How You Can Help: Accountability and the Lack Thereof
But what happens when that safe space is invaded? What do you do when you're sitting at a convention shaking after a man got aggressive with you and is now doing everything in his power to ruin your reputation? What do you do when the con you've loved and support for over a decade has a token woman on panels and when that's called out, stays silent as you take the blame even though you had nothing to do with it? What do you do when your safe space becomes awash in a sea of hurt, abuse, and strife?
With Fan Expo this year, I faced these questions and after almost three weeks out I still don't have many answers. Normally, if bullshit went down at a con, at least one of my cons, I would deal with it as soon as I could to avoid further entanglement and ensure no hurt feelings were continuing for too long. The stunning thing about Fan Expo is just how much people can dodge responsibility and accountability. Which has left me holding the pieces of a fractured community and bits of my reputation together with really questionable thread.
Recently I was on a panel at Queen City Conquest, as for some reason I was one of their guests. We were asked what's the thing the community needed the most. Everyone had great answers. And I answered last (I think). My answer was bias. It's based on my experiences. Fan Expo coloured that answer and my interactions with missing stairs and victims of abuse in the community lead me to my final conclusion: Accountability.
Accountability is the one thing I think the community lacks in extreme that if we had, we would be able to move forward with integrity and make our community overall better. It's the tool we're severely lacking when reports of abuse come in and we do nothing, or when we witness problems and we don't call people on it. Or worse, when minorities report problems and we don't hold those in power accountable to it. Our community isn't safe and a good chunk of that is because those in power aren't holding each other accountable.
Every time I talk about problems in our community and subculture, the people in power, mostly men, ask what they can do to help. It seems like such a grand and uphill battle to them, these new allies, that they often feel whelmed. But I'm here to tell you, that there is something you can do. You can hold people in power accountable. You can demand better. And you can use your voice, which is heard better than anyone else's, to make that accountability happen.
This Fan Expo, several things happened that require long explanations. I'm not going to give you a full explanation or context, mostly because I'm not a fan of me personally throwing people under the bus or calling people out. There are multiple reasons for this. The primary one is because I fear for my safety whenever I point to problems in the community. I'm always waiting for backlash and for people lashing out. The secondary one is because I don't see a point. Being hurtful, though accurate, won't make me or them feel any better about it.
At Fan Expo this year, there were several incidences of aggression and semi-violence from dudes in the community. All of them from the D&D Adventurers League (AL) side of things. Now if you've never dealt with D&D AL people, I can assure you that lingering toxicity of the D&D community is still strong. From people pissed we don't have more D&D happening (we couldn't actually fit more), to people getting aggressive they were late to their game and we filled it when they didn't show up, to people valuing game integrity over community safety, this year's D&D extravaganza posed some interesting challenges.
We've worked hard and Rach, one of our D&D leaders, has worked really hard to make parity in our gender representation at all our cons better. Every year it gets better and our D&D DM's were almost at parity this year. And this is because our D&D DMs who aren't dudes have worked hard to show their presence and not run away when things felt uncomfortable. They've done all they can for visibility and for being the first ones on the front line to demand better and equal representation in D&D AL. They are our champions. And some of the dude lead D&D community is absolutely fabulous. They're in it to win and we couldn't do it without them.
This year, one of the D&D DMs got angry with us for letting two dirty characters (characters who weren't legally levelled) sit down at his table. We were sold out. We had no more space. There had been scheduling mistakes with tiers and we were doing our best to keep butts in seats as we report our numbers to Fan Expo and those numbers matter. The DM argued with us, citing a variety of reasons from "they'll all die" to "it won't be fun for them" for why these players shouldn't play. When we had answers for his points, he stormed away, and then came back with a ripped up x-card and slammed it down in front of me in front of con attendees. He was close to me. He was in my face. It felt and was threatening, aggressive, and violent.
One of the women on my team immediately wanted him gone because of the aggression. I went to talk to him and he started to go off on me at the table in front of his players. I wouldn't talk with him until he came aside. He yelled at me then, saying he didn't feel heard. I apologized that he didn't feel heard and said I was sorry I had made him feel that way. I then told him his behaviour, being aggressive and violent, wasn't acceptable and he would need to own that and apologize or hand in his badge. He handed in his badge. We notified security. As he left, he yelled at me again and I told him to have a good day.
Now, this was shitty. I was startled and scared. I sat shaking for an hour as some community members began to check in. Nothing about this man's behaviour was acceptable. It was perfectly reasonable to be upset that the rules of AL weren't being followed and it was fine to do a talk with us about that. It wasn't fine to come out already agitated and yelling at us, as organizers, while we're juggling fifty things and trying to get games going. It was completely unacceptable to be aggressive, violent, and rip up an x-card.
This man started talking about us on back channels and trying to rally a push back against us. Whether or not this worked, I don't know. I know I spent the next week having people talk to me about what happened. I spent hours doing check ins with several community members who were women, trans, or enby who had felt their community space had been violated. I tried to reassure everyone he wouldn't be coming back and we would do all we could to make our community feel safe again. I even had guests of the convention reach out to me, asking me about this man and how they could help us feel safe.
Problem is, this man is part of another local gaming group who has good ties to D&D and is part of a group who has been getting more locally involved and lead by a bunch of, from what I know, very lovely men. People in my community have been asking if this group is safe given this man is still in it. It's such a loaded question to ask, because honestly, I don't know. They're new and we don't know what's going on over there, all we know is that he's still apart of that group, they asked him to apologize for his actions, and he did but kind of in a "sorry not sorry you all suck" way. Now what? What do we do?
The answer is nothing. I can't do anything. Anything I do can be seen as being manipulative or threatening when all I'm trying to do is promise those who feel their space was violated that it will be safe again. I'm a community organizer and I have to constantly be vigilant that those we are trying to ensure feel welcome are still welcomed, even when things go sideways. This incident has created hours and hours of work for me. I am sitting here, talking to multiple community members, because a man isn't being held accountable for his actions.
In a working environment, he would've been fired on the spot. And he was, in a way, from Fan Expo and he will never DM there again. Yes. We have a list. But he's still here, in our community, being active on social media and slamming our names as often as he can. There's nothing I can do at this point but rely on the men who lead this other group to hold him accountable. And so far that hasn't happened. And all I can tell those asking me for assurance that this other group is safe is "I don't know."
I don't know. How shitty of an answer is that? It's not even an answer. It's a string of words I'm tired of saying. It's a bunch of words that don't belong with questions about community safety. I should have an answer. It's been three weeks. But I don't. Instead, all I have are questions and a general sense of being hurt and let down by those that I trust and those I called friends and fellow community leaders. It feels like sexism is winning. The angry man, righteous in his game integrity, has rallied the hordes against us, against me, and so I should be the one to pick up the pieces and try to put the world around me back together again. Me. The one he was yelling at. The one he slammed his hand onto a table in front of. The one whose face he got in.
Add to that the obvious problem that's been circulating the internet of Fan Expo's token woman and RRPG panels. It's a hot mess, this Fan Expo season, and it all revolves around men. But hold on. It doesn't quite revolve around men. It revolves around some fucks ups, usually involving a woman, and me left holding the bag for something I don't even understand. Because yes, there was only one woman RPG guest at Fan Expo this year. I don't know what happened and quite frankly, I don't care. The person in charge of that hasn't come forward to say anything about it.
That hasn't stopped dozens of people from calling in to me asking how I could let this happen, how I could only have one woman guest, how I could have a token woman on my panels? They're not my panels. This isn't my show. All I do is help make games happen. That's it. I don't touch anything beyond the rooms that D&D and Open RPGs are happening in. No one knows that though. They seem to think because me and the team are organizing the games, we must be doing the panels. And since I do panels at Breakout, it must be me.
I stopped counting how many people were angry at me for the panels at Fan Expo. I told the person in charge it was happening and he did nothing. I told him I was hurt and I was tired and he still did nothing. There was no apology, there was no public statement about the panels. I was left to handle it. I was left to hold the buck. And I did. I didn't point fingers and I'm still not. I have no idea what's going on with the organizer and I don't know how there was only one woman guest. It's not my job. What I do know is that I'm the one who took the heat.
Because another man failed to be held accountable for his actions. Accountability is the only way we can really make men take ownership of making a better community. I shouldn't be the one taking these men to task and I'm not. I don't have it in me to navigate the semi-professional waters. I know that I'm hurt and I feel used and I feel held to a standard that they aren't. I feel exhausted and worn out. I feel like I'm losing the fight and that because we made space in this community for men, they've hurt that space and now won't be held accountable for their actions.
Instead, women are picking up the sad pieces of what they broke and trying like hell to find the superglue to fix it. Why? Why aren't other people holding men accountable when they fuck up? Why aren't men holding themselves accountable for when they fuck up? Why is the answer to do nothing instead of take ownership of your problems and then say you value the safety and integrity of the community more than your own pride or fear? Women don't get the option to sit in silence. Our name, once public, is there, and men have no problem taking us to task for what they believe we have done wrong. And yet, when a man is the one who has done wrong, he's left to continue his existence, like he hasn't harmed anyone.
What does accountability look like? It looks like owning your actions, seeing where you went wrong, learning from it, and promising to do better. It does not look like telling the wronged party to not talk about what happened, or sitting in a corner throwing up your hands asking "what could I do?" and it certainly doesn't look like protecting toxic people because you're uncertain of how to proceed and don't want to look back to said toxic people. Toxic people do not belong in this community.
I asked on social media how a lack of accountability in this community has hurt people. The multitudes of answers I got largely touched on abuse, and often towards women and minorities. Imagine. A bunch of people who don't feel safe because we, as a community, cannot hold abusive people accountable for their abuse. Or conventions accountable for ignoring when abuse is happening. Or organizers ignoring when abusive people exist in their circles. We must, if we plan on creating a safe, inclusive space, begin to be accountable. We have to be accountable to our values, to our beliefs, and to our communities.
We don't get to skip the parts that are uncomfortable. I don't get to pretend I haven't fucked up. I fucked up this week, was told I had, and I owned it and apologized to those I hurt and learned. Someone held me accountable for my words. As much as I was upset and worried and angry, at first, that my words were being read in the least favourable light, it didn't change the fact that I had hurt people. I didn't get to tell them they don't get to be hurt. I had to own that. I had to learn from that mistake and I had to move forward with the knowledge of how to act better.
Men constantly ask how they can help. This is how. Use your privilege and your voice to hold people being harmful accountable for their actions. And if they won't be held accountable, because they don't see your way, then have this conversation with your community about how you can handle people who refuse to own their garbage. We need community standards and we need to value safety and inclusivity more than we value avoiding conflict or ignoring problems because it's the easy road. Too many people I know have been hurt by willful ignorance or by people avoiding accountability.
Harassment, violence, abuse, assault... they've all happened in our community and by people we've never demanded answer for their actions. Or if we have, the women who have demanded accountability have been silenced, shamed, or shoved aside. Some of the answers people gave me to that question on social media involved avoiding missing stairs, avoiding cons where stalkers were, avoiding cons where they had been sexually assaulted, avoiding spaces where those rapists were seen as good people and good designers.
What happened to me at Fan Expo is nothing. It's just a tiny drop in a very large pond of problems this community has with accountability. I will endure. I will survive. In three more weeks maybe, just maybe, this will be over and I will be able to continue on. Will I do Fan Expo again? I don't know. This has been enough to shake my willingness to endure this one more time. A lot will depend on what these men do, if they see how they're supporting a toxic culture, and if they ask me to do the emotional labour of helping them see how it's toxic. Is it my job to educate men who are hurting the community, albeit likely unintentionally?
It's a fight. It's a fight all of us not in the main spheres of power are fighting every day. There is no excuse for having people be afraid of your space. All it means is that you are not holding the abusive and toxic people in that space accountable for what they've done. None of us like conflict or hurting others, but we shouldn't put value on our own comfort over the accessibility and safety of our community and our spaces. If you have a voice, please use it. Hold these people accountable for making our community worse. Hold communities accountable for being toxic.
Use your eyes to see the problems and your lips for forming the words or your fingers for writing them down and letting people know that your eyes can see the broken parts. Let us know that we're not alone in this fight. Accountability begins and ends with individuals who are willing to stand up and demand that things be better. I want things to be better. I want to do better. I want to see better. I want to demand better from others and from myself.
For those of you (and us) who have been silenced by the fear, by the overwhelming odds, by the harassment and abuse, by the stunning lack of accountability in this community... I'm sorry. I'm sorry we're failing you and I'm sorry there isn't enough of us standing up for you. I'm sorry you have to avoid certain cons and stay silent because you will be the one who loses a war when accountability is called into question. I promise I will do all I can to hold people accountable, and to be accountable to the spaces I am creating and holding.
I promise that I will continue to be vulnerable and to keep myself open to these shitty, sexist experiences because it means I can fight them better once I know what they look like. I promise I will stay fierce and fight the good fight even though this whole experience has made me want to throw in the towel and say "you win" to the man who made me feel like I was less than.
But he didn't. I'm still here. I've persisted.