I’m probably going to lose a friend or two over this. Maybe. Actually, I’d like to think that I’ve whittled the kind of people who WOULD “unfriend” me over this down to irrelevance, so maybe I won’t. Anyway, here goes anyway.
A lot of people have wondered over the years why I no longer go to DEFCON, or for that matter, just about any “hacker” conference. I’ve been vague most of the times as to why, often blaming money or “time” as the reason. But it’s a lot more complicated than that.
The real reason? I feel like I’ve grown up.
I’d like to say that a lot has changed since the first DEFCON (which I didn’t intentionally attend, but a coincidence put me in Las Vegas that weekend.. DEFCON III was the first one I technically “attended”) and today. I’d like to give the community the benefit of the doubt. I would love to be proven wrong about my attitudes and opinions. Yet, every time I think I’m about ready to rejoin the fray, I get reminded of why I no longer attend.
Ten years ago, I made a decision to exclude from my life things that were not in line with my “personal manifesto” (some of you are privy to that Manifesto). One of the important parts of that (as it has evolved) was removing myself from situations and groups where Progress, Love, and Light were not at the core; to no longer associate with people or groups that did not hold those ideals in practice. By my standards, I’ve done a pretty good job of holding myself to those “standards.” Far from perfect, but far from where I was 20 years ago when I was younger, angrier, and less refined.
I have wonderful friends. I know some of the most beautiful people in the world. They are all generous, warm, and real. They’re not perfect. But I can honestly say, as I look at my collective friends, that I’m honored to have every one of them in my life, and my life is richer for their presence. I cherish every one of them.. and most importantly, I’d trust any one of them with my life, my soul, my essence.
My dear uncle Oscar was the kindest, most gentle man I ever had the privilege of meeting. His personal philosophy was he would rather have one really good friend than a thousand “acquaintances.” It’s a life lesson it didn’t take me long to learn as I entered adulthood the value of true friends. Friends who would keep me fed and sheltered when I’ve been poor. Friends who would make sure I’m safe when I’m having a medical crisis. The saying is “friends help you move, true friends help you move bodies.”
Friends I don’t have to share my deepest, darkest secret.. because they don’t have to be told. “I’m a bit genderqueer,” I recently revealed to one of these friends. “I’m considered a twospirit by much of my tribe and intentional family.” The response was a shrug and an “I already knew that,” even though I never told them nor did they read that here.
I’ve met a good chunk of these fine people, directly or indirectly, through the “hacker scene”. To a very large degree, I believe these are people I would have eventually ran across anyway, be it from the mutual communites that overlap “hackerdom” and more “normal” pursuits. Or maybe even not more normal.
As part of my adapting to life in a new town recently, I’m starting to wonder if I want to reconnect to the hacker community. I’m torn, because I think there’s lots of interesting things going on in the “scene” right now. People are experimenting with fun technologies (things like the Raspberry Pi and similar cheap computers) and it has rekindled my passion for all things “hack” (in the more traditional sense of people bashing together old technology to do new things).
But the struggle is that lots of folks are playing with this tech and don’t identify as hackers. The movement is called “DIY” today, and I think if I was a teenager again I’d be going to those meetings instead of LA2600, and be more interested in Maker Faire than DEFCON.
I haven’t even touched upon the most disturbing aspects (to me) of the whole “scene”, in regards to the hazards that someone who is genderqueer, or for that matter even a cisgendered female, faces being “out” in this community. I’ve seen it myself over the years.. and heck, I’m not 100% innocent myself (see: I was once young, angry, and less refined). The hacker scene is a weird, strange place. For as much as it is filled with misfits and malcontents, they are often brutal to people who aren’t THEIR kind of misfit and malcontent. Homosexuals I know in the scene have been called “faggots” and ostracised from some groups solely because they are gay. We are seeing a lot of the same voices “speak out” against the “social justice movement” even though I personally believe that we have (as a community) have treated women like absolute shit for two decades and are now largely reaping what we sow in that regard.
Things needed to change. Being a “hacker” is not the domain of the “white, cisgendered male” any more than gaming is. From the very beginning there were people among you who were “gay”, “genderqueer”, and “black.” For that matter, there was one particular hacker from my time who was all of the above, and she’s one of the most talented “computer security professionals” I’ve ever met (and I had a crush on her long before her transition). If she entered the scene today I suspect she’d be treated cruelly by the “scene” even long after she proved herself “worthy.”
Maybe I’m wrong. And it hurts me that I’m (in essence) judging the same community as harshly as I feel they are judging others, and in large lumping the /b/tards, reddit fuckups, and my formerly beloved “hackers” in the same category (and the irony of that prejudgement is not lost on me, believe me). And I value the friends I’ve met through the “hacker scene” as strongly as I value all my friends.
I just don’t feel welcome anymore by the whole community. I’m too different, and I feel “othered” even though I’m about as “old school” as they come. Maybe I’m just getting old, and feedle is, in fact, feeble.
DEFCON isn’t my space anymore. You can’t go home if home has packed up and moved on without you.