7AM. I hate getting up at 7AM. Especially when I’ve been up all night writing. What’s more, I hate getting up at 7AM on a weekend. But lo, on Saturday January 21st, my alarm went off at 7AM and I peeled my eyes open. I’d been asleep for an hour and fifteen minutes, having stayed up all night to finish writing deadlines. But it was all worth it. It would be worth it.

I stared around my largely unimpressive motel room and listened to my roommate Nico snore in the other bed. He’d be up in a minute and we’d be out the door in less than fifteen. We’d pack up our meager gear, make sure we weren’t carrying anything we weren’t supposed to. See, we had instructions. Carry everything in a clear plastic backpack or bag. No other bags allowed. Bring lots of water and snacks. Wear warm and comfortable clothes.

Oh, and bring milk or liquid antacid t0 help counteract the effects of tear gas or pepper spray. And write the number for the National Lawyer’s Guild on your arm in sharpie. You know, just in case you get arrested.

The things one has to think about on the way to a protest. But this wasn’t just any protest. This was the Women’s March on Washington. And we were ready.

When I heard about the Women’s March on Washington, it was early in its inception. There were posts all over my Facebook wall, calling it a Million Woman March. In the face of the madness of the recent election and what can only be called the slow, horrifying slide of America into a conservative, regressive spiral, activists and organizers were planning to take to the streets and bring women from all over the country to protest in Washington DC. I’d seen protest planning before and thought perhaps calling it a Million Women March was presumptive, if a little coopting (there had already been a Million Women March in October 1997 in Philadelphia focusing on bringing attention to the plight of African American women).

Still, there was almost immediately a sense that this march was going to be historic. The day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as our next president, women would take to the streets to protest the state of our nation and women’s rights. Of course, I had to be there.

It took me until the week before the protest to figure out an attendance plan. Being a woman in a wheelchair with serious chronic health issues, one always has to attend these things with planning and consideration. I enlisted the help of my friend and fellow game designer, Nicolas Hornyak, to get to the protest. Nico has acted as my wingman before and we’d been on a few protest excursions, including two protests during the Eric Garner case in New York. Those protests had been hectic affairs, full of some close calls with cops. We were once nearly run down by a police motorcycle while marching onto the FDR Drive. The cops charged the protest line in Time Square and we nearly got trampled. We sat in to block the Lincoln Tunnel when the cops wouldn’t let us get to Time Square in the first place. That time, sitting in my wheelchair in front of a giant Greyhound bus with the cops nearby pulling out zip tie handcuffs, I was sure we were going to be arrested. Still, each time, we’d been fine. But of course, people I knew had concerns.

“This is Trump’s America,” a friend of mine said, “I don’t trust how cops are going to handle this. You should be careful.” My mom was worried. Friends offered bail money.

We were careful. We made plans. We packed everything we thought we might need: first aid kit, spare food, extra water, spare doses of my medication in case of arrest or getting stuck somewhere, camera for recording any incidents, liquid antacid for dealing with tear gas or pepper spray. We downloaded the March guide and printed it in case our phones lost power. We set up friends with contact information and the numbers for legal aid in case we were arrested. I brought extra socks (“my feet get cold”) and told my mom the signal to pick up the phone on the Sabbath in case I was arrested (“three rings means you pick up the phone”).

We drove down the night before to a motel outside the Baltimore airport. We’d be parking at a friend of mine’s place on the outskirts of DC, then heading into the protest by Metro.

artist: Jennifer Maravillas

When we left the motel, I stuffed extra muffins in my pocket along with beef jerky and power bars. I had with me two signs I printed from Staples. I got them laminated in case of rain. One was a poster provided by artist Jennifer Maravillas for this march saying “Our Bodies. Our Minds. Our Power.” Another I had made myself. It proclaimed: “I am alive today because of Obamacare. Save women’s lives. Protect the ACA.”

Of all the issues I wanted to put across, protection of the ACA and the 30 million Americans who would lose healthcare immediately if Obamacare was repealed was paramount to me. Obamacare saved my life when I was first diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease and had to remove a pituitary tumor we nicknamed Larry, and it’s kept me alive ever since. So obviously, it was an issue near and dear to my heart.

Signs in hand, I was ready for the protest. We drove through a hazy, grey morning, chugging along through thick traffic outside of DC, surrounded by other cars full of women heading to the march. Stuck between charter buses, we blasted Fall Out Boy (one of my defiantly guilty pleasures) and chanted along to the catchy, if slightly teen-angsty lyrics.

“You are a brick tied to me that’s dragging me down
Strike a match and I’ll burn you to the ground
We are the jack-o-lanterns in July setting fire to the sky
Here, here comes this rising tide, so come on.”

A car passed us on the right with an older woman driving, a young woman by her side, three teen girls in the back. All were wearing Pussy hats.

We were heading in the right direction.

After parking the car at a friend’s house (thank you, Shalom!), we headed for the Metro. I’d never taken the Metro, but being from New York I figured I knew how subways worked. Yeah, okay. It took ten minutes to figure out which Metro station subway card to get, then we headed down into the station. And faced the harrowing issue of getting a wheelchair onto a train so packed you could barely see individual bodies anymore. Ever see videos of station officials stuffing people onto trains in Japan? Yeah, this was just like that. Only maybe worse, since we had a damn wheelchair.

It took eight trains going by and some serious stress, but we got on. I stood for two stops before my leg went out from under me, then I was back in the chair, squished between a cranky family with kids and a helpful pair of protestors from (of all places) Brooklyn. We transferred at Metro Central and it took a National Guardsman helping to get us on the next train, it was so full. He stood in the way, cleared folks out, and got us some space. Only then we hear our stop is being bypassed. “Too full at L’Enfant,” someone said, “and Federal SW is closed too. Smithsonian is your stop.”

At Smithsonian, a helpful station manager got us into the accessibility elevator and we got above ground. And that’s when we first saw the protest and realized the enormity of what we were in for.

That’s a lot of Pussy hats. 

Independence Avenue was packed for something like fifteen blocks. We had come up at the very back of the marchers, packing in to hear the speeches at the main stage all the way down. We could hear cheering echoing along the canyon of DC buildings, all the greyer in the drizzle. Still, the crowd was lively, chanting, marching, buying T-shirts. A woman with a shopping cart sold giant pretzels and water. There were families, huge groups with banners from colleges, people of all ages. And they were everywhere. Up on stairs, railings, high walls, trees. There were guys selling t-shirts and I grabbed one with the Million Woman March logo on it. I wanted to commemorate the day.

We passed a giant screen broadcasting the speeches. Gloria Steinem was there, in all her glory, rallying the troops. I was a little awed. I man, Gloria Steinam. She was only, you know, a dozen blocks and a hundred thousand people away. And she was talking to all of us about women’s rights. I was jazzed, inspired, and a little overwhelmed.

That feeling of overwhelmed continued to grow as I realized we had about eight blocks to go if we wanted to get to the Disability Caucus tent. They had a safe area for wheelchairs to congregate near the medical tent, and I knew with my health concerns it was the best place to be. The trouble was, they were eight blocks away. And there was a sea of humanity in the way. So I did what any good girl brought up in Brooklyn would do: I got a little loud. Polite of course, but loud. There was a lot of “excuse me, pardon me, sorry, watch your toes, sorry, gotta get through” but we started the process forward. Within half a block, I was already exhausted and frustrated, and the crowd only got thicker. Then, out of nowhere, two women came to help: Hana, an ADA compliance consultant for the Seattle Metro, and Katie. The two offered to act as blockers in front of me so we could get the wheelchair through. Together, our little squad swam upstream from 14th Street to 6th and Independence where the Disability tent stood.

I can’t describe the feeling of working our way through that crowd. We passed down canyons of people squished together so tight you couldn’t see light between them. From down in my wheelchair, I felt like an X-Wing making the canyon run to destroy the Death Star. I apologized a million times, clutching my laminated sign about Obamacare to my chest, hoping to the gods we didn’t run over a million toes on the way.

We passed literally thousands of people who backed up, squished in, and shuffled over to make way for a wheelchair. Not a single person complained, or said a harsh word. In fact, most of the time people stopped and smiled. They thanked me for coming. And while sometimes it seemed a little patronizing (thanking the disabled person for just showing up? why was I any different than anyone else?), and some folks patted me on the shoulder in that ‘go you!’ kind of way (rule of thumb: no touching unless someone gives you permission), the whole experience was a humbling, anxiety-inducing, but amazing one.

I joked more than once, “If we can do this, Trump can stop being a shmuck” to ringing laughter. Hundreds upon hundreds of people read my sign. And we made it to the Disability Caucus tent.

I was immediately greeted by volunteers who offered us water and snacks and a place to rest. I got out my CVS sandwich and tried very hard not to cry. Outside, Ashley Judd recited the poem “Nasty Woman” by 19-year-old poet Nina Donovan on the jumbo screen outside. A group of deaf marchers signed rapidly to one another with the help of an interpreter. Outside, the crowd stood shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow, and listened, cheered, shared in the joy. No cops in sight, no tension, just celebrating the cause.

I’d like to say the march went off for me without a hitch. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

It began with a simple question. “Where’s the bathroom?” Yes, some things are more important than immediate activism.

Now, you’d think someone would have put some bathrooms behind the Disability Caucus tent for, y’know, the folks with disabilities who’d have a hard time getting around in the crush of humanity. But the porta-johns were a block away and about seven or eight thousand bodies packed in like sardines were between us and the gross little boxes. The National Air and Space museum however was right across the street, and they had bathrooms. Except between us was, again, about a metric ton of bodies. I decided to lead the charge for myself and two other wheelchair-bound folk to the loo. I had confidence in my New York voice and people’s good graces. We were joined by a somewhat befuddled march volunteer and there we went, attempting to cross the River Jordan – I mean, Independence Avenue.

Well, there was no ramp for the wheelchairs on our side of Independence Avenue, turns out, so we had to go all the way around the building. Half an hour later, we were swimming upstream against the crowd while the volunteer helpfully announced to anyone who could hear, “Step aside, three wheelchairs, trying to go to the bathroom!” I would have been mortified had I not spent the entire time calling after the gentleman. “Sir? Sir. We don’t need to announce that we need to go to the bathroom. Sir?” People laughed with me. I had to laugh. It was all so absurd. But everyone helped us along. It was pure kindness and magic.


It took forty five minutes to reach the porta-johns on the Mall between the Capitol building and the Washington Monument, where only one day before Trump supporters had lined up to watch the inauguration. I wouldn’t know it until later but the Women’s March had already blown the doors off the inauguration attendance numbers. Nico and I took refuge up on the steps of the National Air and Space Museum and looked out from our vantage point on a sea of pink hats and all kinds of signs. The marchers weren’t just on Independence, but every street we could see. Across the way, cheering people sat on the steps of the National Gallery. The whole area was shut down, no cars in sight.

“They’re saying there’s 700,000+ people here,” a helpful woman told me. She’d flown in from Seattle with her friends the day before and like us had stayed outside of town. Around us flowed a sea of pink Pussy Hats. Both Nico and I promised we’d buy a couple if we could find anyone selling them.

Amid the ocean of pink, we spotted a few red caps emblazoned with the preposterous “Make America Great Again.” I thought it took particular chutzpa to walk around wearing those hats, the mark of Trump supporters everywhere, during the protest. But there was no heckling. Maybe some snark, but nothing mean said that I could see. As we figured out how to get down into the march, I saw a bunch of Trump supporters readying to go into the museum. To them, it was a sightseeing day, and the march was giving them plenty to see.

The trouble started when we tried to go back down into the crowd. I stopped when I started getting massive pain in my leg. Nico pulled aside while the pain shot up my leg, into my hip, went up into my chest, and arm. Sounds bad? It was. I couldn’t take a deep breath. We were petting someone’s gigantic golden lab (the thing could have been ridden into battle) when I started to get woozy. I don’t remember all of what happened next, but it was clear I was in need of medical help. It wasn’t the first time I’d had episodes like this. Cushing’s Disease means I’m supposed to be careful about my stress levels and, well, a protest on so little sleep, in the cold, when I’m anxious in crowds? It was a recipe for problems.

The march was about to start in earnest, heading towards the White House. I had the map in my pocket but when I tried to pull it out, my hands shook. We got out into the flow of traffic heading back towards Independence, but there was no movement. With people pushing in on all sides, I suddenly couldn’t breath. Have I mentioned I’m claustrophobic? Hyperventilating, I told Nico we had to get back up to the stairs. He did one better and got me to the security guards inside the Air and Space Museum.

The next thing I know, I’m being whisked downstairs into the bowels of the museum to their nurse’s office. Yes, the museum has a nurse’s office. And it is better stocked than some doctor’s offices I’ve been to. There, a rather harried man whose name I cannot remember took one look at me and said he wanted to call EMTs. Oh goodie, I thought, what a way to spend a march.

Well, they called EMTs all right. But you know what happens when every block in every direction is shut down? No ambulances can get through. Twenty minutes passed. A half an hour. Dizzy, nauseous, a little incoherent, I sat in the office with a woman who had fallen and dislocated her shoulder and a woman with rheumatoid arthritis who had been overcome from standing too long. We waited. No EMTs came. Security got on the overhead PA and asked for any doctors to please come to the security desk.

Ten minutes later, a skinny middle-aged guy with a blue biker’s shirt and a tan showed up. He had a southern drawl and a good ol’ boy kind of attitude. He was an ER doctor up from Daytona, and he had volunteered to help after the PA announcement. He got me on oxygen and asked me about my medical history. He was kind. He was attentive. And more than that, he took me seriously. He was concerned about the EMTs being unable to get to us. He stayed with me while we talked out what to do. Gradually, the oxygen helped. We figured it was just a bad anxiety attack coupled with some trouble from my wacky endocrine system.

I thanked the man profusely for his help through the oxygen mask. He reached out, patted my arm, and said seriously, “Of course, it’s no problem. After all, I’m a Trump supporter.”

And folks, I nearly swallowed my own tongue. While we chatted some more, I couldn’t get his response out of my head. After all, I’m a Trump supporter. Here was a guy who’d come up for the Inauguration to support the man I seriously believe will screw our country into the floor. And he had been maybe one of the kindest, most attentive doctors I’ve ever seen in my life. He never once dismissed me, or gaslit me. He had taken time out of his day just being a tourist to come down and help me out. I almost cried.

Well, the EMTs never came. After an hour, the nurse came in and asked how I was feeling. We figured I was safe to move, symptoms having subsided. I took my regular medication, started to feel better, and me and Nico moved on. Crisis averted. As we left, I saw another group going by in their red “Make America Great” hats and I thought, you don’t have to wear those, some of you Trump supporters are already doing it, one act of kindness at a time.

Outside, the march had already moved on without us. I told Nico I wanted to catch up. We still had our signs, though so many folks had apparently abandoned theirs. They were lying all over the place, up against the building, against trees. We saw this one as we turned to head towards Constitution and the march route.


Just as we were taking this picture, I heard it: the first harsh voice I’d heard all day, raised over a bullhorn. Uh oh, I thought. We headed for the voice around where we’d left the man with his giant dog. The guy and dog were long gone. In his place was a bearded man standing on top of the refrigerators next to a closed McDonald’s kiosk. He held a giant sign and was yelling into a bullhorn. On his sign were giant block letters screaming, REPENT, and quoting scriptures. The man kept yelling about turning away from sin to accept Jesus as your savior. He called folks sinners, sodomites, told them they’d burn in hell. REPENT was the message, REPENT NOW.

I was furious. I was going to roll over there and give the guy a piece of my mind. But as we approached, I saw a group of young men and women around the man. They were holding up protest signs. They chanted over the man, raising their voices when he did. They shouted, “LOVE IS LOVE” over and over. One young woman stood right in front of the man and held up a sign supporting Planned Parenthood in one hand and a hand written sign saying “CHOOSE LOVE NOT HATE” in the other.


They turned their back on the hateful preacher and chanted louder, and louder, until he finally gave up. I started to cheer, and so did the dozen or so other people who had stopped to support the anti-hate chanters.

Then, a strange thing happened. The preacher started to get down off the refrigerator. He stopped, then reached down and asked the chanters if anyone had lost a water bottle. He held up a blue bottle, and they each said they hadn’t. One of the girls politely asked him if they’d left a sign up there (they hadn’t). Then, one of the guys politely asked the preacher if he needed a hand down so he wouldn’t fall with his sign and megaphone to juggle. The preacher, who had a moment before been preaching for them all to REPENT, took the offered hand and jumped down. Then, they all went their separate ways.

As they went by, I thanked the chanters. Two of the girls went by with tears in their eyes, but the rest were smiling. And by the end of it, so was I.

Nico and I went onto the mall and talked to some folks. A few people stopped me to ask about my sign, ask me about my story. In fact tons of people did over the course of the day. A lot of people snapped my picture. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that, not sure where it would be used. A couple of them kind of gave me the creeps, to be honest. But most were there to document the amazing signs and the people of the day.


Nico took this one of me in front of the Capitol. I was there to spread my message, a message of one woman who lived because the Affordable Care Act existed. I thought back to recently, when I’d received a letter from the White House. I’d gone on the White House website and sent a thank you letter to President Obama for his tireless work defending healthcare. I said in my letter that I figured he didn’t hear enough thank yous in his job, so I wanted to simply say mine.

A month later, I received a letter back with a message from the White House, thanking me for my note. It was certainly a form letter and signed by the presidential auto-pen, but it had still made me tear up. Someone in the White House had read my letter and had the thought to respond. I framed the dang thing to hang on my wall.

Only days after getting that note, auto-signed with President Barack Obama’s name only a few weeks before he’d leave office for good, I sat on the Mall with the Capitol building in the distance and held up my sign, thanking the now former President once more in the only way I could.

As we walked down Constitution to rejoin the protest, a woman stopped me. “I’m so glad Obamacare could help you,” she said, tears in her eyes. “It was one year too late to save my sister.”

Across the way, a group of protestors called the Daughters of Liberty blasted Beyonce’s “Formation” and danced under protest signs with a cop car flashing its lights only a few feet away. I saw protestors taking selfies with the cops. One cop had on a pink Pussy Hat. It was all too fucking surreal.


Somewhere along the way, we lost the main body of the protest. The cops had cut off a single block because a bleachers had collapsed and ambulances were treating those hurt. It meant that the straggling marchers like us were funneled east instead of west. Some broke off and headed back to the Capitol, while Nico and I rolled on north, trying to find the rest of the march. The sun was going down, but people were still hype. We rolled through the unfamiliar city among thousands of people wandering, talking to one another, holding up their signs.

We ended up so far north we hit Chinatown. There, we bought a pair of newspapers commemorating the march. A photographer stopped us and asked to take our picture. I held up my sign and he snapped a bunch of shots. When he gave me my card, he told me I’d made his march. I shook my head, a little flustered, and we rolled on.

We spotted this sign, and I made Nico take a picture of it. It was the feeling I always had when issues of women’s rights came up, that nagging sigh of exhaustion in the back of my throat when I thought about how long this battle was going on and how much longer it would take to win. If it could ever be won.


Tired, hungry, in need of a break, we found shelter in a – no kidding – Hooters. There we gulped down wings and beer pretzels at the bar and drank some soda. I took medication, and we recovered a little. The sun went down. Outside, traffic had started back up again. On TV behind us, CNN was reporting on the marches worldwide. When Elizabeth Warren came on screen, the entire restaurant exploded in celebration. Video of giant crowds from dozens of cities flashed on screen, waves of pink Pussy Hats and signs from New York to Los Angeles and across the world. Three hundred marches across the US and the globe. And most of them looked a lot like this.


Bodily exhausted, mentally overwhelmed, I realized we had to call it a day. I could barely keep myself upright, forget keep my eyes open. The trouble with chronic illness is knowing when to throw in the towel. I wanted to go back out, to rejoin the protestors, to head to the Capitol building and hold my sign up high and remind anyone watching that this protestor, this disabled woman, was alive because of a bill Donald Trump and the Republicans wanted to destroy. But I also could barely sit up straight.

We had to Uber our way out of the area, the trains were too crowded. As the SUV pulled up and we piled in, people in pink hats with signs still streamed thru the area, looking for the protest, or a train station, or a place to catch a meal. People talked, chatted. I never once saw a cop being untoward. In fact, I barely ever saw cops at all. We rolled through the city, north, heading back towards our car and eventually, after a four hour drive, home.

In the car, before I fell asleep against the window, I opened the Etsy app and looked up pink Pussy Hats. I never wear pink, but for this, I’d make the exception.

Before the Women’s March on Washington, I’d sat down with some friends and had a serious talk about the future. What I believed Trump’s America might look like, what kind of damage the Republicans could do to our basic civil liberties, to the laws the previous administration had fought so hard to put in place. Queer rights, healthcare, protection for Muslim Americans, worker’s rights, protection for the poor, violence against people of color. Everything was up in the air, uncertain, dangerously out of control. I talked about what would happen to my healthcare if they repealed the ACA. I talked about the real option of going broke trying to afford my doctor’s bills and medicine, of leaving the US in search of somewhere I could afford medical coverage. And as I talked, I realized how little hope I had for our future.

After the March, when I got home, I sat in the same spot as I had when we talked about that dire America, a future full of rebranded neo-Nazis and their apologists, Republican millionaires destroying our country, and Donald Trump in his golden tower, overseeing it all with his ‘alternative facts.’

But after the March, I returned home feeling something I hadn’t in a while: hope. I found myself reciting Jyn Erso’s quickly becoming iconic line: “Rebellions are built on hope.” I thought of the signs boasting pictures of recently passed Carrie Fischer as Princess Leia telling women to rebel. I thought of the Hamilton quotes telling people to Rise Up. And I thought of those thousands of people in those silly pink hats, all moving out of the way to let a woman in a wheelchair go by, smiling and joking, helping one another out.

Rebellions are built on hope. And thanks to this march, I had found mine again.

This article is about being the Front Man. The Front Woman. The Front Person. Please don’t look at the gender-use in the term and say I’m forgetting folks? Just getting that part out of the way now. Plus, this is going to be kind of long. So, on with the show.

This is an article about the Front Man and How to Apologize. I was on my way to writing an article about being the Front Man in an organization when the very smart Chuck Wendig pointed out some comparisons on Twitter that I could not ignore. Much appreciation for the inspiration here to Chuck because he had a good point.

This week there have been lots of apologies, and not all of them have been good.

The world of media seems to be the week of scandals the last few days. Paula Deen throws around racist slurs and then apologizes about having to apologize (in between still being a racist). Kickstarter has to shut down a ‘seducer’s guide book’ (aka how to be a creepy creeper in three easy steps) and has to apologize when they don’t quite get to it in time. And then there’s Gabe of Penny Arcade, apologizing for blowing his stack on Twitter over being one of the least trans-sensitive human beings in the public geek eye that I’ve ever seen. It’s been a week for apologies, folks. Or rather, for attempted apologies.

So let me pose a question: did folks forget lately that people are listening?

In the age of the internet, the world isn’t just about sharing information, it’s about sharing opinion. With the touch of a few buttons or keys on a keyboard, people can share their opinions on whatever comes up in the media. More than that, media is now created on different platforms than every before. I am old enough (brace yourself, that’s right!) to remember a time without the internet, when you couldn’t just turn around and get an immediate response from thousands of people on what you’ve said. However those days are way behind us and now, one word in the wrong direction can get someone negative responses all over the internet. For some people, that’s only negative responses within your own friend circle or community. For others, your reach is a lot larger.

The Front Person for a company, or a company in itself, has a public image it cultivates. And if it’s run by anyone savvy at all in the ways of business, that public image is crafted around the brand someone wants others to perceive. Sound calculated? It is, but just as calculated as how an individual wants to be seen among their friends. A Front Person or a company just has a lot more people watching, and are held accountable for their words and actions by lots of folks either as fans or consumers (or both). To understand that is to navigate the waters of business with reputation intact.

And what reputation? Whatever one a person wants to cultivate. Some folks just want to be themselves and be out there in the public eye as themselves, barring little to no agenda outside “Hey, I want to do cool things and share them!” or “My company is making quality products to share with our consumers, take a look at the great stuff we’ve got!” I won’t get into the more negatively calculating (aka: manipulative in the bad way) folks or businesses, because we’d get off topic. The point here is, with the internet as a forum, the message people put out there reaches so many more folks. And if that message includes something hateful, or even ignorant, or badly spoken, you will get in a whole lot of trouble. Fast.

Unless that’s the image you want. Unless you want to be ‘the dick’. Or the provocateur. Or just ‘that guy’.

In an age when it takes a lot to cut through all the noise of a million voices all jumping for social media attention, inflammatory views will certainly rise to the top. Is that person being inflammatory on purpose? Who knows. Unless you’re privy to strategy, you can’t know for sure. But a good hint is to look at how the person or company handles their apologies after something ‘bad’ happens. If an apology happens at all.

Example 1: Paula Deen gets caught spewing racist garbage. She puts out a forty-five second video that isn’t about how what she said was wrong. Instead, it’s about how sorry she is about having to apologize. An article recently pointed out that she’s like the thief who isn’t sorry they stole, but rather sorry that they were caught. That is the perfect analogy for this kind of response, and gives a hint to how this person does business in the first place. They aren’t apologizing for their actions, but for the fact that their public image has taken a hit. PS: People don’t seem to be falling for it, and Deen was let go from her Food Network contract.

Example 2: Kickstarter had a project funded on it that was, essentially, a guide on how to seduce women. Among it’s creepier implications, along with it just being kind of ridiculous and desperate to begin with, its a book written by a person whose Reddit posts have been tracked back to include implications of forcing women into sexual contact against their will. I’ll say that in plainer terms: the guy has implied previously that it’s okay to aggress on women sexually to get what you want. The book was funded but Kickstarter backers raised red flags just before the money was about to get sent through at the end of the project. Kickstarter didn’t stop it and the money went through. However, they issued a very seriously worded apology to their audience, recognizing that the project itself was a problem. They not only amended their terms to keep such ‘seduction guides’ from being put up on Kickstarter in the future, they also donated money to an organization that helps those harmed by sexual assault. They didn’t mealy mouth. They said it simply: we were wrong.

A pro tip on knowing when folks don’t mean their apologies? Check for the passive language. “Mistakes Were Made” is my favorite. Nobody there is pointed to to take responsibility whatsoever. Mistakes were made? By whom? Who made them and how? What is being done to fix the problem for the future? Beuler? Anyone?

Example 3: And here’s where things get complicated. In the geek community, Penny Arcade is a serious powerhouse. It’s a web comic, a brand of it’s own, and also the power behind the Pax conventions around the world. It has clout, not only in financial sense, but in influencing thought among it’s fans by view of the mouthpiece of their web comic, con and blog. So when one of it’s frontmen, Gabe (aka Mike Krahulik), goes ahead and says things that are hurtful to the trans community – after having a history of opening his mouth and hurtful things falling out- people take notice. He has self-proclaimed himself ‘a dick’ in blog posts when talking about how he speaks, so in his choice to just say what he wants, he insulted a hell of a lot of folks. And probably cost his company a lot of business in the process. Many who were previously unimpressed by the Pax frontrunner’s handling of the unimpressive ‘dick wolf’ controversy (if you don’t know what that is, check this out for a breakdown, or don’t if you want to avoid face-palming at the impressive insanity) have said enough is enough over this, including the Fullbright Company (creators of the video game Gone Home) who has chosen not to attend Pax over this. They won’t be the only ones.

So Gabe came out and apologized. And that assuaged a lot of folks. Now for me? I sat back and read the apology and something bothered me. It was a single line at the bottom. Gabe says that he should have stepped away rather than continuing to engage when he was angry, because he was angry at being called names. That’s effectively what started this. He didn’t like being called a name, and got mad. In the wake of the reaction to his words, Gabe then says he’s worried about how this will affect other businesses attached to his name, saying:

 I know personally I’m an incredibly damaged individual. I’m not really sure I’m the best foundation for all this other stuff. I don’t want to be the reason people don’t go to PAX or don’t support Child’s Play or don’t watch the shows on PATV. I hate the idea that because I can’t stop being an asshole I hurt all these other amazing things.

It was that line that made me take pause. Can’t stop being an asshole. Can’t. Not won’t. Can’t. As if the option has been taken out of his hands. That, sadly, is not the case. It is not the case for anyone. People choose what they say, even in the heat of anger. People choose how they act, even if they are damaged. People choose to be hurtful or to hold their tongues.

Mistakes were made. I can’t. Passive language.

Being a Front Person is hard. You’re in the public eye, you’ve got folks watching your every move. You have the right to freedom of speech, just like any other person in a free country. Yet if you build something, build a brand, and use that as a place from which to launch your fortunes and then build a fan following from it, you are responsible for the words that come out of your mouth. You are responsible for what you put forward, for better or worse, as any human being is responsible for their words and actions. Except you have a wider audience you’re reaching and therefore, in my opinion, cannot afford to be passive in considering your choices. Mistakes were not made – you made them. And you can learn from them, as Kickstarter did in their respectful and graceful apology, or stand by what you’ve said and be held to account for it by people who disagree with you. There isn’t such a thing as I Can’t and that doesn’t stand as an apology.

Now you might ask: where do you get off saying these things? Well, it all comes back to one thing. I’m now a writer, and a blogger, and a person out there writing things that lots of people read. Sure, not like Penny Arcade, no way like that. But apparently, folks read this blog (hi out there!) and they’ve read my work. I have people I talk to at conventions, on Twitter, on Facebook and in my personal and professional life. And every day, I craft my own image as Shoshana – a writer, a game designer, and a person just trying to be a geek in this crazy geeky world. And I don’t believe in the word can’t as an excuse if I hurt someone with my words. I speak about a lot of topics: game design, larping and feminist thought especially. If in any of those conversations I hurt someone, I hope that I will have the where-with-all to stand up and not say mistakes were made in a defensive way or I couldn’t help myself, but instead say the words hardest but most important to say in this world sometimes:

I am sorry. I was wrong.

I can only expect the same from people whose voice rings louder than my own.

UPDATE: I’ll point out one update that came in while I was formulating this article. Gabe has added an addition to his apology. He’s also donated $20,000 to The Trevor Project in response to the people his words may have hurt. And that’s a start in the right direction, just as Kickstarter responded by recompense to a charity called RAINN. I’ll let that stand for what it is and not beat the dead horse. Let’s hope this kind of thing stops staining the Pax community again and again.

Note: I want to start this post by saying that this is by no means the only article out there, or the only opinion, about the culture of misogyny in the gaming/geek world. This is one post in hundreds of thousands, shouted from the rooftops and put out into the internet world for all to see. There are good people out there doing good work to counteract these horrible actions that have othered women in places across the internet and across the planet. And the talk about misogyny isn’t just one to be done within the gaming or geek world. But that’s the subculture in which I party, so that’s where I do my talking. With all that in mind, read on.

This past week I had a phone call from a friend, John, who talked to me about misogyny in the geek world. He sounded startled about stories he’d heard, things that had happened, issues that had come up in the geek and game design community. He sounded surprised that stories that might be considered sensational were true and happened to people he knew. I was, sadly, not surprised. I was weary when I said, “No John. That’s true. That happened to someone I know. It’s not an urban legend. That happened to a girl I know.” The worst one I didn’t mention was, “That kind of thing happened to me.”

See, John had a stellar last Sunday in which he got confronted with some craziness in the gaming world that happens to womenfolk. And he blogged extremely eloquently about it here. And then he asked me to boost the signal. So I am. And on top of that, I’m not just boosting. I’m adding my piece too.

The gaming world for a long time had a culture of silence. Nay, I’ll say, the geek world. Lots of different fandoms and geek corners of the globe had a cone of weirdness up when it came to talking about the way women were sometimes being treated. About boundaries that were being crossed from the ‘hey, people might be socially awkward’ into the downright criminal. You’d bring up the issue of something that happened to you, or to a friend, and you’d get a shrug and a ‘what can you do?’ Why? Because gamers and geeks and their ‘subculture’ are seen as laden with folks who don’t know boundaries, who have social issues, and the community is seen as a place where these are just a part of life. What comes with that is a place where people can be themselves in a welcoming atmosphere. What also comes with that is those that push the limits of social awkwardness into impropriety and downright disturbing activity.

And for a long time, it was a ‘what can you do?’ response. Because I believe people were afraid that if the community started policing its own for bad behavior, then the beautiful utopia where geeks could come together away from persecution or whatever it is that we’re supposed to be fleeing would dissolve. I hate to say this, folks, but this issue was tackled by a critical list called the Five Geek Social Fallacies that I love to look back on. And what are these fallacies that geeks often fall back on, in short?

  1. Ostracizers are Evil
  2. Friends Accept Me As I Am
  3. Friendship Before All
  4. Friendship Is Transitive
  5. Friends Do Everything Together

We’re going to focus on the first two as the dangerous ones in terms of bad behavior. Fandom theory (which I’m studying this semester, so bear with me) came in a few waves and the first age of fandom basically thought of “Fandom as Utopia”, where outcasts came together to gather and create utopias that their lives could not be like. This theory of fan culture creation and subculture creation was disproven after they were big in the 60’s and 70’s (think Star Trek era) because these societies created ARE NOT UTOPIAS. People within subcultures are still mean, or petty, or aggressive. They still break rules. They still harass. And this is where those fallacies come in and where the culture of silence, I believe, held reign for so long. And still kind of does. Because a lot of folks come to subcultures, and to gaming and geekdom, because of wanting to feel included, then they feel uncomfortable by the notion of ostracizing anyone. They believe that friends ought to accept them for whoever they are, however they are, unreservedly.

In a perfect world, that would be fine. In a world where people still harass, manipulate, bully, demean and molest? Nope. Utopia does not exist. Sad to say it, folks but true.

So when people threw up their hands in the past and said ‘what can you do?’ when stories would come up about girls harassed at conventions, about women who had to walk the ‘casting couch’ to get work as a game designer, or who put up with sexual harassment at work just for the sake of working on a  project, or were gas-lighted by menfolk they worked with when they spoke up, it wasn’t a case of ‘what can you do’? It’s a case of what aren’t you doing.

The last few years have given me hope. The internet has exploded with posts by brave wonderful people, both men and women, who are standing up and shouting that ‘we can do something’. That the geek fallacies are FALSE and that people who break the rules about treatment of the opposite gender, who sexually harass and use the geek community to do it will be called out and will be prosecuted. I use that term: prosecuted, not persecuted. This isn’t about persecuting and making witch hunts but prosecuting actual criminal behavior, or enforcing guidelines against socially unacceptable behavior in public and communal atmospheres. And it does not just have to do with women, as has often been pointed out to me: there is plenty of bad behavior from women, enacted upon men in the community, that goes unspoken about and ignored. But there are people speaking out.

There are also people standing up. When they see bad behavior being done, they are working to correct where they can. If a company chooses not to employ women and the issue comes up, as it has, about the lack of women in the gaming industry (such as during the conversation of #1reasonwhy), companies who stand for equality have stood to offer more work for women. They make known their beliefs through their actions to correct the situation by bringing what equilibrium they can, and to them I always say thank you. And there are those who stand up to act to create new spaces, such as the Different Games conference that is being organized, to give people who have been marginalized a place to represent. There are those who act in small ways, by offering support and care to those who have been on the receiving end of bad treatment. These are the folks you probably never see. They deserve credit. They stand up.

John’s post this week was full of outrage, and mine would be too – if I wasn’t so intimately familiar with the problem. I’m a woman, I’m a geek, I’ve been at this for years. So long I think that sometimes I run out of rage and instead fall into cynicism. But I’ve had opportunities instead lately to take that cynicism and turn it into action and turn it into a voice for support. And I’m going to keep doing that because that’s the way we combat fallacy, and combat those who believe they can hide their horrid and even criminal behavior behind a community I love.

To them I say, sorry, buddy or lady. It’s no longer ‘what can you do?’ or ‘well, y’know, it’s just that…’ It’s now ‘this is our community too, and you’ve got no place to hide from eyes that are attached to people empowered to act, and speak, and enact change. Your sandbox was never just yours. It’s all of ours. And we don’t want it to be a place of harassment and inequality and shame.

And hate to say it, but the new way’s here to stay.