The TTRPG Industry: The Sexist Price of Admission Part Two

It's been a week and the industry has been shaken--again--because there are abusers in our midst. I've watched a lot of horrific reports pour out on Twitter and other social media platforms. I've watched known abusers who have been outed complain about how unfair it is on Facebook and tell their friends it's nothing but hate campaigns.

And, as always, I've watched people be silent in response. There comes a point where we need to really take a hard look at the infrastructure we have and who the prominent people are that have risen to power. We, as an industry, support and promote abusers. They often are well known in the industry and their artistry can and does protect them.

We need to examine the way our communities and industry culture supports abusers and ostracizes victims. TTRPGs has historically been terrible for wanting to "just play games" or "not have politics involved." Those of us getting hurt just want to play games, too. Don't you see?

But the inaction of those with social power ultimately leads to abuse. Conventions, communities, and industries that are refusing to address abuse in their spaces fundamentally show a higher value towards the abusers than the abused. Our discomfort at conflict and abuse means we leave victims with no recourse and ultimately, silence.

Here are the next ten incidences since January that have made it on to my list of important ways sexism perpetuates in the industry.

11 - Being Accountable for His Actions

For the trade organization I am president of, and the abusers who were in that organization, let's talk about how many meetings, emails, social media announcements, conversations, social media call outs and call ins, and spaces I've held for people who wanted and still blame me for the actions of a man who abused people. Because the list is long and I am exhausted. The amount of men specifically who have come to me to ask me about the abusers and their involvement, and ultimately what I'm doing about it is astounding.

I am not them. The leadership team is not them. We are continually answering for the crimes of a white man abuser. Even though I am not the one who abused people, I am culpable for a man because I inherited his mess. I am answerable for his crimes. I am the one who has to clean the mess up, take accountability, and assure you that work is being done about what happened. This has caused me countless breakdowns and hundreds of hard conversations.

These conversations are still happening. I am still being punished for what a white man did. So is my leadership team (of largely marginalized people) and so are the marginalized people we try to help as an organization.

What did I learn? I didn't know that I, as a woman, would end up being punished for the actions of a man, or that I would be held accountable for what he had done. While I understand anger and frustration at the organization and its previous admin team, coming up to me to ask me what I'm doing about him or how I'm fixing what he did astounds me. I have learned that I am responsible for picking up after abusers.

Why is this harmful? We should hold people accountable for what they've done, not hold people outside of the abusers accountable for the abuse. Especially when we're punching down and blaming women and marginalized people for the actions of a white man and demanding those marginalized people and women account for the abusers actions.

What could've been done differently? It is important we ask for accountability from an organization that had abusers in it. We can address the organization this way, and express our needs if we are frustrated or worried or upset. This is how this should have happened. People should not be holding individuals accountable for the actions of someone else.

What an ally can do? Ensure that in discussions we keep the scope of who's responsible for what in mind. Make sure marginalized people aren't being attacked or blamed for what a man did.

What does it say about our industry? We still blame the people around an abuser for the abuse. We still hold women accountable for the actions of men rather than holding the man accountable or placing the blame for his actions fully on him.

12 - Community Access Threat

A couple weeks before Breakout I received an email threat from a previous member of a gaming community organization I was running. The threat had phrases like: "what happens next is on you" and "your time is coming to an end" and "see you fuckers soon." Amongst other things. I laughed when I received because getting threats was so normal that I didn't think much of it. Until I reread it again and saw that it was a threat and I had a convention in two weeks in the same city this dude lived in.

After talking to a lot of friends about what to do, I finally called the cops. I was told by several people not to and to just let it go. But most of the people I specifically checked in with because of their insight said safety mattered and to call. So I did and I'm really glad that I did. The cops took it more seriously than my allies and told me this man had a history of these kinds of emails, targeted at women.

The man who threatened me was angry because he had said multiple sexist things and we had kicked him out. I was trying to do a restorative process with him but he wouldn't own or acknowledge any hurt he had caused.

What did I learn? That there's a point at which no matter what I do, men are going to threaten me. I can be nice, I can be sweet, I can listen, I can do my best but they'll still not care because I'm a woman and if I have power over them, they'll resort to threats to try to make me afraid of them.

Why is this harmful? I don't know that I need to lay out why threatening a woman with ending her or that you'll see her soon is bad, but in case you're confused, this is harmful because it's scary and is threatening a woman's safety.

What could've been done differently? Honestly, blocking him and moving on would have been smarter than trying to engage in a restorative process, but I still believe that restoration is possible and should be the first option. But after the first try, I should've cut ties and moved on.

What an ally can do? When you see a woman who's afraid because of a threat, hold space for her but don't tell her what to do or dissuade her from using the options available to her if it's a threat to her safety.

What does it say about our industry? That when women are in power, men will still use threats to try to get their way or to cause fear simply to hurt someone.

13 - Violent Guest Still Around

A few years ago a dude ripped up an x-card, slammed it in my face, yelled in my face, and then spread rumours about me with his friends after a conflict at a convention. When we called him on it, he apologized to the "community" for the x-card, but never to me for behaving violently towards me or acknowledged that his behaviour was harmful and toxic. It turns out, he was slotted to be a guest at the same convention this year.

Another organized let the gaming organizer know and he was removed. But interestingly enough, he's still a regular attendee in circles outside of mine and while I don't wish him ill, it's exhausting to see that abusive men who behave violently are welcomed within the community and their behaviours aren't addressed or dealt with. Because it's men in the community who are welcoming him and going to bat for him when it comes to his access to spaces.

What did I learn? That the women harmed don't get any say in what happens to this man and that he isn't accountable for what he's done, nor are there consequences for his behaviour.

Why is this harmful? Behaving violently, literally slamming things, ripping up things, and getting inches from someone's face to yell at them, specifically a woman's, is threatening and frightening. It's done to be scary and to demonstrate violence.

What could've been done differently? At any time this individual could have apologized, taken ownership of his shitty behaviour, and talked to me about what happened so we could have begun work to do restoration. Instead, he tried (and to some degree succeed locally) at sabotaging me and my reputation.

What an ally can do? Talk to him, ask him to take accountability, deny him access to spaces until he was willing to engage in undoing the harm he's done, and has demonstrated that he understand what he did was harmful and has done the work to earn trust back.

What does it say about our industry? That men who behave violently are still given access to spaces while women get demonized and abused for confronting them. And that the needs of victims aren't important, given men can just give access and space to abusers rather than hold them accountable.

14 - Missing Stair is Just a Missing Stair

There have been multiple times this year I've expressed my concerns about men in the industry who have developed some serious reputations for sexual harassment and offensive behaviour. Not just one man, but several. But they're men who are entrenched in the industry. I can have specific stories or not, and it doesn't really matter what I say. The most common response I get from men is: Yeah, but he's just like that.

Men have a habit of dismissing claims against other men they know and deciding it's not worth dealing with. The industry also has a nasty habit of saying some men are just assholes, and since sexism is part of being an asshole, it's fine. That's just how he is. This rhetoric is toxic and dangerous and really needs to end. This is how abusers are allowed to go unchecked. Because they're just that way.

What did I learn? That people I thought were allies are often the first ones to dismiss or hand wave these statements as unimportant.

Why is this harmful? When people have several stories about them being inappropriate or sexually harassing women, and a woman comes to you to tell you, they're asking for you to help. Because really, if men are going to be allies, they need to start dealing with their gross dude colleagues. Dismissing or minimizing it allows an abusive or harmful person to keep on keepin' on.

What could've been done differently? These men could have listened, asked what I wanted to do, and initiated a conversation with the men in question to call them in on the behaviour and give them a chance to change how they're doing things, especially if they're being harmful.

What an ally can do? They can listen and then talk to their friend who's had accusations pop up about how to change their behaviour and how to take accountability for the shitty things they've done instead of trying to protect their friend through dismissal.

What does it say about our industry? That yet again, we protect men who are doing harm rather than listen to women about what's happening in the industry. This has a long standing history I've been fighting against for over a decade.

15 - Abusive Ex's are Complicated Men

I've dated some shitty people and some really shitty industry people. When I've talked about that to other industry people, because some of those men are known entities, they do the above action. They dismiss what I'm saying or excuse it because it's in an intimate setting. This year I've had several people, while I'm talking about my shitty ex, call him a "complicated" person, or that "he's just kind of an asshole."

It's also interesting because even after I talk about my experiences, people will continue to invite people who have abused me into shared spaces and give them the same access, even if multiple people have accused them of abuse. These are my friends I'm talking about. People who are supposed to love me and want the best for me. These are the men who say they love me. They minimize my experiences, ignore them, and invalidate them.

What did I learn? I've learned that even men who claim they love me won't care if their friends hurt me, abuse me, gaslight me, emotionally manipulate me, or harm me. They'll believe it (maybe) about a stranger, but not someone they game with.

Why is this harmful? It allows abusers to go unchecked in our community. Men are still the gatekeepers of space and they would rather watch women leave because of fear or discomfort than they would deal with their buddies.

What could've been done differently? Even if you don't believe me, even if you don't care, you still don't have to use language to silence me or dismiss me. You could still say "that sucks" and move on. Ultimately, these friends of mine should have made an effort to support me, ask what I needed, or done anything other than silence me with their words.

What an ally can do? Listen, ask what I need, and if they can, help me meet those needs. They can also apologize for their active sexism if they want to, but ultimately it's up to the woman if they want to keep engaging.

What does it say about our industry? This is another that shows how men control space and continue to allow abusive people in spaces in order to make themselves feel more comfortable, even at the cost of women's mental health and safety.

16 - Harassment is So Funny

At a convention where I was sexually harassed, I was shaken. I hadn't been afraid of the man who did it, but after, I was filled with an adrenaline crash and the feeling of my personal safety being violated. I didn't want to be touched and I didn't want to listen to men talk about my experience like they understood it. So I went to the bathroom.

Even just walking by myself to the bathroom was scary because I was waiting for this dude to come back. When I got back from the bathroom, I walked in on a dude colleague saying "I've been sexually harassed so many times I don't even notice anymore" and making light of the situation. He was making a joke out of what I had just experienced and was feeling unsafe and violated from. Cool story.

What did I learn? That even though I was the one who had experienced harassment and was visibly shaken, men would still make jokes out of what happened to me with other men. It was literally a group of men who were talking.

Why is this harmful? Jokes about abuse invalidate the abuse and make light of a situation someone is suffering in. It makes it seem light hearted and comical instead of serious and painful.

What could've been done differently? The dude just could've not commented on what happened in a joking way or made fun of the fact that someone who's experienced a lot of sexual harassment wouldn't notice it anymore. Because I get it a lot. And I still feel it.

What an ally can do? When people make jokes that make fun of or light of an impactful situation, especially with the victim there, tell them that's not cool and ask them not to do it.

What does it say about our industry? That sexual harassment isn't taken seriously and is still dismissed with jokes.

17 - Online Harassment 

This year, a convention organizer came onto my Facebook thread to promote hate speech, racism, and troll myself and my friends around discussions on the current state of racism in the United States. After he trolled us for awhile and was a Holocaust denier, I posted on Facebook about him. He mounted an attack against me on his Facebook.

Several men showed up on my wall to attack me. I got called cunt, bitch, stupid Canadian, and a lot of other vulgar words by people who came to tell me that asylum seekers deserved to be in concentration camps. They also tried to call my phone multiple times through Facebook messenger so they could yell at me on the phone and then called me a coward for not answering.

What did I learn? Well, mostly that people who are strong supporters of racism in the US are also strong supporters of sexism, but also that men who are industry leaders regularly do weaponize their fans to harass women into silence.

Why is this harmful? Sending a hoard of men at a woman who's holding you accountable for active racism is done to cause her harm, scare her, silence her, and bully her into leaving.

What could've been done differently? These men were welcome to come to me to express their concerns, but that they opened with gendered slurs and calling me to yell at me meant they were just there to bully me.

What an ally can do? Some men on my friends list did step in to call these men out and deescalate the abuse they were sending my way. Do that.

What does it say about our industry? That online harassment is still a tool used by men in order to silence women and people who hold them accountable. I doubt this would've happened to a white man.

18 - You're the President?!

This happens all the time when I'm meeting people at conventions or industry spaces. I don't talk about being the President of the IGDN much because mostly people complain to me about it or make a list of things they want from me about it. But before that happens, when people find out I'm the president, usually men, their eyes widen and they look instantly surprised. Even taken aback. There's usually a moment they lean back from me as though to appraise me anew.

While I understand some people are genuinely surprised simply because I don't walk around with a button on my lapel proclaiming presidency, the constant occurrence of shock that I'm president is both gross and irritating. Yep. I'm femme and wearing a dress and cute and can still hold power in this community. Get over it. It happens when I say I run part of Breakout, too. Who knew a woman could be powerful?

What did I learn? That no matter what position of power I'm in, people are continually surprised. No matter how many conventions I organize, places I run communities, or professional works I produce, I am continually shocking people by being in positions of power. Often because we don't suspect women (especially femme women) of being capable of holding those positions.

Why is this harmful? When you are surprised that woman has authority, and then immediately threat them differently (which happens a lot), you're saying that you didn't think this woman (and sometimes all women) could hold power and that you didn't respect them until you found out they have power.

What could've been done differently? Just say "That's awesome!" and move on?

What an ally can do? Introduce me as the president if you have to, or if you see someone acting surprised, having my back by supporting me in that position or validating me in that position.

What does it say about our industry? That women in positions of authority are not suspected of being capable or that women aren't generally suspected of having authority in our industry. It's so uncommon that we're still shocked, and that's the best case scenario here.

19 - He's Misbehaving! 

Because people have reputations in this industry, men feel a need to tell me about their opinions of those reputations. When I take a contract, the amount of men who reach out to me to tell me the gossip or rumours about that man is astounding. They also make it clear they expect me to do something about it. That I am somehow now responsible for managing this man despite the fact that he is a human being with his own identity and not my responsibility.

Beyond this, when I do work with or for men, their behaviour is immediately my responsibility. If a man hurts someone, makes a shitty tweet, does something aggressive or dismissive or abusive, people come running to me. They back channel chat to me so I can be aware of the problem and go fix the problem. Men come running to me to fix the behaviour in other men, but rarely confront the man about his behaviour.

I am not in a community, convention, or industry space to walk around behind men and unburn the bridges they seem committed to setting ablaze. I am not responsible for their actions. They are not my children.

What did I learn? That yet again, men hold women accountable for a man's actions and expect her to do the labour of calling in and stopping the shitty behaviour of men around her.

Why is this harmful? It puts the responsibility for men's actions onto women and expects women to do the emotional labour of repairing the damage done by men. Instead of holding those men accountable.

What could've been done differently? Rather than come running to me through chat, address the conflict you have with the man doing the behaviour. I am not necessary for conflict mediation.

What an ally can do? Talk to men about their behaviour instead of telling women and expecting them to fix it. If you are the man being complained about, pick up after yourself, repair your own relationships, and don't rely on women to do the work for you.

What does it say about our industry? As always, women are given the role of care giver and conflict resolver because of their "emotional labour" skills. I mean, yeah, I have them. But it's not my job to fix your men.

20 - This Won't Happen Without Me

Just over a year ago I launched a project I was super excited about with someone I cared deeply for. We entered into a business relationship together to make this project go and had enjoyed working together. As our relationship deteriorated, it became apparent we would either need to work together to get the project done or go our separate ways and I would take over the project.

When we were discussing the project, my then business partner told me that he didn't believe the project was viable without him. I had created, conceptualized, and done the majority of the work on the project up until that point and had organized multiple other projects on my own. He still fully believed that the project wouldn't survive without him involved.

What did I learn? No matter what I've accomplished or how much ownership I have over something, a man will often believe he is more important to the project than he is and will undermine my abilities to promote his own

Why is this harmful? It treats women like their contributions, abilities, and involved are unimportant compared to the man's and doesn't validate her ability to do the work

What could've been done differently? He could have told me he didn't want to continue on the project or left the project without saying it wouldn't succeed without him.

What an ally can do? When you hear men saying a project isn't worth much without them, tell them that they're being self aggrandizing and minimizing the work of the rest of the team.

What does it say about our industry? That men still value themselves above women business partners and see themselves as more important and indispensable than their fellow women designers.

A lot of today's list are things that are passively acceptable in the industry and show the stunning lack of accountability we as individuals take. It's heart breaking to be on the receiving end of it. It's exhausting. It's deteriorating my mental health in ways I didn't know it could.

I have had more dissociative episodes and more fear responses to the industry than I have had anything else this year. I am at a point where I may need to have more than one therapist, one to deal with my history of trauma, and one to deal with the on going trauma I experience as a woman in TTRPGs.

I remember sitting in my hotel room at a convention I run and verbalizing how afraid I was that the man who had threatened me would show up and hurt people. That it would be my fault he had entered a space to be violent because I wouldn't give him access to a community he was being abusive in. That a man's violence would, once again, be my fault.

I believed it would be my fault. I was terrified of that reality. There hasn't been a convention yet this year where I wasn't afraid, either because of a threat, because of emotional abuse, because of an abusive ex, or because of being sexually harassed. Conventions and industry spaces are not safe.

Why aren't we doing better?