Aisling and Michelle Attend their First Tech Conference

First, a little bit of context:

We finally got our Green Card in November of 2019. Since then, we’ve been employed full time in the task of job hunting.  In January, we started hitting up the networking circuit, and we hit it hard. IndyAWS, IndyPy, IndyGCP, IndyDevOps–we must have gone to every event sponsored by a group with the name Indy[tech word], as well as Out in Tech and Women Who Code events. This was my favourite part of the Job Search.

Something we discovered in the last few years that was shocking to us is that we’re actually fairly extroverted; we get a lot of energy from being around people who want us around. It’s tricky–if I think I’m annoying people I’ll clam up harder than, well, a clam, but if I get the vibe that people are interested in what I have to say, I can talk for hours. So, these events were a lot of fun because I’m a smart person in a room full of smart people I share an interest with, ie, my element.

That said… I don’t live in Indianapolis, I live in Bloomington. Each one of these events took an hour drive to get to and an hour drive to get back. You’d think I’d be thrilled when all the events started taking place online due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, but I actually stopped going to things altogether. The extroverted energy I get from being around people does not exactly transfer over virtual spaces. Over text, when I can’t see people’s faces, I can get really awkward. Video calls are a little better, but they can be hit and miss.

As a matter of fact, with everything that’s going on, I thought about throwing in the towel entirely. On the one hand, a tighter job market and increased competition from recently unemployed engineers had me despairing about my prospects. On the other hand, the upswell of very righteous protest for the lives of Black People in this country and the world had me feeling silly to even be worrying about jobs in the first place. In reality, these were excuses to justify my fear, but I was just about ready to give into that fear. This is where Michelle comes in.

Michelle is one of the members of our Plural System [1], and she did not want to give up on our nascent tech career. We argued about it for a while, but eventually we resolved that Michelle would subsequently be in charge of all topics Job Search Related.

Michelle and I (Aisling) often don’t see eye to eye, and I was a little worried about her representing us out in the open, since for all intents and purposes we present as a single person in professional settings. However, very early on, she showed a great aptitude and great discipline for the task. She started spending 4 hours a day, 5 days a week working hard on getting us a job. She redid our resume, she applied for more positions, and she answered all the emails we’d let languish.

It was thanks to one of these emails that we got a chance to attend the 2020 Python Web Conference in the first place. Powder Keg, a Midwest based Tech Talent startup, was giving away 2 tickets. We emailed our contact, Nick Jamell, asking to be in the drawing, and the Tuesday before the conference we found out we won! This was the kick we needed to finally get us back out there on the Networking Circuit, now on the Information Superhighway. At a 200 dollar value, we knew we couldn’t waste such a good opportunity.

We’ve been to a number of fan conventions, and even one professional conference (The Philadelphia Trans Health Conference 2015), but never to a Tech Conference. Combined with the fact that it would be a virtual conference and the reservations I had about interacting with people not in person, this meant we were more than a little nervous. Nevertheless, we logged into the conference early Wednesday Morning.

Day 1

The first day of the conference was kind of rough. This was technically Job Search Related, so it was Michelle’s gig. Day 1 consisted of two blocks of 3 hour tutorials each. We had a choice of 3 topics for each block. For the first, we chose Mike Bayer’s SQLAlchemy tutorial because we figured our SQL skills could use an upgrade. The tutorial was great, but due to difficulties getting set up, we fell behind and had trouble keeping up with the exercises on our local setup. Because of this, we found it difficult to pay attention and just kept getting annoyed, mostly with ourselves. We finally decided to just have the tutorial on in the background and try to work on something else.

Then Lunch rolled around. Someone set up a Zoom Room for casual Lunch conversation and we joined. After we started talking for a bit, I (Aisling) fell into the front, that is, I unintentionally took over for Michelle. I don’t remember what we talked about during lunch, but I remember it being pleasant, and I finally got the vibe I needed to feel confident. This, I feel, is when the conference started opening up for us.

For the afternoon, we did Randy Syring’s Testing Best Practices tutorial. This time, we avoided technical difficulties so we were better poised to follow along. Unfortunately we had to leave early because of a scheduled phone call. We came back in time for the Virtual Cocktail hour and once again I wound up having a great time in the breakout room socializing sessions, and afterwards, the big group call that eventually evolved into all of us showing off our “hardware projects”. We showed off our burgeoning crocheting skills (so far we’ve only been able to make eyepatches), and ended the day in a much better mood than we began and actually rather looking forward to the next.

Day 2

Day 2 of the conference got off to a much better start. Hynek Schlawack’s keynote on Python abstractions was eye opening, and I fear I will never again try to roll my own anything when using python without first checking to see if there’s a library that’d do it better. Kenji Kawanobe’s talk on developing a Line Bot for figuring out where it is safe to park your bike was very interesting, and I’m very grateful for Kenji and his colleague putting up with my bad Japanese, which I broke out during the post-talk Zoom “gallery”.

Speaking of the post-talk Zoom Galleries, they quickly proved to be my favourite part of the conference. I’d more or less made my peace with the fact that it quite simply is not possible for us to pay complete and undivided attention to a talk for 45 minutes, especially when things like twitter, discord, and slack are a simple alt-tab away. But I still learned plenty and had plenty of questions and comments for the presenter afterwards. By now, I was pretty much in front the whole time. I felt a little bad that I had unceremoniously taken over what was supposed to be Michelle’s thing, but she reassured me: “This is your strength, and you should practice it just as I should practice mine. We are a team. There’s no stealing the spotlight, there’s just being the best person for the task at hand.” She’s a good manager like that.

Other highlights of the day include geeking out with Chris Riley about chatbots and genetic algorithms after his talk Time to get Real with AI, Hayley Denbraver’s talk on Security in Python with her adorable English Detective Pythons, chatting on Slack, and even suggesting some features for LoudSwarm (the platform that Organiser SixFeetUp developed for the conference).

Drawings of three pythons, Hercules Pyrot, Ssssherlock Holmes and Hiss MArple, all drawn up to look like their namesakes
Mossst Famousss Ssssnek Detectivesss in the World (art by Noelle Cook)

Then the Second Keynote, Lorena Mesa’s talk on Ethics and Technology. This talk was very, very important to us. We often feel a little conflicted about our desire to enter the Tech Industry. There are a number of valid criticisms that can be made about the ethics of the Industry at large, and a tendency to avoid thinking through the implications of their work that many engineers show. This talk addressed some of the big issues, particularly the way algorithms can reflect the engineers’ biases with regards to marginalised people, and how malicious agents (e.g. the police) use the work of software engineers to cause harm to, in particular, disadvantaged people.

Again, this was our first tech conference. I’d like to believe every tech conference features discussion about ethics in technology and the plight of marginalised peoples and underrepresented groups. I suspect, however, that this is not the case. It was very very encouraging to see such topics elevated at this conference, and it will be the bar I expect every tech conference I attend in the future to surpass, including future Python Web Conferences; there is always more work to be done. Like I said in the slack during the talk, paraphrasing Jewish thought: “We don’t have to finish the work of perfecting the world, but neither are we allowed to abandon it.” We need to build an industry that centers the needs of marginalised people and that is much more mindful of the tools it builds and the nefarious purposes they could be put to.

After this, there was more socialising. We got to listen to horror/elation stories about the previous PWC, and it made me wish I had attended it, too. We played some card games, and I actually wound up giving someone a tarot reading over Zoom, which I was overjoyed to do because integrating technology and magic is something I am passionate about. By the end of the second day, we felt like a bird flying under a familiar sky, wholly in our element.

Day 3

Day 3 began, and we were actually really excited to get to it. The first Keynote, a talk on using Python in the browser by Russell Keith-Magee, was big on the “mindblown” factor. I immediately went and told my friends about asm.js, a library that lets you use a bytecode-like optimized language in JavaScript, and one of them described it as “blursed” (blessed and cursed). My friends and I have a lot of feelings about JavaScript and the modern web, mostly complaints about modern websites being sluggish and bloated. This talk walked us through the practicality of writing Python to run on the browser and was very interesting. It’s an exploration of ways things could be better.

For several years, I lived in a country with terrible, outdated internet access (Germany). I don’t think Russel was saying, go and write Python to run on the browser and don’t worry about the extra 100kb, but rather exemplifying all it takes to get things to run on a browser. The way asm.js works, and the fact that you can compile C code to it, remain to me the biggest takeaways. I’m sorry Python, but the possibility of running Python in a browser is a distant second to running Quake in a browser using Assembly-Like JavaScript.

Moshe Zadka’s talk about developing for the web “incrementally” with Jupyter immediately piqued my interest. I have a background in science, and just recently I was working with Jupyter notebooks to convert Matlab code to Python. I think it’s an amazing tool, and I was very intrigued to see someone really push the envelope of what can be done on the platform. This talk was all of that and more. Moshe has a knack for dropping amazing gems such as “every lisp program ends with ` )))))))` and every python program starts with ` import import import `” and “All backends are slow if your users are Impatient Enough”. Talking Jupyter with him in the gallery afterwards was great as well.

And then the Internet went out at my house! I checked on my ISP with my phone only to find that the outage would take hours to clear. I had a small moment of panic because, having set aside my entire day for this, I could not easily now just say “Ok well if I can’t I can’t guess I’m just gonna watch tv or something”. Our brain simply does not work that way. Once again, Michelle came in in the clutch; we talked about it and decided I should just relax, wait for the Internet to come back, and clean around the house a little bit in the meantime, which allowed me to feel like I was at least still doing something productive.

The internet came back around Lunchtime and I was able to rejoin for the rest of the talks. Gareth Greenway’s talk on Kubernetes with SaltStack was interesting as someone who’s worked with Kubernetes and Terraform before. I had not heard of K3s, a minfied version of Kubernetes, and I found it very neat. Also, I thought it was neat that Kubernetes used to be named after Seven of Nine from Star Trek Voyager, and now K3s exists, which almost reads like Kes, another character from Voyager. Okay, maybe I’m the only one who thinks that’s neat, or maybe people just want to forget the first 3 seasons of Voyager. That’s understandable.

The final Keynote by Steve Flanders, on metrics for web applications, neatly tied everything together. Metrics are kind of overwhelming to me. I feel like someone can read as much as there exists about Metrics and Monitoring, know Prometheus, Grafana, and Splunk in and out, and still not have a smidgen of the understanding that a person who’s lived through a surprise service interruption has. The experience that allows the numbers on screen to become more than just numbers; to really experience the lifesigns of an application by instinct. Dashboards are still rather mystifying to me, but I hope this will not always be the case and I’m always happy to learn more.

All in all, I think this was an amazing experience. The technical knowledge we gained, the connections we made, and the renewed understanding of who we are as a system were all valuable takeaways. I used to consider myself the “main fronter” of our system until just a month ago. It’s been a process of rediscovery to see myself as just another member of the system, one with strengths and weaknesses of my own. It’s liberating. I am so proud of Michelle for how effectively she’s managed to get us all to work together, and how amazing she is at making me feel like I really am an asset to the system. It’s a little weird to use that language–we’re all different people who happen to share a body, but it’s also always good to know your own strengths and to get to experience using those strengths to help a team. I mean it when I say she would make a great manager.

I’d like to thank Calvin and Gabrielle and the rest of the Six Feet Up team, Chris Williams for always saying hi to me, Nick Jamell from PowderKeg for putting me in the drawing and getting me that ticket, all the people I talked to and who are my new twitter mutuals (who are now following my main account instead of my sanitized “professional” account–I hope that doesn’t backfire!), and, of course, all the presenters. Thank you for making my first and definitely not last tech conference a rousing success.

I hope our Job Search bears fruit soon and that we end up in a company that believes in building up their employees, who will send us to many more conferences. As it stands, I never would have been able to attend this one if I hadn’t gotten a free ticket. $200 dollars might not seem much, but when you’re a family of three living on one income it sure can be. I really believe that, if given the chance, it won’t even be 2 years before we’re the ones behind the podium (or behind the webcam) ourselves giving our own talk. PWC2022, hold on to your hats, because here we come, and together we will not be stopped!!

1. A plural system is a term for a group of people who all share one physical body. For a more detailed explanation check out this resource: https://morethanone.info/

Surf’s Up: Riding the Blogging Wave of 2020

Hello everyone and a very warm very belated Happy New Year 2020.

There has been a revival, in my milieu, of the blog as a form of communication superior to Social Media and particularly twitter. Kickstarted by Gordon White’s Blog post on the subject, but he himself refers to an already building chatter and hubbub over the form. Nevertheless many friends have took it as a call to arms, and I would like to do the same.

What I will say is that All of us who us twitter are perhaps most keenly aware that it is a terrible place, but we love it so. I think the enlightened aptitude to twitter is that it is entertainment, and not the best place to convey knowledge.

Therefore a return to the BLOG! I started returning to the Blog last year. This Blog had lain dormant since 2016 and was resurrected in late 2018 by my posting and updating a post from my old tumblr blog:

Gender in the Mushroom Kingdom

I could easily list every post I wrote in 2019 here, since I was not as prolific as some. But I am nevertheless mostly pleased with my output. I am proud of every piece I wrote here and few as they were they represent a starting point. I can hope to beat my record in 2020.

I think special note should go to my pride piece:

Pride Sucks now, and that’s why we should all go to Pride

And to my short story which I started publishing in the manner of the old serial, chapter by chapter. 6 chapters in total, and yet many to come:

Daily Ritual

All in all that makes for (…calculating…) 10 posts in 2019. So that’s the number to beat. And this post will count as #1, despite it’s meta nature. Writing is writing.

I’ve been wanting to post something, anything, to start surfing on this wave of Blogs. Saturday is my writing day, and devoid of a better idea last Saturday I started writing a post reviewing every movie I saw last December (13, a personal record) and I got 2000 words in, with 6 movies to go before I just couldn’t go any longer. This week, I wasn’t even going to write, since I am presently in the middle of a job hunt and decided to dedicate my writing time to teaching myself the Ruby programming language instead.

Nevertheless I could not bear to allow the whole month of January to pass without an update. Once my employment situation is sorted, believe it or not, I believe I should have MORE time to write, not less. Certainly I shall be a lot less stressed. In the meantime, I hope this little update helps to keep me in your mind, and to build expectation for things to come, and for those new followers that arrived with the wave, I hope you’ll enjoy a look back through the archives. Do it know whilst it’s still possible to catch up in a weekend. Who knows how difficult it will be by 2021.

Finally, I will share a ritual I’ve roped some of my twitter followers to contribute to:

It’s a sort of combination of Law of Attraction / Lynne McTaggart Intention tech. Feel free to contribute if you’re keen. Remember, the sooner I can stop looking for work, the sooner I can free up at least my weekends to write.

That’s it for now, Happy Surfing Everyone!

Sex and the City and I, Episode 03: Bay of Married Pigs

So I watched this episode over a week ago and then the curse struck and I haven’t felt as much like writing, and what little energy I did have I put into finishing up a different piece that you should go read cause it’s probably more important than sex and the city. But, it is Saturday, I’m at the Library, I have two friends with me that as far as I can tell are writing, so I should get to it and write.

Here we go.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve lived in New York a couple times for a couple years. I’ve been visiting New York since I was like 7. I have never been to the Hamptons. I think the farthest up Long Island I’ve ever been is Far Rockaway. It doesn’t strike as a place queers tend to go. However, a certain type of New Yorker, I’m told, by television, goes there quite often. Carrie Bradshaw is one of them.

One of the best parts of living in New York, she says, it’s leaving it. She goes to the Hamptons, to stay with a married couple, a pair of New York City exiles, it would seem. As payment for their hospitality she renders the traditional sacrifice of regaling them with tales from her single life. The married couple is satisfied and Carrie goes to bed. The next morning the tragedy happens. Mr Husband whose name I don’t care to remember or look up, surprises Carrie by running into her in the hallway, fully nude from the waist down.

Can I just take a moment to wonder about this. I’ve slept in various configurations of clothing. I don’t think the t-shirt no bottom has ever been one of them. What… what is the point of it. Did they bone last night and he didn’t bother taking off his shirt. Sounds extremely boring, but then, this is heteros we’re talking about.

Screenshot from the episode of the dude with no underwear. The shot is from the waist up however.
I can see why his wife is worried, look at this hunk of a man /s

Moving on, Carrie tries to laugh it off but when she tells Mrs. Wife about it she’s very VERY uncomfortable. Carrie is forced to make an early exit. Once in the city she debriefs the girls on her encounter and the episode’s topic du semaine is set up. The usually cold sometimes uncomfortably hot, war between the city’s singles and the city’s married couples. Miranda thinks married women fear her, Charlotte wants to be them, Samantha is happily committed to sleeping with anyone (I want to say anyone within her standards, but we’ll see later why that doesn’t apply) and any time regardless of marital status.

I’m tempted to say this is a whole bunch of straight hullabaloo, but the show anticipates me. In the middle of one of those interview segments that I’m pretty sure doesn’t survive past season one, she ends up with my man Stanford who is sick to his stomach of all his friends flying to Hawaii to wear a caftan and recite vows. I assume he said that because Hawaii was the only state at the time to allow gay marriage, but not quite. I’m afraid I’m not super familiar with the history of marriage equality in the US (so sue me). Now would be a good time to go on a thorough exploration of that question. Why were Stanford’s friends all going to Hawaii… Find out in a special issue of this column next week (not really (I mean maybe) (an addendum to this one??) sure why not)

So Stanford, the straightest gay man in New York, is here to remind us that being Gay does not exempt one from service in the Marriage Wars (oh that’s why it’s called Bay of Married Pigs, it’s a Bay of Pigs reference, also men are pigs). They happen to run into one of Carrie’s old friends who’s now openly gay, and he’s there with his Life PARTNER, now there’s a dated term. Upon hearing Carrie’s Single. they bafflingly ask her if she’d be willing to donate one of her eggs so they can have a baby. They already have a surrogate they just need a top-notch egg. I guess Breeder is a proper despective, since it turns out gays can be breeders and when they are, they are AWFUL. I want to say I hope that this is an example of straight people writing gay characters and that no gay person would commit such a faux pas, but actually no, we would. I mean I wouldn’t but SOME PEOPLE.

Moving on. Miranda, who I’m expected to believe is not a homosexual, is going to a softball game. Where she’s agreed to be set up, but is disappointed to discover her colleague has set her up with a lesbian. This is something that, according to television, happens very often. She explains, all is good, they decide to play together. And do great and have great synergy despite, again, Miranda being entirely straight. Miranda is pleased that being paired up is getting her recognition from her boss, which is treated as proof of marriedship bias as opposed to, you know, her boss fetishising lesbianism. So when he invites her and her date to his house for dinner, she decides it’s worth it to pretend.

Meanwhile, in the middle of a casual encounter wherein Carrie is doing research for her piece by talking to one of her apparently many married couple friends, she’s blind-sided by a guerrilla attack. She’s been set up, on a date. The guy, whose name I again can’t remember and don’t care to look up. Seems fine at first. Successful, reasonably attractive, in the middle of buying an apartment. Carrie, decides to go for it. See where it goes, but soon she sees she’s being roped into a bigger plot. She’s being recruited. He keeps talking about children and how great that apartment is gonna be for two people. I don’t know if I can call those red flags, and white flags are already taken. What would be the flag that someone is hot to marry. Unfortunately the hanky code does not seem to cover this edge case. Let’s say Mauve. Carrie sees these flags, but she’s hoping she can maybe push him into her corner a bit.

The episode’s various threads culminate on the night of Carrie’s boy’s house-warming party. To which she brings Charlotte and Samantha as backup. This is the same night of Miranda’s lesbian dinner party at her boss’ house so she’s unavailable. Honestly the Miranda plot is so much more interesting, but there aren’t very many scenes. Let’s wrap up Carrie’s plot so we can get into it a bit.

The party is a trap, everyone, EVERYONE there save the 3 girls is part of a married couple. Samantha hates this and starts knocking back drinks. I can’t remember if it’s her or Charlotte or both of them that are having pleasant conversations with men only for a wife to show up to whisk them away. Threatened presumably. Charlotte takes Samantha home because she’s unbelievably drunk, and Carrie stays till the end of the party and breaks up with her boyfriends before he has a chance to propose to her. Not that he was about to, but it was certainly where he wanted to be headed, and they’ve been dating for all of one week.

Samantha, whilst Charlotte is sleeping, goes downstairs to seduce the door man, which let’s be real, it’s more of a door boy. He can’t handle a woman like Samantha, but it’s his lucky day she’s too drunk to care. She just needs something quick. This is what my previous comment about her standards was about. I’m not even gonna touch the issue of what constitutes consent and what constitutes harassment in this case. Samantha Jones is a force of nature and is unstoppable in getting what she desires. God help those who would deny her.

A screenshot from the episode with Miranda and Syd in the elevator
Don’t give up, you two. Love awaits you elsewhere.

So Miranda. Miranda, has an amazing dinner party, she talks shop with her boss, is angling for a promotion. Nevertheless, she’s a woman of scruples, and she’s not gonna hurt a poor lesbian by continuing to rope her into some sort of professional scheme. She comes clean to her boss, which seems to respect her shrewdness. No harm done, he says, and tries to deflect using his wife. Saying she’ll be disappointed since she really wanted to add a lesbian to her circle. I have no idea what’s going on in this marriage, but Miranda would do well to stay well away from any more of his dinner parties before he tries to get her to unicorn.

On the elevator, Miranda takes one last desperate shot at happiness. She kisses Syd (of course, she I care to know the name of, she’s a lesbian, she deserves a name). Nope, she says, definitely straight. Which Syd confirms, yeah, you are.

This is also a common television trope. The character everyone thinks is gay tries to give it a go only to be told by the queer person that no, their gaydar never lies and they are definitely not pinging. And this to me belies a deeper issue. Specially with people Miranda’s age. A lesbian in that age range, and any queer person, does not want to be part of an experiment. They’re out there, just like everyone else, apparently fighting in some sort of war for happiness in the form of a stable relationship. They’re don’t exist as a device for straight people to test themselves for gayness. Nevertheless, in heteronormative society, it can take people a LONG freaking time to figure out if they’re queer, specially if they’re bisexual, and you’ve already been dating people of one of the genders you’re interested in. I wish there was an easier way for them to explore those feelings. But it doesn’t always play out very well.

A quick word of advice, if you happen to be a person in this situation. Just communicate effectively. Some generous souls might be willing to embark on such a journey for you, but they need to know what they’re getting into. I’d like to imagine that this is why Syd agreed to go on this dinner party. She really had a good time playing softball with Miranda. They had good chemistry. She thought, well, she says she’s straight, but what if, she’d just never questioned it. There were plenty ways to hook up in the 90s, but what if Syd wants to defect, what if she wants that everlasting happiness and is having trouble finding it. Then this incredibly hot, well positioned lawyer falls into her lap. Maybe she wanted to say no right away, but what if, she couldn’t let it go, what if.

You can’t tell me one kiss is enough to dispel those doubts on either side. It’s the 90s but Miranda’s in her 30s. She has a fully formed ideal of herself. She doesn’t want an experiment any more than Syd does. Did she feel nothing in that kiss. Or did she choose not to feel nothing. Would she know the difference. It wasn’t a very passionate kiss. I wouldn’t have felt anything if I kissed my deepest crush like that. Miranda. You do you, but don’t throw it all away in one non-kiss in an elevator. Syd, best of luck. We’re never gonna see you again, I’m sure, but you’ll find your girl. You’ll got to Hawaii, or whatever the lesbian equivalent of Hawaii is (New England?). Hang in there kid.

As for you, dear readers. That’s our column for this week. Until next time…

Pride Sucks now, and that’s why we should all go to Pride

As Pride Month kicks off in the  US and many cities are gearing up to organise their various celebrations, the very concept of Pride is under threat not only from the same conservative anti-lgbtq groups of decades past and present, but in a roundabout way, from queer activist and queer people who more and more want nothing to do with pride.

This is because for years now Pride has less and less centred the supposed celebrants and centred mostly brands, the state, the police, and bizarrely, straight performers.

Take for instance what happened in Manchester pride, which for some reason takes place in March. Where Ariana Grande, a musician loved by the gays but who has never publicly come out as anything but straight was slated to be the main performer, and her and Pride were ready to charge attendants 70 GBP (almost 100 USD and 40 pounds more than previous years). I don’t mean to reignite the arguments from those days, and Ariana’s history notwithstanding, this left many queer people with a sour taste in the mouth.

Or more recent Edmonton Pride in Alberta deciding to cancel Pride altogether after lgbt activist called for a ban of uniform police marching in the parade.

So when I was commiserating with my friend, as one does, about the state of the world today and she told me that maybe we should get rid of pride altogether, my first instinct was to say, “yeah, maybe that’s for the best”, my second instinct was to panic.

Panic because, at the same time as brands as tripping over themselves to get money from lgbtq folks by showing how progressive and gay friendly they are to people who’ll already receive that message well. We’re probably living through the greatest backslash against queer people this side of the millennium divide.

With gender and sexuality protections under fire by several lawmaking bodies, country leaders promising to kill or jail lgbt people around the world, nazis being nazis, and major news outlets in the US and UK fighting an all out campaign to vilify trans people and paint trans women as enemies of women (never mind the inherent contradiction). Pride is needed now perhaps more than ever.

The attack now is coming from both sides, if you can call the far right and the centre right sides. On the one hand the traditional conservatives are pushing for an eradication of lgbtq lifestyles longing to push us back in the closet. On the other, brands are not trying to eradicate our spaces, they’re trying to make them their own. And in doing so sucking all the colour and diversity out of pride. A straightification of pride not even the most adamant Mattachine could have wished for back in the 60s.

Because it is these same corporations that want to sell us their product, and have us on our websites as long as we’re not too ourselves. Youtube turns their logo rainbow in June, but demonetised videos that contain the world lesbian on the title. Patreon made it’s whole business on the work of adult artists, both queer and not, but now that it’s successful these artist are finding themselves booted of their platform. Many a queer person has been driven to suicide after debts could not be paid when a world that asks us to give them our rainbow dollars is not willing to employ us, pay us or keep us from getting fired. And then banks want to march in the parade alongside us. It is insulting.

The truth is, none of what we’re dealing with now could have been predicted on the day of the first pride parade. The world has become an entangled mess of complex allegiances, promotions and denunciations. It’s usually those with less scruples who would take advantage of such chaos. This leads to a chilling new trend of homophobes and transphobes getting queer people to spread their message for them by masking it in the trappings of modern queer discourse, for instance, as a call-out post.

This lead to a situation we saw recently on twitter. I could go find the tweets, but individual tweets aren’t as important as the trend. In short, the message was put out that leather should be banned from Pride, because it’s a kink and there are children at pride parades and they shouldn’t be exposed to kink. This message was amplified by a lot of ill meaning people who are happy with pride being primarily a show for straight people and corporations, ill meaning people who want to get rid of pride altogether, and well meaning people who think they’re looking out for queer children and asexual people. After a few cycles through the discourse machine, people are arguing that queer people should queer up be having sex at pride, right on the parade, and people saying well that’s obviously wrong.

Meanwhile the question of whether we should have cops and corporations and pride has been superseded by the conversation of which kinds of queer people we should have a pride. An imaginary argument between asexuals, allosexuals, victims of child abuse,and somehow communists. It’s part of a meta problem of people fighting fights for people who don’t want that fight fought and doing a terrible job of it. Are there asexuals who don’t want kink at pride? Probably, but I think, as an outsider, that most just want a seat at the table they rightfully deserve. No one’s having sex at Pride, because that’s illegal. If you want there to be no acknowledgement of the existence of sex at Pride or anywhere, you’d do well to question that instinct

Pride has become toxic. The whole point of pride is that people find us disgusting, so we turn around and say “fuck you, we’re proud to be disgusting then.” but as certain flavours of queer become mainstream, and develop a fuck you got mine attitude. The rest of us are still fighting the same fight as centuries ago, but now we can’t be proud. Cause proud means rainbow coloured beer bottles we can’t drink, rainbow chequebooks we can’t write, rainbow flags we can’t burn. We turn instead to that second most queer of deadly sins Wrath.

And Wrath parades do take place. Alongside pride and sometimes in protest of it. Alternative Pride Marches, Dyke Marches, events that are more true to us begin to pop up in most major cities. However, other smaller cities remain with a subpar experience.

I find myself incapable of choosing what the proper course of action is for times like these. Abandoning pride altogether and disappearing into the shadows whilst the straights, the brands and the straight friendly gays keep our pride, seems unacceptable. An alternative pride seems like a solution, but I think the best course of action is to follow in the example of our elders. Miss Major who’s still with us, and Sylvia Rivera who is not.

I am thinking, as I often am, of that famous 1973 video wherein Rivera got up on the stage amongst boos from the crowd and started screaming, on behalf of our queer siblings in jail, in prison, in shelters, in poverty. Almost 50 years ago, and we’re still fighting those fights. Some people wish to believe that things have gotten better and maybe they have. But trans people, are still in prison, demanding and being denied their right to transition. Queer people are still at much greater risk of homelessness than the general population. Trans people still have a much higher rate of suicide. Black trans women still face a much higher rate of violence both from police and civilians.

Maybe the best thing to do is to wrest those mics, and to scream.

https://vimeo.com/234353103

L020A Sylvia Rivera, The original authorized version by the LOVE Tapes Collective at 1973 Gay Pride Rally. L020 from LoveTapesCollective on Vimeo.

Sex and The City And I Episode 2: Models and Mortals

Episode 2: Models and Mortals
Episode 2 and the show hasn’t quite hit its stride, but it marches confidently forwards. What I like about Sex and The City, what I like about a lot of shows from that era, is how they straddle the line between problematic and progressive. What’s scary about these shows, is that 21 years later, they remain sharply relevant instead of hopelessly outdated.
This episode might fall closer to the outdated side of the scale though.
It begins with Miranda on a dinner party date, that’s seemingly going very well. This scene gives us the first line by a black character in the show Deanne, a married friend of Miranda’s date says “Oh we won’t go there! Montgomery Clift”. The crux of the episode is soon revealed, Miranda’s date Nick Something (you can’t really expect me to remember the name of the one shot guys) is a serial modelizer, a guy who dates models almost exclusively.
Cue a montage of the exact same conversation around the dinner table with a model in place of Miranda, except everyone sounds more bored and the models don’t seem to able to come up with a coherent answer to the ice breaker question: “Old movie stars you’d have liked to fuck when they were young” (Julianne Moore, by the way)
Cut to the girls, well, shit talking models as well as themselves. My first thought was “how unfemenist”, but honestly probably more than a little accurate, and probably considered very feminist at the time. The girls talk about their insecurities and complain about the pressures of living up to the unattainable unrealistic standards of beauty. Loses some points for nor mentioning airbrushing or lighting, i.e. the show treats the models as the source of the unrealistic standards of beauty and assumes that they do have the impossible looks they don on the cover of Glamour, instead of what we now know, that they too are victims and that no magazine, or billboard in the history of advertisement has shown a real human that exists.

Carrie is holding up a copy of Glamour Magazine. Charlotte is looking directly at the cover.
The Culprit

Samantha, has the opposite problem. She loves the way she looks, she believes she’s as beautiful as any model, she just happens to work for a living and so she considers herself “a model who’s taking the high road”. So she doesn’t hate models because they’re beautiful, she resents them because they don’t work for a living, which, brings to mind a conversation about the meaning of labour, as 4 women who don’t necessarily make anything, but instead provide a variety of services. Is Art Dealership, Journalism, Public Relations, and Legal Representation that much different than modelling? Work is work. But I guess, the show’s not called Work and The City.
The story moves on, there’s interviews with models and modelizers, there’s Stanford (see I learned his name) slobbering over his client, a male mode who he claims is too gorgeous to be straight which, fair, but who we’ll learn is too dumb to be gay (it’s well known fact that gays didn’t gain the right to be dumb until the early to late 2010s). There’s the rich boy artist modelizer who Carrie wonders how he affords to live in SoHo despite never selling a single painting (a trust fund is how Carrie). Who reveals to her that he videotapes all his sexual encounters and plays them back in a Videodromeesque mesh of old CRTs.
After the girls all go to a Fashion Runway show, where Stanford, his boytoy, and the aforementioned modelizers are also in attendance. Mr Big, who I might or might not find incredibly charming despite him also being prime guillotine material shows up to throw Carrie for a Fashion Loop. In the same interaction he tells her he’s read her column, calls it “cute”, asks her where she works, refuses a sweet potato puff, and chimes in on the topic du semaine. According to him guys who date models are very lucky and just happen to appreciate extreme beauty. Carrie challenges that, and his question of “is there anything wrong with that?”, however ineffectively.

This scene really threw me for a loop. I’ve always considered Carrie to be an incredibly confident character. Not overconfident, rather, very knowledgeable of her strength and limitations and in that way, not unflappable, but also not very easily flapped. So at first I thought the way Carrie became an absolute mess, just a complete collapsing scaffold, whenever Mr. Big was involved was a result of early show not yet cemented characterisation. But no, actually, that’s just the effect he has on her. He’s her cryptonite… and that’s… good?
Romance is weeeird. I guess it’s part of the central premise of this show and also a lot of television since television was invented. Somehow we want someone who at first makes us feel like a shambling mess who can’t string a sentence together, but eventually we want them to become someone who strengthens us. On a personal level, this show is also helping me process an interesting evolution I’ve gone through on the last couple months. It seems since I married my wonderful beautiful wife, my interest and attraction to men has increased to a degree that’s statistically significant.
I’m not an evangelist for polyamory, I’ve heard enough horror stories from friends and acquaintances who practice the queer version, and I wouldn’t touch the straight version with a hundred meter stick and a hazmat suit on. However, I must say when it works, it works extremely well, and having one supportive partner to discuss with and explore feeling of changing attractions is a godsend. I’ve long considered myself homoflexible, attracted primarily to other women, but occasionally to men and people of other genders as well. Am I now becoming a full fledged bisexual… likely not. Most of the men on Sex and The City I forget nearly as soon as they leave the screen if not before. But Mr Big (whom I’m aware has an actual name that I’m also helpless to remember)… what can I say, it works for me.
Ehem…
Back to the episode.
The knot is tied finally with Carrie going home with the incredibly dumb male model and not having sex just talking, and Samantha going home with the videotaping modelizer whom he has to ask to turn on the camera since, as he says, he only tapes models. He says he’ll make an exception and this pleases her. The next morning Stanford finds out his boytoy spend the night at Carrie’s and is relieved to learn they didn’t have sex, to which he says “I knew he was gay”, no honey.
At the cafe as Carrie’s putting the finishing touches on her column, Mr Big walks in, says he can’t stay but that he must give her his latest take on her work before it goes to publication: “First of all, well there are so many goddamn gorgeous women out there in this city. But the thing is, after a while you just wanna be with the one that makes you laugh, you know what I mean?”
Yes, I do know what you mean, if what you mean is that you just flirted with Carrie by calling her not gorgeous and that the fact that I did not realise this until know means you’ve actually mastered the forbidden technique that so many dumbasses have crashed and burn with, you negged her, you bastard! He leaves hurriedly and the one who laughs is Carrie. The episode closes with her last remark on one of New Yorker’s favourite topics of conversation, rent controlled apartments. Which if you want my take on it, my aunt has one and unfortunately I’m sure there’s several other people in line to inherit it before I do.
Oh, and Miranda goes on another date with Jiff peanut butter or whatever. If she keeps this up I guess we’ll have to talk about it, but for now. I’m signing off. Until next time…

Sex and The City and I

Episode 1: sex and the city

In 2019, a recently married young woman goes on a road trip to Michigan with her wife. They go to a concert and spend the night in a hotel. The next day, whilst her wife is in the shower, she decides to flip through the channels on the hotel television. She stumbles across an old flame. Sex and the City.

A mere two weeks eve of the 21st anniversary of the revolutionary HBO show, this chance encounter encourages the woman to finally pursue a pet project she’d had in mind the last few years. To watch and review every episode of Sex and the City.

As you might’ve guessed. That woman is none other than yours truly, Aisling Fae. Kicking off what is sure to be an exciting series of Blog Post with this introduction and dive into the first episode, with a little background.

Sex and the City and I go way back, in the mid aughts when edited reruns were on TBS every night, I would watch a few episodes simply because nothing else was on. Mind you this was before I knew I was a girl, let alone a woman. It went into the pile of, not quite guilty pleasures, of shows that I took an odd delight in enjoying because I felt I wasn’t supposed to. When I thought myself a boy I thought myself a sensitive boy, confident enough to enjoy TV made for women. Sex and The City was kept company by Gilmore Girls in the live action end, and all sorts of shows on the animated front: Totally Spies, Cardcaptor Sakura, Corrector Yui, the doll anime whose title I routinely forget. I loved my not quite a secret.

In 2010, in my last summer before moving to the States for University, I was with my group of nerdy male friends trying to find a movie to watch. There was nothing on, I think that movie Nine was playing and I sheepishly suggested it and the least bad choice. A friend suggested Sex and the City 2 as a joke. I protested but couldn’t keep myself from showing a bit of excitement and curiosity. Eventually we all talked ourselves around to actually doing it. Four 18 year old boys and one girl in the making settled in to watch Sex and the City 2.

The movie, as those of you fortunate or unfortunate enough to have seen it, is not very good. Eventually I will have to watch it for this blog, but until then my memory of it is very vague. What I do remember is the confused questioning of my friends as I started talking about the characters, gushing about Charlotte, my favourite and my personal Sexsona, and how I excited I was when Chris Noth, the one and only Mr Big showed up. I also remember my friends favourite scene at the end, when Charlotte and Barry’s babysitter turns out to be a lesbian with a hot girlfriend.

I don’t know if I watched any more of the show during the next 9 years, perhaps a couple times in college, again the edited ones on TBS. The show does come up every once in a while, specially after I came out as a woman, specially after I moved to New York City, where aspiring trans women writers could sometimes be heard talking about wanting to write the Trans Sex and The City. At which point I would chime in and helpfully explain that I’m a Charlotte and that Miranda’s Bi and Steve is a woman (Don’t worry, we’ll get to it).

More recently, as we’re all hit with a phresh wave of 90s nostalgia, and I’m constantly hit with waves of New York Nostalgia, the city I will always be returning to. I started kicking around this idea. To finally watch, the unedited, unbleeped, original version of the show. And what’s more, in what I hope becomes an increasingly more Carrie Bradshaw Esque voice, to review each episode from the point of view of a 2019 once a Midwesterner, then a New Yorker, then a Berliner, then again a Midwesterner trans woman, and all the insight which that lens might bring. Without further ado, episode 1: sex and the city.

As far as pilots go this one is pretty standard. The narrative device of Carrie writing her column as narration is used to it’s full extent and main characters are introduced complete with titles and subtitles. As Carrie interviews them and a variety of presumably one off male characters, The Toxic Bachelor, over the question Why are there so many successful attractive women in New York who are terminally, hopelessly single.

A screenshot of the episode showing the character Charlotte with the caption: "Charlotte York. Art Dealer. Unmarried Woman."
There she is, my girl.

 

Carrie frequently talks to the camera, which I can’t remember if it’s a device that’s kept or dropped (it wasn’t present in the two later season episodes I watched earlier today.) The catalyser for her most recent column the recent London transplantee who promptly fell victim to one of New York’s rich male Toxic Bachelors, is dropped almost immediately as we focus on the 4 main girls griping with the question, can women have sex with men, No, not with a Dildo, Samantha is compelled to clarify. Without emotions.

Lest you think the show is going to be too straight, first the girls celebrate Miranda’s Birthday in a restaurant where a fully made up drag queen with a green wig brings them dessert, and this being New York in the 90s after all, and no self respecting rich female New Yorker is going to be caught dead without a gay best friend. Carrie has one, who’s a recurring character who’s name I’m not going to look up right now, I’m sure I will learn it. She’s having lunch with…Stefan? Who tells her what we’re all thinking right about now, this is a straight person problem. Nevertheless the show is determined to show us how alike we all are by immediately revealing that Stefan too is single and career obsessed, no time for romance.

Carrie carries out an experiment, she has a one afternoon stand with an old ex. Leaves feeling powerful, drops her purse, make-up and condoms fly out. A helpful stranger helps pick them up, I exclaim: Mr Big! Chris Noth’s character is introduced in the very first episode.

He shows up later at the Club “Chaos”, wherein Samantha points him out to Carrie with the incredibly poorly aged line: “He’s the next Donald Trump.” Carrie’s boy toy is there and he deflates all her ego by telling her actually he’s glad she used him and loosed him cause that’s what he wants something casual he then goes on to mac on another woman, a black woman who doesn’t have any lines and it strikes me, no non-white character has had any lines so far…

Samantha crashes and burns trying to hit on Mr Big, Charlotte has an amazing date with an art collector who then shocks her by being brutally honest and telling her she’s very nice, but she doesn’t want to have sex and he NEEDS to have sex, so he’s sharing a cab with her so he can be dropped off at the aforementioned club “”””CHAOS””””.

Finally as Miranda starts to make out with the nerdy Skipper a character and a plot line so uninteresting that I haven’t mentioned it until now. The show ties off the other 3 girls storylines in a non-comedic version of the Seinfeld Gordian knot, where disparate threads come together. Carrie’s is driven home by Mr Big’s chauffeur as she and him talk in the back seat. He tells her she’s never been in love, and when she ask if he has, he answers with a smoothness The Current Donald Trump (oh god) can’t never even dream of achieving “abso-fucking-lutely”. And Samantha, is about to have sex in the apartment of Charlotte’s date, who is by now, so unbelievably horny, he refuses her request to show her the painting with he apparently uses as some sort of bait and switch fishing lure. Credits Roll. Until Next Time.

Gender in the Mushroom Kingdom

This article was written in 2015 (whew, that was a while ago huh) and posted on my tumblr, which has since been abandoned. Since gender on the mushroom kingdom has become a hot topic as of late, I figure it was time to repost and revisit it.

 

First, the original article:

The inhabitants of the mushroom kingdom, widely known as Toads, are indeed monosexed. They all have the same sexual characteristics and reproduce asexually, like fungi. This does not mean they are monogendered, they may have been at one point, but perhaps by the influence of other creatures have developed a concept of gender, as demonstrated by several toads who take on human genders, such as:

image

Toadette, who takes on a female gender. And uses she/her pronouns. And

image

Toadsworth, who takes on a male gender and uses he/him pronouns.

Most toads are genderless and are often confused for male.

image

Possibly because in English they use male pronouns as the default. It is currently unknown if Toads have their own language and what they use for pronouns, or if they have adopted pronouns for adopted and new genders.

It is indeed possible for toads to take on completely different genders than humans take, including genders exclusive to Mushroom society.

To contrast, consider the Dwarfs of Discworld, who are polysexed and reproduce sexually, however are monogendered and apparently lack secondary sex characteristics that would help them differentiate. Indeed, they all use he/him pronouns and traditional male monikers such as King and foreman. More research is necessary to ascertain how this relates to their own language and it’s attitude towards gender.

In short, Toads are monosexed, but polygendered, however, often genderles. Whereas Discworld dwarfs are polysexed, but monogendered.

ETA (Apr 2016): This Article implies a distinction between sex and gender that the author now understands is a harmful concept since, at least in humans, sex and gender are social constructs that denote the same thing.

 

ETA Jan 2019:

So now, onto this week’s news. As mentioned above, there’s a new powerup that has been causing a stir in the mushroom kingdom gender discourse for months now, I’m talking of course about the super crown.

Long thought to be a gender transformation item, the revelation that it can only be used by Toadette, reveals more details about the nature of the item. It is not a gender or sex change item, it is a species change item. It transforms toads into humans.

This is actually good news for Luigi (Luigiella? Lugiette? Gina? She hasn’t picked a name yet). As many have pointed out, she doesn’t need the super crown to be a girl, she’s already human, the rest is presentation and hormones should she want them.

But what about other Toads, why cannot they wield the crown? Maybe there’s something special about Toadette, but being a fungal person, how different can she be from other Toads? I believe the answer lies indeed in her chosen gender. As far as I know she’s the only playable character in this game who identifies as a female toad. It is untestable whether another toad woman, such as Tayce T. from paper mario would undergo a transformation should she wear a crown.

The Super Crown is a magical item, and magic is as much inside us as it is outside. Princess Toadstool, the eternal regent of the Toad People, is someone nearly every girl in the mushroom kingdom would have grown up looking up to. Whereas Toads who opt for a more male identity might instead look up to Mario, the kingdom’s hero. So the super crown would allow female toads to become their ideal. Who’s to say there isn’t a super cap out there that could turn Toad into Mariotti?

super mario hat

We can only wonder.