I write quite a bit about allyship on discorda. I write about the dark side of game development, those horrible, icky, “let’s not examine this too closely” subjects. I write about sexism, racism (although not as much), transphobia and homophobia. Bigotry.
I haven’t yet written about the price you have to pay to be a good ally. I’ve hinted at it, sure, but I haven’t written about it.
A conversation with a friend made me want to point at that allyship costs you. I haven’t written about this previously, because honestly, being an ally shouldn’t be about me. It should be about the people I ally with. It should be about their stories, their struggles. They need to be seen and heard, not I. I’ve already carved out a tiny space for myself. I don’t need to be heard in the same way.
I’m writing this post, however, to point at the fact that in order for us, you, me, everyone, to be good allies, we may have to pay for it.
In some cases the cost might be to step down from a jury or panel or event and give that space to someone else, someone more marginalized. In some cases, maybe don’t buy that book or subscribe to a service or buy that game.
If you still feel like you have to consume the media that is viewed as problematic, at least don’t seek absolution from the people who are hurt buy it. Too many times that seems to be the objective. “I like this media, please tell me that it’s okay.” Arguments for why there is no ethical consumption under capitalism also pop up. Sure. There might not be. But there are still choices you as an individual can make.
Us humans are greedy, problematic and destructive as a species. But we can also be empathetic, compassionate and constructive. I can choose to not fly on an airplane1. I can also choose to not read a book by a homophobe that actively tries to ban same sex marriage, or play a game based on a trans exclusive feminists work.
Sometimes giving these things up hurts. Ever since Buffy, Joss Whedon has been a favourite of mine, Firefly in particular. Enter GamerGate and Adam Baldwin’s fanning of the flames, leading to harassment and doxing and swatting.
I don’t watch Firefly anymore. I loved it, but Adam Baldwin is an asshole and I can’t look at it without wanting to tear him apart. He also ruined Kal R’eegar. I used to try and save the character. No more. I kill him off.
But Whedon did one up on Baldwin and turned out to be a manipulative sexist and racist, at least according to a lot of people who worked with him. Sure, it might be a witch hunt and all that, but why are the victims primarily women and black men? So now I don’t watch anything Whedon has written or directed. Trust me when I say it hurts because he’s been a staple at home.
Before Rowling came out as a TERF, I really liked her books she wrote as Robert Galbraith. Now I’m conflicted. Galbraith has released new books since Rowling came out as a TERF, but I’m very conflicted around buying and reading them. So far I haven’t.
The point I’m trying to make, however poorly, is that I enjoy problematic media. I do, I sometimes love it. But sometimes the welfare of my friends has to come first. I’m not really trying to say “if you love them, you can’t love that”, that’s up to you to decide. But I know that if I choose to read another book by Rowling, I’m being kinda selfish. If I ask my friends to forgive me for doing that, I’m actively hurting them, by trying to pass the guilt back. “I’m reading this/ playing this, but please tell me it is okay is that I don’t have to feel guilty”, Here’s the thing. Maybe you should. Maybe you should feel guilty. That’s okay though. Feel guilty, read the thing. But don’t defend the problematic originator. Don’t try to get absolution. Criticize, question. Don’t try to get away from the fact that consuming media that hurts people, hurts people.
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