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
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.
Hi! So, I’m alive and stuff. You may have noticed there is a new theme, I am not entirely sold on it so things will probably be shifty around here for the time being. I’ve been struggling a little with finding the impetus to finish posts, and with being satisfied once they’re written. I am making myself hit publish on this, more edits may or may not appear. Now, on to more interesting things!
Lately my focus has been turning towards the intersection of gaming, tabletop culture, and feminism. Attending GenCon was a great source of motivation, for a number of reasons. The internet is positively teaming with resources for general feminism stuffs, but there are not quite so many options when it comes to this particular slice of geekery. So, here I am! My goal is to write about the ways in which my particular identities (feminist, queer, etc.) intersect with and inform my gaming in a way that’s interesting and, if I’m lucky, maybe a little relevant.
TL;DR: I’m going to be focusing more exclusively gaming now, get out while you can.
I think, given the change in focus, it’s important to talk about why I game, at least a little bit. (Note: when I talk about gaming here I am referring specifically to tabletop role playing games, games in which people collaborate to tell or explore a story by inhabiting characters and a world not their own. These games come in a multitude on flavors and styles, but the key element to me is storycrafting in one form or another.)
It is at this point a political action to tell it like it is, to say what I really believe about my life instead of what I’ve always been told to say.
The Personal is Political
Gaming can be an incredibly empowering thing, particularly in a society in which, as this brilliant guest post at Story by the Throat examines, we have largely handed over storytelling to other people, to the “professionals.” Telling stories has been, historically, how we make sense of the world, how we generalize our experiences and find order in chaos. Storytelling has created the current cultural narrative around sexual assault and rape, and fought against it. It has justified genocide and helped heal survivors after trauma. Told us that grief functions on a predictable timeline. Storytelling is powerful, complicated stuff.
I tell stories here, sometimes. I don’t do it because I particularly enjoy it (although sometimes I do), it arises from a deep dissatisfaction and anger with the stories I am hearing told by our culture. What stories, you ask? Well, tales with morals like “you should expect to be raped if you go out at night in a short skirt” or “if you deviate from the norms we have set out you are less of a person.” Those are the stories I grew up hearing and, frankly, they’re pretty fucked. I struggled with the lessons they taught me in the aftermath of my sexual assault, trying to figure out if I was “really” a victim because what I was experiencing didn’t fit the narrative I’d been told time and time again of what Real Assault looked like. Now I tell my stories because if one person can hear them and realize that what they are feeling is valid too, that there are other narratives out there, then it is already worth feeling a little insecure and awkward for putting them out there. I tell them because I feel like I haven an obligation to, to myself and my younger sister and everyone who gets fucked by the kyriarchy but doesn’t know that there’s any other way to be.
I see gaming as telling someone your story, in a very immediate and personal way. Every character I have created says something about me, and about my story, even if it is indirectly. (Yes, even my D&D characters if I think about it.) Gaming can be healing for me, which is maybe not surprising given that the empowering, restorative impact of telling stories is well documented. Around the table, with friends, I can explore snippets of my experiences, of my traumas, of my thoughts, but they aren’t mine, per se. They are things that are like mine, but they are happening to that character, over there. This doesn’t mean that I am never triggered, but there is a level of distance that makes them safe, or at least safer, to poke around in, and provides a way for me to share those experiences without sitting someone down to tell them about the time I was assaulted or won the spelling be.
Fundamentally, gaming is a survival mechanism. We create something that is much bigger than five people sitting around a table with a pile of dice, we create a world inhabited with living, breathing, flawed beings and act out their hopes and wants and dreams. Telling stories is sometimes messy and raw and occasionally falls flat on its face, but what matters for me more than anything else is the exhilarating empowerment and agency involved in the very act of doing it. I unequivocally think gaming is a sort of quiet, revolutionary act. It’s one giant middle finger to society that tells me there is One True Story and I should just shut up and accept it.
[TW: sexual assault]
I’m a survivor.
That I was assaulted isn’t a secret, particularly if you read this blog or follow me on Twitter. The details don’t matter, at least not for this post, other than to say that it was by friends in an environment I felt deeply safe in. I don’t blame anyone, that wouldn’t be productive or accurate, but it has shaken to the core my assumption that I can expect empathy and care from others. That I can trust people with my safety. Right now everyone looks like a rapist.
I feel guilty because, even as a feminist and someone who writes and thinks about these sorts of things, it has been really hard for me to come to grips with claiming the words “sexual assault” as what happened. There is a cultural narrative that if you’re assaulted, if you’re raped, you’ll know. That it will be clear and unconfusing and not this muddled pile of things I am sitting here staring at. I still struggle with referring to it as anything other than “that day” or “what happened to me” because phrases like sexual assault are reserved for something bigger, something badder, whatever that might be. I feel helpless because things trigger me and I still blame myself for it. I know that I’m wrong about all of this, but there’s a difference between knowing something and believing it.
All of this is a preamble, really, to what I actually want to talk about: why, for me, identifying as skeptic and a survivor are mutually exclusive.
If you are on the internet & involved with various feminist, skeptic circles you have probably heard about the fiasco surrounding Rebecca Watson/Richard Dawkins. If you haven’t, here is Rebecca Watson’s response to the whole business (including handy links to other reactions) which I suggest you read before finishing this post or it won’t make much sense.
This past week has been a point-by-point example of why the skeptic movement is a highly unsafe place for me. Sure, there are tons of wonderful, amazing people, but there are also people who make “jokes” like this:
and then assert that calling out the “joke” is more of a disservice to survivors of assault than the tweet was. (I’m going to go ahead and call bullshit on that one.) There are seriously respected community leaders who trivialize and mock a woman talking about feeling unsafe because worse things are happening somewhere else. There are comments that make me want to curl up in bed and never touch my computer again. None of these things create a safe or even vaguely welcoming environment for any woman, much less someone who has survived sexual trauma and might, say, feel unsafe around men sometimes.
It is argued that atheism & the skeptic movement are a refuge for women from the generally oppressive forces of religion. And, you know, I really wish that were true. I think skepticism and feminism should go together like kittens and the internet, but I straight up cannot involve myself in a(nother) community that triggers me again and again and then calls me irrational and humorless for it. You aren’t a refuge unless you’re meaningfully better than the alternative.
I expect sexist bullshit and insensitivity in other places and other forums, I really do. I’m braced for it. But seeing this kind of unthinking misogyny in a community I desperately want to endorse and participate in is a little like a sucker punch. I want to think that I can trust atheists and skeptics because they are compassionate and rational thinkers, but I can’t. I’m sure the majority of the community is swell, but this is about the risk vs. reward calculations I have to make as a survivor. Feel free to write me off as overreacting or as someone who is letting a few bad eggs spoil my experience, but after reading that “joke” I was on the edge of a panic attack most of the night. Apparently that’s just fine. Apparently I shouldn’t speak up about my concerns because there are women elsewhere in the world who have it so much worse. Apparently me feeling safe doesn’t matter. Well fuck that.
I’m a survivor. I want to be a part of a community that believes the same things that I do, that values rationality over blind faith, but it’s clear that many of those people look down on survivors and what we go through. I can’t make progress healing if all the blaming and the doubt I visit on myself are continually being echoed back at me by people who should respect me and my ideas. I thought there was a home for me in the skeptic community, but clearly that was wishful thinking.