Recently, I've become aware of a whisper campaign going around the Drupal world, discussing details about my personal life. I do not know where it started or who all has been part of it. However, it's become apparent that it's not going to settle down, and has now had a major, direct impact on me and my professional career. Only a few people have bothered to speak to me directly, but there's been enough back-chatter that I feel I have no choice but to clarify some private details about me, in public, and address the actions of some fellow members of the Drupal community.
Yep, this is one of those "self-outing" posts. I'm sorry that they still need to exist.
One of the things I've always liked about the Drupal community is its openness to diversity. The tech world in general has a well-documented problem with diversity and Drupal is by no means immune to that, but the Drupal community at least makes a strong effort to buck that trend, very much to its credit and benefit.
There are gays and lesbians in Drupal, many of whom are open and out about it. There are transgender people involved in Drupal. If event attendance is a guide the community is about 20% women, far lower than most would like but far higher than is typical for Open Source projects. There are people who are polyamorous and people who are asexual. There are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics, and probably a few others I've not met personally yet. While the community as a whole definitely skews liberal, I know there are plenty of people far to the right of me politically on various topics, as well as far to the left.
That eclectic background of our community is an asset. Every study shows that teams of mixed backgrounds, along many axes, do better. Even if that mixed environment makes people a bit uncomfortable at times, that's a benefit. There's even a session on the topic at DrupalCon Baltimore (that you should all go to).
In short, "ignorance", "prejudice", and "bigotry" are words I never thought I would apply to Drupal.
What I don't bring to work
While western culture has grown dramatically more tolerant of diverse practices and lifestyles in the past few decades, there is still much work to be done. In particular, there is still an enormous stigma around those who practice alternative sexuality lifestyles, such as the BDSM community, Leather community, and so on. Why there is still so much bigotry about what consenting adults do in their private lives I don't know (and speculating on that would be off topic at this time), but it's definitely prevalent. Even the mention of practicing a Dominant/submissive relationship, despite being consensual and healthy, can be enough for over-active courts to take children away from their parents. The mere mention of an unequal power dynamic, or finding enjoyment in mixing pain and pleasure, makes people assume it must be abusive, despite there being no scientific evidence to back that up at all, and at least some interest in unconventional sexuality is extremely prevalent. That's why I generally avoid talking about my personal life with people I know professionally, and until now none of my employers have been aware of any of this.
Yes, I am one of those people.
There are as many variations on "hierarchical relationships" (the generic, academic name) as there are people in them, and there are tens of thousands of people in them. The level of in-relationship inequality varies, as does the terminology used. Sometimes they're limited to certain times or places, while other relationship dynamics are all-encompassing and part and parcel of someone's life and relationship. Some people like being in control in a relationship, while others like someone else having control.
The broadest terms are Dominant and submissive (or Dom/sub, or D/s), but other terms used include Daddy and little (for those who enjoy roleplaying with age), Goddess and servant, Sir and sub, or Master and slave (or M/s), depending on the couple and their emotional approach. Despite the terminology being similar to the (rightly) illegal practice of treating people as legal property, that is not even remotely how people and communities involved in such relationship choices act. First and foremost, such relationships must always be based on informed, active consent.
I am involved in two such communities, specifically the BDSM community and the Gorean (Gor) community. The former is by far the larger of the two and more varied, although I spend more of my time and activity in the Gorean community. It's a small community, and sadly much of what is found online about it is utter crap, just as most in the BDSM community find the "50 Shades" representation of BDSM to be harmfully misleading. The Gorean subculture is inspired by a science-fiction book series written from the 1960s onward to today, and predicated on a strong sense of personal honor, integrity, and community. It also practices consensual Master/slave relationships, and has a strong gender bias toward male-Dom/female-sub relationships, but that is not the cornerstone of Gorean culture. There are other groups that are biased the other way, or have no gender bias. There are even groups in Chicago (where I live) that have regular "fem-dom" parties. To each their own.
The idea of consenting to give your significant other outsized control over your life may seem strange or uncomfortable to some. That's fine; it's not for everyone, nor does anyone claim it is, nor should anyone ever be forced into such a relationship. It may seem like it flies in the face of the progress that has been made in recent decades in allowing women to choose their own path in life rather than being forced into a box, a change that is still a struggle and a work-in-progress. But that's the whole point: Everyone, men and women, should be able to choose the life, role, and relationships they prefer and that they find fulfilling. If someone finds a life, role, or relationship fulfilling that you do not, who are we to tell them they're wrong, whatever it is? If being submissive (or dominant) in a relationship is what makes someone happy, then as long as it's consensual what right does anyone else have to tell them no?
Yes, I have been involved in several consensual Master/slave relationships with women. I will continue to do so, but only with those who are also interested in such relationships. I discuss the social and personal dynamics of such relationships on private forums set up for people with similar interests. I know many people who are happily coupled in such relationships (Male/female, Female/male, Male/male, Female/female, and other combinations), many of them married with kids who are perfectly well-adjusted.
I also have adopted a few minor "cultural quirks" derived from the Gorean novels, as have many (but by no means all) Goreans. For instance, I often applaud single-handed, which is a cultural quirk from the book series, or say "be well" or "I wish you well" to end a conversation. These are aspects of a culture, albeit a small one, that harm no one. They're about as significant as showing a Vulcan salute and saying "Live long and prosper".
Do such D/s relationships offer a potential for abuse? Certainly, yes. But potential is not actual. Unfortunately, any intimate relationship can be abused by malicious people. It's disgraceful and abhorrent that so many women are forced to flee abusive relationships in this day and age, and I’m speaking entirely outside the context the D/s or Gorean communities. If anything, the D/s and Gorean community in general places a heavy emphasis on explicit, active, informed consent and constant communication precisely to help avoid abusive situations. The few studies that have been done have found that people involved in BDSM or D/s are not any more likely to have been in abusive situations than the general public; they're just more honest about it with themselves and each other, which is something I appreciate as someone who has been a victim of an abusive relationship.
Yes, that's right. My very first romantic relationship was, in hindsight, emotionally abusive, with me on the receiving end. I am acutely aware of what that's like. It took me years to recover. I would not wish that on anyone, which is why I frequently work to help those I am intimate with to be stronger and more self-aware people so that they can recognize and avoid such situations. I've even worked to pull friends out of abusive relationships when they needed someone to have their back.
Despite the total lack of evidence that alternative lifestyle cultures offer any harm to anyone, there is still a great deal of prejudice and bigotry regarding it. It is for that reason that I rarely discuss my personal life, and am generally not "out" in the Drupal community, although there are a handful of people I have opened up to over the past decade when I felt safe. I even know a handful of people in Drupal who are also interested in unconventional relationships or sexuality, who are also not "out" about it (for, seemingly, very good reasons).
Nonetheless, in recent months knowledge of my personal life has "leaked", and turned into a FUD campaign against me that has now reached Drupal's leadership. Therefore, I feel I have no alternative but to lay out who and what I am, and express my utter disgust with the way many in this community have behaved toward me .
From what I've been able to piece together, it seems that last October someone, I do not know who, stumbled across my profile on a private, registration-required website for alternative-lifestyle people, with some 5 million members, on which they apparently had an account as well. They were Offended(tm) and took screenshots of a post I'd made 7 years ago at a D/s friends' wedding I attended, to pass around and show what a terrible person I am. It should be noted that such behavior is a direct violation of that site's Terms of Service (duh).
Eventually that information made it to the Community Working Group (CWG), who concluded "there was no code of conduct violation present for [them] to take any action on". While it should have stopped there, the gossip campaign continued (apparently with even more excerpts of stuff I'd written) and the CWG informed me of the situation, in broad strokes. I made it clear that if anyone wanted to speak to me privately to better understand my personal life I was open to doing so.
The only person who did so was Klaus Purer, who seems to have set himself up as the primary antagonist. Klaus pulled me aside to talk at Drupal Iron Camp in Prague, although by "talk" he apparently meant berate me and stumble over declarations of how terrible a person I am without any details or any apparent desire to ask me questions or hear me say anything. He ended the conversation by stating that he was going to "distance himself from me", and I ended it with an offer of a handshake.
It didn't end there, though. Apparently, Klaus took it upon himself to sign up for the site for the express purpose of going spelunking through my posting history to find the worst-sounding things he could, out of context. (Once again, a gross violation of that site's Terms of Service, not to mention my privacy.) Apparently he also had someone forward him excerpts from my profile on a dating site, too. Since the CWG still held that I had never violated the Code of Conduct they recommended that he contact me to "work it out between yourselves", which he did.
Klaus and I had a single Google Hangout conversation in January, although again "conversation" is a generous word. It's hard to call an exchange a conversation when it begins with one party berating the other for their private life, calling them an abuser (of whom? No one), and demanding that they resign from all positions within Drupal and excommunicate themselves. He strongly implied that he was speaking on behalf of other, anonymous individuals as well. It's also not a "conversation" when Klaus informed me that I need to do so or he will bring in more "others" to help pressure Drupal's leadership to throw me out. I informed him that his statements constituted blackmail, with which he partially agreed.
I do not suffer threats and bullying lightly. I immediately referred the matter back to the CWG, who tried to set up a mediation that consisted of a single conversation with each of Klaus and I and concluded once again that I had in no way violated the Code of Conduct.
Apparently, during this time, Klaus continued to "monitor" my posting on the private forum and share further excerpts from there with the CWG, at least, in a continued effort to get them to kickban me. (See previous statement about their Terms of Service.)
Then on 24 February I got a phone call from Drupal project lead Dries Buytaert. Apparently Klaus was insisting that I be removed from DrupalCon (where I have been a track chair for many years, and was selected as a speaker) before speakers were announced the following Monday (the 27th). It seems Dries and Drupal Association Executive Director Megan Sanicki had been informed of the situation weeks earlier, but neither had reached out to me once about it. Now, in my first contact with Dries, he asked me "to step down from Drupal", including as a Drupal advocate for the PHP community, "in the best interest of the project".
I informed him how impossible that was, given that Drupal has been the cornerstone of my career for the past nearly 12 years. (My work to grow the community in that time, and to build bridges with other communities, and to mentor newcomers in Drupal, and the utter lack of any indication that I had treated anyone with less than dignity and respect didn't seem to be relevant.) Simply abandoning Drupal would be direct material harm to me and my career, not to mention Drupal. (Telling the PHP world "Sorry, I can't say nice things about Drupal anymore, they don't like me" would reflect very poorly on the project and community.) It would also be giving in to bullying and blackmail from another Drupal member.
We talked further, but Dries wouldn't budge on me leaving, including making it clear that it wasn't an option, but an instruction. The conversation ended with Dries saying "think about it, let's talk again, maybe soon", and indicating that he needed "time to process".
I should note that the Drupal Code of Conduct says:
We expect individuals to first try to resolve conflicts between themselves in a constructive manner
Bullying, blackmail, and ultimatums do not constitute a "constructive manner", yet is exactly what I was receiving.
The next communication I received from the Association was an email from Megan on Monday 27 February, informing me that I'd been summarily dismissed from my position as track chair and as a speaker at DrupalCon, "per [my] conversation with Dries".
I do not know if "per my conversation with Dries" means I'm unwelcome in Drupal because of my sex life, I'm unwelcome in Drupal because Dries was afraid Klaus would go public and embarrass the project otherwise, or something else. I have been given no further information than that and still have not been.
I never expected to be subject to prejudice and discrimination in Drupal, least of all from Drupal's leadership. I therefore referred the matter to the Board of Directors, as I didn't think they would approve of discrimination within the community. The Board's only available time to meet was while I was presenting at a conference and thus was unable to attend, instead submitting my case in writing, at length, detailing the same information as I've presented here and then some. They sent me no questions in advance of the meeting. I know nothing of the Board's internal deliberations. I only know that their response came back "The board has voted to affirm Megan’s decision to revoke the session for DrupalCon Baltimore and end the track chair term."
To say I am disappointed in Drupal's leadership is a gross understatement.
In summary, then, a group of people decided that they didn't like my personal life. They don't approve of Gor, and so feel it appropriate to talk about me behind my back, violate my privacy, threaten me, bully me, and run me out of the project. And they may have succeeded.
Now take that paragraph, replace the word "Gor" with "being gay", and go back in time 15 years. Maybe even 10. Imagine being told that you need to leave Drupal before people find out that you're gay and it embarasses the project.
Now try replacing "Gor" with "Muslims", and think about it today.
Bigotry and prejudice are directly against Drupal's stated values. Against anyone. From the Drupal Code of Conduct:
We expect members of the Drupal community to be respectful when dealing with other contributors as well as with people outside the Drupal project and with users of Drupal.
And the DrupalCon Code of Conduct:
Sponsors, volunteers, speakers, attendees, and other participants should strive to treat all people with dignity and respect, regardless of their culture, religion, physical appearance, disability, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.
Gor is a culture. D/s is a sexual orientation. No one in this matter has even claimed, much less shown, that I have treated anyone in Drupal or elsewhere with anything less than "dignity and respect".
We will not tolerate bullying or harassment of any member of the Drupal community.
And yet here I am, being bullied, harassed, and excluded because of my personal activities, which I don't even publicize much less advocate for in tech circles.
Yet no one would even think to exclude someone from Drupal because they were Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. Some (although certainly not all) practitioners of those religions have cultural traditions and practices that others find distasteful, but no one would tolerate a "religious test" for Drupal participation or Drupal leadership. If someone suggested that certain "religious symbols" from Judaism or Islam were unwelcome at Drupal events there would justifiably be a riot. Hell, I'd join it.
Are we not now already engaged in a cultural and social battle against excluding people because of their religion or culture? Just what side of that fight are you on? (I'm on the "refugees welcome, #NoWallNoBan" side myself.)
This is not the Drupal I know. The Drupal I know wouldn't excommunicate people because of the books they read or what they do in their private lives. The Drupal I know doesn't force people to bare their personal lives to the world as their only recourse to a gossip and bullying campaign.
So what have I said or done to drive people in Drupal, up to and including the project lead, to try and ostracize me? Putting aside the "he must have deserved it" implications of that way of thinking, here's what's filtered back to me (which is apparently not everything, since not everything the gossip chain has access to has been shared with me).
Larry gave a speech at a wedding saying all women are slaves
False. Seven years ago, friends of mine in the BDSM community were already in a consensual M/s relationship and were getting married, and asked me to officiate a small informal after-event the next day for the power dynamic side of their relationship. Who am I to say no? I worked with them to design a brief ceremony that was meaningful for them, including a speech by me (because this is me; I give great speeches). In it, I referred to the voluntary act of submission they were showing (remember, they just got married the day before) as an act of love.
Several of the other attendees really liked my speech and asked me to post it on my profile, which I did. When posting it on my profile's journal I noted "I do believe that", in reference to the ceremony being an act of love, not of debasement. Which... is true. A healthy D/s relationship (yep, that's a thing) can and should be very loving, caring, and supportive. I have no interest in demeaning or debasing anyone, regardless of the relationship dynamic, and no one else should, either.
It was apparently a screenshot of this post that started all the hullabaloo. Why a private ceremony for two loving people that talks about love and community is offensive to people I cannot fathom. Why a private ceremony posted on a private forum is anyone else's business I do not know. Is some of the language in it rather flowery? Of course. It's a wedding speech! I've also been part of the wedding party for Catholic friends, which had overly flowery language about submission to God, too.
Larry run a Meetup group for Goreans in the Chicago area
... Yes. I run a book club, which meets at a public library that knows the sci-fi book series we're talking about. I also have friends over for dinner from time to time. Why anyone should give a damn is beyond me.
Larry promotes Gorean symbols at Drupal events
If by "promote" you mean "has a few cultural quirks that are meaningful to him derived from the books that inspire his culture", then yes. Try telling a Jew they're not allowed to say "Shalom" at a Drupal event. Imagine what would happen if a Muslim woman was berated for wearing a hijab at DrupalCon (or for not wearing one). You'd get sued even faster than you were fired (and rightly so).
I've been advised that I need to stop... applauding, or telling people to "be well", because somehow that is offensive. True story. What's offensive is the cultural intolerance that even cares, and yes, I do find that statement offensive and discriminatory.
Larry is going to abuse his positions in Drupal to force women to be his slaves
... Because any man with any kind of position is of course going to use it to abuse any woman he's around. Yes, there are people who have abused their positions like that. This line of thinking implies that any man with any power will somehow use it to abuse any woman he's around. That is nonsense. As far as I'm aware there have been no actual complaints about my behavior toward anyone, woman or otherwise, or of any abuse of any kind. Judge me by my actions, not by what some fear without cause that I might do.
In the nine years that I've been a core subsystem maintainer, I have never once been accused of using that position to pressure anyone into, well, anything. That's because I haven't. Frankly the idea that I could leverage my role in Drupal into pressuring people for sexual favors is laughable, even if I wanted to (I don't).
If we let Larry speak at DrupalCon, he could influence others to become Gorean!
I've been speaking at DrupalCon for a decade without that happening, so yeah...
That aside, "if we let a homosexual present at DrupalCon, other people there might catch the gay!"
Really? Are we as a community still at the level of ignorance of "catch gay"? Is that really the discussion we're having? I hope your stomach is turning at that thought, because mine is. The only thing anyone "catches" at DrupalCon is... Drupal. Which is the point.
(And possibly Drupal Flu, but that doesn't discriminate at all.)
Larry is a proponent for the enslavement of women!
Patently absurd and absolutely false. I have never, ever advocated for treating women, as a class, with anything other than dignity and respect. I am a proponent of honorable behavior, strength of character, community building, teaching, explicit clarity and honesty in relationships of all kinds, and of allowing people to practice whatever sort of personal, cultural, romantic, and sexual relationships they like as long as it's consensual. That anyone in Drupal would disagree with that position is disturbing.
The kind you like may not be the kind I like, and vice versa. S'ok. That's the whole diversity thing. I don't judge you or force you into anything you don't want and you return the favor. That's kind of what diversity and tolerance means.
I spent ten years working at one of the most women- and family-friendly companies you can imagine (although again, I never discussed my private life with my employer). Some of the best projects I have worked on, I was the only guy on the team.
I have actively encouraged places I've worked to hire more diversely.
I've been a DrupalCon track chair since 2011. For most of that time I was the global chair for the Core Conversations track, and I'm happy to say that it generally beat-the-average in terms of getting women up on stage. The conference selection team, though, always felt unbalanced, and I pushed hard to get the Drupal Association content lead (Steph El-hajj and after her Amanda Gonser) to select women to be the co-chair on my tracks. (I don't recall if I ever outright threatened to step down if they didn't, but I know I implied it.)
Later on I switched to chairing the PHP track, which has had a challenge getting session submissions from women. My co-chairs and I have debated how to improve that, and have tried to reach out to more women in the community. This is an area we're still working on, or rather were until I was summarily dismissed.
I've informally mentored a number of people in Drupal and elsewhere, but on balance I think I've spent more time mentoring women. That includes actively pushing some to take more risks, be more outspoken, get up on stage and speak, helping them with ideas for presentations when asked, and otherwise doing my best to encourage everyone to take steps to succeed.
These are not the actions of someone who wants to "put women down".
So here we are
I've been working in Drupal for more than a decade, personally and professionally, working to teach, educate, and build bridges. I have treated everyone I've worked with, men and women, with respect as peers and equals. But now because a few people are squeamish about my private sex life and what I say on private forums I am being attacked as an abuser, excluded from the project, and my career actively undermined. These actions have already caused me direct, material, professional harm.
When prejudice, bigotry, and bullying became accepted behavior in Drupal, I don't know. Maybe they aren't, except for a few people. I would like to think so. Unfortunately it takes only a few people to cause massive personal damage.
The only way to combat this sort of coercion and behind-the-scenes abuse is to short-circuit it with transparency; I am left with no alternative but to share my personal life with the world, for I will not slink away into the night just because some bully decides to feed the rumor mill.
So, here I am. This is me. I will not deny or hide who I am or what I do, though I will protect and respect the privacy of those with whom I associate even as mine was not. I am not ashamed of the relationship-styles I prefer, and I reject the idea that there should be any stigma associated with anything consenting adults freely choose to do. I will not back down from my beliefs or my nature because of a few bigots. I am the exact same person I was yesterday, and will continue to be the same person tomorrow, despite what a few bullies may want.
I will continue to do what I do: Write good code; teach others to do so; try to inspire people to do good in the world (technically or otherwise), regardless of their background; and encourage everyone to do the same for others. I will continue to build bridges, help, and teach. Because that is simply who I am.
If all this is far more information than you ever wanted to know about Larry's personal life, well, I agree, and I am sorry that the situation called for this. If you still have questions, then as I have stated since the beginning of this matter I am willing to talk to people one-on-one if they want to better understand where I'm coming from.
But I will not be bullied.
(Comments on this post are allowed but for obvious reasons will be moderated.)