This should be the dawn of a new equality. Stop inadvertently marginalising people.

This is a brief, important plea.

It it truly wonderful news that we now have something approaching equal marriage in the UK. It is brilliant that same sex couples can now marry in England and Wales. It’s disappointing that the details for those in existing Civil Partnerships who want to upgrade/convert to marriage haven’t been figured out yet, and that it throws trans* people under the bus, but still, it’s progress.

So please stop fucking it up by calling it “gay marriage”.

Equal marriage isn’t just for those who identify as lesbian or gay. There are a LOT of other folks who are going to benefit, including those who are bisexual, queer and those who prefer not to self-label at all. [Edited to reflect that there are real issues in the current same-sex marriage legislationthat make it definitely not good for trans* and genderqueer folks, in particular the concept of spousal veto]

Being in a same-sex relationship doesn’t make you gay. I’m a lesbian, my wife is bisexual. Being in a committed same-sex relationship doesn’t change that — that’s like saying someone is asexual when they are not dating. If you insist on calling our marriage “gay” then you are marginalising her, insisting that her identity is defined by our relationship.

That’s not cool.

So please, let’s call this what it is. Equal marriage, which enables same-sex marriage. Or y’know, just marriage. Marriage between people that love each other & want to publicly commit to each other, who no longer need to worry about whether or not they will be denied legal recognition based on their sex, or sexual orientation.

Let’s celebrate equal marriage. But let’s not do so by marginalising even more people. Surely we’ve had enough of that?

[This was originally posted on Medium, but I am self-archiving per the Tao of Tantek]

Why equal marriage matters to me

(cross-posted from the wonderful Medium because it’s important to have your own copies too, however great a community is: original)

I was a child without a future.

Don’t get me wrong, I had all the advantages. I was bright, got excellent grades. I’d been born white in Apartheid South Africa, experiencing incredible (undeserved) privilege. I was likely to get a full scholarship for university. I had a stable home life.

But I was facing the endless drudgery of working and going home to an empty life stretched out ahead of me. Painfully alone, forever.

I didn’t want that.

I remember contemplating suicide for the first time before I even hit my teens. How different I was became increasingly apparent from about the age of ten. The girls in my class started to get giggly around the boys, to dumb themselves down (in SA at that time, girls weren’t meant to be smart and smart girls definitely weren’t attractive).

I was bemused. I mean, boys were alright. Some of my best friends were boys. But this sudden attraction my classmates were feeling? I never felt it, never comprehended it.

And with puberty came planning. Futures, weddings, girls scribbling their names with their crush’s surname appended. Idle, childish daydreams, but central to conversations all around me.

I couldn’t imagine anything worse. Marrying a man I didn’t love? Enduring sex I didn’t want and could never enjoy? I decided very young that I would rather die.

And so my planning became razor blades, hoarding pills, finding secret hideaways where I wouldn’t be discovered until it was too late.

Dark years. Hard to write about, even decades later.

So how am I here today?

Xena.

Yes, that’s right: Xena, Warrior Princess.

In the relatively early days of the Internet, I discovered Xena messageboards. They gave me a lot of things: terminology for the things I felt, an explanation for why I found the show so compelling despite its ridiculously low production values and hilarious accent combinations (all medieval Greeks spoke with Kiwi accents, doncha know?), tentative new friendships. Exposure to a bunch of people in other countries, some just as backward as my own, some more progressive.

Interestingly though, the vast majority of us were in places where it wasn’t good to be gay: America, Africa, Australia.

The most important thing they gave me though was a friendship with a woman twice my age. She lived in Austin, Texas, with her partner of more than a decade. They were happy together, had a house, a business and a pair of adorable dogs.

I honestly had no clue this was an option.

Hearing about their life together was like being released from a tiny iron cell, coaxed outside and invited to look at a view that stretched out beautifully for miles.

I wouldn’t have made it out of my teens without knowing that view existed. I’d have been a statistic, part of the horribly high LGBTQ teen suicide rate.

In Apartheid South Africa, there were no visible, happy gay folks. We weren’t equal in the eyes of the law or society. I couldn’t daydream about marrying my dream girl, draw hearts round the names of my crushes. Marriage wasn’t an option for people like me. Happiness wasn’t an option for people like me. And it really felt like living wasn’t much of an option for people like me.

So if you’re bemused about the fight for marriage equality, wondering why it matters? It’s not just about giving folks equal rights and responsibilities. Not just about protecting our children and our families. Not just about legal and societal recognition and equality.

It’s about giving kids a future to believe in, too.

Via Ping, I just discovered Kiva which seems an absolutely FANTASTIC idea to me. It’s an enabling site, allowing anyone in the world to provide small loans to specific entrepreneurs — the long tail of banking.

There are two reasons that I think this is fantastic: Firstly, it’s a LOAN. The entrepreneurs pay the money back, although obviously there is some risk that if their venture fails you won’t get your cash back. However, you can part-fund a loan and so it’s pretty easy to balance your risk by offering small loans to a number of people. Secondly, it’s NOT charity. Many people in developing countries are doing OK for themselves — they don’t need charity, but can benefit hugely from a no-interest loan. And if it’s money that first-worlders could happily give away, then everyone benefits.

Non-consumerist presents are all the rage this Xmas — from Alpaca packages to Terrapasses. I just wanted to encourage people to think about this option too — after all, at the end of the day it costs you nothing!

Heather Gold has written a fantastic piece about what coming out is really about:

“Coming out is not just about the gender of the people you desire. It’s about being your whole self, in public. It’s about honesty. It’s about transparency. It’s about difference and togetherness. It’s about self-acceptance, not waiting for the acceptance of others. It’s about integration. It’s about the whole cookie. I wish it, in all aspects of life, for you.”

This is the most brilliant explanation of why coming out is important I have ever seen. And it’s not just relevant for the LGB community either. It speaks to why it’s important for ALL aspects of diversity to be acknowledged, given head-space, entertained, celebrated. As Stonewall say, “People perform better when they can be themselves”.

I wrote an article a while ago for the FFLAG newsletter. Since I wrote it as a representative of my company and I prefer to keep my work and my blog separate, I won’t re-publish it here, but I’ll re-make the most salient point:

People talk about our society becoming more and more tolerant. Tolerance is not something to aim for, though. It’s the absolute baseline. Being tolerated just means not being killed. It means someone putting up with your existence. Sometimes in a very passive-aggressive way, but in more progressive countries it’s probably more like the way people tolerate visits to the dentist — not the way they’d prefer to spend an afternoon, but something that has to be done.

In my personal opinion what we should be aiming for is so much more than tolerance. It’s about celebrating diversity — the different experiences, histories, cultures, customs, memories, practices, viewpoints, attitudes. Everything from respecting the right of a devout Muslim woman to wear whatever veil she feels appropriate, to that of a gay man to wear leather hotpants and a pink feather boa if that’s what makes him feel comfortable.

As Heather would put it, it’s about the whole cookie.

Dear Members of the Public,

Please stop sleeping with politicians. Right now. From today, you may only sleep with a politician that you are married to. Rent boys and girls, I’m afraid this includes you. I’m sure that you’ll find other sources of income.

Maybe this way we might actually have a set of elections where it is possible to work out what the parties stand for!

Thank you kindly

Meri

I was on the phone to my Mum yesterday and we basically both ended up bitching about the NHS, particularly when we compare it to the South African medical landscape (which, to be fair, we paid for, but still found to be higher quality for less than 11% of our earnings).

What occurred to me when we were having this conversation, is that a lot of the NHS’s problems (e.g. treatment taking a long time, high cost, etc) come about as a result of emergent behaviours because of the rules put in place. For instance, the fact that every practice has been tasked with “keeping costs down” means that for anything expensive, GPs would rather refer someone to a hospital than treat them locally. That way, the eventual cost for the treatment lies in another cost centre.

Another obvious example is the ubiquitous treatment of budget allocation by most government departments — i.e. the “use it or lose it” principle. Because there is no generic, effective measure by which the GOOD use of a department’s budget has been used, the only real metric is whether it was used up/whether they ran out. This is what results in the emergent behaviour of the “last quarter scramble”, when departments will buy all sorts of shit, just to finish using their budget.

So what’s my point? My point is, that instead of employing all these management consultants who fail to build anything useful, the government/NHS should be employing some game designers/theorists. The important thing is not what the rules are, but what emergent behaviour they will result in.

DISCLAIMER: First, I am not a game designer. My knowledge of game theory is not extensive, but when I was doing AI-related research, I got enough of a taste to at least vaguely know what I’m on about. Second, I’m not a part of the NHS — and I apologise if I get some things wrong. My point is not to speak harshly about the PEOPLE in the NHS, but to question the structure/rules.

Natalie has written an excellent article about women in technology and more specifically female developer involvement in the Linux community. She makes a bunch of great points (so go read her post!), but the one that I find particularly interesting is this:

“One huge difference that has a significant effect could be that women are less prone to self promotion; while this modesty trait may be good in polite society, it doesnt work well in the geek world. Men are quite happy to promote their ideas, share there excitement and unashamedly display the cool things they have made, this is a great thing and Im not generalising without exception, there are many women who are able to overcome this and be proud of what they have done. Myself and many others I spoke with are less forthcoming with our enthusiasm and this may well be to our disadvantage.”

This is exactly why denying difference doesn’t help anyone. If you assume that men and women are the same, then by the same token, if someone ISN’T extolling the virtues of their latest work, then they must not have done anything interesting. However, if you accept that it’s OK for different people to approach the world in different ways, then it’s always worth digging a little. Grand self-promotion doesn’t always equate to competence … and self-effacement or downplaying also doesn’t equate to a lack of achievement!

Given that SXSWi is starting on Friday, I have some challenges for those of you who will be attending, similar to the one I set for Ryan a while back:

  • TALK to women at SXSWi — and in the same way as you take men’s bragging with a pinch of salt, if someone is being particularly demure about their accomplishments, try to dig a little deeper. Or just make a mental note to check out some of their work and form a proper opinion based on that.
  • Don’t assume the partners are “along for the ride” — as Nat rightly points out, a lot of the time geek partners are geeks in their own right! Hell, I’m the one working as an IT manager, but Elly (architect by day, web designer by night) has significantly more web design talent. Since she’s pretty quiet, you might not realise that unless you actually tried to talk to her.
  • Don’t artificially level — it is much more insulting to women if you add a blog you’re completely uninterested in to your blogroll, or endorse a woman whose work you don’t respect/value, or swap business cards with women at a conference just so you can hit on them, than if you have an all-male blogroll. Step away from the statistics and think about what you’re really doing.