PyCon was great for me this year. Before the conference, I had made a pact with myself to go to more talks, be less jaded, and to talk to more new programmers. All those were things I had trouble with last year and this year was so much more inspiring for me because I changed my attitude. But this isn’t the tale of all the great conversations I had, it is the story of how I got banned from the next two years of PyCon, I’ll let you make up your mind as to whether it was justified and what it means.
Some background on myself. I’ve been going to PyCon for 4 of the last 5 years, EuroPython for some years before that, and plenty of other open source conferences. I’m a loud guy. I tend to make friends quickly because I am honest and generous but I also tend to lose my filter after prolonged drinking and find humor on the edge of acceptability rather… humorous. I share these traits with many of the attendees I know, but there are also many I politely try to steer clear of because I know I will annoy or offend them.
This year, like every other, involved much late night revelry but to my knowledge there weren’t any other incidents besides mine that necessitated any serious consequences. I’d also like to point out that those organizers that dealt with me (Jesse and Jacob) were the model of tact and respect and answered every question I asked, certainly the whole affair was as difficult for them as for myself.
On to the Testing in Python BoF, the scene of our story. This event has been occurring for years and in recent ones has become somewhat infamous for attracting a very… enthusiastic crowd of hecklers. For the most part the attendees appear to be in on the joke with many humorous presentations and many bottles of whiskey and beer making the rounds. This year, by just about any measure, you could say it got out of hand.
I haven’t gotten completely clear stories on the first infraction, and many people’s memories of the event are hazy, mine included, but at some point in this scene I made two mistakes: I shouted a heckle at a female friend of mine that upset some bystanders and possibly her at the time, and I lit up a pipe to smoke something that is legal in some states but certainly not in a crowded hotel event space.
On the offensive remark I have very few details, but those I was given was that it was something like “you’re the hottest.” That doesn’t sound very bad to me but I suppose that could have been a polite paraphrasing of what I said. I don’t condone those actions and without more specifics I can’t really compare it to the various other sorts of heckles being thrown around. I am also apologetic for any offense caused to my friend and the bystanders. I know I can be testing of people’s limits.
Towards smoking in a crowded event space, obviously that was a dumb decision on my part and I am glad that to the best of my knowledge it didn’t result in any fines or legal trouble for the conference (though I am sure it still required action on their part). To add some perspective, however, the heavy drinking of outside alcohol is also not allowed. I realize a line needs to be drawn somewhere, and in this case that line was chosen at me.
There was a lot of talk this year about the conference’s Code of Conduct. It’s goal is to make sure the conference remains open, welcoming and safe for all attendees, plenty of which are children. I think everybody agrees on the goals of the document, but sometimes the rules can be difficult to interpret.
For example, during one of the talks on Sunday a woman took a photograph of two men who had been joking to each other by lightly sexualizing some computer jargon and she tweeted about it citing their remarks as offensive. I don’t have any more specifics about it than anybody else who saw the tweet, so I can’t judge for myself how inappropriate they may have felt to me. However, some short time later the same woman tweeted positively about playing Cards Against Humanity, a game self-described as “despicable.”
If you’ve never seen or played Cards Against Humanity, it is a hilarious game that can easily be said to be inappropriate in any public setting. On one hand, deciding to join this aggressively offensive card game is a choice, where as who sits next to you in a conference talk is not. Then again, this game was played every night of the conference (and likely is being played as I write this) and anybody who used the hotel lobby’s bathroom next to where it was set up might easily overhear offensive terminology. Probably even more so than by joining in at the BoF where so much of this story culminated.
Gray areas. Guys are pretty likely to make dick jokes when in the company of like-minded individuals, how far from conference grounds should they be before that becomes okay? Is it only a problem if somebody hears and is offended? Humans are part of this process to make these difficult decisions, hopefully in as unbiased a way as possible, but humans don’t always agree.
I’m not fighting the decision to ban me, though I’d love to continue going to PyCons, but I do question it and what it means for people like me. If anything, I hope talking about it reduces these sorts of incidents without anybody feeling like their rights are being reduced as well.