refusal to Be Silent.

Richard Bartle: we invented multiplayer games as a political gesture | Technology | The Guardian

In 1978, in a computer lab at Essex University, two brilliant young students invented the future of video games. Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle were the creators of the Multi-User Dungeon – or simply MUD – a text-based adventure that ran on a giant DEC PDP-10 mainframe. They programmed the game in their spare time, accessing the computer labs in the evenings. If they hadn’t made it, massively multiplayer online adventures like EverQuest and World of Warcraft may never have happened.

There had been other fantasy adventure games before MUD, of course. Will Crowther’s Colossal Cave Adventure arrived in 1975, while work on Zork, developed by a bunch of MIT students in the university’s dynamic modelling group, began in 1977. These single-player programs were, in turn, heavily inspired by the pencil and paper role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, which had been hugely popular in student circles since its publication in 1974.

Although Trubshaw wasn’t a fan of D&D, Bartle played a lot, buying a copy from Ian Livingstone’s Games Workshop store for £6.10 as soon as it was available in the UK. Trubshaw, who started the programming for MUD alone, originally planned to create a virtual world rather than a game. However, when Bartle got involved, he was already a keen computer games player and wanted participants to play together in a similar way to D&D. Consequently, when the first version of MUD uploaded to the university system in autumn 1978, it allowed multiple users to log into a mainframe and go on fantasy quests together.

Bartle had been making games and programming computers since the mid-1970s. His formative experiences in coding were courtesy of the DEC PDP-10 owned by British Petroleum’s petrochemical works in Brough, East Yorkshire, near his home town of Hornsea. “In order to say sorry for filling the air with toxic fumes they let the local schools use their computer,” he told attendees at the recent GameCity festival. “We had to fill in these coding sheets, writing in letters using an actual pen. Then we’d send them off somewhere and someone typed them in.”

Later, he attended Essex University to study mathematics, but quickly changed to computer science, a decision guided as much by intellectual pride as it was by interest. “There were 200 people studying maths at Essex and two of them were better than me,” he says. “But on the computer science course, there were none better than me so I switched to that and did my PhD in Artificial Intelligence.” According to Bartle, there were only three universities in Britain doing AI back then – Essex, Sussex and Edinburgh. The rest were apparently shut down because they’d been told by a professor of applied mathematics named Dr James Lighthill that AI was a useless subject that would never be important.

Before Essex, Bartle had been experimenting with internet connectivity on BP’s computer, using an ancient 110 baud modem (“it could transmit roughly 11 characters a second. You had to be very efficient with your coding”); the programs he created were stored on paper tape. But Essex had a comparatively advanced set-up. “The computer was the size of a room,” he says. “It had false floor panels under it that were filled with 29 carbon dioxide canisters. If there was a fire they’d all go off at once to put it out really quickly. It would also have put out all the operators, too, but they were cheaper than computers.”

Experimenting with this giant system, Roy Trubshaw discovered a mechanism for sharing code across separate teletype machines – an early version of the computer terminal – using an area of memory they weren’t supposed to be writing to. In short, it allowed several people to access the same program running on the mainframe at the same time. From here, the duo decided to create a fantasy adventure; Trubshaw wrote the physics, Bartle wrote the game code. The result was MUD.

They called it a multi-user dungeon, because of Zork. “The version we all played ran in [the programming language] Fortran and was just called Dungen because you could only use six character words. Back then we thought all games would be called dungeons, so ours was a multi-user dungeon. Turned out they were all going to be called adventures so we should have called it MUA.”

The duo ran the game over the university network, which was connected to British Telecom’s Experimental Packet Switching System, which could also be accessed by other UK universities. Bartle and Trubshaw used this to link in to the University of Kent, and from there establish a connection with the US-led ARPAnet, an early precursor to today’s global internet. “People had never played any sort of shared world before,” says Bartle. “You can’t imagine what it was like, you were playing a game and suddenly another real person would enter.”

MUD spreads

Very quickly, keen computer hobbyists and hackers found out about the game and started dialing in to it from outside the university. The system couldn’t cope – Essex only had six modems and these were quickly overstretched. “The gamers clubbed together to buy the university a bank of 12 modems,” says Bartle. The computing press started paying attention – Bartle wrote a cover feature on the game for Practical Computing, explaining the creation of MUD and defining his hopes for the future of the genre:

What I would like to see – and it’s a long, long way off – is some local or national network with good graphics, sound effects and a well designed set of worlds of varying degrees of difficulty. In this true meritocracy, you will forever be encountering new situations, new difficulties, new solutions, and above all new people. Everyone starts off on an equal footing in this artificial world.

He was, of course, imagining the actual future of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game; the possibilities were always there in Bartle’s mind. But there was one thing he and Trubshaw never did. They never sought to copyright their game or their technology. Instead they shared it freely.

“We encouraged people to write their own MUDs,” he says. “We made MUD because the real world sucked. We weren’t supposed to be at university – Roy was from Wolverhampton, I was from Yorkshire and sounded like I should be working on a farm. It wasn’t a great atmosphere; we were looked down on because other people were at university for intellectual subjects not mind-numbing technology. We raged against that.”

“You shouldn’t have to be what the world defines you to be. You should be who you really are – you should get to become yourself. MUD was a political statement, we made a world where people could go and shed what was holding them back.”

MUD did indeed proliferate. Other programmers at other universities took the basics of the network code and game design and evolved them. Through the 80s and 90s, several variations were developed and adopted including AberMud, TinyMud (which was more geared toward the social rather than gaming side of virtual worlds) and DikuMud.

The latter, built by a group of students at the University of Copenhagen, was the most stable and easy to install – it was written in the common programming language C and could run on all Unix systems, so spread easily. It also neatly tied together all of the conventions of quest-based multiplayer role-playing games: players took on a specific class of character – fighter, wizard, thief, etc – then “leveled up” by killing enemies with a range of weapons and spells, before collecting experience points and loot.

For Bartle, this structure was, itself, a comment on the stifling class system. But in MUD, progression was based on merit, not parentage. “If you saw someone was at a certain level, it said something about them – about their skill and strength of character,” says Bartle. “It was a way for players to understand their place in the hierarchy and to see that they could always progress – there were no glass ceilings. But it wasn’t really a meritocracy either because, if you didn’t care about your leveling up your character, you didn’t need to, you could still play. It was about freedom.”

Politics aside, the raw structure of MUD would influence most subsequent graphical multiplayer online games such as Ultima Online, EverQuest, and World of Warcraft. And it was that initial decision not to protect MUD as an IP that secured its place as a key progenitor. As Bartle explains, “By the time the games companies got interested in making mutiplayer online games in the late 90s, there were 100 MUD experienced designers for every one who was experienced in one of the other multi-user games that had been invented, because it was all free.”

Bartle is still at Essex University. He’s now a professor and senior lecturer in game design; he also consults in game development. He retains that pervading belief that games are positive and empowering. While society often wonders about their negative effects, he sees in them a model for tolerance and ethical behaviour.

“The original hacker ethic was, you can do what you like as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. That fed into games and it has propagated outwards,” he says. “The more games you play the more sense you have of things like fairness – if you play an unfair game it’s no fun, it’s not a good game. I think that makes you more resistant to examples of unfairness in the real world. You may start to think, why shouldn’t gay people get married, what the hell, it doesn’t effect me?

“I hope that some of the culture that came out of games has affected the real world.”

Richard Bartle: we invented multiplayer games as a political gesture | Technology | The Guardian.

The Other Side of Diversity — TheLi.st @ Medium — Medium

The Other Side of Diversity

The prevailing narrative surrounding minorities in tech relates to how beneficial employing minorities can be for a company and/or how detrimental the lack of diverse perspectives can be. I’ve searched for, and have been disappointed to find that few studies have been done on the psychological effects of being a minority in a mostly homogeneous workplace for an extended period of time. (Update: There have been some very recently published studies surrounding this topic. I’m very appreciative of Jake Van Epps for pointing them out to me.) Here I’ll try to highlight how it has affected me, as I grew from a young black lady to a black woman in the predominantly white male tech industry.

Past

In consequence to the practice of tokenism, people from minority groups are assimilated or excluded; some token employees assert themselves as the exceptions to the rule, concerning their minority-group stereotype. Hence, in occupations and professions predominantly practiced by men, women join in misogynist male behaviours; and a minority-group token man or woman might intentionally mask his or her true character, in conformity to the majority group’s perception of him or her as “the token employee”. — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokenism

Early in my career. Circa 2001-ish. My cornrows did not last much longer after this picture.

I began my career in tech at the age of 21, as a Windows System Administrator for the University of Alaska. I was the only woman on my team and one of a few women in my organization. I was the only black woman, the only black person, on the entire floor. I immediately did not fit in, because I didn’t look the part. My coworkers walked on eggshells in my presence, so I did my best to make them feel comfortable around me so that I would be included. I laughed at their terribly racist and sexist jokes, I co-opted their negative attitudes, I began to dress as they did, I brushed it off when they made passes at me. I did everything I could to make them feel like I was one of them, even though I clearly was not.

It worked. I was included. I began getting invited to team lunches. They let me in on the jokes they made about our only other teammate who refused to assimilate and was ultimately ostracized for it. They shared their life experiences with me. I was “one of the guys.”

When I left that job and hightailed it across the country to Atlanta, I landed in one of the most diverse workplaces I’ve experienced to this day: The Home Depot Corporate Headquarters (Store Support Center). THD had diversity nailed. I suspect THD’s diverse environment had something to do with being in Atlanta, a city that is 54% African-American. It’s hard not to be diverse when the local demographics force you to be.

Whatever the cause, in my first role at THD, in Network Operations, I was one of two black women and one of six black people, on a team of about 20. When I transferred to my second team there, Desktop Support, diversity lightning struck: I was a black woman reporting to another black woman in a technical role. Moreover, our team was predominantly black. I could relate to my teammates without having to conform. I didn’t have to be anything different than who I was and I flourished there. I was mostly happy at work, happy with life, happy in general. Ultimately though, the other stresses of working at THD (pay inequity, lack of mobility options) led me to seek work at other companies.

After The Home Depot, I took a position at a lottery/parimutuel company. I returned to being the only black woman, but the team there wasn’t very close knit so everybody did their own thing, did their job, and went home.

In 2006, I took an IT Field Technician job at Google in the Atlanta office. While there were black women in the office there (in sales) I was the only one on my direct team of two. Things between my teammate and I were strained, to say the least. It felt like he had some ideas about me that were based on really terrible stereotypes and wasn’t shy about sharing them. This was the only time I’ve ever experienced overt harassment from a coworker. He’d say things like “Did you get that bruise from your boyfriend beating you?” or “I bet your parents abused you as a child.” The comments weren’t always that blatant or overt, but they were constant and consistent.

Over time, we ended up hiring three more white guys for our team. I was the odd gender and race out, once again. I participated in the various team building activities with the local and larger team to fit in; I began playing first person shooters (not unlike the episode of The Office where Jim learns how to play Call of Duty), I went to paintball off sites (despite the fact that I have nightmares about being shot), and the like. I ignored the false assumptions that I was a single mother. I came to work when I was extremely sick to prove that I was a team player, that I belonged.

The negative micro-aggressions from my first coworker continued and I said nothing until I reached my breaking point. He not so subtly hinted that my connecting with the few other black techs in other offices (who happened to be male) was anything other than professional. That was my last straw. I tried to talk to a female teammate in a different office about the situation. She’d been there longer and was something of a leader. She didn’t want to get involved. I went to my manager about the problems, told him that I planned to speak with HR. It was decided that the best way to deal with the “tension” between that coworker and I was for me to transfer to New York, despite my not wanting to move there. I don’t believe my manager ever engaged HR about the problems and neither did I. I didn’t want to make waves and isolate myself further from the team. I didn’t want to be that stereotype, the black woman with a chip on her shoulder. I didn’t want to make the rest of my team uncomfortable.

In 2007, I left the city where I felt less like an outsider than anywhere I’d lived previously, left my friends, left my love interest, left my life, and started over in a new city.

At work, circa 2007-ish, wearing the uniform. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

On the team in New York, I was once again the only black woman. I did what I thought I had to do to survive in the environment. I once again donned the uniform to fit in. Jeans, “unisex” t-shirt, Timbuk2 messenger bag. I stayed late playing multiplayer Battlefield, I quickly learned a bunch of classic rock songs so I could play Rock Band and Guitar Hero with the team, I don’t like beer so I went out to beer taverns and drank water. I remember asking if we could do other outings that didn’t include beer and getting voted down. I continued to lose myself for the sake of being included amongst my coworkers. We worked a lot then, so my team became my social life and I never hung out with many others. When I left New York to move to Mountain View, I didn’t abandon my life in the way that I did when I left Atlanta. I just put down the life I’d picked up from others.

I arrived in the Bay Area in August of 2008. Being in Silicon Valley has been simultaneously great for my career but bad for me as a person. I’ve been able to work on multiple different teams and really interesting projects. Unfortunately, my workplace is homogenous and so are my surroundings. I feel different everywhere. I go to work and I stick out like a sore thumb. I have been mistaken for an administrative assistant more than once. I have been asked if I was physical security (despite security wearing very distinctive uniforms). I’ve gotten passed over for roles I know I could not only perform in, but that I could excel in. Most recently, one such role was hired out to a contractor who needed to learn the language the project was in (which happened to be my strongest language). I spent some time and energy trying to figure out why that happened, if it was to do with unconscious bias or if it was an honest mistake.

Outside of work, I’ve lived several places in the Bay Area: San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, San Bruno. All places I felt like I didn’t belong. I walked around and saw scant few other black women. There was nowhere I felt like I could fit in. I spent many nights at home alone, just to avoid feeling different. The worst thing is that it didn’t have to be this way.

Present

en·cul·tu·ra·tion
/enˌkəlCHəˈrāSHən/
noun
noun: inculturation; noun: enculturation
the gradual acquisition of the characteristics and norms of a culture or group by a person, another culture, etc.

I recently dated a guy who happened to live in Oakland and had severe reservations about going to visit him. In fact, before we began dating, I never visited the East Bay unless I absolutely had to, and always went in the daytime. I always worried that I’d be the victim of some crime. Despite the fact that I grew up spending summers next door to some of the “worst” areas of Richmond, Virginia, despite the only real friend I had in the Bay Area living there, I was scared to go to the East Bay. Many people were telling me in no uncertain terms that the East Bay was Very Bad. Crime happens there. It’s not for Us. Definitely don’t live there. The result was that I avoided the one place in the Bay Area I could go and feel not so different. It never dawned on me that the people who were telling me not to go there were the people who might go there and feel uncomfortable. It never dawned on me that I’d let other peoples experiences and cultural upbringing completely negate my own. It never dawned on me that I really wasn’t in the set of Us.

When I finally started to visit Oakland regularly, after some initial skittishness, I fell in love with it. I couldn’t really put my finger on why until my relationship ended and I went to therapy figure some things out. I realized that I’ve been searching for a community for the last 13 years and have been trying and failing to find that sense of community at work. When I visited Oakland, went to First Friday, walked Lake Merritt, talked to the people at the corner store, that sense of community found me. I felt like I was home. I don’t think it’s coincidence that I felt that sense of belonging in a place that wasn’t so homogeneous. Some part of me felt free to relax and breathe. It was ok to be me, there was nobody I had to make comfortable with my existence.

Being in therapy has forced me to process my emotions, to understand what is going on in the background cycles of my mind. This has helped to identify exactly what effect being a black woman in tech, being the outlier for 13 years, has had on me. For those who like bullet points, I’ll provide those here:

  • I feel alone every day I come to work, despite being surrounded by people, which results in feelings of isolation.
  • I feel like I stick out like sore thumb every day.
  • I am constantly making micro-evaluations about whether or not my actions will be attributed to my being “different.”
  • I feel like my presence makes others uncomfortable so I try to make them feel comfortable.
  • I feel like there isn’t anyone who can identify with my story, so I don’t tell it.
  • I feel like I have to walk a tightrope to avoid reinforcing stereotypes while still being heard.
  • I have to navigate the expectation of stereotypical behavior and disappointment when it doesn’t happen (e.g. my not being the “sassy black woman”).
  • I frequently wonder how my race and gender are coloring perceptions of me.
  • I wonder if and when I’ve encountered racists (the numbers say it’s almost guaranteed that I have) and whether or not they’ve had an effect on my career.
  • I feel a constant low level of stress every day, just by virtue of existing in my environment.
  • I feel like I’ve lost my entire cultural identity in effort to be part of the culture I’ve spent the majority of the last decade in.

The stress and isolation I mentioned have really taken their toll on me. Long term stress is known to cause health issues. Not long after I started working in New York, I developed heart problems (PVC’s). About 3 years ago I started to get acne, something I’ve never had in my life. I always thought it was hormonal but now recognize that it happens when I’m stressed. The isolation and resultant loneliness have exacerbated the stress, leaving me in constant fight or flight mode. Running hasn’t been an option, so I would argue with people for no reason at all, because the long term stress made every interaction a fight. The stress also caused some level of depression, which I wasn’t really aware of until recently.

I’m working on fixing this, for the sake of my mental and physical health. Ideally I’d like to work in a less homogenous environment where I don’t feel so different. Instead, I’m focusing on modifying my life outside of work and and reducing the time I spend at work. I’m moving to the East Bay as soon as my lease is up, so that I have a respite from the homogeneity and I can have a chance to relax. I’m signing up for every MeetUp that is relevant to me that involves other black women. I’m volunteering with organizations that will help the younger generation get involved in tech, so we can change the ratio (Black Girls Code, Hack The Hood) and those who come after me won’t have to feel how I’ve felt. I’ve stopped trying to assimilate at work. I’m no longer trying to make people comfortable with my existence. I am trying to connect with other black women in technical roles. I’m standing up for what I believe in and standing up for myself, instead of sitting quietly by, so as not to not make waves.

Most importantly I am working on re-establishing my authentic self. This process is scary and difficult and will take some time and work. I have to search through myself and figure out what characteristics I’ve dropped in order to fit in. I have to sift through my personality and pick out the bits that aren’t really me. I have to understand who I am without the detritus of the habits and behaviors I’ve picked up while trying to assimilate.

I know this: I am not my job. I am not my industry or its stereotypes. I am a black woman who happens to work in the tech industry. I don’t need to change to fit within my industry. My industry needs to change to make everyone feel included and accepted.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The Other Side of Diversity — TheLi.st @ Medium — Medium.

What It’s Like To Burn Out – Career Burnout

I’ve given a lot of thought to this as I’ve pondered what happened to me and why, because in some ways Mayer does have a point: learning to say no is an important part of professional growth (also personal, but that’s another article). Would I have flamed out quite as spectacularly if I’d made sure to check out for a dinner once a week? Oh Marissa, I wish it were that simple. The problem was, like for so many of us, my priority was my job. And for a long time, I was resentful of anything that caused me to miss work, including, but not limited to, people who expected me to hold uninterrupted conversations over dinner. But at some point my lifestyle went from overdrive to overheat and when it did, not only did I not know where the brakes were, I wasn’t convinced there were brakes.

Related: ‘Stop Trying to Be Perfect’ and Other Lessons for Winning at Work

In hindsight, it should have been clear there was a problem when I began fantasizing about being a garbage truck driver. I would sit at my desk, Gchat windows exploding, no less than 40 tabs open on my screen, my Blackberry within arms reach like a small tethered child or, perhaps more accurately, like a contraband substance, my television set tuned to the morning shows, and gaze out my window overcome by a sharp longing—a deep envy—of men who toss cans of refuse into a rumbling truck before continuing on to parts unknown. Parts free from the Internet.

“You were looking for permission to go home,” Patty Forbes Pedzwater, a practicing psychotherapist in Manhattan tells me when I relay what I assume is evidence that there is something deeply wrong with me. “I hear it all the time,” she notes, somewhat reassuringly. “It’s simply a fantasy of something we perceive to have a beginning, middle, and an end. There’s a timer on it. You work someplace, the whistle blows, and you’re out.”

When Pedzwater says this to me I nearly burst into tears, because OH MY GOD, YES, this is exactly it. I am also suddenly reminded of the opening of the Flinstones and think the days of being able to “go home’ are equally as archaic. In the last ten years, the Internet has essentially become the worldwide Hotel California for anyone with a connection. Sure you can check out, you can check out all you want—there are entire movements devoted to checking out—but you can’t leave. Barring some sort of Zombie apocalypse, none of us are ever leaving the Hotel Internet ever again.

Mark Pillai

Photo:Mark Pillai

So how do we learn to go home? Because there is mounting evidence that we desperately need to, especially the under-thirty set, who have never known a digitally unconnected adult life. I was midway through my thirties, only half of which had been spent on the Internet, before my lifestyle began to catch up with me. But recent conversations I’ve had with women ten and fifteen years younger than me, some of whom are barely out of college, often make them sound alarmingly like old men dragging themselves home from work, forty years into a career, and suggest our professional practices may be running counter to our professional lifespan.

When I mention this anecdotally to Denning, she tells me it’s not my imagination: In recent years, the uptick in younger patients availing themselves of her services was such that she has had to refocus her practice to deal specifically with clients between the ages of 22 and 35.

“I was starting to see a lot of young women around 32-33 that had already crossed into that burnout state,” she says, noting that one of the reasons she went younger was that she was hoping to head these women off before it got too bad. Instead, she’s now hearing patients complain of burnout symptoms as early as their freshman year in college. “That’s new.”

Indeed. Everything is new these days. Sometimes this digital age seems strangely analogous to the unknowns of the birth control pill, an invention that has fundamentally altered the way we live, but whose long-term effects are yet to be fully understood. Of course, my case may have been an extreme one. My life for many years was about chasing the news cycle, a cycle that shifted into wild overdrive with the advent of social media. The thing is, that lifestyle is no longer so far off from what most people deal with every day: Nearly everyone in possession of a smart phone is tied to some sort of information cycle, often comprised of social media feeds and a heavy dose of work in the form of e-mails that, like the chocolates in this old clip of Lucy on an assembly line, come faster and faster no matter where they try to hide them. Add to this the non-stop highlight reel that so often makes up most of what we see of other people’s lives–even Garance Doré, who appears to be living a life most of us dream about, recently revealed that she’s not immune to the pain of the discrepancy between real life and Instagram–and keeping up with the Jones’s (or the “likes”) is proving professionally dangerous.

Related: Is Self-Control Good for You?

So what is the solution? As nice as it was to check out of my life and into Blanche Devereaux’s, it wasn’t exactly a long-term plan (though I did give it my all for a while). Nor was it short-term recovery. I still sidestep the Internet and most things that require me to always be on call, even just socially; earlier this year I went so far as to delete my Instagram account. Denning echoes Marissa’s advice and says it’s a matter of “watching your stress and knowing what your behaviors are. Know what you are doing and learn how to prioritize your own needs over anything else that is going on.” Again, this is all very well and good. But how exactly does one phrase that in an e-mail to her boss?

I suspect the answer may be less of an individual decision and more of a collective one. At some point, when enough people fall down on the job five years into their careers, maybe we’ll start rethinking how we define availability. And that day may not be as far off as we imagine. A friend of mine was visiting her college freshman niece the other day, or trying to. Ironically, she was having a tough time pinning down the visit as her niece had neither a Facebook account nor a smart phone. Availability, it seems, may soon be a thing of the past. Something we lived with before we knew better.

Cropping Out the Sadness

 

What It’s Like To Burn Out – Career Burnout.

Election 2014 Postmortem: We Fucking Did This To Ourselves

Election 2014 Postmortem: We Fucking Did This To Ourselves

Did you vote yesterday? Are you under 30? Well, congratu-fucking-lations. You are among the few and the proud.

Yesterday, Republicans swept to what I’m bound by day-old tradition to refer to as “historic victories,” taking the Senate, increasing their majority in the House, and holding fast to most contested governor’s races. They even picked up a few surprises—for the first time since 2003, Illinois elected a Republican over incumbent Muppet Pat Quinn, and in Maryland, Republican Larry Hogan upset Anthony Brown (and, one can assume, most of the Democratic Get Out the Vote drive in the state). Wonks insist that this is a referendum on the job that President Obama is doing, or on Obamacare, or on Ebola, on “the economy.” “The American people want something new.” “The American people want change.”

Nope. Old white people want change. And they’re the ones who get it, because they’re the ones who give enough of a shit to vote in midterms.

NBC News has some telling (and shameful) data visualization about who votes, and when. This year, 37% of the people who voted were over 60. Only 12% of voters were under 30. Compare that to 2012, when Democrats were the ones celebrating — 19% of the vote came from people under 30 and only 25% from people over 60. In 2010, that gap widened up again; 12% of voters were under 30 and 32% were over 60. In that election, Republicans won big, swinging the House. In 2008, young people showed up, and Democrats won. It’s not rocket science.

Young people are simply not showing the fuck up when they’re not voting for President. And as a result, the people sweeping into other political offices during midterms—from the local level all the way to Capitol Hill—are at best out of touch, and at worst raving lunatics with world views so dangerously antique that they defy parody.

Disapproving of the right wing and then electing even fringier right wingers to office is the electoral equivalent of ordering the worst item on the menu and then sending it back because it doesn’t have a hair in it.But by not voting, we managed to pull it off! Congratulations, us!Witness Senator-elect Joni Ernst, Iowa’s answer to Michele Bachmann, who once sponsored a Personhood bill and says she carries a gun to protect herself from the federal government. This is a woman who got into an exchange withEsquire’s Charlie Pierce this week when he pointed out that only one person in the US currently has Ebola. “You’re giving me your opinion,” she said. Melting wax figure Ted Cruz has already taken to cable news to declare that he will not necessarily be supporting human turtle Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority Leader (but will be, as always, supporting Ted Cruz Awareness). Thom Tillis, a cosponsor of North Carolina’s “motorcycle vagina bill” is about to be sworn into the Senate for a six-year term. Tea Party favorite Mia Love was elected to office in Utah, becoming Congress’s first ever black Republican woman.

This is what happens when young people sit out elections. The Tea Party is not dead because we haven’t shown up to kill it.

Contrary to what the faces of Sad Liberal Cable News Commentators may indicate, it’s not all bad; anybody lamenting this country’s doom today either has a very short memory or wasn’t paying attention to what happened in 2010 and 2012. In recent history, Democrats have benefitted when more people vote, and they’ve especially benefitted when young people get off their perky asses and assert themselves as citizens. The 2016 election season will be here before we know it, and by then we’ll have double the shitshow to be angry about, and they will come out to vote in bigger numbers, and they will likely undo some of what happened last night.

But this doesn’t mean that young people’s binge-purge relationship with democracy is harmless or that what has been done can be fully undone. The Senate, after all, is in charge of confirming federal judges, and with the GOP in charge, they stand to put a dent in the judicial legacy the Obama administration was quietly building. Ruth Bader Ginsburg better not retire or die in the next two years, or her replacement will face a judiciary committee headed by Scalia fans. And don’t be surprised if the nuts Grandma elected use their newfound legislative power to impeach President Obama. They can do that, now. They can also pass the craziest, most batshit laws that they want, including that 20-week federal abortion ban McConnell said he’d push back in June. They can pass laws until they’re blue—or red—in the face, but President Obama doesn’t have to sign them, and Republicans don’t have a big enough majority to override the President’s veto. Politicians from both sides are saying that they’ll work to compromise, but history — and well-earned cynicism — dictate that what will probably happen is more of the same, but with new characters. In other words, Congress is going to do even more nothing than they’ve already been doing, but they’re going to be crazier about it.

What happened last night might look scary, but it’s a disaster of our own making. This is what we get when young people sit on their asses instead of voting—old white people decide who will make laws primarily affecting the much younger, the much browner. We don’t have to let the out-of-touch paranoia of the elderly dictate the direction of the country, but we have, over and over, and the damage continues to pile up in our system like poison.

A few bright spots: Oregon passed its Equal Rights Amendment and legalized recreational marijuana, DC jumped on the Pot For Fun train as well, and so did Alaskans. Anti-abortion measures failed in both North Dakota and Colorado. And: Scott Brown lost to Jeanne Shaheen, making him the first Senate candidate in US history to lose to two different women. Girl power?

Image via Getty.

Election 2014 Postmortem: We Fucking Did This To Ourselves.