On forgiveness, and the messiness of who gets to access it

In my last post, I talked about the need to remove predators from communities, and how everyone benefits when predators are removed from community spaces. However, talking about removing people from communities ignores the important second half of the equation – how do people who have been removed from communities access forgiveness? What standards do we use for judging when forgiveness is warranted? And how do we reintegrate formerly harmful people?

But all of that is putting the cart before the horse. So before we get into any of that, let’s start with:

Abusers hurt people, so why should we forgive them?

When we talk about abusers, we commonly talk about them in black-and-white terms. We call them monsters, and use language that denies their personhood. And some of this, especially coming from victims of abuse is understandable! When people are hurt, the last thing they should be asked to do is center the feelings of the person who hurt them!

HOWEVER.

Speaking about abusers only as Monsters With No Humanity has two equally disastrous consequences:

First: The belief that only monsters can be abusers makes it far more difficult for people to believe survivors when they come forward with their stories, because people can’t reconcile the good they know of someone with the allegations of abuse. People are more inclined to believe their own personal experiences, so when presented with conflicting information, people often choose to believe that the person accused of abuse has done good things instead of believing that they abused someone. They end up saying things like, “well that person has done Thing X which has resulted in Benefit Y for [myself / a group of people / our community], so clearly they can’t be an abuser”. When the reality is that they both have done good things and have abused someone.

Second: The belief that only monsters can be abusers doesn’t acknowledge the messy reality of mental illness and trauma. Mental illness and/or trauma can cause people to become abusive – not because they want to hurt people, but because being abusive is the only way they can feel safe and in control of their environment. This creates situations that are messy when trying to assess culpability, because the reality is that things are almost never as straightforward as we would want them to be.

Our community traumatizes people. Full stop. It replicates patterns of abuse that follow the dominant white supremacist patriarchal narrative, and the people who are most often harmed are people from marginalized groups. As members of the community, we are at least partially culpable for the trauma that our community inflicts on others. And while it is never okay to behave abusively, how do we as a community sit in judgement of someone who is abusive because of harms that we have inflicted on them?

The messy reality of trauma is that people who are abused often react by being abusive in return. But should someone who is being abusive as a response to inciting incidents of abuse bear the full responsibility of the harm they are committing? And what do we do when there is a situation where two people with incompatible mental illness and trauma abuse each other? How, then, do we assign blame and decide who is culpable and who is not?

Before you answer that question, let me tell you a story.

I am not a monster, but I have abused people (and now don’t)

I sometimes joke about Pokemon-ing my way through the DSM, but the painful reality is that I have a lot of mental illness and trauma. My depression predates my involvement in games, but I developed anxiety and cPTSD as a response to the harassment and abuse I got for being a Woman-Appearing-Person With Opinions About Games On The Internet. And while I’d like to tell you that I dealt with the emergence of my anxiety and cPTSD in a healthy and responsible manner, that would be a lie.

I grew up in the Midwest, which means my family never talked about difficult emotions, no matter how bad things got. (And I had a pretty traumatic childhood, so things got really bad.) So when I first developed anxiety, I was completely emotionally illiterate. All I knew is that I was having too many feelings, but I couldn’t tell you what the feelings were or why I was having them. And cPTSD just made the whole thing worse, because it gave my anxiety the keys to the USE ONLY IN CASE OF BEARS panic button. I was miserable, not just emotionally but physically. I was trapped in an endless feedback loop that made me feel like I had the flu, only it never went away.

Unfortunately, getting treatment for severe mental illness is not fast. It took several attempts to find a medication that worked for me (one of the first ones I tried actually GAVE me panic attacks, which… you know… not helpful). It also took time to find a therapist who could help me and not tell me inane shit like ‘stay off the internet’ or ‘be tolerant of misogynists’. It took most of a year to get medication that worked and get enough therapy in me that I wasn’t actively in severe distress every single day.

And during that time, I abused people.

I won’t share details, not because I’m keeping secrets but because these are stories that ultimately aren’t mine to share. But the truth of the matter is that when I was rock-bottom and effectively untreated, I became emotionally abusive, because the things that my anxiety demanded that I do in order to feel even somewhat safe and secure were toxic. And sometimes I was able to fight down those impulses, but sometimes I wasn’t – because when you live with that kind of misery, misery that permeates ever cell of your being both emotionally and physically, you reach a point where you are willing to do whatever your anxiety demands in order to alleviate the pain, if only for a little while.

Importantly, I’m not that person anymore. I have medication that works. I’ve done, if not quite All The Therapy, then certainly a large portion of it. I’ve done EMDR to reduce my panic attacks. And I practice self-awareness with the zeal of a recovering addict, because I know that my mental illness makes me want to abuse people when I am unwell, and that impulse will never go away. However, while I accept responsibility for the harm that I caused, I also acknowledge that I was not fully culpable, because my abuse stemmed from my illness, which I have worked incredibly hard to address.

So. That’s my story. If you’ve gotten this far and believe that my past abuse means that I am not entitled to further empathy, then. Well. Here’s where we part ways.

However, if you would agree that I don’t deserve to be permanently exiled from the community for the sake of harm that I caused when I was ill and untreated, then let’s move on to:

The problem of forgiveness is that only people with the most privilege and status get to access it

To continue with the personal example, my abusive behavior wasn’t just in person. There was stuff I said online that I’m not proud of, things I would dearly love to address and make right – except I can’t. Because I’ve learned from painful experience that trying to talk about what happened only earns me more abuse. So I have to live with the fact that there is a not-insignificant chunk of our community that sees me as a Toxic Person. Hell, there’s a major TTRPG publisher that to this day names me on their company website as a Major Problem in our community because of the things that I said. (Again, things that I said because I was ill. Because I was not dealing well with being abused. And, non-trivially, because I was wrestling with internalized homophobia and accepting myself as queer and non-binary.)

I’m not the same person I was then! And yet, this very visible indictment from a major player in our community is going to hang over my head forever.

Contrast this with the experience of industry luminaries, usually white dudes, who do harmful things. All they have to do is issue an apology that sounds even halfway sincere and they are lionized for how brave and wonderful they are for being accountable. When you have power, privilege, and status, forgiveness is always accessible, even without a formal apology – because if enough time passes, a luminary’s fans will always be keen to tell you that you shouldn’t hold mistakes over someone’s head forever.

And yet, that is exactly what happens with marginalized people.

So what happens is the only people who can access forgiveness and restorative justice are the people who don’t need it. Which means that marginalized and other lower-status members of the community are one mistake away from being exiled forever.

And if that sounds like hyperbole, trust me. It’s not. I’ve seen people go out of their way to make it clear to a Formerly Harmful Person that they are not welcome and never will be welcome in the very same space where they themselves are ignoring someone known to be harmful, but who has too much social currency or status for them to do anything about. Because it’s an easy win. Because it makes them feel better about ignoring the person they know is harmful. And, going back to the points at the beginning, because when someone becomes An Abuser, they are A Monster Forever and are No Longer Worthy of Empathy Or Inclusion No Matter How Much Work They’ve Done Or What They’ve Done To Be Accountable.

So. Obviously, that’s really shitty right? Shitting on people who have Done The Goddamn Work to make space for People With Status Who Continue To Be Harmful is obviously bad and wrong, and we shouldn’t do it, RIGHT? So. You know. What do we do about it?

Let people who were harmful reintegrate with the community when they can demonstrate that they’ve done the work

Forget status. Forget privilege. Forget power. There are people with all of those things who have been given community forgiveness who frankly don’t deserve it, and many others who do deserve it but can’t get it because they lack status, privilege, and power.

Instead, look at the person’s record, what they did in the past and what they have done since then to become someone who isn’t harmful. Have they acknowledged that they harmed people? Have they apologized? Have they done anything to address the harm they created? Have they gotten treatment or support in addressing the cause of their harmful behavior? Most importantly: what have they done to ensure that they will no longer be harmful in that way again?

Sometimes, the remediating action is immediate and profound, and the Formerly Harmful Person can be reintegrated right away. Frex, the dude who sexually assaulted me at GenCon in 2011 – his apology was immediate and sincere. He changed the circumstances that reinforced attitudes that caused the abuse, changed how he participates in games events, and immediately went into therapy. I’ve never named him because I am satisfied with his response and don’t feel that it would be just to punish him further.

Sometimes the desire for remediation is sincere, but the capacity to Not Be Harmful is something that needs to be worked toward. This is frequently the case with people who become harmful because of mental illness and trauma. In this instance, we need to have empathy for the person and make clear that space will be held for them when they can rejoin in a healthy way, but we also need to give that person support in getting to that place. It’s not enough to say ‘come back when you’re healthy’ without providing support in becoming healthy, because otherwise you’re just kicking people out for being mentally ill.

Sometimes a Harmful Person will say that they are sincere about wanting remediation and reform, but use their status as a Person In Recovery as a shield to further harm people. These people are Real Actual Predators and actually do need to be exiled forever. Patterns of behavior speak louder than words, and forgiveness and reintegration should never be done on the backs of victims.

(And sometimes a person who has harmed others isn’t sorry and are definitely going to do it again. Fuck those people. Those aren’t the people we’re talking about here, and they can get into the goddamn sea.)

Of course, what that remediation and reintegration will look like is a huge fucking question that, frankly, I’m not qualified to address. But, as someone who has done Not All But Certainly A Lot Of The Therapy, something I am qualified to address is black-and-white thinking that causes harmful outcomes. So! Let’s end with a bit of homework.

Homework: Reflections on black-and-white thinking about forgiveness

If you’ve gotten this far, I’d like it if you spent some time reflecting on these questions:

  1. In what ways have I demonstrated forgiveness to people with status who have harmed others and who have not demonstrated sincere contrition or shown that they are working to prevent further similar harm?
  2. In what ways have I shamed lower-status community members who have harmed others without acknowledging their humanity or considering how their circumstances may have changed?
  3. Have I done anything to support people who harm others because of mental illness and trauma through the process of recovery and reintegration? If yes, could I have done more? If no, why not?

If these reflections prompt answers that you are unhappy with, remember to acknowledge that we are all works in progress, and holding ourselves to unattainable standards is actively detrimental to the process of becoming better people. Instead, have compassion for yourself while also acknowledging where there is room for improvement and what you can do to address that going forward. The path to forgiving others starts with forgiving ourselves.

GenCon 2019, learned community helplessness, and the benefits of actually banning predators

Important Preamble

Despite the fact that I have been attending GenCon every year for around fourteen years, I hadn’t planned on attending GenCon this year, and was sort of shocked when things ended up such that I was able to go. See, about four or five years ago was when Z, my long-time harasser and a huge part of why I shut this blog down in 2016, began attending GenCon. And despite being a known serial harasser who oozed toxicity and had been responsible for harassing dozens of people out of the games industry and community, for more than a decade people just sort of shrugged their shoulders and enabled his abuse by saying things like “you have to separate art from artist” or “removing Z would be censorship”.

That is, if they didn’t outright deny the reality of those who spoke publicly about Z’s abuse – a feat which required no small amount of mental gymnastics, given that even the people I met who described Z as a friend would always begin their descriptions of him as “sure, he’s an asshole, but…”

Anyway. So Z started going to GenCon, and worse than that, he started winning LOTS of Ennies for his games. (Ennies are like the oscars of TTRPGs, with everything that implies about awards handed out by a community of mostly old white dudes.) I started having panic attacks in the lead up to GenCon, panic attacks that got worse every year. In 2018 Z was nominated for (and won) four Ennies, and I had two weeks of devastating panic attacks leading up to the convention that only partially abated when I promised myself that 2018 would be my last year. I love GenCon more than I can possibly articulate, but the thing that I loved was harming me, and I needed to not repeat the mistakes I made in 2016 by continuing on a course of action that was harming me because of a misguided need to “win”.

So 2018 was the year I said goodbye GenCon.

From 2018: Goodbye you weird fucking UFO-thing. I don’t know why I love you, but I do.

Because it was going to be my last year, I made lunch and dinner appointments with various movers and shakers in the TTRPG industry outside of my usual circles and I told them my story. I told them about how I was being forced out of a community space that I loved because of someone who everyone knew was toxic and bad for the community. And universally, the reaction from the influencers I talked with was sympathetic but bewildered refusal to actually do anything or take a stand.

You see, my story was so sad, so sad. And obviously I didn’t deserve any of what happened to me, and clearly I shouldn’t be punished for my abuser’s actions. It’s just too bad that absolutely. Nothing. Could. Be. Done. Because what could possibly be done about someone like Z? What action could possibly be taken to protect the people he victimized in order to make them feel safe in existing in this community space? What a mystery. What a complete and total mystery. Truly a mystery for the ages that may never be solved.

…if I sound salty about it, it’s because I am.

But then February happened – and four brave women who should not have had to retraumatize themselves in public for us to do something bravely spoke out with credible accusations of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and rape. And finally. FINALLY. Z was canceled.

So, GenCon 2019 was back in the cards.

At the convention

Coming back after I thought I had said goodbye to GenCon forever was a wild ride. It was a bit embarrassing running into people that I had told about my situation last year, assuming that I wasn’t ever going to meet them again – especially those who weren’t familiar with everything that had happened with Z in February. I was a goddamn mess in 2018, and I even complained to (a really super nice and super decent) publisher from Korea who I met for all of five minutes last year – which made it all the more mortifying when he saw me this year and remembered who I was and was really very nice.

Social awkwardness aside, however, this year was an overwhelmingly positive and recharging experience, untainted by fear, anxiety, trauma, or panic attacks. Not having to worry about Z completely transformed how I experienced GenCon!

In previous years, I spent lots of time and energy making plans for how to avoid the places Z would be, and emergency plans for what to do if I ran into him. I made sure I had refills of my emergency meds for panic attacks. I made lists of names of friends, phone numbers, and where they could be found at the convention if something happened and I needed to be around someone safe. I made maps of the dealer’s room with the booth Z was working at so that I knew which section of the dealer’s room to avoid. All of this was important to help me deal with the anxiety and panic attacks that the idea of being in the same spaces as Z caused, and I got used to anxiety and panic attacks being part of my GenCon prep.

This year, the convention snuck up on me! I’d gotten so used to panic attacks being my “it’s time to think about GenCon GM prep” alarm that I didn’t do any of my prep until about two days before I left for the convention. Neither did I have a single panic attack, although I still had the usual anxiety dreams about forgetting to run my games and getting kicked out of the convention. (Anxiety is a cruel mistress.) And at the con the vibe was so relentlessly, uniformly excited and positive, without the usual undercurrent of simmering resentment about our community’s enabling of known abusers.

…seriously, the number of years I’ve gone to the Diana Jones Awards only to have 50% or greater of my conversations there be about how bullshit it was that Z had been nominated for so many Ennies… The dude occupied a lot of mental real estate!

But none of that was clear until Sunday of the convention, and a pithy observation made by a dear friend who happens to be a cishet white guy over lunch. He quipped that it was great that ‘the toxic cloud had lifted’, and that everyone he talked to had been having an equally positive experience of the convention. The metaphor was so striking, because it precisely described my experience. It highlighted the emotional reality of something that I had always known intellectually: when you remove predators from your community, the entire community benefits.

So why? WHY did it take so long for the community to act when the benefits were so clear and so widespread?

The learned helplessness inherent in “there’s nothing to be done”

There has been a lot of ink spilled about the problem of Geek Social Fallacies in geekdom, the first of which is that “ostracizers are evil”. And of course, the Geek Social Fallacies are still very endemic in gaming spaces. It creates a reluctance to remove people from communities, even for the best of reasons – because excluding people makes you a bad person. So the focus shifts from removing bad actors to reducing conflict, with the rationalization that conflict is the real problem.

However, this is the logic that inevitably sees abusers enabled, if not rewarded with status and position, while their victims – usually marginalized people – are run out of the community. This happens either tacitly, when marginalized victims “pro-actively” opt not to participate in communities that include their abusers. However, it also happens more actively – when victims of prominent abusers speak their truth and are actively run out of a community for creating conflict. When you make excluding people an unforgiveable sin, the only way to keep a community energized and active is to persecute people who question the unjust structures that protect abusers.

And of course, the people who are most vigorous in persecuting marginalized people who question the unjust status quo are those with the most privilege, who naturally don’t see anything hypocritical about holding the belief that “ostracizers are evil” while actively ostracizing marginalized victims of abuse. Because these “defenders of the community” are inevitably cishet white dudes with an extraordinary amount of unexamined privilege who have convinced themselves that the childhood bullying they experienced for their geeky interests is exactly the same as the experiences of marginalization faced by queer people, women, people of color, and people from other marginalized groups.

These assumptions calcify into immutable laws that create patterns of behavior, patterns that long-term members of the community have seen repeat endlessly, with little to no variation in the ultimate results. And this endless cycle creates learned helplessness even in those who are aware enough to realize the injustice being perpetrated, because it all feels too big to be changed. What could possibly be done that hasn’t been tried before? What could be done to make this time, this instance not another repetition in the endless cycle? People, especially people with privilege, become so mired in that sense of futility that they lose sight of the incredibly obvious answer, the answer that victims of abuse have been shrieking all along:

REMOVE. PREDATORS. FROM. YOUR. COMMUNITIES.

The inability of communities to see this solution is willful blindness. Because when someone is a known abuser, there are always people agitating for that person’s removal.

In the case of Z, we knew what he was. Dozens of people spoke about his abuse for more than a decade. We begged for the community to take us seriously and to stop empowering his abuse. But we were the ones who were prosecuted. We were told we were lying. We were demonized for not being “nice” about our abuse. We were told we were the real problem, because we were the ones creating conflict.

But when push came to shove, when the community finally, FINALLY came together and removed Z, EVERYONE BENEFITED. Not just his victims, not just marginalized people, but everyone. Even my friend, the cishet white guy who was never directly targeted by Z, could notice and enthuse on the new positive dynamic created by Z’s removal! Because removing predators from communities creates a space where people feel safe and included, and safe, inclusive communities attract enthusiastic participation. And when that happens, the community as a whole benefits. How could it not?

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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.

Monday freebie: Shit you need to read about harassment

Hey, folks

Last week saw a ton of amazing pieces about gendered harassment online. At the time, I didn’t have bandwidth to do more than hit reshare, but looking back at the wealth of well-researched and written articles that shed light on a phenomenon many people would prefer not to think about, I’m retroactively declaring this required reading. These are long pieces, so save them for when you have some bandwidth to process – don’t just skim them, because these pieces all deserve more than just a perfunctory read.

First, this actually dates back a couple of weeks, but if you haven’t seen this piece by Tumblr user latining about the white male terrorism problem in tabletop gaming, then go read it right now. Don’t let the strong headline put you off, because the experiences that she recounts in stark detail are not all ones that I’ve had personally, but many of them are. And the ones that I haven’t experienced directly, I’ve seen them happen to other women, or talked to other women who have had those experiences after the fact.

Second, The Guardian did a week of pieces about gendered harassment last week, and each one of them hit it out of the park. The first entry in the series was this post where they talked about the trolling that happens in their own comment section, their moderation policies and process, and how it can be difficult to apply in real life. But more importantly, they also have a lot of great interactive graphs which show the data of which writers for which sections face the most harassment, so you should make sure to read on desktop rather than mobile.

The next piece in The Guardian’s series is this look at how, in the face of indifference and lack of action on the part of major social network companies like Facebook and Twitter, women are starting to build their own tools for fighting back against online abuse.

Following that was this piece by Jessica Valenti, who has the unfortunate distinction of being the most-harassed writer for The Guardian, about why writers shouldn’t be expected to put up with insults and rape threats as “part of the job”. (It sounds like stating the obvious, but I promise it’s an excellent read.)

Last in the series was this piece that takes a look at the current state of laws and company policies that are supposed to deal with cyber-harassment, and the gaping holes in those policies that prevent them from being anything resembling useful.

Third, this long read by The Atlantic looks at how concerns over “free speech” have been used to turn social media into a space where harassing speech by users becomes the default, and is seen as worth protecting – moreso than the feelings of safety of those whom the harassing speech is directed at.

Last, make sure to read this piece on Broadly about why nerds are so sexist, especially as it features male tears about how Star Wars is being taken over by women.

Go! Read! There may be a quiz later.

 

I am not a perfect victim because there is no such thing as a perfect victim

[I know I said that my next post was going to be one in which I took a bit more of an in-depth look at why women are doing so badly on KickStarter. However, when I sat down at my computer to write, what ended up coming out was something very different. So bear with me. I do have that post outlined, and it will be the next blog post I write. I apologize for the interruption.]

The last week+ has been very difficult for me, media-wise. I live in Canada, which means coverage of the trial of former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi has been damn near inescapable. (But wundergeek, what the hell does this have to do with gaming, you might ask? I’m getting there. Be patient.) Simply avoiding radio and television news would not be enough to avoid being exposed, because on every single social network there are shares and links and stories – all with commentary, and all with quotes or transcripts of particularly odious things being said to and of alleged victims. No matter who you are, it makes for harrowing reading. But for me – as someone who has been sexually assaulted by a nerd-famous man and who didn’t speak out because of concerns over being treated… pretty much exactly how the witnesses are being treated now? It hasn’t been a fun ride.

[Explanatory sidebar: For those of you who aren’t Canadian or have otherwise missed the scandal, Jian Ghomeshi is the former host of a wildly popular national radio show and a former NATIONALLY BELOVED media figure. He was fired by the CBC when allegations started to emerge that he had sexually assaulted a number of women. He initially tried to sue for wrongful dismissal, but the suit was withdrawn as more and more women spoke out. So far 23 women have spoken out, and the current trial includes only 3 of those women as witnesses.]

Attorney for the defense Marie Henein has made headlines for simply eviscerating witnesses on the stand, using Ghomeshi’s comprehensive archives of communication to attack the credibility of the witnesses. And while it’s true that Henein certainly can’t be held responsible for inventing the standard defense playbook for sexual assault trials, she has been disgustingly effective in deploying it. Puzzlingly, the crown prosecutor has not included any testimony about the psychology of abuse victims, because all of the so called “inconsistencies” in the witness testimonies are pretty fucking consistent with the psychology of abuse. But it looks like they’re not going to, and the common media consensus is that Jian will probably get off now that the three witnesses have been so publicly “discredited”.

Listening to the coverage summarizing Henein’s arguments has been harrowing, and more than a little triggering, because the defense’s devastatingly effective attacks on the “credibility” and “reliability” of the witness testimony, and the popular media narrative accepting that these witnesses can’t be held as “credible”… all of it highlights just HOW FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE it is for women to live up to the standard of the “credible victim”, because being “credible” requires being PERFECT, and THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PERFECT VICTIM.

(Here’s where we get back to how this relates to the topic of this blog. Thanks for bearing with me this far.)

Several years ago, I wrote about my experience of being sexually assaulted at a gaming convention by a man I have jokingly described as “nerd famous” – someone who is famous and universally (well, almost) respected as one of the top minds in game design and publishing. And I know, I KNOW in my heart of hearts that my decision not to name that person was the correct one, because there are so very many reasons why I am also not a perfect victim.

A perfect victim would never have agreed to share a bed with a man that she did not know well. A perfect victim would have said something when she first began to get uncomfortable. A perfect victim would not have allowed him to restrain her, or would have removed his arm from restraining her once it happened. A perfect victim would have removed herself from the situation once it grew intolerable instead of waiting until morning.

A perfect victim would have openly removed all of her belongings from the room and left to report the incident right away instead of sneaking back up and moving her stuff while her attacker was absent in order to avoid a confrontation. A perfect victim would have told her attacker to keep his distance. A perfect victim would NOT have had breakfast with her accuser. A perfect victim would have told friends, of which there were many present, that something was wrong and that she was not okay. A perfect victim would have asked for help in reporting the incident and making sure that action was taken.

But I was NOT the perfect victim. Hell, I didn’t even KNOW I was a victim until later that day when my attacker wanted to join a group of friends and myself in going for dinner, and I started to have an anxiety attack. I got a male friend to intercede and tell my attacker that he needed to keep his distance, but it wasn’t until afterward when I was explaining to the male friend in private what had happened and why I had made the request that I realized that what had happened was sexual, and was abuse, and was not okay. And it took SOMEONE ELSE SAYING IT TO ME in order for me to realize that it was true.

But the moment in which I accepted that what happened was abuse was also the moment in which I knew that I would NEVER be able to name the man who attacked me:

Decide that you are going to blog about what happened. Be angry that you can’t ever say who it was. No one will believe that he would do something like that. Know in your soul that naming him would be the same as exile from this community that you’ve built a place for yourself in. Know that you are not capable of dealing with that kind of fallout. Know that you are not able to find out the hard way who will side with you and who will not and not have it destroy you.

Argue with your husband about whether you should blog about the incident. He only wants you to be safe, you are determined not to be silent. Tearfully convince him that you are right. Blog about it with all identifying details omitted. Hate yourself for being a coward.

Become obsessed of the definition of harassment versus assault. Reluctantly decide to call it assault, even though you weren’t raped – mostly because of the physical confinement. Continually minimize your own trauma by telling yourself it wasn’t that bad.

Have panic attacks whenever his name comes up in your gaming-related social media streams, which is often. Learn to look like you are being productive while you are, in fact, doing your best not to hyperventilate.

Get pregnant. Cry. Have more panic attacks. Cry.

Worry that your silence will make you culpable the next time he does something.

Get therapy. Get your shit together. Finally accept that you didn’t say no because your entire life you have been socialized not to.

Everyone knows the standard defenses, explanations that can be deployed to convince victims of abuse that they are to blame. “She was dressed like a slut.” “She was out alone at night.” “She was drunk.” “She was asking for it.” The tragedy is that we live in a society that provides scripts for abusers, but not for victims. Often, victims of abuse don’t even realize they’ve been abused until well after the fact, because the only script that exists – the HORRIBLE RAPIST IN THE BUSHES – barely even resembles the reality of sexual assault, that in 9 out of 10 instances of sexual assault, the attacker is someone that the victim knows and trusts.

And so we hide, we victims of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. We hide from what we KNOW the consequences will be if we speak out, but it also means that we hide from each other. Each victim becomes an isolated island of suffering. And maybe you manage, like I did, to make peace of a sort with what happened. But things like the Ghomeshi trial stir up the waters, leaving all sorts of garbage and debris on the shore of our lonely islands – trash that we have to pick up ourselves because the abuse is OUR PROBLEM. It is always only ever OUR PROBLEM.

And yet, incidents like this also help victims to chart the waters of victim-hood. In the storm, we catch glimpses of shores of suffering that are not our own and add new islands to map, although the boundaries of those islands can only be charted in the vaguest manner – guesses at best. And one can’t help but wonder – what of the islands that are too well hidden to be found? How many are there? And how are they affected by their seclusion?

Lest you think that my metaphor is getting tortured, this weekend, in talking to a female friend about the agonies of the Ghomeshi trial coverage, she confessed to me that she had experienced a similar incident to the one that I had described in my previous blog post, and that it wasn’t until reading that post that she had the language to describe what happened to her as assault. And in a way I was glad that being even partially open helped her to be able to describe an experience that wasn’t okay. But the encounter was also depressing, because this is always what happens.

Cosby. Ghomeshi. Assange. Woody Allen. Damn near every time the waters get stirred up, I learn of a new story. Of a woman that I respect and admire who has been the victim of harassment, abuse, and assault. And yet sitting here, I can’t say that I know of a single woman who has ever gone public with her story, or has tried to take legal action over it.

So here I am, shouting my despair at the internet yet again, which I seem to do at regular intervals. Because as laudable as the work that is being done to implement anti-harassment policies at game events and conventions is, it doesn’t mean a damn thing until we start fighting back against the need for women to be “perfect” victims.

Data Analysis of Trolls and Sea Lions in 2015 [CW][TW]

For about the last month, I’ve been dealing with an increase in trolling. It seems that writing a 3-part series that examines data sets in detail to analyze sexist trends in representation in D&D 5E isn’t nearly as controversial as writing posts in which I talk about simply having feelings about a game. Because my post about my personal reactions to opening packs of the latest Magic: The Gathering expansion attracted a whole lot of assholes – not just here in the comments, but in other parts of my social media. Frex:

trolls

Those are all comments from ONE POST on Google+. (As someone else pointed out in that thread, it’s like I put out jackass fly paper or something.)

It’s gotten to the point where the last week or so, I’ve been leaving notifications on on my phone while I’m socializing with friends (something I usually make a point of not doing) simply so that I can keep an eye on comments on my blog, in case something particularly odious gets posted that I’d really rather not leave up for any length of time. Which, of course, presents a bit of a dilemma. If this sort of nonsense is getting to be more common, shouldn’t I just lock down comments completely?

The problem with that is that my patrons and other long-time readers are pretty damn smart, and often contribute quite a lot in the comments sections of my posts. Case-in-point, the comments on my recent semi-tongue-in-cheek post about games I don’t plan on letting my daughter play are actually full of some really great recommendations of fun and progressive games. One other notable example is my post from last year about Lightning Returns and its bonkers wholesale cultural appropriation of Western religious iconography. While I stand by the content of my post, the commenters added a lot of context that I hadn’t been aware of regarding the historical oppression of Christians in Japanese society.

Closing down comments entirely would mean that I would be cutting off actual intelligent and enlightening contributions by supportive readers, and I’m not quite ready to do that. However, while I’ve gotten pretty damn jaded when it comes to people calling me a crazy fat lesbian, there have been quite a few commenters that have started dragging my daughter into their attacks on me since my recent post, and that is… a lot harder to deal with.

To quote myself from Twitter:

I’ve been awake for half an hour, and I’ve already had to remove three comments from my blog that weren’t there when I went to bed. All because I wrote a post, which included GAMES I LOVE, about how I’m worried about sexism in games re: my 3yo daughter. And honestly, I’m so used to people talking smack about ME that it doesn’t even matter. Fat? Uh huh. Jealous? Sure. Lesbian? Whatevs. Man-hater? Obvs. Misandrist? You know it. Seriously, that shit just doesn’t even bother me 99% of the time anymore

But when they start dragging my DAUGHTER into it? That shit really fucking sucks. “it’s a good thing she doesn’t spend much time with you” “you’re raising her to be a dysfunctional lesbian” “you’re a bad parent”. They say all of this because I had the nerve to say even HALF-seriously that there are some games I might not let my daughter play. But for all that their objections are framed around her, they don’t actually CARE about my daughter, her feelings, or her upbringing.

It’s an entirely new level of sexist bro entitlement. They don’t just feel entitled to games that cater to ONLY THEIR INTERESTS… They feel ENTITLED to having MY DAUGHTER playing the same games that they want to play, like several years from now. Because fuck her feelings and her development as a healthy woman in a toxic patriarchal society. That bitch better like their favorite games. And honestly, I don’t know how I can find any of this shit surprising anymore. I really don’t. But I do.

So, you know, thank you, you entitled shitstains, for proving my damn premise about why sexism in games is so fucking toxic.

One of the things that I have done in an effort to make dealing with this sort of nonsense a bit easier is to write a FAQ covering all of the most common shit that gets hurled at me, so that I would have something to point at when removing comments instead of having to type out the same justifications over and over (and over and over…).

In the post which rolled out the new FAQ, I vented some of my frustration over the increased nonsense level around here by saying:

I don’t feel bad in the slightest about summarily trashing comments that insult myself or others, and I’ve grown to quite enjoy replacing derailing comments with sarcastic memes. Because again, see #3 – this is MY house where I make the rules.

But of course, there are certain types of people (men) who think it is LITERALLY JUST THE WORST that I don’t run an open forum for them to insult, abuse, and generally dispute everything I’m saying here. And those people get really. Fucking. Tiresome.

But of course I got questioned on it. Because despite that this is a feminist blog in which I write about sexism in a perceived-as-male-dominated-geeky-subculture, somehow me complaining that it’s always men who have a problem with me removing their comments from my blog is somehow suspect because… uh… reasons?

yes

At the time my response was terse and to the point, since I felt that was about all the attention that particular question deserved.

However, since then, the continued activity of trolls and sea lions got me thinking. As 2015 winds to a close, wouldn’t it be an interesting exercise to set about doing a data analysis of the comments that I’ve gotten to date in 2015? So that’s what I set about doing.

Data analyzing troll and sea lion comments

This has probably been the least fun post that I’ve written in a while. Gathering numbers to do one of my data analysis posts is always an exercise in tedium. Worse, it required going through 11 months of comments, including the ones that were so horrible that I simply deleted them from my blog without even meme-ing them.

I’ve left email comment notification on for the purpose of archiving all comments in their original state, so the process of reviewing them was actually simple, if rather unpleasant. Because breaking down the comments enough to categorize them and analyze the underlying trends required… actually reading them. In detail. Something which I do my best to avoid. And it also required digging up a lot of hurtful stuff that I’d honestly forgotten about from earlier in the year.

Originally I’d conceived of this post as something I’d be able to knock out in a day as a quickie “fuck you” to the trolls that have been plaguing me lately. However, I didn’t count on the fact that it is hard and upsetting purposefully immersing yourself in the words of people who want to make you feel like crap about yourself. What I thought would be a relatively easy task for one day has turned out to be a grueling and exhausting task that’s taken all of today, and parts of yesterday and the day before, and has left me feeling pretty emotionally raw.

Still. It’s done, and the analysis proves pretty clearly that my hypothesis was pretty near correct. You can read the entire summary here, with fancy interactive charts and everything, on Infogr.am. Though I’ll ask that you please exercise caution, since it might prove triggering for anyone who has experienced online harassment, gender-based or otherwise.

graphic
This is how it starts, and it gets “better” from there.

I’ll note that I know some readers have issue with accessibility re: color blindness with some of the charts that I use here. That’s mainly why I used Infogr.am to put this together – mousing over any particular data point highlights the data segment in question. This is especially useful in the couple of charts that have A LOT of different colors, if differentiating colors is something that is difficult for you.

Of course, I don’t believe that this sort of analysis is actually going to solve anything, because the sorts of people who troll and sea lion my blog aren’t the sorts of people to be swayed by actual facts. Besides, the fact that I’m making this a patron-supported post is pretty likely to draw at least a few trolls out of the woodwork, given that I’m literally being a “professional victim” by doing so. But I haven’t let the asshats and the haters stop me from doing what I do yet, and I’ll be damned if I’ll start now.

On tone policing and acceptable expressions of anger

I had planned for my next post to be a post about GenCon as a microcosm for the state of the gaming community. I wanted to write about the things that are giving me hope with regards to GenCon prep and the energy going into the convention, as well as some things that are giving me some trepidation and making me a bit nervous about venturing into a gamer space actually in person. And then life happened. Or rather, the internet happened to a real life thing and it sucked.

The drama, summarized

In a facebook group for a group of gamers who play games together in a consistent meatspace location, there was discussion of a game that was to be playtested that focused on a sensitive subject matter. English is not the first language of the designer, so predictably misunderstandings resulted. In response to these misunderstandings, a member of the group who is marginalized in a way that the game was attempting to explore, jumped directly to personal attacks – first on the designer and facilitator, and subsequently on the moderator of the group who own the space where the games are played. The marginalized person has also tried to get third parties from outside the group to join the group and shout down everyone who agrees with them. These third parties have also sent abusive messages to the female co-facilitator of the game (not even the designer!), which the female co-facilitator finds understandably upsetting and frightening.

TL;DR, there was a controversy and a marginalized person leaped straight to personal attacks and harassing behavior.

Get it? Got it? Good.

Moving on: the dilemma, and why it matters

So why am I writing about this and why should anyone outside of this particular group of people care? Simple. I discovered that I have a lot to say about acceptable expressions of anger versus unacceptable expressions of anger in response to perceived oppression.

Now before I get started, it’s important for me to acknowledge that I am a white middle-class able-bodied English-speaking cishet woman. So it’s easy to look at the above statement and hear “whoa, wundergeek is about engage in some grade A tone policing”. Which. No. Not even. Fuck tone policing right in the goddamn ear.

A lot of what I write here is angry. I refuse to censor my anger in an effort to gain acceptance for my arguments or to make people more comfortable with either my arguments or me as a person. Telling someone that they should talk to you calmly and unemotionally about the oppression that they are experiencing is the height of clueless privilege, and I will righteously tear down anyone who tries to claim otherwise.

HOWEVER, righteous anger about lived oppression IS NOT a blank check to retaliate in any way that you see fit. As an oppressed person, you can’t choose not to be oppressed. But you CAN choose how you choose to express your anger over that oppression. Is anger a powerful emotion that can lead us to make impulsive decisions? Absolutely! But there’s a reason why we don’t excuse murder or violence by saying “well I was angry”; learning how to deal with your anger in ways that don’t harm others is part of living in a civilized society – a skill that you are expected to possess in some capacity in order to be a functioning grown-ass human.

At the end of the day, the person you are lashing out against is still a fucking human being with hopes and dreams, aspirations and struggles, vulnerabilities and insecurities. Your anger about their complicity in systems of oppression that are harming you DOES NOT give you permission to harm them right back. Because guess what? WE ARE ALL COMPLICIT in systems of oppression. Every single one of us. It’s how society fucking works.

“But dammit, wundergeek. That sucks. Let me have my anger, okay, because it is righteous and totally justified!”

Again, I’m not telling you not to be angry or not to express anger, because that way lies tone policing. Instead, here are some ground rules:

Someone was a butthead and you are angry? Cool. How are you going to respond?

DO call out the offending party. Tell them why you are angry and how what they said or did reinforced the systems of oppression that cause you harm.

DO NOT jump straight to personal attacks without even attempting to have a conversation with the person you are angry at.

DO be open to the possibility that part of the inciting incident was a misunderstanding on your part. Human language is weird and imprecise and confusing, even when you’re communicating face-to-face. It’s orders of magnitude more difficult when you’re talking about online or other asynchronous communication, since you don’t have nonverbal social cues to add context to what is being said.

DO NOT use feminist theory as a personal attack to bully someone into being quiet when they are attempting to have a good faith conversation with you. If you don’t have time or bandwidth for the conversation, it is totally okay to say so! I get it. I do! I almost never engage in 101-level conversations because I don’t have the time or patience for them. But if someone is indicating that they are listening to you and you use feminist theory to tell them why they are a bad person and should feel bad about themselves, you are being an asshole.

DO use language that centers on “thing you did”or “the thing that you said”. 99% of the time, you will be angry about an inciting incident and not the totality of the other person as a human being – the sum of their dreams and thoughts and experiences. (And if you find that you are at that level of anger with someone, I would politely suggest that that’s not a healthy place to be.)

DO NOT attempt to win the argument through numbers or brute force by bringing in biased third parties who agree with your point of view. SERIOUSLY DON’T DO IT. That shit is straight up harassment and is NEVER FUCKING OKAY.

DO lean on friends, family, and other members of your support network for support and vent your frustrations. Safe spaces where you can express your hurt to trusted loved ones are important in order to stay sane.

DO NOT trash the person you are angry with to biased third parties with the understanding that these people will then tell the person you are angry with how awful they are. Regardless of who the abuse is coming from, that is harassment and you are the inciting party.

DO hold people accountable for harm that their words or actions have caused.

DO NOT insist on continuing a conversation when it is actively harming someone. I’m not saying that their guilty feeeeelings need to trump a real conversation – not in the slightest, because guilt and lived oppression are not even remotely equivalent. However, if a conversation escalates to the point where it is triggering someone’s mental health issues (say because of volume or unintended fallout or personal attacks) and you insist on continuing that conversation, that is not okay. If you find yourself in such a situation, back off and suggest a resumption of discussion once feelings have had a chance to cool.

DO remember to hold on to compassion even when angry. Is it hard? Sure. But we’re humans – we are capable of feeling conflicting emotions. Embrace that capacity and use it.

Lastly…

DO remember to consider the context of the situation when deciding how to respond. Where did the inciting incident take place? How did it happen? Who was involved? What is the history of the people involved wrt your oppression? Are there reasons why you should be inclined to read/listen charitably?

In dealing with buttheads here on my blog, I’m often quite prone to not thinking of them as humans, because that just occupies too much bandwidth that they don’t deserve. Often, deleting their comments and replacing them with a sarcastic meme or male tears GIF suffices, and I move on with my life. But that level of dismissive pithiness would not be appropriate in a disagreement with someone in meatspace, and it would be especially inappropriate with someone I was closely connected to or someone that I knew had a proven history of trying not to be a butthead.

Of course, the existence of things like facebook groups for real-life groups of people complicates matters. Often it’s easy forget that the words on a screen attached to an icon are also attached to someone you are personally connected to in real life. Be conscious of that fact and choose your words with care, if you feel the need to tell people they are wrong on the internet.

Lastly, be aware of potential mitigating factors that might cause misunderstandings. Read and listen charitably, and ask for clarification when something bothers you. Returning to the actual incident that generated this post, if someone you know does not share a first language with you says something that you find harmful or offensive, it’s actually pretty damn likely that they were actually trying to say something different from the thing you took offense at. Attempting to converse in a language that is NOT your native language puts you at a significant disadvantage in any conversation; jumping straight from statement to personal attacks makes YOU the asshole because you are holding them to a standard that you know they aren’t capable of meeting.