Now that I've unintentionally become Ms “Geek Rape Culture For Dummies”, I'm going to re-establish my proper designation as a contrarian. I'm going to defend the “transphobic” Penny Arcade guy. Mike Krahulik doesn't deserve the level of venom being spewed at him.
I have to congratulate him, however, for being the center of what could possibly be the stupidest nerd scandal ever. I don't know where to even start explaining it, so here's the rundown based on Mike Krahulik's, aka Gabe's, account from the Penny Arcade blog...
- People get mad about a panel at PAX Aus. The panel is a conversation about all the social justice stuff happening in the games industry and if it is making for better games. Gabe responded that “you don’t have to go to any panels you don’t like or alternatively you could go and tell them what you think” and said that other panel topics could be submitted. Gabe gets called a bigot and “cis male garbage”. Someone tweeted that he should die.
- Gabe said “if you use the word 'cis' don’t bother tweeting me”. He admits that, in retrospect, he probably should have walked away instead.
- This brought back another twitter argument from a week or so ago in which he defended a game about female masturbation. Some people called the game exclusionary because it did not include transsexual women. Gabe maintained that a game about female masturbation that only had vaginas made sense because women have vaginas.
Gabe is labeled “transphobic” despite an apology for unintentionally invalidating the trans community, and a suggestion that people henceforth refer to him as Batman.
Out of respect for his self-defined identity, for the rest of this piece, I will use Krahulik's name and “Batman” interchangeably. If he feels like Bruce Wayne on the inside even though he doesn't look like Batman on the outside, I accept him as a proud, confident, transsuperheroed man.
I've been fortunate that whenever I've gotten jumped on by a bunch of anti-cis trolls online, someone from within their own community was there to bail me out. Fortunately, my reputation in progressive circles is good enough that when someone freaks, I have people that vouch for me. So I'm going to pay that forward and throw Gabe a save here. The trans community has the same expectations on them as anyone else: treat people with dignity and kindness; listen as well as talk. This failed here, so if we're going to break BatGabe's back, we need to apply equal scrutiny to the behaviour of the trans advocates involved. They get to be Bane now, so everyone has a comic book character assigned to them. It's only fair.
No one is denying that BatGabe made mistakes in his handling of this cascading situation... Including the Dork Knight himself. He's apologized. He's engaged in self-examination. Why does none of this matter? Seemingly, it doesn't matter because too many people have come to define anti-cis trans advocates as the darkspawn of the internet: once-humans who have gone mad from the taint, and now all they can do is destroy. So anyone who dares to disagree with them is on their own, because this action is clearly insane. Attempting to take on this group is suicide, we think, so we throw Gabe to the dickwolves because we don't want the dickwolves turning on us.
And yeah, I brought up the dickwolves. Readers, if you don't understand the significance of dickwolves, don't worry, you're way better off not knowing.
Penny Arcade's and PAX's branding has always been extremely populist, so the word “cisgendered” isn't anywhere near their wheelhouse. Populism functions in the paradigm of the 99%... albeit the 99% of geeks, in the case of Penny Arcade. Their embrace of indie games and cosplayers were nods to the consumer base, in stark opposition to E3, which prides itself on being an industry insider event.
In the populist world, it's that 99% of women with vaginas that matters, not the privileged elite that can worry about things like non-binary gender. Are trans people actual elites? No. But they're seen as part of that ivory tower intellectualism that is portrayed as the enemy of the everyman. The biggest problem with populism is that it creates blind spots just like that one, but that's a fundamental flaw in the system, not a moral failing born in the mind of one man. Talking about women without vaginas to the Penny Arcade guys is like talking to Charlie Sheen about sobriety: they may understand these things exist, but it's not knowledge they can apply for any length of time.
Does that mean that no one should criticize Penny Arcade, because they're too boorish to get it? No. It just means that screaming at them doesn't do anything but reassert their position as populist heroes. Trans advocates are outnumbered by the people who wish that the ranting sycophants of twitter would just go masturbate with whatever plumbing they possess. In populist systems, that means Penny Arcade wins.
It's possible that the panel selection at PAX Aus did not include a sufficient balance of opinion. It's possible that the panelists for that particular panel weren't diverse enough. Developing a balanced pool of experts takes deliberateness and a lot of work. But no one wants to listen to people who do nothing but scream at them. If you want to get through to someone at Penny Arcade, make them laugh. Point out that in video games, there are female characters in World of Warcraft that most definitely are controlled by a player with a penis in real life. In fact, very few digital women have origins that don't involve a “joystick”. Gamers are the masters of women without vaginas!
There. Now stop fighting. Geez.
No one on this planet is perfect. No one has perfect wisdom, perfect word choices, or perfect tempers. In the eyes of too many people, not being perfect means you deserve to die. When you tell someone they should die, it doesn't matter if you're talking to a thirty-six year-old man or a sixteen year-old girl. You're out of line.
When you question someone's right to live, you're being a bully, and that's a bigger problem than any single issue, because it kills meaningful dialogue. I understand getting angry, but debate the point of conflict. Making a sweeping judgement call about a person's character and their right to inhabit this planet just shows that you're no better than he is. Just because he's a white, heterosexual, cisgendered adult male doesn't mean he should just be able to take that. Men shouldn't have to be tougher than women, more immune to cruel comments, in an equal society. I don't get why people don't see that assumption as horrendously bigoted.
Depression and despair affect people of all ages and backgrounds, and the risk of suicide is alarmingly high for regular white dudes not much older than Batman. In fact, it's higher for men than for women. So dogpiling some guy on twitter is not a no-risk activity, because you have absolutely no idea what he's going through in his personal life.
I absolutely believe that trans people deserve dignity, respect, and an opportunity to live a life that's normal for them. I don't believe that being a part of an identifiable minority gives you the right to be horrible to another person, no matter what they've done. “In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” For those who can't place the quote, it's from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have A Dream” speech.
Gabe realizes he should have walked away from his computer that morning. Those on the other side don't seem to see their behaviour the same way. We hit the pinacle of ridiculousness when a blogger for the Financial Post compared Gabe to Chris Brown. Confusion over some dumb tweets does not equate to wondering why people turned against you because you beat your girlfriend bloody.
BatGabe's stated opinions don't strike me as those belonging to someone who would physically harm a trans person, deny them employment, or knowingly belittle them. He said, in a conversation with an employee who was a trans woman...
I am happy to treat someone however they want to be treated. Wanna be a guy or a girl or a fox or whatever and I will be happy to treat you that way.
In this conversation, published on the Penny Arcade blog, BatGabe shows an ability to learn from people talking to him – a rare quality on the internet. He doesn't learn well from people shouting at him, but who does? I'm disturbed by the responses to his blog entry that are minimizing his attempt at a dialogue: how can anyone learn if they're not allowed to make a single mistake? If a potential ally gets shouted down and shoved away, it increases the likelihood that they'll stop trying to understand at all. In a world where a game that attempts to de-stigmatize female masturbation gets attacked for not including trans women, why should anyone bother trying to make anything better? This sort of brutal criticism seems more like an attempt to show how smart the critic is than a sincere positive force for change. It's an innovation killer, because people are penalized for trying... wait, am I allowed to use the word “penalized”? Is anything containing “penal” sexist?
I'm not saying that we shouldn't call bulls--- wait, bulls are male, and therefore that's a sexist term... I'm not saying we shouldn't call nonsense when we see it, but making people afraid to innovate is bad for everyone. We scream and yell bigotry at the slightest sneeze, but do we reward with equal passion when a game, say, has an absolutely badass, non-stereotypical gay character without sensationalizing and pandering? If so, start heaping praise on The Last of Us, because it does. Do we see the cuddly transgendering of Sackboy in Little Big Planet? There's always someone, somewhere, who will howl that it didn't go far enough, like they did with Bioware's first few attempts at same-sex relationships in video games.
The idea that the world will suddenly and completely understand and accept a transhuman concept is utter idiocy. You're talking about a world who can't adapt to New Coke. It boggles me that modern freedom fighters get so hung up on words that they lose sight of the bigger picture. I'm sick of the part-time compassion. The primary motivator here isn't about social justice. It's about unloading pent up anger on people that allegedly deserve it.
Because of this utter and widespread hypocrisy, I won't jump on the bandwagon labelling Mike Krahulik transphobic. He's more trans confused, like the majority of the planet. I do not want to alienate the majority of the planet, because I'd like the majority to care more about trans people. I'd also like to reward his mature, open conversation with his trans employee as a fantastic first step. Sophie Prell is really brave to send an email like that to a man with that kind of power, but I think it says something about the Penny Arcade workplace that these conversations take place and seem like no big deal.
The cranky reality, folks, is that the whole concept of non-binary gender is so far out of most people's understanding that you might as well try to explain string theory. But like any social cause, it really comes down to advocating for the dignity of individuals, and what those individuals want from the people around them. Sophie Prell accomplished what the screaming masses of twitter did not.
There have been some massive trans-friendly breakthroughs in popular entertainment, such as Chaz Bono being adorable on Dancing With The Stars, and Ms Hudson on Elementary being a trans woman, notable for her talents, skill and beauty as well as her Adam's apple. I fear a backlash because of this horrible online dialogue.
Because this is insanity. This is a mob mentality. And this is why we need the everyman perspective of teams like Penny Arcade to make us check our temporary privilege.
I guess I'm reacting so strongly to this because I once was one of those radicalized progressives. Then, while I was in university, a gender studies prof sold me out to boost her own ego, and I realized that the right words don't always make for the right thoughts and actions. More good is done using language people understand than using the “right words” as far as academics are concerned. Gabe may have gotten a few things wrong here, but since we're claiming to be morally superior, we'd better clean up our mess before we throw any more stones.
Finally, I don't want to be Ms “Geek Rape Culture For Dummies”. I want to be Ms Pac Man. Please respect my lifestyle. Kthanx.