Abusers and Apologies: A Rant in Lists

Today I have some shit that I need to say about abusers and apologies. I wrote out these lists intending them to be an outline for a post or series of posts, but expanding on these points would soften the language into language that makes it easy for people to ignore the point that I am driving towards, and I do not want my language to be comfortable or easy to live with.

So today you get a bunch of lists. Know as you read each item that each contains an entire diatribe. A rant with points both salient and emotional. With examples of suffering, tales of harm, and calls to action.

Today I am not doing the work of filling in the detail. Today you will have to do that work for yourself.


On Forgiveness:

Abusers who refuse to acknowledge that they have harmed people are not entitled to forgiveness.

Abusers who acknowledge they have harmed people but refuse to apologize are not entitled to forgiveness.

Abusers who apologize sincerely and have since learned to be better and stop abusing are STILL NOT entitled to forgiveness.

Feeling entitled to an abuse survivor’s feelings is itself abuse. Abusers are not entitled to forgiveness. Period.


On Apologies:

Not all apologies are created equal. The common wisdom is that we should forgive and forget, and that if someone apologizes, we should naturally forgive them. But that thinking only empowers abusers to use the common decency of those around them as a shield for their abuse.

Common abuser tactics involving apologies include:

  • Apologizing for the wrong thing
  • Apologizing for a small harm as a cover for the larger harm they have committed
  • Apologizing for one instance of harm while ignoring the larger pattern of identical harm they have committed
  • Apologizing for harm committed against a person of privilege while ignoring a pattern of harm committed against more marginalized people
  • Apologizing only after prevailing community sentiment has shifted against their harmful behavior
  • Apologizing for someone’s feelings or lived reality
  • Apologizing in a way that minimizes their agency in harming someone (IE “I was drunk”)
  • Making an apology blaming their behavior on mental illness or past trauma
  • Making an apology that adheres perfectly to the form of a good apology and then failing to take any action or make any change that would prevent a repetition of the harm they caused, trusting that only their words and adherence to proper form will be remembered
  • Making an apology that is overly emotional, self-flagellating, and full of shame, as a shield against further criticism for the harm they are apologizing. (IE “They already feel bad enough, shouldn’t we drop it?”)
  • Making an apology that centers their feelings and not the feelings of the person or people that they harmed
  • Making an apology that uses social justice jargon in order to establish credibility as someone willing to be “accountable”
  • Making an apology that promises unspecified future remedies without ever enacting said remedies
  • Making an apology that promises specific future action without ever taking that action
  • Making an apology that is accompanied by emotional or physical withdrawal

We need to stop assuming that all apologies are genuine, because apologies are one of the most crucial weapons in an abuser’s arsenal.


On Restorative Justice:

Restorative justice is not a panacea that can heal all wounds.

Restorative justice will not entitle an abuser to universal forgiveness.

Restorative justice will not prevent you from having to actually remove abusers from your communities.

Restorative justice will not rehabilitate abusers who do not want to be rehabilitated.

Abusers will invoke the desire for restorative justice as a cover against their abusive actions.

Abusers will get third parties the victim cares about to offer to facilitate discussions with the people they harmed as a way to wound their victims and make them feel further isolated from their community.

Restorative justice facilitated by people who stand to materially gain from the process is not justice.

Restorative justice that pressures victims to participate is not justice.

Approaching the same victim repeatedly with offers to facilitate restorative justice after they have declined is a form of abuse, which is not justice.


On Marginalized Abusers:

Marginalized people can be abusers.

Marginalized people can and do abuse people with more privilege.

Marginalized people can and do abuse people with more marginalizations.

Marginalized people can and do abuse people with different marginalizations.

Cishet white dudes can be abused by marginalized people.

Being marginalized does not render you incapable of abuse.

Being marginalized does not mean you automatically know how not to abuse people.

Being marginalized does not mean you automatically don’t abuse people.


On Defense

For those who lack the power – either socially, structurally, or organizationally – to take direct action to stop their abuser, the only defense against an abuser is not to engage with them.


On Relationships With Abusers:

Abusers invest heavily in relationships with key members of the community, people with either power, social capital, or other forms of influence, as a shield against inevitable complaints of abuse.

Just because an abuser has only ever treated you with kindness does not mean they are not an abuser.

If you have not seen someone being abusive, that does not mean they can’t be an abuser.

If someone has poured hours into thankless or tedious work on behalf of others, that does not mean they can’t be an abuser.

If someone fulfills an important role to the community that would be difficult to replace, that does not mean they can’t be an abuser.

If someone has supported you through something terrible with love, empathy, and compassion, that does not mean they can’t be an abuser.

Loving and caring about someone does not mean they can’t be an abuser. Your love does not make them not abusive.

[From the archives] Two parables about privilege

[This post was originally written and posted on Google+]

Let’s start with this – take a trip with me to parable land.

Privilege is a weapon, right? So let’s say that in our parable land, privilege is a knife. When a person is born and assigned male, they are given their first starter knife, which is upgraded as they get older and older. As adults, men carry different sizes and types of knives depending on occupation and social status, but all cis men have knives, while people who are not cis men do not.

This causes problems, obviously.

But no one questions it, because it’s just How Things Have Always Been. Writers write novels about stabbing people, directors make movies about how having a knife defines you as having worth. The culture celebrates and normalizes the experiences of the knife-havers and blames those who get stabbed for getting in the way of a knife in the first place. Now some not-cis-men have spoken out against this practice. And some men have started to listen. They speak out against stabbing. They pledge not to stab, and to speak up when they see people getting stabbed. There is incremental change. Glacially slow, incremental change.

And then a breaking point happens – a man that women had been accusing of stabbing them for YEARS actually really did stab all those women, and worse! Other women come forward with stories of stabbings, by this guy and others. People are shocked! SHOCKED! Because, sure, men have been carrying knives their entire lives, but who could imagine that they would actually USE them?

And then someone brings in a metal detector and blows the lid off of the whole damn thing.

It turns out that some of the men who have been the most vocal, the most “enlightened” about “knife culture” have been carrying concealed knives the whole time. And that they stabbed not-cis-men, all the while claiming that they had given up carrying a knife at all. Anger grows, and women and femmes start to whisper among themselves about men they have known who claimed to have given up carrying knives, but who actually just carried a concealed knife. Some not-cis-men have been stabbed by these supposedly anti-knife guys, some have “just” had to put up with the concealed knives being waved in their faces.

Not-cis-men grow heartsick and tired with each new name that is added to the list of Anti-Knife Men Who Carry Knives, because some of them are inevitably men who we looked up to. That we admired. We start to ask ourselves, if my judgement was off in those cases, who else? Who else is carrying a concealed knife that I don’t know about? Who else is going to stab me, or someone I care about, when I least expect it?



Now let’s shift the analogy a bit.

Let’s say instead that society issues EVERYONE a knife when they are born, but men are never given any lessons in how to use their knife, while everyone else is taught how to safely and responsibly handle their knife. Men, it is assumed, just innately know and understand how to use a knife. It’s part of what makes them MEN. So now you have a society divided into people who know the proper care and respect for knives and people (cis men) who thoughtlessly use knives however they want.

Because society says that however a man wants to use his knife is correct and safe, when they do stab people, that behavior is excused and explained. Not-cis-men are tired of getting stabbed. Worse, they are tired of explaining to dudes who SAY they get it over, and over, and OVER how to use knives responsibly without stabbing others, only to watch them thoughtlessly stab people anyway. They feel powerless to change anything, so in order to keep themselves safe they construct mental lists of men at different levels of knife safety. The absolute bottom of these lists is occupied by dudes who know how to use knives, but just like stabbing people anyway. Cool. Those guys are easy to identify and stay away from. But moving “up” the ladder, things get a bit more complicated.

The categorization system most people opt for is emotional maturity: re knife-handling. If a dude is at the toddler stage of knife-handling, he’s going to hurt himself as much as he hurts other people, and sometimes it won’t be bad and sometimes it will be really fucking serious, but every time he will be completely unable to deal with the emotional reality of his fault, because toddlers are sociopaths. (Please note: I say this as a parent)

Men who are Knife Toddlers are men that are not safe to be around, but often men that we HAVE to be around. Parents. Bosses. Police. People with power that we can’t avoid. So we make knife-avoidance strategies for keeping the Knife Toddlers happy when we HAVE to interact with them and hope it will be enough.

Somewhere above that are the Knife Elementary Schoolers. They can sometimes understand they’re at fault, but sometimes not – and they’re still largely unaware of the extent to which social conditioning informs their thinking and actions. MOST of the men that women and femmes interact are either Outright Stabbers, Knife Toddlers, or Knife Elementary Schoolers. Maybe 2/3, maybe 3/4 -depending on how cynical you’re feeling.

Then there are the Knife Teenagers. Mostly, they get that knife safety isn’t a fucking joke. But they can make you fucking nuts arguing about it, and playing “devil’s advocate” for Knife Rights. Mostly, you feel like you can trust them, but then, they are prone to occasional moody bouts of hormonal crazy and might just haul off and stab you anyway. Still, you’ve seen them handle their knives carefully enough over time that you’re resigned to the fact that the odds of them stabbing YOU are pretty low. This accounts for 99% of the men that aren’t one of the lowest three levels.

The last level is Knife Grownup. A Knife Grownup is someone who can be trusted to own and operate a knife in close proximity to another person without stabbing them. Repeatedly. For a long time. Almost no one gets put on this list, because women have seen just about every man they know stab people on multiple occasions, and even if they didn’t mean to it’s just safer to keep an eye on them. If a woman is exceptionally lucky, she might know five men who are Knife Grownups. If she’s very unlucky, she might not know any.

Different not-cis-men draw their lines differently. Some insist, rightly, that they will only associate with Knife Grownups, and accept that this means not associating with cis men, mostly. Others prioritize intent and are willing to include Knife Toddlers in their circles, because they have empathy for the fact that Knife Toddlers don’t MEAN to hurt people, and it’s not men’s fault that society never taught them how not to stab people. Heck, some women keep Knife Toddlers around simply because they feel that SOMEONE has to do the laborious, thankless work of raising Knife Toddlers into Knife Elementary Schoolers and Knife Teenagers. Or even just because they’d rather keep an eye on the unsafe people with knives than not watch them and get stabbed by surprise.



Both parables are true. In both parables, not-cis-men have been opening up, naming the people who stabbed them and showing you their scars. They do this in the hopes that cis men can learn to STOP STABBING THEM, and in order to find support from people like them who have been stabbed in ways they didn’t know about. We are raw, and in pain, and bleeding. And to top it all off, we don’t know which of you we can trust. Aside from an exceptionally small handful of guys, we don’t know who is going to stab us. And the more we open up, the more we learn some of the guys who seemed the LEAST likely to stab us were actually stabbing us all along.

On perfect communication and the tyranny of “platform responsibility”

While the incident I’m referencing here isn’t directly connected to games, it strongly echoes patterns I have seen play out in the game-o-sphere many times over the years. So I ask that people bear with me when I lead off by saying this post was inspired by a LeftTube dustup on Twitter: Natalie Wynn, a trans woman who creates social justice philosophy videos about masculinity, incels, and queer identities under the YouTube alias of ContraPoints, recently had the temerity to talk about her subjective experience on Twitter in a way that wasn’t 100% Perfectly Inclusive Of Every Oppressed Identity’s Feelings and Twitter predictably reacted by JUMPING DOWN HER GODDAMN THROAT.

The tl;dr – she started a furor by saying she didn’t care for pronoun introduction circles at events since she has experienced them being weaponized by cis people who clock her as the only trans person in the room. Predictably, trans mascs and nonbinary folks who rely on such conventions in order to not be misgendered spoke about the necessity of such things for them to feel comfortable. But instead of having a nuanced conversation about the problem of cis people who weaponize the tools of inclusiveness to against queer people and the ways in which heterosexist culture pits marginalized queer groups against each other, everyone FREAKED THE FUCK OUT and now ContraPoints has deleted her Twitter, so good fucking job everyone. We’ve successfully kept another trans person from talking about her subjective experience on Twitter. Way to improve the #discourse.

I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of BUT CONTRAPOINTS SAID, because honestly the amount of non-binary splash damage happening as part of that conversation is triggering as fuck now that everyone is circling the wagons and some binary queers are talking about how UNSAFE they feel around us nonbinaries. (Because somehow it always comes back to us being The Real Problem With Queer Spaces.)

Instead, we’re going to talk about one of my least favorite justifications for why notable marginalized people get crucified for not being 100% Perfect Online:

The “responsibility” of having a public platform

Whenever this type of shit blows up online (and believe me, it happens in gaming too), one of the most common justifications for being abusive to someone over something they said is the argument that “they have a public platform” and therefor they have the “responsibility” of not just saying “whatever they like” without considering other people. Which is a great idea in theory, but what it means in practice is that if you’re a marginalized person with a “public platform”, I get to abuse you for saying stuff I don’t like and it’s YOUR FAULT.

And let me tell you, as someone who has been canceled for having messy feelings about my queer oppression online, it really doesn’t take much for people to classify you as having a “public platform” in order to justify being abusive toward you. Natalie Wynn has more than 9500 patrons on Patreon, which is orders of magnitude larger than my audience ever was – even at the peak of my microfame. And yet, I understand what she’s going through all too well, because then as now I was told that it was correct for people to be abusive in canceling me because I had a “public platform” and had committed the sin of being clumsy in talking about my subjective experience of oppression.

And sure, it is good to hold people accountable for saying wrong-headed or hurtful things. But we need to remember that oppression is messy, peoples’ feelings about oppression aren’t always going to be neat and tidy, and sometimes in Having Feelings About Oppression we might inadvertently step on some toes. And we need to fucking allow space for that – because sometimes you need to say something and be heard about a shitty oppressive experience and the only words you have to describe that experience are maybe not your Very Best Words. Very often, when I am upset and triggered about an oppressive experience, I simply don’t have the capacity to be 100% careful in making inclusive word choices – and that’s normal!

Further, IT IS A BIG DAMN PROBLEM that we demand nothing less than ABSOLUTE PERFECT COMMUNICATION AT ALL TIMES from marginalized people while letting white dudes get away with ACTUALLY HARMING PEOPLE, only to be forgiven as soon as they post even a half-assed “sorry you were offended” nonpology. Seriously, have you seen the shit white dudes get away with without being canceled? It’s unreal – and we all just let it slide, but we’ll happily FUCKING DESTROY a marginalized person for not being perfect in the name of SOCIAL JUSTICE.

Marginalized folks, we get upset with clueless people with privilege for not having empathy for us and our feelings. Not-cismen, how many times have we rolled our eyes about cisdudes demonizing us because we weren’t “nice” enough about describing our experiences of oppression? Lots, right? So why is it that we (rightly) feel entitled to understanding and empathy from others in recognition of the effects of oppression, but we don’t extend that understanding and empathy by default to other marginalized people?

BUT WHAT ABOUT ACCOUNTABILITY, you might ask? And to that I say:

Accountability goes both ways

One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn is that having PTSD does NOT give me an excuse to react however I want when I am triggered – even when my reasons for being triggered are 100% valid. (Sometimes they’re not, because pattern-recognition monkey is an asshole.) If someone says something that seems like a microaggression, that doesn’t give me the right to tear their goddamn face off – because using your trauma as carte blanche to abuse people is exactly how the cycle of trauma and abuse perpetuates itself. If we want to break the intergenerational cycle of trauma, which is something EVERYONE SHOULD WANT, then we need to learn productive ways of expressing our feelings when trauma is in play that still recognize the humanity of the person we’re talking to. (Caveat: Does not apply to Nazis.)

It should seem obvious, but abusing someone is not a good way to help them be accountable for stepping on toes – if anything it prevents them from doing that, even if they might really want to! Lord knows I’ve said stupid things that hurt people because I was struggling to describe my subjective experiences of oppression, but the abuse that I got as a result keeps me from being fully accountable; I still talk around those incidents because I’m not eager to repeat the experience of spending a week crying in public washrooms while I read floods of messages about what a terrible human being I am.

Accountability can’t be a one-way demand imposed on a person with status by the community at large. It has to be a two-way conversation that acknowledges the harm that we cause in return, because these online dogpiles from social justice types are traumatizing. We have to learn how to ACCEPT NUANCE and HAVE EMPATHY for others when they talk about their subjective experience, or we’re just going to keep breaking ourselves down into factions and hurting the people we should be standing in solidarity with.