(Caution this post contains personal opinion, emotional choice and casually rambling rhetoric, a shorter version can be found at http://mdk.per.ly/2011/08/07/do-what-thou-wilt/)
I was asked, online in Twitter(1) by a friend (@techpractical is their twitter ident) if I would support their efforts to form a LGBT.pm. So a bit of knowledge for those of you who don’t understand what that is, LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transsexual; .pm is shorthand for a Perl Mongers group as they use the domain identifier .pm.org for the groups these are usually regional groups who meet up to be part of their local technical community, hence london.pm.org and northwestengland.pm.org.
@techpractical had decided that Perl needed a specific group to represent these people, now as I mentioned above the .pm groups are traditionally regional matters but there are precedents for their being other types of groups as shown by the drinkers.pm and Dahut.pm groups amongst others.
I think that he was approaching me for a couple of reasons, I am the Managing Director of Shadowcat who are known for supporting the community and community efforts, I am the organiser and co-organiser of a number of conferences and events, I am the Chair for the Perl Foundation Marketing Committee, I am a Director and Secretary for the Enlightened Perl Organisation and I think I have a reputation for helping people to get things done and supporting other people’s efforts to improve the community for everyone.(4) There is also the fact that we know each other socially which might also be the only reason.(5) Of course the possibility exists that it is none of these reasons whatsoever or a subset of them that I haven’t considered.
My initial response via Twitter (scroll to the end of the article for the tweets) was to clearly state that there were precedents for having groups that were not location based but based on identity or lifestyle so I had to support that. That is when I hit the usual ‘140 characters is not nearly long enough for a good response’ as it seemed a cold response. I sounded as if I supported a general concept based on the fact that there was historical bias. I wasn’t. I was trying to indicate that we had a good case for it in the first part and that identity based Monger groups already existed. The Perl community supports at least two identity based Monger groups to my knowledge (6). There is the infamous ‘drinkers.pm’ who meet at conferences and troll the bars after the event has finished, in this way they do become a geographical group when they meet but they are divergent otherwise. Then there is ‘Dahut.pm’ who organised the 2011 YAPC::NA conference and are comprised mostly of organisers. I could also mention that unlike most other groups my own northwestengland.pm covers a whole region and not just a city due to the diversity of locations we all reside in.
So in my very next tweet I mentioned that the subject needed support and that this would be a good way of showing the support for equality in our community. Now in my head I can run a lot of arguments for and against supporting such an issue and most of it is political or aimed at personal sensitivities, I am not entirely comfortable with listing them all as many of them are positions i have no favour for and wouldn’t promote them even in an abstract example for a sensible argument.
I can, however, make a very good case for equality and the representation of such that bears a simple and pragmatic understanding. I have always liked to think that no two people are equal, it is hard in my mind to make that assessment. I am not equal to my wife in looks, intelligence and general musical skills and she doesn’t have my arrogance, pedantry or strength (she also lacks my knowledge of Doctor Who)(7). Some of these distinctions are genetic, some are environmental, but they are still differences, they are what marks us all out as unique beings. This also mixes a qualitative argument with Sophistry on the nature of equals, can you define equal by matching elements of testable cogency, practical/physical examination and individual taste? However, and despite that cul-de-sac, we all have the right to be treated as equals and in regards to any organisation whether governmental or otherwise we should be afforded those same rights.
Though I should still relate that I have a concern that we might appear to be over politicising the Monger groups and a distributed community of interest is not the place to create communities and pseudo communities based on identity.(8) One could respond that it is impossible to remove identity from community and that we already share these things and it is why and how we form such close bonds. One could equally argue that this is just a feature of similar interest not identity or lifestyle choice which is arguably what this group would be(9). So we return to an over politicising stance, we are using the community to highlight, comment upon and correct, what can be seen as a broader societal problem.
However, I am not opposed to there being some political stance, this isn’t about posturing or forcing people to accept that stance it is about recognising it exists. We have a community that has members who clearly identify with this issue, some of us live in a society and mix in cultures that classifies these people with derogatory labels, reduces their rights and in some locales criminalises their behaviour.(11) If we are to allow people the right to form groups that have a similarity based upon the worship of that sweet nectar we call alcohol we have to allow groups that identify themselves with mythical beasts amongst other ways. It is progressive to be inclusive and not exclusive, it is also a natural evolution of a community, from a community of interest to one that shares identity and celebrates individuality and the choices of it’s members.
Now an anecdote and something I normally do not like to think about. I am going to wander towards my youth and a confession upon it. When I was younger I had my perceptions challenged and I realised a horrible truth about myself that I forced myself to change. I was presented in a social psychology class(12) with a video of two men kissing deeply on a high street and the narration casually declared that most people were uncomfortable viewing this image(13), I didn’t find that surprising as I knew I was uncomfortable seeing it at that point. It hadn’t really struck me before as I had never seen two men passionately kissing in a public place. I guess, to my lasting shame, that this was at that time a mild homophobia. A product of environment if we are kind, and in all respects thoroughly wrong. Like most apparent heterosexual men in the western world I was quite happy with two women kissing passionately as the stereotyped fascination was already thoroughly ingrained into me, but not two blokes kissing.
I felt ashamed on that day, and not mildly but deeply as I had always felt that I saw people for who they were and judged them on their deeds, not their sexuality or gender. I had friends who were gay and I realised they were never affectionate in public society as much as other people were, in fact they seemed to never be that affectionate when with friends. I discussed this class with them at the time and realised I was a moron, I had never looked at the expressions on other people’s faces when they walked hand in hand in a public place. Was I one of those people?
This was less than two decades ago. I decided then that I would ditch that attitude as that was not the person I wanted to be and I don’t believe it was the person my mother raised me to be. It wasn’t as easy a task as it should have been, I would love to tell you that my stance changed overnight, it didn’t, attitudes are hard to shift even if you don’t like them, but I did change. So I guess I emote these days with this argument, I don’t want to live in a world that has these attitudes built in to it. I don’t care if you choose to be a homophobe, I allow you that choice even if I think it is wrong. In fact, being the arrogant pedant I am I might even defend your right to be an arse. But, I do care that people are made into arses without being exposed to a world where that attitude is seen as a choice and hopefully an unpleasant one. So when asked to support lifestyle choice, and the freedom to express and to encourage participation based on identity then I have to support it.(14)
Post Scriptum: The request was officially accepted and there is indeed now a LGBT.pm (http://www.pm.org/groups/757.html)
(Reprinted here for reference)
Evening of the 20th Jun:
@shadowcat_mdk i think a lgbt.pm group might be good for perl. thoughts?
34 minutes ago
@techpractical we have groups such as Dahut.pm and drinkers.pm, it is established that some groups are identity not location. I support it.
14 minutes ago in reply to techpractical
@techpractical also, lgbt is a huge societal issue that needs to be embraced by all communities, damed right that we recognise/support this.
12 minutes ago in reply to techpractical
@techpractical perfdave is very connected with these issues politically iirc, so I think we can conscript his support.
10 minutes ago in reply to techpractical
@techpractical @shadowcat_mdk: Count me in.
10 minutes ago in reply to techpractical
Morning of the 21 Jun:
@shadowcat_mdk he’s on here as @davepa ge_ld . I’m happy to set up up the group with your support
@shadowcat_mdk and if shadowcat could donate space for a website and mailist lists ,this would be even better 🙂
@techpractical would be honoured to provide space and a mailing list.
(1) It struck me at the time that Twitter timeline was such a public place to be asked and that my life has changed so rapidly with the continuing march of technology. There was a time when I would have never have started a discussion about what I may or may not support in a public forum, mostly because I wouldn’t have been in that forum being a naturally shy person(2), now it seems normal(3).
(2) I really am that shy, honest, I just don’t come across that way, partly because of my current life/work/social matrices and partly because shy people tend to be gregarious and loud to combat the shyness.
(3) There is probably a longer post somewhere about how much I have changed my opinion and how this has been affected by my exposure to technology.
(4) I know many people reading this know that list but I was trying to engage all readers, also you have to list the reasons people approach you rather than it just being a random conversation on Twitter between two people. I should also state that @techpratical is a well-known member of his local .pm group and a well respected coder and contributor to the community. He also is a cheerful and vocal campaigner for rights.
(5) If of course that was the only reason then I do apologise for the above self-grandising speculation.
(6) Thou the official bias is not recorded here as I am not sure who makes an ‘official’ decision on these matters, well I know of them but I cannot speak for them or any position they consider official.
(7) A tad modest but bears a lot of truth as well. I do consider my wife more intelligent than me in that she has an ability to structure her thoughts in a far more cogent fashion, I can construct a faster argument and pull from more diverse sources, but that is a matter of being wider read. She is more attractive, goes without saying there is photographic evidence to support this and she is musically talented, she plays the trumpet, the piano, has a beautiful singing voice and I sound like a goose farting in the fug and have yet to master the intricacies of the triangle.
(8) Computer languages, and in particular Per,l is our principal shared passion in the .pm groups but because of their nature they evolve and include other shared elements. So we have a “Community of Interest” that shares an over riding shared passion that has pseudo-communities and geographical relationships a s a distinct part of its make up, but we have also evolved true community and familial relationships from our interaction and from the natural evolution of a community. Covered a little more in my presentation “I <3 My Community”.
(9) Please note that I do not consider sexual orientation to be a “lifestyle choice” and evaluating it in that manner is facile and quite stunningly insulting. Choosing to like Star Trek, dress as Spock and attend conventions is a lifestyle choice, the complex dynamic of socio-cultural forces that shapes your sexuality (and I am ignoring genetics as that is a whole different and treacherous kettle of sharks) can not be reduced to a choice! “Oh darling, I am so bored with watching typically hetro TV shows, I am going to try my hand at being queer so that i might watch musicals and sing freely the greatest hits of Abba”(10).
(10) Gay gags of the 1980s reunited in the one location.
(11) It is for reasons like these that I find the need to be proactive and make action to overcome these actions.
(12) The class was part of an introductory module in my first year at university. I had never before then considered myself to hold any attitude towards/against gay people or anyone having a right to choose, I felt comfortable with my position as i had a gay uncle so that surely qualified me as being fine with the world as I never thought bad of him for his sexual orienation.
(13) This was in the days afore Brokeback and “gay cowboys eating pie”.
(14) Barring those whose lifestyle choice is to be a part of a group that removes the choices from others of course, old Wicca standard, “do what thou wilt, without harm”. But, seriously I can support just about anything that allows people the right to choose but not the stance that if you support it will remove that right, there has to be basic rights we all have.(15)
(15) I am not a Wiccan I just like the phrase, I guess we could also use “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.