Category Archives: feminism

The centre cannot hold: on diversity and inclusion in tech

Does the language of diversity and inclusion in tech serve us?

In her autobiography, Assata Shakur warns of the slippery nature of “liberal,” both the word and the political concept:

I have never really understood exactly what a ‘liberal’ is, since I have heard ‘liberals’ express every conceivable opinion on every conceivable subject…As far as I’m concerned, ‘liberal’ is the most meaningless word in the dictionary.

Similarly, “diversity” and “inclusion” feel like liberal words; like the concept of liberalism itself, they can be rendered devoid of meaning and therefore dangerously susceptible to appropriation, perversion and reversal.

In genuine efforts towards diversity and inclusion in tech, the words are meant to denote  efforts to combat the racist, sexist and otherwise oppressive and discriminatory systems and practices that keep tech such a white, cis male space (i.e. diversity); and, when those marginalized folks actually do make it into tech spaces, ensure that they are not driven away by hostile environments that demand them to conform to that largely white, cis male culture (i.e. inclusion).

However, opportunists are glad to take the words diversity and inclusion and skew them to their own designs. Diversity becomes about “diversity of thought,” a phrase used to rail against communities that make it clear that discriminatory and oppressive words, beliefs and actions are not welcome. Inclusion becomes about ensuring that white supremacists, sexual harassers, active misogynists, transphobes and other similar vectors of oppression are never excluded from the community, no matter how many marginalized people they drive away in the process.

Rather than tech diversity and inclusion, we should instead seek tech equity and justice: explicitly political, less politically empty and mutable language. This is, of course, a far broader and more challenging goal. The explicit political, anti-oppressive nature of tech equity and justice will undoubtedly draw more fire from those committed to maintaining the existing hierarchies and inequities in tech. Additionally, tech equity and justice would need to address a far wider range of inequities and injustices connected to tech, from the racist gentrification of San Francisco and the East Bay, to exploitative labor practices required for the abundance of cheap electronics and devices we consume as techies, to the environmental and human destruction wreaked in order to obtain the basic materials for creating those devices.

Yes, tech equity and justice is a much more challenging road for us to walk, but that is because it gets to the roots of the systems that have made tech diversity and inclusion efforts necessary in the first place. And when you get at the roots of a problem, you’re far more likely to get rid of the problem for good.

(Originally drafted on May 15, 2017; edited and published in the wake of the release of the Google anti-diversity screed.)

An uncomfortable inclusion, rejected

This morning I found myself sitting in my favorite neighborhood spot, Akat Cafe Kalli, where the politics are as palpable and potent as the coffee. I sat here, eating my breakfast sandwich, drinking my café de olla, reading my book , nodding my head along to the music, which I was growing increasingly aware of and was increasingly digging, but also increasingly scared to trust it. As I listened to the explicitly political lyrics on police violence, racism, sexism and homophobia that seemed to speak directly to me as a queer, leftist, womanish person of color, my suspicion grew that I might feel significantly less in tune with other, yet unnamed politics of the artists whose album was playing. The feeling increased as the words, now in Spanish as well as English, continued to resonate as much as the music to which they were set.

A few more tracks in, and I was digging the music too much to not know whose it was. I searched online for a snippet of the lyrics–“i’m a bird who sings in the springtime”–and found that it was indeed Climbing PoeTree, and that I was indeed right to feel betrayed. (In short, Climbing PoeTree performed at Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival despite a longstanding call for a boycott because of their exclusion of trans women; the duo’s public response, the only one I know of, was weak, as was their response to me in real life after I yelled for them to stop selling out trans women while they were on stage at an organizational event I attended.

Despite feeling so seen, heard, included and even centered by this music and these words, I couldn’t stop thinking of those who are not included in the circle of these artists’ politics, those whose exclusion these artists have endorsed and even embraced–trans women. I couldn’t let myself go with this music, as much as my ears and body wanted to, because I cannot leave my sisters and siblings behind in order to enjoy my own inclusion.


Thoughts on transmisogyny

What do you mean trans women are women? (Meme from
Meme courtesy of Radically Queer

Transmisogyny–transphobia directed specifically and often exclusively at trans women–has felt continually rampant in many of my communities for an entire decade now.

I frequently witness transphobia against trans women expressed by people who do not similarly target trans men, thus rendering this particular expression of transphobia sexist in a somewhat traditional sense.

I witness transmisogyny practiced most often by cisgendered (i.e. non-trans, female-assigned at birth) women.

I see transmisogyny excused most often by other cis women or other folks who were female-assigned at birth, including trans men, genderqueers, and gender non-conforming women.

As a genderqueer butch, female-assigned at birth person of color, transmisogyny personally upsets me most when practiced by women and gender non-conforming people of color; especially when their transmisogyny ends up being directed explicitly at trans women of color; and most of all when said transmisogyny is practiced by individuals and groups who possess and articulate clear analyses of how feminist and women’s movements have frequently marginalized certain classes of women, including women of color, queer women, and gender non-conforming folks who were female-assigned at birth.

And I dare say that I see folks who claim to be allies to trans women, people of color and white folks alike, excusing or explaining away transmisogyny committed by cis women way more often than those same people would ever excuse acts of racism, sexism, or even transphobia against trans men or gender non-conforming folks who are female-assigned at birth.

These are simply my observations, from my particular perspective, with all of my privileges and lacks thereof. What do you think? What have you seen or experienced?

Editorial note: Facebook comments and shares are nice, but comments and discussion here are even nicer! That way folks who aren’t on Facebook can both read and participate.

So, Catholic nuns kinda rock.

Today a high school friend of mine shared this NPR piece on Facebook: An American Nun Responds To Vatican Criticism. In the NPR interview, Sister Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, speaks to the issues being raised by the Vatican’s current patriarchal attack on the organization; the Vatican has announced that three American bishops have been appointed to oversee it. According to the official Vatican assessment, the Conference is promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

An excerpt of the interview with Sister Farrel, in response to criticism regarding the organization’s attitude towards sexuality:

We have been, in good faith, raising concerns about some of the church’s teachings on sexuality. The problem being that the teaching and interpretation of the faith can’t remain static and really needs to be reformulated, rethought in light of the world we live in. And new questions and new realities [need to be addressed] as they arise. And if those issues become points of conflict, it’s because Women Religious stand in very close proximity to people at the margins, to people with very painful, difficult situations in their lives. That is our gift to the church. Our gift to the church is to be with those who have been made poorer, with those on the margins. Questions there are much less black and white because human realities are much less black and white. That’s where we spend our days.


This recent news coverage of apparently social justice oriented Catholic nuns has fostered the most pronounced positive feelings about anything connected to Catholicism that I’ve had in a long, long time. It’s also making me think fondly of my high school education by the Sisters of Mercy (and their fellow teachers and administrators who were lay people).

It’s funny — my all-girls Catholic high school was actually not the most horrible context in which to realize that I was queer.1 By senior year I was explicitly out to the directress (ie. principal), quite a few teachers, the school psychologist (VERY supportive and VERY helpful), my good friends, and a few classmates.

I imagine that quite a few other people knew as well; who knows if people guessed it. As for gender, it’s actually quite easy to be a stealth butch in an all-girls’ Catholic high school. We all wore the same uniforms, many people didn’t bother with makeup or go through any great lengths over appearance, and there was even a widespread trend of wearing boxers under one’s uniform kilt (a late root?) Outside of school I pretty much wore t-shirts and jeans unless forced not to for some occasion or another; since in our society masculinity is the default and is considered universally desirable (either desire of or desire to be), you can get away with that for a pretty long time as a person who’s assigned female at birth.

All of that is to say, my Catholic high school was in some ways astoundingly chill. I mean, I went on a school trip to see Rent on Broadway — as part of my senior year religion course named “Living and Dying.” I didn’t experience a single incident of homophobic harassment or teasing. My college essay had something about how coming out was a form of overcoming adversity in it and my guidance counselor and another teacher reviewed it for me; both were nothing but supportive. This wasn’t limited to acceptance around sexuality; hell, I can thank a high school religion teacher for my first introduction to Buddhism and meditation.

And yet, when it was all said and done, we were always “ladies,” one and all. We all had to own a white gown and wear it on command for special occasions. Religion classes and attendance at religious functions during school days were compulsory. Heterosexuality was absolutely the norm, though with no self-identified boys around I mostly got to ignore that.2 Except when I couldn’t, like when we had to create “wedding albums” for a religion assignment. (My ideal groom as depicted therein was John Lennon circa White Album.) There as a pro-life club but never a chance of a pro-choice club.3 A student two years above me got suspended — or was it expelled? — when she punched another girl in the Senior Lounge after she called her a dyke. (No punishment for the slur, so far as I heard.) I sure as hell wasn’t throwing a campus Pride parade any time soon. It was definitely Catholic with a capital C.

But flawed, repressive, and normative as my high school was, I got to experience a different side of Catholicism, the side that’s being highlighted in this article and the rest of the recent press coverage: the side where women are central, where women are in positions of power and leadership, and where an explicit part of the mission of the institution was to educate, enrich, and empower young women. You know, the actually kinda cool side of Catholicism.

1. OK, as soon as I wrote that I had to laugh. Yeah, being attracted to girls at an all-girls high school wasn’t the WORST thing in the world. Heh.

2. I did try to fit in my freshman year by tearing out the page from an issue of Superman in the “Superman’s Dead” arc where you see Superboy looking all fierce and muscular in his leather jacket and yelling “Don’t EVER call me SUPERBOY!” and putting it up on my locker door. But somehow putting up a picture of a comic book character didn’t go over so well. From then on I stuck to pictures of the Beatles.

3. I went to the March for Life in DC because I had a huge crush on a friend who was going; I got there, felt totally traumatized by all I saw, hid inside government buildings for most of the day with said friend, and never attended another pro-life event again.