[This post was originally three connected posts made on Google+ about things that people need to know, and often don’t, about predators and how they operate in communities. It’s been lightly edited for formatting.]
First: Predators are good at being invisible
What most men (and people in general, but especially men) don’t understand about the predators in our community is the fact that they are largely invisible, because most serial predators are actually incredibly socially adept and are very systematic about choosing their targets. The myth of the “socially awkward” predator who “doesn’t mean” to victimize people couldn’t be farther from the truth, in almost all cases; someone who is socially
awkward can hurt people unintentionally, but when that happens in 95% of cases, they apologize and attempt to make amends – because most people who are socially awkward are self-aware enough to know that they fuck up and are prepared to deal with that.
REAL predators are an entirely different animal. REAL predators are charming, savvy, and manipulative. Predators will charm the heck out of people in positions of power (usually but not always men), and make sure to invest heavily in key relationships with community stakeholders who hold a great deal of status. They also have a systematic approach to selecting people to victimize that layers in plausible deniability at every approach, thanks to the myth of the socially awkward predator.
They will select someone (usually a woman or not-cis person) who seems vulnerable and test a small boundary. If that meets with no complaint, they will systematically escalate, each time making sure that this boundary-testing is a process that is observed by no one who would think to question it. By the time it gets to sexual assault, often the predator has found a way to violate so many boundaries that the victim gets tied up in “I didn’t say no to all these other boundaries, so I can’t say no to this one” – which is a sinister way of making the victim feel complicit in their abuse and ensuring their silence.
The side effect of this is that because the predator is smart and savvy, because they invest in relationships with key community members, because there are lots of people from the marginalized group they target who the predator has never gone after, the community will be prepared to defend
the predator to the ends of the earth, thanks to the cover provided by the myth of the socially awkward predator and because of the Geek Social Fallacies. “He didn’t mean it” or “He’s a good guy” or “I’m a woman and he’s never behaved inappropriately with me”… Etc etc.
I know all of this because it’s exactly what happened to me. It started small, putting his arm around me without asking, then saying “this is okay right”. So many small things that spiraled into things I was desperately not okay with, except I didn’t know how to say no since I hadn’t said no to anything
The man who attacked me was a predator. Smart, sophisticated, and devastatingly charming. He’s also progressive and woke, someone no one would suspect. Which is why I’ve never named him, because I know I wouldn’t be believed. Or that his behavior would be excused.
In my particular case, I’m lucky. The man who attacked me stopped going to cons and got lots of therapy. I had enough contact with him to feel secure that he won’t hurt anyone else the way he hurt me. But that’s just one instance.
What men need to know is that the most effective and dangerous predators are also the people YOU WOULD NEVER SUSPECT.
Second: Sad Boys who make us Save them
At Metatopia a few years ago, I was lucky enough to play Jenn Martin’s Manic Pixie Dream Girls Anonymous, a serious LARP about a support group for MPDGs who want to learn to stop shrinking their dreams and sacrificing their desires and aspirations in order to support their Sad Boy. In the game, any of this behavior is referred to as “Saving the Boy”, and the structure of the game supports the MPDGs in learning to accept that they are real, whole people and that the role of MPDG that has been imposed on them is dehumanizing and unjust.
This game was hugely emotionally resonant for me, because it gave language to the fact that I have been made a MPDG by Sad Boys before, and that it was a denial of my humanity. It also helped me reclaim some of my humanity from the fact that I was wrestling with a particular Sad Boy in my life
when I played the game. And that it is hard and difficult and agonizing learning to assert boundaries around your basic humanity when you know that your Sad Boy won’t tolerate this. Just because you know a relationship has become deeply toxic doesn’t mean you can just turn off those feelings. And when female socialization means that the only scripts you’ve internalized are scripts that force you to accept your lot as your Sad Boy’s MPDG? Removing that toxic influence from your life means fighting your own brain as well.
And friends? Sad Boys are so, so common. Our community is rife with Sad Boys – which is part of the reason why the response to Manic Pixie Dream Girls Anonymous and games like it is so, so fucking strong and why it practically went viral at Metatopia.
Third: Some Sad Boys are skilled emotional predators
SOME Sad Boys are just that. Sad Boys who don’t know how to do their own goddamn emotional labor and need women/femmes to to be their therapists, since that’s how society has trained them. And that fucking sucks, and the fact that they don’t MEAN to be harmful doesn’t change the fact that they are. But these Sad Boys are the equivalent of the socially awkward folks who accidentally hurt people from my previous post. They are shitty people, but they’re not SYSTEMATICALLY shitty.
There is, however, a smaller number of Sad Boys who are the emotional equivalent of the sexual predators discussed in part one, who use charisma, performative wokeness, and emotionally abusive tactics to get women/femmes to be their Manic Pixie Dream Girls. And these Sad Abusive Boys aren’t just looking for emotional labor and validation; often the Sad Abusive Boys are looking for emotional intimacy with a woman/femme who gives them bonerfeels. They don’t actually act on these bonerfeels, either because they aren’t in a position to act or because they had a small modicum of self-awareness that manipulating women into touching their dick would be wrong, but either way the result is the same. They foster intimacy with a woman/femme to gratify their boner without actually caring about their victim as a person.
And when a woman/femme they have made their MPDG finally asserts boundaries and stands up for herself, the Sad Abusive Boy drops her like a hot rock and moves onto the next MPDG, because they know there’s mostly nothing that the MPDG can say that will seem damning to an outside audience.
And again, Sad Abusive Boys are always THE LAST DUDES YOU WOULD EXPECT, because just like the serial sexual predators they invest heavily in relationships with key community stakeholders. They are performatively woke and make all of the right noises at the right times. There are women/femmes who have only ever had positive interactions with them and are prepared to defend their wokeness too! So the women who are targeted by Sad Abusive Boys are even LESS able to speak up about their Sad Abusive Boys than the women who are targeted by serial sexual
And make no mistake, Sad Abusive Boys ARE abusive, and they are JUST as systematic in selecting the women/femmes that they turn into their MPDGs. Except in this case, they aren’t looking to violate physical boundaries. Rather, they are looking for women with an excess of empathy who
take on nurturing or caring roles. They befriend the woman with performative wokeness and expressions of admiration for things that are actually qualities they see mirrored in themselves. And they foster emotional intimacy in ways that make the MPDG they are targeting feel special and
Once they have that intimacy, the Sad Abusive Boy uses and dehumanizes the MPDG to do their emotional labor and to gratify their bonerfeels. The Sad Abusive Boy uses gaslighting, guilt, passive aggression, victim blaming, and sometimes threats of self harm to get targets to go along with this. And this relationship always ends one of two ways:
First, the MPDG finally asserts boundaries and demands respect, which causes the Sad Boy to end the relationship if she sticks with them. However, it’s more likely that he will feign contrition and gaslight the MPDG into not sticking with her demands and accepting further emotional abuse. Which
is why the scenario that occurs far more often is:
eventually, Sad Abusive Boy’s bonerfeels go away. When this happens, Sad Abusive Boy cuts the now-ex MPDG out of his life and goes in search of a new woman/femme to make his MPDG. And when this happens, it is incredibly, HUGELY traumatic – because the Sad Abusive Boy has been fostering a deeply emotionally abusive relationship and emotional dependency.
I know all of this because it has happened to me at least three times, and I’ve had to do a lot of fucking therapy about it. And I’ve seen this story play out with other women too.
Fourth: We can’t speak out, because you can’t even believe us about the obvious predators
The thing that Sad Abusive Boys and serial sexual predators have in common is that they are given permission and plausible deniability by the myth of the socially awkward predator and by the Geek Social Fallacies. And because these serial emotional and sexual abusers are so charming, performatively woke, and socially adept, the odds that they themselves will have high status within the community are high. So the consequences of speaking out against predators who inflict lasting damage are often too high to be borne, because victims know that they will never be believed or
supported in any real way.
And how do we know this? We know this because dudes can’t even get it right when women speak out AND HAVE PROOF. Jessica Price had SCREENSHOTS of her interactions with Frank Mentzer, and was accused of faking the accusations for attention – despite the fact that she’s no longer even working in the games industry.
And we know this because women who have tried to speak up in the wake of #metoo about serial emotional abusers have been similarly stonewalled, disbelieved, and blamed for their own abuse. When other female developers have tried to speak out against serial emotional abusers like John
Morke, some of them (like Jacqueline Bryk) have been lucky enough to be believed. But others haven’t.
So this is why women and femmes don’t speak out about emotionally abuse Sad Boys. Because dudes, you can’t even get it right when you’re playing on the lowest difficulty setting. If you can’t get the response right when you are presented with OBVIOUS MONSTER HERE ARE SCREENSHOTS AND OTHER PROOF, women sure as shit aren’t going to trust you to get it right on a higher difficulty like “your best friend groped me” or “your business partner is a serial emotional abuser”.