The TTRPG Industry: The Sexist Price of Admission Part Three

Another week has gone by and everyone I know is exhausted. I've had a lot of long conversations and it's honestly painful to realize how harmful all of this has been to me. I spoke at length with a friend tonight on how much this industry has cost me, personally, even just this year.

He asked, "Why keep going?"

I didn't have a good answer besides my weirdly dedicated love for gaming and my ardent hope that it can be better. It's the question that never feels like I have an adequate answer for, besides knowing that I can make small differences. And every little difference, for me, regardless of how much it costs, seems to be worth it. Hope springs eternal, they say.

This is the last ten of a list of thirty. This is the final part of this blog post. It won't be the last time I post about sexism and it won't be the last time men hurt me. But it will be a monument to these last eight months and a piece of writing for me to look to when I wonder why I'm doing so poorly or feel so powerless.

So I thank myself for this, for doing this work, and for writing it down.

And tthank you for being a witness to this, for reading, for sharing, and for supporting me.

21 - Not a Lamp 

Now, up until quite recently I always swore I wouldn't date inside the industry. This was because when I did when I was younger, I was pretty heavily ignored as a man's +1. Over and over again. Naturally I'm dating inside the industry again and the constant behaviour of people around that is pretty disgusting. Mostly because, yet again, I am a +1 to my badass boyfriend.

There have been multiple times in the last few months where people are talking to my partner, whom I'm standing beside, and ignoring me. Unless I forcibly insert myself into the conversation, this doesn't change. They'll have whole conversations with him and then bounce and never blink an eye at me.

Now, that being said, my partner is a PoC, and this happens to him too. So maybe just stop ignoring marginalized people and women who are partners?

What did I learn? This was relearning that men are often the default, specifically white men, when designers talk to each other and that we often ignore marginalized people and women who are the partners of game designers.

Why is this harmful?  To assume that the only one worth talking to is the man is pretty gross and undermines women who work in the industry and are partners with game designers.

What could've been done differently? A simple introduction is the easy fix. Introduce yourself, include me now and then, and make eye contact with me. I'm not a lamp. Treat me like a human.

What an ally can do? Introduce me to the conversation and take time to include me, such as asking me direction questions or talking to me directly.

What does it say about our industry? This mostly underscores our habit of ignoring women in game design situations and only talking to men about game design and the industry stead.

22 - Stay Anyways!

Recently I retired from a major convention. I retired for a variety of reasons, the main one being that the person I answered to continually hurt me and harmed me. He took credit for the team's work, didn't have our backs when bad things happened, failed to communicate what was needed, and let me take the fall when the convention got called out for sexism and racism. My reputation got damaged several times because of his actions. He never apologized. Never took ownership. And let it all fall on me.

As I told people why I was leaving, I had many men in the industry routinely dismiss what the organizer was doing and tell me I made such a difference I should stay anyway. Many industry men who were friends also shrugged and said that's just the way the organizer was. Despite how much harm he had done to me and how he openly ignored me and what he was doing, people still minimized what happened to me and still recommended working with him to me.

What did I learn? I've learned that men will often ask women to sacrifice their own health and happiness in favour of them being able to game how they want to, and will downplay how harmful it is to work with someone who actively hurts you if they're a man.

Why is this harmful? This tells women that they are not worthy of respect and care, that they should expect it, that it's okay when it happens, and that men will still be supported even when they perpetuate these behaviours because that's just how some men are.

What could've been done differently? Those speaking to me could have validated my experiences and told me it was good I was taking care of myself. They also could have held the dude accountable, but no one is willing to do that.

What an ally can do? They can empathize with how difficult it's been and also call in the man I answered to, or support me through that process if I chose to engage it.

What does it say about our industry? Beyond the same message of harmful men are allowed to continue at the expense of women, it also tells women that their health and needs aren't important, and that they should put up with shitty behaviour from men for the sake of the community.

23 - Local Baddies

Every few months people feel the need to update me on what people who've been shitty to me or abusive to me in the industry are up to. Mostly, this happens locally as gossip about those people comes in and I get to be informed, often without being asked if I want to, what these men are up to. I get updates on the convention I supposedly killed, men who have tried and sometimes succeeded at sabotaging me in the local scene, and men who have actively stalked me, threatened me, and harassed me.

Why people feel the need to let me know that these men still exist and are doing things in the community, I'm not sure. It makes me feel unsafe, reminds me that people who have harmed me are still out there, and doesn't give me any information worth knowing. It largely just allows men to remind me that harassers and abusers are still active in our local scene and that what's happened to me isn't important.

What did I learn? That these men who decide to remind me and update me about my harassers and abusers aren't actually doing anything about those men, but are instead keeping tabs on them to tell me they still exist.

Why is this harmful?  Learning about your harassers locally, as in, being told what they're doing and how welcome and included they are, often just makes victims feel unsafe, especially when paired with inaction and lack of support.

What could've been done differently? If you want to make me feel safe, stop talking about them unless I need to know because I'll be in the same area as one of them. Otherwise, I don't need to know.

What an ally can do? Hold these men accountable within the community and stop letting harassers and abusers be part of the local scene. Ask for restorative justice. Ask they meet with me and ask if I'll meet with them to end these conflicts and hold people accountable.

What does it say about our industry? That men somehow know that I'll want to know what my abuser are doing if it could hurt me, but don't seem to get that passing casual news along just reinforces how unwelcome I am locally and how welcome abusers are.

24 - Passive Invalidation

One of the irritating things about community and convention organizing is looking for volunteers. This means I post a lot on social media looking for, well, volunteers. This can mean Twitter, but mostly in local Facebook groups. Men who don't like me or hate me or think I'm terrible use this as an opportunity to post on those threads, but mostly to leave laughing or angry face emojis behind to just passively let me know they've taking a contempt token.

They'll also add me as friends on Facebook or follow me on Twitter to just leave passive comments. They'll share my threads saying things about me that suck. They'll leave those same emojis on the announcements of conventions I work at. It's a small, passive, continual low grade harassment that is both exhausting and incredibly childish.

This doesn't even address the men who add me on social media just to hit on me or open a chat window and pour out their trauma to me.

What did I learn? That having any sort of reputation makes men feel like they're entitled to comment on you and subtly harass you just to make you afraid they'll do more or to remind you they still hate you.

Why is this harmful? It's a passive invasion of space. They're entering my space and women's spaces to just let them know that they're still watching and still paying attention, aka, waiting to lash out.

What could've been done differently? Just walk away? These men need to just leave me alone and stop finding ways to low grade come at me. I'm not talking to them or engaging them, why can't they just leave me alone?

What an ally can do? When you see this behaviour, tell them to stop. Call them out or tell them that behaviour isn't acceptable.

What does it say about our industry? Yet again, in online community spaces, harassers and abusers are left to do what they want, so long as they don't step over the line too far. Low grade harassment is totally okay.

25 - Protecting My Honour

This happens with alarming regularity. If I'm friends with someone, or appear to be engaging with them on social media, it's almost always men who message me to tell me a story (often years old) about what a terrible human they are. It's almost exclusively been men talking trash about other men, and even more so, white men talking trash about PoC.

As if this need to shield me from the big bad world wasn't enough, these men then will continue on to argue with me if I don't agree with them, and treat me like I'm fragile and just don't understand what's happening. If I ask them to talk to the person in question, and do some conflict resolution, they get angry with me and walk away. I'm only worth protecting and talking to when I don't question their behaviour.

What did I learn? I am in part valued by who I know and who I'm friends with. Men who think other men will ruin my reputation need to "protect me" by gossiping and refusing to address the conflicts they have with these other men.

Why is this harmful?  It demands that women be accountable to the actions, real or not, of those they associate with and know. It is also harmful because often this trickles out into women getting harassed in the community for who their friends are and who they know.

What could've been done differently? These men can absolutely reach out to me, but when I question their beliefs, they should be willing to listen and engage, rather than use their social power to tear people down through rumour mongering and trying to ruin relationships.

What an ally can do? When you see someone using this tactic, especially against women and marginalized people, shut it down. Recommend they try to resolve the conflict. Ask them what they need and how they're going to deal with that. Don't let them put their conflicts on women or use women as weapons against marginalized people.

What does it say about our industry? The weaponization of women (when we use women to hurt other marginalized groups) is very real. It's also very real that men believe they need to turn women against other men, and that women can't make their own decisions on who they associate with.

26 - It's Bad Everywhere

This year has been incredibly hard on my mental health. I'm a very different person from who I was a year ago, largely because of trauma incurred by the TTRPG community and being a community and convention organizer. I've not expressed on social media as much as I would normally, because of reasons I've mentioned before. But also because it opens me up to new harassment and abuse.

Yet when I have expressed how upset and hurt I am this year, a lot of men have decided to tell me it's just as bad in other industries, so they don't let it bother them. Or they talk about how all the aspects of gaming are shitty, so it's just par for the course. This is incredibly invalidating and very minimizing and dismissive of my experiences and what I'm personally going through. But I've seen it happen to multiple women and I'm tired of it.

What did I learn? It's been obvious that I'm not really allowed to speak about my experiences in the industry without having to endure a man dismissing them, invalidating them, or minimizing them.

Why is this harmful?  It tells me that my experiences don't matter, that I should not talk about it, that it won't change, and that it's normal to be this harassed. It silences me.

What could've been done differently? These men could've scrolled by or not taken up the space to tell me that my feelings are invalid because other places still have harassment. There was no reason they needed to post it, other than to show me I shouldn't be so upset.

What an ally can do? When you see this, maybe point out (gently) to the person that they're dismissing someone's feelings on their own experiences, and that each person is allowed to express their feelings on their experiences in the industry without it being invalidated or dismissed.

What does it say about our industry? This continues the same trend of men silencing women about their experiences, and normalizing shitty behaviour by saying "that's just the way it is" instead of trying to change it or support the person who's been hurt.

27 - When You Dig Me

Bodies are difficult things to walk around in. I spend a lot of time loving up the body I'm in through self care, and through self expression like carefully choosing my clothing, my hair colour, and my makeup. I love aesthetics. Because I dress really femme and wear makeup, this seems to make men believe they have a right to comment on my body, clothes, or features. Most often this comes in the form of a sexual comment or "compliment."

Recently this year, I was at a convention, wearing a dress and some combat boots (I was vibing the 90's), when an industry insider decided to tell me how much he liked what I was wearing. This would be fine, except he kept going with it after I said thank you. He really wanted me to know that my outfit really did it for him, that it really reminded him of high school, and he was really into how I was looking. In front of a crowd of people. The best I could do was blink, say thanks, and walk away.

What did I learn? Really I've learned that men in the industry generally feel entitled to comment on my body, mostly when they either think it's inappropriate or it turns them on.

Why is this harmful? Women's bodies belong to them and no one is entitled to comment on them, as sexual comments often make women feel uncomfortable and like they're being hit on when they are in a professional space.

What could've been done differently? Compliments are fine. Say "I enjoy your look" or something benign. Making comments about how into someone's look you are is pretty gross. Worse case, ask permission first. "Can I compliment your clothing?" Consent, dude. Get it.

What an ally can do? You can either redirect, get in the way of it, or shut it down. I was hit on once at an industry insider get together at a convention, and the convention organizer was the one hitting on me. A friend beside me intercepted the compliment by thanking the dude for it, and shutting him down. Do that.

What does it say about our industry? It's still normal for women to be worried about industry professionals hitting on them and being unprofessional in our professional spaces. This needs to end.

28 - Dictating Who I Work With

Recently, on a project, I was working with a business partner and we were discussing the terms of working on a project together. Rather than discussing this in person, he felt a need to email his list of boundaries and demands for working together. I read through the list and felt instantly angry because the list, while short, was very controlling.

One of the main tenants of the list was that he would maintain the right to deny working with industry professionals we brought onto the project. Which is fine, I get that. There are some people I don't want to work with. But it wasn't that. It was namely that he didn't want to work with anyone I was dating. Specifically. Having a man say he would work with me, but not if I wanted to have someone I was dating submit a game to an anthology was enough for me to kill the business partnership immediately.

What did I learn? Somehow men still think it's okay to control who women get to work with, and deny them access to spaces if they come attached to other men.

Why is this harmful? Telling a woman you'll only work with her if she won't work with her partner is controlling, and removes her agency in who she gets to work with it, especially if that's the only parameter on who you won't work with.

What could've been done differently? In this case, this man could've expressed why he felt that working with someone I was dating would be threatening or upsetting, or worked out those issues with his therapist on his own, rather than try to use our business partnership to control who I could work with on a project I had created and founded.

What an ally can do? If you see men trying to control who women can work with, call that man in and note how controlling that behaviour is. Ask him why it bothers him, and help him work through his own trauma rather than place the results of that trauma on their business partner who's a woman.

What does it say about our industry? This is about controlling women, who they can work with, and how this man thought this demand was normal and fine. That he felt he was entitled to tell me I couldn't work with a game designer I was dating if I wanted to work with him.

29 - Blogging Harassment

A couple years ago I discovered a website where a man was blogging about what a fat feminist I was. He was very clever. He replaced the c in crazy with a K to say Kate Bullock is Krazy. Or he called me a Kunt. So clever. I found this website largely hilarious, but there were two blog posts dedicated to full on hating me with all the rage of a misogynist.

Recently, that blog's writer was sleuthed out by a badass woman in the industry. She's received no credit. Additionally, despite the website getting taken down, the company that ran the website (run by a dude) has faced no repercussions and no consequences for writing blog posts about people (mostly marginalized people) and tearing them down on the internet.

What did I learn? I honestly thought there would be more consequences for someone being outted as an online source of harassment. But there's been nothing. And I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but somehow I am. And disappointed.

Why is this harmful?  Allowing someone to go on for such terrible transgressions against multiple industry members without consequence says this behaviour is fine and normal. We punish PoC for way less, but are letting this white dude get away with it. And we're not giving credit to the woman who figured it all out, so we're erasing her hard work while we're at it.

What could've been done differently? This is the hard part because there isn't a body of people I would take this complaint to. How do we hold companies accountable for their terrible behaviour? Can we? Could people have tweeted at and shut down the company for what it did?

What an ally can do? Always make sure you give credit where credit is due, and when you find out a gaming company has been releasing sexist and racist blog posts, maybe ensure people know and help hold them accountable to that behaviour.

What does it say about our industry? it says, that yet again, white men will get away with continual harassment.

30 - If I Had Only Known

About a year ago, a friend made a complaint on my behalf about sexual harassment, about a man in the industry who was too familiar with me, touched me without consent, and startled me because he came behind me before he touched me. I don't remember the incident. When it finally was about to be investigated, he asked me if I still wanted to go forward. Because I couldn't remember it (trauma brain deletes stuff that way), I said no.

Fast forward a couple months later when talking with friends, I find out this dude has done this to a bunch of people and that multiple women have stories about this man. I believed that because my memory wasn't reliable, that going forward with the complaint would mean nothing would come of it and I didn't want to put myself through that. Now I regret it deeply that I didn't push forward.

What did I learn? 
People who harass and touch inappropriately rarely do it just once. Most men who are perpetuating harmful behaviours aren't doing it to just one woman. And even one woman is too many.

Why is this harmful? This is harmful because it allows these men to go on unchecked, in part because speaking out costs us a lot personally, and in part because sometimes trauma means we don't remember things well or properly. My friend did his best to help me, but it was ultimately my decision, and I made the wrong one.

What could've been done differently? I could have gone forward with the complaint, although realistically the complaint would have been investigated sooner than a year later.

What an ally can do? What my ally did. He asked if he could report it, did it for me, then ultimately respected my decision not to go forward a year later.

What does it say about our industry? That we're still silent. That women are still quiet on harassment and abuse because complaining doesn't make a difference. That the price to pay for calling someone out isn't worth it. That it's still normal to have a man doing this behaviour and people not speaking out. That even women in positions of power feel like they have no recourse.

These are the 30 important sexist things I've endured in 2019. They aren't all of them. They aren't even half of them. They're the big ones. The ones that left a lasting impression. The ones that I even as I write about them, I realize I'm not processing them because they've come so often and so regularly that I can't.

Beyond these, the message is very clear. The price of admission for the TTRPG Industry is to be harassed, bullied, controlled, manipulated, gaslit, assaulted, and abused for women. Honestly, the more power I get in this industry, the worst it gets. The more I do to make space, the harder it becomes. The more work I entrench myself, the more it hurts me. There isn't a win condition for this.

It doesn't feel like there's a way out, even though there has been great progress made in the 20 years I've been gaming and the 15 years I've been involved in community organizing. It doesn't feel like a battle I'm winning. Instead, it feels like a continual onslaught that I'm forced to deal with every day.

These events don't even touch on things like Zak S, where long standing community and industry abuse happened and we were complicit in our inaction. We let victims, often women, suffer because he was a good designer. This doesn't touch on what I've seen as fallout from that or what I've supported people through. These are just my experiences. These are just glimpses into a life as a woman in TTRPGs.

My life. This is my life I'm showing you.

I don't want your sympathy. I don't want your apologies. I have so many useless apologies from men who say they're sorry and then don't change their behaviours. What am I supposed to do with these meaningless words?

Don't apologize for your gender. Change how you behave. Hold yourself and other men accountable. Create and enact policies that protect women and marginalized people. Ensure women and marginalized people are in positions of power so they can create change. Stop perpetuating abuse cycles. Stop making space for abusers who keep doing this over and over again. Stop excusing their behaviour.

Hold people accountable. Begin the process of unwinding all the sexism in the industry so we can begin the even harder work of healing and restoration. Take ownership of what is yours and change those behaviours. Have hard conversations with each other.

Step up or get out of the way.

To be honest, I don't need you do this. I've lost faith in the industry this year. I'm heart broken and soul sick. I know the only way this work will get done is if I do it myself. If I'm the one suffering, I'm going to have to be the one to take it and keep pushing for change. I'm going to have to be the one who gets hurt for you to maybe care. I'm always going to have be a victim to get you to listen.

If that's the cost, then so be it. I'm paying it. Every day. 

But I'm not going to stop just because this industry keeps finding new ways to fuck with me. 
I'm here and I'm not going anywhere. 
I will not be silenced.