I’ve never considered myself a good “ally” to marginalized communities. In light of the shootings in Orlando, it’s felt even more so.

I grew up in a place where being even half a standard deviation outside of “normal” meant you were going to get “othered.” And “othering” meant bullying. I heard “fag” and “queer” and “gay” just about every day from first grade clear into high school. But I’m about as straight as they come.

When I got to college, things were supposed to be different. But they weren’t. The years of crippling social anxiety exacerbated by the bullying left me in a weird position for school.

I fell in with the conservative Christians. But I wasn’t very good at being a conservative Christian. That damn empathy kept getting in the way. I couldn’t see “sinners” as people we should be running around condemning. It’s one thing to believe yourself to be morally superior; it’s another to use the government to reinforce that.

Now, I wouldn’t say I wasn’t homophobic. I had a healthy dose of homophobia. It didn’t come out as hatred, though, just discomfort and awkwardness.

The sad truth is I didn’t come to confront my own homophobia as part of some magical revelation from an LGBTQ advocacy organization or getting hit over the head on Twitter over and over. I got there because I changed, slowly.

People change slowly. Rarely do you get the “Damascus Road” event, where you get hit over the head with a revelation that You Are Totally Wrong. Instead, it’s a string of small events. Like being at a Christian conference where two of the other attendees came out to me because I was cool and safe. (Me? Safe?) Or discovering the LGBTQ people I worked with weren’t the FAB-ulous people made out to recruit kids and destroy America’s moral fiber. They were just people.

In the wake of Orlando, a number of my queer friends have reasserted their own queerness in defiance of such an act of indiscriminate homophobia. And I’m reminded that I’m lucky, in good and bad ways. Good, in that I have friends who are brave and confident enough to be themselves. Bad, in that I never have to be “brave” or “confident” because I’m a cisgendered hetero guy who presents as an American white male.

I don’t feel like a good ally, though. I feel like I’m muddling through, stumbling over my own ignorance from being someone who is not LGBTQ. I’m never sure what to say, so sometimes I choose silence over speaking up. Sometimes, as the LGBTQ community roils from tragedy, I’m not sure which I’m even supposed to do. But I have so many gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and even poly friends that I don’t feel like I have a choice but to keep trying. I rely on them to push me to be better.

I’m thankful, ironically, for being bullied relentlessly as a kid. It’s made me more empathetic to those who are “others.” It’s cost a ton in therapy bills, but that’s a story for my attorneys — and my former bullies’ attorneys.

At the end of the chain

All my life I’ve been at the end of any gossip chain: the last to know who likes who, who hates who, who’s getting married, divorced, promoted, or fired.

When I was 22, everyone in the tiny nonprofit where I worked took a pay cut. What I didn’t know was that everyone but me negotiated back at least a bit of their cut. When I finally found out, five years later, the response from my friend: “we thought you knew; we thought you were doing the same thing.”

When I was 30, at a different job, I had to ask when S and K were suddenly absent after a dramatic confrontation between them. They were on administrative leave; there was some sort of big mediation thing going on. “I thought you knew.”

So now at 41 I’m grateful to be in a situation where the people I’m closest to don’t assume that I know. But when I hear about missing stair situations, I think of myself in earlier years: always the last to know so many things.

“That guy, he’s a creeper, everybody knows.” I figure I’m probably finally too old now to be much of a target, but there’s somebody else like me out there. Everybody assumes she knows. She doesn’t know.

I don’t know what you should do. It’s complicated, obviously. What I wish others had done for me was to check and make sure that I knew.

Whatever you do, don’t leave her out there to find out on her own.

All the Techy Things: The Web Designer’s Elaborate Toolbox

So you’ve decided that you want to be a web designer? Some might say that there are a few things you’ll need to learn:

320px, above the fold, Adam7, ads, ads, and more ads, Ajax, algorithm, Angular, animation, Apache, API, AppleScript, Atomic Web Design, Autoprefixer, AWS, Babel, Backbone, Beanstalk, Blade, Bless, binary, Bitters, Bootstrap, Bourbon, Bower, breakpoints, Broccoli, Browserify, Brunch, build system, Bundler, bundling, Can I Use, Capistrano, carousels, Cask, CDN, Coda, CodeKit, CoffeeScript, Compass, compiler, content strategy, Craft, CSS, CSV, Cucumber, CVS, dashboard widgets, data visualizations (drowning in ’em), decoupled CMS, dependencies, Docker, domain sharding, DOS, Dreamweaver, Drupal, Dust…

Eclipse, ECMAScript, Ember, ES6, Expression Engine, Eyeglass, favicon, Firebug, Flash (remember that?), Flight, fluid grids, Flux, FOUC, Foundation, Frameless, framework, FrontPage, garbage in → garbage out, gem, Github, GNU, graceful degradation, gradients, GreenSock, Gridset, gzip, Grunt, Grumpicon, Grunticon, Gulp, Hack, Handlebars, Hangouts, Haml, Hammer, hashing, #hashtags, headless CMS, hero unit, HiDPI, Highcharts, HipHop Virtual Machine (HHVM), the Holly Hack, Homebrew, .htaccess, HTML5, HTTP, html5shiv…

Take a deep breath. Are you still with me?

IcedCoffeeScript, icon fonts, Icomoon, IDE, IE Compatibility View, iepngfix (for us old-timers), infographics, IRC, Isotope, Jade, Java (when all you have is a hammer), JavaScript, JBoss, Jekyll, Jeet, JIT, jQuery, JSON, JSX, Kellum method, Keynote, Kirby, Kit, Laravel, Less, light boxes, Liquid, lobotomized owls, Macaw, made with love in…, malvertising, MAMP, Markdown, Masonry, Matrix, Maven, media queries, Merb, Meteor, Middleman, Mincer, mixins, mobile first, modals (think: creepy stranger at a party asking for your address), Modern.IE, Modernizr, monetization, MooTools, Mustache, MVC, MySQL…

n-Tier, Neat, NetBeans, Nib, Node, NPM, object-oriented CSS, package manager, parallax scrolling (get over it), Parquet, partials, Pattern Lab, PERL, Photoshop, PHP, Picturefill, pixel-perfect, polyfill, Polymer, POSH, PostCSS, Prefixr, progressive enhancement, Prototype, Python, Raphael, React, Require, Respond, Responsive Web Design, responsive images, REST, Retina, Rework, Rhino, Ruby, Ruby on Rails…

Almost there…

Sass, Scout, scrum, SDK, Service Worker, Servlet, SFTP, shadow DOM, SiFR, Skeleton, Sketch, Skype, Slack, Slim, Smacss, Smarty Pants, Snap, Soap, Spring, sprint, sprites, srcset, Struts (good luck with that), Stylus, Sublime Text, Susy, SVG, SVN, Swift, Symfony, task-runners, Terminal, text-indent: -9999px, Textile, Timber, TLS, Tomcat, Tower, Transmit, Twig, Twitter, TypeScript, UI, UX, Vagrant, viewport, vendor prefixes, VirtualBox, web fonts, Web Workers, webinar, WebLogic, webmaster, WebPack, WildFly, wireframes, WordPress (ftw!), WYSIWYG, XHTML (make sure it validates), XML, XSL, XSS, YAML, Yeoman, YUI Library, and the list goes on…


Did I miss anything?

Don’t get me wrong, these are smart tools made by brilliant people. And I love a good tool as much as the next person. But some of these tools attempt to solve problems that we may not have in ten years. As an example, I can’t tell you how many months of my earlier career I’ve spent fiddling with Flash or configuring iepngfix so that transparent images would display correctly in Internet Explorer 6. A decade ago these were all the rage. Now they’re retired from our arsenal.

We exist in a technological era that I equate with the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th Centuries. We’re experiencing an explosion of the means to automate our production processes and “build systems.” At times our toolset seems to be growing faster than our ability to step back from it, question its role in our work, and see it in the context of the inevitable change that occurs over the spans of our careers.

To what end do we strive to perfect our tooling and develop faster shortcuts? Is increased mechanization what we want? What are we hurtling towards with such impatience? An endless supply of cheap plastic stuff, cookie-cutter sites lousy with ads, user-hostile design patterns, and clickbait? And how are young developers to be attracted to the field when their first impression is the need to learn twelve different languages and arcane command-line installation methods?

There is a certain quality embodied by slow-cooked meals and hand-crafted goods and experiences. Perhaps this is the “quality without a name” that architect Christopher Alexander wrote about in The Timeless Way of Building, which among other things teaches us to recognize and imbue the things that we build with grace and aliveness. Do we build something on the order of a big box store to meet a near-term need, or do we invest the time and build something more permanent and elegant, à la the Taj Mahal? Do we allow tight deadlines and corporate priorities make these decisions for us?

As designers, we would do well to reflect upon the humanistic and philosophical underpinnings that led many of us to this field in the first place, and to better distinguish between the tools that we use, and the experiences that we send out into the world. I am probably not the first person to have gravitated toward a career in the web for its creative opportunities and the potential to help people. But if we’re not vigilant, we risk having our high ideals overshadowed by problems of a technical or commercial nature.

Accessible content, judicious design, incisive writing, and human interfaces progressively enhanced with a little JavaScript—these, like poems or essays, take time to create. I would argue that the result is well worth the effort. These humble tools have been around for a long time, and will continue to power future iterations of the web that we know, love, and struggle with. Moreover, they are conceivably learnable in the span of one’s career, unlike the overwhelming firehose of technology we have to choose from today.

So let’s pick up our shovels, our hammers, our pencils, and our text editors, and set about to build something on the order of a series of great pyramids or stone aqueducts—patterns and systems that will retain their value and meaning for millennia.