Since I was little, I thought being 28 years old would feel momentous. It’d be the year that I’d finally be a Big Proud Adult that Knows What She Wants and Is Comfortable in Her Skin and Her Voice. I turned 29 last weekend, and I’ll just say that… I’m still working on all that. Though the fact of my age did compel me to do some big things.
I took an intense 6 month art class that challenged me to push my aesthetic sensibilities and taught me how to play and experiment with visual media.
I quit my job. I left EFF after four and a half years of working on international policy work, mostly advocating for the public interest in the copyright/access to knowledge domain. The timing all happened to align perfectly so that I felt good about leaving—the TPP, the thing I was fighting for most of my time there, got finalized and signed, but it was finally in a political rut that made it seem unlikely to get passed and binding on the signing countries (long story short, because of the presidential elections). I was sick of fighting the symptoms of a broken system, and wanted to pursue a different, more productive path towards change-making.
I realized that I’m already an “adult”, in the sense that I feel a level of responsibility for things that feel intrinsically tied to my identity. Though I have no fucking idea what I want, I know how I’d like to grow. My goal is to reconcile these feelings of responsibility with my hope to do and try more.
I had a set vision for what I might be like when I was 28. Though it was wrong in a lot of ways, it was right in that I’d finally be comfortable with myself. I can at least be proud of that.
This past week, the digital security community had to confront the fact that a major figurehead in the movement is a rapist, after about a dozen people came out with stories of his sexual assault. I’d heard vague stories about him for a while. Mainly that he’d push people’s boundaries and disregard their consent. Even given what I knew, it was still horrifying to read what he had done to women.
What gets me the most is how he violated these individuals’ bodies, along with their trust, and the trust of an entire community who looked to him as a strong leader who spoke truth to power. He raped and assaulted people between public speeches advocating for transparency, democracy, and human rights. He did it, as he spoke out against other rapists and perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment.
It makes me wonder where else this rot lives. Who else in the social justice community is in fact themselves the embodiment of the social decay they publicly stand against? I wasn’t personally affected by him, but what he did and who he turned out to be shakes me to the core. The harsh contradiction between what he claimed to fight for and what he did to these women makes me feel vulnerable, the paranoid kind that makes me want to roll into a ball in my bed under the covers and never trust anyone ever again. It also makes me ANGRY. Red-in-the-face, spit-spraying, crying, shaking, anger.
But in the torrent of these feelings, I try to dig out and hold up the third: an immense pride and relief that these women spoke out. *They are heroes.* Despite so much fear and shame that this horrible scum-of-a-man subjected them to all this time, they managed to push it aside to speak out. It’s not even a question whether they did it for some self-serving purpose. It’s horrible to have to dig up those memories—even remembering my own minor incidents of sexual assault make me want to cave into myself. I can’t imagine how much emotional work it took to share them with the world.
Since the silence was broken, people I respect have stood by and denied the allegations. But so many more have stood with the victims. I can let the despair over the existence of rampant rape and sexual assault get to me—or, I can be inspired by these victims’ actions and honor their heroism by doing more to speak out against the violent force of patriarchy in my community as soon as I see it.
Last weekend I went to the final meeting of my 6-month art class. It was an intense experience, and the best, most challenging instruction on creativity and visual art I’ve ever had.
I went into the class pretty lost about what my motivations were for making art, and how I’d find my style and voice in the craft. Going to art classes all throughout high school and college, it always felt like I was being pushed to make things look more realistic. Whatever personal flavor happened to manifest in the final works sorta felt accidental. After a while, I realized that making things look accurate was a waste of time given how you can use any number of digital tools to do it for you. I loved getting sucked into a project, but the objective of art—which seemed to coming at me suggestively from all sides socially—to make cool, somewhat realistic looking shit, began to feel hallow and stupid.
Anyway, this class really helped to drag me out of this rut. More than anything, it gave me the tools to experiment so I could continue to explore what my aesthetic voice is. I’m really excited to use these new methods and try it on some other kinds of media besides charcoal on newsprint.
I thought these three drawings from the last session do a good job of reflecting my evolving approach to and thinking around my visual aesthetics. Each one was made in < 7 minutes.