We Lost a Friend to Acephobia (& Other Microaggressions)
We lost a friend due to acephobia and other microaggressions that started to arise and spiraled out of control during a D&D campaign.
Not mentioned in this episode, but equally important to the conversation of racism in D&D and Curse of Strahd in particular, is the use of harmful, anti-Romani stereotypes in the campaign. For more information and suggestions on how to fix these racist tropes in your own game, we recommend this Google Doc series by Rue Dickey.
For more general Romani Rights and Visibility education, we recommend the Roma Unraveled Podcast
Check out our awesome Ace Gaming friends!
- D&D: Combat Wheelchair Makes Splash With WotC Staff, Critical Role’s DM, But Not All Agree
- Sara Thompson @mustangsart on Twitter
- Van Richten's Guide poor wheelchair design choice
- Jennifer Kretchmer @dreamwisp on Twitter
- Accessibility in Gaming Resource Guide By Jennifer Kretchmer
- The Asians Represent Podcast, Asians Read... AD&D Oriental Adventures
Courtney: Hi, everyone. Welcome back to The Ace Couple Podcast. My name is Courtney. I’m here with my spouse, Royce. And we are, you guessed it, The Ace Couple. And today we have a personal story. It’s a bit of a bummer, quite honestly, but it’s something we wanted to share because it’s something that will be familiar to many people who are part of a marginalized community, and for those whom it’s not familiar yet, it may be a fear that you have; it’s a fear that many have. So, we’re going to share our story. And I don’t really know how to start this series of misfortunes. It kind of started over a year ago. I would say that it stretched out over the space of several months, this unraveling, but we essentially lost a friendship because said friend not only said several acephobic things – which we thought we could work through, we hoped we could work through, and we tried to talk them out – but then other microaggressions started coming out, and it just kind of snowballed.
Royce: Well, should we start by mentioning that the brunt of these things started happening around a virtual D&D table?
Courtney: Yes. True. We’re going to be talking a lot about D&D, but this story is not itself about Dungeons and Dragons. It’s about the issues that transpired with this friend of ours. But playing Dungeons & Dragons was very much the setting, the catalyst for our woes.
Royce: Yeah, it was just the vehicle for all of these things to show up. Because again, this was a friend of five years. We’d been around them quite a bit. We’d played games – board games, just not role-playing games – and hadn’t really seen or noticed anything quite like this before.
Courtney: Yeah, exactly. It was very much a “this person showed their true colors” kind of a situation. It was, as he said, a friend of five years, so it’s not as if this was a lifelong friendship, but it was the first friend that we kind of both made together as a couple that we both met at the same time. It was my first major friendship that stuck after moving down to the Kansas City area. Because of course, I mean, before becoming a couple, you had your friends, I had mine. We met each other’s friends, and some of them are still very much a part of our life and our friend group now, but this was the first person we met out in the wild as a couple that ended up sticking, so it did end up becoming a very important friendship. I mean, we had keys to each other’s houses at various points in time, spanning several years. He and his wife – both of them, as our friends – were sort of the friends we would go to if one of us needed to travel and we needed someone to watch our pets while we were out of town; we traded pet-sitting duties and house-sitting things pretty frequently. So, they were definitely people who had our back in emergencies. In fact, when my grandmother died and I had to very quickly travel out of state to attend to her care near the end of her life, they stepped in, not only to watch our pets, but also to watch my mother’s cat. So, they were just monumentally appreciated in our lives.
Courtney: But then the pandemic started. And as we’ve talked about on the podcast, I am disabled, I am chronically ill, and I am not messing around with this covid thing. So, we’ve been very, very isolated ever since, like, March 13th of 2020. So, we weren’t seeing our friends in person like we used to. We weren’t having board game nights where we were inviting groups of people over to our home. We weren’t going out to places. So, in our isolation, we eventually decided to try playing virtual Dungeons & Dragons. We had played board games with these friends a lot, but we’d never played any role-playing games before. And none of us really had a party that was going super regularly that we were playing every single week or anything like that. So, in just talking about these bigger tabletop role-playing games, we started thinking, “Hey, maybe we want to get into Dungeons & Dragons.” And it’s something that I think most of us had played at least a little bit in the past. So we were all kind of trying to re-enter or get more serious about this as a hobby all at the same time, so we said, “Alright, let’s do it!” And it seemed like a really good arrangement. But then everything changed when the microaggressions attacked.
Courtney: So the people involved in this group are our D&D party. It was the two of us. Then our friends who were the couple we just spoke about. Of this couple who were preexisting friends, it was really only one of the two that was saying these harmful things. But it was he and his wife. And then they had two other friends who they thought, “Hey, we’d all really hit it off. They also want to play some games. These two should also join the party.” So, it ended up being the six of us, total. And our friend who ended up saying these very problematic things was often the Dungeon Master in our game, so he was the one operating the games, creating the world, running the sessions.
Courtney: And for those of you who are familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, we decided to play a very famous horror campaign called The Curse of Strahd, and that’s like your traditional vampire horror, your sort of, like, Dracula. And so right off the bat, there ended up being issues with that, just from, like, a personal preference, which we didn’t identify immediately at the time, because we all voted to play that campaign. We were all going to chip in money to buy the book. And there were lots of options on the table, so we actually had a poll and put it to a vote, and everyone pretty much unanimously voted for Curse of Strahd, so that’s why we played it. And the two of us voted for it because we knew about this horror setting and we wanted to play this horribly depressing oppressive world. But apparently, that was not communicated very well, because we later found out that at least one player, if not more, thought this was going to be more of like a campy vampire romp, like a silly Monster Mash, goofy Halloween-y kind of thing. And we were like, “Oh, that’s not at all what we signed up for.” We actually wanted to bring the [spooky tone] horror and the dread.
Royce: Yeah, that was a quick lesson learned in setting and confirming expectations. Because for those of you who aren’t familiar with D&D, a module like this, like Curse of Strahd, is, I don’t know, probably a 250-page hardcover book – a book with a lot of material in it that a group could probably spend a good year or two playing if they play once a week.
Courtney: Yeah. If you’ve never seen those books, 250 pages doesn’t sound like a lot, but they’re big pages and they are dense.
Royce: They’re dense and there is a lot of role-playing stuff that is not explicitly mentioned. Like, they’ll give you the setup, but there’s going to be a lot of activity happening that you’re just improvising.
Courtney: Yes. And that’s why there is a Dungeon Master to help fill in those blanks. But yeah, what we’re really getting at is: this is a commitment. This is a regular social commitment. So getting into something and realizing that this was not at all what we wanted or what we voted for or signed onto was kind of a big issue.
Royce: Yeah. On one hand, there’s the social hang-up of ruining a game for your group of friends by backing out so that they can’t play the thing that they wanted to play. But on the other end of it, there’s the idea of spending several hours once a week doing something that you don’t actually want to be doing, that you’re not getting what you wanted out of it.
Royce: Again, for probably a couple of years.
Courtney: Yeah, that’s a long time to be miserable. [laughs] And yeah, I mean, if you’re a Redditor, you might be familiar with subreddits talking about horror stories in settings like this.
Royce: There are entire subreddits devoted to bad role-playing experiences, like D&D Horror Stories or RPG Horror Stories.
Courtney: So yeah, it’s not as if a major falling-out like this has never happened before. Unfortunately, it’s actually quite common. And so when we first jumped in, the first game or two was fine. But then a couple of things started happening, and we were kind of like, “What is the tone of this game? This doesn’t seem like what we were expecting or what we wanted.” So, we were already starting to question amongst ourselves, like, “Is this game a little weird? Were we expecting something different? Should we bring it up?” But that’s all purely just the game’s issue and the setting expectations. But it was not long after that that the very first really questionable statement happened. Because the premise of this game in particular is supposed to be that there is this vampire overlord who has created his own domain of dread.
Royce: Curse of Strahd spoilers, by the way.
Courtney: Minor ones! Only minor. We’re not really going to talk about anything other than the main premise and setting, maybe a character or two here and there. Because honestly, we got to the first village. We didn’t end up playing the whole game [laughs]. Everything exploded. And I’m still a little disappointed that we never actually got to play Curse of Strahd [laughs]. But within this domain of dread, everybody is basically miserable, thus the “dread” part of this domain. And there are these shells – these, like, husks of people that are not real humans. They don’t have souls.
Royce: Yeah. If I remember right, the way the magic was explained, Strahd – the D&D Dracula insert – was basically imprisoned here along with this area of land that he lived at at that point in time. And so, all of the people that lived there also got imprisoned in this domain. And something about the magic caused the number of actual souls to be fixed. So if a person died, their spirit wouldn’t leave this domain; it would just be reincarnated in a new body. But the population grew. The population grew, but the number of actual souls remained the same. So, I think one in ten people around the environment actually had a soul.
Courtney: Yeah. So we have this situation where in the lore, as written in the book, one in ten bodies that you see actually has a human soul. Everything else is just a, I don’t know, like, a walking corpse, just a walking husk, a facsimile of a human. So, what actually ended up going wrong with that? Well, I don’t know if you know this, dear podcast listeners, but Royce and I are famously asexual. And this was not news to our friend. By this point, he had known for many, many years – basically nearly the entire time knowing us, I would venture – but we also had this other couple who had come in who we did not know very well. One of them we’d crossed paths with only on a couple of casual occasions; the other we had never spoken to until we sat down to start playing these games. But they seemed really cool. They seemed like people we would really hit it off with, even though there wasn’t this pre-established relationship. So because of that, there was kind of this issue where if they were to say or do anything that made us a little uncomfortable, we weren’t totally comfortable bringing it up in the same way as the people we knew much better for many years.
Royce: Yeah, they were still definitely friends-of-a-friend, and we didn’t really ever communicate with them without said, you know, first-order friend being present.
Courtney: Yeah. And the only kind of issue that happened was that… Well, so, first of all, there’s this awful trope in D&D of the horny bard, the character who does magic based on their performances, like playing an instrument as a vehicle for controlling their magic. And a lot of D&D bros will take that as, like, [slightly bro-y cadence] “Yeah, I’m the musician who gets all the ladies. I’m gonna play my concert at the pub and then I’m gonna get laid. And I’m just gonna flirt with absolutely every single person I run into.” And as asexual D&D players… thanks, we hate it. [laughs] Do not like it at all. And I just do not have a desire to play a game with a character like that. And so, to our dismay, friend-of-a-friend came in, was like, “I’m going to be a horny bard.” And so immediately we were like, “Ehh… [laughs] Are we going to want to commit to a year plus playing a game with the character who’s just going to be upsetting us?” And we also knew that this was supposed to be this really oppressive horror setting, so we were like, “How is that even going to work?” Just tonally, if you’re trying to just sleep with all of these really miserable horribly abused people that we are in theory here trying to liberate from this abusive situation, I just, I don’t like anything about that.
Courtney: And our friend, the DM, at first, on paper, seemingly said and did everything that you should do if you’re sensitive to your players’ needs. He outright said that “If there’s anything you are uncomfortable with, let me know. If you have any triggers, let me know and I’ll make sure it doesn’t end up in the game.” So, all of that is good in theory, but you do actually have to kind of act on that. And if people are having issues at your table, especially if you’re the one who brought a couple of different friend groups together who didn’t have a pre-established relationship, you’re sort of the facilitator of making sure that everybody is comfortable within this game. And when you’re role-playing, things can get intense. They can get emotional, because you’re acting out scenes. Actually, Royce, you and I have talked about before how there are kind of some overlaps in D&D and kink – how the D&D community can learn from the kink community how there needs to be a lot of conversation, and sometimes there needs to be aftercare if there’s a really emotional session where tensions are really high. But I digress.
Courtney: In this situation, as soon as friend-of-a-friend said, “I’m going to play a horny Bard,” our alarm bells kind of went off, because we didn’t have a lot of experience playing games like this with him, so we didn’t know how far he was likely to take this. And we knew that the horny bard trope is likely to get too far past the point of us being comfortable and into the part where it would be rather miserable. So, in fact, I’ve seen a lot of those r/DNDHorrorStories that start with the horny bard being really inappropriate to, like, the only woman at the table. Like, that’s a thing that happens pretty regularly.
Courtney: So we went to our friend, the DM, and we were like, “Hey, we don’t know this other guy that well. He does seem really cool. We like him. But we’re a little bit worried about this horny bard thing.” And his response to that, instead of trying to have a conversation with us in the group or talking to that guy, his response was basically to just try to assure us that it was going to be fine. There was no conversation of, like, “Hey, is there another character you might want to play that might work for you?” or “Hey, let’s establish ground rules to make sure we aren’t overstepping any lines here.” But instead, our friend of multiple years, who knows that we are asexual, said, “Oh, don’t worry. He won’t be able to sleep with many people, because most of the people here are actually soulless husks and therefore they’re all asexual.”
Courtney: I’m sorry, what?! I said, “Friend, I know you did not just compare asexuals with soulless husks.” And all he said was, “Oh, well, that came out wrong,” and I was like, “Yeah. Yes it did. Absolutely that came out wrong.” But then he, like, doubled-down on that again, and he was like, “Oh, I’m not saying that all asexuals are soulless, but if you’re soulless, naturally, you’re going to be asexual.” And I was like, “That’s not how any of this works!”
Courtney: So, at that point, we were like, “Hey, before our next session, can we jump on a video call like an hour before the full group gets together? Because we legitimately need to talk about that.” And he was like, “Yeah, okay, sure.” So we did that. And so throughout that conversation, there was a lot of talking about how, you know, this is something that asexual people get a lot. We get dehumanized. We are told that we are soulless. People call us serial killers, say that we lack all empathy, all emotions. And this is a real issue that we experience in real life. And at one point, he kind of said, “Oh, I didn’t really know that,” but he also still just didn’t quite seem to understand how something could be soulless but not asexual. And it was like… Mmm, I’m trying to figure out how to word this, and I forget the exact wording, but I distinctly remember that it was very hard to not, like, literally cringe while this conversation was happening. But he was like, “Well, because if someone is soulless, it’s not exactly as if they’re going to be seeking the pleasures of the flesh.” That’s the part I remember: “the pleasures of the flesh.” Ugh.
Courtney: So long story short, we walked away from that conversation hoping that he understood a little better but also not totally convinced that he did. And as far as we know, he never talked to the other guy. If he did, he did not tell us or give us any reason to feel more comfortable about that. So it just wasn’t great.
Royce: And to be clear, the source material here says of these soulless individuals, “They tend to be bereft of charm and imagination and tend to be more compliant and depressed than the others. They dress in drab clothing, whereas people who have souls wear clothes with a splash of color or individuality.” And that’s about all there is written on behavior.
Courtney: And our friend of several years, playing with two notably asexual people, read that and was like, “Yup, that means asexual.” [laughs] And I even remember explaining. I pulled this out, like, “Well, they’re still reproducing. Are they not…? Like, how did we get to the point where there are more human bodies than there are souls? Like, clearly, there is something in your logic that is not even lining up with the world here, as I understand it.” And to me, I almost would have taken it in the direction of, like, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which I hate when applied to real people, because on the hierarchy of needs, there’s, like, sex, right at the bottom, [exaggerated tone] the major important first thing that all people need on their path to self-actualization. [regular tone] And, like, as one of your most important needs. And that doesn’t work in practice for real people with real variation in sexuality and interest and human desire. But if you’re talking about it as “These are not humans, they do not have souls, but they are still reproducing,” then it’s almost like you can more accurately apply the Hierarchy of Needs, because then it’s very literal in the sense of, “They do need to reproduce in order to continue the population.” And that’s a very mechanical thing, because they canonically do not have souls, but they are still somehow having relations, are they not? So, that was even what I debated. I even said, “If you want to play it that way, it still doesn’t seem to make sense.” Because I also don’t love the implication that would be set otherwise of, “They are still reproducing, but they are all asexual and none of them are actually consenting to sex.” [laughing] So, like, I don’t love that direction either. So, nothing about this situation was good.
Courtney: So, the concern for the soulless husks being interpreted as asexual by the person creating our game. Plus the concern for playing with a horny bard character – especially one we didn’t know well, who didn’t seem to have had a conversation about those lines and limits. And then there were just tonal things in the story. Like I said, we wanted the misery. And I built my character based on what I understood the Curse of Strahd campaign to be, and I had created a haunted backstory for my character, which is right out of this book, specific for this campaign. So I was excited to do that for the sole purpose of this campaign – not because I wanted a super-haunted character, because I thought, “Hey, this is going to fit and this is gonna tie in really well.” So, my character was very serious. And unfortunately, she ended up clashing with a lot of the other characters who were not as serious. And we now understand that that was because we started out not at all on the same page about what the tone was supposed to be for this game. But also, when heavily role-playing, I don’t think that having conversation and having disagreements in character is necessarily a bad thing. But we were playing with people who did not have as much role-playing experience, and that, unfortunately, ended up being an issue. Which, I mean, is, is another thing that should have been discussed in setting expectations.
Courtney: So now we add just play style and role-playing differences clashing on top of these other major overarching issues that we were already deeply concerned about. And so, naturally, we started to wonder whether or not we will have fun playing in this world for a prolonged period of time. And that’s when some of the questionable disability things started to come up. We had talked outside of games just about different things related to Dungeons & Dragons or other role-playing games, and I had mentioned at one point that there was a creator – @MustangsArt on Twitter, if you want to find them – who created a combat wheelchair mechanism for disabled players who want to play a character who uses a mobility aid. Because there is a vast ableism issue and a severe lack of representation of disabled characters in these fantasy games and fantasy settings. Fun fact, the creator of this combat wheelchair also has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, like I do. And I actually went to look up their account because, for some reason, I hadn’t seen many of their tweets recently, and that must just be Twitter algorithms being weird, but their bio now says ace! Enby bi ace. And I feel like that ace part was news to me. I don’t think I knew that at the time that all of these conversations were going down, but that is very exciting. We love disabled asexual creators trying to make better representation in a game where it’s lacking. I love everything about that.
Courtney: So at the time, I just mentioned in conversation – I said, “Hey, there is a really awesome thing,” and I was even thinking at some point that I even might want to try to create a character who uses these wheelchair mechanics. And Royce, I don’t even remember – do you recall what his issue was with the wheelchair? I don’t know if it was a specific mechanical thing, but he was very much like, [pedantic tone] “I don’t like the way they did this.”
Royce: I don’t remember that conversation in particular, but I think it had something to do with how the combat wheelchair had the magical ability built into it to levitate. Because basically level one flight is something that a decent number of DMs have sort of taken issue with because it didn’t used to be something that was really available, but that has sort of changed in recent years as there have been supplementary characters that have been introduced or canonized that do just have the natural ability to fly.
Courtney: Mmm. Yeah, that makes sense, because he also frequently seemed to have more knowledge of previous versions of the game than the current version that we were playing. But yeah. And with the levitating, like, the logic behind that, when you apply it to a wheelchair, seems very much like a given, as if, like, you’re in a dungeon and there is a steep staircase, how do you get up it? [laughs] So, for disabled players, we might see this as a way to make movement and equitable and accessible character option. But a lot of able-bodied players are like, “Oh, it’s broken. Broken mechanic. You can get extra advantages that other people don’t have.” So, and I mean, this poor creator. Their name on Twitter is actually “A Dislocating DM,” which I just love, because… same. Relatable. But the amount of harassment that they got just for creating this thing from able-bodied D&D players was absurd. It was absolutely absurd! Because people would also start doing this dance of, like, “Well, it’s not actually likely for there to be any disabled people in this fantasy historical setting, because back in the day, disabled people would have just died. We didn’t have technology like this.” And it’s like, stop. Stop it.
Courtney: So I was really privy to all of these conversations that were happening around that time, because there was just this wave of ableism in the online D&D space. And when I was really excited about the work this creator was doing, potentially trying to play with a character using this wheelchair, and I brought this to my friend who had also very recently said something questionable about another part of my identity and was now starting to take issue with this wheelchair, I kind of had to end that conversation with, like, “Well, yeah, maybe you don’t get it, but this was made by and for disabled players. So maybe it’s just not really for you.”
Courtney: And so I wasn’t feeling super great about how that conversation went, but I did try to again give the benefit of the doubt. And I think it was… I rationalized that as, “Well, I see the social implication of this, and I see the ableism and hatred and harassment that is happening as a result of this. So there’s a big social connection here that is meaningful to me and my community,” whereas he was just like, mechanically-minded, “This is just about mechanics, purely about this.” And it’s like, nothing is just about mechanics [laughing] in a role-playing game. There is a huge social element to role-playing games.
Courtney: And it just so happened around this same period of time, where disability portrayal in role-playing games was really getting a lot of attention, that a huge conversation exploded about a very specific disabled character. And it just turned out that this character is in the Curse of Strahd campaign. We had not met or encountered this character yet in our game, but basically, she is an amputee and she was, like, the only canon disabled character in the entire campaign. And Wizards of the Coast, the company in charge of Dungeons & Dragons, got into a lot of hot water when people started talking about the fact that her character was written as, “She had her leg amputated; now, she has a prosthetic leg,” and there was a line of her being ashamed of it and trying her best to hide it, and that just wasn’t a good look. So a lot of disability activists in and around the Dungeons & Dragons community were talking about how, “Hey, let’s maybe not make the only disabled character in D&D ashamed of her disability.” So a lot of conversation started happening around this period of time. And Wizards of the Coast did actually end up changing that passage. It’s not like they did anything to make it significantly more positive, but they at least took out the line about her trying to hide it. So it’s not nothing, but it’s also not much of something.
Courtney: But huge discussion at this time. So it was kind of unavoidable, if you were at all watching the D&D discourse online, if you were at all in tune with disability D&D Twitter. So even though that kind of was a minor spoiler for our game, I wanted to make sure that the DM running our game knew about this conversation and was privy to it. And I didn’t know if he had an old version of the book where that line had not been retracted yet. And so, I just basically wanted him to know what other people in the space were saying to be able to apply these insights appropriately to the characters.
Courtney: So I sent some resources, some tweets, things of that nature. And then a supplementary book came out, a supplement to Curse of Strahd called Van Richten’s Guide. And Van Richten is basically just like Van Helsing, right? Like he’s the Van Helsing insert to the Dracula.
Royce: Yeah, that’s who he is.
Courtney: So the supplementary book came out with more ideas, more things you can do in Curse of Strahd, sidequests, things of that nature. And I got a message one day with a picture from that book that our friend the DM took, and he just said, “The combat wheelchair is canon now,” with a picture of a character in a wheelchair. And when I read that the combat wheelchair is canon, I got ecstatic! Now, I was reading the text before I opened up the message to see the full picture. So I was originally thinking, “This is amazing. This is fantastic. This is everything we hoped for.” But when I did actually open up the picture, I was like, [strained tone] “That’s not what the combat wheelchair looks like.” Because the combat wheelchair was based off of actual sports wheelchairs; they’re based off of the sort of wheelchairs that murderball is played in. – They call it murderball. [laughs] It’s a wheelchair sport, really cool. Look it up. – And this wheelchair was a monstrosity.
Courtney: So I… first thing I did was I went to Twitter to find MustangsArt account, and, yeah, they were like, “No, absolutely not. This is not the combat wheelchair. Wizards of the Coast did not work with me. I did not have anything to do with this.” And it was just really convenient that Wizards of the Coast had been basically ignoring this combat wheelchair in all of the really horrible bigoted harassment and discourse that disabled players were getting, and then they just decide to add a character in a wheelchair, just kind of quietly, without actually acknowledging the real-world implications this is having on the players.
Courtney: So – well, I guess it wasn’t a new character. They kind of just took an existing character and rewrote them to be disabled or gave them a disability. And they just said, “Oh, he fell off a rooftop during a mission and now his legs are paralyzed.” But the wheelchair artwork is horrible. It does not look like a usable wheelchair at all. It was, like, three times too big for the person sitting in it, and there didn’t seem to be any way to actually be able to move it. And there were lots of wheelchair-using artists who were coming out and being like, “Where is this part of the wheelchair? Why does this look like that? This would not be able to work,” and also just putting out guides for “This is how you illustrate a usable, real, believable wheelchair,” because a lot of people who don’t use any wheelchairs or mobility aids don’t really understand how to draw them or depict them in artwork, and that that’s, like, a whole thing. So a lot of able-bodied artists will end up making something that, like, resembles a wheelchair, but anyone who actually uses a wheelchair will look at it and be like, “I couldn’t use this in my day-to-day life. This defeats the purpose.”
Courtney: So I got concerned, of course, and the actual creator of the combat wheelchair was starting to get all these tweets from people who were buying this new guide and saying, “Oh, good for you! You actually got to work with Wizards of the Coast, and they used your wheelchair.” And it’s like, no, this is a mess. The creator did not get paid for this. They did not get brought in to consult on anything. So, it was just really convenient that they put a wheelchair in after the combat wheelchair blew up and went viral and lots of conversations about it without actually reaching out to the creator to try to work with them. And so, it’s a whole thing.
Courtney: So, I responded and I was like, “Oh, no, actually, the combat wheelchair is not canon. This is not something we’re celebrating, and here’s why.” And I actually ended up getting really curious and decided to look into what that passage in the book actually said. And it turns out that not only did they take this pre-existing character and write him in as having gotten paralyzed, being a wheelchair-user now, but he’s also basically the Sherlock Holmes stand-in for Dungeons & Dragons, and they also just made him married to the Watson stand-in, like it was written, “Oh, he got paralyzed, then they got him a wheelchair, and then they got married.” [laughs] And it’s like oh, okay.
Courtney: And so we love gay characters. We love disabled characters. We love gay disabled characters. But we kind of hate the way they did it [laughs] in this case for a couple reasons. Because Sherlock Holmes, famously sexless, famously single. I know there are iterations of Sherlock Holmes where he is very gay-coded or people have at least perceived him as being gay-goded. But for years and years, many of us have seen asexuality in Sherlock Holmes. He is probably the most famously sexless character in all of Western media. And so, to take the Sherlock stand-in and all in one go, in one fell swoop, in a supplementary book, to say, “He’s married to the Watson stand-in now, and also, he’s in a wheelchair,” kind of just made it seem like, “Let’s just dump all the things we’ve been criticized for not giving enough representation to into a single character, which could be super easily ignored, and allow people to just very easily throw him out,” because he’s not even a part of this campaign. It’s just like, “Here are characters. Throw ’em in somewhere, if you wanna.” [laughs] So it makes it really easy for individual characters to just pretend he doesn’t exist if they either don’t like that he’s a wheelchair-user or if they don’t like that he is married to the Watson now.
Royce: Yeah, these two characters didn’t have any written part in any major adventure. They were just included in a piece of supplementary material. They got a couple of paragraphs of detail about them with the notice of “Here are some other interesting people you could add into your adventures if you want to.”
Courtney: So, there were several layers of issues with this, but the picture of this wheelchair is just so atrocious! Like, the handrims that should allow a wheelchair-user to propel themselves were, like, up to the guy’s armpits [laughs]. Like, out of reach. Very weird pictures. So naturally, a lot of disability activists in the D&D arena were saying, “Hey, we need to hire disabled writers and disabled artists to handle these disabled characters.” And not to mention the fact that there were all of these, like, definitely outright disability-haters in D&D – like, a lot of them – saying, like, “Disabled characters don’t belong in my D&D game.” But there are also some who are trying to be good allies, and when they see something like this and they see a character in a wheelchair, they’re like, “Good! Let’s give flowers to D&D because they put a disabled character in it!” And meanwhile, all of these disabled players and these disabled DMs and content creators are just like getting mauled by horrible, ableist D&D fans online all the time, and there’s really nothing being done to actually support these disabled D&D enthusiasts. So it seems very, very much like optical allyship in that regard.
Courtney: And so when all that went down, I was again like, [casual tone] “Hey, here are some Twitter threads. Here is what people are saying. This is what the community conversation is looking like right now. And no, this is absolutely not the combat wheelchair. This is what the creator of the combat wheelchair is saying right now.” And Royce, help me jog my memory, because this was a movie that I have not seen, but he kept bringing up this movie because he was like, “Well, if there’s an issue with a wheelchair, like, what about a character like this instead?”
Royce: It was the villain character from Wild Wild West, the ’90s era Will Smith reboot, not the original – I believe it was a TV series.
Courtney: Yes! Yes! A guy with mechanical spider legs. [laughs] I was like, “No, please. Please, please no mechanical spider legs [laughs] on our disabled characters in the D&D game. Please, no.” So now tensions are mounting a little bit more with some of these disability things. There was already this major asexual bomb dropped. And then we just started getting some, like, really weird misogynistic vibes here and there that we also had no clue what to do with. So most of the time, we just either didn’t address it or we would say something, but it almost seemed like he took it as more, like, playful ribbing than, like, no, that’s actually not cool. So…
Royce: That’s a good point, now that you think about it. It seemed like sometimes actual criticisms fell the same way that a groan at a bad pun fell.
Courtney: Yeah! Either a groan or sometimes even just actually laughing. And it’s like, “I’m not joking. That’s actually not cool.” [laughs] So yeah, that was a weird thing. So, a lot of the time we were just scratching our heads, and we’re like, “No, this seems wrong, right?” So the first, like, worst thing that we noticed was we actually gave him a break from DMing – he had some life stuff going on, making a major move, things like that – and we were like, “Don’t worry about it. We will DM for the next few weeks. We have an adventure we put together that’s a pretty short one. We can play it over the span of a few weeks, and you don’t have to worry about planning. You just get to show up and play. Like, we got you.” So, for the most part, I think we had a blast while we were running the game. But there was one really weird thing. This guy, who was also playing with his wife – she was a part of this game and this table – he messaged us as the DMs and he was like, “Don’t tell my wife, but I am basing my character off of her.” And we were like, “Weird choice, [laughs] but alright. We’re gonna trust that you know what you’re doing.”
Courtney: But then he proceeded to make some really weird decisions that ended up basically annoying all of the other players, especially his wife! And I get that. Like, alright, she’s your wife, you know her better than we do, obviously. But, like, she’s also been a friend of ours for many years, and we did not read anything he was doing or any decision he was making as being her. None of it – none of it seemed to be the case. So it very much had an air of, like, “Are you guys having a like a fight that’s going on at home and you’re just really trying to be passive aggressive about it and [laughing] making us unwilling participants in this?” Because it was kind of uncomfortable, because he was also like, [furtive voice] “Don’t tell my wife,” and we were like, “Uh, [laughs] what do we do with this?”
Courtney: And then when she ended up getting really upset at some of the decisions he was making that seemed really weird and out of character, and… it was like, should we tell her that this is what he’s going for? Is this what he’s still going for, even? Like, mmm, it was uncomfortable. It was really uncomfortable. But I was also just, like, feeling really bad for his wife [laughing] at this point. Because I’m like, he told us that this is her, and she is really upset with these decisions that he’s making right now. And… I don’t know, very weird. Didn’t know how to handle that. So, and then there were some other comments just here and there and it’s like, okay I understand, you’re a straight couple, you’re an allo couple. Your dynamic is different than ours. Like, that part’s fine. Normally, this comment alone wouldn’t have upset me if the wife is also cool and okay with this and on the same page. But at one point, he made a comment that was like, “Oh, don’t worry. My wife makes up for it by paying me in sex.” And she was mortified. Like, this poor thing. She was like, “Why would you say that? Like, oh my gosh, why did you just say that?” And she was so uncomfortable, which made us very uncomfortable, and we were like, “You’ve been married for almost as long as we have been. [laughs] Like, you should maybe know that that’s something your wife isn’t cool with you just saying out loud to people.” You know? So that was very uncomfortable.
Courtney: He was also talking at one point about how adorable she is when she’s angry at him, and she’s just so cute and he just can’t help but to laugh when she gets pissed off because she’s just so adorable. And pair that with the fact that he seemed like he was almost intentionally trying to piss her off during the game – it was, like, horrible. And all the women at the table, mind you – there were three of us – we were all horrified. We were like, “You don’t do that. You don’t dismiss someone else’s emotions. You don’t invalidate her anger by just shrugging it off as ‘she’s really cute.’ Like, if she’s angry, there’s an issue, and you need to talk about that.” And all three of us were like, “No, that’s not cool.” And he was just cracking up laughing during this. [laughs] And all of the women at the table are like, “What is wrong with you?” So it’s like, all three of those things happening in short proximity to one another – like, the acephobia, the misogyny, the ableism – it’s like buddy, my friend, what is going on?
Courtney: And so then, we began working on the asexuality conference, working for accessibility measures on that, and having a lot of discussions with other members of the ace community about the importance of accessibility and how to implement it appropriately for events like this. And there were some things that came up with other members of the ace community that were kind of not really cool. And some things people said to us that were a little upsetting. So at one point, I was just trying to, like, vent to my friends. Like, these people are not asexual, they’re not disabled, but we see them every single week on zoom to these games. So we always kind of had a, like, “How’s your week been?” before really getting into it. And so we were just sort of venting about the frustrations we encountered while planning this conference, a conference they already knew about. We had a lot of conversations about this. A lot of the people at the table were, like, very academic – either already had or were working towards advanced degrees – and so many of them had attended or even helped organize conferences in a variety of different ways, so we talked a lot about various aspects of conference planning.
Courtney: And so we sat down and I just said, you know, “Here’s an issue that I’m having with some of these other people, because I’m trying to get these accessibility measures put in place and I don’t feel like they are listening to me or making this a priority.” And when I started saying, “There’s this ableism issue in the asexuality community,” then our friend, who we recently had the “soulless” conversation with and everything, just outright said, “Oh, are they all just a bunch of incels?” And then he cracked up laughing as if it was just the funniest joke. And I was like, [very serious tone] “No. We are not doing that here.” Like, I may be frustrated with these people right now, but these are asexual members of my community. These are my community members. We are all asexual. And I am not going to allow you to speak about them in this way. Absolutely not.
Courtney: So then after that conversation, I had to be like, “Hey, we got to talk. [laughs] Okay? I feel like there’s some issues you really just aren’t understanding.” And I got really personal and I talked a lot about more in-depth community history. And I had mentioned that we’d literally, within the last five years, had a community mourn the loss of a teenage girl who got murdered violently and gruesomely by an incel. Like, this is… the incels harass us. They cause us harm, sometimes physical harm. And, like, I need you to understand how fucked up it is that you are saying that asexual men are incels. You can’t do that.
Courtney: And we got this text message back, which was kind of like everything you’re supposed to say when you get called in or called out, and it kind of touched on all of the bullet points, but it didn’t really sound like him. I had just never heard him speak this way or say words in this way. So we were looking and analyzing this text message and we were like, “Your wife wrote this. [laughs] Didn’t she? Or, like, she at least helped. Your wife helped you craft this message.” Because it didn’t quite seem or feel genuine based on the way we’d interacted with him before. But it occurred to us, “Well, maybe – maybe – he really wasn’t getting something before. He was kind of more laughing things off as jokes or not realizing how serious it was. Maybe that’s the case, and maybe now he really gets it. So maybe we’re making progress and he’s actually starting to come around and understand.” And in hindsight, we had just given chance after chance after chance to this person – to this person in particular, but also, by extension, this entire social group.
Courtney: And there was the instance of, like, pride month, where… like, I didn’t think much of this at the time, but broader pattern of behavior, in hindsight, I’m like, “That’s a little bit weird.” He texted another queer friend of ours that we introduced him to to wish her a happy pride month – and did not wish us a happy pride month. Never once. Did not do that. And that’s actually… that was actually my QPR friend that I’ve mentioned; if you’re a regular listener of this podcast, you know details about that person. [laughs] So we were also like, “Hey, do you not get what asexuality is? [laughs] Do you not understand that we’re part of the queer community?” Which is exceptionally weird because this friend came to nearly every single one of my performances at the drag bar when I was singing there on a weekly basis. So I thought, you know, “He’s being really cool. He’s being really supportive. Like, he understands that this queer community is a really important thing.” And, like, in hindsight, after everything that happened, I almost feel like I made a mistake inviting this person into these queer spaces. Because I thought that they were a safe person, and now, with everything that happened, I don’t believe that. And I’m like, “Oh my God, I brought an unsafe person into this community.” So that was not great, to be feeling that way.
Courtney: But he also then got a new job. And we were really happy for him, “Congratulations, it’s going to be great,” all that good stuff. And he’s like, “Hey, I want you to read my bio that’s on the website for the new place I work at.” And so I was like, “Yeah, let’s see it!” He sent us the link, and he used they/them pronouns in the bio. And so I was like, “That’s great! Are they/them your pronouns?” And he was like, “No.” [laughing] And I was like, “Well, if those are your pronouns, we’re super supportive, like, good for you.” But he was like, “No, my pronouns aren’t they/them.” I was like, “Well, then why did you use they/them in your own bio if…?” And I was like, “Do you want us to call you they/them?” Like, asking the question another way. And he was, like, “No, [laughing] he/him’s fine.” We’re like, “Then why? Why did you do this? I’m curious. I want to understand.” And his answer was like, “My pronouns aren’t they/them, but I want other people to, like, feel comfortable and know that they/them pronouns are okay if they read my bio.”
Courtney: And we had a conversation of, like, after we got off of the call with him, where we were like, “Is that really weird?” And we were going back and forth between, like, does someone need to tell him that that’s not how you do allyship? Or is this his way of experimenting with something and seeing if it feels right to him? And we were in this huge conundrum because we were like, we don’t want to tell him that this isn’t cool if this is just his way of trying to see if this fits for him, if that makes sense. [laughs] So we ended up deciding, like, better to leave it, because, you know, everyone has a first step. Maybe this is just him dipping his toe in the water. But nothing ever came of that. Nothing changed. He was still like, “No, they/them, not my pronouns. You can call me he/him, but I’m doing this for the sake of, like, you know, the younger people.” [laughs] Mm. Um. Okay.
Courtney: Which like, now once you really start getting into it with hindsight, it’s like, what did all that mean? Because I thought at that time that we had reason to believe that he was questioning parts of his own identity, but now it’s also like, maybe he just genuinely didn’t get things and he was just asking questions – not for his own benefit of figuring things out, but because he just didn’t understand. Because I’d been interviewed on a podcast years back. And I was talking about asexuality, I was talking about our marriage, and they were asking me questions about gender. So, I mentioned, you know, “Well, my spouse is actually agender,” and that’s the first time I sort of publicly said, like, “Mehgender.” And he had messaged me at one point and he was like, “What does agender mean?” Which, I don’t know, I guess I did talk to him more than you did, but I did find it just a little bit weird that he messaged me about you.
Courtney: Because you exchanged some personal messages back and forth.
Royce: Uh… If you mean “we used the personal messaging feature of an app,” yes.
Royce: The details in the messages were not personal.
Courtney: Well, even still. So, I was like, “Well, okay, I’ll answer your questions about, [laughs] you know, agender identities and things.” So him having, like, questioned that before. And he did like to joke a lot, like, making jokes, being the funny guy was very much a thing of his. But he also sometimes had a very interesting sense of humor where you couldn’t quite tell if something was a joke or not sometimes. And so now this has broken a ton of things wide open. Because there was a period of time where I was like… He made a “gold star” joke, I feel like. It was actually me and QPR friend, and we were talking about how “gold star lesbian” is bullshit, and there was, like, a “gold star asexual” thing at a certain period of time. And there were other queer people at the table too, and someone was like, “Oh, well, I wouldn’t have a gold star.” And he snickered and he was like, “I wouldn’t have a gold star either.” And that was, like, my first indication ever that he may have not been straight. But then later conversations we had, like a couple of years later, kind of confirmed that he was actually just making a joke and that wasn’t actually a thing.
Courtney: And so [laughs] now my whole sense of who this person is – It’s like, every time I thought we were having a queer moment, were you just not understanding where I was coming from it all, and you were also just joking about it this whole time? Because now, a lot of our past conversations all of a sudden seem very uncool. But then we did have another, like, couple of personal conversations at one point that definitely led me to believe, like, “Okay, he’s got some self-discovery, learning, unpacking to do,” so because I’d had those more personal conversations, I was like, “We’re going to let this they/them thing go, because maybe this is just one more step in his journey. And this is, in fact, you know, queer growth that is budding before our eyes.” [laughs]
Courtney: But then he did start using they/them pronouns for literally absolutely everyone all the time, no matter what. And that was weird. Because at one point, I was very specifically sharing a conversation with a trans woman that I had. And he kept asking about “them.” And what did “they” say? And I was like, “No, no, no, her pronouns are she/her.” Like, they pronouns is great if you don’t know. They pronouns is great if that is someone’s pronouns and they tell you that, whether they be agender, genderfluid, nonbinary in some way, then they/them pronouns are great. But if you are willfully ignoring the pronouns that people tell you to just default to they/them for absolutely everybody every single time, that’s bad. Don’t.
Courtney: So, needless to say, after being friends with this person for at least four years before all of these really started coming to the forefront, like, things were rapidly snowballing. And we had one more conversation where we were like, “Let’s get on a video call separate from the D&D group,” because it was, again, the additional comment about, “Oh, those asexuals are just incels,” [laughs] and another off-handed disability comment that was really not cool. So I was like, “Alright, well, one more conversation, please.” And so we got on a video call. And this time, his wife actually came along, which I was kind of grateful for because that kind of really illustrated how much of a conversational disconnect there actually was. Because I said something – I explained and expressed something, and he repeated it back to me very incorrectly. He was like, “So what you’re saying is it would be better if X, Y, and Z,” and then his wife chimed in and she was like, “No, that’s the opposite of what she just said!” [laughing] And she seemed a little frustrated with him, but she corrected him, and I was happy to have a second person to be there correcting that.
Royce: This was a conversation that was based around the portrayal of the upcoming disabled D&D character that we hadn’t encountered yet, correct?
Courtney: It didn’t start that way, because that actually – after we thought we had resolved the issue, then we just got to chatting a little more casually before it was like actually D&D time and the other two players were going to jump on. But after this bigger conversations – like, “Okay, now I see you really aren’t understanding the things I’m saying when I say them to you, and now your wife is here to bear witness and also help correct,” then he just got to thinking and talking about this character. And he was like, “Yeah, I’m excited for this character to come up, because –” And then he started explaining how he’s going to make her prosthetic leg, like, this super weapon [laughs] and, like, it’s going to have a blade in it and all this stuff. And the way he was explaining it was very much like the “Wonder Cripple” trope. And this character, in the lore of the universe – like, she was a fighter before her injury that required an amputation.
Royce: Yeah, she’s basically the Van Helsing stand-in’s protege, who mechanically, in the game, is more powerful than he is.
Courtney: Yes. So, like, she’s supposed to be really strong competent fighter who has a prosthetic leg. Originally, it was written having, like, “Oh, she’s ashamed of and she hides it,” and we were like, “Let’s not do that,” so they scratched that line. But now he’s like, “I’m going to make up all these new details about her, and her prosthetic leg is going to be a weapon.” And based on other things he’d said about disability recently, I was like, “This is not it. [laughs] This is not it.” And so, with his wife on the call and being there and… it was just like, I felt like I couldn’t win, because I felt like I was constantly nagging him. And I don’t think I was nagging. I was like, “You said something which is actually really upsetting. Can we have a conversation about it?” But it kept happening over and over, and he kept repeating some of the things we’d already talked about in different, new and exciting ways. But I got the vibes from him that he was, like, getting tired of having these conversations. And that put me in a really awkward place because I was also, like, “I can’t just keep doing this if I don’t know that you’re, like, working on this and trying to do better.”
Courtney: So here we had this big conversation. Now we’re like, oh, fun, casual, like, “Oh, exciting new things coming up.” And then when he’s explaining this super weapon prosthesis that he’s going to give her, I was just like, “No, please don’t.” [laughing] I just felt so defeated. And I’m like, “I don’t want open up this can of worms again, but please don’t. Like, do you remember the conversation we had like a month ago about the spider legs? The mechanical spider legs? Can we not?” [laughs] So… oh, you know, actually, yeah, ’cause then, Royce, I think you’re right. I think his wife did correct when I was explaining that prosthetic part of it. I think the conversation started with asexuality and then got here. But I was explaining the Wonder Cripple trope and how and why it’s problematic and what the disability community really wants to see in games like D&D.
Royce: Yeah, the part of the conversation that that came out in was him trying to take what you had just said and then come up with an example.
Courtney: Mhm. And I was like, “Can we please not make the mobility aid a super weapon when she’s already supposed to be a very accomplished fighter?” And then he turned around and said something to the effect of – and he was like, “So what you’re saying is she should be more powerful with the prosthetic than if she didn’t have it.” [laughing] Whatever the details were of that conversation. That’s when his wife chimed in and was like, “No, that’s the opposite of what she just said. Did you not hear her?”
Courtney: So by this point, the setting was not being the horror setting we wanted it to, and we had ourselves – the two of us had talked for weeks about, like, “Do we want to stay with this game? How do we handle this?” Like, we wanted to, but we also wanted it to be the game we signed up for. [laughing] So we were like, “How do we navigate that conversation?” But we met a different female character in the game who was just like… the closest thing I can call it is like the “Ditzy Blonde” trope, you know, like a woman who is just an airhead and is just bubbly. And it was very, very weird because this is also supposed to be a horror setting, and there’s this horribly abusive manipulative vampire who’s, like, trying to force her to marry him. And she was just like, [carefree tone] “La la la, I like to have fun.” [laughing] I literally think he said, “I love fun!” at one point. And I kind of asked about that at one point. And I was like, “Are we supposed to be heavily suspicious of this character?” Because at this point, I’m like convinced that she’s being mind-controlled or something or that this isn’t the person we think it is because none of this is adding up. And then his wife chimed in and was like, “No, he just doesn’t know how to roleplay women.” [laughing] And she seemed a little ticked off about that. And so, we were like, “Hmm. Yeah. That’s something we’ve, um, [intentionally clears throat] we’ve noticed.”
Courtney: So a combination of the misogyny and the disability and how I was getting really concerning vibes about how he was trying to take this disabled character when this was actively, like, a really big conversation happening in the D&D community… And my character was really serious, still. I was still playing the serious character who was clashing with other characters who were not acting as serious and also not role-playing in character as much as I was. So, by that point, I was like, “Well, to save this game, I’m going to need to totally change what my expectations were for it. And it’s just not going to work with this character. Like, I built her with the haunted backstory from this book, for this reason, to play the horror.”
Courtney: So I proposed, I was like, “Hey, why don’t we work together? What if we either kill my character off or she just, like, goes out on her own ’cause she’s fed up with these other people? And what if I start playing this disabled character? When it’s time for this NPC to come, what if, instead of you role-playing her, what if we just make her a real character and I’ll do it?” And I was like, “I can bring some actual disability insights into this.” And he was kind of like, “Yeah, okay, if you want to do that, just, like, give it a couple weeks first. Like, I want some other things to happen before we do that.” So I was like, “Alright, fine.”
Courtney: And then I asked – at one point, I was like, “We’ve been having these conversations a lot, and you told me –” His message that didn’t sound like him that I never heard from him was like, “I hear you,” and almost like what you see from, like, public PR statements, like when someone messes up on Twitter, like, [laughing] “I am actively working on learning more about this.” And so I was like, even though the wording of it sounded not totally like him and not totally genuine, I was like, “If you are actually wanting to learn more, can I put some resources together for you? Because,” I said, “I know you’re sick of having these conversations all the time. I’m sick of all of these things coming up all the time. Can I send you some things?”
Courtney: Because then there was the racism. [laughs] What is that? Four for four? We have, let’s see, the acephobia, the ableism, the misogyny. Yeah. Then the racism. A lot of the racism was also misogyny. [laughs] Because I was getting ready to DM a different campaign. And I was talking about, “Hey, like yeah, once we’re done with Curse of Strahd, this can be our next campaign, and I’ll DM it.” And we were talking about bards a lot. And so, this this guy read, like, every single third-party everything – like, all of the unofficial things, all the things that any random player in the world can just make up and put on Reddit or their own website – and doing all these homebrew things, which I don’t mind. I mean, the combat wheelchair is homebrewed, and sometimes there’s really good stuff there. But he got all excited about bards and he’s like, “Let me send you more bard resources.”
Courtney: And so I got these, like, pages and pages of “Here are different bards that just everyone and their uncle has thought up.” And there were so many racist subclasses that people had made up at a certain point. And I had to basically almost say, like, “Hey, please stop sending me third-party things, because I’ve found nothing helpful, I’ve found nothing good, but I’ve found a lot of racism and misogyny.” And D&D is supposed to be a fun thing! This is supposed to be our good, happy hobby, that, you know, escapism from life and all that jazz. So yeah, I kid you not, one of the bard subclasses he sent me was like, “The Geisha can only be a female Oriental character. And instead of needing an item for her spell focus, she can use her own body.” And I was like, “[screams in disgust and makes exaggerated vomiting sounds] Puke.” [laughs] And so that was the one that stood out the most to me, but there were a few different other ones.
Courtney: And I was like, “What is happening? What is happening? [laughs] How did a friend of mine of five years read this and say, ‘Yeah, that’s okay. I’m gonna send that to Courtney to read.’” So that’s where I was like, “I have resources. If I just send you all the resources, can you look through them, please? That’d be great.” And he was like, “Yes. Send me resources. That would be great.” And I mean, this was a non-inconsequential amount of time. Because even before I was putting these resources together, I was reading, like, academic article after study about disability especially because I’d never seen – what was that movie called?
Royce: The one we mentioned earlier? Wild, Wild West?
Courtney: Wild, Wild West, yes. So, I’d never seen Wild, Wild West, and I didn’t particularly have an interest in it, but I was like, “This has been brought up on multiple occasions, so I’m gonna research it.” And I found disability portrayals in media – like, academic articles which have been published which specifically talked about Wild, Wild West, both original and the reboot. And so I’m reading these full-on academic papers. I think I read eight academic papers on disability portrayal in media and harmful tropes. And, like, this is how I do things, too. Because when I’m having a difficult conversation with someone like this, if it’s about a social issue that I’m tuned into and they aren’t, I want to make damn sure that I am representing it correctly. So, even if I feel confident in the subject, even if I have some level of real lived experience in the subject, I will be like, “Time to research this further. I need more antidotes, I need more statistics.” So I read so many academic articles just to get through the conversation about Wild, Wild West, because I wanted a frame of reference for what this actually was. And I’m sending him these studies too; like, this is an academic person.
Courtney: So I’m like… Yeah. So I sat down to compile a Google doc, which took me two full days to put together. [laughs] I really don’t know why I bothered. I was trying so hard to make this friendship work. I spent two full days putting together a Google document, listed out by issue. So I was like, “Here are disability issues,” and it had some of those academic studies about portrayal, but it was also practical resources. There are disabled members of the D&D community who are putting together resources for accessible gaming experiences. And the first one that I remember off the top of my head – just because I’ve read through it often – Jennifer Kretchmer or @dreamwisp on Twitter has an entire dock of accessibility in gaming, and so I was adding that resource and other things from other disabled members of the D&D community, and general harmful tropes, general things to avoid, things that are harmful.
Courtney: So I’m like, “Alright, got the disability section down. Now the asexuality section.” And I’m adding asexuality resources. And while I was looking through resources, I found an old comment where someone was literally saying, “All asexuals are soulless,” and so I was like, “Okay, well, pfft, adding a screenshot of that comment.” Like, here’s the evidence. And so, asexuality things. And I was even like, “Here are some good tips and tricks.” I was like, “When it comes to asexuality, you have to treat it like any other minority sexuality. If you say a sentence with ‘asexuality’ and it and you substitute it for ‘gay’ and the sentence all of a sudden sounds wrong, it’s probably wrong to say about asexuality too.” Like, let me demonstrate: “These are just soulless husks, these aren’t real humans, so they’re gay” – that sounds Is kind of wrong, right? So that’s your rule of thumb, just substitute “gay” anytime you want to say “asexuality,” and if the sentence all of a sudden seems a little weird and doesn’t really seem to make sense, just don’t say it. [laughs]
Courtney: So I was adding, like, tips and tricks as well as bullet points and Google docs and academic papers and less academic papers. Since a lot of this revolved around a character who’s an amputee, I added, like, first-person blogs and articles from people who… some who do use prosthetics, some who don’t, and the reasons why they do or don’t, and an article from someone who’s like, “This is the most technical prosthetic to date, and I don’t like it better than this other thing, and here’s why.” And so, I was adding all kinds of things from a variety of different angles. And some wheelchair resources ,because we were talking about the combat wheelchair.
Courtney: And then the racism resources. And I was like, “Here are why some of those subclasses you sent were really, really upsetting.” And we had also watched a couple of episodes of a great video series or podcast series, probably both. So yes. It was the Asians Represent Podcast. Two really great guys in the DND scene who were reading through an old campaign called Oriental Adventures, and as they were reading through it, they were talking about, you know, the harmful tropes, and they’re just, like, really entertaining to listen to, so we actually had fun. And Oriental Adventures even came up, because when I mentioned the, like, Geisha Bard being such a problem, I’d never read Oriental Adventures before, but he said, like, “Oh, well, what about Oriental Adventures? That’s a D&D campaign. And I’ve heard that the first one was really problematic, but they did a second one, and that one was probably better for reasons.” And I was like, “But is it better? I haven’t read it. How many Asian people did they hire to write that or do the art for it?” And he was like, “Well, I don’t know.” So I was like, “Well, let’s put in this podcast. Here’s something to listen to and / or watch.” And just tons of resources – some that I had already found, just in the process of these conversations, and some that I actively looked for because it just seemed like a perspective that he would probably benefit from learning about more.
Courtney: So, I sent this document with all of these resources that took me two days to compile. And, um, yeah, like a month later, he never opened. Like, never once. Didn’t even look at it. So that was… probably would have saved some time and sped up this unfriending process if he was just like, “Nah, don’t send me resources. Like, I really don’t care.” Because yeah, he didn’t even acknowledge it. He wasn’t even like, “Hey, I’m really busy right now, but I’ll get to this when I have a chance.” I was just like, “Here are your resources,” and it was just radio silence and never once opened it up. So I was like, “Mm. ’Kay.”
Courtney: So here’s where I need your help filling in the gaps, though, because I got so stressed out over this at a certain period of time that you kind of ended up stepping in and sending him a message and talking to him. Do you remember what prompted that?
Royce: Yeah, you were starting to have, like, major day-to-day functional disruptions from the amount of stress this was causing. So I asked you, like, “I’m observing this –” And I read the messages the two of you sent back and forth – “Clearly, this isn’t working. It’s going in circles.”
Courtney: Well, yeah, I was, like, gaslighting myself. I’m like, “Am I overreacting? Am I the crazy one here?”
Royce: But it was clear it was a lot of stress. It had long since past been bleeding into day-to-day life and affecting all of the other things in life that need to be done. So it didn’t appear that anything was moving forward. And you were also concerned that, like, even if you come up with a good argument at this point, is he even listening, or has he completely tuned out to anything you’re saying?
Courtney: Mmm. Mhm.
Royce: So I said, “Well, why don’t I give it a shot? I could try to just write something up. I think that’s about the only way I’m going to be able to have this sort of conversation. I’m not a ‘let’s do a video call and talk about this’ kind of person, but maybe if I sit down and write something out and send it over, maybe something will budge.” And so, I did that, and you previewed it. And I tried to basically articulate, “Here’s what I’m observing. Here’s the problem. Here’s maybe what we can do about it,” kind of thing. And it was decently long. I think the Google doc was, like, two full pages or something like that.
Courtney: Well, because it was covering a lot of ground. It was like, “Here are things that we’ve talked about but haven’t seemed to be resolved. And…”
Royce: Yeah, it was all of it sort of rolled in together, starting out with “Here’s what I’m observing with the D&D sessions. Here’s why Curse of Strahd in particular had so many issues. Here’s why we’ve been frustrated with the way the story’s been run and ad how things have – like, what the original expectations were.” And then also, “Here’s this big, looming issue that keeps not being addressed that is not about D&D. It’s about, you know, all of the microaggressions and everything going on behind that, that is just adding stress to everything else that’s happening.” And I sent that out, and I got a response.
Courtney: Well, before you explain the response, my issue – as I was reading through it, I was like, “Oh damn, Royce. You cut to the point.” Because I guess you do that, and you can do that. Me, when I’m writing something, I feel like I have to be really fluffy, and I have to try to, like, tend to the other person’s feelings, because I’m like, “They’re not going to handle this well.” So I’m going to be like, [gentle but subtly annoyed tone] “Look, I know you mean well, but…” and blah blah blah. And you don’t add fluff when you have these conversations. And so I was reading it as, like, a lot more confrontational than something I would send because –
Royce: Well, this was –
Courtney: – I am who I am.
Royce: This was a situation where the two of you had been… some of the conversations felt like two people speaking a language that neither of them was completely fluent in. So, like, you’re both saying words, but it was clear that there is a disconnect in understanding –
Royce: – to some degree. And –
Courtney: But my issue reading that was like – I even said, like, “What are the chances that he reads this…” You wrote this completely on your own, and you’re going to send this, and you made the choice to send this. I didn’t ask you to do this. You just said, “This is probably the only, like – this is our last chance. Like, if he doesn’t listen to me when I message him, like, we’re out.” And I was like, “What are the chances he’s going to read this and think that it basically came from me, or that I basically wrote this, or that I told you to road to write it?” And you were even like, “No, I don’t think that’s gonna happen.” But his response to you, in a private message to you after sending that, was, “Dear Courtney and Royce.” I was like, “Oh, motherfucker.” [laughs]
Royce: Yeah. But to go back to writing style. I mean, you’ve mentioned before that, as a woman you have been conditioned to speak to people in a certain way.
Royce: You’ve been conditioned to go about things in a certain way. I have not had that. I’ve also been trained to write content for websites that is intended to not be confusing.
Royce: And generally the way that you do that is you remove fluff.
Royce: Because the more words you throw at someone, the more chances you give them to misunderstand something. And what I had observed for… I don’t know how long it’d been – a couple of months? – was a lot of things being misunderstood.
Courtney: I think the bulk of this happened over the span of four months. So, yeah. And then he responded back, “Dear Courtney and Royce.” [laughs]
Royce: And from the response – I mean, this was long enough ago that I don’t remember exact words, but it was – it seemed clear to me that he either got hung up on one aspect of it and the rest just did not sink in or did not understand them –
Courtney: Oh, he ignored basically everything that was about him and the microaggressions. Because you ended that with basically, like, “The question is now, like, what is the way forward?” Because you even said, like, “Courtney is a disabled mixed-race neurodivergent woman, and she has been calling attention to all of these microaggressions, and she spent a lot of time compiling resources for you that you said you wanted, and you haven’t even opened it once.” And I was like, “Oh damn you’re going to call him out on that? Okay. [laughs] Alright, you can do that.” I mean, it’s true. [laughs] But you did end that with, like, “The question is, how do we proceed? And the question is, do we stop playing Dungeons and Dragons altogether? Do we try to make this campaign work by re-establishing expectations? Do we scratch this one and try a different campaign? Like, there are a number of ways we can proceed. We just need to figure out what we need to do about it.” But also re-emphasizing, like, “There are still issues we need to figure out.”
Courtney: And when his response back, “Dear Courtney and Royce,” basically said – he said, “I felt consistently disrespected over these last few months, with all of these criticisms and messages after our sessions.” And it’s like, “Oh. Oh. [laughs] You’re taking this as disrespectful? When I’m spending an entire day trying to word this so that you don’t take this as me just nagging at you all the time? [laughs] Okay.” So that was kind of a “true colors” moment, but it was like, “I felt consistently disrespected with all of your criticisms,” and also… but then also added, like, “I do value your friendship, though, and I do want to still be friends, but we shouldn’t play D&D anymore, because D&D is too much stress. But, like, let’s just do other things, like board games and movies.”
Royce: It was specifically, “We should try playing something where our personalities won’t clash” is what he said.
Royce: And a nod to board games instead of role-playing games.
Royce: And then, again, didn’t address the microaggressions. So, I –
Courtney: Not even a little bit. Not even once.
Royce: I forget how I worded this, but I asked you about it beforehand, and… You’ve got it?
Courtney: Well, no, hold that thought for a second. But I just remembered that in this big message that you originally sent, you specifically mentioned that we cannot handle getting ghosted, because there were multiple times where I or we would send him a message and he just did not respond to it and never addressed it. And then, like, weeks would go by, and we’ve already seen each other and we’ve done things, but you’ve never addressed this issue I mentioned. So we were like, “We can’t do ghosting,” because my OCD was also, like, taking that and running with it. Like, if I didn’t get a response and he just completely ignored something, but it was about something important, like “I was deeply uncomfortable with this thing that you said that was, you know, kind of bigoted toward a component of my identity,” and just radio silence… Like, that’s what was really, really starting to affect the day-to-day, where, like, I’d just shut down and couldn’t do anything.
Courtney: So, you also mentioned, like, “We’re the kind of people where if there’s an issue, we need to stop and talk it out and get completely on the same page. We cannot do ghosting. And we can’t just ignore these issues. This is how we both operate.”
Royce: It was a very comprehensive message, yes.
Courtney: So with that established, with the “we can’t do ghosting; if we’re going to make this work,we need to figure it out,” he was like, “Let’s play board games.”
Royce: And I said something to the effect of, “We still haven’t addressed the single largest issue, which is the microaggressions, and without that being resolved, there’s really no sort of social situation that we could go into and feel comfortable.” And that was the last time I’ve spoken to said person.
Courtney: Then he ghosted us completely. Neither one of us have gotten a single message from him since. Just poof, gone. This person who’d been in our life for five years who we had seen or spoken to on a weekly basis for most of that – just gone. And that was the worst part! We never heard from him again. And actually… So, this happened like a few weeks before Ace Week, and after just getting ghosted, no response whatsoever from him – I have had a Patreon account for my business in doing hair work and historian work for a number of years, and he was one of my earlier patrons, like, super supportive, like, “I’m going to pledge a dollar every month,” and he signed up for that really early, and I really appreciated him for that. He even helped me make a video at one point for my YouTube channel and patrons and all that. So, like, very supportive, and he’d just been giving me a dollar for a long time. And I don’t mind if friends, like, need to drop off of that. I’ve had some friends who have supported me for periods of time and then said, “Hey, like, my financial situation changed, and I’m going to have to cancel this.” And I do not mind that at all. That’s totally fine.
Courtney: But the way this happened was just so fucking shady. Because we never heard back from him after that, where we were like, “Yeah, we do want to continue this friendship, but we need to address this. These microaggressions are really personal issues that have started to get out of hand, [laughs] and we need to figure that out if this relationship will continue.” He canceled his one dollar pledge to my patreon during Ace Week. I saw that he deleted that pledge on Disabled Ace Day when I was awake for 24 hours [laughs] trying to engage on Twitter and get the community going and all of these interviews that I had conducted, getting those published and up on the Ace Week website. I was, like, exhausted and doing a ton of activism around asexuality and disability. And on Disabled Ace Day, our friend – who is both acephobic and ablest, repeatedly – deleted his one dollar pledge to me. And that was technically the last we ever heard from him. [laughs] Ugh, that was so aggravating. It just – it seemed petty. It seemed petty, given the timing. And mm, I don’t know. This whole everything was deeply upsetting for a very, very long time.
Courtney: So what’s the moral of this story? We definitely gave a lot of grace and a lot of chances, maybe too many.
Royce: You absolutely used too much of your own energy on this.
Royce: Like, that was – I think that in any situation, any sort of relationship where some amount of harm is being done, there is a point where you have to cut things off or draw a line if they aren’t getting any better. And I think the amount of energy, time and energy, that you spent over the course of those months and the impact that it had on your day-to-day life and mental health was well over that line.
Courtney: Yeah. It’s really hard when you do have, like, a desire for things to get better. But, yeah, it’s also – it’s just so upsetting to know that you can have a friendship for so long and help each other out and have keys to each other’s houses and not know for so long that they have underlying bigotry that has not been unpacked and unlearned. And I mean, it’s not that we didn’t know that this person had come from more conservative upbringings than we did, but there were many more progressive leanings now, as an adult. And there would still be situations where we’d be like, “Man, before we met you, you had a vastly different life than any of us,” and sometimes that would still surprise us, but that wasn’t like an issue or a concern. And now it’s, like, really hard to think, because it’s… I remember even – which maybe should have been our very first clue, but Season… was Season 3 of BoJack Horseman the one with “Planned Obsolescence,” or is that 4?
Royce: I think it’s 5.
Courtney: 5? No, that’s too late.
Royce: You just watched BoJack how many times recently?
Courtney: [laughs] Many.
Royce: It’s Season 5, Episode 3.
Courtney: It’s 5? Really? Man, I thought it was 4. I said 3 and I knew that was too early. But –
Royce: 4 is where most of Todd’s asexual plotline is.
Courtney: That makes sense.
Royce: The end of 3 is where they tease it. 5 is where that episode happened.
Courtney: That makes sense. So, at any rate, when that episode had dropped – this friend also watched the show, and he knew that we were asexual. And so he – what I thought at the time was like a good ally thing to do – he asked us our opinion of it. He was like, “Hey, since you’re asexual, what was your opinion of this episode?” And – I mean, if you listen to our two massive episodes on BoJack Horseman, you know we really appreciate that show, but with that episode in particular, we mentioned, yeah, it was really realistic to certain ace experiences that don’t get talked about a lot. And a lot of the non-ace people we know who watched it read it in a very different way, but we saw really, really what they were doing. And I was talking about how, yeah, it was a perfect farce of what it’s like to try to blend into a society that is so hypersexual all the time. And he was like, “Huh,” and made a comment that was like, “Oh, I just thought it was, like, a parody of, like, a gay person trying to be straight or, like, two gay people dating each other to be straight and take home to the parents or something.” And it’s like, why would they do that? If they were telling that story, they’d just tell that story. Like, stop implanting other queer experiences onto asexuality just because you cannot identify the queerness in asexuality because you don’t have enough understanding of it yet. So, that was a moment where I was like, “Oh, well, he didn’t understand what was really being said and implied here. So, I’m glad he asked us about it, because, you know, as his ace friends, [laughs] we can help him to understand better.”
Courtney: So yeah, it’s deeply upsetting, I mean, I’m still upset about it. Can’t believe we were like, “Please don’t ghost us,” [laughs] then got ghosted! I didn’t know adults ghosted each other. I think that’s the only time I’ve been truly, truly ghosted as an adult. We just never hear from someone ever again in the middle of a – guess it was a fight, a tense discussion.
Courtney: So I don’t have any advice for testing the waters with friends to see if they really respect all of your identities. But like I said at the top of this episode, I think a lot of people in various marginalized communities can relate to realizing that a friend has views you had no idea about. I mean, how many disabled people started seeing people show their true colors when the pandemic started and people started saying, “Don’t worry, it’s only disabled people dying”? I know a lot of people lost friendships over that because they didn’t realize that their friend just didn’t really value their lives in their heart of hearts. And that happens with BIPOC, too. Friends with someone until they show their true colors and start making racist microagressions. It’s really exhausting, and it’s tough to know who you can trust in some of those situations. And I wish I had better advice for feeling that out to try to avoid bigger heartbreak down the line. But at least, all I can say is that if you’re someone who has experienced something similar, you are not alone. You are not the only one.
Courtney: And if it’s a fear that you have, I mean, there are so many people who stay in the closet to some or all of their friends for fear of similar things, and that is a genuine feeling that some people have. And I can’t really blame them. I do hope – to any of you that may be in that situation – that you find a group of friends or found family who you can trust with every part of you, who will not do you dirty. And if that’s something that has happened to you, or if it’s a concern that you have, then perhaps seek out friendships with other people who share your same marginalized identity or intersectional marginalized identities.
Courtney: Because we just started an all-ace D&D group recently. So, we have begun the healing process to fill the hole in our hearts with a group of all aces, no horny bards allowed. [laughs] And, yeah, microaggressions way down. [laughs] And it’s honestly been really refreshing. I mean, a year ago if you would have asked me if I needed or specifically wanted an all-ace D&D group, I probably would have said, like, “Eh, maybe that’s cool, but I don’t really need that. Like, I have other people I’m playing D&D with.” But it does make a difference. It can make a difference when you surround yourself with other people who kind of get you and get those parts of your identity. Even if the social situation isn’t revolving around it – it’s not like this is an asexual meetup where we’re getting together to talk about asexuality. Like, we’re a bunch of silly nerds, just having fun times role-playing and being monsters and…
Royce: Being monsters or beating monsters?
Courtney: [laughs] With our group, it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes. [laughs] But yeah, and that’s… Like, yeah, we did talk about just one friend here, but this was really kind of like four friends, who we all knew to varying degrees, because since he was the one who kind of introduced everyone to everyone else, we just we never heard from anyone else ever again. It was just done, gone. And now I don’t know if they, like, hate us.
Royce: Yeah. It was four people that we spent several hours with once a week for a while.
Courtney: Yeah. And now it’s like, are they still just playing D&D? And they’re like, “Oh, thank God Courtney and Royce are gone”? Because, I don’t know, probably not, they’re probably nicer than that, but I don’t know, I gave one of them too much grace once upon a time. So I guess that’s not my problem anymore.
Courtney: But that said, I’m gonna put some resources in the show notes, as per usual, with some of the awesome creators we mentioned: disabled ace creator of the combat, wheelchair, other disabled D&D activists with resources, The Asians React podcast, all of that good stuff. Heck, we’ll even put links to the other awesome things that our new, asexual, much better D&D party does. We have Aces Playing at Attraction on Twitch and Miktastic on Twitch. We’ll drop their Twitch channels and their Twitter channels, because we like them and you will too.
Courtney: So on that note, please do all the things: the liking, the subscribing, the ratings, the reviews. Comment if you’re on YouTube. Send us a tweet, if you’d like to, at @The_Ace_Couple. And we will see you all next time.