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.