Dear Hypothetical Convention Friends,

Please do not play Cards Against Humanity around me. It makes me feel unsafe. I know that you are not trying to, that you are just having a little fun with your friends, but what you are doing is making the convention worse. I know, I know, this seems like a really dramatic charge! You are just here to game and have fun! Why do I hate gaming and having fun? I will explain.

Let me tell you a story:

Two years ago I was walking through the lobby of my hotel at Gen Con, tired but content. It’s after-hours, and there are groups of folks in corners playing games, laughing, having a good time. It’s lovely, and one of the best parts of conventions.

And then I hear it. “I’m gonna have to go with Date Rape this round,” and a roar of male laughter. My heart jumps up into my throat as I speed walk to the elevator bank, trying to take deep breaths and think about anything but how little those guys care about making my sexual assault the punchline of their joke, my mood shattered. “Oh, right,” I think, “conventions aren’t a safe place to be.

 

Now, this year, even if you’re playing with a newer set, or with a sanitized deck, what I’m going to see is a group of people who don’t care that the co-creator of their game is probably a rapist and definitely not the kind of feminist I want on my side. And that sucks! It really fucking sucks. Because people I think of as my community are valuing their fun playing a game over experiences like mine.

I’m not saying you have to give up Cards Against Humanity to be a Good Human Being, but what I am saying is that the choices you make, and the media you consume, send messages about what your values are. Please think really hard if this is the particular message you want to send.

A few days ago the question came up, “why is it rape culture when we bring up the burden of proof?” The person remarked that we expect people making allegations anywhere else to bear the burden of proof, so why is this any different? Why is this rape culture? I hear the phrase  thrown around a lot when it comes to community action about accusations of rape, harassment, or other bad behavior. People drop the term like it’s obvious what they’re talking about, but it’s actually incredibly complicated!

Let’s start by defining our terms. “Burden of proof,” for all its common use, is an incredibly ambiguous term. It’s used rhetorically, sure, but the context many people are most familiar with (at least in my corner of the world) is legal-as in “innocent until proven guilty.” I’m gonna run through both, because I think they’re both illustrative of some broader issues.

Rhetorically, the burden of proof really just means that the onus is on the party making a truth claim to present positive evidence. Put a little differently, it means that the absence of contradictory evidence is not sufficient proof something is true. Once some evidence for the truth claim is presented, the burden then shifts to critics/detractors. It’s their job to either disprove the proffered evidence or demonstrate why it was insufficient or lacking in some way. The game of ping-pong continues until both parties are satisfied or throw up their hands in disgust. Neat!

Legally, burden of proof is a little more complicated. I want to be very clear, I’m not a legal scholar, just a gal with some strong opinions, the internet, and a few years of mock trial under her belt. My knowledge is specific to the United States, so those are the definitions I’ll be working with. Within the court system the burden of proof is broken into eight levels of obligation, ranging from “reasonable suspicion” to “beyond reasonable doubt.” Each has its own uses and case law, and application even varies from court to court (or judge to judge).

So, things are getting a little more complicated, right? I consider it absurd on face to hold any kind of claims about rape or calls for community action (be it warnings, exclusion, blacklisting, etc.) to legal standards, so I won’t devote much time to it. The short version: we aren’t a court system. Trials, the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof, are all so darn important because the courts deal in stripping your rights as punishment for wrongdoing. Life, liberty, pursuit of property, all that jazz. We’re doing none of that (hopefully) as a community. Admission to munches/parties/conventions isn’t a right, and shouldn’t be treated as such. Heck, being liked isn’t a right.

What I hear implicit in criticisms that invoke the burden of proof is an appeal to Rational Thought, or the idea that we must objectively weigh all the facts presented to us and take the most logical course of action. Which is great, except that people are not particularly rational. Put a little differently, we can pretend we’re acting purely on an evaluation of the facts in front of us, but we are always making decisions with insufficient facts & they are  heavily filtered through our emotions.

Brains are complicated. And all of this is fine! It’s just sort of how things are! But we need to be aware of it an act accordingly. What this means, then, is that our (dis)belief of people who tell us they have been raped is heavily colored by our emotions, ranging from empathy and identification to a fear the someday we could be accused this way, in ways we are conscious and entirely unaware of. The “burden of proof” required to convince you shifts from person to person-it’s not a static thing.

Once someone has presented evidence (namely, “X raped me,” because I’m pretty sure first hand accounts still count as evidence), they’ve met their burden of proof. “I got nerve damage in a suspension with X” isn’t met with calls for REAL EVIDENCE, “X ignored my safeword” isn’t generally met with WHERE’S THE PROOF (although it sure as fuck gets met with some derailing victim blaming), so why  is “X raped me” so different? It is a person sharing their experiences and feelings, just like any of these other examples.

Knowing these things, I think people overwhelmingly say “but you bear the burden of proof” when what they actually mean is “but you bear the burden of convincing me you aren’t lying.” It doesn’t sound quite as nice and eminently rational when you put it like that, does it? And, knowing what I know about false reports (which is to say, the actual risk someone is lying) this seems like an exceedingly poor reason to poo-poo people or communities taking actions to make themselves safer.

The bottom line is that nobody bears the burden of convincing you their rape “really happened.” It is beyond noxious to think that as second or third parties we could sit back and judge the veracity of those claims, or that we should. When someone speaks about their experiences we listen. Period.

Twine Game

Just a quick post to let you know I wrote a twine game!

It is about fuzzy lines and thought processes and the time I was raped.

AN: This is post one in a series of ___ on nerd spaces and rape culture. Heavy TW on the links.

I try to read generously.To me that means reading someone’s words with the best intentions I can. Not assuming snark or condescension. Engaging genuinely. But, lately, I have been struck by how much reading generously feels counterintuitive. Not, I hope, because I am cynical and generally souring on human nature, but because it is so contrary to my experiences.

I think, fundamental to the call to read generously in our social interactions, there is an assumption that people are generally nice and civil and mean us well. Which, on a large scale I generally agree with, but the devil’s in the details. It becomes increasingly difficult to assume the best intentions when someone uses a phrase that is often linked with, say, Men’s Rights Activism. That phrase calls up emotional memories of past interactions (slurs, threats, and doxxing are all pretty standard behavior, to continue with the MRA example) that directly contend with my desire to give someone a fair shake.

But, here’s the thing: at some point it isn’t worth it to give everyone a fair shake. At some point the energy required to quell that visceral reaction and disengage the fight/flight response becomes too much. At some point you realize that visceral response is your survival instincts kicking in, and that taking the risk this might not be like all the other times is, statistically, a stupid thing to do.

This is what you’re competing with, when you ask women to share their stories, to talk about why they aren’t game designers, to share stories that can be weaponized and used against us. Stories that have been.

I don’t know that there’s a lesson here, or any message, really, other than that reading generously is very often a luxury I don’t have. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. If you want to talk about making nerd spaces better and safer for women I think the first step has to be making that conversation safe for women.

Up Next: Making Conversations Safer

AN: Cross-posted from my FetLife , so it’s linkable.

[TW: mentions of rape & victim grooming]

The question has been floating around lately, “where would you be without FetLife?” It’s posed very deliberately, to remind us how lucky we are to have our own forum, our own meeting place and safe haven on the ‘net, but it reminds me of something very different.

The first thing I always think? “Not raped.”

I’ve thought about writing this before, about trying to explain my complicated relationship with kink and community, but every time I feel the helpless anger well up again. The helpless anger that my rapist is back after a “hiatus” with a breezy “I have a bad rep from a bitter ex and her friends.” The helpless anger that I will never not be someone who was raped. The helpless anger that he was enabled and covered up for by what I saw as my community.

I met my rapist on FetLife. He sent me a charming introductory message, we chatted back and forth, and he offered to show me around. Warned me about predators. Introduced me to munches. I saw that he was well liked and well respected, and I felt safe. In hindsight the vast majority of this was victim grooming.

I want to be really clear: I don’t think FetLife was to blame for my rape, precisely. I think FetLife is to blame for the re-victimization of countless survivors who cannot, under ToS, name their rapists. For the survivors who wake up to an email to let them know their posts have been edited without their knowledge or consent. For actively covering for rapists.

Let’s be clear, that’s what this is. When you view the potential damage done to a reputation by the accusation of rape as equal to the actual damage done by rapists, you are perpetuating a rape culture. When you further the myth that people (particularly women) often make up false reports for revenge, you are making it that much harder for the next survivor to come forward with her story. When you prevent us from sharing notes and naming names you actively hinder our ability to build a meaningful community and support structures to keep our community safe.

I’ve met so many fantastic people through the kink community and events, but I can’t say I wouldn’t give them all up to be rid of this stone around my neck. I know it will wear lighter in time, but I cannot sit quietly and swallow the portrayal of FetLife as a shining force for good.

I think FetLife is part of a broader rape culture. It’s part of broader kink community that self-selects and turns into an echo chamber because so many marginalized people get pushed out to the fringes. I think that’s a problem, and I’m not really sure how to fix it, but I think the first step is recognizing its glaring flaws.

Content Notice: This is a post about the lasting, indefinite “side effects” of being raped & experiencing intimate violence. Read (or not) accordingly.

Chuck Wendig’s Rape vs. Murder hit me really hard. Not because it explains anything I didn’t already know about the problems with rape jokes, really, but because of the stark truth he finishes with.

But consider this:

You get to not be a rape victim.

They, however, are not afforded that luxury. Ever again.

That may be the most important consideration of them all.

Those words were a punch to the solar plexus. I couldn’t breathe. I had acknowledged, intellectually, that this was a thing I would always have to face, to one degree or another, for quite a while, but the stark truth that I will never set down “survivor”? That, someday, this may bother me less but the word will never stop being true? Brought home all this shock and anger and betrayal at the cosmic unfairness of that fact.

I will never not be a person who was raped. It will always be a part of who I am, sitting at the base of my spine, waiting to well up when I hear the wrong song or a casual joke or a TV show feels like getting “edgy”. It is not a thing I can give up or quit.

This isn’t a particularly happy post. I often try to write something with a helpful or productive spin to it, provide some kind of advice, or guide, but this is just about the reality of what it is to be me. The reality of what it is (or can be like) to be a survivor. The violation and control don’t stop with the physical act. They don’t stop once you’ve gotten home or when you’ve reported. There is no expiration date on that trauma. All you can do is wait and take what measures you can to feel safer and hope.

Therapy has been hugely, hugely helpful for me. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that hope is foolish or misplaced or wrong-that hope is what keeps me going. But what I am saying is that it’s a hard, long slog and sometimes it feels like foundering and foundering with no real progress. I guess what I am saying, really, is that there’s no timetable for “getting better” from being raped. There’s no deadline for when you stop being angry and feeling violated.

I don’t know that we talk much about these negative emotions. I know that I, personally, have to battle the socialization that says if I’m not being fun and bubbly and entertaining than my words don’t have a point. But this is a thing I want to be really public about: I’m still hurt and angry, years later. The severity of my triggers ebbs and flows, but I have accepted I will probably carry them with me, in one form or another, for the rest of my life. This, for me, is the harshest reality of being a survivor-that, thanks to one night, years ago, the shape of my future changed without my say, permanently.

The internet terrifies me. Don’t get me wrong,  I’m incredibly happy it exists, but it’s damned scary. The internet killed my game.

I don’t know what it is, but it’s so, so easy to lose track that there really is no divide between The Internet and Real Life. All the words we say are being read by another person, a person just as real as we are. That every time you @ somebody what an awful cunt they must be, there’s a phone that pings and a person who sees those words.

Sitting here in the wake of the 1 Reason Why phenomenon, I thought it was important to share my story as someone who didn’t push through and make their game anyway. I know so many incredible women who make games, it feels a little bit like it must be my fault for not trying hard enough or not loving it enough to push through, but I know it’s not. I know if a friend said those words to me I would hug her and remind her that self-care always comes first, that we are not our friends, and, most importantly, that she shouldn’t have to push through this pile of shit if she wants to write a game. That making a game shouldn’t be sad or deeply upsetting.

That’s why I stopped, ultimately. It wasn’t fun anymore. Sure, I could design it just for myself, never publish it, but if I do write a game I want to share it as widely as I can. I want it to be a reflection of myself, and a way to give some of myself back to the community I love. The thing is, that’s an incredibly vulnerable thing.

As I sit here, I blame myself for not being strong enough to overcome the misogyny and smug comments. For not ignoring every time I heard that I’d probably be a shitty designer anyway. For not fighting through the panic and racing heart every time I got a nasty tweet or someone posted something I’d written for ridicule, and worries that maybe this time the threats were real. I blame myself for all those things because I’ve been taught that, somehow, just by virtue of being on the internet, I’ve earned them.

That’s what you’re teaching people, when you drop slurs or snark about their projects. You’re teaching them that, just because of who they are, they deserve to be told that they’re less-than. That they could never produce anything worth reading. You want to know why there aren’t more women designing games? Because we’ve been told over and over and over that we could never produce anything you’d want to play, and to have the sheer audacity to think we might needs to be punished.

 

AN: Cross-posted from Felife, so it’s in a linkable form.

Hi, my name is Nora, and I was raped. I’ll probably write about the details of my rape later, but following our statement yesterday (see the previous link) a lot of people have been asking if there’s been any legal action taken, any police reports filed, etc etc etc. Yes, there has. I just filed one. (Case number 12-129446, for the record).

You know what’s pretty fucked up, though? That people are asking as though it makes the rape more or less real. That people are acting like it’s the next logical step for any rape victim. It doesn’t and it isn’t. To date I know of at least eight women he has assaulted or raped and, even if none of them file a police report, those will all be just as real as my experiences. They will be just as much rape.

Reporting is terrifying. It means you will have to tell strangers your story. It means intimate details of your life will be on display to police officers you have never met. It dredges up every self-blaming, self-hating thought you’ve had and parades them through your head. Every nasty comment, every victim blaming piece of tripe that comes up in threads about rape? I’ve thought worse about myself. Reporting puts you through all that and all you’ve got is yourself and any support network you’ve been lucky enough to build.

It makes a lot of sense not to report. Frankly, reporting was the most counter-intuitive thing I’ve ever done. If, like me, you’re kinky or poly or queer and any of that was involved in your rape, if it wasn’t some stranger in a dark alley or you didn’t scream “NO,” it is a potentially terrifying prospect to go through a process that amounts to outing yourself to the police and your community. It makes even more sense not to report if you don’t think it will do any good. If you think people won’t listen to you why would you speak up? If you think you’ll be told the community is more important than naming your accuser why would you put yourself through this?

I am incredibly lucky. I have a fantastic support network of people who love me and a therapist who is the most kink-friendly vanilla person I’ve ever met. That’s why I feel comfortable coming forward. Not everyone has that, not everyone has the luxury of feeling safe enough to go to the police or even tell their partner or their friend what happened. That’s why I’m speaking up and offering my face and my name for this. Because he didn’t just rape and assault some nameless, faceless group of women, he raped me.

Note: This is slightly adapted from a post I wrote on my Fetlife. I was going to add more but I think it stands as it is. 

Concern trolling isn’t welcome here. We can all agree unhealthiness is undesirable, but unless you’re House (and I am guessing you aren’t), just taking a gander at someone will tell you very little about their physical or mental well being. I will not respond to comments stating otherwise with grace, maturity, or politeness.

I hate the phrase “real women have curves.” Absolutely hate it.

Don’t get me wrong, celebrating body diversity is great, but that’s not what this is. This is policing who is and is not “really” a woman based solely on some arbitrary physical quality. You know who’s a real woman? Absolutely anyone who genuinely says they are.

There’s this picture I’ve seen around Fetlife of a curvy woman’s silhouette that reads “bones are for the dog, meat is for the man” and it strikes me as incredibly problematic. Setting aside the heteronormative male gaze business that’s going on, it’s important to recognize that that body image issues aren’t tied to one size or shape. All this rhetoric does is perpetuate a cycle of hurtful, exclusionary talk about female beauty that’s predicated on competition and cutting differing appearances down.

Yes, our culture tends to privilege thinness, and we should examine the fuck out of that, but let’s talk about attractiveness and body image in a way that recognizes that our beauty norms fuck everyone over, and in a way that’s self-affirming without being prescriptive or exclusionary. Stating a preference is one thing, but generalizing based on that to form rules about attractiveness for all women (or all people, really) just perpetuates this damaging cycle we’re trying to avoid.

This is internalized misogyny, folks; policing women for being too thin or losing weight or not having the right curves is just as awful as calling someone a fat cow or a pig. No body type is somehow more or less objectively desirable (as if there were such a thing) based on bust size or visible hip bones or whatever’s in vogue today. Curves are glorious, so are flat stomachs and narrow hips. This isn’t a competition, stop treating it like one.

It’s an interesting thing, being a lady on the internet. It is a really great, supportive place to find folks to cheer you on, to have great conversations, and to form communities. On the other hand, people sometimes feel really goddamn entitled to your time/attention/sexuality, just ’cause. This is the (hopefully understandable) reason I sometimes ask that conversations stay in the public realm on Twitter, hesitate to give out my email/personal details, and generally give guys (even ones who have not given me any provocation) the side-eye when they ask about taking an internet conversation private. In my experience conversations like the one reproduced below are much rarer when the entire internet can see.

I want to be clear about something: this post isn’t directed at the sort of person you’re going to meet in a minute. If you find yourself in conversations like these, where your conversational partner is reacting like I did, I really hope you take something from this, but you aren’t who I’m talking to here. This post is for everyone who has told me that if I were just clearer about my boundaries that guys would back off or that women just aren’t clear enough about expressing their discomfort.

[NB: these are Twitter DM's so read from the bottom of the image up.]

To be clear, this conversation moved to DM’s after a few @’s back and forth about movies. He asked and I didn’t want to clog up feeds talking about how good the new Batgirl is (THE BEST), so I agreed. In reading this first exchange you may think I was being a little touchy, reading too much into things, but my experience has shown that it is much better to err on the side of caution in these things, particularly since people so love to use that line about women expecting people to read minds about boundaries.

(Ladies, I bet you know what comes next.)

What I look like & my relationship status: TOTALLY RELEVANT TO GAME DESIGN.

What Internet Dude Wants: 3, Boundaries: 0

Now, here we run into something that is really extra not okay: not just ignoring my line but attempts to shame me because I don’t want to do what he wants. The implication here is pretty clearly that I am in favor of/like life being closed (what does that even mean?) because I won’t brook internet sexytalk. Uh, no, I just don’t know you dude.

Seriously. People I know and am comfortable with CANNOT GET ME TO STOP talking about sex. I overshare frequently. Hell, sometimes I overshare here, just read the archives.

So boy, that sure was some passive aggressive bullshit right there about not wanting to hear about how unattractive I find him (don’t worry, there’s more later!), I don’t ever remember saying those words. Not being comfortable with the flirting and shit has nothing to do with attractiveness and everything to do with you REPEATEDLY IGNORING WHEN I SAID NO. That’s called rape culture and it’s not okay.

This bit is particularly interesting to me. I thought the conversation was over given, you know, the whole “goodnight” bit, but I guess not? More passive aggressive behavior, some needling, some justifying, blah blah blah. At this point I’ve decided that responding is just egging him on so I let it be.

At which point he takes it back to @’s to just make extra sure I feel exactly how I have said I feel. I thought I was pretty clear?

Aaaaaand I’m a cunt who lead him on with all my talk about not being comfortable and a Twitter bio that acknowledges I have a sexuality. (People really need to find a better insult. I like cunts.)

So, hopefully this is very clearly some Not Okay behavior. What I want to talk about, though, is what it means for the well meaning advice of “just establish boundaries” and the like. Telling me that I’m just not being clear enough is not only a little paternalistic and patronizing, it assumes that the onus is on me to fend off creepy dudes rather than on dudes to avoid being creepy (NB: I am using gendered language here to speak to my experience, not because this is always how these situations break down).

It ignores the very clear reality that drawing clear boundaries is not only often not enough, it is likely to draw reprisals from the party whose entitled demands are being stymied. I got off easy, he just called me a bad word and deleted all our conversations (yay screenshots!), I’ve had threats of violence, other women have actually had folks follow through on those threats. Telling me to draw better lines ignores all those times when I dread the risks of saying no more than I dread the consequences of saying yes, when I feel like I’ll be hurt more if I say no than I will be if I say yes. It ignores the times when, for whatever reason, no isn’t an option.

It breaks down to this: I don’t just forget about the word no, if it’s available I’ve probably already used it. Talking to me about clear boundaries is saying that you’ve never had to worry about reprisals or had your no’s ignored enough to make them feel meaningless. I envy you, I seriously do, but you need to stop it, it’s insulting and unhelpful. Try telling people to respect boundaries and create non-threatening spaces instead.

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