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.