A statement of principles

Photo of a rainbowI have gotten the message, at times, that one of my biggest potential selling points for my game(s) is that they’re written by a trans woman. I feel pressure to publicly appeal to that fact in order for them to succeed.

Why don’t I discuss that part of myself more? Well, first, I don’t like discussing it, because I think — I know — that it opens me up to a lot of abuse. Abuse that I get enough of from other aspects of my life, and don’t want to invite more of. Because of many things going on in my life, I try to — I need to — steer clear of those issues. The result is that I am forced to be silent, and to lose opportunities, because safety is a pressing concern.

Second, I don’t like discussing those things because I don’t want my games to need to be about such narrow foci. Those aspects of my identity are important to me, of course, but so are other aspects of myself. I don’t want to be, as Elizabeth Sampat puts it, “professionally female”.

A lot is going on right now in fandom: D&D 5’s active but non-ideal inclusion of gender diversity; the handling of harassment in fandom (WisCon, skeptic circles, San Diego Comic-Con, various online fora and many, many other settings); confronting video game publishers who treat women characters as afterthoughts, at best; and so many other loci of change. (I would like to include background links here, but I honestly don’t think I could come close to summarizing everything that’s going on right now.) We are coming up against a lot of deep-seated, insidious issues in fandom — issues that a lot of us have been experiencing for a very long time, but which haven’t gotten enough airplay until now. I’ve personally put up with a lot of crap that is part and parcel of all of this.

As a result, I feel like I should express where I stand. I’ve been working on an essay about feminism, diversity, exclusion, marketing, identity and other issues. But it’s getting too painful, convoluted and long.

I’d like to see, instead, if I can boil it down to the basics. I’d like to make a brief(er) statement of principles:

  • Gaming fandom should be for anyone who’s interested in gaming, and who isn’t a jerk.
  • Because of the missing stair problem, we need to be open about jerkiness in our midsts, and work openly to get rid of it. Jerkiness won’t get rid of itself, much though it should.
  • It’s good that we’re starting to openly discuss the jerkiness in our midsts, and beginning to get rid of it.
  • Fandom is about being interested in things, and enjoying those things. It should not require a particular budget, nor a particular level of fame, to be involved or accepted within it.
  • Fandom should not be about geek hierarchies of who’s more fannish, acceptable, out there, famous, wealthy or whatever. So long as we’re decent people, we’re all equally worthy of fannish respect.
  • Gaming and fandom in general should not have to, nor try to, gain social acceptance by elevating famous exemplars, pushing arguments that appeal to “productivity” or by dumping on other nerdy hobbies.
  • If we always put our attention — money, time, conversation, whatever — into those who are already famous or conventionally successful, we won’t break down oppressive structures. (Remember, tabletop roleplaying gaming can be one of the most revolutionary art forms/hobbies out there, and it has never required fame or even wealth to be enjoyable. ) If the same old elements put on new hats and continue to speak for us, things will not improve, at least not fast enough.
  • A game can be inclusive or exclusive, regardless of whether it’s old school or new school or something wholly other. System matters, but not absolutely; it’s possible to do a game about any topic with any system. Some systems make it easier to do some topics, certainly, and some may carry bad baggage; but it’s entirely possible to (for example) run a game about trans issues using a relatively old-school approach like Blade & Crown.
  • It’s great when oppressed people feel comfortable enough to speak up about what we’re enduring.
  • It’s also great when we practice self-care and give ourselves time away from the front lines (to the extent that we’re able).
  • It can be great when our gaming addresses social issues.
  • It can also be great when women, people of color, LGBT people and other marginalized folks can get a breather from having to address social issues. Many kinds of gaming can be good.
  • It’s terrible when cis, hetero, white guys try to make gaming exclusive to people like them, or when they operate under the notion that women, people of color, LGBT people, etc. are somehow encroaching on ‘their’ turf. (As if anyone owns fandom; and as if we haven’t been here since the beginning.)
  • It’s nice when cis, hetero, white guys…
    • …remember that they are not the default.
    • …remember that women, people of color, LGBT folks and all the rest of us exist, and use language and actions that reflect this.
    • …form groups (podcasts, editorial boards, web fora, panels, boardgame clubs, etc. etc.) that don’t consist solely of cis, hetero, white guys.
    • …realize that “woman”, “person of color” or “LGBT person” is not and cannot be a person’s sole defining characteristic.
    • …understand that having (for example) more than one woman in a group is not somehow more than necessary, nor is it a passing or occasional fancy. You don’t round out your gaming group, podcast, editorial board or concomm by occasionally having one woman, or one gay guy, or one person of color. Treating it that way is tokenism.
    • …work for including marginalized folks, even when it’s not easy.
    • …note it loudly when women, LGBT people, people of color, etc. are being excluded.
    • …argue in favor of inclusion.
    • …realize it isn’t their place to “allow” or “include” diversity. Diversity doesn’t come from the top down.
    • …know when to stand down and get out of the way so women, LGBT people, people of color, etc. can get our voices heard.
  • Gaming and fandom in general can be great places to have fun. We should make sure that the largest possible number of people get to do that, without harshing anyone else’s squee.

Those are my principles, such as they are. That’s what I try to live by and work for these days in fandom.

Hmm, still not all that brief. Well, these issues are complex. Hopefully I’ve said it all clearly enough.

I love gaming, and fandom in general. I enjoy many aspects of this great family of hobbies, in many different ways. I intend to keep enjoying them in all the ways I can, as long as I can. And I intend to keep working to make sure lots of different people get the opportunity to do the same, in all the ways I can.

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