I had planned for my next post to be a post about GenCon as a microcosm for the state of the gaming community. I wanted to write about the things that are giving me hope with regards to GenCon prep and the energy going into the convention, as well as some things that are giving me some trepidation and making me a bit nervous about venturing into a gamer space actually in person. And then life happened. Or rather, the internet happened to a real life thing and it sucked.
The drama, summarized
In a facebook group for a group of gamers who play games together in a consistent meatspace location, there was discussion of a game that was to be playtested that focused on a sensitive subject matter. English is not the first language of the designer, so predictably misunderstandings resulted. In response to these misunderstandings, a member of the group who is marginalized in a way that the game was attempting to explore, jumped directly to personal attacks – first on the designer and facilitator, and subsequently on the moderator of the group who own the space where the games are played. The marginalized person has also tried to get third parties from outside the group to join the group and shout down everyone who agrees with them. These third parties have also sent abusive messages to the female co-facilitator of the game (not even the designer!), which the female co-facilitator finds understandably upsetting and frightening.
TL;DR, there was a controversy and a marginalized person leaped straight to personal attacks and harassing behavior.
Get it? Got it? Good.
Moving on: the dilemma, and why it matters
So why am I writing about this and why should anyone outside of this particular group of people care? Simple. I discovered that I have a lot to say about acceptable expressions of anger versus unacceptable expressions of anger in response to perceived oppression.
Now before I get started, it’s important for me to acknowledge that I am a white middle-class able-bodied English-speaking cishet woman. So it’s easy to look at the above statement and hear “whoa, wundergeek is about engage in some grade A tone policing”. Which. No. Not even. Fuck tone policing right in the goddamn ear.
A lot of what I write here is angry. I refuse to censor my anger in an effort to gain acceptance for my arguments or to make people more comfortable with either my arguments or me as a person. Telling someone that they should talk to you calmly and unemotionally about the oppression that they are experiencing is the height of clueless privilege, and I will righteously tear down anyone who tries to claim otherwise.
HOWEVER, righteous anger about lived oppression IS NOT a blank check to retaliate in any way that you see fit. As an oppressed person, you can’t choose not to be oppressed. But you CAN choose how you choose to express your anger over that oppression. Is anger a powerful emotion that can lead us to make impulsive decisions? Absolutely! But there’s a reason why we don’t excuse murder or violence by saying “well I was angry”; learning how to deal with your anger in ways that don’t harm others is part of living in a civilized society – a skill that you are expected to possess in some capacity in order to be a functioning grown-ass human.
At the end of the day, the person you are lashing out against is still a fucking human being with hopes and dreams, aspirations and struggles, vulnerabilities and insecurities. Your anger about their complicity in systems of oppression that are harming you DOES NOT give you permission to harm them right back. Because guess what? WE ARE ALL COMPLICIT in systems of oppression. Every single one of us. It’s how society fucking works.
“But dammit, wundergeek. That sucks. Let me have my anger, okay, because it is righteous and totally justified!”
Again, I’m not telling you not to be angry or not to express anger, because that way lies tone policing. Instead, here are some ground rules:
Someone was a butthead and you are angry? Cool. How are you going to respond?
DO call out the offending party. Tell them why you are angry and how what they said or did reinforced the systems of oppression that cause you harm.
DO NOT jump straight to personal attacks without even attempting to have a conversation with the person you are angry at.
DO be open to the possibility that part of the inciting incident was a misunderstanding on your part. Human language is weird and imprecise and confusing, even when you’re communicating face-to-face. It’s orders of magnitude more difficult when you’re talking about online or other asynchronous communication, since you don’t have nonverbal social cues to add context to what is being said.
DO NOT use feminist theory as a personal attack to bully someone into being quiet when they are attempting to have a good faith conversation with you. If you don’t have time or bandwidth for the conversation, it is totally okay to say so! I get it. I do! I almost never engage in 101-level conversations because I don’t have the time or patience for them. But if someone is indicating that they are listening to you and you use feminist theory to tell them why they are a bad person and should feel bad about themselves, you are being an asshole.
DO use language that centers on “thing you did”or “the thing that you said”. 99% of the time, you will be angry about an inciting incident and not the totality of the other person as a human being – the sum of their dreams and thoughts and experiences. (And if you find that you are at that level of anger with someone, I would politely suggest that that’s not a healthy place to be.)
DO NOT attempt to win the argument through numbers or brute force by bringing in biased third parties who agree with your point of view. SERIOUSLY DON’T DO IT. That shit is straight up harassment and is NEVER FUCKING OKAY.
DO lean on friends, family, and other members of your support network for support and vent your frustrations. Safe spaces where you can express your hurt to trusted loved ones are important in order to stay sane.
DO NOT trash the person you are angry with to biased third parties with the understanding that these people will then tell the person you are angry with how awful they are. Regardless of who the abuse is coming from, that is harassment and you are the inciting party.
DO hold people accountable for harm that their words or actions have caused.
DO NOT insist on continuing a conversation when it is actively harming someone. I’m not saying that their guilty feeeeelings need to trump a real conversation – not in the slightest, because guilt and lived oppression are not even remotely equivalent. However, if a conversation escalates to the point where it is triggering someone’s mental health issues (say because of volume or unintended fallout or personal attacks) and you insist on continuing that conversation, that is not okay. If you find yourself in such a situation, back off and suggest a resumption of discussion once feelings have had a chance to cool.
DO remember to hold on to compassion even when angry. Is it hard? Sure. But we’re humans – we are capable of feeling conflicting emotions. Embrace that capacity and use it.
DO remember to consider the context of the situation when deciding how to respond. Where did the inciting incident take place? How did it happen? Who was involved? What is the history of the people involved wrt your oppression? Are there reasons why you should be inclined to read/listen charitably?
In dealing with buttheads here on my blog, I’m often quite prone to not thinking of them as humans, because that just occupies too much bandwidth that they don’t deserve. Often, deleting their comments and replacing them with a sarcastic meme or male tears GIF suffices, and I move on with my life. But that level of dismissive pithiness would not be appropriate in a disagreement with someone in meatspace, and it would be especially inappropriate with someone I was closely connected to or someone that I knew had a proven history of trying not to be a butthead.
Of course, the existence of things like facebook groups for real-life groups of people complicates matters. Often it’s easy forget that the words on a screen attached to an icon are also attached to someone you are personally connected to in real life. Be conscious of that fact and choose your words with care, if you feel the need to tell people they are wrong on the internet.
Lastly, be aware of potential mitigating factors that might cause misunderstandings. Read and listen charitably, and ask for clarification when something bothers you. Returning to the actual incident that generated this post, if someone you know does not share a first language with you says something that you find harmful or offensive, it’s actually pretty damn likely that they were actually trying to say something different from the thing you took offense at. Attempting to converse in a language that is NOT your native language puts you at a significant disadvantage in any conversation; jumping straight from statement to personal attacks makes YOU the asshole because you are holding them to a standard that you know they aren’t capable of meeting.