It’s Not All One Way

This is all Paco Jaen’s idea, by the way, before I start.

I thought this wasn’t necessarily a good idea but it has been suggested – by Paco and others – that I talk about the threats and other issues I’ve had around this whole recent flap.

If you don’t already know what I’m talking about, this isn’t for you.

I’m also sure that – as per usual – people will pore over every word I say for something they think is damning and will laugh at me or accuse me of lying on the rest of it. So be it. I want to make it plain that I’m not asking for sympathy in anything here either. I’m also exposing myself by showing where my buttons are which means they’re easier for people to push.

Where to start then?

Well, it’s no secret that I suffer from depression.

I say this not to try and elicit sympathy. If you think I’ve done wrong then you should be able to tell me so regardless of my mental infirmity, just as you should be able to call a guy in a wheelchair on it if he cuts you up and sends you diving into the flowerbed.

Having a disability or an illness doesn’t insulate you from being an arsehole (neither does having a cause or a past trauma come to that).

This whole incident has hammered me back to a bad place and knocked back my recovery – which was going well – by about six months. On Friday I had to get extra medication to deal with what was going on and on the day before that I resorted to self-harm because nothing else was making me feel any better.

Physical pain helps focus and deal with emotional pain. It’s hard to explain to people why. My other option is drinking and, for  various private reasons, I’d rather not. My arm is probably going to scar so I’ll have a nice reminder of this bullshit for the rest of my life.

All terribly emo and pathetic I know.

When you’re depressed criticism bites deeper and praise doesn’t sit so easily. You discount it. My acerbic wit and distancing through intellectualisation are the tools I have used since my teens to deal with these issues, even though I was only formally diagnosed a couple of years ago. To many that can make me seem insulting or superior when I am either genuinely trying to understand them or honestly can’t believe what the other party is saying is meant sincerely.

So I take the piss. Much the same as I mock topics and stereotypes in a lot of my comedic work.

I also don’t like myself very much.

Not because of anything I’ve done or any attitude I hold – before you jump on that – but just because part of the depression manifests as self loathing. What self-worth I have is tied up in my work, my writing capability, and a strong moral compass which, while it may be at odds with yours, strives to do the right thing at all times according to my values.

Attacks on that self-image of being a ‘good guy’ who tries to do the right thing, bite deep. As do attacks on my talent. It is only this last year I’ve found an editor (two in fact) that I can work with safely without taking an emotional pounding. At least where it comes to fiction work.

So, when I’m told I’m a ‘rape supporter’ or get private messages that people are going to track me down and ‘rape me, to see how I like it’, or my wife so that I ‘sympathise more’ or there are accusations that I’m asking people to harass or intimidate. When people think the work I’ve done somehow supports or excuses rape, I understandably get upset, because all of this is entirely antithetical to who I am.

I know the threats aren’t genuine, but that doesn’t stop them being upsetting.

It is my belief that trolls cannot be dealt with so long as we act as though they’re sincere in their threats and that’s what I’ve tried to express regarding the threats to Ms Cooper. Trolls go for what they know will get a reaction, this is antisocial and shitty but it’s NOT misogyny (or racism or whatever other ‘ism they use to get at people).

People have thought I’m brushing off the threats against Ms Cooper, I AM brushing off the threats – they’re not genuine any more than the ones against me – but that doesn’t stop them being distressing and they should not happen. Just as the threats and accusations against me should not happen. It is, though, admittedly hard to feel sympathy for someone calling you a rape supporter or apologist. I’m only human.

There is a difference though. People do genuinely seem to believe the things they’re saying about me, even if the threats themselves aren’t kosher. Ms Cooper herself on her petition calls me a ‘rape supporter’ which couldn’t be further from the truth and is far from the only lie or misquotation. It’s gutting – and telling – that so few people have bothered to check any further than rumour and hearsay.

I am not a rape supporter, apologist (or whatever else) and such a claim is hugely hurtful to me and as well as being libellous. It has managed to reduce me to tears. Something that hardly ever happens.

The accusations of sexism, misogyny etc are particularly hurtful given that many of the works being referenced are 180 degrees from where people seem to think they are. I attack things through satire and humour and to most who have read these works the nature of the books and their satire seems to be obvious. I am forced to think that the people making a fuss either don’t get it or have such a low opinion of men in gaming that they think the things in these books are serious.

Both of those options are extremely worrying and upsetting and potentially very damaging. If people are able to create campaigns, even slightly successful campaigns at that, based on their own misunderstanding of something then we’re all in trouble.

The Slayer’s Guide to Female Gamers in particular takes square aim at the stupid attitudes and beliefs about girl gamers that male geeks stereotypically hold (true or not). That’s who it’s attacking and taking the piss out of, the antisocial, inept male geek through the medium of presenting their supposed attitudes and ideas about women, exaggerated to ludicrous degree. If you think any guy seriously holds the ideas in that book to heart, then I’m flummoxed.

To take it as an attack on women is… staggeringly bizarre and misses the point by parsecs. As far as I knew nobody took The Munchkin’s Guide to Powergaming to be a sincere guide on how to cheat at games, or the Slayer’s Guide to Rules Lawyers as being real so why they would take any of these other works at face value is worrying.

It is very hard for me not to see people who don’t see the subtext and the satire as stupid or being wilfully obtuse. It also makes me feel I’m a failure as a communicator.  This is why my initial reactions have tended to be sarcastic and then I fall back on trying to explain and spell things out that – to me – seem bleedin’ obvious.

Some take this as arrogance. It has been suggested to me that instead I should show the emotional toll that this nonsense has taken on me to show a ‘human’ side.

Perhaps the worst parts of this for me are twofold.

First my sexuality has been brought into it, which is rich coming from people who claim to be all for tolerance. Secondly in the potential threat to my business and the damage to business relationships, along with the betrayal I feel from Mongoose Publishing and the worry I feel that Matt and the Gooser’s are being damaged by this, even though I feel backstabbed.

Maybe I’m a softy for feeling so but it does bother me. This is the same reason I’m not – as of yet – pursuing legal action against Ms Cooper. I don’t want to fuck up someone’s life however much they want to do it to me. It seems petty.

How is my sexuality brought into it?

I’m straight, but I’m also self-admittedly ‘kinky’ for want of a better word. The kind of erotica etc that I like is ‘transgressive’. Apparently this is unacceptable and while I can tell the difference between reality and fantasy others can’t, while transgressive fantasies are permitted to women they are not permitted to men and are ‘abhorrent’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘wrong’ to the point of me getting a huge amount of abuse.

Anyone who knows the importance of consent in the alt/sex and BDSM communities can imagine how heart-stoppingly angering and hurtful that is.

I’ve struggled, myself, for a very long time with my kinks. Raised to be a gentleman it’s hard to reconcile that with a sexual side that, in a very shallow sense, seems to run counter to it. The only thing I can think to compare it with is coming out gay, especially if you’ve been raised to think that’s a bad thing. I’ve got to a more comfortable place with it of late, but when people dig at me in in such a way it opens up those fractures. Plus I feel bad for the other people that I know share these desires and thoughts, many of them women, very creative women, some of them working in erotic writing. They’re being written off by the very people who claim to represent them.

It seems impossible for people to even remotely acknowledge that I might both support women’s rights and free expression at the same time. That I might think rape is a terrible thing (and I now know more people who’ve been raped than I ever wanted to) but can differentiate between the act itself and representations thereof or its treatment in fiction. I can want to eliminate it in reality while simultaneously wanting to preserve it as a dramatic element.

There’s no paradox here.

Sorry but I’m not about to change my libertine and free expression stances any more than you seem likely to relax your positions. At least not without good reason to.

I think these witch hunts – and that is what they are – are far more harmful to the hobby than the things they claim to be fighting. Bit by bit, step by step, this kind of over sensitive – and it is – and hyperbolic rage, is costing resources, goodwill and some of the better gamers of the current and upcoming generations of designers. With Uri Kurlianchik being run off WotC and costing them great articles on gaming with kids and Gareth Skarka getting shit for supposedly racist ‘cultural appropriation’.

It’s not on.

A hostile atmosphere that takes anything and everything too seriously and seeks to stifle it – and it is censorship – is not conducive to good art. It doesn’t allow for a conversation. Fuck knows, I didn’t speak out for the publicity but more than I’m concerned by the kind of mob rule attacking everything from me, to Penny Arcade, to Crystal Dynamics. I do not feel that it’s healthy or right and I think it’s much more of a risk than Pat Pulling or her ilk ever were. Plus it’s not limited to any single medium, it’s happening across a swathe of them.

I spoke up because I think this needs to be a two-sided conversation and at the moment people I regard as bullies are dominating the conversation. It’s ironic that I’ve gotten so much flak for pointing out something that shouldn’t be remotely controversial – the right of a creative to explore things, even dark things, in their work. For speaking up about people getting unjust flak… I’ve gotten unjust flak.

I don’t think that should be remotely as difficult for people to agree with as it apparently is.

Comments not disabled, but won’t be approved. I may alter some of this as I’m not 100% on some of the phrasing and there may be other things I want to touch on.

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