Encryption & Pronoun Games

You should use encryption for everything you do online. All websites should be https only, even if there’s nothing to secure. All email should be sent over encrypted protocols. All chat clients should support encryption. Etc, etc. The reason for this is that if only sensitive data is encrypted, then attackers (read: the NSA) needs only to look at and inspect (and decrypt) encrypted transmissions. Further, if most “normal people” don’t encrypt most “normal communications,” then there is the possibility for a sort of social pressure along the lines of “you wouldn’t be using encryption if you didn’t have something to hide,” which, despite popular opinion, is a powerful way for authorities to put pressure on people and break in where they don’t belong. I’m not going to go into detail on why the “nothing to hide” argument is toxic, but if you don’t already agree with me I recommend doing your reading.

But the point is that if it becomes standard for everyone to encrypt everything, then not only do we have all our communications secured, but we also all, as a group, benefit from not doing anything suspicious. Otherwise, when you find you suddenly do have something to hide, and switch to encrypting your communications, that’s a signal. If everyone does it, there’s no signal.


I think we should choose information-minimizing strategies in other situations where we can protect others or ourselves. The example I chose here, as you can tell from the title, is playing the pronoun game. If only people in — I don’t know what to call them that doesn’t sound condescending, maybe “nontraditional”? — relationships (basically anything besides monogamous heterosexual partnership between two cissexual people) play the pronoun game, then any time someone starts subtly dodging naming their partner’s sex, you have a very strong signal that person is in some sort of “nontraditional” — ugh, again, I don’t like that word, what should I use instead? — relationship. That’s exactly what they were trying to avoid signalling!

Since I think both that people should be able to be in whatever the fuck kinds of relationships bring them joy, who cares, and also that a person’s relationships are the business of absolutely no one except people that person decides to share them with*, I think it’s a shame that merely dodging pronoun usage might expose someone. So I play the pronoun game too! Every time someone plays the pronoun game and then it turns out their identity-unspecified partner is the sort of “norm” that you would expect, that makes the “pronoun game” signal a little weaker. Every time I dodge using terms like “girlfriend” or “she” and stick to “my partner” and phrase things to say “we,” etc, it makes someone in a nontraditional relationship less likely to be “caught” by people who might disapprove.


So, go forth! Encrypt all your data. Play the pronoun game. Hide any nonessential information that might cause someone pain if it were exposed. I have nothing to hide – I’m a boring ol’ cishet man who has, thus far, dated only boring ol’ cishet women – and it’s people like me who need to jump on the pronoun game bandwagon.

One assumes there are many other places where we should all be doing this as well. If you have to take a day off to go to the doctor, just say “I have a doctor’s appointment,” not “oh it’s just a cold,” because that means someone dodging the subject because of a protected medical status doesn’t get looked on suspiciously, for example. I can’t think of others at the moment, but I think the same idea applies across a wide range of fields of discourse.


*I mean, I don’t think people should be in like abusive or pedophilic relationships, and perhaps in some circumstances your relationship is people’s business even if you’d rather it not be (say, you have a child by a past partner or something). But come on, who am I even writing these disclaimers for on all these posts? It’s like I’m assuming the worst of myself and feel compelled to get down on paper that I don’t believe the literal worst interpretation of everything I write.

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