A History:

Fringe Mastodev
Part IV: Intermission

This post is the fourth in a series of posts chronicling my personal history of involvement with the fringe development scene on Mastodon, detailing the origins of the movement, and touching on a number of larger cultural developments and trends taking place in the Mastodon communit{y|ies} more broadly. Fringe development is my term for the development work (research; design; coding) taking place on forks and individual instances of Mastodon, without the intention of sending that work upstream, and without mainstream acknowledgment or recognition. Increasingly, as Mastodon as a project grows, I believe that it is this development work that happens on the fringes that will shape the future of the software.

If you haven't already read the previous parts of this story, you can do so here:

A History:

Fringe Mastodev – Part I: The Beginnings

A History:

Fringe Mastodev – Part II: Enter Allie Hart

A History:

Fringe Mastodev – Part III: Joining GlitchSoc

An Intermission

When I first started planning out this Mastodon history series, I had planned for it to be a lot shorter. The entire first post—where I go into the racist drama that struck Mastodon in —was off the menu; the plan was to start in , where Mourning Mastodon had left off, and with my joining of the GlitchSoc fork. As I got further and further into the writing process, however, I realized that there was no way that this would work: The events which had taken place that February had so deeply underpinned everything which came after that I couldn't not bring them up—and, well: They had never been recorded before.

Still, I found myself hesitating, and as I pieced my thoughts together, I realized that I was hesitating because I was afraid. I was afraid because this was something nobody talked about—this was something I had nobody to talk about with—and no real evidence to support, beyond potential corroboration from others who were also present at the time. I was afraid that somebody would tell me that what I had seen and heard with my own eyes and ears was wrong, that the racism and harassment that I knew was this platform's heritage was a myth, that I was just stirring up drama and it didn't matter anyway. I published in spite of these fears because—well, that's what responsible journalism is about, isn't it? Saying what needs to be said.

As I have been working on and reworking this post, I have found myself confronting all of those same fears. As a matter of fact, this time it's worse, because I'm not just talking about some singular event in the distant past which noöne remembers—I'm talking about systemic issues in the here‐and‐now.

I don't think gaslighting is the correct word for this situation—it's a word that I see thrown around sometimes, for that feeling when you see something wrong but nobody else is saying anything and noöne seems to want to talk about it and you start to wonder if you've lost your mind. But gaslighting is a targeted abuse tactic aimed at maximizing control; gaslighting is when you approach your significant other hoping to talk about how—you think, maybe—they have treated you like shit for the past several months, and instead of having a conversation about it, they respond with no I haven't; none of that is real; if it were it would be your own fault—and how dare you lash out at me that way?This is more just a culture of denial, of respectability, and, well—

My excuse for writing this post, and this history—because realtalk, this post is a good 75% of what this history series has been about—is that I have a number of supporters, some of whom have been contributing financially to keep me afloat, some of whom have been doing so because of the very work that I have been describing in these posts—and I owe it to those people to be frank and honest about what has been going on for the past year and the truth behind my involvement in these things. I do want you to pause and think about that word—excuse—how I feel like I need an excuse to talk about my feelings and my experiences, because without one they are too quickly invalidated, too easily dismissed. How I have to put my entire post on hold and take the time to focus your attention on that fact. How I'm burying the lede: currently, right now, in this post, paragraphs and paragraphs of explanation and justification and rationalization without yet ever getting to my point; currently, right now, in this entire series, because we're four posts in and I'm only just starting to get to the important part.

These are things which, frankly, I don't expect all of you to catch the significance of. This is Mastodon, where culture A is techbros who talk about security like it's a variable to optimize for and culture B is white trans girls who pass around objectifying pictures of women like they're candy. I'm writing this post for the handful of you who might; who might close your eyes and whisper: She finally said it. I'm writing this post for the historians, also, and the academics, because Mastodon really is quite unique and groudbreaking in a lot of ways, and these aren't the sorts of circumstances that come about more than once in a planet's lifetime. And, of course, I'm writing this post for myself, maybe most of all, because after the past year I really need some closure, I need to be able to put this all behind me and tell myself: It's okay to move on.

I've been grappling with how to talk about the content of this post ever since I first decided I wanted to do this history series, how much detail I should go into and what I should include, and, like with my first post about the events of February, this one originally wasn't even on the menu. Up until now—I don't know if you've noticed—I've limited myself to mostly analysing things with an academic, historical sort of voice, never going deeper than stating the events which occurred and in what order and looking into the reasons why.

But what I've realized is that there's no way I can maintain that for the entire rest of this series and still say everything which deserves to be said. I need to pause, take a moment, and really spell out the emotional impact of this all without trying to hide it behind relationships of cause and effect. So that's what this post is—an intermission, a pause in the history, for really just laying bare some shit on Mastodon and the experience of Mastodon development, for talking about how it has affected me and the people close to me, and for setting the record straight such that when I say, I didn't have the energy to remain involved in Mastodon dev, you all will know exactly where that sentence is coming from.

This series isn't over—I still need to talk more about my work on Mastodon themeïng, about Mastodon GO! and my attempts at a refactor, about CYBREMONDAY, my work on specifications like MonStrPub, my refocusing on internet publishing and the tools thereof, ActivityPress, and where I'm planning on going from here. We're… maybe halfway through everything that I have to say. And, I suppose, if you're especially callous, you can probably skip this post entirely and not miss out on a whole lot as far as that all is concerned.

But I'm hoping you won't: I'm hoping you read this post, and it resonates with some part of you, and you understand; honestly, I'm hoping it's at least a little bit educational, if not as educational as the rest of this series, because hey, maybe that means we'll be on a path towards things getting better. I'm hoping I get at least one response that says, you know, that's fucked up and i'm sorry and yr feelings r valid.

Don't say it if you don't mean it, though. I'm not gonna begrudge you for needing time to think on this one.

A Culture of Exploitation

There is another reason why I have hesitated on writing this post—aside from a stifling culture of denial and doubting my own sanity, I mean—and that's because I was really rather hoping that somebody else would say it first. It's the sort of thing that really works better when someone else brings it up: Hey, so‐and‐so has really been doing a lot for y'all and they deserve to be treated better is a sentence which, under white respectability culture, sounds a lot more heartfelt and genuine when so‐and‐so isn't yourself. I was hoping that someone who wasn't a developer or caretaker or public figure, someone who wasn't me or one of my friends who have been struggling with this, would maybe take a hint that things weren't totally that great and rally the forces to possibly try to do something about it.

Of course, the truth is that the people who aren't struggling with this are more‐often‐than‐not the ones perpetuating it, and even when they're not, they don't care, or at least—most generously, because there are some of you that I do love and trust and believe in out there—at least haven't had the life experiences to notice this sort of shit and realize what is going on. And yes, I'm a gender studies major, I took an entire semester on how caretaking work is devalued and exploited by sociëty, it's probably unfair for me to expect others to be clued into those sorts of things when they've spent their entire lives studying circuitboards or machine code or whatever and are told by their employers to view people as just that thing which generates requests for our REST API.

But the fact of the matter is: Mastodon has a culture of exploitation, and it's really bad.

I've already discussed—in Mourning Mastodon, and elsewhere—how Mastodon development has largely operated through a mechanism of exploitation, where queer and marginalized users raise warnings and design features which upstream then adopts, often with little acknowledgment, recognition, or compensation, and often well after their moment of need has begun. But Mastodon's culture of exploitation is not limited to its development staff—as a matter of fact, Mastodon exploits its developers too, especially those on the fringes, who are often volunteers, as well as its instance admins and moderators, who are certainly never compensated their worth for protecting users from The Entirety Of The Fediverse. Mastodon is a culture built upon entitlemententitled to this space, entitled to set the limits of discourse, entitled to read what you have to say, entitled to react, entitled to respond, entitled to be heard, entitled to new features, entitled to others' time, entitled to others' care—and it is a culture built upon exploitation, where the vast majority of users coast along on the efforts of a few {developers | admins | moderators | caretakers} without ever offering more than the basest acknowledgment or anything resembling fair compensation, and certainly not taking steps to ensure that the people in these roles are able to sustainably maintain them into the future.

And what happens when they burn out? When drama hits, or they get sick, or are hit with a new employment situation, or need to take care of a loved one, or any one of the innumerable things which can make somebody no longer capable of handling the large amounts of remote caretaking work that Mastodon demands? Well, if the person in question is trans, then social death is real death, as they say.

And I say this while acknowledging that there are people with real, critical, urgent needs on the fediverse, and without suggesting that those needs are not valid or should not be met. Of course they are, and should. But what I see time and time again is that it is the same people doing the work to meet those needs—until they burn out; until they no longer can—and that the rest of the Mastodon community is more‐or‐less content to let them carry that burden, with little in the way of support, and then cast them to the side once their usefulness has worn thin. And, of course, the truly needy among us are only tolerated so long as they shitpost in the culturally‐appropriate manner, or make takes and calls‐to‐action that leave white people feeling good when they click boost, and carefully cultivate their #brand (because that's what it is) to appropriately match Mastodon's expectations for what a marginalized person should say and do. People who are able to do these things well can tap into Mastodon time and time again, extracting whatever value they want; people who fail at them have difficulty getting connected with resources that they sorely need—and, in all likelihood, silently disappear.

It's not hard to come up with an explanation for these behaviours: Mastodon remains largely a culture of techies, and tech is an entire industry founded upon exploiting the labour of others—be it users, cafeteria and restaurant workers, custodial staff, factory workers, drivers, housekeepers, nannies, parents, spouses, or friends—and it isn't as though being a woman exempts you from the consequences of living and breathing in a toxic, white, masculinist culture every day, and certainly not for those among us for whom that culture is more‐or‐less all we have ever known. Not to cast too thin a line, but by‐and‐large tech culture does not know how to take care of itself, does not know how to take care of others, and does not know how to recognize care when it sees it taking place.

Two Quick Rebuttals

I anticipate two major responses to the above claims. The first is, as already mentioned, denial, arguïng that the problem is imagined, or overstated, or localized to just one small corner of the fediverse, or just one small group of people. To this I ask: Where, then, are Mastodon's caretakers? Where are the people greeting new users as they sign on, communicating with people about their needs, checking in with random strangers to make sure they feel accepted and their day is going okay, working to advocate for them on a development level and build the features they need, creating Issues and spreading them around for important concerns, working to bridge the cultural gaps between communities and resolve disputes, and literally being people's literal mother in times of crisis when they have nobody else to turn to? I have done these things. I know so many people who have done these things. None of us are doing them any longer.

(If there is a secret Mastodon sociëty of caretakers out there, tell me where I can sign up to get some service, because I feel about 5000 spoons in the hole right now.)

The second, more insidious response that I expect is resignation: Nevermind that Mastodon once had all of these things; toxic individualism is the end product of all social media, we're all just here to piggyback each other's labour for a personal, social high, for favs and boosts and a place to vent without regard for our surroundings, and it was misguided from the start to expect anything better. And, historically speaking? Yes, it was. All of the people who set their minds to turning Mastodon into a warm, nurturing space are now hurt, traumatized, burned out, have difficulty even using the default web app because the visual layout or colour scheme or branding or boop sound all remind us of months of hard, difficult work and exploitation that never amounted to anything in the long run. But I think it is wrong to see this chain of events as inevitable, as though it wasn't the direct result of a pattern of use and neglect on the part of the people here, as though, if everyone was on the same page about this and put in the necessary forethought and planning, we couldn't have created a network that valued and protected its caretakers and had systems in place to help people transition in and out of those roles.

And maybe that is too much to ask, in these times, when everyone has so many other concerns plaguing them, when we're so busy worrying about the survivability of ourselves and our own bodies, to think about and plan for the survivability of an online social network where we spend some of our time. Or maybe that's a discussion which still needs to happen. What I do know is that the hurt and trauma already present on this network isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and it's about time Mastodon started accounting for that fact.

A Typical Timeline for Caretaking Work on Mastodon

It's easy for me to speak about Mastodon's culture of exploitation because, well, I've lived it, multiple times over, and seen my friends go through it time and time again. The pattern is depressingly regular, occuring over five stages:

  1. Present a problem. In the early days of Mastodon, the major problem was onboarding and community management. Then it was developing new features. Then it was managing the fork, GlitchSoc. And there has always been the tasks of listening to those in need, negotiating disputes, recording histories, helping those without access to resources navigate their day‐to‐day issues, and Keeping Trans Folks Alive. On Mastodon, there are problems around every corner, for those who know how to look.

  2. Extract labour. Mastodon has had the good fortune of having a steady stream of volunteer labour to rely on when addressing its most urgent concerns. Before the onboarding modal was implemented, there was an onboarding team which would personally reach out to and welcome each new user to the fediverse, facilitated through a bot scanning the public timeline for toots from people it had never seen before. Mastodon's content warnings, many different kinds of mutes, theming system, and profile metadata fields are all features designed and/or implemented in a large part through volunteer community labour. Instance administration and moderation remains largely a volunteer occupation, as does the less‐visible work of checking in with users and extending care.

    There is nothing wrong with volunteering for a cause that you believe in, but systemically, this means that the bulk of the caretaking work falls on those who either can't afford to let it slip—the most marginalized—or those who aren't willing to—frequently because they are survivors of great moments of need themselves. Meanwhile, cis, white, privileged users, and the project as a whole, reap the benefit. Mastodon would not still be around today without the many volunteer caretakers, admins, moderators, and developers who have donated their time to this project. But even though everyone else profits from their work, as a whole, they largely do not.

  3. Generate burnout. Mastodon needs its caretakers, but it does not protect them, and it does nothing to ensure that they are given a manageäble load. To the contrary, Mastodon's care‐work is perpetually understaffed—and this is only becoming more of a problem as increasingly many people are driven away. Frequently, one kind of care work becomes a gateway to more: an instance admin becomes a community moderator, or a developer of features for their instance; a manager for a fork becomes an admin to test the software they have written. Mastodon encourages these consolidations of labour. It lacks the tools, structures, and motivated individuals necessary for dividing it up equally.

    Eventually, it all becomes too much, and caretaker in question finds themselves stepping out of the spotlight, reducing their public presence, and cutting back or terminating their involvment with the project. They might feel unseen or unheard, they might feel shame, and they might feel used. With their reduced public presence, Mastodon as‐a‐whole largely forgets that they ever existed. However, their journey is not yet over.

  4. Create drama. Inevitably, drama happens. Relationship drama is, in my experience, probably the most effective for this, but instance or meta drama works just as well. At this point, the presence of the old, burned‐out caretaker that the fediverse pushed too hard and never gave anything back to in return is a collective embarrassment, a reminder of this platform's long history of taking advantage of others. So, needless to say, the source and credibility of the drama hardly matters. What is important is that it creates an excuse to overlook one's past contributions by casting them in a new or different light.

  5. Discard and repeat. By discard, I do not mean to suggest a loss of followers or, necessarily, visibility. What I do mean is a loss of status, recognition, and, to an extent, personhood, such that one no longer needs to be respected for their history of service, and can be safely ignored when they attempt to speak out about their experiences. In some cases, followers and visibility are actually increased, as one's boundaries are invaded and everything one says and does is trivialized and reduced into a meme. Thus, further exploitation can ensue.

    Mastodon ex‐caretakers complain about not feeling comfortable posting their opinions on their own timelines, about randos jumping into their mentions over the slightest things, about people questioning them out‐of‐the‐blue about work they did months or years ago, about being dropped, ghosted, or abandoned by people they considered friends. Many lock their accounts, are hesitant to ever post publicly, and/or greatly reduce their posting habits. Those that have accounts on Twitter often say that they find the environment less‐stressful there.

    Meanwhile, the Mastodon exploitation machine moves on. Of course, caretakers are a limited resource, and eventually Mastodon will find itself out of people willing to commit themselves to this labour. At that point, the software and community will fall apart. Personally, I see signs that this might already be beginning to happen now.

Macro and Micro

Thus far, all of the examples I have given regarding the exploitation taking place on Mastodon have been large, systemic, macro issues—but the same patterns take place on a micro, interpersonal level as well. I actually think this is far worse than the larger‐scale offenses, because when someone gets used by Mastodon as a system, even if nobody cares and even if there is currently zero interest in redressing those problems right now, it is at least undeniable that they happened. We all know somebody—if you've been around on Mastodon at all in the past year, you probably know several—who used to be a community leader or contributor or organizer and has since been driven to silence or irrelevance by the forces described above. If there were any sort of community desire, it would not be difficult to check in with each and every one of these people to ensure that their needs are beïng cared for, and that they have received what they believe to be suitable compensation for their work.

But lately, however, I have begun to question whether this macro level of exploitation is anything more than the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these sorts of offences. If there isn't a deeper, more insidious culture of people taking advantage of each other which isn't being talked about on this site.

When I was first getting involved with GlitchSoc last year, I had a somewhat naïve motto which I sort‐of lived by, which basically boiled down to take care of the caretakers. What this meant in practice was looking for those people who were consistently providing the emotional support necessary to maintain our communities—and there were more of these people in those days, too; it's rather dropped off, wonder why—looking for those caretakers who didn't have caretakers of their own, and then trying to be there for them and build a positive working relationship so that they could continue doïng their very important work.

The reason why this approach was naïve—which isn't to say it was misguided, although your milage may vary on that one—was because, as I later discovered, some people actually think that this terrible exploitative system, a system founded on constantly taking from others rather than giving from yourself, was actually what a healthy relationship was supposed to look like, that a healthy relationship was just two people doing that to each other. Or not even: That there were those who, exploited caretakers themselves, suffered no qualms turning right around and exploiting others in the exact same manner, giving nothing in return.

I have already expressed, in my response to that piece on straight girlfriends, that I am concerned about the dating culture taking place on Mastodon. As a traumatized, queer community, there is a real shortage of positive examples of healthy relationships in both the media we consume and in our daily life. This is, actually, one of the reasons why I am a romance author. When Mastodon fails to recognize and call out unfair use of labour on the large scale, when it is easy to identify, when there are users and pull requests and public toots and an undeniable record, it is hard for me to believe that it is managing any better at handling the less obvious, more private, intimate scale.

It has been joked before, on numerous occasions, that Mastodon is actually a queer dating site. It should go without saying that this is only a strength of the platform if the relationships which result are healthy ones, built on mutual love and respect and care, good communication, consent, accountability, and understanding. It should go without saying that we have a duty to our queer users, many of whom are young, many of whom are inexperienced in romantic affairs, to provide good mentorship, to educate on warning signs and unhealthy behaviours, and to not normalize toxic situations when they occur.

I think we have failed at this, as a community, undeniably and overwhelmingly. There are days when Mastodon looks frighteningly like a network groomed as a safe haven by abusers where they can escape accountability for their deeds. (Need I say more on this one? I feel like this is an open secret.) And I am fearful for the consequences which that failure might bring.

An Unhealthy Relationship

Again, it's not hard for me to describe what this sort of exploitation looks like on an intimate level, because it was my life for the first half of 2018. On , I entered into a relationship with someone who was, at the time, jobless, homeless, recovering from surgery, more‐or‐less wandering the earth and burning through what remaining resources they had. When we broke up a little over six months later, they had, by virtue of their own labour, but also the labour of myself and countless others, an apartment, with a stable tech salary, in their first‐choice city of residence, making probably more money in a single month than I have ever possessed in my entire life. Over that same period of time, I went from the principal contributor and project manager for the GlitchSoc fork to a relative nobody, unable to maintain my contributions to Mastodon development, unable to sustain my various social connections on the site, and largely unable to follow through on my various side‐projects such as the CYBREMONDAY zine.

This is the KIBI Litmus Test For Unhealthy Relationships (KiLTFUR): When two people are in a close, intimate relationship, and one of them sees their opportunities and material access to resources expanding dramatically while the other one suffers, that's a sign that maybe things aren't quite wonderful. That's a sign that maybe someone in the relationship isn't contributing their fair share. It's not a perfect test by any means, but it does have the advantage of being pretty straightforward to figure out—just run the numbers—and pretty indisputable in terms of its result. Plainly speaking, in this relationship, I was putting a lot of labour and material resources in, but not getting much in the way of care or support out.

As a matter of fact, as I thought more about what I experienced over the past several months, the more I realized it had followed the same pattern I had grown familiar with from my time in Mastodon development:

  1. Present a problem. It wasn't hard to notice, when our relationship began, that things were not good. My partner had zero stability in their life, and it was clear that, if things were to have any hope of working out in the long‐term, that would have to change. As unconditional as love may be, relationships are built upon care, and care requires means.

    As the material conditions for my partner improved, however, the problems in our relationship, if anything, got worse. I am not one to ever tell someone going through a rough time that their problems might be self‐generated. But it was frustrating, time after time, watching my loved one in one breath pointedly mistreating others and pushing them away, and in the very next complaining about abandonment and being so alone. And this dynamic led to me being their primary and sole caretaker again and again.

  2. Extract labour. Nobody should ever try to fix a person. The whole idea is flawed from the start—that a person could be broken and moreöver that you, a completely untrained volunteer caretaker, might have the skills needed to fix them. It is objectifying, it leads to codependency, and it's harmful for everybody involved.

    But it is not unreasonable to try to fix a shitty situation. Repairing friendships, acquiring employment, getting housing: These are things one can do.

    And these are things we, for the most part, achieved: I helped my partner get back in touch with those with whom they had become estranged. I helped them make plans and imagine a future with stability. I listened to them vent about their job‐search, I checked in as they made flights for interviews and looked for housing, I drove on little sleep to go meet them before they made their final trip to their new city and apartment. And they, for their part, and not without the help of many others, persevered, and made it happen. In a frankly remarkable series of events, over the course of the first half of the year, nearly every material concern they had begun our relationship with was resolved, and honestly, and with no hint of irony, kudos to everyone involved.

  3. Generate burnout. At the same time, my needs weren't being met at all. I was on‐call essentially 24/7 to lend a helping hand in case a moment of crisis should arive; I was sitting in on phone calls and serving as mediator as they tried unsuccessfully to repair relationships with people they had harmed; I had to be conscious to always keep them in my thoughts and check in regularly to keep their fears of abandonment down. I was, essentially, a full‐time caretaker, only lacking both the training and the income which that position usually provides.

    Needless to say, my work on Mastodon, my work on other projects, and basically everything else happening in my life—which nobody's life depended on, which I could afford (in the literal sense, because I was losing time and resources as a result) to slack off on‐suffered as a result. And, for the most part, I made these sacrifices willingly, because they were for somebody I loved.

    Eventually, however—after we had successfully met their material needs, after my constant labour looked like it wasn't going to be needed anymore—I finally made the call: that this relationship pattern, which had been necessary, but which we had both known from the getgo wasn't sustainable, had run its course. It is my opinon, based upon personal experience, that it is not possible to always simultaneöusly be someone's caretaker and romantic partner—one or the other will sometimes have to give. For most of our relationship, beïng able to provide care was more important than romance. Now that things were looking up, I was looking to transition out of that caretaker role.

  4. Create drama. I feel like you don't really treat me like a girlfriend, I told my partner (paraphrased), on one occasion. I feel like you show more affection to strangers on the internet than you do with me. I know I'm an anxious person but—do you think you could accommodate that a little and do a better job of affirming the ways in which you love me?

    I've gotta be honest with you on this one—I really thought that this request would be no big deal. Of course you're my girlfriend; what can I do to make things easier for you?—nevermind the fact that never once in the six months of our relationship had they asked whether they were doing an okay job as a partner or if there was anything they could be doing better, despite me being very conscious about asking those very questions to them multiple times each month. I really thought we could talk this out, maybe go over love languages and differential ways of expressing care, and things would get better and the whole matter would be resolved.

    Instead, I was told that my asking for accommodations was out‐of‐line, that it was my problem for never feeling valued despite never being given anything of value; furthermore, that trying to have a conversation about these things was too much for them to handle right now. We didn't speak for a week after that.

    I don't see it as any sort of coïncidence that me asserting my needs became too much to handle the moment I stopped letting my partner be dependent on me for their care. The moment my labour stopped being an exploitable resource, my presence became a nuisance and painful reminder of trauma which begged for vitriolic detatchment. Our relationship degraded quickly from there.

  5. Discard and repeat. When my partner and I got back in contact, we both pledged to take time out of our days to have a long conversation, where we would air out our fears and feelings and work to sort through them. It was a very good idea and I went into it with the hope that we would, if nothing else, at least be able to nurture a good friendship out of the ashes of what we had gone through.

    After we had been talking long enough for them to express all of their own feelings on the matter, however, my partner determined that the conversations were taking too much time and energy out of their weeks, that listening to my concerns was distracting from their ability to perform at their job, and they essentially called the whole thing off and broke up with me. (NB: Our relationship was not healthy. I hold nothing against them for calling it off. But the way in which they were enthusiastic about our conversations only so long as they served their own purposes was indicative of how our relationship had tended to go as a whole.) We tried being just friends—that lasted until I tried holding them accountable for all of the times they had used me over the past year. Then it was goodbye, kibi.

    I muted them after that, so, in all honesty, I can't speak to the repeat part of this step. But I do know that I was far from the first person they had treated in this way.

I've left out a number of details in the above narrative: Red flags that I should have paid more attention to; moments of manipulation; small and large violations of boundaries and consent; numerous questionable interactions with others; attempts to discredit my voice and control the narrative. But dwelling on these traumas will likely not make anything better for anyone, and a Mastodon history series is hardly the place to be unreservedly dishing the salt on your ex.

Still, I bring this up because it was really frightening for me to realize that the unhealthy treatment of caretakers and exploitation of labour which I had become so accustomed to in Mastodon development had also characterized my private affairs. To realize that this had become my normal, not just in the workplace, but in my intimate relationships as well. To acknowledge that this problem was cultural, that Mastodon encouraged it; to wonder to what extent Mastodon was being conditioned for it, and how many other people were walking into this sort of trap; and, most frighening of all, realizing that I wasn't entirely certain that people would see the problem if I was public and open about my experiences, that I wasn't entirely certain that I even knew what the problem was myself, because I had been living this for so long, because I had been living in this for so long, that I didn't know what was reasonable to expect from people anymore.

With respect to the rest of this history series: It is undeniable that my involvement in this relationship had a profound impact on my ability to contribute to Mastodon development, as well as on the shape in which those contributions took place. As is true for my professional relationships and all the other caretaker roles I have served in during my time on Mastodon. There will be plenty of time to get into the details regarding those contributions in the posts which follow this one.

But for now: We need to have a conversation about this. We need to radically rethink the way we approach care and really interrogate the ways in which we are complicit in the continued exploitation of our caretakers. We need to stop providing solace to exploiters and abusers, stop ignoring or normalizing toxic relationship patterns and abuse, and start modelling healthy relationships and ways of beïng with one another.

It seems like every week there is someone else venting on their timeline about an ex who took advantage of them and treated them like shit. It's honestly exhausting living in a community where that seems so regular and normal. We need to do more to protect our fellow fediversians, respect their boundaries, and ensure that the care that they provide is sustainable. And we need to start valuïng people based on what they have done for our community and not whether or not they are good at making fucking trashtoots.

To be continued.