I found my file of quotes from Aaron. They mostly happened before we were romantically involved, and some of them are obscure in-jokes, but I preserve them here for anyone.

quotes from my roommate:

a: “Fonts are about the human condition.”

q: “Some of us had to live through the 80s…. all you had to do was potty train.”
a: “Some of those bands made potty training pretty hard.”

q: “I considered converting for the food, but then I realized I could get it anyway, and I was like, ‘fuck your god!'”
a: “Damn! She found our loophole! We need more Manichevitz DRM!”

a: “I think a lot of what I liked about it was sexy shots of Helvetica.”

a: “United sure has come a long way from bankruptcy. I remember the good old days when they couldn’t even afford Helvetica. They had to print signs in Arial instead. It was disgusting.”
q: “I wonder if the United channel is on, I switched to being a United frequent flyer for that.”
a: “I switched because of Helvetica.”
q: stares
a: “I’m not joking.”

a: “Mandatory minimums is your way of locking up people with small penises!”

a: “If skullfucking is wrong, I don’t want to be right!”

a: “Genes load the gun, but it takes parenting to pull the trigger!” (making shooting motion)

a: “I’m part of the Jewish cabal that controls the internet.”
q: “I haven’t actually heard anyone say there’s a Jewish conspiracy running the internet.”
a: “Oops.”

q: “You don’t have crotch prions.”
a: “You don’t know that!”

a: (Looking at his glass) “This fruit juice is making me paranoid.”

a: “Your shirt is in italic, mine’s not.” (We have the same shirt)
q: “No, that’s just my breasts.”
a: (investigates)
a: “Your breasts make a really nice italic.”

a: “I bought a new font. I’m out of my mind with glee.”

q: “I learned a phrase in Swahili.”
a: “Was it ‘My daughter thinks her hand is a pontoon bridge?'”

q: “Oh, you’re not cynical. And the pope’s jewish.”
a: “Don’t say that! it’s a secret.”

a: (Holding a ticking small clock) “Can I take the batteries out of this thing? It’s like a constant reminder of my impending mortality.”

a: (On Lasik) “Lasers are supposed to come out of your eyes.”

a: (looks at aaronquotes file) “You have to put lines between them! See this file, you know how to make lines.”
a: “Give it to me, I’ll do it for you.”

Notes as written

This is the written version of my eulogy for Aaron. I would like to not write any more eulogies for a while.

(The campfire at Lassen)

An event like Aaron’s death divides a life, the BC and AD of one’s personal story. From now on, my own biography will be divided into when Aaron was alive and after he died.

We look for the words that bring him back, we look for the memories that contain him like an incantation that can contain a soul. I have a thousand stories of our pieces of time together, a thousand little nets to trap the smoke he is now.

But I can’t. He has slipped away. I loved him, but he’s escaped me.

Aaron has left us, and entered the realm of mythmaking. He doesn’t belong to any one of us anymore, not even himself. He belongs to memory and history.

Still, I lost a person, a person I loved. That’s who I’ve come to talk about. Not the internet saint, or the incredibly accomplished activist, or the young and notable internet technologist. The Aaron I’ve come to talk about is the one that sang little boxes to my daughter in Daly City. The person that almost never did the damn dishes. The one that stole my camera to take long exposure of Ada and me sleeping. The one who complained all the way through camping trips, grinning, and always agreed to the next one. The one that climbed 30 feet to the top of a tree and sat there insisting he liked it and wouldn’t have any trouble getting down. He ate a lot of water crackers. I studied how to feed him, and in time I managed to get a few vegetables down him on a regular basis. Mostly though I managed to feed him cakes and cookies and creme brulee. He was terrible about making plans at the last minute. he could be a terrible pain in the ass.

We talk about how extraordinary he was, but he wasn’t. Aaron was another human, with all the flaws and glories that each of us have, infinite wells of solitude that we are.

He was scared and self conscious, funny, greedy, and petty, loving, curious, hopeful, and strange. He was irreducible, difficult: a person, the most complex thing we’ve yet found in our universe. He turned to me once in a movie theater and said, like someone that had just realized the answer to a difficult math problem, “I contain multitudes.”

To call Aaron extraordinary is, in a way, to sidestep the message of his how he lived his life.

The only reason we’re all here at this memorial holding up this 26 year old as a paragon is that in a culture ruled by fear he learned, and taught me, that trying was more important than being afraid. “Don’t worry,” he told me, “no one remembers your failures.” Don’t waste time doing small things and being cautious. We’re here because he did so much much in his 26 years… despite a culture saying you have to be careful and risk nothing, be responsible, deferential, go through the proper channels, he rejected that. He didn’t wait to start living. That’s all it took.

Aaron understood that learning was more important that accreditation, and that intelligence is a poor and pale substitute for caring. He burned with love for humanity. He surrounded himself with people — also infinitely complex — struck dumb by a love of the world. He lived a life of thought and action.

We shared an understanding, that a life is a thing made in the living of it.

He inspired me, and here, in the AD, I will carry that little inspiration like a jewel gripped in the hand, beautiful, valuable, abrasive, and impossible to forget.

First Fig
Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light.

My Aaron Swartz, whom I loved.

We used to have a fight about how much the internet would grieve if he died. I was right, but the last word you get in as the still living is a hollow thing, trailing off, as it does, into oblivion. I love Aaron. I loved Aaron. There are no words to can contain love, to cloth it in words is to kill it, to mummify it and hope that somewhere in the heart of a reader, they have the strength and the magic to resurrect it. I can only say I love him. That I will always love him, and that I known for years I would. Aaron was a boy, not big, who cast a shadow across the world. But for me, he will always be that person who made me love him. He was so frustrating, and we fought. But we fought like what we were: two difficult people who couldn’t escape loving each other.

On the last day I saw him, he grabbed me in the rain while my car was blocking the road and held me and said “I love you.” I don’t know if I said it back. Not that time. I had always told him. Sometimes I told him when he didn’t have it in him to say. I’d say “I love you, and you love me, too” and he would just hold me.

When he was 20, he carried me through my divorce. We promised each other a year. I apologized so many times: that I was better than what he was getting, that he got me destroyed. Still, what a year. Later, I tried to take care of him while he was being destroyed, from inside and out. I struggled so hard, but not as hard as he did. I told him, time and again, that this was his 20s. It would be better in his 30s. Just wait. Please, just hold on.

He read to me and Ada compulsively; he read me a whole David Foster Wallace book. He read Robert Caro to me, countless articles, blog posts, snippets of books. Sometimes, he would call, just read, and hang up. He loved the Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, and the three of us read it together many times. We loved George Saunders. We loved so many things together.

He loved my daughter so much it filled the room like a mist. He was transported playing with her, and she bored right into his heart. In his darkest moments, when I couldn’t reach him, Ada could still touch him, even if only for a moment. And when he was in the light, my god. I couldn’t keep up with either of them. I would hang back and watch them spring and play and laugh, and be so grateful for them both.

More than anything, together we loved the world, with the kind of love that grips and tears. We were fearsome creatures, chained to our caring, chained to other people.

We were destroyed by the investigation, and by enduring so much together in the five years of the difficult love affair of difficult people. In the end he told me he needed to get away from me. I let him go, and waited for the day he’d come back. I knew that one day we’d have a day to be together again, though probably not as lovers. Together, as something that doesn’t have a word. He went on to another relationship, and I know he touched her like he did me, because that’s how he touched people.

A part of me died with him. A part will always be with him.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

–W. H. Auden

Goodbye, my love

I don’t have anything to say to the world yet. But, not long after we moved in together in San Francisco, Aaron posted what follows. He was pressured to take it down; partly by me, out of fear. We do such stupid things out of fear. I regretted it almost immediately, and saved my little copy, untouched, in a place where I could get to it anytime. I carried it with me. I repost it here, because it should have stayed untouched, and I am done with this regret.


Cozy Domesticity

Some days it seemed like all there was was gray. An overcast sky, a broken bus, a freeway under construction, an edifice of concrete and steel. That office was dullening, full of gray pillars and florescent lighting, drones tapping at computers and talking about synergizing, forced conversations with the pleasant, strained tone of someone who knows they will have to live with these people. But Quinn was different.

A bright red shirt in a field of gray. Cargo pants in the land of business casual. Hunched over an iBook in the corner, surrounded by people with desks. She stood out like a stereotype. And as I walked past her to get some water, I felt electrified by her presence. I went to get a lot of water that day.

Late that night, after everyone had gone home and I was left alone in the dark, reading a New Yorker article on my monitor and listening to They Might Be Giants on my headphones, I felt a tap on my back and jumped. It was Quinn. “Hey,” she said.

There are some people you talk to and you just feel like you’re banging your head against the wall. You can’t understand what they’re saying, they can’t understand what you’re saying, you’re completely out of rhythm and unconnected and you just stand there waiting for a chance to sneak away without making things even more awkward.

Not Quinn. Within moments of seeing each other we’d begin laughing. I, normally shy and reserved, would suddenly find myself boisterous and cracking jokes — good ones, as far as we could tell. I felt like a different person.

Quinn was so out of place she didn’t even have a keycard. Whenever she wanted to walk down the hall for lunch or a snack, she’d ask me to come with her so she could get back in. And one day she asked if I’d go with her to the shooting range. I wanted to be that different person.

We went to Europe and I got fired and she started looking for a new place and asked if I would be her roommate. I said yes and she said why? and I said how else am I going to get out of the house?

We got a sweet little two-bedroom in the Mission, with a gorgeous view of downtown — close enough for you to see the skyline but far enough away that it doesn’t feel like the office. We cooked dinner and went to dinner parties, we bought a loft bed and brought over Quinn’s daughter.

I got a new job and there are days — getting up early to carpool to work, commuting home to a home-cooked meal, a great friend, and a lovely little girl — that I feel like I’ve finally found home.


Don’t Vote

My great grandmother had to fight for her right to vote. She marched down the streets of Boise, Idaho with a giant beautiful banner she sewed herself on a treadle sewing machine. It read, in large and gorgeous lettering, “We demand an amendment to the US constitution enfranchising women.” From the first moment I saw it I was aware that it was in so many ways larger than me. I still have it, and hope to pass it on to my daughter to pass on to her daughter.

Incredibly old, and skin hanging from her bones, my great grandmother was still a terrifyingly full woman. She taught me what it was to vote. The first time I voted was 1992, and doing so made me feel like I was at last a full person, part of a full world. And when I decided that I would not vote anymore, it was to her that I uttered my prayer of sad apology: not merely for not voting, but for being part of the system that had reduced voting to meaning so little. I have decided that I am on strike as a voter, until voting means something.

It was learning that lead me to voting, and learning that lead me away from it. It was gerrymandering, legalized corruption, the impossibility of campaign finance reform. It was dry words like ROI on lobbying, which have turned the world wet with non-metaphorical blood. It was suicidal nonideas that reduced human civilization to a consuming blob left to go necrotic on its denuded tiny blue dot.

But then, it was more. It was watching how people built an internet while the institutions weren’t looking. It was the kindness of strangers that took me in. It was buying dinner for an old Vietnam vet on the streets of California. It was watching my daddy chewed up by the system. It was the radiation of the Columbia river and the old songs and stories of Utah Phillips. It was children who filled potholes in Zambian streets and needed pens, which I gave them with as much heart as you can give a pen to someone. It was the fall of the iron curtain, it was poet presidents, revolutions young and old, and the slow and terrible petrification of the American spirit. It was a world that runs red with blood and spirit, a body politic raped and beaten by a ruling class as arbitrary and accidental as the rest of it.

People who think that by calling for a strike against the vote I’m advocating inaction are not paying attention. Yes, I am saying please don’t throw your vote away in our corrupt ballot boxes. Instead vote everyday, not just one day in November. Vote with the stuff of your life. Vote like your life, and your opinions matter — because they do.

Vote with every dollar, in every relationship. Vote in how you work and how you speak. Vote in how you treat others and what you will accept from them. Vote your dignity and the dignity of others. Live in the opposite of fear. Bring your morals to work. Whistleblow, organize, strike, disrupt your corporation until it respects human rights. Even if just the knowledge workers in my social circle walked off the job, they could grind the machine to a halt — they could be heard. They would, in fact, resound not only through the body politic but through history as well.

But we don’t know anymore that we have this strength. We are told both that we must perform our kabuki democracy, and that our vote doesn’t really matter. We are told that this voting is our only civic duty, and the only power we have, and quietly reduced to a system where that vote can’t realistically do much.

When you vote, you complain, and then go to work to do the work of others, often against the interests and values of you, your family, the family of humankind. And you can complain about that, too. We have to get along, we have to pay down the student loans, we have to make the mortgage payment, we have to delay facing the truth about the frail and failing world we’ve built as long as we possibly can.

No. The magic of aggregate human attention is so strong that we can fix this world, we can exceed these troubles — but only together, not looking to leadership structures that have failed us again and again.

Humanity is amazing. It is the elemental magic of the world. You are the ground that can shake and rise under the fragile political structures of the Earth. You are the wrath of angry gods, you are the true storm a small and accidental system of power fears. As long as you keep believing you have to vote, and all your power is tied only to that vote, our leaders get to balance a pyramid on its tip and call it democracy.

Lay down the lie of the American ballot box, with its legal rigging, lobbying, revolving doors, gerrymandering, and even at moments outright fraud. You will have to ask yourself what is next? What do you believe, and how do you live out those beliefs? It is a scary and beautiful thing to live your beliefs.

We are on a fundamental level responsible for each other. We have incredible power, in fact we have all the power not reserved to killer robots. But it’s very hard and very painful. Coordinating, acting, having to be together with humanity after so many years of running away from it.

Today we distract ourselves from feeling hopeless and powerless. There are a million numbing balms for thousands of tiny cuts. We numb ourselves with TV, Youtube, Reddit, alcohol, games, even love. We ceaselessly and selfishly chase after a personal happiness only available to those who outgrow the hunt for it. We go to work for corporations and governments that violate our ethics, we go into debt, and come to see ourselves as bound, indentured to things we didn’t choose. But this is an illusion, and a fragile one at that. It ends the day we decide that our power is with us, in us, that it can’t fit inside a quarterly review, or an assigned essay, or even a ballot box. It ends when we realize that our minds and bodies, and most of all our little allotment of precious time are holy, holy, holy.

Let your body be your ballot.

I’m a trained professional.

Me: I never saw you as a 4chan man

Dude: I don’t really know what that means.

Well. Let’s work that out in four questions.

1. How do you feel about My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic

2. Incest porn comics: a) hawt b) funny c) gross d) funny that it grosses people out e) all of the above

3. Snuff pictures: a) I like them when bored b) love them c) LOVE THEM A LOT FAP FAP FAP c) love them because I’m a med student

4. In a short essay, easily divided into tweets, please explain your love of pony porn involving fucking relatives that ends in gruesome death.


It is becoming hard for me to interact with normal people. Thanks, Anonymous. Thanks a lot.

On Mona Eltahawy, Protest, and Breaking the Law

“Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.” – Henry David Thoreau

Oh, my friends saying that Mona Eltahawy doesn’t understand the First Amendment and American protest, you’re right. But, thus far, neither do you. The issue is that Eltahawy was committing criminal mischief during her speech act, with the presumption this negates what she did as non-violent protest and speech act. But crime has always been part of protest in America, since before it was these United States. And of course Eltahawy didn’t violate anyone else’s free speech. The reason she will be charged with vandalism and not violating the First Amendment is that only the State can violate the First Amendment.

An act can be non-violent protest and speech while committing a crime, and civil disobedience requires that you commit a crime — that’s what makes it disobedient. When people sat in at counters, blocked bridges, sat in the front of the bus, defied Jim Crow, burned draft cards, blocked mines and factories owned by other people, got escaped slaves to Canada, threw tea in the harbor, sat down on a cop car in Berkeley, DDOSed Polish gov websites, and put up tents in defiance of the courts, they were breaking the law. They set out to break the law. Their bodies were their critique of society, sometimes of the law, sometimes of the prevailing morals. When Mona Eltahawy sprayed that poster she was offering her body as a critique of racism, though the video suggests she didn’t understand she was doing that. When you chain yourself to tree, block an abortion clinic, or refuse to leave the Oakland street after a dispersal order, you expect to confront the legal system. That’s part of the deal — a rich American tradition of getting your ass arrested and punished for standing up for what you believe. Equal application of the law means Eltahawy had to get arrested, but there is no reason she shouldn’t call for everyone to spend a night in jail for defacing a racist poster. Speech even protects those who say you shouldn’t pay taxes, that women should be raped, and that you should go ahead and play Blackjack in Utah if you want to.

That Eltahawy believed her protest meant she shouldn’t be arrested is a misunderstanding of vandalism, not free speech. To get arrested protesting racism, it’s a powerful protest. That she played it up — also the point of going so far as to get arrested. If you are going to go to that length for what you believe in, it’s pretty ridiculous to do it as quietly and shyly as possible.

Even American cops are in on the game. During various Occupy actions this year and last, there were many times police would announce moving into the arrest phase of clearing or breaking up an action, and let the protestors choosing to be arrested prepare themselves, chat with friends, pass along phone numbers and personal items, and then get respectfully arrested as a declared act of civil disobedience. It’s a normal part of American civil life.

Without law breaking, law doesn’t progress. Law needs to be broken to adapt to changing times. The best things in the American legal system are the things that change and grow, and they do this by being pushed hard. Does this mean we should restrict free speech? I’d say no, but obviously there’s a conversation to be had here, and Eltahawy points out with her body, as do the Muslim protestors around the world with their bodies, that we who believe in free speech need to explain it better. The other side of Eltahawy’s action, that we should go to jail to oppose racism — I might very well be ok with that. I don’t think if we’re caught we shouldn’t get arrested, tried, and convicted of crimes. I think the law should continue to allow shitty ass losers to put up racist pieces of shit, like they did in New York, and on bus ads in San Francisco. And I think they should all be defaced in minutes. Those who do the defacing should make careful choices between getting arrested and not getting caught. But I’m proud of the San Franciscans that quietly fucked over the same ads on Muni buses and didn’t get caught, and I’ll be proud of Eltahawy when she sees getting arrested and not only a valid part of her protest, but the most valid part. “This is what happens in America when you non-violently protest,” said Eltahawy — and that’s an awesome part of protest.

Since when are Americans the type that believe law dictates what’s right? We are a people born and raised dictating to law, even when we have to put our bodies, freedom, and safety on the line to do so. We are people who put our bodies on the line to tell people they have to stop being shitty. I like that about us, and my friends do too, even if they’re not seeing it in Eltahawy’s case. That she didn’t say the right thing doesn’t mean she didn’t do the right thing, whether accidentally or on purpose.

Update: Eltahawy responded on Twitter to this piece, saying: “Quinn I’m proud I was arrested. I very much see what I did as non-violent civil disobedience. I’ve said that on all media I do.”


For many years when I walked into a room I instantly counted the women. It told me a lot about what to expect from that room. One day, having lost my best friend over racial politics out of my control, I began to count people of color. That too was for safety, for understanding how my views would be taken. That too told me a lot I needed to know about the room. But it also hinted to me about a whole realm of experience I wasn’t having.

The neighborhood where I grew up in LA gentrified unbelievably hard through my childhood. The odd Mormon Filipino family whose son was my BFF for a while eventually sold the shack they lived in, which was badly enough constructed that despite Legrande’s father’s efforts to patch his walls, you could still hear the ocean wind from inside his room. When they moved it was torn down, and the garden (like most of them would be) was filled in with expensive house, in the Socal Hollywood style of all stucco and reaching up past your neighbors for views. The houses got torn down one by one. The neighbor to the right, across the street, eventually my best friend’s, and all replaced with opulent houses. But opulent not so much to be seen as to keep the residents from prying eye — the way you signaled you were important in Los Angeles. As this happened across my neighborhood I stopped knowing my neighbors. The class divide had moved next door. Still, children don’t get this, and when they escaped from grown-up eyes they flocked together. I made a few friends at moments. Going back to their houses, I first heard the phrase “We don’t discuss money.” My mom discussed money, my dad, far away in northern California hardly discussed anything else.

How could you not discuss money? It was like a family that announce they didn’t allow the mention of food. Or hope. It was exactly like a family that didn’t mention food or hope.

I visited Oklahoma one as a teenager to see my paternal grandparents. They lived outside Tulsa in a place you could mistake for rural with a bad littering problem if you’ve never seen desperate poverty, American style. Out there the poor whites told me “We’re colorblind. We don’t even see color.” But there were no people of color to be seen in the area. The closest lived on the Res, and I learned many years later that when my father was a child, he was one of the only whites that snuck across to visit the kids at the BIA schools. He never told me what he saw there, but when I was young he would get very drunk sometimes at night and tell me we should all get back on the fucking boats and go back to Europe. I didn’t know what Europe was.

For a time I decided I couldn’t see color. But then I couldn’t see what happened to people of color. To not see their color, I realized, was to not see its absence, and its absence was everywhere I wanted to be, in every room I aspired to get into. I had made their pain and struggle invisible to me. I argued that this position was not racist, but anti-race altogether. And besides, many of my best friends hadn’t been white. How could I be racist?

In 2010 I went to a prestigious invite only conference in the tech world. I was, at this point, widely welcome in those rooms I’d dreamed of going in. I counted. My heart soared — it really felt like we’d turned a corner. It wasn’t just that there were more women. There were, but also they were talking. It was like pushing on a giant stone for all my life, then one day feeling it finally shift underneath my fingers.

On Saturday night I was sexually assaulted. Specifically, I was groped. I hit my aggressor in the chin and knocked him back. Despite having probably 100lbs on me, he stumbled drunkenly and barely kept his footing. “Touch me again and I’ll break your nose,” I told him. He laughed lightly, still finding his feet, and said “I like this one!” I looked at him, to catch his eye, and replied calmly, matter-of-factly “No. If you touch me again, I will break your nose.” He laughed again, but wandered away from me, looking to grope easier prey.

This is how I’d felt all my life, like my job was to not be easy prey. But this was a professional field, not the fucking Serengeti. I walked a little later with the conference organizer, a woman older then me, and of much stature in tech. I told her I was so happy to finally see women in my field. “But,” I said, “I think these incidents will be more common for a while. These guys don’t know how to behave around women.” To myself, I added bitterly, or other human beings at all.

In part, the tech community had allowed in women, but in part it had also only failed to keep them out.

It was always the ones that said they didn’t see gender or color who did the most damage. “They’re just words,” they would say, “Why do you let them hurt you?” And with that, my pain was made as invisible as me. “They’re just words.” Indeed, just the verbal incantations of power, like law and code and everything else that made the world. I decided to leave tech for words.

But now I’m all shouty. Now people are angry at me because I have a stage, and they can’t make me invisible and ignore me, because the truth is you can’t ignore words, and I have the words. So now they really hate me. The others, the majority, sit uncomfortably with the conflict. No one is quite sure what to do, they want things to be abstractly better, but they don’t want anyone to be loudly upset, either. One side is considerably louder than all the others.

This is what I ask: when you walk into a room, count. Count the women. Count the people of color. Count by race. Look for who isn’t there. Look for class signs: the crooked teeth of childhoods without braces, worn-out shoes, someone else who is counting. Look for the queers, the older people, the overweight. Note them, see them, see yourself looking, see yourself reacting.

This is how we begin.

How to Criticize Women in Technology

For the background to this post, here is Chris’ first post, Ryan’s quite complex and important response, and Chris’ second post.

Before all this was a Twitter exchange. Chris tweeted saying there was a special place in hell for me three days before his post. I ended up calling him a dick, for being a dick to Nick Bilton, after which he wrote the now infamous post that kicked all this off. I hope in vain that this post may close the conversation.

The internets have been abuzz with the talk of whether Chris Soghoian’s attack post on me (and other journalists) was, among other things, sexist. After a litany of faults, put downs, and misunderstandings, this one question has emerged above all others. So let me address whether Soghoian was sexist towards me.

Of course he was.

But perhaps not the way the vast majority of people think of sexism. I have no idea if Soghoian has a problem with women, per se. But I have a problem with perpetuating an environment so hostile to women that most leave and the ones that remain often describe their own careers as “traumatic.” This is what Soghoian has done, and this is sexism in its most pernicious form.

I don’t know (nor am significantly concerned) what Soghoian was thinking when he attacked me. He has stated he doesn’t hate women journalists. But there’s more than intention to sexism, whether my gender fueled those intentions or not. Sexism isn’t merely the stance: the sexist mind, where one denigrates women deliberately in thought and word. It is also the performing of sexism, which requires very little consciousness and does the majority of damage. When someone like Soghoian chooses a target for a political attack, he chooses for maximum impact, and hopefully little harm to him. The fact that women are less supported in tech makes us easier targets. And we are — given any arbitrary level of accomplishment, attacking women is safer than attacking men. When Soghoian patronizes us, he reinforces this relative weakness. In short, he performs sexism. He can be assured of the support of overt sexists, which he received in his post’s comments, and that others will be loath to weigh in.

The performance of sexism and racism is almost always all upside for the performer. It’s generally too subtle to be criticized, guarantees a constituency no matter how odious you may find that constituency, and melds in seamlessly into an environment of sexism like one more violin in the string section — ultimately strengthening an anti-woman culture. And this is exactly what Soghoian did by adopting a patronizing and disrespectful tone during his take down on me.

In this specific case, after leading with the technical inadequacy of journalists, Soghoian ran into a problem with me. I am not, as one would get the impression from how Soghoian structured his attack, a technical illiterate. I didn’t get a quote explaining the biggest flaw in Cryptocat from any of Soghoian’s favorite men, which he criticized me for, because I didn’t need to. I can explain that a hosted Javascript application is vulnerable to a deep structural attack better than any of them — I explain things for a living. Each time you go to the site and re-download Cryptocat, the only assurance you’re getting the right code is SSL, the encryption layer of web communication which is signaled to users by the lock icon in their browser. But SSL is broken, and relying on it is a design flaw for Cryptocat. The fact is, I covered the flaws. I agreed with Soghoian and others about what the worst problems were, and not only restated that the software was experimental, but that the author himself wouldn’t bet his life on it. That statement, more than any mention of HTTPS stripping or man-in-the-middle, was there to tell real people with real problems that they shouldn’t bet their lives either.

Soghoian practices talking down with the skill of an artist. Robbed of actual technical insufficiency on my part, he could only imply it, and switched to criticizing my writing. He said I placed the technical details too low in the article, implying that my readers wouldn’t read that far.

I am a long form, literary non-fiction writer who specializes in technical subjects. I write whole articles, I write them with my whole heart, and I work damn hard to keep my reader engaged. It does hurt to have Soghoian cleverly talking down to me on a technical level when I may very well know more than him. To go on to subtly insult my ability as a writer is not only contemptible, but an unqualified attack.

I have to spend time unwinding these assumptions about my skills every day I interact with the community I cover. I have explained that I am no one’s girlfriend more times than I can count. I have to tell people to stop dumbing down when I enter a conversation. In the 19 years that I have socialized with, worked in, lived with, and eventually came to write about the tech community, I have come to terms with disrespect and patronizing towards women that is simply breathtaking. The attitude is how this is performed. Sexism isn’t merely present, it is the water we swim in.

This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to criticize women in technology without being sexist. But it is a bit harder. The tool you have to give up when criticizing women who have been talked down to all their lives, if you want to avoid performing and therefore reinforcing sexism, is talking down to them. For a man in tech, speaking down to a woman in public is a fundamentally different act than speaking down to another man. (Bringing up appearance, dating, or sex, while not applicable in this case, is equally problematic.)

And before anyone says that’s not fair, I’ll point out there’s a lot of not fair here to go around. If you want someone to blame for that, don’t start with either the men who have stepped forward to call bullshit when they see it or the women who stand up for themselves in an environment that can often feel like a lion’s den. If you want someone to blame for the fact that you can’t patronize women without performing and reinforcing sexism, blame the rich history of sexism that created the situation we find ourselves in now.

Context matters. If you have two men working for you, and one is white, and the other a person of color, it means something different if you call the latter “boy”. What might sound affectionate to the former is likely to sound like hundreds of years of oppression to many people of color. So just don’t ever do that. We learn these things.

If you want to deliver a cogent, non-sexist criticism to a woman in a non-traditional field that doesn’t reinforce nasty cultural norms, (which we need as much as the next person) you have to take the rhetorical tool of patronizing them out of the tool kit. Speak respectfully and recognize their achievements in public. It’s not too much to ask.

If, as has been suggested to me by several people, this is the only tone Soghoian has, we might consider that this as a personality flaw would run deeper than mere sexism. A person who is unable to adjust to circumstances or speak with a compassionate and deliberate argument is not a good person to be. I prefer to think that this isn’t who Soghoian is, but rather that, soaking in an environment of sexism, he performed it unknowingly.

Everyone knows that sexism runs rife in tech. Yet no particular instance of it can be spoken about without recrimination towards the speaker. This is not the way to make things better. Instead, Soghoian should publicly apologize to me, and then we all should forgive him his outburst. I doubt that this will happen, but it would help the community if it did.

A Note on How I Choose My Assignments

Hello! Thank you for your recent suggestions about what I should cover/what direction I should go in my career.

First off, I really mean it. Thank you. Without the help and guidance of people in the communities I’ve covered over the years, I would be nowhere and my shit would suck ass. I know I owe my career and insight to my sources, my readers, and to the communities that have allowed me to learn about their lives and values. I’ve done this as an outsider, and the tremendous respect and warmth people have demonstrated, meeting my needs and ethical concerns over the years, is literally humbling.

But for every story I take on, there are many I don’t.

Let me explain a few things about that. First off, there is one of me. I try to work roughly full time, but frankly, I’m not even good at long jags of full time work before I tire out a bit. Sometimes I work a lot more than full time, but usually I burn out rather badly after I do, and end up working much less for a while. I have learned/am learning to pace myself, and if your story has come up during a time when I need to recharge my batteries or go play with my daughter, I’m sorry, the world just has to turn without me for a while. Don’t bother to tell me a story is more important than my time with my daughter — she’s why I do this in the first place.

No matter how good your idea is, you don’t get editorial input on what I choose to write about, or how I write it. Honestly, publications would probably pay me a lot more if I would write about what they wanted when they wanted me to, and I’ve chosen to make much less to maintain my independence. I appreciate suggestions, and am super grateful for help, but my independence is important enough to me that I’m willing to stay poor to keep it. (I wouldn’t mind not staying poor, but you know…)

I have my own agenda and ethics. I see my work building towards a cohesive whole, a larger story, and I’m loyal to that story. I think in long time scales, and about a long and specific story I’m telling over my career. Not everything that should be told is part of that story — again, there is just one of me. If your suggestion is totally awesomely awesome and deserves attention, but I don’t want to cover it, this is why.

I see my readers as people picking stuff up right now, but I also see them as people in 100 or 200 years, trying to understand how this period affected the world they live in. I don’t know whether those people will read me specifically, but I do believe I affect a narrative that will come down to them. I feel responsible to them to get stuff right over time, and to tell a insightful and constructive story.

I do get terrible suggestions, but things I thought were terrible suggestions turned out to be great stories I misjudged and passed on. I spend a lot of time being wrong, which is just part and parcel of spending a lot of time in unknown territory. I’m not likely to tell you if I think your suggestion is terrible. Not because I’m buttering you up, because I’ve been wrong enough to not really trust my opinion in that. I’ve chased plenty of stories that ended up stupid and passed on others that turned out brilliant. It’s taught me that these things are hard to judge.

My answer is to choose stories based on my desire to understand and explain how the technology of this age is changing what it means to be human, not whether or not I think it’s a good story. Whether a particular event/op/tip/etc. fits into the metastory I’m telling is something only I can decide. And if I figure it out late, I’m late to the story, but I’m ok with that. I’m not a news automaton, I’m not even a story telling automaton. I’m a person whose stories are shaped by my values, ethics, and dreams for the future. You have helped build that, but only I can steer it.

But all that said, please keep ’em coming, I’d be lost without suggestions. I <3 you all.

P.S. If you’re a PR person trying to get me cover your product, it’s probably not going to happen. And honestly if you knew my work, I’m not sure you’d want it to. Might want to save us both the trouble there. Also, despite being named Quinn, I’m not a man.