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Re: An appeal to empathy on actual hurt caused by this thread

From: Christine Lemmer-Webber
Subject: Re: An appeal to empathy on actual hurt caused by this thread
Date: Sat, 26 Feb 2022 14:07:13 -0500
User-agent: mu4e 1.6.10; emacs 27.2

Okay.  Now a longer reply.  I am taking a substantial portion of my day
to do this.  I think there is a lot more going on here than even appears
at the surface.  So I have re-read everything that has been said so far
and am doing my best to take care in what I write here.  I hope it's of
some greater help and contribution for the health and well being of this
community, which I cherish.

Taylan Kammer <> writes:

> Hi Christine,
> Thank you for opening up.  It was definitely not apparent to me that you
> had such a reaction to the thread.  As we know, text doesn't convey the
> nuances of human communication very well, and I had read your initial
> emails as rather relaxed, or at worst mildly annoyed.  Had I realized
> that they were coming from such a stressful position, I would have
> responded differently.

For whatever it's worth, at the point that I composed the email, I was

> My heartfelt apologies in that regard.

Apology (personally) accepted.  I can't speak for others of course, but
it is my hope that we as a community can find healing and understanding
and move forward.  And I believe you when you say this was not your

I also appreciate you being open and thoughtful throughout the rest of
this email.  Know that this, and the previous, emails were not easy for
me to write.  I wrote them from a position of disclosure and

But not writing them would be worse.  I am glad I did write it, because
(and obviously, I won't talk about the specifics), I received replies
from some folks in private saying they felt their experiences mirrored
and it may have affected their participation in Guix, and had already
affected their feeling of safety and self-identity.  Not to mention my
own felings.

> For us to be able to build up better mutual understanding and empathy in
> the future, perhaps it would be good for me to open up about some things
> as well.

Certainly not a thing requied to do, but I appreciate it.

> Frankly, I think we're more similar than anyone taking a glance at the
> thread might ever think.  I've had experiences with gender dysphoria as
> well, and my dis-identification with male peers has certainly played an
> important role in the development of my severe chronic depression.
> I'm a rather reserved person when it comes to personal matters, not as
> open about my feelings as you are (and good on you -- it's not doing me
> much good to be the way I am in that regard), so I don't want to go into
> too much detail, but let's just say I've had multiple near-death moments
> throughout the years in relation to my condition, and the latest bout of
> severe suicidal thoughts was just a few months ago.

I'm sorry to hear it.

> The partly hostile responses (from others, not you!) I've received in
> the thread have been anything but pleasant, to say the least, but have
> not led to a major breakdown, perhaps thanks to the medication I'm on,
> which might be why I was able to respond a few more times...

I am sorry, again, to hear about your dealing with depression, or that
you have had to undergo any breakdowns at all.

As for "partly hostile responses", I'd like to respond to this more
later, at the end of this thread.

> I've packaged higan for Guix, back in 2015.  Near (then byuu) helped me
> revitalize some of my fondest childhood memories with the emulator he's
> built.  After taking some interest in the program's workings, I was also
> briefly active on his web forum, and had positive interactions with him.
> We weren't close personally, but I had built up a *lot* of fondness and
> respect for him.  The news of his suicide was absolutely awful to me.
> Moreover, a certain web forum that shall not be named which was behind
> the bullying campaign against Near/byuu (and countless others) also has
> a "profile" of sorts written up on me in one of their threads, as a
> potential future bullying target or something.  So far I've been spared,
> but they do have my home address, and my employer's details are a web
> search away.
> All of which is to say, I *deeply* empathize with your position, and at
> no point would I ever wish to inflict this type of pain on anyone.

I'm truly sorry you had to experience that.  Nobody deserves that.

Though (and not to undo the previous two sentences) I will say, the
choice of "he" for Near gave me most pause in this email, given the
thread's existing context of gender consierations, and that Near
identified as nonbinary as far as I understand, and that this and their
autism were partly why they were bullied into suicide...

> I would like to sincerely reassure you that the sole purpose in sending
> the patch, and subsequent messages, was to pledge for another view to be
> respected on equal regard to the one that's already correctly respected.
> The reason I've felt strongly about that, pressing me to reiterate the
> position in the subsequent thread by Zimoun, was of course not some
> twisted wish to cause hurt.  Rather, it was because that perspective is
> based on the experiences of countless AFAB people who have been hurt in
> countless ways, just like the perspective that is currently rightfully
> encoded in the CoC is based on the experiences of trans people.  (I've
> also found the sex-based perspective to have strong explanatory power
> w.r.t. my personal problems, although I've come to see that as almost
> irrelevant in the face of everything else I've learned.)
> ---
> There's one thing I've not been able to understand.  I don't know if you
> wish to respond any further, but if so, please note that the following
> is a completely genuine inquiry, and not meant in any confrontational
> manner at all, just like the rest of this email.  I think it would be
> very helpful for the future if you could help me with this:
> The key reason the thread / my mails have caused hurt seems to be that
> they've come across as an attempt to debate transgender experiences.
> What I've not been able to understand is how that happened, since I
> actually tried very hard from the beginning to make it as clear as
> possible that I had no such intention.
> For example, I had said things like:
>   "I can assure you that I'm 100% fine with the CoC mentioning gender
>   identity and, for example, if someone were to make inflammatory
>   remarks towards the worldview of transgender people in this community,
>   I wouldn't hesitate opposing that."
> And in the summary:
>   "I sincerely have no issue with the CoC protecting people based on
>   gender identity or other transgender status, and am equally
>   disinterested as others in having debates about that topic."
> Yet something seems to have gone wrong.
> There was one email, my response to Liliana, in which I've touched on
> the debate itself, but that was even before your emails so I don't
> think it was that...
> Reading over my mails, I just don't understand why they might have been
> misunderstood so badly.  If you could shed some light on that, I would be
> very grateful!  It would certainly help me avoid mistakes in the future,
> if I were to talk about these matters in a different place.

Thanks.  I am taking you at your word: you asked me to explain, and so I
am spending most of my day writing this email.  I hope that ends up
being productive.  I am doing my best to fulfill your request and make
it so.

> I hope this message reaches you in the empathetic way it's meant.  I've
> decided to sacrifice about half a night's sleep to write it, because it
> was certainly important enough for that.  Well, I probably wouldn't have
> been able to sleep anyway. :-)

It reached me in an empathetic way.  And I appreciate that.  It was also
my hope, in leaving myself vulnerable in my previous message, that we
could have a discussion, find common ground, and perhaps healing.

But now I do want to express something in particular, in response to a
previous part of your email:

> The partly hostile responses (from others, not you!) I've received in
> the thread have been anything but pleasant, to say the least

There may have been multiple people who have been perceived as hostile
or partly hostile, but the only person who was explicitly reprimanded
for it by another person on list was Liliana (who was reprimanded by
multiple people).  Note, this is also the only other person who has
openly identified as being affected by issues of addressing transgender
identity on list, and also the person who spent the most time explaining
the other issues.

Presumably, this is because of the point at which they said the
following (using a different quoting style to distinguish):

  On the topic of sex characteristics, while the term is somewhat badly
  chosen thanks biology being super-not-political, I do think the
  addition would be significantly less problematic than simply adding
  "sex".  It is nowadays understood that these characteristics don't
  define "sex", whatever that might be, and only the name has remained
  because naming is hard.  As a nice side-effect, adding it would give us
  two reasons to ban Taylan; first for discriminating against trans
  people based on their sex characteristics and second based on their
  gender identity or expression.


  I agree that the guidelines themselves don't sound bad, but given the
  maintainer to audience ratio, I understand that Guix would want to go
  its own way in this regard.  As far as public apologies are concerned,
  however, I don't think these elicit a proper amount of self-criticism
  in most cases – we all know the kind of actors who will publicly
  apologize only to continue with (pardon my French) shitty behaviour,
  rinse and repeat.

One person in particular called it "beyond the pale".  Was it?

It's certainly a dramatically different tact than I took.  But before we
play "good trans, bad trans" (actually let's never play that), I want to
point out a few things:

 - I think Liliana is a more direct speaker than I am in general.  I
   don't think this is bad.  A lot of Liliana's messages cut straight to
   the point in a way common for many hackers, whereas I spend a lot of
   time buffering.  But Liliana is hands down one of Guix's most
   productive contributors.  Her analysis tends to be sharp but almost
   always strikingly insightful when I've seen it.  I did a search
   across my mail: in the six month interval between July of 2021 and
   January of 2022, Liliana is reponsible for 2.75% of guix-patches
   traffic and 2.8% of bug-guix traffic.  Considering that most of her
   posts are review (which we sorely need), and that many of the replies
   are single email responses to multiple email patch series, those
   numbers are actually probably deflated from what it should be.  So
   I'm saying that Liliana speaks directly is probably partly how she
   manages to get so much done.  I find myself consistently glad that
   we have Liliana in our community.  All that while being, depending on
   how you slice it, visibly a minority or double minority in our group.
   More expansion on this below.

 - In fact, regarding Liliana's first email, I sent her a thank-you
   message after sending my first message.  Because I had the same
   feelings the moment I saw it, but I didn't feel courageous enough to
   say anything.  So I was grateful for Liliana for speaking up.

 - Liliana had, at this point, been writing fairly patiently for a few
   days.  Detailed writings explaining common trans experiences and how
   this was likely to affect transfolk.

 - By the time Liliana appeared to lose her patience in the above quoted
   section, it had been days with these conversations happening despite
   the very first things Liliana and I both raised was that we were
   worried about whether or not this would be used as a vector to debate
   trans experiences, and then that continued to happen.  For days!
   So I don't blame Liliana for losing patience, or assuming bad faith
   by this point.

 - I did try very hard to be thoughtful.  But that takes energy and is
   actually something I've received active training on, speaking in
   I-narratives and de-escalating and etc.  Not everyone has that
   training, and it's a lot of intentional energy and work to do it.
   Especially when it's an issue that affects you directly.

 - Regardless, sometimes it feels like, what does being kind get you?
   It sucked that, while you called my first email kind, you then
   proceeded to do exactly the thing I asked not to have happen on this
   list: further debate the experiences of transfolk (after saying you
   didn't want to!).

I appreciate that you expressed regret for me being upset, and I made
that clear by putting myself in a vulnerable state.  I'm glad it
connected, but wish I didn't have to do it.  But it also didn't only
hurt me... I'm just the one who expressed myself in a vulnerable way
that connected.  Liliana didn't direct attention to herself, but she did
express the ways in which these things are hurtful for people who have
experiences like hers, so it shouldn't be hard to draw the connection.
(I don't want to speak for you Liliana, but I'd be surprised if you
weren't hurt.)  Not to mention that speaking up makes you a target.
And for those who didn't, suffering in silence is still suffering.

Earlier I said that I admired Liliana's productivity despite, depending
on how you cut it, being either a minority or double-minority.  Here's
what I mean: being a woman on the internet sucks.  Being a trans on the
internet sucks.  Part of the experience of being a *trans* *woman* is
that when people don't know you're trans, they treat you shittily in one
invalidating way, and then when they do, they treat you shittily in
another invalidating way.  Everywhere, but *especially* in tech.

This doesn't mean that women who are cisgender don't tend to have their
own challenges.  I actually think that's quite true, and serious.
Personally, I suffered a lot by being *perceived as* masculine when I
was younger (particularly because I failed under basically every metric
of being masculine, not to meniton being teased for intersex
characteristics by those who identified them), but I benefited in
regards to my career as a tech person, in that when I was very young and
I began to express an interest in computers, the pattern matching
mechanisms around those people around me identified "yup, seems like
something that would be befitting you" in a way that likely wouldn't
have been true if I was perceived female, and I was encouraged to do so.

And when I walked into FOSS conferences, people assumed I belonged.  I
didn't transition until after my career was already established.  And
it's something I do acknowledge (but I also don't think it's something I
think or ask for the burden of others acknowledging in general, because
it really does trigger imposter syndrome issues even to discuss this and
can be used as a mechanism to force outing people).  And I've been
taught to speak in a louder voice, and that my voice is welcome, and so
I do that.  (But on the other hand, I co-host a podcast, and every time
I hear my own voice disconnected from my image, it's incredibly
dysphoric and it hurts.  I know plenty of transwomen whose voices have
been lost from narratives, because they are, quite literally, afraid to
speak up.)

On the other hand, transitioning later in life sucks in other ways.  I
have a long career where I've been fairly fortunate to do interesting
things, but this means my past outs me in ways that I can't cover up.
And every time someone sees a commit by my old name or an article or
video with my old appearance, I know it's encoding information that
makes it harder for them to see me as a woman.  And that sucks.  A lot.

But the above experience isn't true for all transwomen.  I have friends
who are transwomen who transitioned at much younger ages.  Most of
society didn't know.  Their lived experiences match those of most
cisgender women, with the primary differnce being that they have a
secret they have to guard closely.

And that's just for *transwomen*.  It's well known that the experiences
of *transmen* largely get dropped out of the larger narrative.  And I'm
not one, so I can't speak for them really, only relay.  But my friends
who are transmasculine, yeah they tell me it's invalidating in totally
different ways: they didn't get the benefit of society assuming them
male when growing up, and so have been held back from opportunities that
their perceived-as-male colleagues got back then.  And then they enter
into a world where, if they sufficiently pass, they suddenly get these
benefits that society bestows upon men, and that's both kinda validating
and also incredibly shitty feeling, and they tell me their past for
*not* having access haunts them, especially for the many who ended up
following more traditionally feminine career paths because that's the
direction they were encouraged to go.  And there are all sorts of
different ways to be invalidated, not to mention TERF/radfem (and yes,
let's get to those terms soon) narratives of pity where "aww it's so
sad, because they're not *really* men", or a weird sense of
anger/betrayal for moving to the dark side, etc.

And it *is* true that there are a lot of transwomen in tech, and
especially in FOSS, and much of this has to do with
being-perceived-as-male status at a formative time.  But also, speaking
for myself and many friends I've spoken to, there's an added layer.
Let's say you're growing up, you're experiencing severe gender
dysphoria.  The world is mean, the world sucks.  But
computers... they're a refuge.  You learn to use them, they respond to
you poking at them and entering commands, and there's all these
interesting things you can do.  And you can do it quietly, by yourself,
without the computer judging you, while the world outside is harsh and
mean and full of people who are bullying you.  And people on the
internet, well, many of them don't even have to know you for anything
else.  You can be yourself.  In a world that's killing you, it's a place
you can be alive.

So for a variety of reasons it's true that, relative to the general
population, it seems like there are more transwomen in tech than in
other fields (and even more transmen in tech than most of the
population... basically, if you're transfeminine *or* transmasculine,
for whatever reason, you're more likely to be in tech).  And given the
prestige that being in computing *now* has it's no wonder there's
scrutiny about that.  (Aside: given that I started to take interest in
computers around 1995 and my classmates mostly just made fun of me for
it because being interested in computers was mostly uncool then,
prestiege, in my experience, is not the primary drive.  It wasn't until
being in computing was associated with *making a lot of money*, which
happened towards the end of the 90s, where that started to change.
Yeah okay, I've dated myself.)

And this can be correctly pointed to as being *partly* (but as I've
outlined above, not *entirely*) part of a common tendency (but again,
not a universal one) where many transwomen have still benefitted from
male privilege from the way they were perceived prior to transitioning.

So here's the problem.  There's a kernel of truth there, and one even
worth addressing.

But if you're trans, you've seen this before.  The seed that's planted
is used to grow something much more vicious.

So when I saw:

  Subject: [minor patch] Amend CoC

Before I even opened it, I began wondering what kind of change it was
going to be, and if anything "minor patch" made me think it was probably
the opposite.  And when I saw "sex" added, I thought "Oh, was that
missing?  I thought I remembered that being there."  And then I
immediately thought "I just hope this isn't an entry point or backdoor
for debating trans experiences."  But my mind says, "adding another
thing doesn't seem so bad."

And then even in that own email it says:

  This is a really tiny thing.  A recent thread on the ML prompted me to
  look at our CoC and I noticed it doesn't include 'sex' in the list of
  things based on which one might be discriminated against, so attached
  is a patch that adds that one word.

  Note: The upstream Contributor Covenant wouldn't want to include it
  because the author seems to have a peculiar world-view where they don't
  acknowledge that humans actually have a sex.  I hope the Guix maintainers
  are more reasonable than that. :-)

and my stomach just *dropped* at that, since I know the lead developer
is a transwoman.  So, that's like, a really bad sign.

I think to myself: I've seen where this goes before.  I just hope it
doesn't go there.  Something like, "I need to make this space safe for
people who basically don't think the trans narrative is real to feel
safe saying so."

Regardless of your intention, pretty much everything that followed
seemed to confirm that.  And you asked me to explain, so here's what I
saw from there (possibly not exactly in order):

 - Liliana expressed exactly the same fears I already was holding.

 - In reply, you said "I really feel the need to point out that what you
   seem to consider a transphobic talking point is seen as a fundamental
   principle of feminism by many others, and that long predates the
   contemporary transgender movement."

 - You later pointed out that exactly the opposite thing was said
   by Coraline, and that's true, but the bigger point was really "let's
   please not open this up in a way where trans experiences are debated"
   then *boy howdy* did that happen.
 - You linked to the exchange where you and Coraline had the debate,
   so I'll re-link it:
   In a certain sense the "gender (sex)" felt like it was really a clear
   version of what I was anxious about, that this would be being passed
   off as a way to *broaden* the scope, but really would be a

 - Or, I thought, maybe this would be an entry point to say "well we
   have to open up the space for people who want to debate whether or
   not to treat trans people as the gender they're expressing to feel
   safe" (or to just intentionally dismiss treating trans people

 - And then it proceeded to feel like exactly that, with two women
   trying to explain why they didn't want this to happen and some guy
   talking over them telling them that they're wrong, in the name of
   *feminism* no less.

In direct reply to the email where I said I was nervous about this being
an entry point for that kind of thing and asked that we not debate trans
experiences on list, I received a thanks for being kind in my reply and
then got the following whammo of a comment:

  Not to hide anything: personally, I ascribe to views (broadly, radical
  feminism) which contradict some key aspects of the transgender movement.

  However, that's irrelevant in this context.

As Morgan pointed out, it's *hardly* irrelevant.  And actually, this
lead me to look up the history.  The term "radical feminism" predates
the term "trans-exclusionary radical feminism" by quite some time.  In
fact the person who's the first person known to use the term "TERF" was
a ciswoman who said:

  implicitly aligning *all* radfems with the trans-exclusionary radfem
  (TERF) activists, which I resent

and was, in her post, defending transwomen.  The article is fairly

Terms shift, and there thus may be some irony to the above shift, as
quoted.  But the term "radical feminist"'s primary use within the last
decade plus is describe people dismissive of the experiences of
transfolk, and in your sentence was *directly* followed up with "which
contradict some key aspects of the transgender movement" so I have to
say, if this isn't what you meant, you did an extremely good job of
painting yourself as saying "btw, I'm a TERF kthx" here.

Well, you asked for me to explain things.  I'm explaining it.

Now frame again, in your mind, that this is happening in the context of
two women who are transgender on list asking "please don't let this be a
TERF entry point" and then read the following thing you wrote:

  As it stands, if a person with a classical feminist consciousness
  about sex discrimination were to ask me whether the Guix community
  would show respect towards her experiences and take her issues
  seriously, I would not be able to reassure her.

  Rather, it seems that any such woman who enters the community and is
  open about her views is going to risk being vilified and lectured
  about her own lived experiences.  By a group of male-born people, no

So anyway, I mean, if you really didn't mean to align this with TERF
talking points, I have to say you did a bang-up job of doing so on
accident.  (The last sentence particularly stings, for reasons I hope
are obvious.)  And here and elsewhere, there's been what's felt like a
weird savior complex (as Morgan addressed in her emails) that both
erased the cisgender women who have contributed or been part of Guix
(and wholeheartedly agree on one point: there haven't been enough) and
felt like it dismissed the transwomen who were speaking up as not really
being women.

I don't know what caused this, I'm trying to take it in good faith.  You
mentioned experiencing gender dysphoria.  I don't know your experience,
but I do know people who have experienced gender dysphoria and through
some internalized transphobia fell into the trap of spreading that stuff
around, especially if they have an enormous amount of guilt.

But I really don't know what happened.  And I'm not interested in blame.

And the goal, as stated, of increasing the scope of people feeling
protected, why heck that's a really good goal.  But it ended up coupled
with all this other stuff, with a group of people who already have seen
an extremely similar narrative play out in ways to write out their
experiences and *said so*, and then that narrative played out anyway.
So, it was the stuff it was coupled to that was the problem.

Anyway.  I spent pretty much my whole day on this.  But you asked, and
so I answered.  As said, I appreciate your work.  And I want to take
you in good faith.

Anyway.  I don't know if this was helpful, or of any good.  But let me
close with something else: I think code of conduct documents are
important, but they're not licenses, they aren't held up in a court of
law.  I don't think that's the point, or the goal.  They're always going
to be loose, and imperfect.  The goal is to express the kind of
community someone can expect, the kind of way we hope to see behaved.

To that end, I think that Guix, historically, has been one of the
brightest stars in the sky in terms of having a nice and promising
community, but a lot of that promise has yet to be fully actualized.
Having the community be a safe space for transwomen, transmen, nonbinary
folk, cisgender women, and people of all minority groups, should be a
priority.  That's active effort, and it's important.

A code of conduct document sends a signal, and it provides guidance.

But we succeed in how we act to one each other.  This has been a
difficult experience, but I hope, in some ways, we can heal and be
stronger for who we become.

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