What if the technologies we cherish were developed to crash, instead of maintain, the matrix of domination of capitalism, hetero-patriarchy, white supremacy, and colonisation?
— Joana Varon, The Future Is TransFeminist: from imagination to action
Starting the new year with a Tarot reading is a great opportunity for reflection and intention setting. But when the Oracle for Transfeminist Technologies deck showed up in my mailbox on December 31, I decided to try something different. Much as I love Tarot, as a system it’s cis-normative, reflects hierarchical power structures, etc etc etc.
So 2021 seems like as good a time as any to change the energy!
Getting to know the deck
I like to take my time with a new tarot deck, working through the full 78 cards one by one several times before I’m ready to shuffle.... This process can take anything from 20 minutes to several days.
— Beth Maiden, Get to know your new deck with the Tarot Deck Interview Spread
One of the design justice principles is to look for what is already working at the community level, honoring and uplifting traditional knowledge and practices. So I started by approaching this deck just the way I would any other new Tarot or oracle deck. There’s a lot to be said for the tradition of getting a little time to get to know it first.
The TransFemTech Oracle’s 68 cards, including 6 blank ones, are divided into four types: Values, Objects, Situations, and People and Places. One thing that really leapt out at me is the contrast and synergies between the abstraction of the Values and Situations, and the groundedness of People and Places, and the ordinariness of the Objects.
The Values and Situations had resonated with me, so I went through the Values again and looking at the images on the values in more detail. Next I went through the Situations and thought about how they applied to various situations I've been in. I started to get a feel for how to use the deck to focus my thinking.
If you think of a reading is a structured dialog with the deck, an “interview” is a good initial way of experiencing what the conversation will be like. There are a lot of variations out there; I use the one Beth Maiden describes in her post. The different types of cards are so different that I debated about adapting the spread by choosing a type for each question but instead I shuffled all the cards together including the blank ones. Here’s what the Oracle had to say when I interviewed it.
What is your most important characteristic? Sandals
What are your strengths as a deck? Autonomy
What are your limits? Empathy
What are you here to teach me? Bicycle
How can I best learn and collaborate with you? Be in your own body. Be in the place you inhabit.
What is the potential outcome of our working relationship? Horizontality
Playing with the Oracle
One of the variants in the short instruction book focuses an existing technology instead of using an Object. I decided to focus on news aggregators. As I say on The Nexus Today,
Sites like Google News, Reddit, Axios, Hacker News, Quartz, and Techmeme primarily amplify and center cis, white, able-bodied, and male perspectives. Meanwhile, my Twitter feed has tons of great content by and about people of color, trans and queer people, disabled people, and women — content that isn’t showing up on reddit et al.
Here's what the Oracle had to say about news aggregators.
People/Place: Be in your own body. Be in the place you inhabit.
The first thought that came to mind (sparked by the People aspect of the first card) was how it requires getting beyond the “one size fits all” attitude and scale thinking all of these sites have. Their algorithms, user experience, policies and processes all embed and reinforce the implicit assumption that what’s the most interesting for cis able-bodied guys is the most interesting for everybody else.
[As I was working on this post, I ran into a great example of this when I checked reddit on New Year’s Day. One the top two links was “Men of reddit. Whats the strangest boner youve ever had?” Oh yeah that's why I never check reddit.]
My next thought on being in your own body: why isn’t the experience on these sites better for people using assistive technology like screen readers and keyboard navigation? Google News, Techmeme, and Hacker News don’t even implement the accessibility 101 “skip to content” link, so you have to tab through the headers every single time you visit the page. Reddit does … but if you’re not logged in, you get a pop-up dialog asking you to log in instead of the “skip to content” link.
And that's just from the first half of the first card! Thinking about news aggregators in terms of being of accountability, decolonialization, and being in the place you inhabit offers plenty of insights as well as questions – for example, who should a news aggregator to be "accountable" to? I'm not sure, but it's certainly a good question.
A great way to start the year!
I hadn't started until after midnight, and had spent a while getting to know the deck first, so I didn't actually take it to the next stage of process -- envisioning and describing a Blueprint for a futuristic technology guided by the Values and developed by and for your People in your Place.
Still, I got a lot out of the time I spent with the Oracle ... and have lots of thoughts about other way to use it. What a great way to start off the year!
So many thanks to Coding Rights, the MIT Co-Design Lab, and everybody who's helped develop the Oracle for Transfeminist Technology. It's very clear that the Oracle can indeed help generate ideas for technology that's more imbued with transfeminist values and designed to crash the matrix of domination.
You can find out more about the Oracle and the multi-year collaborative design process behind it, download resources, and get your own copy on transfeministech.org.