My Most Valued Posession

I was on the train, and a young black woman was solving some math problems on the seat across from me. She dressed femininely, with a purple skirt, and little white flat shoes, and this big gold ring that kept flashing as she worked through her problems. But, the part of her that carried the most life was her face which was unsmiling, set in deep concentration – real concentration. When I watch actors on TV work through “math problems,” I can tell they’re not really thinking. But this woman, she was thinking.

She had this curly hair that took up so much space – it was as if her hair was standing up on end because it was electrified by her immense brain. In that moment, it seemed *so important* – to her, to me – that what was ever in that head of hers got out onto that piece of paper.

She had so many markers of the type of person who is asked to hold it all in, exhibited by her femininity and her blackness. I suppose, narcissistically, she reminded me of myself a bit – or, that part of myself that sees things that I am asked to keep hidden. We sat there on this train, me watching her, she lost in her math, as two young women with brains in working order. But, for how long? What would happen to all those things we were unable to get out of our heads?

I was born in England and lived there from 1984 to 1990, the six years which spanned the mad cow disease epidemic. As a young girl, I learned how the disease would create holes in your brain that would drive you to insanity, then death. Since then, I have always had this fear of losing my mind in that way, and feared it could occur randomly at any time.

My mind is my most valued possession.

I thought that once when I was meditating. I would give anything else I own up to protect my mind, but at the end of the day, that’s all it is. A possession. Something to be used to its full capacity while I have it, but ultimately something I will lose. We don’t get to keep any of our possessions forever.

My grandfather is dying of Alzheimer’s disease, and I worried that it would be terrible to see him because his essence would be gone. But, when I saw him last, I didn’t see that. Instead, I saw something shine through him in spite of his crippled mind. If I have any sort of faith, it’s that there is some part of us that runs deeper than our possessions – some part of us that cannot be brought, or fixed, or lost and that all the things we cling to are not really who we are.

And yet, while I still have my mind, I want to use it. If I was diagnosed with mad cow disease tomorrow, I wondered, what would I do?

I would spend the rest of my life getting all these things I’ve seen out of my head, and down onto a peace of paper like that young woman.

I spend a lot of time writing about race and gender, not because race and gender are particularly important, but because they provide a lens to answer the question “why do we, as humans, do horrible things to each other?” That is the question we need to answer! Race and gender are useful because they have already been explored by many great minds, and provide deep insights into the experience of the oppressed. Yet, if we end up in a world where all genders and all races are equally represented in all areas of society, but we still have oppressed classes (the poor, the felons, etc.) then we will have gained nothing. The study of race and gender cannot be ends to themselves, but rather a springboard into the deeper workings of our humanity.

We need additional work to explore the mechanisms of the oppressors – we need people who oppress people to write about the experience of oppressing people. This is something I am deeply curious about, but have come to no definitive conclusions.

I think that status, and the role of status, is essentially the key to understanding it. I think status is *the* most important thing to people after they get their animal needs met. A great exploration of this with respect to the prison system is in Violence by James Gilligan. That book changed how I thought about the world.

Status is a false god, though – love is the important part, but very few people really get that. At least, I don’t think they get that until they’re pretty old or nearly dead. Most people in the US sell out love for status (wondering how? Just watch any romantic comedy ever.) It’s not their fault though.

People in the US are dealing with a deep level of objectification. The study of the sexual objectification of women can shed light on this, but again, we cannot stop with the understanding of the sexual objectification of women. We have to dig deeper, and see the material and mental objectification of everyone. Racism is another form of objectification. And, by objectification I mean we value the *objectness* of a person, not the *subjectness*. When we are interested in a person for how they look, what they do, what they can do, what they think as opposed to *what they feel* or *what their lived in experience is like,* I think we are valuing their *objective status.* Instead, we must learn to value their *subjective experience.*

Because, that is not only the most important thing – it is the ONLY thing. Our lives are 100% our subjective experience, what else is there? Everything objective that exists is filtered through the lens of the subjective to achieve its value. Yet, we ask people – all people, all genders and races – to violate their own subjective experience to enhance their social status as an object. How insane is that? How perverse is that? That is the deepest sin we commit against humanity, and no one ever calls it out, and it is a tragedy.

I need more space to write out these ideas – I can’t support them as well as I’d like, but I want to get them out.

I also think that we need a serious exploration of the role of technology in our society.

My generation, the millennial generation, had grown up with ubiquitous access to information. But, what have we seen? We have seen anger, and trolling, and horses fucking women, and killings, and just the basest of human behavior come bubbling to the surface. We have ripped the bandage of politeness off of society, and found a festering wound underneath.

So, where do we go from here?

I think the millennials have no fucking clue, but we are the ones tasked with solving this problem. How will we raise our children not to be traumatized as we have been? How do we brace them for this onslaught of images into the darker parts of the human psyche? We need to talk about that.

Censorship is not the answer, and will only make things worse. How can we accept humanity, in all it’s broken fucked up ways, and work on progressing it forward? How can we take this world of objectification, and move it into a world of subjectification?

I’m not sure yet. I want to think on it more, while I still can.

Bisexual and Dating Same Sex

I gotta own something. Recently, I’ve been feeling – well – weird towards bisexuals who are in opposite sex relationships.

And, you know, I get it. I was in nearly exclusively opposite sex relationships for, like, 10 years. People questioned my bisexuality. It sucked. I felt invisible, embarrassed, not queer enough, etc.

In fact, there’s a whole list of things on this page if you want to go down that mental path:

And, I in no way want to invalidate the pain of these experiences. Again, I have been there, and I totally get it.

But, something also changed substantially when I started dating a woman. For me, dating a woman is different – very different – from dating a man. I had hooked up with women, had casually dated women, had one night stands with women (not that many, unfortunately,) had casual sex with women (not that often, unfortunately,) and had ongoing relationships with women while I was also involved with men.

All that was totally different from falling in love with a woman, and meeting someone who I could really see spending my life with.

To put it succinctly, the heterosexual fantasy vanished.

On some level, whenever I was dating men, in the back of my mind I expected “we’ll probably get married,” “we’ll probably have kids,” etc. And, there was a deep need at the bottom of this fantasy, a need that had nothing to do with kids and marriage, and everything to do with my own ego.

Sometimes, my girlfriend and I talk about having children. I told her that if she had a child, I could love it like my own, and she said she felt the same about any children I might have. What about an adopted child, we wondered, could we love that like our own? Again, we thought we could. But, we couldn’t take any of it for granted – there is no magical script that our lives can follow.

And, our love can’t stay insular the same way a straight couple’s love can. If we don’t have children, we will need to love other people instead of our children, and if we *do* have children, they will have roots from outside our family somewhere along the line, and fully loving them will be loving where they came from. For us, to be closed only to each other will never work.

Truthfully, I am grateful for it because I would never want my love to be constrained only to my own family, but this type of open love is not something you see in romance novels. It’s something you have to figure out, and it’s something I didn’t figure out in my straight relationships. Some straight people get there, but many of them don’t, and for the same reason many bisexuals in opposite sex relationships don’t get there either.

I remember dating on OK Cupid, and a woman contacted me because she and her husband were looking for a bisexual woman to “pull into their marriage.” (There’s a term for this in the poly community, it’s called “unicorn hunting“.) I did not like her request because it reinforced the “straight” couple tendency to pull all their love inward and to stay closed. And sure, some gay couples mimic this closed-ness as much as they can – perhaps lesbian couples find anonymous sperm donors, or whatever – but at some point a gay couple *has* to turn to the outside for help, either in starting their family, or in getting support as they age if they have no family. And, I think this need for help is both humbling and humanizing. Many straight couples do as well, of course, but not all.

And, it’s this closed-ness, this objectifying-ness that I feel weird about. Truthfully, I was like that myself for a while. I wanted to hook up with women to prove something about myself, to “be” someone. But, as long as the bisexual community is focused on these experiences of not being “queer enough,” the more they really making it about ego and not love. If you look at the gay community and say, “I wish I was more a part of that,” I understand how you feel, but it’s also not the way forward.

If you are willing to be honest about your feelings with every type of person you meet, if you are willing to connect with all sorts of different people romantically and otherwise, you will begin to see all sorts of things about yourself and your loved ones, things you may never have expected. You don’t have to be dating someone of the same gender to get there, but you do have to get over yourself.

Why YOU HAVE to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Or to protest it – same thing. Unless, of course, you have genuinely forgotten about it. But, if February 14th comes about, and you have at least one thought “oh, today is Valentine’s day” it’s too late. Now, you have to celebrate it.

Maybe it’s something small, like you look at yourself in the mirror and say “Today is a today to appreciate love, and I appreciate how much I love myself!” Maybe it’s something big, like paint bombing a Hallmark store. The one thing you cannot do is ignore it.

BUT WAIT! Maybe it wasn’t your fault, maybe your sappy coworker gave you one of those little boxes full of those chalky hearts, and blasted Valentine cheer into your brain completely against your will. It doesn’t matter, the damage has been done! You have to respond to it. You are not separate from your surroundings, if the world celebrates Valentine’s day, you do too. It’s like wearing clothes – you cannot be neutral on the topic, because *everyone* is wearing clothes. Either you wear clothes and implicitly support the status quo, or you don’t wear them and make a statement (a commonly executed option in San Francisco.) You can’t say, “Yeah, I’m fairly neutral on the topic of clothes-wearing, so this morning I figured why bother?” The repercussions you will face when you go out in society will demand you take a side.

Similarly, you can “ignore” Valentine’s day, but you will keep getting reminders of it. It will keep needling itself into your brain. And, why do some people choose not to celebrate it anyway? People who choose not to wear clothes generally *don’t like* clothes. Similarly, people who don’t celebrate Valentine’s day tend to *not like* Valentine’s day. Which is fine, but OWN it. Give your coworkers cards with little black hearts on them, with the note “love is dead” on the inside.

Otherwise, you risk being like me on my birthday. I was like, “Yeah, I don’t really care about birthdays. Age is just a number, etc.” and planned to do nothing. But, when the day came around and I felt alone and unloved, and called up my good friend and was like “OH MY GOD CELEBRATE MY BIRTHDAY WITH ME” and she was all “It’s cool, come over and I’ll bake you a cake.”

Anyway, in the sake of full disclosure, this whole post came up because my girlfriend told me she usually “did nothing” for Valentine’s day. I was like, “You have watched every lesbian romantic comedy in the world at least 10 times, and probably 80% of all straight ones. How do you not celebrate Valentine’s day?”

She said she didn’t like feeling obligated to get gifts. I told her sorry, but she was obligated to get me flowers, but they could be cheap cuz I know she’s on a budget. (Hey, I hate to be shallow, but I’m not going to lie. If she’s shows up empty handed tonight, I’m probably going to be pissed.) Alternatively, she could have told me she wanted to protest it and we needed to think of a list of the 10 least romantic things we could do and I would have gone with it, unless it involved coprophagia. That would have been fine. But, a night of sitting around pretending like we both didn’t know it was Valentine’s day? NOT going to happen.

I suspect many people who “ignore” Valentine’s day are afraid they’re not loved. If they don’t get their hopes up for Valentine’s day, they won’t be disappointed – except, inevitably they will. If they really didn’t care, they wouldn’t need to make the conscious decision not to care.

Death of a High School Classmate

One of my high-school classmates was killed recently in a suicide bombing in the Islamic East. I don’t want to be too specific, because I’d rather not have him be identifiable from this post.

I had to look up photos of him on the internet to be sure I was remembering him right. It was strange, because he looked different – older, adult. Not how I remembered him. I watched a video of him talking, and his accent seemed to have changed – or possibly I’m not remembering it correctly in the first place. His voice was definitely deeper. In high school, he was a somewhat conflicted young man. We went to a very liberal school, but he had conservative and patriotic values. I remember arguing with him about women, something about how we should appreciate more of our female heroes, and he argued that there weren’t that many. I also think he may have gotten in trouble at some point for bringing a confederate flag to school.

My senior year, my gay friend apparently came across him on some sort of gay chat room. My friend confronted him about it, and apparently, my classmate said something to the effect that he was a gay man, and comfortable with his sexuality. I didn’t really hear anything about him after that, but in my mind, I sort of filed him away as one of those strange gay conservatives I hear about.

After looking him up after his death, however, he seems to have become a far more complicated individual. A scholar of some renown, (although, obviously still quite young) he had become a governmental advisor, travelled the world, and written a book. His ideas appeared to be well thought out, and unique. Possibly, some of the complexity of his adolescence led to a more thoroughly thought out intellectual standpoint, I’m not sure.

But, reading through my facebook posts was sort of empty.

This is very sad news.

Our prayers are with his family.

Shocking. Tragic.

They were so void, I’m not even completely sure I was remembering the right person – everything they said was so generic it could have been about anyone. They called him “brave” and “unique,” but whitewashed out some of the more interesting aspects of his personality. As I searched for him on the internet, I desperately wanted an answer to the question who was this person? What were his struggles, and his successes? What took him to the place where he finally died? Did he believe in heaven, hell? Was he afraid of dying? Did he fall in love?

I hope he fell in love.

I haven’t thought of this man in over ten years, and yet now I  desperately want to talk to him. When I was younger, I wanted to be seen. As I get older, and a few have started twinkling out, I’m starting to realize how important it is to see who these people really are while there’s still time. Who am I? Who was he? Who are you? It’s all connected, I think. We can never know the answer to one without knowing the answer to all.

Goodbye, and good luck.

Sexism and Tech and Love

Sexism in tech is something I am asked about somewhat frequently, because I am a woman, and because I used to be a programmer in Silicon Valley.

Part of me just doesn’t want to engage with people on this topic because I find it painful to remember. About 9 months ago, I quit my job as one of the first engineers at an early stage start up, and began taking classes to become a massage therapist. One of the things I loved about taking massage classes was interacting with my teachers. My teachers were often women over the age of 40, and they were kind, and loving, and funny, and witty, and were people who just generally seemed to be enjoying their lives. Not only that, however, but there was a respect that both male and female students had for the teachers. I heard male students gush about their one on one time withe a female teacher, and how much they learned. It would not have been embarrassing for them to say something like, “I would really like to be like Julie when I become a massage therapist.”

I think it’s that essence, that essence of men being willing to emulate female role models – or rather, lack of it – that I found very difficult in tech. Being an intern is easy, because usually men are very kind and would like to increase the number of women at their company, and will happily teach women whatever they know. Being an equal on a team I found more difficult, and being a team lead I found the most difficult. The biggest obstacle I faced, I believe, was that many people were more interested in impressing me than learning from me. That’s why I was so moved to see men being willing to learn from their female teachers when I took massage. I realized this is not something about men and women, this is not something about human nature,  this is something about tech.

When writing this post, I burst into tears, remembering what it was like to work in tech. I felt like there were a thousand challenges I had to face alone, that no one else could see. I was usually the only woman where I worked, and I felt so isolated. More than anything else, what I found myself really wanting was for someone to say “I see how difficult it is, and you’re doing a great job. Just keep going.” For instance, once I was accused of being emotionally attached to my code (in front of a client, might I add) – an accusation I didn’t believe anyone would levy at a man.

“Well, were you emotionally attached to your code?” a friend of mine asked when repeating the story. And the truth is, maybe I was, but, nearly everyone is emotionally attached to their code (recognizing this is the first step to behaving rationally about it.) The thing is, even if I was particularly attached, and even if that *was* a comment that was just as likely to be said to a man, I didn’t *believe* it. I believed I had been shamed in front of the client for being female, and I felt resentful about this . And, I had no one to talk to – I thought people would just judge me for not being rational. What I wanted, deep in my heart, was for someone to say, “Yes, I see this is difficult for you – I see hearing that comment was hard for you because you are worried about the sexist implications, and it was a challenge to maintain composure in front of the client.” I don’t mind taking on a difficult task, I just minded having to do it alone and unseen.

I wrote love in the title of this post, intending to somehow circle back and discuss the role love plays in all this, but the anger I still feel about my time in tech is getting in my way. I mean, I suppose that’s the ultimate problem with the whole thing – there is so much anger it impedes movement. Thing is, I think women are unlikely to get empathy for men on their situation if they’re unable to see the forces that are leading men to the behavior they exhibit.

Life is very hard for men in tech as well, a point which I have grown to appreciate over the years. Many of them are single, many of them work 70 hour weeks for years and survive with minimal love and compassion and kindness. They are also unseen. There are not many people, and especially very few women, who can truly appreciate their technical accomplishments. I have watched my coworkers slave away for days on a project, to have someone in the marketing department say “oh, it’s like magic!” when they’re done. It’s not magic. It’s blood, and sweat, and lack of sleep. It’s time, and devotion, a little chunk of their soul, and a very particular kind of love. Our entire modern economy is resting on the toil of these unsung workers, and all flattering lip service doesn’t disguise the fact that most people don’t *get* it.

I’ve struggled with this for over a decade now, coming to terms with the humanity of those I believe oppress me. I can see why they do what they do. I can see that men are sometimes so desperate to be appreciated by me, they try to impress me and this blocks them from learning from me because they will find my criticism very painful. If this happens too many times, I feel angry, because these men “refusing” to learn from me are making it harder for me to improve in my career. So, I begin resenting the people I’m supposed to be teaching – but they feel it, and become even more desperate to impress me, and are able to hear me less. It’s a cycle that can only be broken by – and I’m almost embarrassed to admit this – broken by love. When I can make it clear that I care about the people I work with, that I will still care about them if they make a mistake, that I will not think they are stupid for trying something that doesn’t work – that’s when these walls start coming down. But, truthfully, I find it very hard to do when I’m so full of pain myself.


Apparently, there are 4 things you should say to someone you care about who is dying.

  • Please forgive me
  • I forgive you
  • Thank you
  • I love you

When it came to say goodbye to my grandfather, I forgot all of those except for one. I love you.

He is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, and hardly ever talks. When I visited him six months prior, he didn’t know who I was. My mother asked him if he remembered me, but he said no. Still, when he looked at me – perhaps it was just wishful thinking – but I sensed some recognition. I look somewhat like his sister did when she was my age, so maybe he didn’t know it was *me* per se, but had a sense of my familiarity.

This time, he was bed bound and slept most of the days. Sometimes he seemed to know people were around, and sometimes his eyes drifted into an invisible distance. My father has already lost both his parents, and told me he thought my grandfather was nearing the end. “When they get this way, it’s usually a matter of weeks.” We were visiting from America, so this was probably the last time I would see him alive.

My final day there, I had a few minutes alone with him right before I left. He was awake and looking out the window, and I walked around to be in his sight. I couldn’t talk loudly, because I was on the verge of crying, so I bent over his bed to bring my face close to his, and put my hand on his.

“It’s time for me to go now,” I whispered.

“Oh, ok”

“I just wanted to tell you, that I love you very much, and I wish you the best with whatever comes next.” Then, I kissed him on the forehead.

He opened his mouth as if to respond, but no words came out. So, he looked right at me, and smiled. I think I smiled back, I’m not sure.

Then, his eyes drifted away again. I looked back at him one last time as I walked out the door – and that is probably the last image I will ever have of my grandpa. Laying in bed, blue eyes vacant as he stared at things I could not see. I hope those things were beautiful.