(Edit: the screenshot in this post has been edited to remove the identity of the poster. Please for the love of God, if you know who it is, please DO NOT send them harassing messages or otherwise tell them they’re awful.)
There is a problem with The Discourse™ in gaming.
In the last two weeks, two prominent predators were outed in the analog gaming industry. The first being my co-author of The Watch, someone who abused me emotionally and who I had seen pursue similar patterns with other women and AFAB people. The second being JR Honeycutt, a noteworthy and prolific board game designer who emotionally and sexually abused at least one woman, and probably (judging by the story being told) others.
Both accounts were heartfelt and very long, in the many thousands of words, covering a wide range of incidents and behaviors that aren’t usually talked about as predation.
Sure, it’s true that in both instances, the community was pretty much universally supportive of the victims. The abusers have been barred from many spaces, and many people expressed their belief in the accounts of abuse and their sorrow that it took place.
But was there wider conversation about the patterns of behavior described in these accounts of abuse, as there was in the entertainment industry in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein-fueled #metoo explosion? No.
Was there wider discussion of how community myths and toxic dynamics acted as shields for predators to operate with impunity, and how those myths and dynamics might be changed? No.
Was there any attempt at community introspection as to how we might learn and do better at preventing cis men with power and social capital from serially abusing women and AFAB people they are attracted to? No.
Instead, little more than a week after Victoria Mann posted her harrowing account of sexual and emotional abuse by one of her industry’s luminaries, people’s attention had already turned away from the ongoing problem of serial abuse by cishet men in gaming and back to one of it’s favorite pastimes – excoriating trans creators who make what the community decides is Problematic Art.
PH Lee: the latest progressive Trans Hate Meme
(Before I go any further, I’ll note that I’m not entirely sure how PH Lee self-identifies. For the purposes of talking about a larger pattern, I am referring to PH Lee as fitting a certain pattern that gets applied to trans creators. However, while Lee specifies gender neutral address in their bio, not every person who prefers gender neutral address identifies as trans. So. Apologies to Lee if I get anything wrong after I made legit tries to find this info.)
In a previous post, I wrote a(n admittedly pretty angry) summary of the furor over ContraPoints and how frustrated and angry I was that she was turned into a progressive hate meme for the crime of imperfectly describing a subjective experience of oppression. And I ranted about what a huge problem it is that cishet white dudes are allowed to straight up abuse people with no sanction or recourse, while trans people – and especially trans creators – get raked over hot coals for far more minor transgressions.
There was about a month where I couldn’t use Twitter because Trans Twitter was gleefully spiking the football on what a terrible human being ContraPoints was LITERALLY EVERY TIME I LOGGED IN. It was just too triggering and reminded me of the times where I myself had become an online progressive hate meme for the crime of badly expressing feelings of subjective oppression. (And while I don’t identify as trans, being non-binary makes me close enough that I fit the pattern.)
And now this shit is playing out all over again with the furor over PH Lee and Hot Guys Making Out. It started with someone saying that they had always found this game problematic and escalated over the weekend until people were making attacks on Lee’s character and calling for people to unfollow them and ban their games:
And folks. This right here is just the tip of the iceberg of what it’s like to be a Trans Hate Meme. Because The Discourse™ is fundamentally fucking broken. So listen up, because I have some fucking shit to say that you need to hear.
1. PH Lee is an abuse survivor
Something entirely missing from what I have observed (admittedly from a very cautious distance) is the fact that Lee has been open about being a survivor of abuse. One of the things they are being accused of is making a game that glorifies sexual abuse of children, which… in addition to being an unfairly reductive Internet Hot Take is just so completely unfair when you consider what Lee has shared about their experiences of abuse and how that interacts with emotional safety at the gaming table.
To this point, Lee has chosen not to share the specifics of their abuse, and we need to be respectful of that. But the notion that an abuse survivor who has spoken eloquently about how their trauma informs their needs for play, and how we need more than a one-size-fits-all approach to emotional safety at the table… the notion that we should view Lee as intending to create a game glorifying sexual abuse of children by people in positions of power over them is a clear and obvious straw man that removes all context of Lee’s own descriptions of their experience as an abuse survivor.
2. Online dogpiling is violence, and people can die from it
It is LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE for someone who has never experienced the kind of internet dog-piling that PH Lee is going through to imagine how intensely painful and life-destroying it is.
For me, I remember sobbing loudly in a public washroom between classes, snot running down my face, as I messaged friends and told them that everything that I’d ever dreamed about was over and they were clearly wrong to be my friend. I remember the actual, literal pain in my chest, like someone had stuck a hot knife in my sternum that throbbed when I breathed. The way my stomach felt like a brick and the idea of eating or drinking anything was absolutely intolerable.
I’m lucky, because I got the help and support I needed to survive. And to be fair, most people who experience this sort of online shaming do as well. But not everyone does.
But, wundergeek, you may be saying. Rachel Bryk was abused by GamerGate, not progressives. So surely it isn’t the same.
Look again at the methods being used.
- Swamp the victim with messages attacking their character.
- Mischaracterize their work in the most damaging way possible.
- Seek to isolate the victim from the community.
- Urge people to cut ties with the victim.
- Celebrate every instance of the community distancing itself from the victim.
- Refuse to let the “controversy” die. Bring it up again and again and again.
- Make people who support the victim afraid to speak up for fear of becoming the next victim.
All methods that were used by #GamerGate against their chosen victims.
All methods that were used by Zak against his chosen victims.
All methods that are now being used against Lee.
This is the shit that gets people killed. That’s not hyperbole, that’s just goddamn science:
- Youth who experience cyber bullying are 2.3 times more likely to self-harm or attempt suicide.
- Trans people experience disproportionate levels of marginalization within the queer community and are twice as likely to commit suicide as non-trans queer people.
- Depending on the study, around half of trans adults have previously attempted suicide.
People engaging this kind of dogpiling, regardless of motive are playing with a time bomb. It’s only a matter of time before these tactics lead to another trans suicide, and if we’re lucky we’ll all be scratching our heads wondering what happened with The Discourse™.
3. People don’t automatically assume good intent with trans people
One of the Super Fun things about living in a white supremacist patriarchal capitalist society is that no matter how much time and effort we put into deprogramming ourselves, we all have been programmed from birth with biases that privilege whiteness, maleness, and straightness. Those biases are largely unconscious, and inform more than we’d like to admit about how we react to settings of social conflict.
And when these biases go unexamined, they result in a sort of automatic mental gymnastics that kicks in to defend problematic people who are cis, het, white, and usually male – no matter how much evidence piles up that they are Actually Sorta Problematic and Worth Having A Conversation About.
Take Critical Role – the D&D actual play streaming group that raised $11 million on KickStarter and has been repeatedly criticized for… well. Lots of stuff. Queer representation and biphobia, racist stereotypes and blackface, and failure to include POC on their team – just to name the top three.
And yet, try and take that conversation to Twitter and you will get HOUNDED by cis white folks who will twist themselves into mental pretzels defending Critical Role as Not Problematic You Guys!
And from a certain angle, there’s something to be said for recognizing the humanity of someone you disagree with and not automatically dehumanizing them to benefit The Rhetoric.
The problem, however, is that trans people almost never benefit from this sort of mental gymnastics.
And honestly? That fucking sucks.
I don’t know how to end this post, because I’m hurt and angry
I have a lot of things I want to say about how we can do better when we want to have conversations about fraught topics while embracing nuance and remembering the humanity of everyone involved, but I can’t put words to them right now, because honestly I’m hurt and angry and scared and sad and tired.
How many people expressed support in the wake of my revelations, saying they believed me and were sorry for my experience, who then boosted the dogpiling of PH Lee? I don’t know, because I haven’t been able to bring myself to look, but after eleven fucking years in this community I can guarantee you it’s a statistically significant nonzero number.
How many times are we going to get distracted from having Real Conversations about important issues around cismen and serial abuse in our communities by turning trans people into hate memes?
How many trans and otherwise marginalized people are we frightening out of our communities with the level of visceral joy that is shown by those who participate in trans hate memes?
Most days I have faith in the amazing people in gaming and the truly transformative nature of the medium we work in, but honestly today I really don’t.