PAX is not, and has never been, a safe place for me to be.
In 2008, I went to PAX for the first time. Despite all of the male gamers trying to tell me how to play StarCraft, despite all of the hungry looks, despite all of the catcalls, it was the most welcome I have ever felt at the con. And this was the year I met the man who raped me.
He instantly bothered me. He was clingy but arrogant and dismissive. But he was a friend of friends, friends who insisted he was “a decent person but takes some getting used to,” and also “totally harmless.” Wrong on both counts. Over the course of the weekend, he singled me out several times, telling me that he could tell I was into him, and that I should stop resisting his advances. At one point he had grabbed me by the wrist and dragged me outside, down the block. He took me away from the safety of my friend’s apartment, into the streets of an unfamiliar town, at dark.
Many excruciating things transpired in the next six weeks. I was endlessly harassed and bullied by this man. I was kidnapped on my twenty-first birthday. I was woken up in the middle of the night, over and over again. So I did everything I could to distance myself from him, but because he was a friend of my friends, I just couldn’t get away from him. I asked my friends to not leave me alone in the same room with him. I asked them to always check in with me when they saw me on Vent or AIM.
And six weeks later, he showed up at my door.
I lived alone. And I mean ALONE. No roommates, no local friends. I didn’t even know a neighbor in the complex who could help me. He forced his way into my home with the singular intent of raping me. I only remember little pieces of what happened (thank you, traumatized brain, for protecting me). I remember very clearly trying hard to breathe and trying hard not to cry. I remember thinking, “If you can just survive, you can put the pieces back together later.”
For six months, I was a broken human being. I quit my job. I stopped going to classes. And I started drinking. Once, I reached out to another member of my WoW guild to tell him what had happened, only to be completely cut off from him and the rest of my guild. Like many victims, I felt ashamed and guilty about being raped. Some days, I even felt like it was my fault. Like, “If only I had not gone to this convention where all of these men told me they want to do terrible things to me, maybe I would not be such a fucking wreck right now.”
I realized right away that was not the right train of thought. After all, I’d just met plenty of awesome people at PAX! Many of them were not interested in causing me bodily harm at all!
Remember: 2008 was the most positive experience I had with PAX. I have attended six consecutive PAXes, each more discouraging and toxic than the last. To be fair, there is always fun to be had at PAX. It’s a neat convention. Except when you get down to some of the people who attend it.
I used to think that the man who raped me was in the minority. That the men who shouted obscene things at me just didn’t fucking know any better, because hey, we’re all geeks. We’re not exactly known for possessing stellar social skills. I used to think that the men attending PAX who didn’t respect, or even like, women were the exceptions instead of the rule. But now I know better. Because Gabe told me so.
In 2010, the Dickwolves strip was published. It wasn’t a funny joke to begin with—treating victims as punchlines is never funny to me—but as a rape survivor it offended me and made me question my value to the community. Obviously Penny Arcade has never really catered to me, not really, but this was the first instance where I felt worse than worthless to them. This was the first instance that I realized the founders of the community would rather make jokes at my expense, at the risk of my safety, than admit that they were wrong and withdraw their statement.
So on Monday, when Gabe’s statement about regretting the retraction of the Dickwolves merch was met with raucous cheers of agreement, my stomach churned. My vision went blurry. I felt dizzy. That entire room of people supports him making money from minimizing the most excruciating experience of my life. The entire room validated his stance. Every cheer reaffirmed his belief that rape is something to laugh at and to profit from.
Let me be clear: I do not think all members of the PAX community are rape apologists. In fact, I think many of these people are wonderful humans. But the community has progressed to a place where it is UNSAFE for me to even say that I’m offended. Let me say that again: standing up for myself within the Penny Arcade community has become a threat to my physical well being.
I don’t even know what else to say. But why the fuck do I have to be the one to say it?
Friends, please read all of this. And remember that the merch that was pulled was created in the first place to make fun of the people who complained (politely, at first) about the comic strip. Their response to the concerns of rape survivors was to mock them and make money at it.
I’ve seen several people on the change-it-from-within front saying “but if they keep us out, they win.”
I think that’s true in many situations. I don’t think it’s true of PAX. Once they’ve got your money, and they’ve shown over the past three years and more that they have no intention whatsoever of listening to your voice. Short of a majority of the Enforcer team going on strike for change, nothing is going to change PAX from within because the owners have already shown they’re not open to it.
As far as they’re concerned, they’ve won the moment you buy your ticket.