[Kerry, James and Darwin] Articles that you should probably read.

[Noël] About “Google Minus.”

I have seen many people discuss their concerns with Google+ (which Kerry calls “Google Minus”), and I share those concerns.

The most troubling policy that Google+ has is its “real” (presumably legal) names policy. Other people have mentioned its significance to transgender people whose names may or may not correspond with their identification, and still others have mentioned the significance of pseudonyms and handles to many long-time Internet users whose online presences are better defined by those handles than they would be by the names that appear on their driving licences, birth certificates, or passports. There are many people who prefer not to go by their legal or given names (they are not always the same thing—there is a distinction with us, for instance), and they should not be penalised for it. I believe that the insistence on Very Real Names is cultural: Westerners have the idea that people’s names are largely fixed throughout life, and cannot be changed according to things that affect them over their lives; and it is also emblematic of Silicon Valley culture, in which entrepreneurs and SEO experts use social networking services like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to personally “brand” themselves. For them, social networking is an extension of “branding,” and the expectation is that users of social networking sites will also wish to engage in such personal branding, even though the sites’ ostensible purpose is to connect others to friends, colleagues, and family. For those of us who are not part of that culture, social networking sites can be quite restrictive for those of us who prefer different forms of online socialisation. For my part, I am fonder of social blogging platforms like Dreamwidth and Livejournal, because of the emphasis on intentional community and less on “branding.”

How does this affect me? As a member of a plural system, I would technically not be allowed to sign up as “Noël Dawkins,” even though I prefer to use my own name online, rather than presenting as the “front identity.” I would probably not be banned, as my name looks like a name, rather than an actual pseudonym, but it would technically be against their strict community guidelines. I suppose that I could simply sign up under the front identity (disclosure: we have already done so), but there is a difference between social networking under that guise, and social networking as myself. One is a social interface layer; the other is me, even if it is processed through a social networking site, which necessarily restricts the quality of social interaction in which I am allowed to engage. It is difficult to explain in clear language, but there is a cognitive difference between “presenting as singlet” and “presenting as a discrete individual,” even in contexts in which I am, say, writing status updates. It is one thing to filter yourself through someone else’s identity; another to present as yourself. It is a bit hard, as well, to “brand” someone who, in the philosophical sense, does not exist, except as a role that you play. (Yes, I am aware that one can brand fictional characters quite effectively, but I am not speaking of fictional characters, but superficial roles.)

The only significant advantage, apart from the ability to filter information to selected groups of contacts, that Google+ has over Facebook is that it allows members to choose a gender other than “male” or “female,” which Facebook has steadfastly refused to accommodate even after multiple requests to do so. Its nonbinary identity is labelled as “other,” which is not optimal, but it is better than what is there, and is equivalent to Dreamwidth’s gender offerings. It is, as far as I know, the first major social networking site that offers a nonbinary option. The only other site I can think of that does this is Flickr, but its purpose is specifically for sharing photos, art, and video, rather than social networking for its own sake.

[Kerry] Normality and ‘Deviance’

(crossposted from personal Tumblr account)

A lot of destructive philosophies that marginalise certain oppressed categories of people begin with the idea that people considered ‘deviant’ are not inherently different, but are altered ‘normal’ people. The way to deal with deviance under this philosophy is to restore ‘normality’ to these people, and cast deviance as either a pathology or sinful choice.

Let’s use plurality as one of our examples. The current medical paradigm for multiplicity implies that all plurality comes from an original person splitting because of extreme emotional trauma, and breaking off into several different sentient entities, often referred to as ‘alters’ and ‘personalities’. Only the ‘original’ person (commonly called the ‘host’ or ‘core’) is considered a ‘real person’. Another strain of thought, more popular in the 90s, asserts that splitting cannot occur, and that any perception of splitting is a delusion generated by the patient and doctors invested in the ‘multiple personality fad’. Both of these schools of thought operate on the idea that there is always an original ‘normal’ person who underwent a form of mental pathology; neither affirm the individual personhoods of plural systems, and neither challenge the ‘one body, one mind’ Western construction of personality. This isn’t to say that no multiplicity is trauma-based, but that the assumption that ALL plurality is trauma-based is fallacious. Also, both of the pre-existing paradigms imply that even within the accepted trauma-split paradigm, people who split cannot actually be people.

Things have changed for the better over the past few years, though, with many therapists willing to work within the plural paradigm without attempting to ‘normalise’ (that is, integrate) trauma-based plural systems.

For LGBT people, it’s a similar situation. Gay men, lesbians and bisexuals are fallen heterosexuals, fallen into a life of sin. Trans people are cast as diseased or sinful members of their coercively assigned sex. Transphobia extends beyond the fundamentalist paradigm—there are many ostensibly ‘progressive’ feminists who hold similarly transphobic ideas, with the same implication that trans people are ‘altered members of their coercively assigned sex’.The idea that LGBT people could be born queer is anathema to these people, because it destroys their worldview. How could people sin simply by existing? How could a corporeally-based feminism work when women can be born with any genital configuration? Instead of accepting the challenges, people retreat and claim that anyone who doesn’t fit their paradigm doesn’t exist, by definition.

A twist on this theme occurs amongst pro-cure ‘autism parents’—a lot of their rhetoric around their children involves mawkish stories about how their supposedly normal child was TAKEN BY AUTISM!!!11. Their entire life is about longing for typical children, and having a typical life, and making their autistic kids feel like shit. (Because, you know, even if some autistic people can’t speak, it doesn’t mean they don’t understand! Or have feelings! Sigh.) Our system is on the autistic spectrum. When we lived with the biofamily, we were constantly guilted for being autistic. Some of us, especially Hess, developed a lot of weird neuroses around the way our brain worked that we were only able to counter in adulthood.

The problem is that so many people place a premium on belonging to a majority group, rather than expanding their definitions of identity to include people who haven’t traditionally been included. The problem facing activists working towards the acceptance of marginalised identity groups is dealing with majoritarian ideas about conformity and personhood, and creating space to allow other identities to exist within mainstream society comfortably.