Dear HOPE Number Nine Speaker Committee,

Please accept my sincerest apologies for any inconvenience that my choice not to participate in the HOPE9 conference this year may cause you as organizers. I’d also like to thank you once again for accepting one of my two session proposals.

I’m thrilled to know my “Anti-Censorship Best Practices: How to make keeping it up easy and taking it down hard” seminar you accepted has such wide appeal. At the same time, I’m confused by the fact that you seemed adamant about making HOPE9 a place to debut unique or original content. Of the two proposals I sent to you, you selected the one I’ve given, recorded, and published on the Web numerous times.

Since there’s video of my “Anti-Censorship” talk on the Internet, feel free to play that video during my session if it’d be useful for you to do so. Alternatively, I invite anyone who will be participating in HOPE9 to substitute me with themselves. All of my presentation materials are available for download, including my slides and presenter notes, which should make it easy to replace me with anyone who wants to move up to give this talk themselves! :)

In the HOPE9 speaker guidelines that were emailed to me, you wrote:

We want speakers who are genuinely interested in sharing their knowledge on a particular topic and have something interesting to say. […] If you’ve submitted a talk that’s identical to one submitted elsewhere or too similar to one submitted to a previous HOPE conference, in all likelihood it won’t be approved. If you realize with dismay that you’ve already done this, simply email us to cancel your first submission and send us something more original for us to consider. We’ll act like it never happened.

The other proposal I sent to you was a talk I’ve never given before. It’s called “The Technology of Consent: What the Internet can teach us about negotiation”:

How would your laptop negotiate a one-night stand? Can safer sex practices apply to network engineering or software development? Why is giving your partner a checksum for your fantasies key to having hot sex?

Although few people seem to realize it, the Internet is a very sexual technology. It functions using the same principle as love: abundance is more valuable than scarcity. Not only were modern computer networks developed during the “sexual revolution” of the 1960′s, their fundamental operating principle is consent. As the Internet becomes an increasingly ubiquitous part of our lives and our society, what lessons can we take from its successes, and its failures? What does the Internet and computer networking technologies, like the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), teach us about successfully negotiating sexual relationships?

Since submitting the above proposal, I’ve received correspondence from certain people seeming to belittle the importance of the ideas therein. I’ve also recently had disconcerting experiences that have strengthened my feelings on the importance of talking about consent-positive behaviors at hackerspaces, and hacker communities more generally.

In one email I received recently, someone calling themselves [REDACTED] wrote that they “must mock” the idea:

Subject: OhMiGosh, I must mock you
Date: June 25, 2012 10:53:22 AM MDT
To: [maymay <[email protected]>]

Hello sir…

By happenstance, I just ran into this… “TCP/IP as a framework for understanding consent” (via No you did not do that. Please say no. ;-) What was the response like?

Did you discuss the manner in which sex appeal, neurolinguistic programming, and plain ol’ mojo can behave as Out Of Band headers? Is FetLife the Single Sign On portal to the inner sanctums of individual kinks?

Okay, not as clever as yours, but still. /shakes head

Also, on June 16th, I participated in KinkForAll San Francisco 2, a BarCamp-like sexuality education unconference that was generously hosted by the Noisebridge Hackerspace. I was very disappointed by the blatant misogyny and androcentrism some regulars displayed there; one Noisebridge regular approached me and asked, “Where are my free blowjobs?” I learned that, earlier, someone had posted a sign reading “free blowjobs for hackers.” This sign seems to presume that “hackers” are traditionally masculine, i.e., they have penises and conform to heteronormative, hegemonic standards of masculinity or maleness.

Assumptions like these greatly contribute to an air of sexual entitlement and boundary-violating, coercive, exclusionary behavior among male-identified hackers. Bluntly, this attitude is already so prevalent it’s practically oozing from an overwhelming majority of (usually male-identified) people in tech arenas. We need—and I will work to ensure—less of it, not more.

Personally, as a hacker who resists such stereotypes, behaviors like these create a deeply disturbing environment that makes me feel unsafe in hackerspaces and at tech-focused events. Moreover, I’ve had myriad conversations with female-identified people who have expressed an interest in participating more fully, but who are repulsed by blatant displays of sexism on a regular basis. Due to this corrosive social atmosphere, I feel we’re all missing out on valuable contributions hackers of different genders than most can offer.

Therefore, I invite you to consider the positive impact more focused discussions about these difficult and often uncomfortable topics could have. Let’s have them in the hallway track. Let’s have them spotlighted as sessions. Let’s make it a keynote!

These recent experiences, combined with your acceptance of my oft-repeated anti-censorship talk—whose subtitle is a sexual innuendo, no less—rather than a relatively technical talk about consent and negotiating personal boundaries, have left me with little motivation to speak at HOPE9 this year. So, instead, I’ve chosen to go to the woods to climb trees and spend time with people who are important to me. I’m hopeful (and grateful) for your understanding. :)

At some future point, I hope that I may still be able to participate in HOPE, either as a participant or a speaker. Regardless, I invite you, and all Hope Number Nine participants, to talk about these issues at the conference this year. And I hope you do. ;)

Thank you again for taking the time to consider the proposals I sent to you and for reading this letter.