Category: Bipolar Disorder & Moods

“Societies With Little Coercion Have Little Mental Illness” is a case study in Consent as a Felt Sense

I am an insane person because I have self-respecting humane reactions to being forced to do, think, and feel things I do not want to do, do not believe, and do not want to experience.

Societies With Little Coercion Have Little Mental Illness“, by Bruce Levine, Ph.D., writing in Mad In America:

Throughout history, societies have existed with far less coercion than ours, and while these societies have had far less consumer goods and what modernity calls “efficiency,” they also have had far less mental illness. This reality has been buried, not surprisingly, by uncritical champions of modernity and mainstream psychiatry. Coercion—the use of physical, legal, chemical, psychological, financial, and other forces to gain compliance—is intrinsic to our society’s employment, schooling, and parenting. However, coercion results in fear and resentment, which are fuels for miserable marriages, unhappy families, and what we today call mental illness.


Once, when doctors actually listened at length to their patients about their lives, it was obvious to many of them that coercion played a significant role in their misery. But most physicians, including psychiatrists, have stopped delving into their patients’ lives. In 2011, the New York Times (“Talk Doesn’t Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy”) reported, “A 2005 government survey found that just 11 percent of psychiatrists provided talk therapy to all patients.” As the article points out, psychiatrists can make far more money primarily providing “medication management,” in which they only check symptoms and adjust medication.

Since the 1980s, biochemical psychiatry in partnership with Big Pharma has come to dominate psychiatry, and they have successfully buried truths about coercion that were once obvious to professionals who actually listened at great length to their patients—obvious, for example, to Sigmund Freud (Civilization and Its Discontents (1929) and R.D. Laing (The Politics of Experience, 1967). This is not to say that Freud’s psychoanalysis and Laing’s existential approach always have been therapeutic. However, doctors who focus only on symptoms and prescribing medication will miss the obvious reality of how a variety of societal coercions can result in a cascade of family coercions, resentments, and emotional and behavioral problems.

Modernity is replete with institutional coercions not present in most indigenous cultures. This is especially true with respect to schooling and employment, which for most Americans, according to recent polls, are alienating, disengaging, and unfun. As I reported earlier this year (“Why Life in America Can Literally Drive You Insane, a Gallup poll, released in January 2013, reported that the longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become, and by high school, only 40% reported being engaged. Critics of schooling—from Henry David Thoreau, to Paul Goodman, to John Holt, to John Taylor Gatto—have understood that coercive and unengaging schooling is necessary to ensure that young people more readily accept coercive and unengaging employment. And as I also reported in that same article, a June 2013 Gallup poll revealed that 70% of Americans hate their jobs or have checked out of them.

Unengaging employment and schooling require all kinds of coercions for participation, and human beings pay a psychological price for this. In nearly three decades of clinical practice, I have found that coercion is often the source of suffering.


In all societies, there are coercions to behave in culturally agreed-upon ways. For example, in many indigenous cultures, there is peer pressure to be courageous and honest. However, in modernity, we have institutional coercions that compel us to behave in ways that we do not respect or value. Parents, afraid their children will lack credentials necessary for employment, routinely coerce their children to comply with coercive schooling that was unpleasant for these parents as children. And though 70% of us hate or are disengaged from our jobs, we are coerced by the fear of poverty and homelessness to seek and maintain employment.

In our society, we are taught that accepting institutional coercion is required for survival. We discover a variety of ways—including drugs and alcohol—to deny resentment. We spend much energy denying the lethal effects of coercion on relationships. And, unlike many indigenous cultures, we spend little energy creating a society with a minimal amount of coercion.

Accepting coercion as “a fact of life,” we often have little restraint in coercing others when given the opportunity. This opportunity can present itself when we find ourselves above others in an employment hierarchy and feel the safety of power; or after we have seduced our mate by being as noncoercive as possible and feel the safety of marriage. Marriages and other relationships go south in a hurry when one person becomes a coercive control freak; resentment quickly occurs in the other person, who then uses counter-coercive measures.

Pair with:

There’s a world of difference between “taking drugs” and “drugging people.” Best know which one you’re doing.





A comment of mine, cross-posted from Facebook, replying to a friend who shared a link to this article about Bipolar Disorder:

So, as a person diagnosed first with unipolar depression, then a slew of “social anxiety” labels, and finally bipolar disorder, first at the age of 12 and then continually for the rest of my young adult life, and for whom the uncritical belief in the utility of these “treatments” had disastrous, near-suicidal consequences, the information presented here strikes me as an incredibly damaging taxonomical justification for the mortal sin many humans commit called “having feelings.” I don’t mean to imply here that the taxonomic framework is useless. Obviously, naming a thing that is hurting people can begin to offer pathways to recovering from the hurt a previously unidentifiable thing has caused. What I am suggesting, however, is that this information is presented in a way that is incomplete, irresponsible, and ultimately hurtful. It is an uncritically authoritative narrative about this particular mental illness that is dangerously misleading.

The fact of the matter is that Western medicine has no theory with a shred of consistent internal logic that even approaches an explanation for what the fuck bipolar disorder even is. You can see this immediately in their taxonomy of “types” of bipolar disorder, in which they describe “type I,” “type II,” “cyclothymia,” and then the magic catch-all “unspecified.” They also have prefix modifiers, such as “atypical,” which is just psychopharmocologists’ fancy way of saying “well it SEEMS like MAYBE it’s THIS type of bipolar disorder but it’s not really matching up with all our measurements and we have no idea why so we’ll just say it’s an ATYPICAL CASE of that thing.”

Look, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that if your categorization scheme includes a “miscellaneous” category, then it’s a pretty shitty categorization scheme. And if what your shitty categorization scheme is categorizing is OTHER HUMAN BEINGS, and then you are using that categorization scheme to justify forcibly drugging children (like me), then you are a piece of shit doctor and you should die in a fire for knowingly violating the Hippocratic oath you purport to care so much about.

Now, zooming out a little bit, the “theory” Western medicine proposes to “explain” these disorders—which, if you’ll notice, have gone from non-existent to UNBELIEVABLY FUCKING WIDESPREAD in the population at the same time as the boom of the pharmaceutical industry, what a coincidence—is that people diagnosed with these disorders have “chemical imbalances” in their brains. That is to say, they either “lack” or “have too much” of one kind of neurotransmitter or another. Neurotransmitters are the physical molecules used to jump-start electrical impulses in nerve cells and hop over the gaps between nerve cells called synapses. The theory goes that certain amounts of neurotransmitters (most commonly either serotonin or dopamine or both) are required for “happiness,” and thus if there is not enough of these chemicals swishing about in the pool of chemical jelly that is your brain, you are sad.

To resolve this “problem,” Big Pharma funded the development of a whole class of drugs they term SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, which is a fancy name for “stuff that clogs up your brain cells so that they can’t absorb serotonin and thus leaves more of the serotonin floating around in your brain bath.”

Here’s the problem with the whole SSRI drug racket: it doesn’t actually work. There is literally more scientific evidence to support the idea that PLACEBOS are more effective at treating mental illness than actual chemicals. And, likewise, those actual chemicals come with a HUGE range of really terrifying side effects. To take just one extreme example, have you ever walked into the sunlight and felt like everywhere the sun was touching your skin, your skin was BURNING? Because that’s what the tiny fine print “may cause sensitivity to light” was like for me, and no one told me that until after they started noticing me hopping from tree-covered shadow to tree-covered shadow and were like, “Dude, why is maymay avoiding the sun?”

Here’s a recent take-down of the “chemical imbalance” theory that I read the other day and think is really great, sourced from The New Yorker.

TL;DR: This is some seriously abusive bullshit, more often used to justify chemically controlling people who behave in ways undesirable to authority figures like parents and schools than it is used to help people. DO NOT. BELIEVE. THEIR LIES.


I’m sorry that happened to you, and I fully agree with the whole bit about using pharma to sedate people whose behaviour is undesirable instead of trying to help people, but I’m pretty sure there is a difference between “mental health isn’t a virus and you can’t fix it with a pill, especially when applied non-consensually” and “antidepressants don’t do shit.”

You may as well suggest that nicotine or alcohol doesn’t really do anything Because Placebo Effect and Marketing. Yeah, we don’t understand the processes by which drugs affect our brains. They still clearly have an effect, and that effect should be judged on its own merits. I decided to try SSRIs because I tried MDMA and, despite years and years of cognitive-behavioural therapy-based incremental improvements, realised that I was still fucking terrified of humans when sober. Now, you can’t take MDMA on a daily basis without frying your brain, but I figured that meant serotonin manipulation might help me, so SSRIs it was. You know what? It does help. I don’t know whose idea it was to assume that “more serotonin helps” = “not enough serotonin was the problem in the first place”, that’s a fairly simple correlation v causation thing, but it still does help. I’ve made fucking leaps and bounds this year, because I’ve been able to work on my issues without the constant distortion and distraction of my fight-or-flight response kicking in at the slightest provocation. If it was legal to just take MDMA and do a few solid hours of therapy on it every month or two, I’m sure that would have had a similar effect. But we’re not toppling the legal system any time in the next couple years, so fuck it, I’m taking what I can get.

It’s completely understandable that having such awful experiences with pharma has given you a strong negative reaction to the entire concept. And yeah, bipolar diagnostics are pretty obviously fucked. But don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater – drugs aren’t the problem.

Lack of patient autonomy in the medical system is the problem. If you’ve read any of realsocialskills‘ stuff on ABA, you know people can be fucked over just as badly by non-chemical attempts to “fix them” without understanding them. Saying stuff like “antidepressants don’t do shit” is stealing focus from the real problem and incidentally potentially alienating exactly the people you’d need on your side if you wanted to pull apart the psychiatric system and put it back together in a way that’s a net positive to humanity.

“Now, you can’t take MDMA on a daily basis without frying your brain…”

FWIW, I actually have a friend who does take MDMA, at an extremely low dose, on pretty much a daily basis to manage his social anxiety and PTSD. His brain seems fine.

He’s also a psychiatric survivor who’s worked with radical community mental health care advocacy groups for years and studied pharmacology and neurobiology extensively. (And he’s a drug dealer, so he has more ready access re: self-medication than is available to most people.) TL;DR: “Don’t try this at home, kids.”

But my point is that drugs are tools. Prescription and “non-prescription” brain drugs alike have potentials both to help and to harm. But the people who are paid to “push” prescription psychiatric medication are, to my mind, significantly more malicious and less trustworthy than people who encourage the careful and conscientious use of other, arguably less harmful and side-effect-riddled substances to self-medicate. (Although, to be fair, those people often have an agenda too — especially if they’re the ones selling the drugs. So it’s always good to approach anything of this nature with caution and do a lot of research.)

Beyond that, I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here. First and foremost, non-consensually manipulating other peoples’ brain chemistry is fucked up bullshit, no matter how you’re doing it or what substances you’re using. Anyway. I’m glad to hear you found something that works well for you. :)

I’m not sure I ever said “drugs are the problem”?

Most of you probably don’t know this about me, because Tumblr didn’t exist when I was 14 in 1996, when I started my first website, but the very first web site I ever made was about bipolar disorder. It was a blog before blogs were called blogs. It was about my diagnosis and my struggles in school, and it was the first web site about bipolar disorder to be made by a teen designed to be read by other teens on the whole Internet (which was much smaller back then).

I called this website “Ups and Downs: The Personal Story of a Bipolar Teen,” which later evolved to “Ups and Downs and Everything In Between” when I started using blogging software to blog instead of just putting reverse-chronologically ordered HTML pages up online, hence the name of my current blog, “Everything In Between”. The original site received a lot of attention, no small feat in the age before Google. Within a few years I had amassed several dozen thousands letters of correspondence and was so totally overwhelmed by the attention and my own life that I shut the whole thing down and retreated away from having a public personae on the Internet at all.

Then I re-emerged on the Internet as a public figure through a sex blog called “Maybe Maimed but Never Harmed” and the rest, as they say, is history. But I didn’t really provide this personal history just to invite you to take a stroll down memory lane with me. A lot of the writing and correspondence I had with readers of “Ups and Downs” was about medications. And some of it is still online.

Here’s a link to a personal archive I keep of that site. Peruse at your leisure. There’s a link titled “Email Pool” at the top which was something of an advice column that I didn’t maintain for long, mostly because I hate giving people advice. I just like telling them when they’re wrong about something. Click on “Medications” and you’ll find this “not really an email response, more like a short essay,” that past!me wrote in 2002:

Nobody likes medicine, but here’s the bottom line: in my opinion, if you are prescribed medication by your licensed psychiatrist you must take that medication because your life does, indeed, depend on it.

I was first prescribed medications for the treatment of bipolar disorder when I was at the tender age of twelve. Ever since then, I have hated my medication with a passion rivaling my personal beliefs and convictions. There was even a time, two years after I started taking the medicine, when I fell into a common place trap and stopped taking it because I felt like I didn’t need them; I felt “better.” Two weeks later I attempted suicide, spiraled into a pit of depression, and faced one of the darkest periods in my life. Looking back on the experience with 20/20 hindsight, I can see that I felt better because I was taking the medication.

My point in all this is that medications are a valuable tool for you to use to help make your life livable. Implicit in that belief is the assumption that you are taking the correct medicine for you, at the correct dosage. When I say “correct” I mean whatever makes you a functioning entity in your life. It took me a good full year to find the correct dosage of lithium that I am on now, and from the many people I have spoken with, my understanding is that one year is an awfully quick time. I was lucky. Patience is not just a virtue, it’s a necessity. But once you’ve found a working treatment, it’s helpful to understand these are variables in an equation designed to help you function in your life. If at any point things aren’t working, discuss altering your medications with your doctor.

Your treatment is just that — your’s, and you’ll find that it is both more effective and easier to handle emotionally if you’re the one behind the steering wheel.

This mirror’s what unquietpirate said, above, and I agree with her. And I agree with you, that it’s obvious pumping bodies full of chemicals does shit. What I’m trying to explain is that what it does is fuck shit up.

Maybe that’s something you want. Maybe those drugs are fucking shit up for you in a way that jostles you out of whatever destructive pattern you were in before long enough to grab onto a lifeline or fall into a different pit. Maybe you’re meaningfully consenting to something you know will fuck you up in some way. I’m not you. I don’t know.

But I’ll tell you what I do know:

  • I know that there is a world of difference between approaching medications the way you did, paraphrased as, “I tried MDMA once, so I figured I’d give legal SSRIs a shot” and the way I did, paraphrased as, “I hated school so they forcibly drugged me for most of my teenage life.”
  • I know that this approach alone accounts for a huge part of the differences in our experiences.
  • I know that SSRIs aren’t just legal but encouraged for children, despite the known risks and side effects, while MDMA, a drug that is in its purest form essentially the same drug concentrated so it actually has a marked (and temporary) effect is illegal to make, use, possess, sell, and so on, and only very recently are people even beginning to question why that might be.
  • I know that drug classifications are political bullshit because SSRIs are handed out like candy by teachers and doctors while MDMA is criminalized to the point of sending police on no-knock, unconstitutional raids in efforts to cage, shoot, and kill people, usually poor people and Black and Brown people, and especially poor Black people.

So I take it very personally when you say that dissing antidepressants is like “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” There is no baby here and the bathwater is actually Drano. “Taking drugs” is one thing. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about drugging people.

By way of analogy, hammers can be used to kill people. I wouldn’t suggest someone who wants to put a nail into a wall not use a hammer. But I also wouldn’t suggest that someone who picks up a hammer to put a nail in the wall is doing the same thing or even using the same kind of object as someone who picks up a hammer to kill someone with. One’s a carpentry tool and the other is a weapon, even though they’re the same hammer.

Finally, I think it’s worth explicitly pointing to two points cognitivedefusion made in the piece I linked in the original post where they respond to a defense of antidepressants:

2) “In fact, since there is no theory to replace it as of yet, continuing to use and refine drug therapies is probably the best option.” – Why? Why is it best to continue refining therapies which are inferior to other working treatments? When you look at the long-term data, behavioral treatments surpass medicinal treatments. This has been verified in anxiety, depression, even ADHD, which many people assume requires pharmacotherapy.

3) Interestingly much of the dysfunction associated with psychosis stems from the persistent attempts to reduce said symptoms. This finding is transdiagnostic, in that all distress from mental illness stems at least partly from attempts to avoid or escape. Teaching functionality at an earlier place in time (i.e., during prodromal phase) yields better outcomes than trying to reduce symptomatology. And interestingly, antipsychotics are not found to be too effective either. They reduce some positive symptoms (sometimes), but do nothing for negative symptoms, and will bring on some of their own symptoms as well. It’s really not a particularly sound treatment when looking at the data.

So that being said, I don’t think our opinions are actually that different. But I’m not going to entertain the idea that antidepressants are in any way a reasonable, safe, or even preferable first, second, or third resort for people suffering with bipolar disorder. If someone can acquire and use it safely, and if they have the appropriate social support structures to self-medicate with it (a thing that most people who are seeing doctors are actually trying to seek but have to pay for Because Capitalism Destroys Relationships) I would suggest illegal MDMA before I would suggest seeing a clinical psychopharmacologist.

That is, unless someone is in a situation so dire that they are already trapped inside of the medical industrial complex for one reason or another, like I was because I was not an emancipated child and I was going to school, so I had no legal power of my own. Similarly, I would never suggest someone seek the “help” of a lawyer unless they were in such dire straights that they were already ensnared by the legal system. Eschewing antidepressants and prescriptions for such versus mindfully self-medicating just seem like such vastly different spheres of concern to me that the distinctions between them seemed obvious.

I hope this makes my position more clear.

Dear friends, please help. I am asking you for help.

Yesterday I posted Professor Kevin Westhues’ “Checklist of Mobbing Indicators,” and, as if by clockwork today I was mobbed on Twitter in a thread that matched 13 of the 16 indicators, point for point.

I’ve been the target of what Westhues describes as mobbing, which is evidently a sociological term that sometimes also goes by various other terms in other contexts like “bullying,” “group think,” “epistemic violence,” “gaslighting” and so on, for going on 3 years, now. As others & I have stated time & again, these mobbers’ unwillingness to examine history, and to re-write history so it begins at whatever most recent retaliation or refutation I make, is a constant theme. I’ve been discussing this on-and-off for as long as it’s been happening, but mostly in a detached, academic way. Others, notably unquietpirate​, have written much more deeply personal accounts of the impact this has had on them, as well as on me.

Reading Westhues’ descriptions of the traumatic effects mobbing behaviors have on targets resounds very deeply and very painfully. But it is also an enormous relief. Finally, I can name this specific abuse I’m enduring with terms endowed with the magic cultural legitimacy of the academe, and even though I think academics are classist hogwash, I’m hopeful using the sociological term and framework may convince more people to step outside their “not my problem” bubble and pro-actively support me against this rather than remain uninvolved bystanders.

So, I am asking you for help.

  1. Please read about mobbing. I’ve just begun to do this, too. Maybe we can help educate each other. I’m currently going over the “Virtual Mobbing” article. It’s long and dense but obviously specifically relevant to my “workplace,” the Internet.
  2. Help me find answers to “What to do about it”, which is a topic I’ve found mentioned but only briefly at the end of, “At the Mercy of the Mob.” If there are no solutions provided by the texts, help me imagine possible countermeasures and think through potential solutions, mitigations, harm reduction tactics, and so on.
  3. Send me notes of encouragement, tell me what you like about my work, about me, speak kindly to me, and perhaps even more importantly, speak kindly about me and do so in public. Here’s a simple example of how to do this.

I want to highlight number 3, in the list above, because this is one the things that people still don’t seem to understand about the Internet. One of the unique characteristics about “Virtual Mobbing” is that the Internet enables a kind of plausibly deniable stage whisper. This kind of talking about someone but not necessarily to them is one of the most pernicious and common tactics of cyberbullies and virtual mobbers, because of the scale, speed, and confusion at which the Internet amplifies fearmongering.

The fact of the matter is, I can hear anything and I do in fact hear everything that is said about me (or my work) on the Internet, if it’s said in a public venue. A Twitter conversation from an unlocked account is not private. A public Tumblr post is not private. If people are talking about me, I know about it, usually within a few days.

Most of the time, when people speak ill of me to others, they are doing so under the false belief that these other people who don’t know or even care who I am are “lauding” me, and this makes the mobbers feel “uncomfortable” because they, personally, believe that I am only worth contempt and must be punished for my many mortal sins. A perfect example of this from just the other day is @cythesomething here on Tumblr.

I responded on Twitter:

As I’ve said numerous times before, turning discussions of survivor support tools and other such anti-abuse technology that I work on into a discussion about me, personally, is harmful to survivors—it is most harmful to one survivor in particular (guess which one), but it is also harmful to all other survivors. Taking actions motivated by the impulse to get helpful information to survivors is one thing. Taking actions motivated by your discomfort at seeing the work of someone you dislike welcomed by others who say that work is valuable to them is quite another.

It is no coincidence that this mobbing behavior intensifies at the very same time as the Predator Alert Tool is signal boosted. This has always been the pattern, from the very beginning. Had it happened only once, I might have called it a misunderstanding. Had it happened twice, maybe I could have dismissed it as a mistake. That it has happened more than three times makes clear, these are intentional mob assaults.

This got long, but I hope you’ve taken the time to read it anyway. For now, if you don’t have it in you to slog through academic material (it’s time consuming and exhausting, I know), then consider simply reblogging this. Maybe add a nice thing about me or, even better, the work I’ve been doing lately. Then, some time from now, please don’t forget that this is still happening, like a slow-motion bashing, and remember that this is the context of what’s happening when you see me bashing back.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this mob’s hatred for more than 3 years. I don’t expect it will stop anytime in the next 3 months just because I asked for help. In fact, it’s likely going to get worse. (See Westhues’ checklist, item number 15, “Outraged response to any appeals for outside help the target may make.”)

So, if all you can do is send me a nice ask once in a while, I will really appreciate you for that, too. Thanks.

“How I Explained Heartbleed To My Therapist”

This is an important post by Meredith L. Patterson:

“Remember back around April or May, when you had to change your passwords on all the websites you use? Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, everywhere?” He nods, vigorously. “Do you remember hearing the word ‘Heartbleed’ back around then?” A blank look. Maybe I should have worn the T-shirt. Too late. I have to press on.

“That part’s not important. It doesn’t matter what the problem was called. What matters is, there’s one piece of software that nearly all those websites use to make sure that all the messages that go between your browser and their site are private. And nobody pays for it.”

“Nobody at all?”

“Nobody. The people who write it have been working on it for like fifteen years now, and they’re basically all working for free, the same way I’m doing on the work I’d rather be doing, even though Google and Facebook and practically every company with a website relies on that software these guys make. ‘Relies’ as in without this software, all their business evaporates.” I leave out the part where half of “these guys” are my dead husband’s friends and they’re not all guys; there will be time to talk about that at a later appointment. “And back around New Year’s in 2011, one of those guys made a little mistake with a really big consequence. The upshot of it was that any jerkoff could just ask whatever websites they wanted for whatever private information they had on hand at the time — your passwords, your calendar, whatever.

“And nobody in a position to fix it noticed until April of this year. Which is why you and everybody else had to change all your passwords. And in the meantime, who knows how many credit card numbers and god knows what else got snatched.” My e-cigarette is nearly empty but I fidget with it anyway, calculating on the back of the envelope in my head whether I can dredge just one more hit of nicotine without burning the coil to an ashy, taste-ruining wreck. Everything has become a cost-benefit analysis on the edge of a razor in this New New Economy that has become my life: how far can I stretch the resources I have before physics or information theory dictate they snap? “And even after a disaster like this, these poor fuckers are still running on handfuls of donations. They’re still overstretched and understaffed. It’s a tragedy of the commons problem.”

That’s a catchphrase you hear sometimes in sociology, a cousin dialect to the language of psychoanalysis he speaks. He leans forward. “In what way?” he asks. I hope it means I’ve given him firmer footing than all this computery shit he doesn’t speak.

“These bugs that happen, these mistakes in software that lead to vulnerabilities, they aren’t one-off problems. They’re systemic. There are patterns to them and patterns to how people take advantage of them. But it isn’t in any one particular company’s interest to dump a pile of their own resources into fixing even one of the problems, much less dump a pile of resources into an engineering effort to fight the pattern. Google could easily throw a pile of engineers at fixing OpenSSL, but it’d never be in their interest to do it, because they’d be handing Facebook and LinkedIn and Amazon a pile of free money in unspent remediation costs. They’ve got even less incentive to fix entire classes of vulnerabilities across the board. Same goes for everybody else in the game.

See also, “Your Consent Is Not Being Violated By Accident” and “Predator Alert Tool as a Game Theoretic Simulation of Countermeasures to Rape Culture,” two posts further describing the intentional abuse by the Silicon Valley for-profits against individuals and organizations who explicitly declare a “people over profit” motive. Also relevant is this short post about the so-called “sharing economy,” bluntly titled, “Get on your knees and thank the Silicon Valley elites for your chance to serve them.

Why are you so angry on the Internet?

This post was originally published on July 28, 2012, on my other blog.


Why are you so angry on the Internet?

A lot of what I think confuses people about me is the fact that I interact with them in a way that’s unfamiliar to them. And that can be scary ‘cause it’s inherently scary to be interacted with in ways that you’re not familiar with. And that’s totally fair and valid.

The other night I was talking to somebody who was like, “It’s like you have split personality. You’re so different in person.” And the thing is, they were like, “Well, I hope the significant part of you that’s real is the part that’s in person because that person online is really mean, and really angry all the time, and I don’t like that person. But I really like to spend time with this person—you—IN PERSON.”

And the thing is, is like, yeah! I am really angry a lot. Heh. I mean, fuck! There’s a lot to be angry about, and anger’s a pretty valid emotion that I feel pretty often, and I feel like it’s a perfectly valid thing to express—often, when I feel angry.

The question is, do I express that in person or online? Where do I put this anger? How do I express this anger? How do I express this anger in a way that’s actually safer for everyone involved?

How do YOU express your anger?

I could express this anger in person, but if I did that in person the people around me would have much less control over whether or not they want to engage with that anger. Now, if I express that anger online, any one of you can literally press a button and get me out of your space. It’s called blocking—it’s why I use it so often. The Internet’s wonderful that way.

I use the Internet partially as a shield, and partially as a way to create a communications mechanism that gives the people who choose to interact with that communication control over their engagement of it. And that’s super important for being able to create safer spaces to express emotions that are uncomfortable. And expressing emotions that are uncomfortable is something that our society very rarely gives us a chance to do in person.

You’re supposed to be conciliatory, especially if you were socialized as someone who was always perceived to be female. It’s really…just a violent place to be.

Now, verbal violence is violence and can be awful. Physical violence is also awful. And verbal violence in physical spaces is way, way, WAY more threatening than verbal violence on the Internet.

I think it’s important to give people opportunities to express themselves in ways that are comfortable for them, and I also think it’s important to give those people that you’re expressing uncomfortable feelings towards—such as anger—an opportunity to say, “I’m done now. I check out. No more. I’m finished.”

And what easier way to give them that opportunity than to allow them to press a button and have your image and your words deleted off their screen, never to be seen again, if they don’t want to.

‘Cause y’see, most people use the Internet like a yes-machine, like a filter bubble, like a way to find agreement, like a way to create only the thing that they’re already familiar with. And I don’t think that’s a very interesting use of the Internet. (It’s called a filter bubble by Eli Pariser, who has a very good TEDTalk about that.) And it’s boring. It’s just a boring interaction.

I wanna use the Internet to find things that I disagree with, to find things that make me uncomfortable, to engage and actually interact with things that are really frustrating. Because if I can engage with things are really frustrating, when I get too frustrated or too angry then I can just…stop. I can just press a button and it all goes away. And that’s beautiful.

It’s something I can’t do in person. I can’t turn off the channel. I can’t change the web page, if I’m in person. But I can if I’m online.

And so can you.

So where are you putting your anger, and why? Who is at the brunt of that anger, and why? If you haven’t thought about that, and you’re upset or confused when I block you, or when I’m angry on the Internet, or when I engage with people in confrontational ways that force them to respond or act or think about something even if that response is just to block me, I don’t think that you really understand how I use the Internet. And I question whether or not the way that you express the feelings that are most uncomfortable for others for you to express is being expressed in a consensual way.

Give people the opportunity to back off, to say no, to check out and what better [easier] way to do that than by pressing a button?

Split personality? Maybe. I’m sure it can come off that way. But, it’s all real. I’m really angry. I have real reasons to be angry. I’m also really careful about where I put that anger. And I’d rather do that in a place where people can press a button and say “no” to the engagement of that feeling, than be forced to interact with me in person and not know how to press a button to tell me to stop.

Block people. It’s not a personal slight. Unless you want it to be. In which case, fuck you.

And so, she was beautiful to me

She had blue skin.
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by –
And never knew.

Masks by Shel Silverstein

I remember the sunlight on 8th Avenue and 15th Street that morning vividly. New York City is beautiful in the morning, but only if the streets aren’t packed with throngs of hurried people. The sunlight streamed into the tangled mess of steel and concrete and glass, bouncing from one reflective surface to another until it finally lay flat on the ground, or on me.

Often, while alone—and only while alone—I’d walk facing the sky. In the Summer, if I woke early enough or stayed up late enough, I’d slow my typically brisk pace to relish the thick, warm air as I walked through it. In the Winter, when too many people woke before the sun, I’d wait for rush hour to end before venturing outside, because that’s when I could feel the sun drape its light on me the way I wanted to feel it.

It was one of those cold, late mornings in the Winter that I remember, except I wasn’t alone. On this particular morning, I was walking with my father and we were talking about school. I’d recently started attending another school after dropping out of the one I had just been in, and, again, I hated it.

But there was a girl, and her name was Bre, and one day she told me in visibly unconcerned confidence that she, like me, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And so, she was beautiful to me, and I got a crush on her. And on this particular morning, playing hooky for a while with an understanding father, I was explaining all this to him as matter-of-factly as I could, lest I seem too smitten.

As my father is wont to do when he correctly sensed I had shared something that made me feel uneasy, he paused momentarily, looked at me concertedly, and then began to tell me an allegorical tale. This time, he told me of a short story he had once read. It went something like this.

On a day very much like that sunlit day, a man and a woman met at a sidewalk café. They quickly struck up a conversation and, soon thereafter, found themselves spending a good deal of time with one another. As their friendship flourished and their fondness for one another deepened, however, they each became more afraid of revealing their romantic feelings to the other.

The story, my father told me, was written from both of their perspectives. The narrative voice switched from one to the other, so that the reader became a sort of voyeur able to peer into each of the protagonists’ minds. Although the details of his fears were different from hers, the outcome was the same: neither told the other the extent of their true feelings.

Ultimately, it was a very sad story. It ended on a note of mutual resignation rather than happy romance. But the moral is clear, and so was my father’s message.

I remember this story whenever I shy away from revealing something about myself for fear of rejection, ridicule, or even shame. Like the characters in the story, I don’t always muster the courage to lay myself bare. In fact, I never told Bre about my crush on her and before long my opportunity had gone, as she transferred to another school. However, the memory serves to make me that much braver in moments like these.

There are numerous things I’m struggling to work up the courage to offer for public view. I am afraid of being ridiculed and mocked. I am afraid of being ignored; that things important to me are not important to anyone else; of being unimportant, myself. Most of all, though, and contrary to some of my bravado, I am afraid of being disliked.

But I also know I am often ridiculed and mocked precisely because I show courage when others do not. I know I am often ignored precisely because the things important to me are too threatening for others to acknowledge. And I know I am often disliked precisely because of my conviction’s integrity.

Often, all of that makes me conspicuous, and so I’m sometimes thought to be “inspiring” when framed positively or “intimidating” when framed more negatively. I think enfant terribles are important, and I’ve rarely felt happier than when I receive (now weekly, if often private) thanks for sharing myself publicly. But at the same time, I really do not want to be any of those things. I want, instead, to be plain and largely forgotten.

I want to be in love and feel close with people. And I’m afraid the more “inspiring” or “intimidating” I become, the more I’ll stand out as someone hard to feel close to.

I remember when someone who was in love with me sang along to Billy Joel as we crossed the Golden Gate bridge. And I remember when another who was in love with me put her arm around me as I gently shook flowers off the tree we climbed on Atwell’s Avenue. And I remember both of the days when each of them stopped feeling safe enough to be in love with me, days I revealed the extent of my true feelings.

So I think that, these days, I share so much of myself with strangers so publicly because what I really want is to share myself with someone who loves me. And I just hope you’re reading.

Broken Code to Broken Dreams to Broken Worlds

(Originally posted to my Tumblr blog.)

On the way to a housewarming party, I wrote an email to a piece of my past. A snippet:

[M]y dreams have subsided but my memories are resurfacing. I’m spending some time for the first time in years reading the archives of my own blog. And, as part of that, writing (drafts of, until the story about CV and Ken) the stories important to me. I’ve done a lot of learning over the past year or so and am recognizing things I once overlooked, like the power of storytelling.

Other memories that pop up often as I do this are all the times you asked me to write about us, which I’m sure you recall, as well as all the times I sat down in front of a blank screen to try, which you may not recall because I was alone. I want to say, so that you know if you don’t already and to be reassured in case you do, that I would have written more about us, and I wanted to, but I was hurting and I could not bear the task. I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough to accomplish that.

When I arrived at the party, things immediately felt at once unnervingly familiar and yet disconcertingly foreign. I did not know such a strange self-contradiction was possible. Everything from the way people looked—the slender, long-haired man in the Utilikilt serving drinks; the sharply-dressed fast talking woman whom he called “sweetie”; the animal lover and perpetual student in the green dress; and others, too—to the music on the stereo—Gaelic Storm—to the layout of the apartment—not quite a bullet house, but close—was eery. Pieces of them each reminded me of people I had once seen almost daily.

It felt like a combination of being in bizarro world mixed with blasts from my past, all in a parallel universe. I floated from one conversation to the next, throughout the evening feeling as though one half of me was not really in attendance but rather observing the other half of me that was, except for the brief reprieve in which I dropped to the floor to commune with the household’s feline pets. I stayed for a couple hours, then caught a ride back over the bridge, towards home and far too much NyQuil.

I feel emotionally irradiated by the experience, and it hurts.

On the car ride back, a thought occurred to me as I shared a little bit of my history with my couriers. I used to work as a web developer fixing other people’s broken code. I never could find a situation or make myself any significant, sustainable opportunity to just write my own damn code. Now, I’m an activist and I’m trying to fix other people’s worlds, but I don’t feel like I have one of my own.

I walk a lonely road
the only one that I have ever known.
Don’t know where it goes
but it’s home to me and I walk alone.


My shadow’s the only one that walks beside me.
My shallow heart’s the only thing that’s beating.
Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me.
‘Til then, I walk alone.

I’m walking down the line
that divides me somewhere in my mind.
On the border line
of the edge and where I walk alone.

Read between the lines of what’s
fucked up and everything’s all right.
Check my vital signs to know I’m still alive
and I walk alone.

I always felt I’d make a great lost boy. I had such a crush on Peter Pan, too.

Dear Cassandra

On Monday night, despite efforts to the contrary, I was true to my word and ended up watching Scott Pilgrim vs. The World on my own. I had invited not one but two others local to my neck of the woods to join me, both accepted, and then both canceled on me.

So much for helping me dissuade notions of prophetic predictions. I felt lonely, but it wasn’t so bad. When I’m lonely, I work myself to sleep because that’s more pleasant than crying myself to sleep, which is too often the alternative. (When neither of those options present themselves, I’ve been reaching for NyQuil.)

However, for weeks now, the debilitating sadness has been coming in waves. It’s been years—maybe a decade—since I’ve felt this kind of heaviness in my limbs. I’ve been making the most of the times when I feel able to move (because, yes, there are times when I don’t), and am proud to say that I’ve done a relatively enormous amount of reaching out in times when I’m not.

But as much as I’d like to pat myself on the back about that, to congratulate myself on making social arrangements despite the persistent pessimism, it doesn’t seem to be doing any good.

Last Friday, at the behest of a new acquaintance who wrote me some of the smartest emails I’ve ever gotten after reading my blog, I went to the Transmission party at the SF Citadel.

You: “Well, how was it?”

Me: Meh.

You: “Oh, come on. Why ‘meh’?”

Because despite knowing more people than I thought I would, spending $35 on a cup of coffee and some fruit for a chance to give out some cards and shake a few people’s hands over the course of a couple hours isn’t my idea of a good time. I would have had a better time if I had met this acquaintance over an overpriced Starbucks latté, we would have talked more (they had play dates to attend to), and it wouldn’t have cost me $35. Thirty-fucking-five-dollars.

Some of us just aren’t party people. If that’s not okay with you, you’re shitty friend material to begin with.

Rather than ramble on—I’m only writing this because I literally have no idea what else I could possibly do with myself that would be constructive at this point—I’ll record this overly-personal SMS (that’s “text message” for you luddites) conversation I had today:

Them: “I’m in introvert hell.”

Me: “Oh dear. I’ll appreciate a brief Skype call if you’re up for it in a few. You can tell me what ‘introvert hell’ is. :)”

Them: “I’m in a car with grandparents for the next 45 min and then sleeping on a couch. I’ll see if I can step away once we arrive”

Me: “Okay. No pressure. Enjoy family while you can.”

Them: “I just have no privacy…. How’s your weather?”

Me: “Ah. Well, if you need privacy maybe you should grab moments alone, not on Skype with me. :) My weather is…cold? I don’t know. I just have no idea what to do.”

Them: “No idea what to do?” [Then, later] “Hey. I def don’t have enough privacy to make a phone call. :-( I’ll wake up one of the Olds. Anything I can do for you besides love you from here?”

Me: “No. Thanks for asking. Have a good night. I hope you find some privacy.”

Them: “I’m so sorry to disappoint.”

Me: “Disappointment implies expectation. I hope I didn’t give you an impression I expect of you, that you’re somehow obligated. I don’t—you’re not—so don’t be sorry.”

Them: “I’m fine. Just wish I could give you more this moment. Am willing but not able.”

Me: “I understand but can’t empathize. Story of my life is either unwilling but able or willing but unable. It embitters me—how could it not?—and it’s NOT your fault.”

Them: “Goodnight, may.”

So, now that I’ve managed to find a way to pass this hour, I’ll go see if I can face working again. Kink On Tap episode 57 needs to get published. I hear that show makes some people happy.

And even if I’m not, I can’t stand the thought of my own depressive lethargy standing in the way of a smile on one of the show’s listeners. I’m pretty sure, now that I think about it, I’ve turned into an activist because it’s the strongest reason I still have to stay alive.

I guess that would explain why I have so few friends.

Settling in San Francisco

I wrote this on July 27, 2009, a little over a year ago:

Not long ago I moved to San Francisco, California in order to make a fresh start for myself in a number of different ways. Creating a new home turns out to be a ton of work, especially since I had almost nothing except for a bunch of clothes and my computer with me. I had no housewares, and after spending a week literally putting blisters in my feet trying to find an apartment in which to live, for the first few nights I ate delivery with plastic utensils out of tupperware.

Soon enough, though, and with the help of some inspirational friends (most notably Susan Mernit, Sarah Dopp, James Carp, Emms, and Gabrielle and Tara) things started to come together. I visited Ikea twice for some furniture, but a lot of the other things in my apartment from the futon I sleep on to the plates I eat off of came from friends. I even got a microwave as I started to make mental lists of the things I needed.

Then, without publishing those words, I stopped writing. A year passed. In that time, a lot happened. But San Francisco is no more home today than it was before I arrived. If anything, I feel more out of place than ever. More alone than ever.

I am struggling. No one who thinks they know me, who sees all the stuff I do, no one knows how hard each and every day is for me. No one.

Now it’s all the little things

Immediately after arriving in New York City, I turned myself into a tornado of work and worry in order to make sure KinkForAll was the success I desperately needed it to be. To my indescribable relief and happiness, KFANYC wasn’t just a success, it smashed through even my wildest expectations, topping at 45 presentations with well over 100 participants physically present and countless others watching the online feeds. (I was so worried about presentation shortage, I prepared 4, but only ended up needing to present 1. Likewise, I originally thought we’d top off at maybe 35–45 participants, and in the end one of our biggest problems was simply lack of physical space!)

On that front, I’m now looking at the amazing possibility of helping people in sexuality communities who have contacted me from Washington DC, Toronto, and San Francisco emulate the success of New York City’s event in their own hometowns. But not yet…. Not quite.

As the unconference ended, Sara and I were joined by a group of over 20 friends (and friendly acquaintances) for dinner at a nearby Asian restaurant. Despite my hunger (I only ate at the behest of my concerned friends during the day ’cause I was so busy), I didn’t want to finish my meal; I knew that would be the end of dinner, and the day. Nevertheless, day turned to night and as Sara and I walked around the corner for a modicum of privacy, excitement gave way to sadness and we said (temporary) goodbyes in tears.

I retreated from the city then, headed towards Providence, Rhode Island to stay with close friends who generously offered me the opportunity to create a small sanctuary in their spare room. This has been helpful, and I can begin to feel myself recovering, but I’m still having trouble grounding myself in the here and now or focusing on the new tasks at hand. For one thing, there are so many, and for another thing, they are so vastly different from what I’ve just done that mentally changing gears so radically, so quickly, under so much pressure, is actually painful.

When I moved my self and my life half way around the globe to Sydney last year, I felt optimistic about what I would find. Sadly, I didn’t find what I wanted. Now, having moved myself and my life all the way back across the planet and then some, I’m determined to make what I want—because it doesn’t exist yet, and no one knows what it’s going to look like…except me.

My hosts, Emms and Zac, are nothing short of a godsend. They are literally a healing warmth of a magnitude I could not possibly express adequately in words. Unfortunately, shortly after arriving in their home, I fell ill. Of course, this is not at all a surprise considering my physiological history for exactly such mind-body connection.

My attempts to focus on my writing (for my second and much more advanced web development book on CSS I’m authoring; my first book was much more 101-level) have been only partially successful, but I’m encouraged by this anyway. As Emms told me last night while cooking a pasta dinner for us all, “Comfort yourself with the standards of the world,” a piece of advice she wisely preceded with, “Now’s the time to focus on only the most important parts of your chapters.” This, all while taking my hand every time my eyes unexpectedly overflow with the salt water I feel like I’ve been storing up in them.

I’m a little…not annoyed…chagrined at the admission that yesterday was the first full day in more than 4 weeks that I didn’t cry at all. Not only this, but earlier today while my hosts were at their day jobs and I mainlined enormous quantities of tea as though it were a blood transfusion, I couldn’t stop myself from crawling backwards in time towards happier memories. I cried again, embarrassingly loudly since no one was home, and resigned to let my head rest for a while instead of forcing it further into failing attempts to create reusable patterns of CSS code for styling semantic markup.

To help with the memories, I’ve been playing MGMT‘s Kids on repeat for what must be an hour or more now. I first heard it on Australia Day (apparently Australia’s almost-equivalent of America’s Columbus Day), which Sara and I spent with Janek and company at his house on a tropical, warm, rainy day in Sydney. The radio was playing all day but the only song I remember was this one because, somehow, it stood out like a spotlight. I remember laying on the couch in the living room with my head in Sara’s lap, eyes closed, as she pet my head and I purred along with the kittens in the far corner of the room. The memory is emblazoned in my mind’s eye as a vivid still frame.

When Zac came home and gave me a hug to comfort my tears, he remarked on the song. “It’s always weird to hear this song,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because Emms and I went to college with them—the band.”

And now I have two memories.