My Life In Neon

Sci Fi / Fantasy writer Autumn Nicole Bradley – Dream in digital, live in neon

Archive for the category “Feminism”

Reset: Post Mortem

Rediscovering My Art

So, I can’t even start this without mentioning CYBERQUEEN by Porpentine. There’s really nothing I can say specifically besides this: it pushed all the right buttons in just the right order at just the right time to remind me of something terrible I had forgotten: I actually really love games and writing. For the past two years, transition and school have taken up so much of my focus that I, essentially, forgot why I love them.

Frankentwitter’s Game

This is the fateful tweet that started this game:

LifeInNeon: In the future, "I'll let you play with my source code" will be the ultimate offer of dom-sub trust

“I’ll let you play with my source code”

See, Reset started out as a bunch of ideas cobbled together from mostly-sometimes-joking replies to Porpentine on twitter. My usual conversations with her go something like this: Porpentine posts some decontextualized short-form genius, I invent a context and reply with an equally decontextualized statement that presumes we’re inhabiting the same context. Powerful emotions ensue, one hopes. Or just laughter, camaraderie, and the erotic validation that only nice hard faving can supply.

Then I have a moment of:

Other Lydia: Hey Lydia.

Lydia: Yeah, Other Lydia?

Other Lydia: We just came up with something really cool.

Lydia: *Blink* *Blink* *Scrambles to find a pad to scribble an idea fragment down*

The words are scrawled at an angle to the lines of the paper. It feels proper. It's your way of signaling to yourself that this was an idea you wished to be reminded of so you could develop it further in longer, with-the-lines writing.

Reset: the Crumpled-up note

In fact, there’s a scene in the game that reflects this:

I actually have a bin in my cube shelf just for collecting notebooks, note pads, torn notes, and all the other things on which I have scribbled idea fragments. (Fun trivia fact: the text of the note is from an idea I had nearly 7 years ago for a different story. It fit perfectly, and also foreshadows the situation the character is trapped in before the player realizes the nature of the trap.)

The inclusion of the note the character couldn’t remember the significance of was yet another idea fragment spawned by twitter banter:

 

The emotion of finding something you had written down but realizing it no longer means what it meant then

A very complex emotion

 

The Horror of the Transhuman World

My relationship to my body has changed a great deal in the last two years, but in doing so, it has also changed my relationship to the transhumanism movement. I grew up on stuff like Neuromancer, and the fastest way to hook me into your story was to provide a world where body replacement was feasible and accessible. Now, don’t get me wrong: I only see this as a trans thing in retrospect; back then, transsexual was not something I even remotely associated with myself—I just wanted to be free of my bodily limits entirely. However, these days, now that my body is sliding into alignment and *gasp* I actually like it from time to time, my pressing “need” for settings to include body replacement is gone, but in its place is a different need:

I don’t need body replacement to like your story, but if you include it, you must also tell a more mature story.

If you simply project modern day forward and add this one aspect, I want to hear the stories of the people who don’t have access to all the cool stuff because capitalism has prevented them from getting it, or the ways in which enhancements become tools of exploitation to serve the needs of the still-at-the-tops. I want to hear the stories that don’t just sweep disability away by saying “we fixed that”, but rather the stories that talk about the new disabilities created by technology when someone comes a long that it doesn’t work for (after all, every disability arises in a social context) .

So I spend a lot of my time these days fantasizing about the nightmarish horrors of the transhuman future, not the idealized dreams. Dreams are easy. Horrors are hard to face, and if we don’t, they’ll be what we get.

But there’s another aspect of meditating lovingly on the horrors. For some of us, the belief that we can overcome these nightmares keeps us looking forward to this future. This game is not meant to be a Luddite warning that brain hacking is too scary of a possibility and therefore we should halt all progress (impossible, but folks try). I do not raise the spectre of the worst that can happen in the hopes of frightening others away from the future. If I’m being candid, in this hypothetical future, I imagine the absence of scarcity will remove much of the threat of unwanted violation, such that violation as expressed in the game becomes an erotic and dangerous but ultimately recreational act engaged in consensually,  not a selfish or criminal one.

Simultaneously, I’ve been playing a lot of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. So I have a lot on my mind regarding the shortsightedness of Get Augments -> Become White Upper-class Demigod Corporate Enforcer in a setting beset by racism and poverty, and virtually defined by the way everyone except the player needs a drug, Neuropozine, just to survive. I had a very involved conversation recently with Merritt Kopas about that very shortcoming. So that genre was already tumbling around my head when the Big Chaos Twine Jam came along. (I’ve also been working on another game that deals with this: Cuts, which I hope to finish by the end of January, that deals directly with the issue of access and affordability in the era of print-on-demand organs.)

The Mechanics of Sensory Control

One thing I wanted very much to include in this game, as fitting with the “mind got wiped in a cyborg kink scene” theme is the idea that when a person’s brain computer got switched back on, it would need to be recalibrated. With a text based game and no 2D art talents to speak of, I had a limited palette of senses to play with. I chose to focus on two: color vision and language.

Luckily, one of the themes of the challenge was CSS formatting, so I decided to use some fun javascript to alter the colors on screen throughout the game. I chose to make the text onscreen deliberately difficult to read before the calibration takes place, and the color scheme makes it even harder for people with red-green color deficiency to play without highlighting the text on screen. Very early in the game, I alleviate this strain (I made it the first recalibration so as not to go from immersion to punishment of the player), and I do so using one panel of the Ishihara test. A pop-up box appears asking for what number the player sees, and depending upon either of the typical answers (29 for full color vision, 70 for those with r-g deficiency, nothing for full color deficiency) it recolors the game to something more tolerable.

The macro for the color changing:

<<silently>>
<<set $StyleChanger = 
 function(){
     macros['typical'] =
     {
          handler: function(){
          document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundColor="#333";
          document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#ddd";
      } 

}>>
<<print $StyleChanger()>>
<<endsilently>>

The CSS for anchors (links) and backgrounds were set to “inherit” from the body and from the passages, so changing one background and one text color overhauled everything relevant. Since Jonah loads the page once and just fills in the passages <div> each time a new passage is loaded, styling it once each time does it for the entire page until the next time the player hits a style point.

Update: For those looking for more code snippets from the game, I made a followup post here.

I used a reversed rot-13 cipher to garble the text and simulate aphasia. I chose a cipher instead of simply random text strings because language has a structure, and just because the character doesn’t understand the language being used doesn’t mean that structure disappears. I have auditory processing problems; occasionally people speaking to me sounds like wordless babble. I could even repeat the words back to them, but they have no meaning. So I occasionally have to ask people to repeat themselves even though they might be the only person in the room with me and no other sounds to distract me. But there’s still some sense of meaning that gets through: I still understand tone of voice, I still understand that I am being spoken to and not the wall, I might have an inkling of the subject being discussed. But the words themselves are incomprehensible for a few seconds. Like a mental hiccup. So I leaned on another test: the Rorschach test, to “re-align” symbolic language processing, allowing the player to freely input whatever they saw in the ink blots.

I wanted to simulate that experience of aphasia: the words being said by the doctor still have a structure and a meaning; there is still a purpose and if the player chooses, they can actually use a translation tool to decipher the text. It’s just like I have to in my real life: I think about what was said to me, playing it back from memory like a recording, and “re-hear” it, just as the player must (if they are dedicated) re-read it to translate it.

Likewise, the narrative has a greatly reduced vocabulary palette to choose from: concepts like “touch-thing” for finger, or “not-you” substituted for any person that you recognize isn’t yourself. It felt incongruous to use a full linguistic spectrum when simulating a scene in which the character-as-player-as-character has no access to their words. “What would it be like to be reduced to the vocabulary of a 2 year old?”

The color vision one is dipping into dicey territory because unlike the language, I do have full color vision (and from what I’ve been tested, on the high end of my ability to discriminate colors). So I absolutely could not go forward with that in the game without providing a safe way out: there is a color-fuckery-free way to play the game because as hard as it is on those with full color vision to look at the absolutely garish color palette, it’s even harder on those with color deficiency. Likewise, the intended compensation mechanic—using the mouse to highlight the text—is not available to players who play on many touchscreen devices or who have difficulty manipulating the mouse. (Full disclosure: as a stimming method, I compulsively highlight and unhighlight any text I am reading, so it still forces players to play as I would in a roundabout way.)

The Kink Metagame

Both of these things constitute a metagame layer: the game is playing with the player as much as the setting is manipulating the player character. Since the second-person article “you” is used throughout, it seems appropriate.

That makes the kink scene a lot more complex, because I’ve already established a dialogue with the player that they are in fact the one experiencing what the character is experiencing. I wanted to provide incentive to keep going with the kink scene: the further you go, the more the story gets revealed in memories. Likewise, to emphasize the submission and control held by the Administratrix, I realized I could undo the re-calibration done at the beginning. This also bookends it, giving the sense that it was a scene like this one that led to being in the hospital in the first place. Indeed, one could end the game on that belief when it loops back to the beginning.

The Safe Words and the True End (SPOILER ALERT)

Because of that metagame layer, because the game was telling the player they were experiencing the kink, I wanted to provide the player as much as the character a safe way out. So I made the choice to make everything from beyond the beginning of the kink scene entirely optional. Like kink off-screen: it’s there if you enjoy it, but if you don’t, no worries, mate. Likewise, it ends when one of the players says it ends.

Therefore: the safe words are always available to the player from the initiation of the kink scene to the end.

If a player ends at the initial loop back, thinking the Administratrix reprogrammed their head and put them in the hospital, I think that is a satisfying-ish ending as a story, but it says some deeply fucked up things about kink (or what folks might think I feel about kink).

It was very important to me that the game actually end without it being some nefarious plot: there was no murder, no jealousy, no cheating, no revenge fantasy, or any of that. It ended when the player/character said it ended, and reaffirms the trust placed in the Administratrix. If anything, I feel I was a little rushed with the ending and may not have provided enough aftercare in the form of confirmation that the player/character is back in the “real” world.

Recursion, Foucault, Soc1ety

Obviously recursion is a big deal in this story. The player/character is breaking out of consecutively deeper loops until they arrive at the real world. This is echoed by the very safe phrase used: turtles all the way down, a concept of cosmic recursion when one postulates that the universe rests on the back of a turtle. What’s the turtle standing on? Well, it’s turtles all the way down.

If you haven’t read anything by Foucault, you probably should. If you enjoyed this game enough to reach this line of this post mortem, you ought to know what the man had to say about the nature of power and control and structures to maintain them. Even if you can’t get through his full-length works (guilty), get the notes from someone who has. And grab a strong drink and prepare for some soul-searching on how to get by in such a deeply fucked up world.

Soc1ety is, of course, a panopticon qua social network service accessed through one’s headware. The analogues to it in our present world should be obvious. But I had to include it, since this entire game was spawned by a transhuman version of “Hey everyone, I lost my phone. PM me your number!”

Thank you

I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed making it.

Much love. Take care of each other. <3

_-*

Melissa Harris-Perry: Transgender In America

From six months ago, but it remains a class act.

Melissa Harris-Perry, April 15, 2012 – One of the best explanations of cis/trans out there, and a fabulously straightforward display of being an ally without making any kind of big deal of doing so.

Spaces

So, a friend of mine asked me the following question:

Do cis women deserve a space to talk about the ways in which misogyny and issues that uniquely affect FAABs (like reproductive rights) intersect?

Yes. If you ask if any marginalized group deserves space to discuss issues specific to them, yes. Absolutely. So long as we live in a society in which patriarchal structures leave a pregnant or potentially pregnant person’s control over their own body as an open question fit for debate without them present, there is absolutely reason to create and maintain spaces to discuss ways in which they are affected by that control and organize the means to unravel that system away from interference by that system.

However, I want to ask a question of those who would specify that this hypothetical space is for cis women only: what purpose is being served by making that that explicit declaration?

Would you also make an explicit declaration that cis women who, for whatever reason, are known to be infertile are similarly not welcome to share stories about how presumptions about their fertility have led to misogynistic treatment; or stories about how learning they were infertile led them to question core assumptions about their womanhood; or raise the issue that their body autonomy is in jeopardy because men have already made laws blackmailing pregnant people into allowing themselves to be forcibly penetrated in a twisted caricature of medical care, and they show no signs of stopping at that law?

Would you declare any infertile cis woman to be out of bounds for raising those topics? Would she be accused of imposing herself on the group, of centering the debate on infertile women and distracting from the conversation, of triggering participants by reminding them that they can become pregnant (possibly against their will)?

Or would she be thanked for sharing her struggle, welcome in the knowledge that everyone there understands that when women are reduced to their presumed reproductive ability, when they are reduced to their parts, the misogyny catches all women in the blast regardless of their ability to reproduce?

When laws about marital partnerships are intended to reduce women to chattel for birthing children, where does the issue of reproductive rights stop affecting all women and start affecting only those who know they can become pregnant?

Fertility is a presumptive quality, not an inherent trait. No one knows they are fertile (or virile) until they succeed in producing a viable zygote that is carried to term and born live. Even then, we only know in retrospect that they were fertile; there is no biological mandate or metaphysical certainty that their body will ever be fertile again. All qualities associated with fertility are presumed based upon having anatomy that appears fully functional and has not been proven otherwise, or removed or altered by surgery or medication.

I am not demanding the floor at a reproductive rights rally, nor am I demanding a seat at a support group for people who have chosen to abort a pregnancy. I will never know the fear of having control over that aspect of my body taken away by men I will never meet. But I am questioning the true intentions of any meeting that must explicitly declare it is for cis women only on the premise that there are some issues that only affect cis women. Unless the issues discussed are firmly restricted to only those people who are, have been, or have no reason to assume they could not become pregnant, then I put forward that the space’s organizers are being disingenuously cissexist at best, and openly transphobic at worst.

If someone expects infertile cis women to either: A) not be interested enough to attend, or B) behave appropriately if they do, or C) leave when the moderator asks anyone who is unaffected by the issue at hand to please leave; and if you would not attribute to their infertility any hamfisted attempt to center the conversation on them, then that expectation ought to extend in the same manner to trans women, as well as trans men and non-binary CAFAB people. When the sign on the door preemptively declares an event is for “womyn born womyn living as womyn”, it advances a biologically essentialist standpoint. When that standpoint is defended on the grounds that there exist some topics that are only relevant to CAFAB people—reproductive rights, menstruation—the space had better be dedicated to those topics or else it shamelessly exploits people who need space for those topics as human shields on the front line of a woman-on-woman war that doesn’t need to be fought.

I want to be clear about something: if you have a space dedicated to survivors, no one ought to be trying to recenter it on how hard the abusers have it in the justice system; if you have a space dedicated to queer issues, no one ought to be trying to recenter it on how hard it is for them as a straight person to accept their bisexual child; if you have a space dedicated to people of color, no white person should be trying to recenter it on how awesome of an ally they are. Those are actions that drip with patriarchal, colonial entitlement and are rightfully condemned as such when someone has the gall to do them.

So it is with that understanding in mind that I ask fellow feminists to ask themselves whether they are being honest with themselves about the intentionality behind a space that supposedly has a built-in need to exclude trans women.

We Happy Trans – Seven Questions

I decided to record a video for the folks over at We Happy Trans:

My Experience at CONvergence 2012

Quick review of my experience at CONvergence 2012:

1) I’m not used to being misgendered so frequently and so readily. The number of men in costume as female characters made it so that not only did I not stand out for gender bending, but I was assumed to be in costume. Which. . . so much side-eye. . .

2) Due to phone battery issues I had to find crash space at the Con the first night, and all I had to do was say the word to a fellow trans woman I met and she found yet another trans woman who had space. The sisterhood is strong.

3) The con itself had some amazing safety protocols in place. The Bridge dance/party/hangout room was a “Safe Space(station)”, a space-themed safe space right next to the center where attendees could report to volunteers any incidents that made them feel unsafe or unwelcome. They had numerous signs up saying things like “Costume is not Consent”.

4) I spent most of the con meeting other trans people and talking trans stuff. On the last day, there was an impromptu gathering of trans and gq people who met and squatted in a conference room. Informal plans were made to get a party room next year aimed at providing a trans-positive space and education for cis people coming through.

5) Partied in the Skepchicks/Freethoughtblogs rooms and hung out with their queer bloggers talking shop. Spent quite a bit of time talking with Benny which was a blast. Never felt unsafe, but I did feel put on the spot about a few things by some cis folks once a bout of misgendering forced me to come out to deal with it. I can chalk up indelicately asked questions to alcohol; I got indelicately asked questions about non-trans stuff too. 😛

6) Met with Rachel Gold for dinner and spent 4 hours talking about the split in the lesbian community, trans children, her book, her (overwhelmingly) positive experiences with trans women and how they taught her about empowered femininity.

7) I caught up with an old friend from college, and we joked about how we were both too shy to talk to each other before but I’m not that different, just happier.

8) Someone recognized me from my transition timeline montage photos on r/trans, which always makes me feel good that I’ve paid forward the benefit I got from seeing someone else’s timeline a year and a half ago (holy shit, it’s been that long…). The lovely and kind trans woman I spent the weekend hanging out with even had someone come up to her to directly state they were inspired by her. So awesome! (Also, we have the same birthday and we started HRT the same day. Eerie)

9) Finally, an androgyny win moment: “Someone said they met someone partying [in the Skepchicks room] with bright pigtails but they couldn’t tell what sex they were, just that they had the most amazing cheekbones.” I feel like I have achieved my goals when someone says “I don’t know what I’m looking at, I just know I like it.” 😀 I think it’s hard to explain why this was such a cool moment, but this was exactly the “spot” I transitioned to be in. I plan to keep going to the female side medically, so that I can more safely come back to where I am now.

10) Most of the panels were kinda bland. Comic universe reboots panel didn’t want to touch the idea of rebooting a universe to address current social justice issues because that’s too politically charged. So instead they redirected to style and storytelling and wiping away retconning. You know, cis white male problems. The strong female characters panel kept equating female strength with violence, and it was the only male member of the panel who consistently addressed other forms of strength as being just as legitimate. Catherine Lundhoff did a great job of bringing up the idea of protagonists with atypical body types, which led me to bringing up how viewing Charlize Therons’ character as an ideal trans portrayal was a fan headcanon that made the movie Prometheus far better. My point was that it informed all of her character choices and relationships without ever being addressed or questioned. One of the panelists thanked me for that afterward. Then a guy quipped about chainmail bikinis that they are more effective for “mobility and heat management”. Cue collective facepalm. Diversity in steampunk was still very white, very western, just not British Empire. Definitely not the most provocative conversations.

TL;DR: Very trans welcoming environment.

Why I Can’t Explain How Dysphoria Feels

It’s like tasting water. Water isn’t supposed to have a flavor. When there’s no flavor, there’s nothing to notice. But when you taste something, you know something’s wrong and it brings it to your attention.

So you say, “The water in my cup tastes funny.” And everyone else replies, “Mine doesn’t.” “I don’t taste anything.” So you try to explain, and they ask what it tastes like. But you’ve never tasted anything like it before, and they haven’t tasted anything like it ever. Finally, they conclude, “It must all be in your head.”

But it’s not your imagination, because as soon as you dump out that glass and refill it, voila: no more strange flavor.

But from that point on, people look at you like you’re selfish because your first glass “wasn’t good enough” or they assume you’re crazy and wasting water on something you can’t prove to their satisfaction. When all you wanted was the same bland, flavorless water as everyone else.

 

Originally posted at my old blog 5/8/2011, reposted here 9/10/2013

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