Because women shouldn't need to grow a "thick skin" to participate in the hackerspace community.

Because "be excellent to each other" is not a sufficient code of conduct.

Because telling girls to pursue STEM fields while failing to address the problems faced by women in those fields is unethical.

Because calls for increasing hackerspace diversity are being trolled.

The Ada Initiative puts on AdaCamps, works to prevent harassment, provides skills workshops for allies, trains people to recognize and overcome imposter syndrome, and performs countless other services toward make geekdom a place for women. Please join me in supporting The Ada Initiative. Donate now.
I started out this month with a lime ice cream, my first ice cream using citrus juice, so I was interested to see how to combine the ingredients without curdling the milk. I reduced the amount of sugar by about a quarter; I haven't eaten enough of this batch to have decided whether I'd repeat that reduction in the future. I would make sure I had something other than a hand-held juicer for this one. The result was face-puckeringly tart. I recommend pairing it with graham crackers, but even then I could eat only a little of it.

homemade ほうじ茶 ice creamHōjicha soft-serve was a favorite of mine in Japan, and of course it isn't available where I am now, so it was on my to-make list. Some of the online recipes I found involved incorporating a strong infusion of hōjicha in hot water, while others blended "hojicha powder"—which I'd never seen before—into the base. I figured I could make "hojicha powder" from tea leaves using the spice grinder I'd bought for making pink peppercorn ice cream, and for good measure I added both the ground tea leaves and an infusion of whole leaves to my standard custard base (2 cups each whole milk and heavy cream, 1 cups sugar, 5 egg yolks), substituting a cup of the infusion for one of the cups of whole milk, IIRC. I didn't measure the tea leaves I used in either form. As you can see in the photo, the ground tea leaves didn't all dissolve into the custard, so the texture isn't as smooth as it could be, but the flavor's very nice.

The next two I made were gifts, for which inexpensive, disposable ice cream containers come in really handy. I made dulce de leche ice cream for a local friend who has taken of my cats while I was out of town. This was the first Philadelphia style (eggless) ice cream I've made, and I liked the simplicity of it. The texture was smooth and creamy, the flavor sweet and caramel-y. I would make this again, and I might experiment with adding something like cardamom (inspired by Basundi) for more complexity.

homemade raspberry sorbetI'd been holding off on this post because I haven't yet given the raspberry sorbet (subscription-only link, sorry) I made to its recipients. But, having missed their housewarming party, I finally figured it'll be okay if they see this before they receive it. This was another first in the frozen-desserts-I've-made department in the lack of dairy, which was deliberate due to lactose intolerance. One of the keys to this recipe is the use of pectin as a stabilizer, and I'm happy with the resulting texture. (As a semi-vegetarian, I'm pleased America's Test Kitchen found pectin superior to gelatin for making sorbet.) I've never been a big fan of raspberries, and it turns out I don't love them even when I've strained out their seeds and added sugar. So I'm not disappointed to have made this as a gift, and I'm especially not disappointed that the dulce de leche ice cream uses more than one but less than two cans of dulce de leche, meaning I have leftover dulce de leche.
So I did the Day 2 workout from Couch-to-5K this evening. And it went so much better than Day 1, which is an identical workout. I mean, it wasn't enjoyable by any stretch of the imagination, but I never felt on the verge of collapsing or unable to speak. When the app told me it was time for the cool-down, I said, "Wait—what? Really?" Who knows what it was that made the difference. Given that the conditions I'll usually be jogging in will be these rather than my Day 1 conditions, this gives me some hope.
Heya world, I'm going to try avoiding browsing my Facebook news feed for the near future, so here's some warning for you—and a commitment device for me. Note that my public blog posts (like this one), Flickr uploads, and some tweets automatically get posted to my Facebook wall, so you'll probably continue to see some activity from me, and if you comment on it I'll engage with you. Likewise, I'll respond to Facebook messages, event invitations, and mentions. Theoretically you'll see more status updates from me on Twitter and Dreamwidth/Livejournal, where I'm bokunenjin.
I'm planning on doing a public chado event or two this year at Burning Man, tentatively in the base of Cosmic Praise, a climbable 50-foot tower with a spark chamber in the cupola that will be located at the 6-o'clock keyhole overlooking center camp. It won't be in the printed program—which filled up faster than I could find a venue—but I'll add it to the online event directory once I figure out when it'll be. The bottom of the tower will have a 12-foot diameter open space with a single doorway and 14-foot tall cloth walls, for reference. [ profile] xuth, who will be part of the build team, points out that I may get too many people if I do this in such a central location, so I'm thinking about how to delineate the space so it isn't too inviting to casual passersby.

This challenge has me reviewing temporary tea spaces that others have built, and I'm so impressed by their creativity and beauty that I wanted to share:

more photos beneath the cut )
Incidentally, I'm trying to think of a name for my tea event. It should distinguish this from other on-playa tea events by referencing chado / chanoyu / Way of Tea. It isn't going to be ceremonial, so I think "tea ceremony" would be inaccurate. And ideally it would tie into cosmic rays. Any ideas?
Less “your sexuality/body/race/gender, etc shouldn’t matter” and more “your sexuality/body/race/gender should always be respected”
Don’t equate refusing to acknowledge differences to respecting them

just saw an anti violence campagn that said “real men don’t hit women” like???? yes. yes they do. those are real men doing those things, and that’s why i don’t trust them. stop appealing to men’s fragile masculinity in order to coerce them into being decent human beings 2k14.

I regret writing this card, it was a mean, cheap joke. We took it out of the game a while ago.
thanks! I wish that more people in comedy realized they could just, uh, do this, and not throw a big fucking stink about it, and go on to make more jokes that are good instead of bad. It is strange that so many people seem to imagine that a simple and sincere apology is a difficult or terrible thing to give.
Cards Against Humanity is a group of people writing immensely offensive joke prompts and punchlines for a living, and if they’re collectively a better person than you are when it comes to being called out on offensive language and jokes, you should really reconsider your behavior.
More on the apology and the culling of problematic cards from the game here.
Since my last ice cream post, I've made two batches: pink peppercorn ice cream and chocolate ice cream. I'd never cooked with—or, to my memory, eaten—pink peppercorns before. It turned out pleasantly spicy/floral, though for some reason I can't explain I think it would be better paired with something like the chocolate tarts suggested by epicurious. ("Pink peppercorns" are dried berries from a rose plant, not a true peppercorn.) The spice grinder I bought for this purpose produced a fine grind, most of which I strained out, but the remaining pepper grounds didn't pose a problem for the texture of the ice cream. If anything I'd use more pepper next time. I do have some leftover pink peppercorns, and I'd be interested to hear if and how you've used them to good effect.

The chocolate ice cream, using [ profile] xuth's recipes, was quite rich. I normally like it with a more moderate intensity. The concentration of the recipe posed a logistical problem for me as I was making it—there wasn't enough volume in the custard base to cover the bulb of my candy thermometer as I was tempering it. The coats-the-back-of-a-spoon test is virtually impossible for me to interpret, so I alternated heating the base and tilting the saucepan so that it covered the thermometer's bulb on that side of the pan. It seems to have worked, but a base with more milk or cream would have solved that problem as well as yielding a less intense result.
infusing thyme in creamSince my last mention of making ice cream, I've made a couple of experimental batches. The first was thyme–goat cheese ice cream. I used the same custard base as for the vanilla ice cream (2 cups each whole milk and heavy cream, 1 cups sugar, 5 egg yolks) but I steeped a bunch of whole fresh thyme in the warm milk/cream mixture for a couple of hours before adding the eggs and re-heating to thicken. Then I strained the mixture into a bowl containing four ounces of crumbled goat cheese and did the usual chilling routine. The verdict: I love the thyme, but the goat cheese didn't melt as much as I would've hoped, so I got unpleasantly solid frozen chunks of goat cheese throughout. Next time I'd either skip the goat cheese or use goat milk, as suggested by [personal profile] jesse_the_k.

Last week I made a batch of lavender ice cream. Same custard base as before, but this time I steeped three tablespoons of dried culinary lavender in the milk/cream mixture. Actual lavender is kind of a weird flavor—I could definitely taste the relation to rosemary. It isn't just floral, it's herbal. I didn't add any food coloring to this batch, so it turned out gray-ish. Which I can't say is terribly attractive. My usual instinct is to avoid adding food coloring, but if I were to make this again I'd probably make an exception. Overall I think this ice cream could use some kind of partner—a topping, a mix-in, an accompaniment of some kind. As I don't like this batch as much as the vanilla or thyme–goat cheese batches, though, I'm unlikely to experiment much with it in the near future beyond pairing it with a shortbread cookie or something.
Yesterday's Morning Edition had an unrelated couple of stories related to stuff I do:

Space Thief Or Hero? One Man's Quest To Reawaken An Old Friend: Apparently our lab has the old hardware needed to command a comet-touring spacecraft to return to its original L1 halo orbit after decades farther afield.

Japanese Tea Ritual Turned 15th Century 'Tupperware' Into Art: Well, it's not terrible, for a mainstream media piece on chado history. It's kind of a shame Tankokai DC and the Smithsonian aren't coordinating more around the Chigusa exhibit; I'm sure the vast majority of the exhibit's visitors come away with the impression that chado is something no one does anymore, or at least not outside of Japan.

bring it on

Feb. 6th, 2014 06:18 pm
bokunenjin: (storm trooper hello kitty)
So I'm gradually going public with my plans to start a feminist hackerspace in the DC area. Which is to say, I'm steeling myself for heaps of anti-feminist crap, starting from the hackerspace I've been involved with nearly since its inception, HacDC. These plans have been brewing among a very small group of us for months. I had been growing disillusioned with the feeling that I was the only person around who was willing to put significant time and energy toward starting this hackerspace, so it was dormant for a while. But between yet another round of anti-diversity awfulness on the global hackerspaces mailing list1 and [personal profile] badgerbag's excellent article on feminist hackerspaces, my energy was rekindled.

At this point we're working on identifying people who are interested in actively helping drive the establishment of the space, in the sense of volunteering significant time and effort to work through a vision and plan, incorporate, find sources of funding, and establish a physical space. Reaching out to my hackerspace community has produced some leads, as well as some baffling WTFs like this e-mail exchange that I've reformatted as chat for easier reading:

Me, onlist: I'm feeling especially heat-resistant today, so I'd like to share an idea I've had simmering for a little while—namely, establishing a feminist hackerspace in the DC area. Model View Culture just published an article by Liz Henry that describes to a T what I mean when I say "feminist hackerspace". If you are interested in joining me and my cohorts in this effort, please contact me on- or off-list. Note that this is not meant to be a space that's "against" HacDC or the other existing regional hackerspaces, but part of a healthy ecosystem that offers folks lots of options. I'm not planning on leaving HacDC anytime soon. If you're interested in explaining why feminism and feminist spaces are a bad idea, I can't stop you, but you can be sure I've heard it before and I likely won't use my energy to engage in arguments about it.

[rest of conversation is off-list]

Dude: Could you share with me why you're deciding to do this? I'm hearing a lot of talk from a lot of my Girl-Friends that they want Woman only hacker spaces. I just don't see the point to it, I've always looked at women in the field to be awesome if not inspiration in some cases.

Me: Have you read the linked article?

Dude: Yes, the perspective I'm trying to understand is why exclude men entirely? It seems like an overreaction.

Me: Who said anything about excluding men?

Dude: You're not being very clear. If you want a fight, pick it with someone else.

1 A previous round from last year included the infamous "e-textiles" message, a hilarious dramatic reading of which you can hear here.
Instead of working on any number of more pressing projects, I've been ruminating on a dubious idea for a Burning Man installation: a stone-skipping alley. That is, a shallow pool of water in the shape of an alley for skipping stones in. I'm imagining a fused-vinyl liner supported by a frame of lumber set on edge—basically, a long, narrow evaporation pond except with cleaner water and not specifically meant to encourage evaporation. A standard 55-gallon drum of water would be enough to fill an alley 4 cm deep, a meter wide, and five meters long. I'd supply the stones, of course. Possibly I could make some stones with LEDs in or on them for long-exposure nighttime photography fun. The installation would need something sticking up, ideally lighted at night, around the perimeter to keep people from riding or stumbling into it accidentally. A cover to keep out playa dust when dust storms arise (and maybe during off-peak stone-skipping hours) would be useful to keep the water from getting very muddy.

Skipping StoneHere's where I talk myself out of it: if it's to be filled with clean water, that seems like a profligate use of water in a desert environment, even if we do have room in our rental truck for a few more water barrels. Filling it with greywater would be off-putting even if technically safe to touch. Do any of you know if a simple filter like this would produce water that—while non-potable—would be free enough of dirt, soaps, and oils so as not to be disgusting? If it could be done with filtered greywater it could be a good fit within the Alternative Energy Zone where we camp.

Note that the Burning Man org discourages the use of evaporation ponds (see tip #4), and many of its reasons could apply to this stone-skipping water alley idea. Fabric baffles above and on the sides of the alley might alleviate the accumulation of dust in it. Avoiding leaks is another issue, but I'm not sure what kind of "plastic sheeting" they're referring to as being pinhole-prone; it may be something flimsier than I'd be using. As for emptying it at the end of the week, taking the time to bail out as much water as possible with a flat-bottomed dipper before leaving the remaining moisture to evaporate for a day seems like it should head off potential spills from handling the liner.

20130919_071934Stop slaving away at the office late into the night to finish your COBOL program. Now, with the Informer 207 portable terminal, you can interface with the company mainframe from the comfort of your own home! Just plug in your telephone line, and away you go at 9600 baud! Additional interfaces as shown here and here. Keyboard latches onto the front of the monitor, with a convenient carrying handle on the other side. Parallel-to-serial adapter included. Standard C14 power inlet. Manual available here. Dusty but in good working order. Asking $30.

Somewhat like a year in Kyoto, a week at Burning Man is just too much to describe satisfactorily. Here's my non-comprehensive attempt, brought to you by way of other people's photos and videos.

BRC 2013

I didn't take many photos at Burning Man due to a combination of suspected camera malfunction, the awkwardness of accessing my camera from my camelbak, and received advice about not letting the act of photography get between me and Participation in the Experience. The photos I did take are here.

Our camp consisted of 12-14 people, a half-dozen tents, a geodesic dome cooled with a swamp cooler, a large breezy yurt ger, a shaded kitchen with propane stoves and grill, bicycles for everyone, an open shower, levels of food refrigeration ranging from run-of-the-mill coolers and cold packs to Stirling and marine coolers and dry ice, a week's worth of pre-made frozen vacuum-sealed dinners, a solar panel, and a bank of pre-charged marine batteries.

Zonotopia and the Quasicrystalline Conjunction at Burning Man 2013This photo shows the beautiful Zonotopia structure I chose as a setting for chanoyu with my campmates - it's the taller structure on the left of the photo, dubbed Crystalline Conjunction by its creator. I used a camp kettle and a Sterno cannister, which worked pretty well to boil water. The temae, if you can call it that, was about as simple as possible, like bonryaku without the bon, since as a host I was pretty much stationary. I'm already thinking about how I'd like to expand it next year to a scheduled event with more utensils, goza mats, and arguably more appropriate attire. ;)

The Ardent Mobile Cloud Platform, Burning Man 2013

burning man 2013

Penrose Triangle

Burning Man 2013

Burning Man 2013 CARGO CULT

Burning Man 2013 E4544


Burning Man 2013
So simple, true, and profound:
"We're going to die. Definitely, and soon. This is an abstraction to almost everyone."
Chado-related goals: make shiro-an. Carve a bamboo futaoki (lid rest), at least a fushi-nashi (nodeless) one, which should be utterly simple. Practice carving chashaku, which is not. Try repairing my broken Tamba-yaki idojawan.
The shiro-an is still a work in progress, but as with books, I don't let not yet having finished one thing stop me from starting another. I'm working on a soramame (broad bean) chakin-shibori to serve at the chaji I'm holding next month to thank the teachers at Washin-an. It looks straightforward. Thanks to forwarding service tenso, I've got some wagashi-making tools on their way that will allow me to make molded kanten- and kuzu-based sweets, as well as a few forms of higashi. If I can find a steamer that will fit my 8" square mold, I could make minazuki, but it's not clear that I'll be able to do that in the remaining time (until the end of June) that minazuki will remain seasonally appropriate.

I did carve a couple of nodeless bamboo futaoki for use with my yari-no-saya kensui. I'm discovering that the mysterious abura-nuki process—which I haven't done before, not having seen or been taught it—is probably important to achieving the glossy, sealed-looking finish I'm used to seeing on bamboo utensils but which is lacking in the ones I've made. So I'll have to learn that step before making anything else out of bamboo.

HacDC-related: be a diligent treasurer. Help Alberto run an Arduino class. Hold an LED cuff-making workshop.
The treasurer gig is going well so far. It helps that the previous treasurer set up a bunch of spreadsheet pages and processes that I on my own would have been at a loss to establish but that I can use with no problem. The Arduino class will be happening starting next month and running into August, and though I haven't been involved with the curriculum, I could be useful as a student-wrangler and photographer.

Photography-related: learn how to do long-exposure photography, so I can do things like light painting by skipping a stone with an LED attached. Figure out how to do time-lapse photography. Try HDR.
Still learning. I've been going through my camera's manual. Exposure bracketing on the camera is simple to do, but my initial naive try at using Luminance (a.k.a. qtpfsgui) resulted in nothing like any of the photos I imported as raw source images. So, more learning to do there. If any of you have used that software before, I'd like to pick your brain. The manual is, shall we say, sparse.

Related to nothing else: see wisteria in bloom (maybe at the National Arboretum?). Go to—and participate meaningfully in—Burning Man. Get rid of excess clothes. Learn Android programming. Finish carving my Greenland-style kayak paddle. Consider incorporating gender-neutral pronouns into my writing somehow.
Wisteria: check. Burning Man: I've found a probable camp and made plans to meet up with some of them, having waited six weeks to get onto their mailing list. Still better than French Quarter/Asiatown's record so far.

WisCon 37

May. 30th, 2013 07:38 pm
bokunenjin: (cropped from pic with Anna)
So, my first science fiction convention was a feminist one, and it was unsurprisingly awesome.


My flights to and from Madison were uneventful, and I arrived late Friday morning to my room in the middle of the con floor of a very pleasant hotel. (WisCon essentially sold out the hotel, and the programming took place mainly on the bottom two floors, but the con floor was the scene of the con suite, several parties each evening, the bake sale, childcare, and more things that escaped my notice.)

After grabbing a delectable lunch at Fromagination, I'd originally planned to head to the Gathering for activities like hair braiding and a clothing swap and a fiber circle and tea. But I was operating on a sleep deficit, and the bed was sooooo comfy... yeah, I took a nap. An afternoon-long nap. I even missed the dinner outing for first-time attendees. Oh well, I'll catch it next year. :)

When I finally roused, I headed to...

I'm Not Your Metaphor: Explaining Oppression with Analogies

[Indented paragraphs like the one below are program descriptions, in most cases copy-pasted but in the case below lightly edited for correction.]
In 2011, some Occupy Wall Street protesters Slutwalk participants embarrassed themselves by citing John Lennon's problematic comparison of gender oppression with racial injustice. That comparison is part of a long tradition in which people try to point out that one kind of oppression is being overlooked by citing a more familiar outrage. But is disability really "like race"? Is Islamophobia a "New McCarthyism"? Are gays the new Jews? Are such analogies ever useful, or are they always unacceptable appropriations, erasing one kind of suffering by reducing it to a metaphor for another? What about attempts to make a statement about oppression or colonialism using fictional peoples — can they escape all the problems inherent in the real-world comparisons? How can we avoid creating hierarchies of oppression?
Panelist [personal profile] kate_nepveu wrote up her good set of notes on this panel. I would go on to see [personal profile] kate_nepveu on further panels throughout the con and be continually impressed by her analysis. I didn't meet her one-on-one, but knowing that she's a lawyer I can't help but think she would be a kick-ass judge someday.

Towards the end, during a discussion of using potentially-problematic metaphors to recruit supporters to one's cause (pandering to the mainstream), one audience member described how she compared one rights movement—I forget which—to religious-expression rights when recruiting people over the phone using the logic that both are choices rather than intrinsic characteristics, and our acceptance of religious-expression rights should lead us—or at least the caller—to accept rights for other choice-based contingents. I mentally chewed on that for the rest of the session; as I added in the twitter conversation, I question the idea that religion is entirely a matter of choice. I think religion, like gender, is a combination of performance, "given" identity, and internal personal identity. I can't choose to believe in a particular god any more than I can choose to feel myself to be a particular gender, although I can perform either if I choose. Thoughts?


On Saturday morning, the con panels had to compete with the Dane County Farmers' Market around the corner. Asparagus and rhubarb were abundant, as were cheddar cheese, morrels and other mushrooms, and baked goods. I bought pickled green tomatoes and cucumbers, spicy toffee, cheese curds, blue cheese, chipotle and extra-sharp cheddar cheeses, a quarter pound of morrels, blueberry rhubarb jam, a gourd out of which to carve a sumitori (charcoal basket) like one of these, Ranunculus flowers, goldenrod vinegar, rye bread, a strawberry-rhubarb turnover, a cheese empanada, a chocolate chip scone, and a chocolate-and-cream-cheese muffin. I know. I don't regret any of it.

But back to the con...

Whose Dystopia? Freedom-to Versus Freedom-from

Genre dystopian novels frequently feature either totalitarian government (1984, A Handmaid's Tale) or a lack of effective government (Neuromancer, Parable of the Sower). This echoes a broader conflict in activist communities, between those who see rules as necessary protection and those who see rules most frequently employed by oppressive institutions. What books have explored that tension, rather than the two extremes? What lessons can we draw from dystopian fiction to improve our communities?
I arrived late for this panel, in time for some conversation about how amazingly little utopian fiction has been written in the past few decades. One of the panelists mentioned having a page of recommended dystopian reading, but I forgot to find out how to get a copy of it.

Unrelated to the panel itself, this is when I started noticing that the number of people doing fibercraft in any given room reliably and significantly outnumbered the number of people with open laptops. I got quite a bit of sashiko stitching done and found, as I later heard someone comment of themselves, that if anything it helped focus my attention on what was being said. At work I've heard about a fairly high-level male manager who does some kind of fibercraft during long meetings, and even though I haven't seen it in person I'm gratified to hear that someone who is clearly considered competent and influential is modeling this activity.

"Speak To Me in Your Native Language!" And Other Things You Should Never Say To Anyone

Over the past decade the WisCon community has made progress toward creating a more intersectional and inclusive convention, but problems remain. Con-goers are still exposed to othering language and attitudes that make the convention and community feel like an unwelcome place. Let's discuss these problematic situations and what steps the community needs to take to further address these concerns.
Some of this panel was a description of racefail for those, like me, who weren't very familiar with it. As an aside, one of my favorite things about my WisCon experience was how willing panelists and other speakers were to explain possibly-unfamiliar terms, and how that led audience members to feel welcome to raise their hands to ask. In other environments, I tend to cringe when a speaker throws out to an audience a quick and almost disingenuous, "Is everybody familiar with $foo?" before rushing on to their point. I can't remember the last time I was in an environment where any non-$foo-conversant audience member did not suppress the impulse to speak up. As a speaker, unless you have a really good reason to believe your audience would not suppress this impulse, just explain $foo.

If I remember correctly, there was some when-to-just-let-it-go discussion that, for me, draws out a tension between let-the-issue-drop as an imperative issued by people who don't want you to complain so much, and pick-your-battles as a suggestion issued by supporters who don't want you to burn out.

Here's sophy's write-up.

And an important point summarized in the twitstream:

Tiptree Bake Sale

matcha cupcakeThe con hosts a bake sale each year as part of fund-raising for the Tiptree Award, an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender. To contribute, I baked a dozen matcha cupcakes (using Koyama-en's 松柏, of which I have a sizable canister around for demonstrations and such) and ferried them through three airports and two flights without damage. The bake sale organizers sold items in pre-plated pairs, $1/pair, so it was difficult for buyers to know what the options were (bakers had labeled their containers but not each individual item within them) and for me as a curious baker to know how popular my cupcakes were.
Read more... )
As I hear friends and acquaintances express eagerness to see the Ender's Game film that will be released this fall, I have a hard time responding. I want to ask, have you read the book? After you were fifteen years old? And you enjoyed it? I can't understand how it won the awards it did. It's not just poorly written, it's repugnant. John Kessel articulates why in his essay Creating the Innocent Killer:
Ender's Game, Intention, and Morality
. An excerpt:
We see the effects of displaced, righteous rage everywhere around us, written in violence and justified as moral action, even compassion. Ender gets to strike out at his enemies and still remain morally clean. Nothing is his fault. Stilson already lies defeated on the ground, yet Ender can kick him in the face until he dies, and still remain the good guy. Ender can drive bone fragments into Bonzo’s brain and then kick his dying body in the crotch, yet the entire focus is on Ender’s suffering. For an adolescent ridden with rage and self-pity, who feels himself abused (and what adolescent doesn’t?), what’s not to like about this scenario? So we all want to be Ender. As Elaine Radford has said, “We would all like to believe that our suffering has made us special—especially if it gives us a righteous reason to destroy our enemies.”

But that’s a lie. No one is that special; no one is that innocent. If I felt that Card’s fiction truly understood this, then I would not have written this essay.
bokunenjin: (storm trooper hello kitty)
This post began as a general personal goals update, but somewhere into my third paragraph of updates on chanoyu-related goals, I realized this wanted to be its own post. Here are the relevant goals for this year that I posted last month:

Chado-related goals: make shiro-an. Carve a bamboo futaoki (lid rest), at least a fushi-nashi (nodeless) one, which should be utterly simple. Practice carving chashaku, which is not. Try repairing my broken Tamba-yaki idojawan.

The shiro-an is... challenging. I've been using this recipe. Removing the skins from soaked lima beans was much easier than I had anticipated. But my cooked bean slush wasn't moving around in the blender enough to benefit from that device. And getting the blended mush to stratify so I can pour off the liquid on top, not so easy. I've been keeping the mixture in my refrigerator while I procrastinate on further attempts to process it. Note to future self: remove the little nubs from the beans when you remove the skins, because they just won't break down in the course of cooking and blending. When I try again, I think I'll try a different recipe—there are many out there.

After putting out a call for bamboo, I got several maybe-sorta bites, and I even organized some friends for a day of outdoor activities at a park I'd heard rumor to have some bamboo, but we didn't find any there. Someone at work happened to post that she was getting rid of a bunch of bamboo from her backyard, so I snapped some of that up to carve a couple of fushi-nashi futaoki. Just in time to bring them along with my yari-no-saya kensui and ekirei futaoki to my keikoba for short-term loan so fellow students can learn how to use them. Let's say that studying at Gakuen gives one a skewed perspective on the breadth of utensils recognizable to your average overseas (and maybe even intra-Japan?) tea practitioner. We were so spoiled! I'm planning to make a kekkai from the rest of the bamboo I've gotten.

I've been scheming to hold a hango chaji at Washin-an as a thank you to our teachers. It is not easy to convince them that this is a good idea, even without charcoal or cooking. At first I pitched it as an activity that we students, or at least the more experienced of us, could do as a learning opportunity, but I got the classic indirect denial in the form of "Eventually, maybe next year, we might start allowing students to serve as teishu for our seasonal chakai..." At Midorikai we were responsible for everything, but back home, it's different. Now I'm trying again, reframing it as a private rental of our tea space. I'm trying not to be the archetypal Midorikai grad who returns to her home keikoba and thinks she knows more than everyone else. When I show up with strange utensils, suggest kagetsu and sumi temae and hosting a (very simplified) chaji myself, and the teachers demur, I wonder if I'm becoming, if not a know-it-all, at least a pest. Does it make sense to channel that frustration into plans to build my own tea room? (But where?)
When it comes to "geek culture," my experience is slight—I've long thought of myself as a computers-and-engineering-and-hacking kind of geek, not a gaming/comics/fantasy kind of geek. There's at least a post's worth of potential self-reflection there, but my point is that despite currently showing few signs of involvement with the second kind of geekdom, I spent several of my high school and college years participating in tabletop role-playing games like D&D and Ars Magica. I probably would be now if I'd been invited into a group in the post-undergrad years before my plate filled with other things.

diceWhat I'm interested in exploring in this post is playing across gender lines—that is, role-playing a character of a different gender than your (the player's) own. (Yes, there is a pattern here.) I don't imagine this is entirely untrodden territory, but I hadn't processed my own experience of being disallowed from doing it in the gaming group I spent the most and longest time in. Specifically, I hadn't processed how bullshit that is. The GM's reason for the ban: verisimilitude. Fellow players would not be able to imagine the character accurately when that character's words were coming from the mouth of a player of a different gender. Such a difference would overtax players' ability to suspend disbelief; it would break the collective fantasy.

An obvious counterargument: if players can overcome the differences between a late-twentieth-century t-shirt-clad, Mountain Dew-chugging American teenager hanging out in a friend's parents' rec room and a pious sixteenth-century Saxon blacksmith trekking along thief-ridden roads, a difference of gender identity is barely material, let alone insurmountable. I may have expressed this argument to our GM, but I had no support from any other players, all of whom identified as male, so it was a take-it-or-leave-it situation. Since these were not only fellow players but friends, and I had a painfully hard time making friends, I took it. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't, not because cross-playing was important to me, but because this absurd essentialism should have been a red flag.

None of the role-playing-game rule systems I've used have either banned cross-playing or discriminated among characters' genders when it came to abilities or characteristics, as far as I remember. However problematic game publishers have been when it comes to issues like objectification, they weren't the problem in this case. No, this was our GM's own policy, informed of course by society-wide ideas about gender, and I'm curious how widespread that kind of thing was and is among GMs.

The one specific instance where I remember cross-playing was with a casual D&D group. To give you an idea of our silliness, I named my character Gillette just so that I could cap a victory by quipping that he was "The Best a Man Can Get." There, though, we didn't embody our characters so much as describe their actions in the third person. We moved figurines around a map of a dungeon. We did not often speak in our characters' voices.

What have been your experiences with role-playing games and playing across genders? As a player and/or GM, have you encountered rules against it? Groups that encouraged it? Systems that imposed gender-based modifiers? Or supported non-binary character genders? And not just for creatures? Did the level of character embodiment make a difference? At the height of embodiment, have you had any experiences with live action role-playing across genders?

[For an overview of some feminist issues in tabletop role-playing games, see the Geek Feminism wiki.]
visions of sugar plums
Have some fuzz therapy. One minute of my cat Max purring in your choice of audio formats: ogg, flac, or mp3.
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