Quid Pro Quo

an affirmation

I will try harder to forgive my body for bleeding when I have refused it estrogen for too long. I will try harder to forgive myself for getting so out of practice with shots that I cause myself pain in doing them.

Pandemic Idleness

All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Goodreads

Well, not quite. Makes for a good soundbite though, doesn’t it? The full context, emphasis mine:

When I have occasionally set myself to consider the different distractions of men, the pains and perils to which they expose themselves at court or in war, whence arise so many quarrels, passions, bold and often bad ventures, etc., I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home, would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town. A commission in the army would not be bought so dearly, but that it is found insufferable not to budge from the town; and men only seek conversation and entering games, because they cannot remain with pleasure at home.

But on further consideration, when, after finding the cause of all our ills, I have sought to discover the reason of it, I have found that there is one very real reason, namely, the natural poverty of our feeble and mortal condition, so miserable that nothing can comfort us when we think of it closely.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Project Gutenberg

What have you been up to lately? Sitting quietly in a room alone? Perhaps contemplating “the natural poverty of our feeble and mortal condition,” as a global pandemic is wont to encourage?

I’m trying to maintain my usual sultry self, lounging around the house in pajamas while submitting pull requests and posting pictures of my dog in the work Slack. Yet I consider this an achievement: I know how I would have responded to a situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic and social isolation two or three years ago, and it ends with hospitalization. The most significant thing I’ve done for my mental health since then is resisting at all costs the urge to stop working when it starts feeling harder. That way lies madness; keeping my mind occupied keeps my body safe.

So I’ve been trying to pick up music again, and have been spending a lot of time fiddling with various MIDI controllers plugged in to GarageBand and Logic Pro synthesizers. Atypically, my desire to create music right now has been driven by the joy I find in listening to it, instead of a vague sense of obligation to other people. (my Selmer Series III alto sax remains in the closet, still making me feel guilty) A few artists and selected albums that I’ve been enjoying the heck out of lately:

  • Mac DeMarco: 2, Salad Days, This Old Dog
  • David Bowie: Young Americans, Earthling, Blackstar
  • Billie Eilish: Don’t Smile at Me, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
  • The Cure: Disintegration
  • Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine
  • Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  • Think Tree: eight/thirteen

School and learning were also things I used to do mostly out of a vague sense of obligation to others. Since suspending my studies, I’ve realized that I’m only failing myself when I receive grades or evaluations or criticism that I feel don’t reflect what I’m capable of. Fortunately, I’ve only ever been afraid of failing other people, so this came as some relief. I’m far more productive, not to mention healthier, when my studies and my work and my music are for me, and not my parents or teachers or instructors. I still don’t know how I ended up living more than nineteen years of my life purely for other people, though I suspect it is at least in part due to the pervasive disconnection I felt from being trans.

That I might someday choose to go back to school, not because I have to, but because I want to, has been a liberating realization as I continue defining and redefining myself through transition. I find that my subset of the trans community often talks a lot about hormone regimens and the difficulties of stabbing yourself in the thigh with hormones on a weekly basis, and less about the sheer Sartrean terror of freedom you face once stabbing yourself regularly starts to seem normal and the artifices of the self-image you once presented to the world seem increasingly less so. An entire life awaits: you’ve come so far, it still feels hard, but you’re just getting started. You can do anything and be anyone you want to be: these things are left as an exercise for us readers. It’s exhilarating and terrifying.

In my idleness, I’m trying to make music, and I’m trying to start writing regularly again, alongside my typical immersion in reading about computer science and programming languages. I wish I could say I was more engaged in politics right now, as the dusk of capitalist realism seems nearer than ever before. Unfortunately survival is all I can muster, and I’m okay with that. My life and environs are simultaneously at a high I could not have imagined was possible two years ago and a low I could not have imagined was possible three weeks ago.


trigger warning: death, Amelia

1 The world is everything that is the case.
1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by these being all the facts.
1.12 For the totality of facts determines both what is the case, and also all that is not the case.
1.13 The facts in logical space are the world.
1.2 The world divides into facts.
1.21 Any one can either be the case or not be the case, and everything else remain the same.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

I was mistaken. So, it happens, was Wittgenstein, as he would later conclude. Originally published in 1921, Wittgenstein believed he had resolved all philosophical problems through a series of seven declarative statements in Tractatus, intended to be self-evident. The last of these is famously:

7 Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.


and contains no sub-propositions.

The thrust of the twelve months preceding this moment was for me the decision (or discovery, if you feel so inclined) that the world does not actually divide into facts, or that if it does, the facts into which it divides are not by half as easily understood and felt as they are known. To know something is merely to be a repository of that fact; maturity and the process of becoming one’s own self entails processes far more mysterious and far less easily explicated. To feel something is to embody it, to give it a home in yourself and offer it tea and warm blankets, and wait until it becomes you (and you it) in a terribly beautiful fashion. I found that it is both impossible to know some things without having experienced other things, and furthermore impossible to experience some things without knowing yet more things. Thought, action, and reflection thus form not an ordered set of facts, but a swamp of qualia: consciousness.

In 2018, I completed my second decade on this cusp of contingent circumstances and questionable political decisions entitled Earth. “In 2018,” the books will say, “Earth is a place where people die. People die because they are loved, people die because they aren’t, people die because their death bolsters the position of the powerful, (or perhaps because their life weakened it) people die for no reason at all, people die simply because death is what became of them in the end.” Last year, as I shall use henceforth to refer to 2018, was pain, both desired and undesired. One loss stands out amongst the rest, the death of my friend Amelia Perry at the age of 26 on January 31st, 2018. Hirs was an unexpected passing that shook my trans community to its core, and left me wondering what my place in it was that I was trusted to sing at hir memorial service when I had only truly met hir in person for the first time scarcely a month before ze died. I found myself having to stay with Amelia around this time last year with my then-girlfriend, (later fiancée, now ex) and the one moment I will forever remember sharing with hir was when I asked how ze was feeling, and ze replied to the effect of “The world is quite painful, but it is somewhat less so when I am playing the game,” in hir exquisitely subtle British accent, pointing to the copy of Factorio open on hir laptop (this was a sentiment I was personally well acquainted with). I nodded solemnly and smiled, hoping to assure hir that I understood.

Despite the relative brevity of our acquaintance, I still felt as if I had lost a sister of mine on the day ze died. I was not alone in this. The reality of my trans community (and many others the world over, and I believe, communities of marginalized people more broadly) is best described as something not-quite a family in some respects but sharing with families a fierce devotion to each other and a fundamental sense of connectedness. Though quite painful, I found the initial shock of hir death to have mostly a numbing effect, with the worst pain to come in waves over the several months to follow, suddenly wracking me with sobs when I least expected it. I would later come to view it as the first in a series of events that year which taught me that the part of an emotional experience which crystallizes as your memory of it is at least as often the long tail of often dissonant and complicated emotions which follow it as it is the moment of the event itself. The moment is merely the opening notes of a musical composition, the piece as a whole is a completely different image.

With haste, I followed that tragedy with a series of poor decisions, including deciding to get engaged before I understood what marriage meant to me and while I still held significant personal and political misgivings about marriage as a historical institution, making an ill-fated move across the Atlantic Ocean and starting a life in London with my fiancée, and starting a handful of romantic relationships that ended up not lasting very long either. They all ended on relatively good terms, thankfully, and I cannot deny that through them I learned more about myself and life in general than I thought was possible for anyone to know.

However, learning from my mistakes is ultimately nothing more than a lens I apply to the past from my position in the present, and it risks ignoring the fact that those mistakes were in their time joyous and invigorating and life-giving and indeed, all seemed like a good idea at the time. There is simply no reason to reject them as invalid as such, and the need to move on with one’s life does not necessitate their dismissal. I will hold them dear for the rest of my days, as they made me a better person and I could not now imagine a year without them.

Last year caused a totalizing shift in my personality at the root of my selfhood. I can now say that I am beginning to understand what it is to be an adult, what it is to be mature, where before not knowing what was there I assumed it to be nothing and that I had reached the zenith of personal development uncharacteristically early. It is impossible to describe how the events of last year changed me, from watching in paralyzing shame from an apartment in Golder’s Green as the country of my birth began separating families at the border and rounding up brown people for permanent imprisonment, to recognizing that it would be the best for my health and wellbeing to break off my engagement and remain in the US during my visit in September which ended up being a permanent return. More than anything else in that horrifying and despicable moment in May, I wanted to be there, to be able to throw my body on the gears of fascism, to slow their advancement by just a few turns, if that was all I could.

Life is not everything that is the case. It is neither the totality of facts nor things. It is not about knowing things. It is not about saying things. It is, paradoxically, the sum of that which sustains it. It is about being. Getting older is the process of realizing it is possible to grow beyond the boundaries of what you thought possible, for your self to expand beyond the boundaries of what you perceive in the other, whether in a book or in a movie or even another person.

A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window.

Gilles Deleuze, Mille Plateaux: Capitalisme et Schizophrénie

After so many years of feeling like I had stopped growing, that I knew what life was about, that nothing much would change and my years would continue to drift by mostly unannounced, one by one, I finally started to feel things again last year. I finally started to grow. Gender dysphoria often stunts personal development in a way that can make trans adults feel like children trapped in the armor of an adult body. Last year, I stopped feeling like the age of 13 would forever be the most significant time of my life, the time at which I became what I would be forever. I finally started to let myself take control of that becoming and guide it towards my actual desires. Life is breasts getting bigger. It is feeling girly, womanly, and sometimes nothing at all. It is, in the end, stability, not without change, but with the constancy of safety and friends, of cuddles when you want them, and deep pressure from weighted blankets when you don’t.

Happy New Year, fellow traveler. I wish you great growth and contentedness.

Software Engineering and the Scientific Imagination: Past, Present, and Possible Futures, or, How to Stop Building Faster Horses

My forearms tingled. “Press your palms together with your fingers pointing up,” he said. This is a common test for repetitive strain injuries that my father was at this point well versed in, having spent nearly thirty years writing software professionally. As my palms struggled to meet, a searing pain shot from my pinky and ring fingers on both hands up the outside of my wrist towards my elbows. “FUCK! And I was just starting to really enjoy emacs!” I cursed.

This pain is the early stages of cubital (not carpal) tunnel syndrome, also known as ulnar nerve entrapment, and I had experienced it before. Long hours spent hammering away on essays at the last minute for a media studies class in my second semester at the University of Rochester had caused me to develop a mild case of ulnar claw in addition to the pain, numbness, and tingling. I spent several weeks sleeping each night with my right arm outstretched perpendicular to my torso, pinky and ring finger curled towards my palm involuntarily, trying to avoid compressing the ulnar nerve in my elbow and causing excruciating pain.

As I sat wondering whether my new favorite tool was going to eventually injure me so badly as to require corrective surgery, my dad mentioned that Xah Lee had put a lot of effort into making text editors (specifically Emacs) more ergonomic. But I wondered why it fell upon an individual who was disabled by work-related injuries to quest after fixing the problems that caused them and not the institution of software development and computer-based work more broadly that causes these injuries. It doesn’t have to be this way. As workers with college degrees who are often paid well to the extent that we ourselves sometimes do not think we deserve the sheer magnitude of our compensation, we are prone to ignoring those aspects of our jobs which should be considered unacceptable and need to change. Though not everyone shares such a pessimistic view, it is hard for me not to see the institution of software development as a massive farce, shambling forth on the limited strength of its own hubris and greedily consuming the energy and passion of those cursed to love it while crushing their bodies and spirits in its never-ending sprint for the novel and innovative.

Emacs is one of the few truly great things to come out of software development in the last 50 years. It’s an infinitely flexible environment for manipulating text of any kind, from emails to webpages to computer programs to chatrooms to newsfeeds and Twitter and poems and essays and love letters and so on. It is my belief that any serious typist or computer user could benefit from learning it, not just programmers. At the same time, it’s hard to sell the benefits of software dating from the latter half of the Ford administration and which is famous for requiring knowledge of arcane and sometimes literally painful keyboard shortcuts which themselves risk causing RSI in some users.

There is a broader point in this history and bellyaching that connects to some of my other passions for software correctness and verification. In the year 2018, we as software engineers and computer scientists of all levels find ourselves falling in love with tooling and practices which, in the relatively quick lifecycle of empirical science and especially the software development industry, can only be considered ancient at this point. Why is it that better tools haven’t been developed?

In what is seemingly a rare flash of insight into the actual failures of software development, Rob Pike needles the stagnation of systems software research in a presentation from February 2000. This piece, entitled “Systems Software Research is Irrelevant,” tracks the failure of computer science theory to generate useful ideas and tools for improving the practice of software engineering, and as such represents the first time I find myself nodding in rigorous agreement with Pike, whose language Go (in cribbing liberally from C) often seems a testament to the principle of tradition for tradition’s sake. Lambasting the homogenization of his field around a few-good enough tools and the monoculture that results from them, he writes:

In science, we reserve our highest honors for those who prove we were wrong. But in computer science…

There are a few broad categories of flaws I think are worth discussing when it comes to the failure of software to make use of empirical research that would help develop it into a true engineering discipline. The main two are the technological and social elements, roughly specified as the ways in which current tools and processes inhibit our ability to produce correct and reliable software of all kinds in a timely and repeatable fashion, and the management practices and structures and devices which bridge our access to these techniques. In the former category I would put things like programming language theory and type theory research, as well as concomitant research in verification of hardware designs and novel technologies in the field of human-computer interaction. In the latter falls things like project management strategies, communication systems, documentation, education, and tools for managing the whole process and lifecycle of software.

Condensed, software development is composed of the technologies that directly make up completed systems and the systems of human social interaction that surround and support those systems. I want to go into much greater depth in both of these areas, exploring the depths to which our tools, ideas, and ideologies fail us in not being able to keep up with the ever-increasing demands of the free market upon the bodies and minds of the working developer. While we may not be doing heavy manual labor, the structures of capitalism are still more willing to extract a devastating toll on our bodies and minds rather than treat us humanely and invest in solutions to ensure our safety.

to be continued…

On the Failure of “do what thou wilt” in Relationship Anarchy

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law

— Aleister Crowley, “The Law of Thelema”

I’m an anarchist. This label is overloaded with connotations for a lot of people, frequently conjuring images of the above Law: a society in total chaos yoked by nothing, the individual id unleashed from moral obligation. As it happens, that’s not what my anarchism is, nor is it a particularly common version of anarchy among anarchist scholars and activists. I don’t take the failure of bourgeois democracy to be a failure of the concept of democracy, and my “ideal society” (though I have reservations about labelling it as such) is some mixture of Max Stirner’s theoretical union of egoists and a more typical anarcho-syndicalism, where the means of production are controlled democratically by workers. Nonetheless, in the popular eye, anarchy is frequently seen as teenagers in masks running around with spray paint; a desire to project the angst and rebellion of youth onto the structure of a new society. Correcting this belief is a big part of engaging politically with liberals, and it doesn’t always end fruitfully.

As someone who also strives to practice ethical non-monogamy in a style heavily influenced by relationship anarchy, I’ve noticed that despite the fact that anarchism doesn’t actually entail destructive chaos, practitioners of relationship anarchy end up in situations that suggest it does. Indeed, a lot of people conflate non-hierarchical polyamory with relationship anarchy, and while the two are compatible, they are quite different in definition. My version of relationship anarchy is about not confining partners to implicit expectations, and about specifically making any implicit expectations explicit so they can be discussed and agreed or disagreed upon. Wikipedia says (forgive me):

Relationship anarchy (sometimes abbreviated RA) is the belief that relationships should not be bound by rules aside from what the people involved mutually agree upon.

Here we have a rejection of societal relationship norms and the implicit expectations that follow, and a desire to individualize relationships instead of coercing them to conform. But in no way are explicit expectations disallowed, in fact it follows from this definition that relationships should be bound by what the people involved have mutually agreed upon. This exists because relationships without explicit communication of rules and expectations are actually not healthy. When expectations are not set explicitly, wants and needs go unfulfilled, communication can break down, and decisions can be made that hurt other partners.

Not agreeing to any rules at all, or assuming that all of your partners will fend for themselves as regards the impact of your decisions (about romantic relationships or otherwise), is in my opinion a dysfunctional mode of relationship anarchy that I call the “do what thou wilt” style. Decisions will be made, partners consulted or no, and it is upon everyone involved to either deal with it or break up. I believe that this is not a healthy way to relate to anyone, especially not romantic partners to whom we make such strong emotional commitments. Instead, expectations and rules should be codified and discussed, and big decisions should be vetted not by individual partners through “veto power” but through the rules that have been put in place to deal with them. Even then I would personally take into account emotions and how my partners would feel about making a particular choice, because I want to remember the distinction between can and should. I suggest that a lot of dysfunctional polyamorous relationships have characteristics of the “do what thou wilt” style, and it is upon our community to stand up for better education on ethical non-monogamy and communication skills.

friends don’t kiss

cuddle, well,


arm finding lonely arm.

less lonely loneliness.

but friends,

friends don’t kiss.

is this home?

we hug with heat.

now as friends.

i want to kiss them again.

but friends,

friends don’t kiss.

lip meeting lip

as friends:

you wanted them

to be that.

to you.

just friends!

(…who kiss)

but friends,

friends don’t kiss.

Heavy Rotation 1/26/2018

Apple Music tells me I’ve been listening to these artists a lot recently:

  • Joy Division
  • The Smiths
  • The Strokes
  • Rostam
  • St. Vincent
  • Perfume Genius
  • Alvvays
  • Interpol
  • Radiohead
  • Arcade Fire
  • Julian Casablancas + The Voidz
  • LCD Soundsystem
  • Black Grape
  • Ty Segall

If for some reason you happened to be curious.


i’m going to be off facebook for a while. you can still follow me on twitter or tumblr if you’d like.