Saturday, 5 June 2021

Eating Our Young

Well, this is a tough post to write, and it is a post that is likely to earn me some approbation from the community. But if I didn't write it, I would be a poltroon. So, there you have it. This is getting written.

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.

18 comments:

  1. It is crazy that we are thinking some of the same things at the same time from totally different places... I blogged about some of the same ideas just before I read your post.
    https://splinteredrealm.blogspot.com/2021/06/pro-noun.html?showComment=1622981196955#c6080377633493602170

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  2. This is very well said, I think, Daniel

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  3. Good post.
    Our DCC group was talking about similar stuff just last night... about how folks we agree with take things so far that it works against their supposed intent.
    Is the goal to correct these behaviors or just to shame and punish? Because calling someone a 'racist' or a 'homophobe' is more likely to just see them entrench and possibly find solace with even worse notions.
    Communication is harder than castigation, unfortunately.

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  4. Daniel, with all due respect, Gabor/Melan is not "our young" - as one of the founders of the OSR, he's about as old guard as you can get within that particular scene.

    I think you've got your metaphor almost entirely backwards.

    Defending GL/M's entrenched position within the scene, and arguing that he ought to remain entrenched, at the expense of marginalized trans scenesters (regardless of age or generation), is practically the definition of "eating our young" - it's preserving the power of the old and the expense of the new.

    It is, frankly, rather gross that GL/M has built his reputation, in part, on being a fan of Jennell Jacquay's dungeon design ideas, and yet he's unwilling to repay her by showing a modicum of respect for her identity and personhood.

    No one is taking GL/M's website or zine or upcoming box set away from him. The only consequence he's suffering is that he won't be invited back to appear in Knock 3 alongside the trans contributors whose identity he's chosen to repeatedly insult again in the past few days, rather than admit that some of his earlier statements were insensitive.

    What are the alternatives to that? The only one left would be to say that GL/M will continue to be given a place of prominence in future issues of the zine, and that any less famous trans people who don't like that are free to not participate in the project. THAT would be "eating our young."

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I believe it was heartfelt.

      Granted, I could have entitled the post "Eating Out Old", but the content would not have changed. And if the ultimate point becomes, "It is okay to eat our elders, but not our young"...I guess I have to disagree.

      If you read the post, you will know that I am not defending GL/M's position, entrenched or not. From my understanding, that position has become entrenched largely as a result of the response to his "outing".

      Quite honestly, I think there is a great deal of space between using someone's name as it appears on a product and being "unwilling to repay her by showing a modicum of respect for her identity and personhood". Neither you nor I know how "entrenched" his positions were before; all we know is how some reacted to what were fairly mild statements, and how he reacted to their reaction.

      And maybe, I grant, that would have been what occurred anyway. But I cannot help but see a direct line of cause and effect here. GL/M became entrenched because he was forced to defend himself from what appeared to be an existential threat. Hell, when I wrote this post, just saying what I did from the position I did seemed like I was stepping into an existential threat.

      But this post wasn't about whether or not you accept anyone's work in Knock. Not that there are no alternatives between "a place of prominence" and "no place at all, either. Things are not that black and white. There is a pretty broad spectrum of response that you are ignoring.

      I have held some of the biases we are talking about. If I had met the same kind of response, the odds are really good that I would still hold them.

      We have a choice. Help make people better or try to punish them for not being better now. Some day, transphobia may well be classified as a mental illness. You don't have to try to make people better. But that is the only way you get better people.

      You can be a social justice warrior. You can be a social justice cleric. I have yet to see anyone successfully multiclass those two.


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    2. To be clear: People helped me become a better person. That is the route I prefer to travel. Had I been written off so summarily and so quickly and with such vehemence, I too might have decided that "Team Evil" was the more reasonable side to be on.

      You cannot beat the reactionaries of the world by being equally reactionary.

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    3. "Eating Our Old." Truly unfortunate typo.

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  5. How exactly was being told he he deadnamed someone an existential threat?

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    1. "Hey, Trey, you asked a question with a really obvious answer." = not existential threat.

      "Hey, Trey, you asked a question with a really obvious answer, so we are going to do as much as we can to ruin your livelihood." = much closer to an existential threat.

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  6. Daniel, I'm a huge fan of your blog and writing but I've got to say respectfully I think you are way off base here. If this were a simple case of Gabor Lux deadnaming Janelle Jaquays out of ignorance it would be easy enough to stop and correct him and I think the community would probably move on. However it has been unquestionably proven at this point that Lux was well aware of Jaquay's transition, name change and pronouns before he chose to use her dead name. He has made other mean spirited comments, almost always on issues relating to pronouns and gender and once again chose to double down on these comments after being questioned.
    Now if people were calling for the state to imprison Lux based on these comments, I'd probably agree the community was overreacting. But he's a relatively high profile name in our small gaming community and people reacting to his mean spirited 'humour' by suggesting that he's an asshole feels like a pretty appropriate response in my opinion. He has the freedom to say whatever he wants, but that freedom does not translate to freedom from reaction. He chose to make statements that he knew were inflammatory, and he's now dealing with the response he knew he'd get.
    You take some risks in this post and discuss your own history in a vulnerable way, and that's commendable. I respect the fact that you admit you have made statements and decisions in the past that you are not proud of, it takes humility to admit these things and we are all flawed humans after all. I suspect the difference here is you made many of those earlier decisions out of a place of ignorance and you learned lessons along the way that have changed the way you see things now. Gabor Lux is not in the 10th grade calling his friend gay for liking something taboo. He's a grown adult who spends no small amount of time on the internet and he knows full well the response he is likely to elicit with his statements. Any plea of ignorance as a defense would have to be tempered with the fact that whatever ignorance named was entirely wilful; furthermore I suspect he will make no such plea- he doesn't think he's done anything wrong here.
    Janelle Jaquays did publish a lot of work under her previous name, but somewhere along the way she decided to share her true identity with the gaming community. Did she suddenly one day wake up in middle age and realize she was trans? Maybe, I don't know her personally. If that were the case however, it would be very abnormal. Most trans people know they are trans from a very young age and I suspect Jaquays is no different. Thanks to the openness now embraced by many people in society, including old school RPG fans Jaquays and other trans gamers and designers now feel safe being their authentic selves in our community and that has only happened because people have refused to accept the mean spirited 'jokes' and and attitudes of people like Gabor Lux. If he'd made these statements 30 years ago, you could maybe give him the benefit of the doubt. However he has continued to make these statements well into 2021. Let him fight his own battle and defend the supposed validity of his foolish position himself.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words about the blog, and your long response which seems not to have taken much of the arguments made in the post into account.

      Do not try to conflate "defending his position" with "abhorrence towards the community reaction." For instance, "if people were calling for the state to imprison Lux based on these comments" you would "probably" agree the community was overreacting? PROBABLY?!?

      I am not defending "the supposed validity of his foolish position"; I am trying to point out that the response is equally indefensible. And I am not trying to cancel you because of that response; I am asking you to do better.

      Take Gabor Lux out of the equation just for a moment. Imagine that 1,000 people on the cusp have read his words, and read your response, where you think it would PROBABLY be wrong to jail Lux on that basis. Now, how many of those 1,000 are going to nod and say, "Yes, I can see that Zachary is being perfectly reasonable here", and how many are going to say "Dear god, Lux is right; those people are insane!"?

      If you don't think that is important to consider, we could go into a long discussion of politics, and how not being willing to consider its importance leads to wage stagnation, lack of healthcare, and, ultimately, both more people taking extreme views you do not like and more people silencing voices you think are worth listening to.

      I am on the side of human rights, always. Even the rights of people who disagree with me, or who say things I find hurtful. What is okay to do to someone else, sooner or later, is always okay to do to you.

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    2. You can be a Social Justice Warrior or a Social Justice Cleric. You cannot be both, just like you cannot be both pro-war and pro-peace.

      What you are championing is akin to the US foreign policy in the Middle East. In order to create "peace and stability" you are willing to scorch the earth and create 1,000 enemies for the one you manage to eliminate.

      I very much prefer the way that doesn't just create more enemies to fight.

      I encourage you to join me.

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  7. Here is a hint that some might find helpful:

    If you find yourself reframing the argument, ignoring the argument, or refreming the reaction being discussed in order to justify your response, then perhaps the post really is talking to you, and perhaps you could put more thought into it.

    No one is arguing that Lux's position was the right one.

    No one is arguing that telling him it is not the right one is somehow harmful or wrong.

    No one is arguing that Lux is not an adult...but, frankly, adults hold stupid positions too. I know that I have. There is no magical age at which we no longer have to consider helping people get better as being a more ethical position that PROBABLY not imprisoning them for thought crimes or wrongspeech.

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  8. Hey Daniel you are reading way too much into the use of the word 'probably' here. For the record: Gabor Lux should face no legal repercussion for being an asshole. That being said, if people chose not to support his work any more because he choses to be an asshole, well what can you do? Why extend an olive branch to somebody who has made it clear he thinks people who hold a progressive position on this topic are 'retards'? Nothing about his statements says "teach me, I'm willing to learn". Perhaps you will have more some getting through to him and trying to help him see things differently, I hope so. I just can't fault anybody for thinking he's a jerk and not wanting to support him or his work any longer.

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    1. No, Zachary, the word "probably" isn't the issue.

      Now we are getting to the same sort of bad-faith argument as Trey. Being a Social Justice Warrior is not simply making that choice for yourself. It is a group of people getting together to decide that other people who do not share their values need to be silenced. And that includes the need to oppose anyone saying that might be a bad idea.

      History is full of people who thought they should pick and choose who gets silenced. Right now, there are those who work to silence anyone who opposes the atrocities in Palestine as anti-Semitic.

      I can count all the times in history that the people who felt justified in silencing others were right one hand. And I can chop off four fingers and a thumb before I do it.

      You can work to make people better, or you can join the many people throughout history who wanted to silence anyone they disliked for reasons they felt were fully justified. You cannot do both.

      Make whatever choices you want. Just don't lie about the choices you are making.

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  9. The problem with your argument is that nobody is trying to silence Gabor, people are simply presenting information (things he has said) and letting people make informed decisions about who they support.

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    1. Well, then I guess there is no problem with my argument, because "nobody is trying to silence Gabor" is untrue.

      Seriously, if that were true, nobody would be arguing with a post saying we should not be trying to silence people. On top of which, I have seen the posts suggesting exactly that. It was the posts suggesting exactly that which caused me to respond here.

      I will give you the benefit of the doubt, and accept that you may not have seen the type of posts I am talking about here, but your response really comes across as disingenuous.

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    2. And, just to be clear, if the only problem with an argument that "We should not X" is that we are not currently Xing, that sounds an awful lot like agreement with the argument.

      But I am rather guessing that you are not trying to agree that we should not X so much as trying to argue that we should not look critically at what we are doing when we X.

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