Opinion Why Troy Baker Quitting Twitter Matters to Everyone

#IStandWithTroy

Liana Kerzner

Published

By Liana Kerzner @redlianak

Editor's note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, Metaleater Media as a whole.

Someone asked me to contribute to the #IStandWithTroy hashtag, regarding voice actor Troy Baker quitting Twitter after being the victim of a particularly nasty moralist dogpile. Once I figured out what the hell was going on, I realized that 140 characters wasn't enough for my thoughts on this issue.

Baker got caught in the trap many of us do: merely mentioning a person or topic related to transgenderism in an even remotely humorous fashion runs the risk of being equated with transphobia. Being labelled "transphobic" means that you lose all right to basic human consideration in some corners of the Internet. It can lead to a hate campaign that lasts for months. I've survived one.

My "crime" was a joke I made about my dog with the Feline Frequency parody account. Yes, you can't even interact with a parody account these days without getting in serious trouble. Totalbiscuit was also the subject of similar attacks because he made a comment about toastkin. Based on his SoundCloud recordings, he's as confused by the whole thing as I am. While I think perhaps we both could use some more education on the subject, the level of vitriol flung at us has been thoroughly ineffective at teaching us anything useful.

Troy Baker

Baker's "transgression" was repeating something writer and singer Brian W. Foster originally said: "Brett Michaels looks like Mickey Rourke tried to become Caitlyn Jenner."

Brett Michaels is best known as the lead singer of the Hair Metal band Poison, and he still looks like the aging singer of a Hair Metal band. I personally think that he looks more like Mickey Rourke tried to become Lindsay Lohan, but that's up for debate, and I'm hardly an expert on Brett Michael's cosmetically-altered mug.

Far Cry 4 - Pagan Min
Baker has voiced many video game characters, including Far Cry 4's antagonist Pagan Min.

It's important to draw the line between something that intrudes on a personal sensitivity, and something that is inherently hateful."

Some of you may know that I used to work in TV comedy. Fewer people know that I also did gigs at bars and comedy clubs, and wow, that's a harrowing way to make a living. At any gig, someone is always going to not get the joke, and that isn't the same as a joke bombing because the whole room doesn't get the joke. Even then, that doesn't mean it's a bad joke. Part of the exhausting element of live comedy is that sometimes your material kills. Other times, the exact same material just doesn't resonate with the crowd. And yes, sometimes you offend people. You don't intend to, but it happens. What one person finds funny, another person finds disgusting. You can never please everyone, and you can't spend your entire life apologizing for unintentional insults.

The problem with Twitter is that your indirect audience is huge, so it's easy to have something spin wildly out of control when the wrong person gets offended. When you find yourself in a situation like that, the human response is to apologize for the unintentional offense. Unfortunately, Twitter doesn't play by human rules, and apologies are seen as weakness. The Internet is a savage land, and it's often better for someone to think you're a horrible a**hole than that you're weak. Troy Baker did the smartest thing anyone can when they're able: he removed himself from the situation completely.

For the record, I don't believe his joke was transphobic. I only see a potential for transphobia if the reference to Caitlyn Jenner was in response to her trans status, and not a reference to a vague physical resemblance between the three people aided by extensive plastic surgery. The goof on Brett Michaels was a reference to the fact that he looks vaguely feminine, and the feminine point of comparison was Jenner. If we don't assume her status as a woman, the joke makes no sense. For instance, "... looks like Mickey Rourke tried to become Janice Dickerson" would have worked too. However, more people immediately know who Caitlyn Jenner is and how she looks, so from a comedy perspective, I see why she was the reference point Foster used. Why should Caitlyn Jenner be denied cultural icon status because she's trans? Isn't that transphobic?

"No... because we say so, cis scum!" Say the online mobs. It's might makes right thinking. Instead of a paradigm where accusations of hate have to be backed up by a reasonable explanation, all someone needs is a hundred accomplices to shame a person into silence.

When I was accused of transphobia, it was indescribably upsetting. My head, which was telling me to shut up and check my privilege, immediately went to war with my gut, which was saying "you let this narrative stand and you're doing a disservice to the trans people you personally know... also, PS: IT'S NOT FRIGGIN TRUE!" One transman I know recently said to me, with a shake of his head "I've seen your online stuff, and I can't figure out why people hate you so much."

Don't get me wrong, I understand that some trans people have had terrible experiences and are extremely sensitive. And trust me, I know how hard it is to try to explain to someone on the Internet that what they're saying is impacting your sensitivities. If we could control our sensitivities, many of us would. The thing is, it's important to draw the line between something that intrudes on a personal sensitivity, and something that is inherently hateful.

It's a huge stretch to say that the phrase Baker quoted was instantly and objectively hateful. His profile made him a convenient target to make an example of. Through him, a message was sent to other names in the video game industry: we're watching, and you could be next. So watch what you say.

Bret Michaels

Online culture has become the world's biggest small town, with gossip, shaming, and cliques running rampant."

It would be easy to oversimplify the issue as something unique to trans activism, but it's not. Online culture has become the world's biggest small town, with gossip, shaming, and cliques running rampant. The issue isn't even tied to a single service: anything with a like or favorite button encourages loud, populist grandstanding that sacrifices the feelings of a third party on the altar of a follower count. Community coordinators have been cowed for too long by an overly broad interpretation of free speech that neglected the importance of respectful disagreement. Now that various online communities have woken up, too late, to the fact that the widespread tolerance of abusive behavior is eroding their communities -- and balance sheets -- they're suffering cascading internal mutinies while they attempt reactionary course corrections. It's a mess.

Conversely, nothing grows a young online community like a common enemy. These groups often claim to be "activist" or "support" groups, but that's just a license to bully in a pack these days. Activism is about issues, not attacking a different person each week. This "no bad tactics, only bad targets" nonsense is rationalizing a desire to see someone else suffer.

In the extremely unlikely event that Troy Baker actually is transphobic... so what? He's not a lawmaker, a judge, or a doctor. He's a voice actor for video games and anime. There's no reason to attack him via strength in numbers when a much better result could have been achieved by talking to him like a human being. The tactics of the online mob only served to drive him away from the dialogue, which is the best decision for him, but the worst possible outcome for the rest of us. So the bullying was successful, but the so-called advocacy was an abject failure.

#IStandWithTroy

Images courtesy of Troy Baker, Ubisoft and Bret Michaels.