Reflections on XOXO

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I want to take what remaining energy I have after an amazing week to put some thoughts on paper – to talk about how the gathering of new friends has put some recent events in my life into perspective. This isn’t a review of the talks, how great the food was, and what new thing I learned about. Maybe that will come later. For now, I want to reflect the honesty I saw on display with a few things that have been happening in my life as of late that I have not talked about.

I was impressed by how many presentations challenged the status quo. Speakers asked us to not just think and talk more about these hard things (working independently, relying on others, racism, sexism) but to actually do something about it – making an effort in hiring, getting involved in what is happening locally, calling out assholes, and whatever else gets your ass out of a chair.

At XOXO I was able to see people I admire stand in front of a huge group of people – total strangers – and tell the most honest and open truth there is: one full of vulnerability and openness that is both overwhelming and welcome.jsj

I wanted to do something to echo the outpouring of humanity I saw at XOXO. So, here are a few things that are on my mind at the moment. This is the first time I’ve written about any of this. I see my time at XOXO, the sharing of information, the connections being made between people, and the bravery in talking about how things really are – even when it’s not glamorous – to be a call-to-action.

Instead of ignoring injustices and being comfortable we need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and stand up for what we believe in. To keep moving forward. Writing this is extremely uncomfortable. I freely admit it is not a giant leap, but a small step. Writing this down and sharing it holds me to figuring these things out, to taking action.

Enjoy, or whatever the appropriate reaction to this is.

The Friend

I lost a friend a few years ago. 1 We were friends for 15 years. I looked up to him as an older brother with cool and interesting tastes in film and music. We met right as I graduated high school. At a time where I was still figuring out who the hell I am and what I want to do. 2 He was an influential part of my life.

It was on the eve of the birth of my second daughter that I discovered that this friend supported rape culture. I couldn’t believe my friend was so dismissive of a news story at the time of a woman being raped. We got in a heated argument. I was stressed by my wife’s pregnancy, related news, and just not wanting to put up with this person’s “devil’s advocate” bullshit anymore. 3

I shared on Twitter that if a woman in my life came forward with a claim of abuse and was not believed that I would be heart broken. 4 He argued with me. He threw hateful straw men in my face. He was not being a good friend.

I could not believe it. I knew he had been sexually abused as a child. How his parents didn’t believe them when he came forth. How he felt alone. How he felt damaged. How he settled out of court for a sum of money. How this all haunted him. I did not understand.

I was tired of this person’s ability to be a grump and upset at everything. My second child was due at any moment. The argument was terse and I was unforgiving in the anger and surprise at the distrust that had been seeded in my mind. So I cut off all contact. I said “fuck you” and abandoned the relationship.

It’s been two years now and he hasn’t met my youngest daughter. I’d very much like that to happen for both good and bad reasons. Bad, because I think I’m a fucking great dad and am proud of my amazing kids. Good, because whatever bullshit he’s concocted about his genes and not passing them on, or worries about being a bad dad, or not wanting kids – whatever – it’s all shit. He’d be an amazing dad. I’d like to have that part of him in my kids’ lives.

The Reflection

Earlier this year I had a small blush with Gamergate. Nothing personally threatening, but rather quite sad. It’s not resolved in my mind. I’m still not sure what to do.

I was reading Twitter one day when an author I admire made a reference to some GG’ers surprisingly making a positive comment about him in one of their forums. Out of curiosity I went to the forum to see what was being said. I was immediately struck with the headline of a thread. There would be a presentation on Gamergate hosted by an active GG’er at a local convention near my home.

I was like, “What the hell!? Who is actually giving someone in this group a literal stage to talk about their shitty tribe?” So I did what any normal human would do: I Googled the crap out of this person to learn as much as I can about them. Totally not creepy, right?

What I found was a local young dude with a similar background as I, but 10 years apart: same neighborhoods, same school, same college, male, white, young and lonely. I found an old Twitter account, where he gushed about his girlfriend at the time, family life, and his emotions and feelings. It was beautiful and all too familiar.

I thought, “Here’s a local young man with a similar background who was suckered into the fold of GG and their ideology. Why didn’t I? What could I say to him? How could I reach out to him?” 5

I created an account in the forum, and reached out to him. I asked if we could meet to talk before his presentation, if I could better understand where he was coming from, and what he was trying to do.

We met in person and chatted for an hour or so. He genuinely seem concerned with video game journalism and “censorship” of imported games. I asked him why use the Gamergate banner? Why identify with a group that has a terrible reputation? His response was that it wouldn’t matter. That the Gamergate he was part of was not the harassing part.

He was very dismissive of any arguments I brought up. It was frustrating. I kept my patience. I paid the fee to go to the conference and see his presentation. It was focused on the history of Gamergate (smoothing over all the false accusations and harassment) and restated the same rhetoric about bias, censorship, and journalism. No citations, no research, just more of the same Gamergate rhetoric.

All I heard was a scared lonely young man who found a sliver of power and self-worth in a group.

I reached out. I tried to understand. I am still thinking about this young person. I don’t have a clue what to do, if anything. I want him to be successful and happy. I worry that he won’t be.

The Parents

My in-laws recently bought a handgun. My wife and I are against guns. 6 My wife and I expressed this to her parents months ago. We did not want a gun around our children when they visited or stayed the night. They assured us they would not get a gun.

They got a gun. Months later we found out.

Two of the most compassionate, helpful, and loving people have been driven by fear to carrying a gun for “protection.” Since their retirement they rarely leave the house, they do not meet new people, they do not explore. Instead they watch 24/7 news that has led them to believe that ISIL is going to attack our small town, and that the terrorists are among us.

My father-in-law has taken to wearing camouflage now. In the past 15 years he has never talked about his experiences in the military, now he is “prepared.” He is now talking about ‘them’ coming to get ‘us.’ He’s supporting Trump. He carries a gun to the grocery store: a Dierbergs that’s literally across the street from where they raised two daughters and their grandchildren.

He says he has a gun in case someone breaks in or he needs to act. It’s in a locked safe, unloaded, and he, frankly, has terrible vision. He’s more likely to shoot himself or a loved one accidentally than be the good guy with a gun.

They lied to us. Their actions are worrying us. They have not seen their grandchildren since that day months ago.

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WTF does this have to do with XOXO?

I don’t know how to fix these things. My heart wants to make things right. Whatever that means in each. Maybe I can’t. Maybe I shouldn’t. I just can’t fucking figure it out. It’s wearing on me.

I have not lost as much as others. I have not struggled for as long. I’m aware of my fortune and privilege.

When I was young we were on food stamps. I was embarrassed at where I grew up. 7 My poor grades. Old, unglamorous jobs.

Then I get the chance to go to this amazing and scary event. Where I’ll be meeting people who I find to be inspiring. I thought maybe they’d have it figured out.

The individuals creating and sharing  in this space – each with a new sense of honesty, intimacy and connectedness. They all came together and I was fortunate enough to be among them: my heroes.

Being at XOXO was cathartic. It made me feel like I was not the only one struggling with these types of issues. Hearing from other people – the humans of the Internet – working to make things better. That we’ve collectively figured that much out.

XOXO, the people and their stories give me hope. We are not alone. The world is getting better. We are in this together. We are doing good. It is making a difference. It is important. It is hard.

The world is getting more inclusive. It happens frustratingly slowly, but it is happening. We are on the right side of history – I have no doubt now.

We will be ok.

 

More reflections from XOXO:

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  1. This friend is still alive, just no longer in my life.

  2. I still am figuring it out.

  3. Happenstance being what it is, the article that sparked our argument mentions XOXO.

  4. Admittedly this all hit pretty close to home for me. I have many women in my life – my daughters and wife being the closest.

  5. At the time I was also worried about revealing too much about myself as Gamergate folks don’t have the most rational reaction to folks inviting criticism.

  6. Generally. I grew up in rural Missouri and was raised around guns. I am proficient in firearms thanks to my experiences as a youth and as a member of the Boy Scouts of America. I have an understanding of their practical operation and use. I do not see the need in the context of my life. [anyone else in suburban America.] I don’t hunt, live in the wilderness, or subscribe to the terrible excuse of a ‘bad neighborhood’.

  7. Still am. Which is why when folks ask me where I live I say St. Louis. I actually live in Fenton, a small town 20 minutes outside of St. Louis City known for nothing.

Fire Prevention and Fire Fighters

There’s currently a request for comment on English Wikipedia that I feel is a good step toward addressing harassment. 1 The proposal is to, by default, prevent editors under a certain threshold (anonymous editors included) from being able to edit a individual’s “User:” page. 2 I have a few thoughts about the nature of the proposal and the comments that have arisen in the discussion.

Many folks have said, and I’m paraphrasing, “we have stuff to handle this” already. Everything we have is retroactive – after the fact. We can clean up horrendous stuff, but first we have to expose ourselves to it – particularly exposing new people and those that are underrepresented in our project and society in general. This request is proactive. A simple step of progress toward addressing harassment.

For the data seekers, how much harassment are you willing to tolerate? Is it the same for everyone? How do we know folks leave the project because of harassment – even that they merely witness? What number gives it justification to allow it?

Not addressing harassment, even in a small step like this proposal puts forth, is like saying Wikipedia has a litter problem, but we’re very proud that we are so good at cleaning it up.

We can prevent a big chunk of litter from ever touching the ground. There’s a strong indication that it might even make the place a little nicer to habitate.

We talk about new folks being impacted most, but as a small-potato contributor who works and volunteers in these spaces, I don’t want to deal with bullshit either.

We talk a lot about defending the wiki from vandalism, conflict of interest, neutral point of view, all things that are a threat to the project. Well, here’s a chance to protect it from another threat – assholes.

 


  1. A request for comment (RfC) is a method by which a volunteer contributor presents and idea that will change a part of the project (frequently administrative) for feedback. Other editors leave notes of “Support”, “Oppose” or a myriad of comments about the topic. After a period of time, if consensus is formed, the proposal moves forward and becomes part of the project. If not, it disappears into an archive – to possibly be brought up again in the future.

  2. A page on Wikipedia that editors use to share information about themselves and their interests. Sort of like a profile page.

Outrage and Therapy

Keeping internet communities healthy is the job of the leaders and citizens of those communities.

Without conscious leadership these communities decay and destroy themselves and leach out into the real world where they harm actual individuals and our culture.

Hank Green on communities. I agree with him very much. In the Wikimedia Movement we are getting better at this.

Related, I enjoyed this rather long and nuanced approach to understanding how Wikipedia 1 and mental illness intersect.

To the hardcore editor who becomes enmeshed in the thicket of talk pages, admin noticeboard debates and never-ending arguments about every bit of minutiae ever conceived, it can reveal some of the worst aspects of human behavior, including abuse, harassment, and threats of physical violence. It can be difficult to separate the anonymous keyboard warriors simply amusing themselves by pushing buttons from those who intend to act on threats to harm others, or themselves.

Note: The subtext to the title of this post is an opinion of mine. That some people who lash out and express outrage online often are dealing with issues in their personal lives and their interactions online can complicate that. Success, or lack thereof, in life can make the distance of the Internet a place to take out your anger, reach out to help others, or seek solace among comrades – depending on your health and access.

If you are not feeling well and think you need someone to talk to, please find a mental health professional. It is the best thing you can do – it can literally save your life.


  1. Particularly English

As Those Who Make

It’s not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with making (although it’s not all that clear that the world needs more stuff). The problem is the idea that the alternative to making is usually not doing nothing—it’s almost always doing things for and with other people, from the barista to the Facebook community moderator to the social worker to the surgeon. Describing oneself as a maker—regardless of what one actually or mostly does—is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products.

– Why I am Not a Maker – Debbie Chachra

I make communities. I do it with other people. It is just as valuable as those who make the architecture, content, documentation, and software that these communities use and support.