This is Taylor Mason, a character from the tv series Billions. Even though I’ve never even seen the show, Taylor is important to me. Let me tell you why. Continue reading The Personal Impact of Representation
Accessibility and representation in games is a topic close to my heart, and this short video pretty much sums up why. It’s an interview with Ian Hamilton, one of the people behind Game Accessibility Guidelines — a really terrific resource that anyone interested in making games should look at regularly.
What people often don’t realise is that games aren’t just a bit of fun. The access that they give you to recreation, to culture, to socialising, is stuff that a lot of people take for granted. But if for some reason your means of accessing those things is restricted, then actually games can be a really powerful contributor to your quality of life.
Games are an amazing medium when it comes to allowing and enabling those who are often left by the wayside by mainstream society to participate. Often, from a development perspective, it’s as simple as allowing the players the freedom to customise their experience to fit their particular needs. And, as Hamilton says in the video, this isn’t just altruism: Making a game playable for more people means more people are likely to actually pay for it. Basically, we really have no excuse not to make our games as accessible as possible.
Go check out Games Accessibility Guidelines! Tell your friends in the games industry (and your boss, if you have one)! It really should be part of every developer’s toolkit.
Stock photos in tones of black and blue, of women shielding their face, of fists and black eyes. A stair lined with knives, tweeted by the police. They are so effective, those images, so evocative. So simple. Is that really what domestic abuse looks like? I can’t tell you. I don’t think it looks like anything in particular.
[Content Notice: This article discusses non-physical domestic abuse.]
This article was shared by someone in my facebook feed, weeks ago, and it stuck with me. Something in it made me feel uneasy, beyond the obvious horror of a stair lined with knives.
Eventually I found the answer in the quote at the end:
This picture is a snapshot of the horrific reality of domestic abuse. We hope it raises awareness of the barriers facing survivors who want to flee. If people ask ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ – show them this picture.
–Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid
While I absolutely do not deny that many women stay in abusive relationships because they fear for their lives, I know for a fact that there are many other reasons why people don’t leave their abusers.
Sometimes, people don’t leave their abusive partner because they’re financially dependent on them. Because they’re disabled, because they have kids, or because that was just always the plan: Their partner would take care of them, so they didn’t need to work.
Sometimes, people don’t leave their abusive partner because they’ve been convinced that they are completely hopeless and unloveable, and that this relationship is the only one they will ever have. That they’re lucky to have anyone at all.
Sometimes, people don’t leave their abusive partner because they’re codependent; because the immense gratification they get when they feel able to aid their loved one overrides all other concerns.
In my case, well, I didn’t leave my abusive partner for two very simple reasons:
The first was that I was in love.
But more importantly, I didn’t understand that I was being abused.
In fact, I didn’t realise what had happened until several years had passed. Sure, there were the immediate scars of a bad relationship, of lies and broken trust. But there were other, deeper things. Subtle conditioning of emotional responses that took years to suss out.
It’s been so long, and I still remember that person’s moodswings. How they would get violent towards inanimate objects, breaking stuff on a couple of occasions, because of inconsequential things making them lose their shit. But it was never about me, so I didn’t think of it as abuse. I simply lived in fear of those sudden outbursts and their interminable aftermath. Their black mood would fill the room like a poisonous cloud, and they wouldn’t lift a finger to disperse it. It was up to me to try to make them happy again, or at least not annoy them further.
And oh yes, that was another thing: They told me I was the most annoying person on earth. Of course, I was also the most amazing person on earth, sometimes. During one particularly difficult conversation towards the end, they called me a robot for being so calm and reasonable in dealing with my emotions, and later declared me overly sensitive when something they said upset me so much I had to go to the bathroom because I thought I was going to throw up. As I recall (though this may have been from a different conversation altogether), they had compared me unfavourably to the lover they had slept with behind my back for months but then claimed to have stopped seeing.
I didn’t understand that when they refused to answer a perfectly reasonable question about how they had spent some time with that supposed ex lover, saying they didn’t want to “feed my paranoia”, that was a classic example of gaslighting.
I didn’t understand that the way they hardly ever gave me compliments or showed any particular affection towards me when we were around people we knew, preferring instead to mock me on those occasions, was abusive. That it slowly ground me into a pulp, left me desperate and emotionally destitute.
And of course, there was the jealousy. They were jealous of me, of everything I did that didn’t have to do with them. I quickly learned to avoid mentioning social engagements with others. I cut short my foray into dressing more femininely and “showing off my goods” in public, because they wanted my body all to themselves. I never knew if showing myself to be skilled at something would draw some mild praise, or simply send them into a huff because it was a skill they lacked.
I was walking on eggshells for the entire duration of our relationship. And even today, years later, I notice the same worries and thought patterns in myself, being applied to people who never did anything to earn that sort of fearful response from me. When a later partner got out of bed to fetch something and ended up stubbing their toe in the dark, and my whole body tensed up with anxious fear … I think that was the final piece of the puzzle.
I didn’t understand that I was being abused, because to me all those things were just personality quirks. My partner was a difficult person, I knew that when we got together. They had cultivated a self-image of the tortured genius, one which I happily encouraged, as it attracted me and spoke to the codependent tendencies I do have.
Sure, they treated me like a dishrag, using me to wipe up their filth and then wringing me dry — but that’s not abusive, that’s just being a terrible partner. Is what I thought.
And I loved them. I was so deeply committed to them, I simply couldn’t let go. It wasn’t possible.
They dumped me, eventually, for that lover I mentioned (whom they probably never stopped seeing). We tried to remain friends. When I landed a rebound a while later, they got upset. Called me — I think I can count on my fingers the number of times they spontaneously called me during our relationship. But now they needed me to talk to them, pick them up again, just like I had when I had been theirs alone.
And when they started feeling better, they saw fit to inform me how much all their friends had hated me, back when we were together.
That’s when I left. When they had already left me, and I was no longer rewarded with some token of affection for the immense emotional labour they required of me. That’s when I could finally let go.
My point is, domestic abuse isn’t always so obvious and clear-cut as knives stuck into the steps of a stair. Sometimes it’s gaslighting until you start questioning every thought and desire you have. Sometimes it’s years of tiny barbs that slowly wear you down. Sometimes it’s having to carry the entire weight of your partner’s emotional burdens, because they have no idea how to do it themselves.
I’d wager a lot of people, like myself, never understand that they’re being abused until afterwards, and perhaps not even then.((Especially if they are male, and the abusive partner is female. Because men can’t be abused by women. It simply doesn’t happen. Even if you do realise you’re being abused, what can you do about it? Who would believe you? You’re a man, after all.))
And, conversely, I suspect many abusers have absolutely no idea what they are doing. They aren’t hitting their partner, after all, or threatening them in any way. How could they possibly be abusing them?
So when we see photos of knives in stairs, accompanied by quotes from knowledgeable people saying that this, this is the horrifying reality of domestic abuse … how are we to connect that to the reality we live in, where the knives aren’t always made of steel?
You don’t talk about abuse openly, for many reasons, not least of which is your abuser still being alive. Mine may very well come across this blog post some day.((If you are reading this, I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive yourself for what you did to me. I probably never will.)) Every person who decides to talk openly about what happened to them have to face the fact that there may be repercussions. I’ve made a risk calculation and decided that it’s worth it, that I can write about this.
I wish I couldn’t — I wish I had never experienced it. That relationship sucked life out of me, and most certainly made my anxiety worse than it already was. And I guess the only thing I can do with the memory is talk about it, in the hopes that maybe it will help someone. That maybe, someone reading this might take a closer look at their own relationship(s) and understand that they need to leave. Or that they need to stop abusing their partner. Or that they need to talk to that friend of theirs whose partner always seems so rude to them. You get my drift.
I hope to raise awareness, just a little bit higher than the image of a stair full of knives might.
With an abuser recently elected to become one of the most powerful people in the world, I felt it was high time to adress a problem that is perhaps tangential to abuse, but still important. And that is how to support the victims.
Any number of things could have inspired me to write this post – the sad fact is that bullies, abusers and harassers are everywhere, and I see people talking about them every day. Unfortunately, this means I also see a whole lot of unhelpful responses. Since I hope it’s usually done out of misguided kindness, I decided to write this list of what not to do when you want to support a friend who has been subjected to some sort of harassment, abuse, or threats. Continue reading 6 Things NOT to Do When Supporting Victims of Harassment
Madeline Ashby, a strategic foresight consultant and novelist, suggests that “one of the reasons women are socialized to choose ‘sustainable’ jobs (like teaching, nursing, even programming … computing, or project management, etc.) is because we don’t teach girls risk.” Because women are taught from birth to be risk-averse, they approach work with a different mindset — one which values exactness, tight deadlines, and perfection of finish over experimentation and rough prototyping. Ashby says, “We punish girls for failure in a different way than we do boys; boys are meant to ‘fail faster’ so that they can learn, whereas girls are expected to do things perfectly the first time around.”
Anyone who’s known me for longer than a year, however superficially, knows I’ve undergone some dramatic changes lately when it comes to how I present myself. I suppose it’s not so obvious for everyone that these changes have been a long time coming. They would have come a lot earlier, if not for the strange way my strongly individualistic nature has clashed with my equally strong desire to fit in and follow the rules.
I was bullied as a kid – surprise surprise – and although that time has definitely left its scars, the strange thing is how I can’t remember what I was bullied for. Kids make up all sorts of arbitrary reasons to pick on each other, of course, but usually these reasons are communicated to the victim. Not so much, in my case. Anyway, I do remember one time where a boy accused me of having cheated on a test. I remember it because that was one of the few times I hit back (verbally, at least). Because the very implication that I might have cheated got me furious.
Okay, but what’s this got to do with style? In my case, everything, as it turns out.
A need to follow rules has been a very strong theme in my life, without me knowing it. I always considered myself a very individualistic person, an outsider who likes to do things their own way. But fact of the matter is, I’m terrified of being caught having done something wrong. Even if that is simply wearing my hair wrong or combining the wrong pieces of clothing.
At the same time I’ve been actively uninterested in fashion. As in, I considered it anathema to the person I wanted to be. There were styles like synth and goth that appealed a lot to me ever since I was a teenager, but where I felt like trying them out would be putting on a costume. I listened to the wrong music, I didn’t have the energy or interest in learning to wear make-up … basically, I thought I had to buy the entire package to be allowed to wear the clothes and hairstyles I thought looked cool.
All this meant that I often dressed well, and in some ways originally, but always somewhat conservatively.
So that’s one aspect of what I used to look like. But my need to do things right didn’t just mean shutting myself out of alternative fashion. It also meant that I restricted myself to an imaginary binary.
Stuck in the Binary
It’s been a couple of years since I realised I completely lack a gender identity (what this means exactly is something I’ll probably get back to in a future post). When I first did, I didn’t think much of it. I’m AFAB and wore femme clothing, and as such enjoyed all the privileges, such as they are, of being interpreted as a ciswoman. And since gender literally means nothing to me, I didn’t really care if people kept thinking of me as a woman.
I also made one of the most embarrassing errors of thought I can remember: I thought, “Well, if I’m gonna dress as a man, I’d want to pass, and with these wide hips and narrow shoulders, ain’t no way that’s ever gonna happen.”
It never once struck me that there are other ways to present myself than fully feminine or fully masculine. That there’s a whole spectrum of gender expression, I knew. That there are plenty of people breaking the binary and challenging norms, I knew. I applauded and looked up to them. But for myself, I was completely entrenched in binary thinking.
So I thought that if I couldn’t pass, dressing masculine was pointless, and I told myself that with these wide hips of mine there simply was no chance of ever fooling anyone. Except perhaps very briefly, if seen at a distance. Simply going butch was never on the map, and what’s even stranger, it never struck me that I could dress androgynously. Even though I’ve carried a life-long fascination with androgyny.
All this changed, obviously. It changed through meeting the right people. The first step was, somewhat ironically, embracing femininity. Although I definitely had an interest in looking good before, I suffered from internalised femmephobia, which prevented me from wearing skirts and the colour pink. It’s okay, you can laugh. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
The first step involved meeting a man who was interested in fashion. Not fashion as in what’s fashionable, but as in how to find clothes that suit yourself as a person, how to combine them to accentuate good features, etcetera. And I realised that hey, this is actually a legitimate interest. A hobby, even. One doesn’t have to be shallow or vain (attributes frequently associated with femme) to find this interesting or fun. Besides, if I refused to wear clothes I liked simply because our culture tells me I should wear them because of my perceived gender, then in a way, culture would still be winning.
And that was the beginning of my femme revolution.
Over the next few years I enjoyed a variety of styles with a focus on around-kneelength skirts and brightly coloured and patterned tights. I mostly went either for conservatively cute (as opposed to full lolita) or high femme.
The problem was, it still wasn’t me.
Letting Go of the Rules
The final change began when I started hanging out with the people who are now my closest friends (and in some cases, lovers). Suddenly I was surrounded with piercings and sidecuts and interesting, norm-breaking styles of dress and above all, a very relaxed attitude towards it. They were not cliqueish in the least, and when I started expressing an interest in trying out some new style elements – like dying my hair in unnatural shades – this was met with enthusiastic support and offers of help.
And so I took my first few careful steps. A purple ombre. A discreet undercut. A not so discreet medusa piercing. A sidecut. Another sidecut.
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I am not a woman. I don't know what it feels like to have a gender identity at all, which is why I style myself agender. I am not a woman. I have learned to play the part, and to some extent it has been both enjoyable and empowering to embrace chosen parts of hegemonic femininity. But it doesn't define me. It never has. I am not a woman, but I know what it feels like to be seen as and treated as one. Thus I am a feminist. Today, on Intl Women's Day, I ponder how lucky I am to live in a time and place that allows me to think about gender identity and expression in terms like these. Most people never had that luxury. So – here's to past victories, and future success. #internationalwomensday #iwd #iwd2016 #nonbinary #enby #agender
And then, sometime this spring, I had many long conversations about gender identity and expression with my partner Deus, and through these realised what should have been obvious all along: I had been LARPing a woman, and for a long time felt comfortable in that role. But I didn’t have to keep doing that. I didn’t have to pretend to be anything that wasn’t me.
I could, in fact, start dressing to look androgynous. Or butch. Or weird. Or whatever I feel like at the moment.
And that’s where I am today. I cut my hair off and dyed it black and purple. I wear a fake leather jacket and prefer men’s clothing, especially trousers, which just have so much more space than the ridiculously tight trousers I wore before. I also happily abandoned the grossly uncomfortable underwire push-ups I had squeezed my diminutive bosom into (telling myself I needed it to get closer to the much-coveted hour-glass figure), in favour of sports bras.
And not just that – I started sitting differently. And standing, and walking. I suddenly became acutely aware of how I, while trying to act like a woman, had constantly been policing my own behaviour, adjusting it to fit the idea of what an attractive female person should be like. Now, I’m finding it amusing to try to emulate male ideals instead, in an attempt to perhaps land somewhere in the middle.
In the end, this journey (which obviously isn’t over yet) has led to all sorts of insights about myself and how I express my personality through my exterior attributes. I’m happy to say I haven’t just become far more relaxed about how I present myself, but also less judgmental of others. In the end, the important thing is to dress and look the way you like and feel comfortable with.
So, if you’re reading this and feeling even the slightest twinge of envy: Just Do It. Go on and buy that piece you’ve been ogling but didn’t think you’d dare wear, or get your trimmer and shave a side-cut. It’s less scary and more liberating than you think, and you can always change your mind.