The TTRPG Industry: The Sexist Price of Admission: Part One

This has been a year of silence. Not the silence of inactivity, but the painful silence of suffering. This is the year I stopped sharing my experiences with the TTRPG Industry publicly and started to endure quietly. I stopped posting on social media about the things I experienced. I stopped talking about what was happening to me. Instead, I learned to cry by myself and smile when asked how I was. I learned to swallow the anger and persist through every insult and every wound.

Why? Well, because a man told me to, of course.

I was told that talking about the sexist experiences I encountered made a man uncomfortable. And because I loved him and have codependent behaviours, I listened. I cut off my source of stability and one of my sources of power to please him. To make him feel safer. It took awhile before I noticed it was done to isolate me.

Men exercise power in personal and professional relationships every day in the industry. Some use it to promote and make space for marginalized people and women. Some, however, are charming and appear vulnerable when what they're doing is taking space and causing harm. But the vast majority aren't either.

The vast majority are decent humans just trying to do their best, who still somehow manage to fuck it up and trip on sexism. It's so ingrained into our culture that we often don't even recognize when it's happening, especially if we're not the one suffering. The vast majority of men I know are well intentioned, good people I love.

They still hurt me. Just like I still hurt other marginalized people, even with the best of intentions. The point is to learn.

Sexism in TTRPGs was the price of admission. From the first day I became a gamer to today, there isn't a year that's gone by where someone hasn't deeply hurt me or abused me. Some years I have to call the police. Some I don't. Sometimes it's a series of micro-aggressions that make me collapse inwards. Sometimes they're big, macro, and overwhelming.

This year has been a really perfectly blended cocktail of everything. This year people I love have hurt me in new ways I didn't know were possible. This year people have been incredibly dismissive and invalidating. This year I have had to call the police, worry for my safety, be told I was being a victim wrong, and put up with constant stream of sexist behaviour from men, both known and unknown in our industry, at every turn.

I've managed to boil the list down to 30 important moments of 2019. This post will feature the first ten. They're in no particular order, there are no names, and there will be no names. My goal isn't to out people. It isn't to hurt those men who have hurt me. Even though people keep asking "Why are you protecting him?"

The answer is always the same: I'm protecting me.

The repercussions women have faced for outing men aren't appetizing. I keep these men safe because it keeps me safe. And puts others at risk because my silence buys them time. This isn't even part of the list. This is just the reality of being a woman in this industry. In this world.

Each item will tell you what's happened in broad terms, what I've learned from that experience, why it's harmful, what could've been done differently, what an ally can do in these moments, and what it says about our industry. Mostly I hope you learn from this. I hope you find the things you do and see them in a new light. I hope we see the things we do as an industry and crush them. I'm so very, very tired.

For accuracy and  transparency, in these articles I talk about my experiences as a cis-woman in the industry. When I say "men" I am speaking about cis and trans men. When I say "women", I am only speaking to my experience as a cis-woman and am not speaking for trans women, nonbinary, agendered, gender noncomforming, or gender fluid people, be they femme presenting or not. While many of these experiences apply across multiple intersections of oppression, I can only speak to my specific experiences in the industry and not for other experiences.

1 - Business Backstabbing

Earlier this year I was going to make a game with a small game publisher. Two of the men from this publisher got upset when I asked if a woman would be added to the leadership team. They decided to complain about me to my romantic partner, also a man, who is also one of my business partners, about my behaviour.

There are three levels to this that are terrible. The first being that two men business partners complained about a woman's behaviour to another business partner who was a man. The second being that two men shit talked me to another man. And the third being that they shit talked me to my actual boyfriend, as though he could do something about it.

I broke the business deal and moved on.

What did I learn? To never work with companies where women and marginalized people aren't in charge. This company was made up of white men and it showed.

Why is this harmful? This is verbal abuse and to a degree, harassment. The sexist act is on multiple levels, but the classic choice of complaining to a man about his woman partner is the one that hurt me the most. Plus we were business partners. This unprofessional behaviour had no place in our relationship.

What could've been done differently? The men who had an issue with me could've simply addressed me themselves and had an adult conversation about it.

What an ally can do? There's not much to do outside of the moment, but inside, an ally can call out this behaviour and point out that it's sexist and toxic. An ally can also point out it's unprofessional and unacceptable.

What does it say about our industry? That women are still being talked about as inferior, and to a degree, as property (via complaining to their partners about them) by their business partners, and that there is no respect or professionalism granted to women as business partners. We must get rid of shit talking about women behind their backs and talk to them directly about our concerns rather than go to their menfolk.

2 - Convention Killer

Awhile ago I got into a conflict with the organizer of a local Ontario convention after a woman was harassed at his convention. Multiple men in this situation reached out to me to ensure I knew they weren't sexist, but so few did anything to help the victim. When I asked friends to help me get through to these people, I was kicked from the group and called a liar when I said a friend was receiving threats (which she was).

This is fine. I don't care. But later, I was perusing Yourrpgisshit (a website dedicated to hating industry professionals, including two articles on myself), when I noticed someone from that convention had posted on a comment on an article about me. Specifically asking the writer to do a third article on me because I had killed his favourite convention.

Now. When a convention goes down because of harassment and sexism at their convention, I promise, as much as I want to have those super powers, it wasn't me. They did it to themselves. That being said, the convention owner has decided to blame me for his mental health crisis and any lashing out he did at that time. It's good to know I can destroy conventions and men all in one go.

What did I learn? This wasn't a new lesson to me, but realizing that calling for accountability from men will result in online harassment and ultimately, being blamed for their downfall, was newer. I had never been told I had killed a convention before, and obviously I had to be careful about incurring more online harassment, so taking on conventions head on was something I should stop doing.

Why is this harmful? Blaming women for the downfall of a convention because of harassment that happened at the convention and the lack of accountability on behalf of the organizer shifts the blame from the organizer and the harasser to the women trying to make the situation better and who are usually trying to take care of the victim. It's not our fault sexism happened. Don't blame women and victims for the acts of harassers.

What could've been done differently? The person who posted, asking a blogger to write another degrading post about me, should've blamed the convention organizer and the GM who was horrible to that woman, and demanded accountability there instead of blaming me.

What an ally can do? Call this stuff out! If you see this, shut it down and say "hey, this isn't her fault. It's the bad guy's fault" and really focus the conversation there. If you scroll by where a woman is getting scapegoated, do something.

What does it say about our industry? This is a really common theme I've seen applied to many active feminists in TTRPGs. If we call out a convention or space, it gets defended adamantly and we get harassed for doing so, even though we're just asking for sexism to be removed from the convention. Our safety is the cost of better convention spaces.

3 - Spreading Rumours

Awhile ago I broke up with a fellow industry professional. Since then, a lot of things he said about me got back to me. They ranged from a variety of things, almost all of them poking fun at my previous trauma or telling people we broke up because of my unstable mental health. In other words, a man was telling people that I was crazy.

This isn't the first time this has happened to me. Years ago I dated a man for two months who then told people a variety of rumours about me after I accused him of harassment (he was stalking me). So finding out my ex had said shit about me to other industry professionals didn't surprise me. It did, however, dismay me. The best part was, none of them called him out on it.

Ultimately, I stopped trying to be friends or business acquaintances with our mutual friends and moved on. I lost a bunch of friends and connections while he got to stay snug as a bug in the industry.

What did I learn? That even when your shitty ex says he won't say shit about you, he doesn't mean it, because he needs to control the narrative. Controlling the narrative is when abusive people get ahead of the story by making themselves out to be the victims when they themselves were actually the abusive ones.

Why is this harmful? Men slamming their women partners in public and with other industry insiders is a way to ostracize and control the spaces women can enter. It also damages her relationships with her community, especially if she's afraid to defend herself or try to correct the rumours he's spreading.

What could've been done differently? Realistically, in this case, my ex would've needed to not try to sabotage my relationships with others and not said shit about me to other people. Self control, and a mature acceptance that we were parting ways would've been ideal.

What an ally can do? Not let this happen. If you hear a man saying shit about his ex at an industry event or gossiping within the industry, tell them not here. There's no excuse for this behaviour, as it's one of the easiest ways for abusers to remove the support systems a woman has within her community.

What does it say about our industry? It says that we still allow men to control the spaces women have access to and women can engage with. It also shows that we still allow men to talk about women as possessions and objects who need to be dehumanized, in classic bro culture ways, after a break up.

4 - Community Ostracism 

Recently, an online gaming community I was part of the leadership team for ostracized me. Specifically, the owner of the community verbally and emotionally abused me, kicked me out of the space, lied about it to the community, lied about me to the community, wrote a public blog post harassing me and published it, and then told me it was my own fault for the abuse because I had disagreed with him in a tweet.

He started this harassment campaign and ended it within 24 hours. When he tried to contact me after all this went down, it was to tell me that it was my own fault for replying to his tweet. Later, when he did get around to apologizing, I laid out restorative steps that could be taken and he did none of them. Instead, he chose to continue lying to the community that I had "left voluntarily" and that we had just "had a fight" rather than he had been abusive and had kicked me out.

To this day, this has not been addressed by him or the community.

What did I learn? That no amount of love or communication can stop someone who's intention is to hurt me. I had spent a lot of time helping and being his friend and I loved him dearly, but he routinely lashed out at me. More than anything, I learned to create a clear boundary instead of going back to him when he was sad we couldn't be friends after his behaviour.

Why is this harmful? A man harassing a woman out of the community space or simply kicking her out because he doesn't like her opinions is a tale as old as time. This man went unchecked, lied about it, and then refused to take ownership of his shitty abusive behaviour. Rather, he ensured that I was painted as the bad guy, and yet again, a scapegoat for a man's anger and harassment.

What could've been done differently? The organizer could've reached out to me privately and spoken to me like a human instead of swearing at me and telling me to fuck off upon opening sentence. He could've taken a step back to see his behaviour and walked away to calm down, or tried an actual conversation with me to say he was uncomfortable instead of lashing out.

What an ally can do? Call out this behaviour and demand the truth. Hold people like this accountable for their abusive behaviours and don't let them get away with. Dispel the lies and demand restorative steps. Yet again, a man is left to go unchecked after he harassed a woman out of his community.

What does it say about our industry? Industry spaces that allow women to be scapegoated and kicked out are perpetuating that women's voices are worth having, aren't worth protecting, and that women are easy to make into victims by charismatic men. The lack of accountability is stunning, if not commonplace.

5 - Community Silence

In a followup to the previous one, despite the community itself owning the blog the article was published on, and despite many people within the community reaching out to hear my side of the story, there has been no restorative actions or consequences for what happened. There has been no apology, no accountability, and no ownership of the fact the community blog publicly came after me.

Beyond that, only two members of the community challenged the organizer, and one of which was a woman. All of the men who hold positions of power within the community stood by silently. That silence is the problem. That silence is pervasive and it allows men to continue to get away with these actions.

Silence is complicity.

What did I learn? In part, I learned that discomfort will keep men silent. From what I understand, people didn't want to fight with the community organizer and so they stayed silent. They just let it happen. And in part, because it felt redundant to fight back. They may be right.

Why is this harmful? Unchecked behaviour is dangerous. A community refusing to hold its members accountable and instead allowing sexism to continue is toxic and is, in itself, a sexist act. Valuing personal comfort over calling out sexism is ultimately a privilege.

What could've been done differently? Someone could've said anything? Really, what should have happened here is the community should have come together to work with the community organizer on accountability and making the space safer for women.

What an ally can do? Ask their community leaders and strong voices in the community to speak out. Or more importantly, speak out themselves. Do not participate in silence. Since I first wrote this, Lowell Francis reached out, asked what I needed, and did his best to meet those needs. I thank him for that.

What does it say about our industry? That apathy and discomfort out weigh our investment in safe spaces and accountability for women.

6 - Sexual Harassment at a Convention

This is one of the freshest. Recently I was at a convention where an attendee was behaving inappropriately at the table. The GM asked me for help and when I sat down, the person behaving poorly began to talk over me and ignore what I was saying. He left the game after one of the other admin escorted him out. Two hours later he reappeared telling me I was awful and that I shouldn't have come over there to talk to him.

After telling me I had nothing worth hearing and nothing to add to the conversation, he said "How dare you come over there half dress and pushing your breasts in my face?" Folks, I was wearing a summer dress in August. Regardless, I told him he had to leave and that I was calling security. My fellow admin physically put himself between me and this man and then escorted him out.

Good. Times.

What did I learn? That some men just inherently value women less. That he was saying I had nothing to add, what he was saying was that I, as a woman, had nothing to add. He finally got frustrated and brought up my clothing, which really, was bringing it back to my gender.

Why is this harmful? A woman has a right to wear whatever she wants. She also has a right to wear clothing without it being commented on. She also has the right to be in a position of power at a convention and not have men resort to sexual harassment because they're upset a woman is in a position of power.

What could've been done differently? This player could've just walked away. Instead, he was upset that a woman had come over to the table to sort out what was going on and decided to yell at me for it. In reality, he should've walked away and realized he had been way out of bounds.

What an ally can do? Exactly what my allies did. My fellow admin, Camdon Wright stepped in, literally putting himself between me and this man twice, and escorted him out twice. He then checked in on me to see how I was and gave me agency to decide what to do. My employer, Mark Diaz Truman, who hired me to run the room also appeared immediately at my request, he listened to me, and asked what I wanted to do. That's being an ally.

What does it say about our industry? It honestly shows how unfairly treated women are in positions of power. This man talked to my fellow admin (a man) and listened to him, but felt he could yell at me, get in my face, and make comments about my body and clothing. Clearly women are not respected in positions of authority.

7 - The Voice to Speak Over

Because I've established myself as a voice in the industry, in my own spaces being talked over happens less and less. In these spaces, I've already established I'm worth listening to because of the social power I've collected. This year, I had multiple experiences at conventions where men in the industry routinely ignored me, talked over me, or interrupted me because, quite honestly, they didn't know who I was.

To stop this, I have to interrupt them, be a little be sharp in my replies, and establish that I won't put up with that shit. But it's exhausting. If you see me at a convention being quiet, it's likely because I've been interrupted so many times I decided engaging wasn't worth the effort. This happened at multiple big events this year and I found myself so exhausted by the end that I wanted to quit.

What did I learn? I've learned that if I enter into a space where I'm not a known quantity, the status quo is still talk over, interrupt, and devalue when women talk.

Why is this harmful? For obvious reasons, but mostly because we still, in practice, value the space women take up as less important and often ignore that they're there at all. Our voices matter.

What could've been done differently? In these spaces, the people interrupting me should've caught themselves, apologized, and made an effort to ensure I am heard or at least invited into the conversation without having to fight my way in.

What an ally can do? Allies can specifically ask for the opinions of women in a conversation, stop people from interrupting by going "She was talking" or "She wasn't done" and can ignore when people interrupt and keep focusing on the woman speaking.

What does it say about our industry? I see this on panels and at conventions all the time, and it says that men still hold court like they're the ones who matter most and that women are only here because they allow us to be here, to be heard, when they want us to be.

8 - Dating Schemes

This one sent me for a real doozy. Through a series of mishaps, someone told me that they had been surprised to find out I had dated someone in the industry. When I asked who, they told me someone who I thought had been a friend, had told them that we had dated, broken up, and that coming to a convention I was at would be awkward for them so they had decided not to come.

I didn't date this person. We never dated. They had expressed interest and I had been very deliberate in saying I was not interested in a romantic relationship with them. Their behaviour was hurtful and deliberately cruel to spread weird stories about a relationship I didn't have.

It was also incredibly invasive and rewrote my own story for me. I had no agency in dispelling these myths because the person who spread these stories was very selective about who they told and made those people promise not to tell others.

What did I learn? That people will lay claim to me even when I've expressly told them I'm not interested. That there's nothing I can do when people say these things and even more, there's little I can do to disprove them besides be horrified.

Why is this harmful?  Claiming to have intimate relationships with someone is a way of often claiming ownership over someone. It may increase social status or make the person feel empowered to say destructive things about other people that they can't otherwise touch.

What could've been done differently? The person could have spoken to me about their frustrations, or honestly, just been truthful when speaking about why they weren't attending or our friendship. I can't say why they chose to lie about our relationship, but I can say they shouldn't have done it.

What an ally can do? Fact check, ask the person they're speaking about if this happened, and don't let liars and people literally claiming someone as their partner get away with it if it doesn't sit right. As far as I know, no one as called this person out on this behaviour.

What does it say about our industry? Yet again, it says that men can lay claim and ownership over women, their bodies, and their relationships without being checked. But mostly it says that in the industry, we still place social value on who women are dating and what that says about them.

9 - The Parasocial Victim

Not too long ago, I got really angry online because of the continual onslaught of harassment and industry bullshit I and my partner had faced. So I posted on social media about being angry about it, and well, the reaction was interesting. People got upset at me. I had lots of people reach out to me concerned that I was angry and that I wasn't my usual self.

These complaints and call ins were disguised (sometimes) as concern, but largely they were calling to attention that I wasn't my behaving as sweetness and kindness. That I was behaving outside of the social space I was normally occupying. Interestingly, when I removed the anger from my statements and reentered the space in my usual sad and grieving attitude, people were more comfortable and I was suddenly listened to. I wasn't allowed anger.

I was allowed to be a victim. It is one of the only spaces people will listen to me in. If I'm hurt, if someone I love is hurting, if I'm sad, if I'm crying, then people will listen and want to help me. But if I'm angry, if I'm loud, if I'm pissed, then my ability to be heard lessens. My parasocial world only seems to like me when I'm a victim.

What did I learn? Well, honestly, I learned to not allow my anger to be seen on the internet because it devalued what I was saying, and I learned to always approach it from the path of grief and sadness at the industry's abuse.

Why is this harmful? Everyone is allowed to be angry at abuse they're enduring. Except women. We're not supposed to be angry. That's the emotion men get and they've cornered the market on it. Women get angry. We get pissed. And we have a right to be taken seriously when we're angry, not just when we're sad.

What could've been done differently? My anger could have been validated and listened to. People could have heard what I was saying and offered to help then instead of waiting until I was sad and hurt to offer to step in.

What an ally can do? Listen to women when they're angry. Validate that anger. Make space for it. Let them take up that space and believe their anger. Don't only listen to women when they're sad about being a victim.

What does it say about our industry? This is really common, that we only listen to blogs/articles/posts from women when they're hurt about being a victim instead of angry. We need to listen to the angry posts as much as we listen to the sad posts. We need to take action when anger is talked about, not just when people are crying because they've been harmed.

10 - Presidency Email Threat

Within a few weeks of taking over a game developer trade organization as president, a serial abuser story came to light and the organization was under attack due to its associations with the abusers and their previous roles in the organization. Even before the story broke, I had already begun the necessary work to launch an investigation based on previous reports and to get our harassment policy up and running properly.

But I still received an email from a man about the issues, his demands from me specifically on what I do about the abusers, how he wanted everything handled, and that if I didn't do what he wanted, he'd post publicly about his thoughts, his email he had sent, and would basically attack us on social media. I had been president for barely a month and had already received my first social media threat from a member of the trade organization.

What did I learn? I already knew how to deescalate angry men, but I learned from this email just how entitled to the information of victims men feel, and how entitled they feel to have their needs met over the organization's or the victim's.

Why is this harmful? Believing you have the right to threaten a woman in power if they do not behave the way you want them to around issues that you are concerned about is entitlement and privilege exemplified. It shows women that your ideas and your needs matter more than anything else and that you believe you have the right to hurt them, scare them, and ultimately, use social media to attack them if they don't behave how you want.

What could've been done differently? This man could've sent me an email expressing his concerns (all of which were valid) without attaching a list of demands and a threat. Up until the list of demands and threat, it was an email that was important and talking to me about accountability and expressing personal needs.

What an ally can do? We can all do our best to practice expressing our needs without using threats or coercion to get our needs met. We can certainly ensure that when we hear about this behaviour, we condemn it, although this was privately issued. The people I work with also read the email and supported me through answering it and helping me write a response with patience rather than anger.

What does it say about our industry? This continues to be another example of a man believing his opinions and needs are so important that he will threaten and coerce to get them met. It shows that he believed he was more powerful, more important, and worth more than the woman who was president of the organization and the leadership team (largely made of marginalized people).

These are the first ten. I chose these carefully because of the range of experiences they provided, from macro to micro aggressions. They aren't in sequential order, but rather a random order as they came to my mind while I reflected on the year.

I ask that you consider them. Take time to think on how women are treated in our industry spaces and take the time to unpack how, if at all, you contribute to that. Learn what you can and maybe come to terms with just how costly it is for women and marginalized people to exist in this industry.

Once you understand the price, maybe you'll want to start dismantling the system that charges the fee. Maybe you'll care enough to help me try to right the ship and turn things around. Maybe you'll finally say enough is enough.