Genre, Gender, Race and Inclusiveness (in Tianxia)

I am browsing the book for Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade, and found a page I really like. This is always the case, because the game takes place in the imagination, but it is nice to hear it be presented up front.

Genre, Gender, Race and Inclusiveness

By default, Tianxia’s setting is more inclusive
than Imperial-era China but it still presumes a
fair amount of similarity with that period. Thus
gender roles are less defined and non-heterosexual
orientation is less polarizing, but there are still
certain vague expectations. However, this need
not be the case.

GMs can tailor gender roles, attitudes towards
sexual orientation, and social expectations based
around these factors as much as they like. Women
warriors are hardly uncommon in Tianxia as is, but
they can be made even more common if you like.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered characters
already exist and are generally accepted by many,
but their level of acceptance can match or even
exceed what we see in modern society, if desired.
Do whatever is most fun and enables play. In fact, a
fairly famous wuxia movies series, the Swordsman
Trilogy, revolves around a skilled warrior who learns
incredibly powerful martial arts, resulting in the
character switching genders from male to female as
their internal energies transform their body. So, not
only are these ideas totally fine on their own, they
are supported by the media that inspires Tianxia.

Likewise, the default Tianxia setting presumes
the vast majority of people are of East Asian
ethnicities roughly matching those of China. This
is reflected in the art, names, and other setting
elements. That does not mean you cannot populate
the Shénzhōu setting with people of all ethnic
backgrounds; in fact, it will not break anything to
make characters white, black, or even reframe the
whole setting as nothing but anthropomorphic
animals. Such changes might alter the feel of the
setting somewhat, but not necessarily for the
worse. You can find support for such ideas in the
inspirational media, with movies like Man with
the Iron Fists presenting characters of various
ethnicities. There is even another role-playing game,
Jadeclaw, where the PCs are all anthropomorphic
animals in a setting similar to Tianxia’s.

Genderqueer parenting

I am a parent. I care for a child.

Oakland Local has an article about Mothership Hackermoms. I love reading about them! Since I wrote about it I’ve had a lot of interesting discussions, and there is an emerging pattern that I wanted to talk about.

When I explain why I think Mothership is a great idea, and how I have feelings of not belonging, many people immediately tell me, “There are networks for dads, too!” I am sure there are, even though I’ve never sought them out. I didn’t articulate it when I was criticizing Father’s Day, but the reason I don’t embrace being a father is because I am not a father. That is an identity that is tied to a cocktail of gender and expectations, and I don’t subscribe to it. I am also not a mother. And while we are on the subject, I have all kinds of privileges because of how I look, and despite not wanting to participate in this system, I have a responsibility to consider those who are marginalized by it.

It is difficult for me to explain why I am genderqueer, because how I feel and how I am perceived are far apart to the casual observer. I will expand on that in a future post, complete with charts (no joke!). In my daily life, I cringe when people call me dad, and I feel alienated when groups of parents split into binary gaggles of gendered roles.

I am a parent. I care for a child.

Desura; age and gender fields

Desura requires age and gender fields, with no way to keep them private. So I sent them a message.

I just sent this message to the Desura team.


I was wondering if someone could explain to me the decisions to have gender and age a required field to have an account.

It is of concern to me, since the only options for gender are male and female, which implies gender binary.

Also, it seems odd that one is unable to make those fields private.

I think making them both optional and being able to toggle visibility is the best practice for these kinds of sites.

So, please take a small moment to get back to me on this. I otherwise enjoy using Desura, and as a GNU/Linux gamer, it fills the void that other gaming platforms have left. I also applaud you for your DRM-free stance. I even prefer to use Desura for FLOSS games that I could install through my native package manager or I want to tell all my friends to get on here, but those fields are holding me back.

Will report back their reply. ^_^

Update (Apr 26), from Henley:

I am really not sure on the issue here, we are a game development site and a game sales site. We do not have anything other then that choice on the profile it makes little to no difference to anything else on the site aside from stats so we can better understand our community and what audience is. You can choose to make the profile public or not, in the end you cannot search by it and you cannot define a member by it.

As far as I can tell you are either Male or Female, unless you choose to change that yourself which this site does not have anything to do with. We have social aspects to our site but they are far from our main concern. If that one particular issue is stopping you from recommending this to your friends I really have no words for that.

I have a lot to reply, but I am dealing with this other thing, so it will have to wait until tomorrow or something.

Update (Apr 28), I reply:

Thanks for replying.

[quote=Henley]As far as I can tell you are either Male or Female, unless you choose to change that yourself which this site does not have anything to do with. [/quote]

I am glad you are putting that forth, and am happy to provide you with resources about gender binary. Please see I think that will provide a good starting point as to what gender means, and how you can improve Desura with this new found knowledge.

[quote=Henley]You can choose to make the profile public or not, in the end you cannot search by it and you cannot define a member by it. [/quote]

I am not sure what you mean by the “define a member”, because that is what the field currently does, but I will assume it is a technical issue you are referring to. As for the profile status, I want to point out a sensitive issue you’ve brought up. The choice I am given, if I do not fit the two choices you’ve given me, is to hide my profile. That is worrisome for two reasons.

First, it sends the message that if I don’t follow the normal values, then I should hide. I think we can all agree that isn’t what we want to encourage folks to do.

Second, it diminishes the value of the social layer built into Desura, since my profile (as I understand it) would be hidden from my friends.

With that said, as a developer, I would like to provide you with a resource on how to handle this. A core developer in the Drupal community contributed this conversation, which goes over how they modified the gender profile fields there: Note that their gender field is optional, as well.

Another notable example is from a core developer for Diaspora, and they go into great detail in describing why their gender field is a text field:

[quote=Henley]If that one particular issue is stopping you from recommending this to your friends I really have no words for that. [/quote]

I will be honest, I feel that your response was heavy handed, considering the tone I’ve tried to initiate. I understand this is a sensitive issue, and it may pull up feelings of defensiveness and misunderstanding. However, I think that if we take the time to think about the other person’s point-of-view, we can have useful and helpful conversation.

I have many friends that are gamers, and would like to use Desura, but they do not fit the options that you’ve made as requirements. Even if there is a technical reason that you cannot change the gender field to fit a modern understanding of it, I would think that it is relatively easy to allow for form validation without gender (and age, please see being required. Allowing me to opt-out from providing that information would tremendously help me personally, and allow my friends to use Desura with a minimal amount of complication.

Thanks for taking the time to read this! ^_^

I edited the blockquotes so it is easier to see my citing Henley, since my blog doesn’t use bbcode. Also, I had to edit the links in the actual posting, since I am not yet allowed to send URLs in messages (for spam prevention, a good idea). Also, I went ahead and created the links here, for convenience. Otherwise, it is the same as the message I just sent. It is my hope they will take the time to read up on those issues, and at the very least create a discussion internally as to how handle the profile fields.

Male, with child

I am probably male, and definitely have a child. I don’t want a group for people like me, I want people like me to be accepted abroad, and that means striving for a more equal society.

Mike pointed out Mothership HackerMoms, a women’s hackerspace in Oakland. I think that is a great idea!

I learned about it just as Emma went down for a nap, and my tea is steeping, so I figured I would use this time to express something that has been on my mind for the last few months. It is about being male, and a so-called stay-at-home parent (so-called, because I’ve worked at home for years, and because I am often not here when I am hanging out with my kid).

It is a touchy subject for me, because I understand the history of gender roles and privilege, and I don’t want to take a stance that isn’t informed by context. I don’t want to sound like an asshole who is entitled to whatever e wants.

Having a child changes how you interact with people around you, because you are accountable for em as well. Also, the younger the child, the more logistical support is needed to accomplish anything. For us, we basically need to create a mobile station of supplies, to account for changing weather conditions, sanitation, entertainment and any special needs for that week. That is way different from checking for my wallet and phone, and looking outside to see if I need a coat. Visiting Susan for lunch, which we do every weekday, is akin to a sortie. We don’t begrudge it, but it is our reality.

This is important for institutions (such as the technology and engineering industries) to understand when pondering how to include more women. As it is generally noted, traditionally childcare falls to women (I hate using that word, “falls”, since childcare is so important to our existence, it should be treated as an honor). When you go to a convention, hackerspace, study group, or really, anything that interests you, the journey is more involved than going to the office or market, since there is a mental preparation. Now add the effort of caring for a child on top of that. It is no surprise women with children would feel prohibited from such events!

There are a lot of other reasons women are marginalized, as well as methods to break them down and create a better, equal society. Since you are reading my blog, I suggest you check out the Geek Feminism Wiki for more info on that, you deserve those resources!

So, traditionally, childcare is handled by women. That is probably changing, due to economics, but it certainly isn’t changing fast enough for us to call it in and say that childcare is equally distributed. Hence, the need for things like mother’s groups, which I see posted all the time on BPN, or Mothership.

It leaves me out.

It isn’t a complaint, rather, I want to point out what the promised land looks like. It is where I can go to an event or a space, and not worry about being prohibited because I have a child, nor invading a safe-space for folks who have no alternative. I don’t need a group that caters to men with children, I need more people with privilege to understand what that means.

We have a ways to go. Unless one is exposed to the complications and struggles marginalized folks deal with, they won’t understand how much society is stacked against them. I am trying to post more about unpacking my invisible knapsack. I want to explore it, and not just because I want to be a person who is more inclusive and understanding, but also so I can give Emma an opportunity to live an enriched life by being exposed to all the wonderful ideas and creativity people have to share, and not just the ones that white men think are important.

In the meantime, I will keep looking for something interesting that is for parents, or at least child-friendly. Emma is still mostly interested in large motions that involve putting hands/things in eir/my mouth. Is there a hackerspace made out of applesauce?

Boy or girl?

We get asked if our baby is a girl or a boy whenever we leave our cottage. People are angry by our answer, we don’t want to play anymore.

We get asked that a lot, “Boy or girl?”

I was getting tired of it, and had come to a resolution:

I’m done answering people when they ask if Emma is a girl or a boy. I am just going to shrug. If they press me, I am going to accuse them of being a pervert. We’ll see how far that gets me.

I didn’t call anyone a pervert, but I did try shrugging. I figured that was a polite reaction to something I deem culturally unacceptable. I got away with it a couple of times. The person seemed to either understand the inappropriateness of their inquery, or much more likely, they understood that I wasn’t going to answer.

It wasn’t long, of course, before someone started pushing.

“You don’t know if it is a girl or a boy, and you are holding it?”

What an odd question, on many levels. “This is my baby, it is okay”, was all I could think to reply.

“You don’t know?”

I replied honestly, “I do know, it just isn’t something that…”

“You’re an asshole!”

So, there is that. It was unfortuante, and it bothered me. Not because I was particularly offended or hurt by it. I just like solving problems, and I see this as one.

Baby gentitals

This comes up because we believe, “[that] the whole world must know what is between the baby’s legs is unhealthy, unsafe, and voyeuristic“.

If the phrase “baby gentitals” doesn’t sound like a polite topic of discussion to you, then you are getting a sense of what parents with a new child deal with non-stop while in public. I amuse myself by wondering if those same people would ask about gentitals of a person that didn’t exude gender identity (as per their hetero-normative definition of such).

I don’t have to quote the research that shows how people treat babies differently based on their sex; it is apparent to anyone listening to adults talk about how pretty a little princess will be, or how strong and good at sports a little boy will be.

My basic issue with such musings is that it limits the potential of a sentient being, while reinforcing, by means of communicative media (culture, language, etc.) role assignment that is not based on the actual circumstances of humans. We do not need to be pretty or good at sports; we need to be self-reflective and good communicators, unburdened by assumptions.

Switching up tactics

On the way home from a cafe just now, a neighborhood person walked by as we were waiting for a crosswalk signal to turn in our favor.

“Is that a boy or a girl?”

Smiling, I turned to em and replied, “It is just our baby.”

Sheesh, I just asked if it was a boy or a girl.

“I’m not offended by the question, everything is cool.”

“Whatever dude!”, came the over-the-shoulder reply.

I yelled after em (across the street), “Wait! Why are you offended?”

I didn’t get a reply to that, so I am still perplexed. I think it is not so much the challenging of that particular assumption, but rather just because it is a challenge. Susan believes that people think of themselves as going out of their way to be polite, and are thusly offended at the response that diverts their attention. At any rate, until I get to the bottom of the cause(s), I need new tactics to deal with these interactions.

One thought is to pretend they are just asking , “How’s it going?”

“Fine. Thanks for asking!” Smile.

“No, I said is it a boy or a girl.”

“Oh, nothing much, same old same old. And you?”

Another idea is to explain that in my culture we avoid such topics of conversation. If asked which culture that is, I would just deflect it with, “oh, it is kinda hard to explain.”

My preferred method would be to explain to them how I feel about gender, sex, role assignment and language, but despite how wonderful that is, it also seems to piss people off the most, as well.

Any ideas on this?

Feeling gender

Some thoughts on how people feel about gender and role assignment, and then I go off on an Emma thing. It happens.

I need to start writing again. Last week kinda kicked my ass, emotionally and mentally, so here is a small thought to get me back into the flow of things.

I kinda obsessively read about gender and equality issues. It both infuriates and fascinates me, a political/cultural train wreck that I can’t look away from. In my information absorption I’ve noticed an interesting pattern, and it is based on how people feel about how gender affects them. It is mostly the dichotomy between men who “argue” (which is to say, they actual think or feel) that there are differences between genders (or sex, or whatever they use to describe a binary system), so everything derives from that, and women who argue that they are discriminated against in nearly all aspects of life because of role assignment.

It is easy for me to value one of those points of view over the other; when people defend the status quo, I just can’t imagine why they put forth that effort. In fact, when I hear someone being defensive of how things are, I tend to look for ways I can personally change my little piece of the world so that the status quo doesn’t have as much sway.

So, when you find yourself being nominally a member of the group that is the oppressor, I would appreciate if you keep your feelings of pseudo-science and hear-say to yourself. Just, you know, love yourself. Realize that you aren’t responsible for the wars of past generations. You didn’t bring slaves over, or kill native folks. None of us did that. It is merely our responsibility to always become better than those generations, and ensure that those things never happen again.

To those who find yourself challenging the status quo, because it leaves you out, you have an ally in me. Let’s talk. I want to know more about your passion and struggles.

And now for something completely tangential

It disturbs me that if my child decides to be anything they want (which is what I hope for Emma), ey could be harassed (and I have a very encompassing definition of harassment). I am becoming a parent, of course, but it is a net positive; I am feeling old and lame before my direct descendant is even using eir lungs for breathing, but I can channel my protective urges into effort to create an environment and tribe that will promote Emma in the way that all humans deserve.

I will try my best to ensure that Emma doesn’t enact aggression against others, and will respect others’ autonomy, and will always defer to actions that rely on, and encourage, the consent of all involved. In return, I expect all you other humans to do that same.

There may not be a biological or cultural reason to live like that. But it isn’t prohibited, either. Awesome. ^_^

Well, that went on for a bit longer than I planned…

A false sense of civil rights on the social web

Some thoughts on investing effort to create social change in walled gardens.

Huh, I really have been leaning towards longer post titles lately…

Anyhow, maymaym brought an article to my attention: Facebook Adds ‘Civil Union’ And ‘Domestic Partnership’ Options to User Profiles

Now, I understand the struggle for mindshare, and how words play into it. I honestly believe that the more people are exposed to an idea, the more likely they are able to assess it based on its own merits, instead of being based on their preconceived ideas. That is why I opposed Prop 8; not because I support marriage, but rather I support equality, and words can lead to inequality, discrimination and segregation.

I replied that, “I am split: on one hand I think it is great that a website, any website, would accurately depict reality. On the other hand, creating marriage/civil union/poly config fields is just another type of data that Facebook is going to mine. This is not an instance of a balance between civil rights, it is the insanity of allowing a company to set examples for normative cultural values.”

This reminds me of the conversation around Expand options in the “Gender” profile field last year (an interesting artifact, that thread, I recommend you read it). However, there is an important distinction, I think. In that case, community members of discussed a change that affected their community. For this latest development, GLAAD and other orgs essentially lobbied Facebook. I am not sure what the level of involvement was, but GLAAD is taking credit for it at least. The point is, there is a sense of inclusion and discourse to make the change to the gender field, while the change to the relationship status field on Facebook was handed down from on high.

In the article itself there is this odd statement:

“Today, Facebook sent a clear message in support of gay and lesbian couples to users across the globe,” said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios. “By acknowledging the relationships of countless loving and committed same-sex couples in the U.S. and abroad, Facebook has set a new standard of inclusion for social media. As public support for marriage equality continues to grow, we will continue to work for the day when all couples have the opportunity to marry and have their relationship recognized by their community, both online and off.”

I know this is just a talking point, something for journalists to use in their articles (what a sick and stupid workflow), but there are three points they make:

  • Facebook sent a message in support of gay and lesbian couples
  • “Facebook has set a new standard of inclusion for social media”
  • They are working to have all couples be recognized by their community, online and off.

So, I get the first point. Yay. Facebook joins McDonald’s and a whole slew of other companies that I don’t care about in supporting this issue. Cool, warm fuzzies all around.

The second point is as offensive as it is dangerous, that Facebook sets standards for social media. While I am bias, and don’t want to believe that is true, let’s assume it is. Do they understand how bad things can get when a single company can set a standard? As has been oft-repeated lately, Facebook can be given orders that it can’t afford to turn down. What will a movement do to stay in the favor of a corporation that can change its policies based on its own motives.

The third point, I think, illustrates a lot of assumptions that we should challenge. I am running out of steam, and I want to think on this some more, but I will point out that Facebook is not a community, and that if you are leveraging a website/company to be your online identity, you are not in great shape.

When I first replied to maymaym, I said I was split. I’m not, really. I don’t think this is about identity versus autonomy, because I think the relationship status field is a false sense of identity. Facebook has this momentum that is pretty ridiculous anyway you look at it, and it has a lot of influence. But we don’t know how sustainable that influence is, how much it will stick. We do know, however, that Facebook is not the open web, and we need to get away from it.

So, stacking our hopes in the walled garden is still stacking our hopes in the walled garden. No one can see it unless they are inside, and once they are inside, they can’t leave.

Hey, I would love to hear your thoughts on this. I am not an authority, I am just trying to find out why I don’t think this is the best expenditure of effort.

Violence doesn’t consider gender

Nicole Polizzi got punched in a bar during the filming of a reality TV show. Media coverage is focused on points that I think are at best unimportant, and at worst hurting the conversation. And no one is surprised.

I am working on this essay-ish post about pacifism. It is taking a while, I have a lot to say on the subject. I wish I had it finished, because I think it would provide a lot of context for this post.

I read about Nicole Polizzi (aka Snookie) getting punched in the face in a bar during the filming of a reality TV show. The show is called Jersey Shore, and I think it is about Italian-Americans who like to party, or something. I am unsure because reality TV shows do not interest me in general, but I have heard about it peripherally due to its depictions of Italian-Americans. Google it, if you want to know.

Anyhow, I read about this at Huffington Post (which also contains a video of the clip). From there I followed a link to an article on Jezebel that talked about the PSAs MTV is planning to air concerning this incident.

It was there that I read something that made me what to comment on this:

The episode of Jersey Shore that includes Snooki getting punched by a man in a bar will air next week, followed by a PSA cautioning, “Violence against women in any form is a crime,” reports the Daily News.

The article goes on to explain the crafting of the message:

The case is clearly not a classic example of “domestic violence,” given that the perpetrator was a man in a bar Polizzi had never met. The PSA addresses the issue by modifying the usual text: “If you or someone you know is being abused by a boyfriend, family member or total stranger…

The emphasis in both the above quotations are mine. I can’t find any videos of the PSA, and so I am merely reacting to what this post says.

“Violence against women in any form is a crime” is a subset of “violence against people in any form is a crime”. That they modify the domestic abuse message to include “total strangers” is borderline absurdity. I have firsthand knowledge of domestic violence, including successful recovery (if there is such a thing) from it through the use of counseling and the help of loving people. Getting the message to people that there is a way out is important. Tacking “total strangers” on is just that, tacky (okay, that was an awful pun).

Let me make a few points that plainly state my opinions.

I don’t mind violence being shown in media. I believe it, like most actions by humans, requires discretion. I am not going to see the latest Ranbo movie because I don’t believe it has any value, and I am comfortable with my current level of sensitivity to violence, and I think that movies of that caliber do not serve to keep my sensitivity where it is at. When I watch the video of Polizzi being punched I feel my face spasm as my brain tries to figure out the body language that will show the people around me my shock. I think that is of value, in certain contexts.

I would challenge the idea that this isn’t simulated violence, at the very least referring to the clip that I saw. I hold onto the hope that people are not “dumb” in the way non-commentators seem to be when it comes to consuming media. I think that people are capable of using that discretion I was talking about to figure out how the things they perceive interact with their personal values. That being said, an internet video meme of a women being punched in the face (and the subsequent dialog that emerges) is different from the music video-style clip that literally uses 17 seconds to compare a person talking about being accepted in a group of peers to the same person antagonizing another person and then being punched out. The clip even ends with, I am guessing here, the arresting cop telling the aggressor, “you’re going to jail.” Did we all take lazy pills and forget this is MTV?

Focusing on the gender dynamics hurts the dialog. There are women getting in fights with each other on TV shows all the time. Men beat each other to a pulp (boxing), and are celebrities for it. A man punches a women and suddenly MTV feels the need to warn people about it? WTF, mate? How about the fact that the confrontation allegedly came about from the aggressor stealing booze from Polizzi and her party? Where is the scathing commentary about the pressures to perform in public on camera? Or perhaps the simple acknowledgment that the violence ensuing in the clip is neither correct nor simple?

I feel like I am wasting my digital breath, because the millions of viewers who thrive on this stuff, and thereby reinforcing many of the issues that I pointed out, are never going to see this. It is not flashy, it hurts. Violence is insidious in that way, just talking about it can be painful. It gets easier over time, but we are using every bit of technical and attention-absorbing trickery we can to put off the conversation.

One last thing I want to point out is on the matter of people laughing at the clip. I didn’t, but I know that in a month from now I am going to watch some clip where someone gets “snookied” or something, and I will react on the spectrum of shoulder shrug to howling laughter. If someone you know laughs about this, consider what you know about them. Do they seem like a person who will assault you? Or, do they seem like a person uses laughter as a way to emote built up energy in a way that is acceptable in public? Let’s not use this as yet another diversionary tactic.