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A response to: A Possibly Surprising Defense of Mike Krahulik

(Before you read this, I wrote a previous essay about my feelings on the Penny Arcade thing that you should read first: http://yearbookoffice.com/penny-arcade-thing)

This afternoon a few of my friends were tweeting about this article titled “A Possibly Surprising Defense of Mike Krahulik” saying it captured their feelings about Krahulik’s transphobic comments and the subsequent fallout. You can read it here:

http://www.gamingexcellence.com/features/a-possibly-surprising-defense-of-mike-krahulik

I have no idea who Liana Kerzner is though she self-identifies as a progressive and she seems to mean well with this article. Unfortunately, at least for me, I take great issue with the thesis of this defense and many of the points she raises within.

As a bit of background, I am a transgender woman who was a big fan/supporter of Penny Arcade but no longer feel comfortable reading or watching their stuff anymore, and I am not planning to go to PAX again in the near future. (More on my credentials in the other essay.)

Kerzner begins with a summary of the events that transpired:

Gabe maintained that a game about female masturbation that only had vaginas made sense because women have vaginas.

This skims over the larger issue with Krahulik’s comments. He stated:

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. But I think that is very different from the physical reality of your human body.

You can believe that if you like, but you will also get called “transphobic” because it is a transphobic view. A significant portion of the social issues people have with trans and genderqueer folk is the idea that they are lying or tricking you or themselves. The idea that a transwoman is not really a woman until she has SRS (and maybe she is not even a woman then) puts transgender people in a second-class status with no recourse.

Which brings me to my next complaint about Kerzner’s piece:

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.

Reading the phrase “anti-cis trolls” made me want to give up on this essay entirely. The idea that there is a movement of “anti-cis trolls” is equivalent to the idea that “misandry” is a widespread problem in society. There may be people with radical beliefs on the far end of the spectrum, but there is no anti-cis movement.

I agree that calling someone “cis-male garbage” is probably going too far and saying they should die is definitely over the line, but people have a right to be angry. These comments did not happen in a vacuum, Krahulik made discriminating remarks and then doubled-down on them.

Transgender people suffer significantly higher rates of discrimination than even the rest of the LGBT community. A study by the Center for American Progress says that 90% of transfolk have experienced workplace discrimination, as compared to a rate of 15% to 43% for the LGBT community as a whole. You can still be fired from a job for being transgender or genderqueer in many states where sexual orientation is a protected class but gender identity is not, and hate crimes against transgender and genderqueer people are not even tracked by the federal government because we are not a protected class.

So people get upset about the state of transgender rights and acceptance and they lash out at other people who say dumb shit. You will pardon me while I do not feel bad for you.

But Kerzner does, so much so that she goes on to declare the people who spoke out against Krahulik the villain in this scenario:

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.

It is a fallacy to think you can equate both sides here, you start with an uneven playing field. Krahulik has the privilege and the platform to say something discriminatory about the transgender community, our shouting at the top of our lungs is one way we can fight back. While I am not one of the people who went out of my way to scream at Krahulik, I am grateful for the people who did. When you are the little guy, sometimes you have to scream to be heard.

Kerzner continues:

He's apologized. He's engaged in self-examination. Why does none of this matter?

As I wrote before, I did not accept Krahulik’s first “apology” and while I acknowledge the second I still think he could have, and should have, done a lot more. It is not until the second that he even admits he was wrong. I do appreciate the charitable donation, but as written the apology strikes me as much “Okay okay, get off my back” as it is sincere. That the post went up on Saturday and by Monday morning we were back to business as usual is also very discouraging. The second apology could easily have run until Wednesday (like with the MS Surface Pro review, the strip search posts and any of the promotional posts they write).

Kerzner continues:

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.

There are a few things to unpack here. First of all (as I just stated) Krahulik could do a lot more (and I am not speaking in monetary terms) to convince people he has changed his mind and that he was wrong.

Second, Krahulik has a platform and he is held up as a leader in the gaming community. All it takes is someone who already had transphobic ideas or beliefs to see their hero say something along the same lines to reinforce those beliefs. That is why this is such a big deal in the first place and why the reconciliation process is a lot harder than just saying you are sorry.

And third, again as stated earlier, transgender and genderqueer people are subject to significantly more discrimination in the real world including hate crimes. So we have to take anti-trans attitudes pretty seriously because they can have significant repercussions.

Finally, at least for this paragraph, social justice movements exist to spread the idea that equality is the only way forward. So anyone who disagrees with the transgender rights community has to be called wrong, otherwise what point is there in the movement? This is the same for civil rights, womens rights and gay rights.

Kerzner continues:

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.

Why exactly do you need to “take on” trans-rights activists? Because they called you out on bigotry?

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.

This sentence alone makes me want to dismiss this entire article as trolling.

Penny Arcade's and PAX's branding has always been extremely populist, so the word “cisgendered” isn't anywhere near their wheelhouse.

As I stated in my first essay, everyone has to learn at some point about the concept. I cannot blame someone who was never taught or chose to learn about transgender issues, but I can be disappointed in people who refuse to. Moreover, PAX has been home to panels about transgender visibility in gaming and is billed as an inclusive space, not a populist one.

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.

And here we get to the major problem I have with this essay. This whole idea that transfolk are some sort of on-high elites, that they are the malicious snobs vs the everyman slobs of Penny Arcade flips this situation on its head (in a way that is pretty convenient for your argument).

The transgender community is an oppressed minority. Krahulik is a celebrity with a huge platform.

At the risk of writing a novel, here is my response to a number of points from the rest of the essay.

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!

This line of reasoning alone makes me assume you have not spent much time around the transcommunity. Playing as an opposite gender character in a game is a form of gender expression, but you are mistaken if you want to equate it to the experience of transitioning genders or living genderqueer.

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.

You are attributing the (again, out-of-line) words of one person onto an entire community.

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.

Nope, Krahulik in this situation is the bully. He has the power and is oppressing the little guy. I know this might seem crazy, cause he was a nerd in high school and has been the victim of bullying, so how could he possibly be a bully himself?

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.

Citation, please. In the meantime, according to the Trevor Project: Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt.

Anti-transgender attitudes, beliefs and the risks of potential hate crime is a factor in this. Not to say that one suicide statistic is better than the other, but you brought it up.

If a potential ally gets shouted down and shoved away, it increases the likelihood that they'll stop trying to understand at all.

I am enthusiastic about trying to work with “potential allies” who tell me that I should not bother talking to them.

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?

Second sentence, please see first sentence.

The idea that the world will suddenly and completely understand and accept a transhuman concept is utter idiocy.

Nobody is asking for this.

It boggles me that modern freedom fighters get so hung up on words that they lose sight of the bigger picture.

Words have meaning, also this is not a fight about words but discriminatory beliefs. Stop concern trolling.

Because of this utter and widespread hypocrisy, I won't jump on the bandwagon labelling Mike Krahulik transphobic.

Not up to you to decide that.

I'd also like to reward his mature, open conversation with his trans employee as a fantastic first step.

He essentially said “I’m sorry you are offended, but I am not changing my mind” to her. She accepted this, I (and I think many others) did not.

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.

So why bother, right? Gender is hard, let’s go shopping!

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.

She convinced him that he did not have to change his mind. She did not speak for me and it was only through continued screaming (as Kerzner characterizes it) that he went further.

I fear a backlash because of this horrible online dialogue.

Again, concern trolling. This is how the social justice sausage gets made.

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.

Trans-rights advocates do not need Penny Arcade. Almost everyone we deal with on a daily basis is Penny Arcade. Standing up for the everyman is enforcing the status quo, the one where transgender and genderqueer people are an oppressed minority.

Kerzner closes with this:

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.

I don’t want to be “Ms. Transgender for Dummies” to everyone I know, but unfortunately I do not get that choice. Being out as transgender means teaching everyone you come out to, all the time, over and over again.

And by the way? Not a lifestyle. You know, like how there is no gay lifestyle or women’s lifestyle one chooses to adopt. This is who I am. Kthankx.