7.29.2012

"Speak Your Mind, Even If Your Voice Shakes"

(Update 11.14.12: I've written a follow-up to this piece, as well as my other cosplay / geek girl pieces. Please check that out.)

As you can imagine, the past few days have been an eye-opening experience. 

If for some reason you missed it, I wrote this article, which cause much discussion and dissension. I issued this response, and in the course of the past 3 days, I've been on 4 podcasts/live streams to answer questions and accusations, 12 different websites' forums / comments to face criticism, in Reddit threads and on Twitter to respond to everyone who had some sort of reaction, response or retort. Half of it has been positive, the other half negative. But the negative half has been mostly due to misconstrued reviews, half-read points and people who read what they wanted, not what I wrote.

It's been exhausting. But whether you've been reading me for years or just found out who I was, one thing you now know about me: I won't hide. If you've got something to say, I want to hear it. And if you think you can say it without my responding, I'll chase you down and prove you wrong. I won't hide, and if I can help it, I won't let you, either.

The hardest part of this whole experience has been knowing that the people who are most angry, missed the point of my article. Everyone who has posted a scathing rebuttal of my original piece goes off on some sort of tangent, sometimes accusing me of saying things I didn't say, and other times isolating on one sentence or one paragraph while willfully ignoring (or, attempting to claim it was "padding") the rest of the piece.

The most notable exception are the FragDolls, who I owed a huge apology to for having a personal opinion that what they do is not geeky, thus they are not geeky just for doing it. I feel that gaming is just another entertainment endeavor, like movies, books and music. The types of games you choose might determine what kind of geek you are, but shooting people in Call of Duty or playing Madden? Those things are so universal, they're hardly geeky in and of themselves.

I was wrong about that opinion. Outside of anything they do in their personal lives to build out any kind of "geek cred" they are geeks just for being FragDolls. I fucked that up. I apologized.

Everything else? Well, some people used the FragDolls gaff to discredit the point. Some people attempted to turn what I said into a Men's Rights manifesto (which is just stupid). Some people attempted to accuse me of being some sort of self-appointed gatekeeper of the geek community.

I don't mind critique. I don't mind criticism. I don't mind hate. But I cannot stand being misunderstood and/or misrepresented.

There was a point yesterday where I called my editor and said "Do you think I should post an apology?"

"Are you sorry?" she asked.

"I'm sorry that there are people who have the wrong idea about what I said, and that some of them are hurt."

"There's a huge difference between being sorry you did something, and being sorry that it hurt someone."

Shortly after, a longtime hero of mine (who I will not name here, because I refuse to drag someone's name into this in an attempt to support myself) called me and told me how much respect he had for me. "Most people, when they write something like that, will retreat to their own caves or at least to friendly territory. You went to every blog and on live shows to face your critics and talk things out with them. That's not just guts, that's respect."

He's right. It is respect, because I respect myself and what I said enough to not only defend it, but to ensure that my critics got every chance afforded them to understand what it was I was trying to say before I decided to write them off.

I was so close to writing something that I didn't actually feel. I've never done that. And I am so glad I didn't. I was reminded of a quote by Maggie Kuhn, which I used as the title of this post: "Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes."

The truth: even if you don't see them; even if you don't believe they exist; even if you don't believe someone would spend the money and the time to do something like it: I am here to tell you that there are women who attend conventions dressed as sexy as they can be, pretending to be a member of the community, who not only know nothing about but don't actually WANT to know anything about it. They attend to build out their modeling portfolio. They attend to hand out cards for their adult modeling website. They attend to play on the base nature of males in the geek community to get attention for themselves.

Some people say "well so what?" They ask who am I to say that those girls might not see something geeky and actually become interested and want to join the crowd?

I'm me, that's who. I'm a guy who has spent too many years seeing the same hollow faces at the same cons, year after year, and there's nothing that changes. No geekiness interests are piqued. No changes come. Just more posing, more laughing behind geeks' backs. I am not okay with this. I can't stop it. I can't police it. I can't make anyone do anything they don't want to do. But I don't have to sit silent and just let it happen.

You know who else I don't think wants to join the geek community, who end up in proximity of it every year? The football jocks who, every single year, have to share a hotel with Dragon*Con attendees during the Chick-Fil-A College Football Kickoff Game. There are people I've seen two and three years in a row, being punks and pushing geeks around and calling them names. I know they've been doing this for years, because for years, I've been looking for them so I can stop them before they can do anything too extreme.

It doesn't help. Every year, there's a few kids who get their asses kicked by a few rednecks who hang out at the Marriott just to stare at the freaks. Should I show them the same deference you want me to show the poser wannabes? Who knows, maybe while punching a geek in the face, they'll skin their knuckle on a tooth and the blood from the two may mix, and the bully will inherit some of the geek's interest in Game of Thrones!

I am also not okay with the eBay scalpers buying up every item they can and making them scarce for collectors who truly want those toys, comics, and limited edition prints. I hate people who lie to artists like Adam Hughes about their kid having cancer, get a sketch from him, and eBay it for thousands of dollars. I am not okay with G4 putting models in place of knowledgeable presenters who are actually geeks in order to appeal to a broader audience, who make veiled jokes that actually condemn some of the geekier and nerdier of its audience.

I hate poachers and I hate posers. I am not afraid to say it. I don't care if there are other geeks out there who have credentials that "outweigh" mine who hate what I wrote, regardless of how off-base their understanding of my point was (even after I and several others pointed it out). I'm not looking to play gatekeeper to the geek world. I just have absolutely no ability to sit around, smell bullshit, and not say something. And what's happening at cons and in this culture I love is bullshit.

And you know what? I'm not alone. Thousands of people -- more than half of them women -- posted on the CNN comments, Twitter, blogs that covered the story and emailed me to say "It's about time someone said it." Women wrote me to tell me "If a woman said what you said, she'd be called out as a "bitch" and told she was just jealous."

And yet...

There's a massive backlash against my article. And it's no surprise to me that those most offended missed the point. And I won't mince words: I think the majority of those, missing the point is deliberate. I think the second you start any conversation about any gender, race or religion to which you do not belong, people perk up and if anything whatsoever is said that isn't exceedingly complimentary, you're seen as mysoginist, racist or otherwise intolerant against the group at large.

This is bullshit. Pure and simple. It's abusing a point to condemn an argument, and it's sad. There is no question in my mind that the most vocal opponents of my point are the ones who benefit most from it not being made, either through click traffic, readership, or some attempt to justify their own opinions about things they are outraged about, which gives them some sense of validity.

There's an aspect to this whole thing that has opened my eyes quite a lot -- the vast majority of people who are angry with my piece aren't just women, they're younger than I am. They're of a different generation. And I think the actual point of contention here is that there's a generation gap, and I'm on one side and they are on another.

Maybe in this new generation, the doors have swung open wide and more people are allowed in than ever -- but that comes with it an attitude of "who cares if a few uninitiated make it through the door with us." Unfortunately, that doesn't work for me -- no one should attempt to manipulate me by lying to me and stating they're interested in things that I am.

I'm not jealous. I don't want geekdom to be a boys club. I don't believe I'm the arbiter of who can and cannot be a geek. All of these "arguments" are nonsense, and I think deep down, anyone who actually read the article knows it. I'm aggravated and insulted that people think they can subvert my intelligence and play to the base nature of my gender and my social circle's innate attractions to females to sell me goods and services. It bothers me, and I said something.

Those who reacted only to the headline, or to other blogs' reactions of my article that repurposed its point to garner their own traffic, or decided to otherwise WANT to be offended: you're entitled to your opinion. You're allowed to think what you want to think and say what you want to say by the rights granted you by humanity and, for those in the United States, the Bill of Rights. And I care about your thoughts as much as you'd care about mine, if I got your points wrong and attempted to abuse you with them.

I'm not sorry I said something. I'm not afraid to say what I feel. I'm also not afraid to admit when I fuck up, and I'm not afraid to ask those who dislike, misunderstand or otherwise have an issue with something I wrote to talk to me about it. I will walk in the lion's den, no matter how scary, and face my accusers. I will write off those who refuse to actually discuss it as simply wanting to be outraged.

Update: And for anyone who wants to bash me for attacking the women who internalize sexism; who are merely victims of the patriarchal system that encourages women to use their bodies for attention; who defend booth babes as "just doing their job" and so on: "Don't hate the player; hate the game" is a fine argument when you can't accept personal responsibility. Just ask any drug dealer who blames their career choice on the conditions surrounding them and how the market demands their supply. Not their fault either, I guess.

That's the last I'll say about this entire matter.