About a month ago, my mind went back to an experience I had in Oulu, Finland, for the Air Guitar World Championships in August of 2018. We had gathered at an island cabin for an event we called “Airentation,” and were introducing ourselves to each other. A friend of mine who I’d met at my first air guitar competition, Justin Howard, better known as Nordic Thunder, told us his story. To retell it here would take too long, but what stuck with me was something he said about how the air guitar community taught him about himself, and how to “be a man.”
Through out my life, I’ve always felt as though I didn’t fit. As a child, as a teenager, and as an adult, I always felt as though I was at a remove from the world at large. Unwilling to accept that I was the problem, I took the attitude that “If there’s nothing wrong with me, maybe there’s something wrong with the universe.” This changed once I got a proper ADHD diagnosis in 2016. I came to the conclusion—a mistaken conclusion—that medication would solve this, bringing me more in tune with the world around me. To a certain degree, it did, but there was something that didn’t fit right. I would figure it out.
It took until 2018, and my trip to Oulu, for things to click, and realizing that took a while. After I returned to to normal life, I began to make changes to how I presented myself to the world. At first, these were an extension of personal changes I had made starting in 2017, where I’d made it a point to get in better shape and lose weight.
The first thing I did was trim my long, bushy beard to a close-cropped one. For the hair on my head, I had been shaving the back and sides, but I decided to let the long part of my hair grow, giving me a long, floppy, asymmetrical haircut that was androgynous. My mode of dress began to change, with more fitted clothing, more exploration of colors and patterns. I began to wear nail polish on a daily basis, even to work. Inspired by a comic by Mattie Lubchansky, I started wearing a little bit of makeup when I went out—on weekends. On New Year’s Eve of 2018, I took what I considered to be the true first step of figuring out who I was and how I fit into the world: I got my ears pierced. I began to wear subtle jewelry: metal bracelets, rings, and a thin silver chain with an octopus charm that was a birthday gift from my partner.
I was coming to the realization that presenting myself to the world in a way that read as stereotypically male no longer felt right. It may never had felt right, in retrospect. The more I moved away from masculine presentation, the better I felt about myself. I had found the missing piece, or at least begun to work out the shape of what was missing. I started to use they/them pronouns for myself. As 2019 continued, I wound up splitting myself in two—the feminine, true-to-myself version of me that I put into the world on nights and weekends, and the somewhat effeminate, but still masculine self I presented to the world during the work week. It became a relief to come home, strip off the more traditionally masculine clothing of the work day, switch to leggings and a t-shirt dress, and be a form of myself that felt more comfortable.
As 2019 progressed, so did my exploration. Living in New York City, I was lucky enough to have access to spaces where it was safe to explore my presentation, my identity, my gender, and I used those spaces to their full potential. The moment where it sunk in about what was missing and where I needed to go, came a few days before Halloween. I was going out to a dance party, and had decided to go out in “costume” as a stereotypical goth girl in a Wednesday Addams dress. In preparation, I bought a black wig, and shaved off my close-cropped beard. When I looked at myself in the mirror, clean-shaven, with the black wig, makeup, dress, and a padded bra, I could only say one word: “Fuck.”
As I looked in the mirror, the ramifications were clear to me, though I was hesitant to follow through. The person in the mirror was who I was supposed to be. The path was clear, but I knew I couldn’t yet walk it. There was fear, there was trepidation, and I needed to address those before I could even consider taking another step down that path. Despite those fear, I consider that night out to be the first time I went out into the world as myself.
One of the common ideas of the traditional transgender narrative is the concept of physical dysphoria—the sense that something is wrong with one’s body, and how it connects to their assigned gender at birth. This is something I never experienced much of. Not to say that there weren’t aspects of my body I was unhappy with, but they were small things—my weight, but also my chest. I have always had a minor case of gynecomastia, and while it never bothered me enough to address it, my feelings about it gave me pause. “If I feel this way about my chest now,” I thought, “what makes me think that hormones and developing real breasts will be any better?”
I chewed on this. My body, though not ideal, was something I’d grown to accept and appreciate, both for what it was, and what I had done to improve it. Despite this, I also knew that there would be other benefits to HRT that I knew I wanted—it would change my brain’s internal wiring in a lot of ways, and put me more in touch with my emotions. What I experienced in my life was a different form of dysphoria: social dysphoria. I knew many of the expectations that come from being assigned male at birth were expectations I could not fulfill, and many of which I never wanted to fulfill in the first place.
My male-presenting and male-identifying life was a series of wearing different, ill-fitting “Man costumes.” Some fit better than others, but even the ones that fit best began to ride up or chafe after a while, so I would put it aside, and find another one that felt like it fit me better. By the end of 2019, it was apparent that I was running out of male-coded costumes to wear that had even the slightest appeal to me. How the world saw me—as a man—no longer mapped to how I saw myself, and I knew I had to change this. Hormones were the last hurdle to jump to make that happen. After speaking with my therapist about it in January of 2020, I decided that by the end of April I would start hormone replacement therapy. I would try it for a month, at least, and see how I felt. If it was beneficial, I’d keep it up.
The April deadline was one born out of practicality. At the time, I was employed as a contractor, and the six-month contract was running out. It was unclear if my contract would be extended, if I would be hired, or if I would need to find another job. As a safety measure, I began to look for new, full-time work, hoping I could land in a place where I could have good health insurance, and would be safe to transition at. To aid in this, I cut my floppy hair to a buzzcut, stripped off my nail polish, and put the feminine version of myself into a closet, so as to present to the world as someone normal, someone it was safe to hire. My contract job ended, and I was let go, but I got lucky. At the end of February, I began working for a well known New York City museum as their Email Marketing Manager.
Two weeks later, the COVID–19 Pandemic forced the museum to close its doors to visitors. Everything was in chaos, though my job was safe. In the chaos of the first few weeks of the pandemic, starting hormones, and medically transitioning took a back seat to navigating the changed world. In time, I managed to secure a telehealth appointment with a doctor at Planned Parenthood, and on April 24th, 2020, I received a prescription for Estradiol. I masked up, walked to a nearby pharmacy to pick it up, and took my first dose.
My original transition plan was to live for the most part in “stealth mode,” presenting as male—as best as I could—while my body changed. I had planned a trip back to Finland the end of August, and hoped that when I returned, I could make a more public coming out at my new job. The pandemic, of course, threw all of that into disarray, though it had a small benefit. As long as I wasn’t on a Zoom call, I could present however I wanted at home, and even when I was on Zoom, as long as I was masculine from the shoulders-up, nobody would notice a thing. I could at least live like myself in isolation without fear.
What I did not expect was for hormones to hit me as quickly as they did. By June, I had developed a more prominent chest, and hiding it from the world in the few times I went out into it was becoming more difficult—not that I wanted to hide it at all. The changes to my body were one thing, but the changes to how I felt were another. While things in my head were far from perfect, I did feel a sense of completeness. I was no longer two people, hiding one side of myself from the work-a-day world, and letting my true self out at night. I was whole. I felt more connected to my changing body, in a way that is difficult to explain in words.
I came out to my parents by phone in June of 2020, and to my work a couple weeks later by email. To my surprise, my social transition was much smoother than I ever expected it to be. Every trans person has heard the horror stories of coming out: losing friends, losing family, losing jobs, constant misgendering and abuse. I have been lucky enough to experience none of these things. The worst that happened was a coworker calling me the wrong name on Zoom on my first day as Rachel—and even that was because she hadn’t seen my email yet. This was easily understood, and more easily forgiven.
The next few months were a blur. A good friend moved back home to Helsinki, as the pandemic had destroyed her livelihood. There was a COVID-safe camping trip in September with a group of queer friends, and in October, I filed a petition to legally change my name to Rachel Anderson. It took time to complete the process, but on December 30th, 2020, nearly two years after I began trying to figure out my identity, I’d completed the first, legal step to being who I truly am.
Just over a month ago as I write this, I travelled to Chicago, for the 2021 US Air Guitar National Championships. The entire US Air Guitar apparatus moved online in 2020 to allow for virtual competitions, but the state of the world had improved to the point where we could come together in person again, from across the nation. I jumped at the chance to go, not just because it would be my first chance to travel in over a year, aside from seeing my parents in Philadelphia for Easter, but because I wanted to reunite with some of my friends in that community.
Yet, I had a fair bit of anxiety going into it. The last time I saw any of these people had been August of 2019, in Nashville, and while I was in my exploratory, genderqueer period then, I was going by my old name, and I looked and presented somewhat masculine. Even though they had all known about my transition, and had expressed support, I worried how I would be received and how I would be perceived.
I worried for nothing. It felt like old times.
On our last full day in Chicago, sitting on a rooftop at a bar and restaurant, I confessed my anxiety to a friend who told me that “I think we’ve seen the most authentic you yet.” I had to agree.
I think this is one of the key things a lot of people don’t understand about being transgender. Transitioning isn’t always about becoming someone else—it’s about becoming the person we are. It’s about being more true to ourselves. I lived for thirty-five years in a cloud of confusion, wondering why I felt strange and out of place in the world. Was there something wrong with me, or something wrong with the universe? It’s not an either/or question with a simple answer. All I can say for certain is that I know I am who I am, and that I no longer feel as out of place in the world around me.
There’s a way to go yet. I may be out, and I may be seen in the world as who I am, but transitioning is a long process, and there’s more to be done about the social, legal, and physical aspects of transition. I’m in the process of updating names on various accounts, getting new personal documentation, and even working towards getting gender-affirming surgery. I am, however, at a place where I can look back on the journey and understand how it began and how I got here. I need to get it into words, and share it, mostly for myself.
I am Rachel. I am transgender. I use either she/her or they/them pronouns. Am I a woman? I don’t know, but woman feels close enough for government work. Am I a man? No, I am not. I am, however, myself. That is the most important thing, and it’s the thing that has been missing from my life for far too long.
Hey, have you heard about Mastodon, the Hot New Twitter Alternative that All The Kids Are Using™! Perhaps you’re interested in giving it a try, either because Twitter’s recent product changes have you feeling grumpy, or you’ve heard about Mastodon’s low-tolerance towards Nazis and other troublemakers, or maybe you just want to secure a username for your brand on a new social platform before someone else does.
Well, if you have heard people talking about Mastodon, ignore it, save for Sarah Jeong’s excellent piece. And certainly don’t register an account for your brand to avoid username pollution—it won’t work. Right now, many tech writers, chief among them Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff, are completely missing the point of Mastodon. Lance thinks it’s going to fail because you can’t monetize it, it’s decentralized, and William Shatner doesn’t like it, and had trouble deleting his account. Obviously, a lack of Shatner is the kiss of death for any social network.
Never mind that it’s way too soon to assume an open source project run by a handful of unpaid contributors and admins that hasn’t even existed for a year is going to be as fully-featured as Twitter. Or even has the same goals in mind. What Lance, and so many others aren’t getting about Mastodon is that it’s not meant to operate on the same scale as Twitter. Despite being named for a band that’s named after a large, extinct land mammal, being small is Mastodon’s strength.
Part of the problem with Twitter, and why so many people are frustrated with it, is that it’s too big. There’s too many people on a platform that was designed with too few barriers keeping them from each other. The fixes Twitter’s rolled out to ameliorate the problems are generally weak sauce as well. A giant network of unrestricted access to every user—unless they lock their account down to only approved followers—is not sustainable. Twitter’s twin failures of community management with its ongoing harassment problem, and inability to monetize are both symptoms of this.
That anyone can create an Mastodon instance keeps it from suffering the same issues of community management at scale that have turned Twitter into such a cesspool. Mastodon doesn’t need to be the new place for brands to connect with social influencers to be a success. If anything, Mastodon becoming a place for brands would mark it as a failure. Instead, Mastodon is about communities—a network of small, decentralized groups of real human beings (and fursonas) that communicate and share with each other.
I joined Mastodon.Social’s flagship instance back in January, when news came out that App.Net would be shutting down. I didn’t know what to expect, but I found the community on there to be welcoming, and entertaining. It leaned, and still leans, as far as I can see, heavily queer, furry, communist, and focused on open source— of which, only the first applies to me, but I stuck around all the same. While communities like this exist on Twitter, they’re both subsumed by the larger mass, and risk harassment as an effect of any sort of visibility. No wonder they’re the first to jump ship.
The influx of attention, despite temporarily crippling Mastodon’s flagship instance at mastodon.social, at least has the benefit of letting other disgruntled Twitter users know that there is an alternative. Plus, it’s put Mastodon on a more solid financial footing. Eugen Rochko, Mastodon’s creator, is now pulling on over $2k a month in support on Patreon for developing the platform. This is great for a platform that’s not even six months old. New instances are popping up, and according to https://instances.mastodon.xyz/, the total users across all of them is about 100,000. That’s a long way from Twitter’s 302 million users, though it may be closer if you don’t count all the spammers and Russian Troll Bot accounts.
And yes, there’s growing pains to come, and growing pains happening now. Eugen and other Mastodon admins are figuring out how to manage these new communities, deal with federated harassment, and just get the software up to snuff. (Yes, Lance and Bill, account deletion is an open issue.) I have confidence these issues will be addressed, and that the network of Mastodon, and other federated social networks like micro.blog will help us rethink social networks as something that can be on the scale of a neighborhood instead of a planet.
Let a thousand Mastodon instances bloom! In fact, I might just spin up my own instance, if I can bring a few friends along for the ride. We’ll see how that goes. I do have a free Heroku account I’m not doing anything with… A world of decentralized, community-run instances of Mastodon may never replace Twitter or Facebook, but their mere existence proves that there’s another way. I want to be part of it.
I got into blogging because I had a lot to say, and it was fun to put words on the internet. It was also fun to make the sites to put words on the internet. When I graduated High School, I asked my parents for one gift: a domain, and a year of web hosting. That was almost fifteen years ago, and it’s the best gift I ever received—though I’ve changed web hosts and registrars since.
Of course, you’ll notice that there aren’t fifteen years worth of posts on here. That’s because I have a tendency to burn my life’s work, sometimes to start a new life, sometimes to start a fire. I started, and restarted Sanspoint several times before settling on what you see today: blogging about technology and culture. It gave me seven years of solid content ideas, even if the volume was inconsistent.
But it’s no fun anymore. I’m burned out. Technology either infuriates me beyond the point of rational analysis and good writing, or it feels like a distraction from the bigger issues in the new political world. As Patrick Rothfuss put it so elegantly on Twitter: “When I was younger, I could run endlessly on rage. These days, it’s not sustainable for me. It clouds my reason. I burn out and shut down.” I’ve been feeling the same way, and now I’ve hit the “burn out and shut down” stage.
I can’t force the words to come when there’s nothing in the well, and while the well isn’t dry, it’s damned close. It takes far more effort to make the words come and put them on the screen than is worth the return I get from it. I don’t mean financial return, though I won’t deny that’s a factor. If Sanspoint were my full-time job, I could probably find it in me to push on a little further. How much further, though, I don’t know. I just know I’ve hit my limit.
So I’m not going to push any more.
I’m not giving up writing, let alone on Sanspoint, by any stretch, but I’m also not going to beat myself up for not writing. Since making that decision, I’ve felt better than I have in months—maybe years. It’s just a load off my back that I am more than happy to let go. Where I’m going, I don’t need it. I’m much more fulfilled in my new day job, working for one of the country’s premier performing arts organizations, and doing work that is meaningful, even in dark times like these. Instead of fighting elephants with thumbtacks, I’m making an impact in a different way for something I believe in.
I don’t make this decision lightly. I mentioned the financial incentive to continue writing earlier. Last year, I’d set out a goal of making Sanspoint a self-sufficient project. I came close, bringing in about $82, which is a bit over two-thirds of my hosting bill. The idea was that I’d have some kind of incentive structure beyond just regular content to entice sign-ups. (Never mind, of course, that regular content often failed to materialize anyway.) The only thing i came up with was a newsletter, which I’ve steadfastly produced for 25 issues. A couple were late, but it’s been way more consistent than anything on this site.
So, I’ve cancelled the whole $3.00 a month subscription offer for Sanspoint. The support page still has an option for free-will donations, but if I’m not promising regular updates, there’s no reason why you should give me money on a regular basis either. On top of that, I’m opening up the newsletter, officially, to anyone who wants it. I want to keep writing the newsletter around because writing the newsletter is much more fun than writing for the site. It’s a looser, freer format, with less constraints. I hope you enjoy it.
I’m rather proud of most of the stuff I’ve written here over the past seven years. Proud enough that I won’t set it on fire, literally or figuratively. I’ll write again when I have something of value to say that isn’t mere angry grumbling about the technology industry. I have some ideas, and when the words come, they’ll go up. And maybe I’ll explore some other media options too, in time. I won’t rule out anything.
But for now, I’m freeing myself of obligation, and it’s a very good feeling. I’ll see you all when I see you.
This tweet has been circulating for a few years, but it remains relevant to technology discussion today, if not moreso.
Unlike so many people I follow online, I never came up on Cyberpunk. When it comes to Sci-Fi, I grew up on Star Trek—specifically The Next Generation. This might be why, when it comes to technology, there’s still some optimist under my cynical surface. You just need to scratch hard. Though later series and movies would muddy the waters (in a good way), Star Trek retains a utopian view of technology. Not one where technology undoes all human foibles, but where it helps us usher in a more peaceful world, free of material want, and with the freedom to seek fulfillment among the stars. Technology is the vehicle through which humanity’s better nature manifests into the universe.
Instead, I see technology turned against our better natures. Whether it’s governments and corporations alike spying on us through our communication tools, attempts to shove more consumer garbage down our throats, or just predicting our wants before we know we want something for the benefit of a corporate partner, I get mad. Can you blame me? This is not the future I signed up for, but as one of my favorite bands put it, “The future that [I] anticipated has been cancelled.”
So, we get the Cyberpunk future, with all the exploitive techno-capitalism, environmental disasters, and crappy music, but none of the cool fashion. At least we also don’t have to carry around as much gear. If this is the sci-fi view of the world you grew up on, I suppose it’s easy to accept it. While I read a bit of cyberpunk literature as a teen and young adult—Neuromancer and Snow Crash, specifically—I didn’t fall in love with the concept. Likely because I wouldn’t be the elite hacker, slashing his way through cyberspace, merely an office drone at one of the MegaCorps. Maybe there’s a story idea there, though.
But, the Cyberpunk dystopia is hiding its true face behind the lofty utopian rhetoric of the Star Trek future. Not that this is anything new, of course. Utopian rhetoric has been the marketing methodology of new technology for centuries. Which is why, I suppose, if there’s any Sci-Fi that truly reflects the state of technology today, it might be the other major Sci-Fi influence of my adolescence: Douglas Adams.
In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, Douglas extrapolates a view of technology that’s much the same as we have today: a bunch of pie-in-the-sky utopian promises that never work as advertised. This holds true whether it’s robots with “Genuine People Personalities”, or food synthesizers that analyze your body’s dietary needs and your brains desire before spitting out something “almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.” Hell, “Share and Enjoy” may as well be the slogan for Facebook, if not The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.
The great thing about Douglas’s view of technology is that it adds the right spice of cynicism to my utopian Star Trek dreams. Even if we get our post-scarcity utopia of starships and matter replicators, they’ll probably still hang, and take every other system down with it, if someone asks for a cup of tea. But to get there, we need to decide which future we want. And we need to see past the doublespeak and false utopian nonsense spouted by Valley douchebags seeking another round of funding for their newest startup that promises to make your life easier by letting you pay someone to do menial work at a lower pay rate.
I don’t know about you, but I’m still gunning for the Star Trek future. The only way it arrived, however, was after political turmoil, and brutal war that left the planet devastated. Perhaps we must go through the cyberpunk future, the dystopia, and the horror, to reach the technological utopia on the other side. But if we can skip to utopia—or at least make the dystopia short—why shouldn’t we? Where’s my generation’s genuine Sci-Fi optimism? It sure isn’t coming from Silicon Valley.
The election flipped a switch for me, however, and I’ve gone from merely angry to outright furious. I’ve gone from concerned about how my data is being used to outright afraid of tech companies colluding with a government to create registries of Muslims, or other “dangerous” groups. I’m furious that the lack of moderation and oversight on social media has resulted in radical white nationalists dominating the platforms.
It’s tiresome, to be honest. All this anger and rage, it doesn’t make for good writing, and it doesn’t make for pleasant reading either. Beyond that, what good is my raging and screaming into the void even accomplishing? Maybe if I had the audience of Kara Swisher, who wrote a scathing editorial about the tech CEO’s coming to Trump’s “summit”, my words could have an impact on the industry. Instead, it feels like I’m trying to defend against a charging elephant while armed with a thumbtack.
The reason I write about technology is because I care. I complain because I love. I got my first computer in 1992, and I got online in 1997. Both events changed my life, and spawned a continuing fascinating with the potential of computers, the internet, and related gizmos that still lingers. Through technology, I made friends when I was a socially isolated teenager, I found love while I was a socially awkward college student, and I found a voice as an adult. There’s so much power and potential for good embedded in technology that seeing it all twisted to serve the ends of the greedy, the violent, and the hateful… well, can you blame me for being angry?
But what am I going to do about it? That’s the tricky part. I’m burned out, and I’ve been burned. Two short stints in the tech industry, even if one was on the periphery, taught my only that I don’t want to work in the tech industry—even if I were working for one of the better, more progressive tech companies. There’s no joy in being part of the solution, and no success in trying to solve the problem from outside—which also brings no joy. I find myself at an impasse.
In turn, I have to reassess the goal of the Sanspoint project. My technology writing has, ostensibly, been guided by a sense of wanting to use the technology we have better. I don’t mean this in just a personal productivity sense, but also towards the ends of peace, love, and economic equality.(Yes, there’s still the slightest bit of an idealist under my cynical exterior if you scratch hard enough.) What’s clear is that the direction my writing as of late is not going towards those goals. It’s past time to change that. I just don’t want to leave behind the important struggle for the future we face to do it.
You may not be aware of it, but we are in the middle of World War III. It is not nuclear bombs we must fear. The weapon is the human mind, or lack of it, on this planet. That will determine our fate.