Gamers, journalists and developers, come in and have a seat.
I’ve been witnessing some of our actions on social media, and I have to tell you something: we have an industry problem.
Last week, self-described games enthusiast Laura Kate Dale wrote about her experience of being misgendered at the Eurogamer Expo in London, and the overwhelming reaction from Twitter:
“Some tweets were supportive. Some were accusations that I’d made the whole thing up. Most of them were vile messages about how I am a man and a disgusting freak who would be better off dead. The number of death threats and dehumanizing comments I received was unbelievable. Being misgendered at Eurogamer was nothing compared with my punishment for speaking up about it. This is why trans people rarely speak up when these things happen.”
This is not the first time a trans woman has been publicly misgendered and then further harassed. In May, independent game developer Chloe Sagal was first outed as transgender by former Destructoid editor Allistair Pinsof, and then misgendered by him and his supporters because she had still not changed her given name, and is in the process of funding her gender reassignment surgery. After defending her on Twitter, games writer Samantha Allen received a hateful backlash including attempts to find her previous name and transphobic attacks in her Twitter mentions. More recently, Carolyn Petit of Gamespot received threats, transphobic insults, and personal attacks for her review on Grand Theft Auto V across Gamespot, Reddit and 4Chan.
Outing and misgendering is not to be taken lightly. Not only is it insensitive and ignorant, it is a clash between public and private that forces trans* people into dangerous situations. To say the games industry as a whole is transphobic may sound hyperbolic, but it is accurate to say that the games industry, at the least, protects transphobia.
How do we promote safety for trans* people in game spaces? The answer is not clear-cut. Attempting to support trans* people on social media can further risk their safety and increase the harassment they face through public platforms. Laura wanted to express what happened to her on her own terms through Huffington Post, which is her right, and publishing her Tweets without consent for the sake of journalism is inappropriate considering the sensitivity of the situation and how personal it is for her. So first, we need to ask the person being affected, “How can I help?”
Second, we need to recognize that Reddit, 4Chan, and comment threads are embedded in games culture, and we need to start paying attention. To say, “don’t read the comments,” ensures that comments are never addressed, or taken seriously enough to face consequences as harsh assaults. We need to stop brushing off transphobic comments as the result of being ignorant and uneducated about transgender issues, as Penny Arcade’s Mike Krahulik did earlier this year. Krahulik is responsible for promoting a safe environment for all people attending PAX, and his behaviour highly influences what is considered appropriate. The trolls we hesitate to feed are part of a larger, hateful, ideological structure. If we do nothing about them, we protect them in lieu of the safety of the people who need that protection the most.
Finally, once we are given consent to support trans* activists, we do it loudly. Whether it is as simple as sharing their experiences through social media platforms, or helping provide resources for their voices to be maximized, it is important that we all learn how to become better allies without appropriating trans* spaces and speaking for them.
The problem too many gamers have in this industry is that they shame or guilt the people who stir the pot, accusing them of starting witch hunts or lynch mobs. The pot needs to be replaced with a more supportive, inclusive and safe structure. Speaking up for ourselves and for people who are affected by bigotry is not stirring the pot at all, but being an overall decent human being.
Editor’s note: the term trans*, with the asterisk, is used to represent people of several different trans-based identities, including transgender, transsexual, trans women and trans men.