Chasing the Dream: Your Con Will Never Be Inclusive Enough

Breakout has a harassment policy. It has an x-card at every scheduled game. It has a tap out policy for guests and volunteers. It has zero-tolerance for harassment or abuse. It tries to recruit women and minorities, smash imposter syndrome, be inclusive of all genders, sexualities, ethnicities, races, abilities, mental health concerns, and sizes. Every year, the organizers try to find new ways of being a more inclusive and safe convention. Every year new things come into place, new options are added, and the con evolves.

But one thing remains clear, as an organizer of Breakout, my con isn't inclusive enough. The majority of our volunteers are men. The majority of our guests are men. And yes, the majority of our attendees are men. Most of these people are white. And while we have an amazing LGBTQ community, it's not enough. No amount of work or effort on behalf of organizers will make our convention perfectly inclusive

This is a really abrasive statement, and as much as I love being abrasive and just telling people how it is, I think this is probably one of the important ones. I remember sitting at a meeting and suggesting something we could do to make it clear we were an inclusive con and would value that, and someone going "Aren't we inclusive enough?" The question has haunted me since and the answer I always come back to is: No. No we're really not.

Why? There must be a gaming convention somewhere that is inclusive enough? There must be one that has done everything right, has thought of all the things, has a beautifully balanced and inclusive con staff and volunteer pool. There must be, right? This is the dream I chase. I long for the day when there's that perfect gaming convention that has it all and no one walks away hurt because at some point, they were offended or harassed or insulted or abused. Most of the con organizers I know are chasing this dream relentlessly. Every con organizer should be.

There are a few reasons for my assessment on this. None of them end with "So you shouldn't keep trying." In fact, all of them end with "you better keep trying." Keep in mind that it's the ultimate dream and one that needs to be chased. Every six months or so a new horrifying story comes up in our community that reminds us why this dream is chased, and it becomes big enough news that people have Thoughts and Opinions on it. Many of those people discussing it will not be impacted by what's happening, nor will they be willing to do anything about it. Even if they witness the abuse themselves.

And yet, here we are, in another storm, where women are often silenced and we are often found in the middle between accusations and defenders. It's a common inclination to disbelieve, especially if we know the accused. There's some science on that, on our inability to see the horrible in the ones we care for. But this isn't new. Why this cycle? Why is the right to exist safely in con space a debate that renews every six months? Why is it even a debate? Why is the safety of women, trans, and non-binary folks never as important as the presence of, and I use this word loosely, talented men.

I haven't gone to all the cons ever. I go to enough to know which ones I feel safe in and which ones I don't. Realistically, despite attending some of the most highly praised cons ever, I've never felt safe. This is simply because I don't trust our community to have my back if something happens. Repeatedly we demonstrate to our community we don't have their back. We will go to great lengths to prove allegations are wrong, and when we can't prove it, we call them rumour, speculation, hearsay, and slander. The victim is the problem in this narration, not the abuser.

We need to change our way we look at things. We shouldn't see a man banned from a con and think "well, that sucks for him." We should look at that and go "Thank goodness the people at that con are safe." I mean, I'm bias, but when I see a con is taking their harassment policy seriously, and are getting rid of folks who break it, I'm there. I want to know that safety is important, and that the con, and thus, our community, won't take this shit lightly.

Now there are some cons that are pretty damn safe. They're organized by great people, they've got a great supportive community, and they're doing their best to make sure those policies they do have are effective and carried out. They make sure newcomers feel welcome, and they talk about what to do when you don't feel safe. They walk the walk and talk the talk. And while these cons are and should be an industry standard, there needs to be the firm understanding that they're aren't the best because they're perfect. They're the best because everyone else isn't trying as hard.

Those best cons still aren't inclusive enough. All you need do is look around at who's gming and who's running the show and who's attending, and we can see that inequality. It isn't from lack of trying. It's that community building takes a long time. When our community continues to challenge inclusivity, and relegate to back burner or unimportant status, then cons get lazy. They set the bar a little bit higher, and then just keep it there forever. Why try if they're seen as good enough?

Good. Enough. Not good. Not better than it should be. Just Good Enough. And there's a stunning amount of conventions that, when they hit that level, pat themselves on the back and stop trying. Until something happens and they're forced to do more than they currently do. That's usually a grim time and no one can fault a con for bad shit happening at it. Bad shit happens. But we can fault cons for not being proactive, for attempting to maintain a safe space, and for not working towards making itself more inclusive.

Being inclusive, or rather, being inclusive enough, is a constantly moving target. The minute you think you've got it, you realize you haven't and you have to keep aiming ahead of yourself to try to hit it. It's the dream you chase, always just out of your reach. Why? Because our understanding of the world and our ability to hear the voices in it that have been silenced for far too long is continually getting better (hopefully, usually, maybe). More and more spaces are slowly being clawed back from the privileged to allow for minority voices to be heard. And when this happens, how we perceive the world is challenged.

As the privileged, we cannot see the world for what it is. We see it as how we experience it, through the truth of our own lens. We cannot see the discrimination we do not face. Our understanding of that discrimination comes from listening, very carefully, to minorities and believing them when they say they experience the world differently than we do. We look at those differences, and see how we can smash them.

When you say something is inclusive enough, you're saying that it's listened enough. This is, in part, silencing the other minorities who haven't been heard yet, and saying that there's more the con can do, but isn't required because they've done enough that we, the privileged, feel like it's doing okay. The only people who can say our conventions, our community, and our games are inclusive enough are the minorities we're gatekeeping from being in our spaces. And since we routinely isolate and silence minorities (and women), our community will never be inclusive enough.

It has to start with community. It has to start at the ground and go up, from community to our conventions to our companies to our games. But it's going to start with people supporting inclusive initiatives, challenging the belief that conventions have found the promised land of inclusivity, and pushing back when things stagnate. It also means listening when people say harassment and abuse are happening, and doing something about it. When that something is done, we support it. We don't throw the victims under the bus, we don't shit on the convention for taking their policies seriously, and we certainly don't value the privileged over the victims and minorities.

If you're serious when you say you want this community to be better, to have actual safe spaces, and to be amazingly diverse, stop accepting the status quo. Start realizing that inclusivity is a constantly moving target and we, as a community and as con organizers need to chase it in order to continually be better, be more inclusive, and be able to say we're working on safer spaces. We are the ones who hold the power, and we are the ones who need to break that down and dismantle it so that minorities can have space too. It isn't their job to fix us. It's our job to fix us.

Opening yourself up to becoming someone fighting for inclusivity and demanding better and (hopefully) making better, makes you vulnerable. You're going to come under fire from people who think inclusivity feels like punishment, because when we remove privilege, it can feel like oppression (even though it's not). Those people, scared, wounded, or hurt because they are being told they are the bad guys, often lash out. At best, they don't understand why this work is important, and because they aren't a minority or a woman, they don't see the suffering and harm happening to minorities and women. They see their life experience. They don't have eyes that can see what others do.

They may lash out, dogpile, or rise to the defence of those they call allies, meaning privileged people who are being called on their shit. As a community, we could do call ins, actively listen, and grow as people. But we don't. We dogpile, we lash out, we scream until we feel we are the heard party, and some of us verbally and emotionally abuse other people in the community with threats. That isn't a fight for equality. That's abuse. And people with privilege often abuse those without it. When abuse is happening, like threats and toxicity, it's often easier to see who's the one with privilege and who's the one without. It shouldn't have to come to this point, but it does. Over and over again.

We can end that by being vulnerable in our inability to see the world beyond our lens. We can listen to those who speak about their experiences. We can believe them. We can trust that they are seeing the world through their lens, and we can absolutely trust in ourselves to acknowledge that we don't know what life is like for people who aren't us. When we accept these things, we live in that vulnerability and it can dramatically change us, it can allow us to work towards inclusivity in a safe, loving, and radically kind way. We want our community to be loving and kind. And inclusive.

We can have all of it if we stop digging our heels in, stop yelling, start listening, and admit that we will never be perfect, but continually strive towards that perfection. We can learn from those we are silencing if we want to (and we should want to), and we can smash down the walls we've erected. No convention is inclusive enough. It never will be. Not at this rate. We must always strive to find that moving target though. We must always work towards being better. We must always move towards love, vulnerability, and inclusivity.

Be radically vulnerable. Stay incredibly fierce. And always act with love.