Some background first: I am a cis-gendered straight white man. I have people very close to me who are gay, bi, and trans. No, I am not going to exploit them by naming them, but I do want the reader to understand where I am coming from. A pride flag hangs from my house.
The first time I was kissed by another guy was in high school. It was at a science fiction and fantasy convention in Oconomowoc that I sadly no longer remember the name of. There were a group of us, out all night, having fun. Some time after midnight, he got me alone on the ski hill at the hotel (obviously unused in the summer months) and told me how he felt. And, here's the thing - if sexual orientation were something you could choose, I would have chosen at that moment to not be a straight man. Because I felt valued by this guy in a way that I don't think I have have been before or since. After we talked, when he asked if he could kiss me, I said yes. And then we went back to the group and had fun all together until some godawful early hour in the morning.
I have also been hit on by guys who made me feel extremely uncomfortable, so I am not romanticizing one sexual orientation over another. I am talking about a particular time, with a particular person. The fact that I was young may have had a lot to do with how I remember that, or just a little. I honestly don't know.
On the other hand, I have also been a real asshole. No two ways about it. I have done things and held attitudes of which I am ashamed. I have failed to do things that haunt me. I grew up mostly in rural Wisconsin, with the attitudes of the people around me. I can remember when they desegregated the primary school I was going to when I lived in Milwaukee. I went from High School to the US Army, and the military culture did not make me a better person. If the community judged me solely by my worst day, I very much doubt that anyone would still be in my corner. To be clear, and maybe some readers will understand this, there are days (not many, but some) where self-loathing makes me consider just drawing the curtain on existence.
I have opinions. I often express them. I have been called a Nazi for arguing against censorship. I have literally been told that opposing censorship makes me a Nazi. I have been told that, when I pointed out that it was the Nazis who were pro-censorship, I was trying to "Godwin" the argument by bringing up the Nazis. There are people who, to this day, will not speak to me because of this.
I strongly believe in social justice, but I am not a social justice warrior. The idea that we are so ready to cast out anyone based on their worst day is frankly abhorrent to me. I tend to think that we should try to lead by example. I tend to think that the strength or our arguments should carry the day - and that we should call out bad arguments when they are made by "our side". If we do not, our arguments lose their force. I do think that there is a point where you have to cut people off, but I don't think that should be our first reaction. How can anyone learn that "Hey, these people are all right?" if you cut off all contact? How do you open up a dialogue once you have made dialogue verboten?
This post came about due to some recent events concerning Gabor Lux (aka Melan), a man whose game design work I really admire. Among his sins? He deadnamed Jennell Jaquays, he posted that he found an encounter with a weretiger hilarious, and he said that he found the use of certain pronouns "retarded".
The deadnaming was in reference to a post comparing two products, one of which had been written by Jennell Jaquays before they transitioned. The name used was presumably taken from the original credits of the product. This is something I do, frequently, in the DCC Trove of Treasures. Not because I am trying to cause anyone harm or offense, but because I don't know people have transitioned, and even if I did, I would not necessarily know what name that person is now using. Do I have an obligation to try to contact each writer I might post something about? I don't believe that I do.
Years back, Mark Gedak of Purple Duck Games changed a playtester name for me before a product went to print, and that was much appreciated. It was fantastic for the player. But I didn't demand a scouring through the back-catalogue, and there are older posts I have written discussion people by names and/or genders they no longer use.
I have struggled with the concept of using they/them as singular pronouns, not because of gender politics but because of language. I got over it, but that doesn't mean the struggle was any less real.
While I don't use the word "retarded", I have, not unfrequently, told people on Facebook "Don't be a moron if you can help it" because of the (lack of) thought put into their arguments. Is that really such a big thing? (And, lest we go down the rabbit hole of ableism, some of you may have noticed a slurring in my speech in recent years. There is a very good chance that this is due to a genetic ataxia. It scares the hell out of me.)
If I understand the weretiger encounter correctly, Gabor Lux found an encounter where a weretiger's gender identity being affected by its transformation to be very amusing. I am playing (and promoting) a game where "Gender Bender" is a mercurial magic effect. I came to it by way of a game with a girdle of masculinity/femininity and where a famous module might leave your gender reversed as you appear naked in a room. Both games make use of an Appendix N which is replete with problematic content.
Obviously, things escalated when Gabor Lux was called out. And it seems to me that this is the inevitable result of being a social justice warrior - offense is easily taken, and the goal becomes to defeat the enemy. Instead of defeating the enemy, you solidify that enmity, and you create more enemies. This isn't to say that there are not things worth calling people out for, or that there are not people worth cutting out of your life.
But using the name on a product when writing about that product is not one of them. Being against censorship is not one of them. Because, even if you think both those things are entirely wrong, you will not convince anyone that they are wrong just by calling them out on social media. You make enemies, and you make those enemies stronger.
It is a common view that bigots, homophobes, and transphobes should be afraid to reveal themselves. I disagree. People hate because they are afraid or uneducated, and making them more afraid helps no one. To some degree, I was a bigot, and a homophobe, and a transphobe. I got better. I didn't get better because I was cancelled. I got better through contact, and because people helped me to get better.
Does that mean it is your job to help make people better? No. But if you want better people, that is the way to do it. Be a social justice cleric.
If this post made you want to unfriend, unfollow, or cancel me, that is your right.
EDIT: If you want a good example of the exact kind of worrying "reasoning" that I am talking about here, you need go no further than the comments left by Shoku on this post. From avoidance of the argument presented, to justifying cancellation as moral on the basis of a generalized claim which is then applied to specific situations without the actual situation taken into account, to the acknowledgement that cancellation can be bad where it is not justified without acceptance that justification must come before cancellation, to the idea that I am exactly like a Nazi because, before they overtly became the people we are talking about, they championed free speech for others to ensure their own....which, interestingly enough, has also been the position of the American Civil Liberties Union and that well-known arch-Nazi, Noam Chomsky.
This is exactly the kind of person who should not be making these choices: Self-righteous, unwilling to actually engage, and determined to claim that they are both smart and honestly engaging in a dialogue.
And, yes, absolutely you can say the same applies to me. But I am not arguing it does not. I don't want to set myself up as the arbiter of who should or should not be cancelled. We should be hesitant to cancel anyone, and even more hesitant to set up anyone as an arbiter of the same.