Tuesday, September 30, 2008

1s, 0s, Xs, Ys

Drama tiem: truly epic internets delivered by the central clique of Wikipedia. If you want a cosier telling of the story, one of the chief victims of the associated flamewars tells their story here.

Short version: 19 different Wikipedians, including several moderators and administrators at several different Wikipedia-related projects (Wikiquote, Wikisource, Wikinfo, Wikipedia Review), turn out to be all the same person [link goes to ED, you know it's not worksafe, or any other sort of safe]. Yay sockpuppeting, and added drama because;
a) the most major sock wrote on a lot of sex-related topics, and was heavily involved in 'Wipipedia', a fetish wiki I'd never heard of before now;
b) many of the socks used photographs of very attractive, often scantily-clad, women to represent their identity, something which had apparently bought favour in previous edit wars;
c) the IRLer who runs these socks presents as a cisgender guy. His sockpuppets got caught out due to complaints from the partner of one of the women whose photos he was using.

h/t Seth Finkelstein.

What Seth sees as the key thing here is the collision between the perceived significance of the work the Wikipedia social circle is doing - the Shiny Happy Website - and the very human drama it's spawned. The same applies to a lot of online enterprises, especially the ones which make embarrassingly large stacks of money from human beings socialising with other human beings; they give us a place to put words, and we use words to build places, homes, stages for ourselves, and these places are not reliably honest, they are fragile to destruction from a large number of threats, and are never owned and governed as common public spaces. (People on Brad Hicks's site are talking lately about how MMOs are starting to dispense with public forums, which makes it hard for users to pass on complaints and suggestions. I am sure they do this because people are impossible).

But, couple of other things jumped out of me:

Gender variance is, as ever, being punished. It's that image of gender as being some mile-high wall that must be patrolled rigorously because for someone to walk straight through it as if it's not really there would be simply the most awful thing ever. It's the idea of gender variance as being an act of 'deception'. [edit: Lisa Harney, in comments, points out that I am conflating trans people with gender-variant people in this post, when IRL the two are different categories. I suck at framing things about how much other people make sucky assumptions.]

The person who instigated this drama lives a day-to-day life as a man, but usually presented on the internet as a woman. To be misled, especially by someone you've personally placed an emotional stake in and supported in times of trouble when you would not have done if you'd known more, is very hurtful. But that's not what happened on the Wikipedia Review site. I am so not linking, but I read a few pages of their reaction to all this, and they are referring to this person as 'thing' and 'it'. I've heard this one before. It's not genuine upset, it's personal embarrassment (and I don't even get why it's embarrassing, but hey, I bat for both sides so what would I know?) of a form which we know can be easily turned into murderous hatred, and which is already speaking the language of that hatred. It is transphobia.

Back when I first blogged a bit about anonymity and identities on the internet I mentioned The Strange Case Of The Electronic Lover. This was another instance of someone who lived as a man presenting online as a woman, and engaging in flirtatious and sexual behaviour online before being 'found out'. Joan/Alex, unlike the socks in the Wikipedia drama, sought out women as partners rather than men. There is a temptation to regard the upset of the people who believed they were building a sexual connection online with a cisgendered woman differently when they're women to when they're men. Partly it's because of the whiny strictures of 'masculinity'; the twinned homophobia & transphobia, the bullshit insistence that sexual contact with something other than a cis woman is a breaking of those strictures, makes a man weak, a target for ridicule - that's the supposed reason that wall between genders must be maintained.

And partly it's because women are accustomed to fearing sexual assault by men.

At Wikipedia Review, there is some talk of the 'real victims' - the women whose intimate photos the sock made use of. Nothing has been heard from them personally about how they feel about this violation. There's a wonderful recent Shameless post called Private Parts vs Private Places that notes that the dangers you attract when you put personal information on the internet are framed as threats of theft and trespass if you're a man, threats of beatings and sexual assaults if you're a woman.

This is crappy media framing. Most media trepidations about the truths we tell on the internet are. The real dangers on the internet are the same as the real dangers IRL - you can waste your time, break your heart, lose your soul, hit a rut, meet God amid the ones and zeroes, quit caring, or move on. In a purely physical sense it's safer than IRL. And yet, that media bias Shameless is writing about is also reflective of the way women really are treated on the internet. Like these women whose bodies were appropriated by this mad puppeteer. Shit, back when I was a bbs mod we once had to deal with a stalker who was posting topless photographs of one of our female members.

Then there's this, which happened to me about a year ago (click image to see it in a readable size):

Perhaps I've been lucky, but it was only time this has happened to me since I was a 15-year-old AOLer. I'd say it's not so much down to chance as architecture - I shared the lulz with some other folks online, and one (a straight cis guy...as far as I know) said that he'd been hassled for netsex by men on Limewire; perhaps filesharing and chatrooming lend themselves to solicitation more than other forms of online communication. Soulseek's profile settings serve to make it chattier than other such programs; the twunt originally said he'd IMed me because I'd listed the Nine Inch Nails under 'I like'. (I deleted that immediately after).

I reacted to all this in a predictable fashion; became both pissed-off and very amused, and sought Revenge. I screencapped the lulz; I banned him from downloading from me; and I went to Soulseek's FAQ to see if there was any comment on how to report abuse and annoyance. There wasn't. Sure, each internet banana republic creates its own standards, but having no harassment policy is the sort of oversight that may not be so common if they weren't all run by guys. It's due to Wikipedia's poor response to abuse reports that it took two years from the first complaint about that sock's use of intimate pictures of unconsenting women until this ban, now; they simply have no system in place to respond to this problem.


Lisa Harney said...

I'm kinda uncomfortable with all trans people being labeled as "gender variant". My gender is about as variant as any cisgender woman's.

Anyway, I am bothered by men who assume identities as women online. Not just because of deception (although I did have an epically bad experience with a cis man who presented himself to me as a cis woman as a means to opening flirtation - and yes, it pissed me off) but because these incidents get lumped in with trans women, are taken to represent trans women, and the men are really deceiving people.

Admittedly, such deceptions are not worthy of violent response, but I wish men would stop pretending to be women online - and I don't mean stuff like men playing female characters in MMOs or whatever.

thene said...

I hear you. I fear I may have been using 'gender variant' as a synonym for 'not cisgendered', which is kinda dumb of me. :/

One of the problems I have with the way such incidents are framed is that people who are simply men trolling for sex by presenting as women (and they do seem to largely target queer women - the Wikipedia case is an exception in that regard) are lumped in with people who genuinely are on the M2F spectrum and who explore that online as a prelude to or a safe alternative to coming out as trans IRL. The minute the person 'behind' it all is known to present as male IRL, it's assumed they're a cis guy.

I'm sorry if I'm contributing to that conflation here. One thing I have at the back of my head is that bullshit demand that trans people ought to be forced to declare their trans status to all people they get involved with, or else they will have committed some mortal wrong. Where do you draw the line when something like that happens on the internet?

Lisa Harney said...

Well, trans people shouldn't be forced to declare anything, and trans women who are pre-transition may need the space online to be themselves. I don't consider trans women to be men, even pre-transition.

Anyway, this is exactly why I hate cis men trolling for sex while pretending to be cis women.

When a trans woman is discovered to be trans, it's always assumed she was deceiving, and this doesn't come from anything but cis assumptions that everyone is cis or should be cis, and therefore just being trans is considered to be a dishonest state - trans people who don't disclose are considered liars. Trans people are considered liars just for telling the truth about our lives. Nothing we say is considered to be as honest or genuine as, say, the guy who decided by fiat that trans women transition because of sexual orientation or fetishes.

thene said...

Thanks for your thoughts, esp. about the 'everyone should be cis!' thing. ><

I might add, there is some evidence that this person is not a straightforwardly cis man; they are known to have used transvestite boutique services IRL and given the age - 52 - is perhaps more likely to be a closeted person on the M2F spectrum than someone younger doing the same things might be. And, as with what happened to you, deceivers usually target their flirtation at queer women rather than straight men - I don't think I've heard of any cases of straight men being sought out this way before. It's not honest, especially not when you're pretending to be nineteen different people, but it's not the usual profile of a cis male liar. (And cis gay men who play as queens in their romantic lives don't usually have to lie about it, do they?)

That's all just speculation, though - we'll never know. I feel it is bothersome that as soon as someone is known to be not a cis woman they're a) assumed to be a lying cis guy and b) addressed as 'thing', 'it' - the same language used to condone murder. Michael Baxter faces no such physical threat, I am sure, though he has been outed widely as a transvestite and BDSM fetishist. This is entirely because he is an asshole who has deceived a lot of people in many, many ways, but the transphobic language is so fucking unnecessary.

Lisa Harney said...

Oh, yeah, I was trying not to comment specifically on this particular person that you're writing about. I haven't read up on what's happened there and the stuff people are saying about hir* are just inexcusable and disgusting.

* don't know this person's actual preference

Lisa Harney said...

Also, guys pretending to be women do sometimes (rarely) target straight men in some arenas - like MMORPGs.

Kyrias said...

cis = ?

Lisa Harney said...

transgender = Someone, somewhere, will tell you that your gender is invalid and false.

cisgender = Your gender is generally considered valid and true by society

transsexual = someone whose subconscious sex differs from hir apparent sex.

cissexual = someone whose subconscious sex is the same as hir apparent sex

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