Your emotional pain doesn’t allow you to hurt me, and other things I learned from parenting

This post is not about children, or even parenting, although it will discuss both children and parenting quite a lot. The content is mostly new, but will start off with a recycled anecdote from Twitter about children, emotional pain, and boundaries:

Parenting analogy for community and reconciliation: my daughter drags her feet when we go for walks, but she wants to hold my hand. When she does this, she pulls my arm back and it hurts my arm, so I let go. Sometimes she cries then because she is sad about not holding my hand. But I explain to her that I have a rule: I am happy to hold her hand if she walks next to me, but when she falls back and pulls my arm, I’m going to let go.

Just because she is sad doesn’t mean I have to let her hurt my arm. She understands what she had to do to hold my hand and I always set my pace so that she can keep up if she wants. I miss holding her hand when I let go, because she’s small and she’s not going to want to hold hands forever. But it’s about modeling healthy boundaries; your emotional pain does not require me to allow you to hurt me.

It is okay and healthy to set boundaries around how someone may interact with you. If my five year old can learn this lesson, so can you.

Now hold that thought for a minute, because we’re going to circle back to it.

Genius Predators are mostly outnumbered by Emotional Seven-Year-Olds

One of the things that continually amazes me is that many of the concepts I talk about when educating people about and community dynamics of predation and abuse are the same concepts that come up in parenting. I find it fascinating that problems that are easily dealt with by most parents suddenly, somehow, become “too difficult” to manage when the same dynamic is replicated in a group of adults. Especially when you’re dealing with a diffuse and largely informally-organized community such as gaming.

Now it’s true that predators, true predators exist – and that there is a small minority of predators who are terrifyingly intelligent at manipulating social dynamics to provide cover for them to abuse people with impunity for years or even decades. And dealing with Genius Predators is a problem that continues to stump even the savviest community organizers. So I’m going to be clear and say that Genius Predators are a distinct problem that we’ll set aside for the purposes of talking about a second, far more numerous group – Emotional Seven-Year-Olds: harmful people who don’t necessarily intend to be harmful, but have been put in a position where they possess great amounts of privilege and/or social capital combined with a lack of empathy and the socialization that they don’t need to center anyone else’s feelings but their own. These people are most often, but not always, cisgender white dudes.

Now, the thing about actual seven-year-olds is that, unlike toddlers, they can be shockingly good and selfless. Toddlers are tiny sociopaths, but seven-year-olds have an ingrained sense of fair play and genuinely care about helping people and making the world a better place. Concepts that seem “complicated” and “difficult” to adults – like ‘trans women are women’ and ‘gay people are people’ are simple for children to grasp, because they’re less burdened by prejudice and acculturation than adults.

That said, there’s a reason we don’t put seven-year-olds in charge of everything, aside from the issue of being generally too small and uneducated. Seven-year-olds are (to varying degrees) emotionally sub-literate and are shit at emotional regulation. So while they’re great and dandy in the normal course of things, when they’ve actually done something wrong and you need to correct them on it? Lord help you, because you are in for some tears.

Now, any moderately adept parent knows that’s just part of the territory. Most seven-year-olds don’t yet know how to tell the difference between “you made me feel bad” and “I feel bad because I did something bad”, so they jump straight from “I feel bad because I did something bad” to “you are bad because you’re making me feel worse”. Which is why it can require a lot of patience dealing with a crying seven-year-old as you calmly explain why it is that they still need to apologize and that you are not the bad guy for making them confront their bad choices. And yet, this is a situation that anyone who cares for children on a regular basis will be familiar with.

Many, many adults never get past “you are bad for making me feel bad about doing something bad”

The thing is, the exact same dynamic occurs when dealing with adults who are Emotional Seven-Year-Olds when they cause problems in our community. The things that unintentionally harmful people do are the same things that seven-year-olds do, and the responses are the same if you ever try to call them on it.

Take for example a recent incident that happened with a child (not mine) in my care. We had my daughter’s friend over while I was getting ready to go visit a friend. I said goodbye to my daughter, and my daughter’s friend approached me with her arms out after I gave my own daughter a hug and a kiss. My daughter’s friend was sick, so I said firmly that she could have a hug – to which she responded by giving me both a hug and a kiss. Nor was this the first time such a thing had happened; we have had repeated issues with this child not respecting boundaries around touch in our household. So I gently-but-firmly told her that behavior was unacceptable, and that she was to apologize for touching me in a way that I did not wish to be touched. At which point my daughter’s friend burst into very loud and melodramatic sobs.

She hadn’t meant to hurt anyone, and violating my boundary wasn’t something that had been thought out. She got excited and carried away with wanting to show affection to me as someone who cares for her on a regular basis. And yet, the response I needed to make to my daughter’s friend was clear. I didn’t back down, I didn’t apologize, and I didn’t offer comfort, because her feelings of hurt were not the problem. The problem was her continuing inability to respect the touch-boundaries of others. Her intent to express affection and caring for us as important people in our lives were less important than the outcome – that our boundaries were not being respected. And if I had given in and backed down, it would have sent the message to my daughter that we were not prepared to defend her boundaries either.

This exact situation is one that plays out in our community on a damn-near daily basis. Dudes with lots of privilege and not enough empathy violate the boundaries – either emotional or physical – of people around them. And either folks assume that the person didn’t intend harm and don’t press it as an issue. Or perhaps someone does try to make an issue of it, only to have things fall apart when the Emotional Seven-Year-Old pitches a fit about being made to feel bad. Because somehow, a cisdude feeling bad about something is always the worse crime of all, amirite?

And every damn time, the community falls apart over how to deal with the issue. Some people, nearly always marginalized people or survivors of abuse, attempt to remain firm that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with. But many more people fall victim to the crocodile tears. “He feels bad enough” or “he didn’t mean to hurt anyone” or “he’s a good guy who doesn’t deserve to be punished”. And just as with parenting, inconsistent approaches to discipline fail to achieve meaningful results and the Emotional Seven-Year-Old either doesn’t learn anything positive or actively learns the wrong lesson – that they were right to center their own feelings over the feelings of others and the community will support them in similar situations in the future.

And the whole situation is entirely maddening. It’s maddening because it’s so utterly predictable in how it plays out exactly the same way every time. But it’s also maddening because of the element of learned helplessness to the situation. How is it that we are unable to hold harmful people to the same standards as actual seven-year-olds whenever we get into a conflict of “harmful person did a harmful thing” versus “they are making me feel bad so they are bad”?

Not all emotional pain is equal

What we need to remember when we encounter these situations is that not all emotional pain is equal. Sometimes, emotional pain is neccessary for personal growth. And emotional pain used as a defense against clear violation of boundaries does not deserve centering or comfort when compared to the pain of the person whose boundaries were violated.

Or, to put it in terms that a seven-year-old can understand:

your emotional pain does not require me to allow you to hurt me

and

when you hurt someone, your feelings of hurt are not important

Now maybe let’s try to keep that in mind the next time another round of Entirely Predictable Bullshit breaks out, hmm?

The Discourse™ has a problem and is going to get someone killed.

(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.

Rachel Bryk didn’t.

But, wundergeek, you may be saying. Rachel Bryk was abused by GamerGate, not progressives. So surely it isn’t the same.

Except.

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.

Survey of marginalized designers, running through December 8th

Since the death of G+, I’ve been thinking about the impact on the ability of marginalized game designers to have space to talk about design. I think I’m not alone, so I made a survey.

Click here to take the survey!

Much of conversation around game design has drifted back to private channels like forums or Discord servers, which pose notable barriers for marginalized designers. But we can’t talk about solutions without knowing the scope of the problem! Hence this survey.

This survey will remain open through Sunday December 8th. You are not required to provide a name or identifying information. If you choose to provide optional text answers, your answers may be quoted, but I will not share survey results with anyone.

To be clear: when I say game designer, I mean ANYONE who designs ANY kind of game, including small hacks, free games, design feedback on playtests or drafts, LARP design, or intentionally playing RPGs not as written. You do NOT need to publish games to count.

Thank you.

You say hello

I don’t tend to be someone who dwells on my achievements and accomplishments much. In fact, I have friends who like to troll me by telling me statements of fact about myself and watching me writhe in discomfort as I attempt to disclaim those facts. There’s also the issue that I prefer to avoid things that could be seen as gloating, because there are lots of people (dudes) out there who already think I’m “conceited” and “arrogant” enough without me adding fuel to the fire. But today marks the sixth anniversary of my very first post on Go Make Me a Sandwich, which is the sort of landmark that provokes a fair amount of introspection. And while I can deflect compliments with the best of them, it’s impossible to deny that this blog has made a difference, and that I have achieved a number of things through writing it that I will always be proud of.

In the six years since I started it, Go Make Me a Sandwich has amassed more than 2.3 million views. Since ending my hiatus in 2014 and restarting this blog as a Patreon-supported blog, I’ve gone from an initial 17 patrons to a current count of 105 patrons – which puts me in the top 4.7% of all creators on Patron (43,788 total creators at the time of writing this post, according to Graphtreon) by number of patrons. The things that I’ve written here have been read and promoted by a variety of industry thought leaders – publishers, activists, and critics.

The visibility gained through this blog has helped me accomplish a number of things outside of this blog that I’m even more proud of:

  • The things I’ve written here have affected how publishers approach art direction. I’ve worked directly with Paul and Shannon Riddle on improving art for Undying and am currently doing art direction for Katanas & Trenchcoats. I’ve also done consulting work for Wizards of the Coast regarding portrayals of women in D&D products. And those are just games that I’ve talked directly with the creators about.
  • The post that I wrote about my experience of sexual assault at GenCon led to me being able to connect with GenCon leadership, who subsequently implemented a harassment policy. I’ve also worked with Pelgrane Press and co-authored their 13th Age event harassment policy.
  • While I certainly can’t take credit for something that took years and the hard work of many to accomplish, I know that the posts that I’ve made here and the conversations that I pushed around diversity of GenCon’s Industry Insider lineup were part of the reason why GenCon was able to smash the old gender disparity of its Featured Presenters in such dramatic fashion this year.
  • My work here also enabled me to actually be an Industry Insider this year, where I sat on panels with game industry and culture luminaries like Wes Schneider, Katherine Cross, Ken Hite, and Nicole Lindroos.

All of that is great! And incredibly satisfying! But that stuff isn’t nearly important to me as the conversations I’ve had with women who have given me their sincere thanks while telling me heartbreaking stories about themselves and their experiences in the community. I struggle with imposter syndrome and lack of self-esteem, so in my lowest moments I have a tendency to dismiss my own work as angrily yelling my feelings at the internet – which is something that anyone can do. (I mean, just look at Twitter.) But that is doing myself a disservice, because there is something inherently radical about being a woman who expresses feelings about games openly and without apology. I know, because there are so many women who have told me that I have said things that they either didn’t have the ability to say, the courage to say, or the words to say it in. And that means more to me than all the rest, because those big quantifiable achievements feel remote and abstract, whereas the real human feeling behind these conversations I’ve had is something that feels “real” and important.

However.

While it is undeniable that my blog has resulted in positive change in some parts of the games industry and community, that change has come at tremendous personal cost. First and foremost, it’s cost me my reputation; because of this blog, I will always be “controversial”. Go Make Me a Sandwich started as a personal project, something that I started as a hobby because I wanted to write about something that was a growing area of interest for me. By the time it took off, the damage was done; my Google Rank has inextricably tied my name to feminism forever, and that can be dangerous. It’s certainly translated into a level of difficulty in my meatspace life that I never anticipated before starting this blog.

Writing this blog has also taken a tremendous toll on my mental health. The backlash that I’ve faced because of what I do here has been terrifying. When the level of rhetoric being used against you is the same as what was sufficient to launch a hate movement against Zoe Quinn, that is incredibly unnerving. When there are men who seriously argue to their fans that I am a bigoted anti-gay lunatic, that I am literally destroying gaming, that I am an evil cancer on the games industry that no moral person should support… When professional artists sic their fans on me to get me to shut up and stop criticizing a thing that they like and I get 29,000 views in 24 hours from people desperate to tell me what an ignorant judgemental cunt I am… When someone hates me so much that they write 11,000 words in a single week about what a terrible person I am… It’s impossible not to look at women like Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu and know that however bad what I’ve gone through feels, it has the potential to get a million times worse. And really, there are only so many times that you can read horrible things about yourself before it starts to take a toll – especially when the things people say are so detestable. The misogynist backlash I’ve gotten isn’t the only thing that caused my anxiety, but it was definitely a primary factor in me developing anxiety. Anxiety which I now get to keep, which will be with me for the rest of my life.

For those of you with no experience of anxiety, it would be impossible for me to convey to you how immense a cost that is. Anxiety is a hole I have spent two years climbing out of. It has damaged friendships, tested my marriage, and at times makes me too physically sick to function or take care of myself for weeks on end. I wrestle daily with wanting to get back to the person that I was before anxiety and knowing that person is gone forever. The genie is out of the bottle, and anxiety is my life now.

So the question becomes: how do I weigh the good that this blog has achieved in the face of everything that it has cost me? And increasingly, I’ve been feeling like the benefits that this blog achieves are not worth the costs, and I know that it shows in my work. When I first started writing Go Make Me a Sandwich, I wrote because it was a subject that I was passionate about – and my earliest work, while it reflects a lot of problematic ideas and lack of education around certain issues – reflects an energy and enthusiasm for the subject I haven’t felt for a long time. Over time, however, that passion was eroded in the face of misogynist hatred, and comedy became a tool that I used less and less, because it just got too hard to find the humor most of the time. When that happened, I still stuck with it, because I believed that my blog was important and because I was helping to make a difference. And when that stopped holding water as a reason to keep moving forward, I tried to hang on to my sense of obligation to my daughter – to make gaming a safe space for her to exist in and play games in – as a motivation to keep going.

But the reality is that I’m only one person. The years of sexist abuse for the simple crime of being a woman who has opinions about games have taken their toll, and for the past several months I have been wrestling with the dilemma: do I go or do I stay? Because much as I believe in what I do, I’m only one person, and my resources are finite.

Wrestling with all of this is why I recently observed on Twitter:

Real talk: the gaming community is misogynist. It grinds down women and spits them out. Especially women who do work as creators or critics. The backlash you get as a woman for daring to take up intellectual space is horrific. Inevitably, some women reach a point where they can’t take anymore and they quit and/or leave the community altogether. But it’s not a “loss” when a woman decides to leave. She is not obligated to sacrifice her health for the perceived greater good.

To which I received this incredibly cogent response:

And friends? That is some cold, hard, brutal, honest motherfucking TRUTH right there. And it is exactly why the idea of trying to keep up the good fight feels hopelessly futile. The known abusers? They’re all still here. They’ve harassed people out of the industry, or out of the community entirely – lots of people. Good people, whose voices I still miss keenly and whose absence is a blow to the state of game design. But the abusers are still here. Still lionized, still engaged with, still celebrated, still excused. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard apologists for my primary harasser begin a sentence in his defense with “he’s an asshole, but…” I certainly wouldn’t need to worry about pinching pennies quite as often as I do now.

There are SO. MANY. PEOPLE. Who know that the harassers and abusers are harassers and abusers and just don’t care. Because, you know, they do good work and it’s not a problem that affects them. You have to separate art from the artist and all that. Anything to justify the fact that they are actively rooting for the status quo, and the status quo is one that harms and traumatizes women and other marginalized people right out of gaming.

Or because they just don’t have a horse in the race. They don’t want to pick “sides” or get wrapped up in “another argument on the internet”, so they say nothing and their silence speaks for them. My internet is full of the silence of men who can’t be bothered to defend the targets of this kind of abuse. There are so many men in our community who know about the treatment I have received and who have never said anything publicly, not even once. In their ringing silence, I hear only indifference to my suffering and am reminded that I will always be seen as less because of my gender, and I will never be able to change that. And because of that, it will always be my responsibility to fight my own oppression.

There are also those who know about the abuse and choose to believe that the abusers aren’t the problem. The real problem is me: my feelings about my experiences of marginalization and harassment and how I express them. There are many in our community who think that it’s a bigger problem that I’m not nice about my feelings toward my abusers than it is that I’m being abused. So instead of holding the abusers accountable for their abuse, which is known and well-documented, they instead decide to publicly castigate me for committing the womanly sin of having feelings about a thing incorrectly.

All of that shit right there is why writing this blog feels like pissing into the wind. Because for the abusers, there are no negative consequences. They’re able to leverage the controversy generated by my existence into increased sales and awards, while for me the consequences are always negative. There is only ever a progressive, steady toll on my health, sanity, and relationships. I might succeed in changing things behind the scenes at a few gaming companies, or at affecting the lineup of speakers at a single convention, or seeing harassment policies implemented at a handful of conventions and events. But none of that does anything to change the daily lived reality of what it means to be a woman in games.

People have told me more times than I can count that I’m “brave” for writing this blog. I’m “brave” for being open about my feelings and experiences, and I’m “brave” for saying what I think without apologizing or minimizing in any way. And to them, I always say the same thing: I’m not brave! I’m stupid. Doing what I do is like beating my head against a brick wall on a daily basis. Every once in a while, I might knock a tiny chip off the wall, and people may applaud and say, “look! Progress!”. But ultimately, nothing I do is every going to seriously harm the wall, but it will seriously harm me if I keep at it long enough.

Worse than the abusers, the indifferent, and the apologists, however, is getting blindsided by people I trusted. People who I thought had my back, who told me that they wanted me to succeed and then threw me under the bus because it was politically expedient. I’m controversial, after all. And a self-admitted crazy person. And I’m not nice.

At least with the abusers, the indifferent, and the apologists, I know what to expect. After a while, it gets easy to prepare yourself emotionally to read what someone is going to write about you when you know what camp they fall into. “Oh okay, that’s just the abuser party line with a few new tweaks. No big.” Or, “oh look, silence from that whole corner of my internet again, despite everything going down right now. I see where their priorities are, but whatever.” Or, “oh sure, whatever you need to tell yourself to be okay with the fact that you’d rather support a known abuser than possibly maybe have to be uncomfortable or actually do something.”

But when you think you know where someone stands, you think that they wish you well and they unexpectedly side with your abusers… that pain is indescribable. And, unfortunately, not unique. It’s happened many times in the past, nor do I have any reason to believe that it wouldn’t also happen many times in the future.

All of which leads me to an inescapable conclusion: I can’t keep doing this. It is bad for me. I have to stop.

Before Origins, I ended up crying in a bathroom as I chatted with friends online about the vitriolic response to a thing that I’d written. It made me doubt myself so much that I actually wondered if it would be worthwhile going to Origins. Would I even be welcome there? (Spoiler alert: I was.) Fast forward two months to a different crisis before a different convention, which saw me crying for more than a week in the runup to that convention. Truth is, I’ve done a lot of crying about my blog in the past year. But I didn’t let myself think about that, because I had to keep moving forward. I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I had to keep my head above water and just. Keep. Fighting.

Or at least that’s how I was approaching things until several weeks ago, when the final straw happened. As is the way with such things, it was so small. Such a quiet thing those most community insiders, even, probably missed. Really, it doesn’t even matter what the event was. What matters is that it represented a tipping point – the moment in which I finally had to confront the fact that I haven’t felt passionate about what I do here for a long, long time. And for most of this year, I’ve felt only resentment. That this stupid blog has cost me so much, and I feel trapped by it. A victim of my own success – forever tarnished by my connection to it, and yet dependent on the income it provides, that I require because of the damage it’s done to my reputation. (See what a vicious cycle that is?) The final straw made me realize that I don’t want to do this anymore, and indeed, that I was rapidly approaching a point where I couldn’t do it anymore.

Of course, this is made harder by the fact that I hate losing. And there will be people who will celebrate, people who call this a victory, which only intensifies my feelings of defeat. My feelings of weakness. I feel like I’m giving up, and it kills me because I’m competitive! I’m contrary! Telling me not to do a thing is enough to make me want to do the thing. I don’t give up on things and I hate losing. But in this situation, I have to accept that there is no winning play. No win condition. I’m one person at war with an entire culture, and there just aren’t enough people who give a damn, and I’m not willing to continue sacrificing my health and well-being on the altar of moral obligation. If this fight is so important, then let someone else fight it for a while.

I hate feeling like I’m letting my patrons down. My patrons are wonderful, amazing, supportive, generous people, without whose support I never would have been able to accomplish half of what I’ve done here.

I hate feeling that I’m playing into a generational story of defeat. My mother was run out of STEM because of sexism, ruining a career as a brilliant research chemist. She has her name on 12 patents! And the fact that I couldn’t persevere makes me feel hopeless. How can I tell my daughter that she can achieve anything of meaning when I have only stories of defeat to offer her? How can I tell her that she can beat the odds when her mother and her grandmother are both strong women who have been ground down into silence?

MY WHOLE GODDAMN LIFE I’ve been told that I was “too much”. Too loud. Too opinionated. Too brash. Too arrogant. Too abrasive. Too bossy. My whole life, people have been trying to shove me into a box that I just don’t fit in, no matter how hard I try – the box of proper womanhood. This blog was my place where I could be ME. Unapologetically. Loudly. Defiantly! And walking away from that feels like walking away from part of myself.

It feels like climbing into the box voluntarily.

It feels like capitulation. Like surrender.

I’m sorry I couldn’t be stronger.

I don’t have sympathy for 101-level questions because men exhaust me

[Hi, folks. I apologize for the radio silence; the start of a new term is always a hectic time. I’m currently finishing up the research for a 2-parter on Curse of Strahd – the republished version for D&D 5th Edition (OMG, folks, I have so much to say about this book…), but in the mean time, I wanted to take a moment to address something that I’ve been thinking about since last week.]

Recently, in an online community that I participate in, there was a post discussing community standards which included the word “trolling” in the list of intolerable behaviors. Someone expressed concern that some people might not know what “trolling” means, to which I replied (rather bluntly) that if someone participating in an online community doesn’t know what a word that has been around so long that it has passed into the common parlance means when used in reference to anti-social online behavior, that’s their problem for not taking the time to educate themselves. (I mean, that’s why Google exists, right?) And apparently, my comment was perceived by at least one person as bullying.

Which. On the one hand, sure. I’m a bitch, and have long since stopped trying to be anything other than a bitch; no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, someone is always going to think that you’re a bitch if you’re a woman, since “bitch” pretty much only means “woman that I don’t approve of”.

And yeah, I don’t have much empathy for ignorance about 101 level issues, which isn’t always the best – especially when I’m dealing with people who are part of communities that I’m invested in. In those sorts of situations, bridge-building is important, and it’s not something I’m terribly good at. While I look up tremendously to the women in my circles who are bridge-builders, I know that’s not ever going to be me. I just don’t have the patience.

On the other hand, though, I’m pretty annoyed that saying forthrightly and without apology that people need to be responsible for educating themselves is something that someone can feel “bullied” by. I have been both 1) bullied and 2) a clueless white person who couldn’t buy a clue to save her life, and I can tell you from personal experience that the pain of learning that you are ignorant about social justice and need to do some work around educating yourself does not even come close to the pain and life-long trauma caused by being the victim of bullying. NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT.

Learning how ignorant I was about social justice and the level to which I needed to educate myself? That sucked, sure. It’s painful realizing that you’ve been inadvertently reinforcing systemic injustice, because everyone wants to believe that they’re a good person. Being bullied? Left life-long scars that I won’t ever recover from. Saying that you feel “bullied” by someone telling you to do your own damn work in educating yourself about important issues just shows how much marginalized people are expected to do the work of teaching their oppressors how not to be oppressive. Marginalized people are expected to hold their oppressor’s hand while gently stroking their hair and whispering softly in soothing, dulcet tones about how their behavior was oppressive, but it’s okay because they didn’t know and they’re still a good person.

Which. You know what? No.

Now I am talking generally and not a specific person, just to be clear

It’s no secret that this is and never has been a 101 level blog – it’s right there in the sidebar. I delete comments pertaining to 101-level questions and issues, because there are so many better places on the internet to educate yourself. There are two reasons for this that I give whenever I am asked about the policy:

  1. Something I learned in the first few years of running this blog was that if I tried to answer all of the 101-level questions I got, I would never get any real actual work done. If I did all of the work around educating clueless privileged people that I was expected to do, I would never get to write about the deeper issues that are my real passion and focus.
  2. I am tired of having the same damn 101-level conversations over, and over, and over again. Explaining the basics of social justice 101 is fucking exhausting and aggravating to me, and I just don’t want to do it anymore.

But if I’m honest, there’s also a third reason. One I don’t talk about much, because it’s hard to address it without sounding like a complete and total bitch: I don’t have empathy for the 101-level struggles of men because men fucking exhaust me.

I’m not proud of it. As much as I make jokes about misandry and male tears, I’ll cop to the fact that those jokes are more of a coping mechanism for dealing with the shit I get because of writing this blog than an actual desire to laugh at men’s suffering. I would like to be able to respond to these situations with empathy and compassion, but that’s just not possible, because I have suffered too much from men too often. When my daily life is full of struggles that reinforce the fact that society sees me as less because I am female, I just don’t have the energy to feel empathetic about a man’s pain that a woman is refusing to educate him about the basics of the basics of the basics of social justice.

Specifically, I don’t have empathy for men who need education to understand that patriarchy exists. When daycare costs in Canada are forcing women out of the workplace and back into the home… When the male-domination of the tech industry means that tech towns are also areas in which women suffer the greatest economic inequality… When, at my last job, I made 78% of what my husband makes, despite having a higher education level than he does… When my life is full of glass ceilings and invisible barriers that I have been beating my head against, with no perceptible progress, I can’t have empathy for a man who is blind to the daily indignities that I face.

I don’t have empathy for men who need education to understand that you are accountable for your sexist actions. When I worked for several years for a company at which the sales bros could talk openly in the office about strippers, call women bitches, and engage in other sorts of misogynist language without any penalties or repercussions… When that same company literally broke the law in regards to condoning a hostile work environment and doing nothing to change it when it was reported to them, and I was told that I had no real legal recourse… When I once temped as an assistant to a high-powered real estate broker who was so condescendingly insulting and patronizing that he made me cry on multiple occasions, and I later found out that I was his fifth temp in four weeks… When my life has been full of men who have harassed, insulted, or harmed me with sexist words and actions, I can’t have empathy for a man who is blind to the fact that only you are responsible for your actions.

I don’t have empathy for men who need education to understand that the male gaze exists. When IGN had a section of their website devoted to covering booth babes at E3 (before booth babes at E3 were outlawed)… When games like Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive offer up sexualized depictions of women who are reduced to a collection of titillating body parts… When Bayonetta is sold as an empowered and liberated “strong female character”… When the hobby that I love reduces women on a daily basis to the sexual pleasure and gratification that they can provide to the only “real” gamers – straight men – I can’t have empathy for a man who is blind to the fact that objectification of women is a problem.

I don’t have empathy for men who need education to understand that rape culture exists. When all the girls I went to high school with wore shorts under their uniform skirts because the boys would flip up our skirts to “see if we were wearing underwear”… When truck drivers coming into the office of the company I used to work for would routinely sexually harass the women in the office… When I have been pursued by men who are only dissuaded by me making a show of the ring on my finger… When literally every woman I know has at least one story about unwanted sexual touching by a man at some point in their life… When there are now 50 women who say that Bill Cosby raped them and there are still people who say those women are just looking for attention… When I have to exist daily in a culture that commodifies my body and tells men that they are entitled to use it for their sexual pleasure, I can’t have empathy for a man who is blind to the ways in which our society excuses rapists and blames the victims of rape for their own rape.

I don’t have empathy for men who need education understand that rigid gender roles are bad. When my four year old daughter thinks that women can’t fly planes… When my daughter wants to grow up to be a princess who gets saved from a monster by a prince, marry that prince, and have babies, despite my husband and I telling her she can do anything she wants with her life… When a friend’s five year old son gets bullied for wearing his favorite skirt to school and cries because of it… When the daily reality of parenting my four year old daughter is trying and failing to combat the social programming she internalized when she was TWO that she is less because she is female, I can’t have empathy for a man who is blind to the ways in which gender essentialism and binarism are harmful.

So that’s where I set the bar of “you must be at least this enlightened to be worth my time”. Make of that what you will.

In defense of anger

[Fair warning, given the incredibly personal nature of this post, I will be modding comments with an iron fist. Anything that even faintly whiffs of violating the comment policy or duplicating material covered in the FAQ will be removed. Period. My house, my rules.]

I am 10. For an entire school year, all of the boys (and several older boys as well) have been bullying me. The typical small-minded ten year old bullshit, but the isolation takes its toll. I try to report it to teachers (all women) on several occasions. They make comments and give me useless advice that makes it clear that being bullied is my problem.

“Boys will be boys”, “they’re teasing you because they like you”, that sort of thing. They say the same thing even after one of the boys in my class follows me to my babysitter’s and spits on me in the process. Boys will be boys, and girls should be quiet.

I learn to stop asking adults for help. Instead I bottle in the anger, try to hold it in, safely contained, since I know that any expression of anger will not be condoned by those in authority. Two weeks from the end of the school year I snap. I write the worst word I know at the time (“butthole”) on a piece of paper and leave it in the desk of the ringleader of the bullies – the one who instigates the majority of the abuse. Of course I get caught, because 10 year olds aren’t exactly crafty masterminds. And I’m the one who gets suspended.

At the meeting with the teachers, my father is there, and the teachers – again, all women – tell me things like “when I get angry I should concentrate on making fists until I don’t feel angry anymore” or “when I get angry I should take deep breaths and count to ten”. After the meeting is one of the very few times in my life when my father, a product of Midwestern stoicism – a man who never admitted to having negative feelings of any sort – told me that they were full of shit and that I was absolutely allowed to be angry about what had happened, because it was outright sexism.

This coming from the guy who refused to discuss his funeral arrangements, period, and who died (after being terminally ill for five years) without once ever having a serious conversation with his family about his death and what he wanted. He taught me that my anger was real, and valid, and important.


Twenty years have passed, and I’m working for a company that I hate in a job that I loathe.

After being pestered by one of the sales bros for the entire morning about finding a document of trivial importance for the third or fourth time, a task he is fully capable of doing himself as he possesses thumbs and knows how to operate a filing cabinet, while I am busy with critical month-end tasks, I taste bile when he turns up at my desk and all but demands that I find the document for him that instant.

I swallow my anger, forcing myself to maintain a level, neutral, professional tone. I don’t trust myself not to look angry, so I don’t make eye contact, engaging in something that gives me an excuse not to look at him. Filing. Straightening things on my desk. Ostensibly looking for something. “I have told you that I have critical tasks to complete before noon today, and that they are not done. Once my month-end tasks are complete, then I can assist you with locating the document. If you require it more urgently than that, it may already be in the filing cabinet.”

I am firm without being either apologetic or angry. Cool. Detached. But even as I do my best impersonation of an Office Vulcan, my stomach lurches. I concentrate on my breathing to keep it slow and even, will my face not to flush. I am concentrating on the performance of not being angry, because the sales bro is the one with all of the power in this situation.  The sales bro grumbles a response that I don’t entirely catch because I’m too busy concentrating on maintaining my composure.

Resolutely, I ignore him and restart the task that he interrupted. It’s hard, because my focus is shot and it requires a lot of attention to detail, but I do my best. That is until I realize that two minutes have gone by and the sales bro is still standing at my desk, and it doesn’t appear that he intends to leave until I give him the document in question. The document that he is perfectly capable of finding himself.

I steel my nerves, take a deep breath, don’t speak until I know I can keep the tears of anger that I can feel welling up out of my voice. “[Sales bro]. I have explained to you my work priorities and the timeline in which your request will be dealt with. There is no need to stand at my desk and watch me work while you wait.”

“Well there’s no reason to get hysterical,” the sales bro says, huffily, his greying mustache making him look like a grumpy, petulant walrus. But thankfully, finally, he accedes and shuffles off, grumbling.

I turn my chair away from the rest of the office and place my head in my hands, which are shaking. I take care to make it look like I am nursing a headache, since I am prone to those and that is behavior that my coworkers are used to. I feel hot all over, my skin feels too tight, I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. I want to scream, throw things. I want to show him what hysterical actually looks like.

I think about all of the small indignities. Creepy Sales Bro who talks about strippers at work and asks the younger Sales Bros about their romantic conquests. Awful Sales Bro who makes a point of saying sexist things within earshot of my desk because he finds my discomfort amusing. And Manbaby Sales Bro who is incapable of doing even the simplest tasks on his own. I think about going to my boss and telling him about the interaction I just had, that Manbaby Sales Bro called me hysterical. But I know that I’ll just end up explaining to my boss why calling a woman trying to enforce a boundary “hysterical” is grossly misogynist, and the chances are high that he won’t really understand. My boss likes me, but his response to such things is always “try not to let it bother you”.

I feel weak and small and powerless. I try to make my anger as small as I feel. I fail.


I don’t know what possessed me to follow the link from my blog’s traffic stats back to a forum that I know is full of people who personally wish me ill. But there is a lot of traffic from that source, and I follow it, and what I find isn’t surprising in the slightest. It’s a thread where men are complaining about a project that I was proud to be a part of (that I am still proud to have been a part of), complaining that all of this emphasis on diversity in games is ruining gaming.

The thread doesn’t go on for long before my primary harasser hijacks the thread and makes it about what a terrible person I am. Me. Specifically. Personally. I’m hateful. I’m an abuser. I’m a liar. I harass people. I’m anti-LGBT. I’m crazy, and should be involuntarily committed to a mental health facility for my own good and the good of my family. All of his claims laughably transparent and easily debunkable with a few minutes of Googling, though I know that no one there is going to make that effort.

I don’t know why I keep reading, but I do as the thread unfurls over the course of a few days. I feel hot and angry and sick. I feel shaky and tired. I write multiple closed-circle G+ posts about how furious I feel, and how helpless I feel to respond, because I know that any response will be playing into the narrative that my harasser is trying to create. I cry.

I let my anger cause me to be overly harsh in a tabletop game that is being played as a campaign with people that I’ve been playing with for a few months, and I hurt one of the players at the table. Play stops, and I apologize, feeling all the anger again but also helplessness and shame. “I’m in a really dark place right now. I should have told you about it instead of taking it out on you.” To my horror, I start crying. Giving it voice breaks the control that I’d kept over it, and I start talking about the abuse. About the things being said about me. About how trapped and furious I feel and how I have nothing to do with those feelings.

Or at least that’s what I think I say. The memories aren’t too clear.

I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to display this pain, because I’ve been hurt too many times. But my friends listen, and hug me, and don’t judge me for crying. Afterward, I feel lighter, at least a bit. I feel terrible about hurting the other player, but it feels good having my anger validated. It feels good being told that my feelings are real, and that I’m not a terrible person for having them.


It’s not any secret that sexism and misogyny in gaming makes me angry. While I’m perfectly capable of writing Vulcan-level objective analyses of sexism in games, daring to be a woman who publicly expresses opinions about games and who owns her anger attached to those opinions is an inherently radical act. So yeah, I’ll write the data-driven objective-ish pieces, but I also swear and use hyperbole and employ angrily sarcastic memes a lot. Because coming into this space, my personal blog, and telling me that I should only ever talk about sexism in soothing dulcet tones, while I hold the hands of the perpetrators and gently stroke their hair to reassure them that of course they aren’t terrible people… that is the height of bullshit entitlement.

That’s not to say that any expression of anger is automatically okay if it comes from oppression! I’ve written pretty extensively about that too. About how there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to express anger over oppression, and the line always has to be drawn at “will this do further harm?”. I’ve written about the mechanics of anger and how anger is used to create hate movements against individuals or groups. And I’ve written about my own personal experiences of anger, and the necessity of balancing my desire to express that anger with the need to behave professionally and not destroy publishing relationships or friendships out of anger.

So as much as I joke about being an angry bra-burner, or a Social Justice Barbarian, my relationship with anger is pretty nuanced.

Some people who will tell you that anger is never okay. That in order for progress to be achieved, that you must be calm. Objective. Professional. Rational. “You catch more flies with honey,” and the like. I have never found it surprising that the vast majority of people expressing that sentiment to me have been men.

There are many times in my life where I have to swallow my anger. To make my demeanor calm and soothing when I want to rage. To cry and scream and vent my frustration. So here? In my place? And in the places that I have created for myself, the spaces I curate for having the conversation I want to have with the people I want to talk with? I own my anger. I acknowledge that it exists, and I express it – always remembering that even righteous anger can wound. Even righteous anger can harm. But those open, honest expressions of righteous anger… they make me “controversial”. “Extreme”.

Because I am not willing to hold hands and moderate my tone while I talk about how my experiences of oppression affect me, there are those who say that I am toxic. Who say that I should be avoided, that I represent everything that is wrong with gaming. Because I am angry about abuse that I have suffered, I am divisive. I create strife and disunity. In short, my anger makes me “unacceptable”.

And to all of that I say simply, no. I am not extreme. I am not divisive. I am not toxic or unacceptable. I am human. And I am allowed to be angry when I am treated in ways that deny my humanity. And so long as my expressions of anger are centered on self-expression and not on harming others, I am allowed to express that anger. And so are you. And so is everyone.

Where you can, be kind. But when you need to be fierce, be fierce. You do you and fuck the haters.

Indie publishers donate money to Pulse families and survivors [Freebie]

[Edited to add: The total has been updated to reflect a donation at the time that wasn’t reported back to me. Thanks to Emily Care-Boss for contributing and for letting me know.]

It’s been two and a half weeks now since the Pulse shooting in Orlando, Florida. Unfortunately, while I’ve seen some good, heartfelt conversations in private channels about the tragedy from those I know in the games community, the largest game publishing companies have been largely… silent.

At E3, the only AAA game publisher to address the Pulse shooting in their press conference was Microsoft, who led their event with a moment of silence. (Bethesda’s presenters did wear rainbow armbands, and their Twitter avatar was briefly given a rainbow background – though their avatar has been changed back already.) The lack of commentary from an industry famed for its continued reliance on misogyny, toxic masculinity, and heteronormativity to drive sales was disappointing, to say the least.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any contacts to speak of in the video games industry. But I do have contacts in the tabletop industry. Like, a lot of them. So I did some research and ended up contacting all of the indie publishers I know. Here’s a portion of the message that I sent:

The Pulse Tragedy

The mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was a horrific tragedy that has already touched so many lives. But worse than the loss and trauma, there is a real fear that I have heard expressed by many of my LGBT friends about how to navigate a world that hates and fears them when even their safe spaces, their spaces of refuge, are not safe.

There are so many talented and wonderful LGBT people in game development – developers, publishers, editors, designers, writers, that have contributed so much to our hobby. Without their voices and their talent, our hobby would be infinitely poorer. Unfortunately, while there are LGBT-friendly enclaves within gaming, the hobby as a whole continues to be unwelcoming to LGBT gamers. And I think the lack of response by “leading lights” in the gaming industry might contribute to that perception of gaming as an unsafe space.

And I get it! It’s hard to know what to say or do in the face of such brutality! And it’s hard to figure out how to express support in ways that are meaningful beyond “thoughts and prayers” or in ways that center the conversation around your distress and not the real needs of the people affected.

So Here’s What I Propose

I would like to have an informal donation drive, of sorts, to have publishers come together and donate money to a charity directly doing the work of providing services to families and survivors; The GLBT Center of Central Florida is a charity that has already been providing these services – you can read about their ongoing efforts here.

And I’m pleased to be able to report that people stepped up. Because much as I devote a lot of space to the problems that the games community and industry faces, there are a lot of good and conscientious people on the publishing end of things who are trying to make a real difference.

The Outcome: $1173 Raised for the GLBT Center of Central Florida

Indie tabletop publishing is an industry with incredibly narrow profit margins – it’s tough when RPG consumers expect stunningly beautiful, art-rich, 300 page game books for rock-bottom prices. So I’m pleased to be able to say that between the ten publishers who participated, we were able to raise $1173 $1223 in contributions. Here are the publishers (in no particular order) who donated:

The contributions were made individually by each publisher, who communicated the amount of their donation to me, for the purposes of knowing the overall total only. Publishers were linked to the GoFundMe campaign as well as the direct PayPal donation link, so that contributing publishers could use whichever was more convenient or ethically preferable. (Myself, I prefer to avoid GoFundMe whenever possible, because of the company’s problematic business ethics.)

(It may be worth noting that Peach Pants Press (aka me) is one of the listed contributors. I don’t believe in asking people to do something that I wouldn’t do myself.)

I’m grateful for the contributions made by my publishing peers and hope that this can be at least a small step from one corner of the games publishing industry to indicate that we care about LGBT people, and want to continue doing what we can to make safer spaces within the gaming community. All too often, silence can feel like a lack of support and caring. This small gesture can’t possibly erase all of the awfulness that happens within our community, but hopefully we can signal that there are lots of people who make games who want to do what we can to continue making gaming spaces better – more safe, more inclusive, and more welcoming.