A few disclosures from me upfront:
- I’m not going to be naming any names in this article: I don’t want to contribute to the public outing of a trans* person (who is being continuously outed again and again in all of the media covering this story), and I also don’t want to contribute to the public torch-mobbing of a journalist who screwed up
- I don’t condone “outing” anyone, and can’t think of an instance where it’d be helpful for a journalist to do so
- This is an incredibly personal issue for me, so I want to say that while I am the Executive Director of GAB, this is coming more from day job Sam.
In general, what happened was a person with a public platform screwed up and the internet reacted. As it always happens in situations like this, one part of the internet was angrily, aggressively, and [no joke] death-threateningly “WTF?!” while another part of the internet was angrily, defensively, nothing-wrong-happened “WTF?!”
Specifically, in this instance, the screw up was in outing a trans* person in the video game community who had recently attempted suicide. One angry part of the internet (which included myself) was all “WTF?! It’s incredibly damaging to a trans* person to do that! How could you be so insensitive?” Then the angry part of the internet reacting to my angry part of the internet was all “WTF?! It’s the job of a journalist to report accurately. You people are way too sensitive.”
Why does it matter?
This situation can be viewed as a case study for how things like this keep happening, and why they’re going to keep happening until we grow as a community (community = both sides of the “WTF?!” coin). Why? For a few reasons.
1. We can’t be sensitive to issues we don’t understand
To a lot of people, gender = penises and vaginas. It’s not that. In fact, it’s so not that that I’ve written an entire book about gender and given a TED talk that distills the major themes of the book down into 16 minutes. Remember when I said this was a personal issue? This is why. This is my life.
The point is — and this applies to all social justice issues, not just gender — we can’t be supportive, inclusive, and health-focused about things we don’t understand. But it’s hard (if not impossible) for us, as a community, to learn because…
2. People won’t feel comfortable talking about these issues until they feel safe making mistakes
We can’t move forward until we can have a calm, safe conversation about sensitive issues. And it’s impossible to have calm, safe conversations about issues like these when every time someone screws up they are immediately vilified. The way things work now, a person’s best bet after making a mistake isn’t to ask “how can we do better in the future?” but to apologize, then never breach the subject again.
We need to take a more educative approach to missteps, instead of a punitive, threatening, and eviscerating one. We need to temper our emotional outrage and exchange accusations for questions, focusing more on the future and less on the past. Above all, we need to realize…
3. We can’t expect love and understanding until we’re willing to give love and be understanding
I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees the hypocrisy in viciously attacking someone for not being empathetic and inclusive. But realizing this doesn’t mean I don’t still have that knee-jerk reaction (just like I never don’t use double negatives). It’s hard not to lose sight of the big picture when your blood is boiling. But that’s when we need the big picture the most.
I had a professor in grad school who would say “We’re all hypocrites, I just try to limit my acts of hypocrisy to three a day.” Let’s all agree to stop letting this be one of our allowed hypocrisies, and start holding ourselves to the same standard to which we vehemently hold public figures. The best way we can start doing this is by realizing…
4. It’s more productive to focus on actions than actors
Our organization is called Gamers Against Bigotry not Gamers Against Bigots because we believe that the vast majority of people who add to the toxicity of the gaming environment are generally good people, but they are generally good people who sometimes use bigoted language, or sometimes make mistakes. Yes, that’s a thing that exists. Life isn’t as polarizing as we sometimes want to see it.
In the situation that inspired this article, it’s my belief that the person who misstepped is a generally good person who made a mistake, then got pinned in a corner and didn’t see a good way out. To help make #1, #2, and #3 above possible, we need to start focusing more on the mistake and less on the person who made it.
How can we make our community safer for trans* people?
This is the question we should be focusing our energy on. So let me talk about it for a bit, then let’s keep talking about it in the comments below.
For the most part, the same things that we-at-large can do to make the world more trans*-friendly apply, but the video game community presents a few particular cases. Here are a few of the gaming-specific things I suggest:
- Recognize that a gamer may be out in games space but not in meatspace: games (specifically MMORPGs) present what can be a uniquely safe space where trans* gamers can publicly identify as their gender without the same likelihood of recourse as in the “real” world
- Use the pronouns gamers use for themselves in games when referring to them to other gamers (and ask when you’re not sure what pronouns to use): when you’re unsure of what pronouns to use for a person, ask, but keep in mind those are the pronouns they gave you in-game
- (added from FB) Don’t ask someone if they are a boy or a girl: that’s a personal question, and you don’t need to know the answer; if you’re unsure of pronouns, see #2
- Know that it’s never your place to out someone: while you may think you’re doing them a favor (“allowing” them to be their true gender in the “real” world, like they are in games), outing someone before they are ready to come out can be a dangerous, harmful experience; you’re not doing anyone a favor by making this decision for them, and you’re only making other trans* people afraid the same thing might happen to them
Why is it “dangerous” to out someone? Beyond the social and emotional damage you might do, there is the simple and unfortunate fact that transgender people are far more likely to be targeted and become victims of violence, both verbally and physically. Depending on the study you look at (there’s a lot of disparity), trans* people are eight times more likely to be murdered than cisgender people, or — even grimmer — the lifetime odds of a transgender person being murdered are commonly cited to be 1 in 12.
We live in a world that places an extreme amount of pressure on people to fit one of two gender molds. That pressure can have a serious negative impact on many individual’s emotional and psychological health when they don’t fit in the mold they feel they are being smashed into. Games can be a space where that pressure is released, or at least lessened.
Let’s work on making that happen. Comment below to show your support for trans* gamers, and to suggest ways we (GAB, games journalists, gamers, etc.) can make this space safe for trans* people.