Why We Should Support Justin Bonomo And Report More Sexual Microaggressions

Why We Should Support Justin Bonomo And Report More Sexual Microaggressions

Lee Davy opines over Justin Bonomo’s recent tweet on his observations on sexual microaggressions at the World Series of Poker and believes he deserves our support.

Justin Bonomo has pink hair. It makes him stand out. It screams, ‘look at me.’ He speaks slowly; softly, intellectually, and is opinionated. Often, his opinions draw controversy. He has made mistakes and the poker community like nothing better than to vilify him for those mistakes.

During the first 45-minutes of his involvement in the 47th Annual World Series of Poker (WSOP) he witnessed and logged three incidents at his table he refers to in a Twitter post as: ‘Sexual Microaggressions.’

Paraphrasing Bonomo:

A microaggression is a “subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other non-dominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.

Why We Should Support Justin Bonomo And Report More Sexual MicroaggressionsIn short, Bonomo noted several interactions between a male dealer and female poker player construed as ‘sexual microaggression’.

You can read his post in full right here.

The reactions to his post were interesting. Instead, of wholeheartedly supporting him on his journey to keep on uncovering and revealing these important observations, people ridiculed him and tried to ride roughshod over his main points by focusing attention on a point that people didn’t believe fell into the category of a ‘sexual microaggression.’

As a man who has suffered the damage of microaggressions throughout his life, and has also delivered hundreds in return, I wanted to back Bonomo’s stance publicly. I want to share my theory behind what I see as a real problem, not just in poker, but what it means to be human.

A Species in Denial

When I was 13-years old, I pushed a boy off his stool in science class, jumped on top of him, and rained down the punches. I broke his arm.

Later, when I was in the head teacher’s office, she asked me why I broke his arm?

“He called me a Chink,” I told her in between tears of anger and concern.

“But your nickname is Ching?” She replied. “Everyone calls you Ching.”

I am half Chinese. Both of my parents are white. My Mum ended the confusion when she told me, at 8-years old that my biological father was Chinese, and he had left us before I was born.

From that moment on I viewed myself as different, as did the children surrounding me in the playground. My nickname was Ching. Sometimes people called me a Chink – one was friendly, the other was aggressive. People were calling me a Chink to hurt me.

I could deal with that. It was straightforward. My Dad taught me that if anyone should cause me harm, I should punch them in the face. So as a kid this is what I did. People called me a Chink, and I would punch them in the face.

But it was the people who didn’t mean to hurt my feelings who did the worse damage. These people thought it was ‘fun’ or ‘normal’ to call me names. Sheryl Sandberg, the author of Lean-In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, understood me when she referred to this abuse as ‘benevolent’. Here she is using the term in the context of sexism.

“This kind of “benevolent sexism” is far more dangerous than the overtly hostile kind, for the perpetrator usually has no idea how his or her attitudes hurt female colleagues and thus feels no compunction to reassess them.”

Most of the people who used to call me names didn’t believe they were hurting my feelings. It happens today with my decision to stop drinking alcohol and to not eat meat or sugar. My closest friends and family members attack in ‘benevolent’ ways.

While it is my personal responsibility to put these people right, and I do, it feels wrong to even face it. You are often ridiculed and ostracised from the group. Defences dominate. The perpetrators aren’t aware of the harm they are causing. They have no empathy for your situation. Very often, it isn’t worth the hassle, and so you keep quiet, and the pain doesn’t go away.

I believe we are a species in denial.

A friend engaged in conversation with me the other day. A young Korean had recently joined an all-white workforce in a predominantly white community. At the dinner break, one of the workers said they fancied a ‘Chinky’ for dinner. The Korean complained to Human Resources.

My friend thought this was outrageous and defended the upstanding predisposition and character of her friend. When I tried to point out that she had to seek to feel how those words may have affected the young Korean she thought I was daft.

We are so resigned to our way of thinking, hammered into our heads by our early experiences of life that we are in denial of what’s truly going on in the world.

Justin Bonomo isn’t.

And that bothers a lot of people. We don’t like individuals who tell us we are wrong when every cell in our body is screaming in our ear that we are right.

Bonomo has focused on gender. I have focused on race. It’s all discrimination, and it’s not just the poker world. It is the entire world. We are all suffering from inequality blindness and for the rest of this article, I will focus on the role of gender blindness in particular.


I watched the movie Suffragette the other day. It was the tale of the early feminist movement starring Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, and Helena Bonham Carter. The film was depicting events in 1912. I didn’t think much had changed when I looked back at my life.

I grew up on a council estate in Reddish, Stockport in the 1970s and 80s, and then later in the Welsh Valleys. My father worked. My mother took care of the kids and cleaned the house. It was a pattern that was similar in most homes.

Life was very much like that 1912 movie. In my home, the man was in charge. When I wanted anything, I was always fully aware it was my Dad who had the final say.

My Mum would jump to his beat. Three decades later and she still does. My Mum is a ghost, dedicating her life serving a man who doesn’t give her any love or attention. She gave everything to children who hardly notice she is there.

I was driving her home after a visit the other day when she showed me a text my father had sent her.

“Where’s my wench? I have come home, and my tea is not ready. I went into the bathroom, and there wasn’t a towel. This has to stop.”

My mother laughed as she read it to me, almost proud, declaring that my father has a sense of humour.

I didn’t laugh.

If Justin Bonomo were there, he would have recorded sexist microaggression #4.

My Dad is sexist. And yet, if I told him this he would argue to the contrary and believe his case so much he would stake his life on it. Although he is not my biological father, I have become every inch, my dad. I too was raised to behave like him. Even to this day I struggle with this and I am often confused how best to change the programming that has become hardwired into my very soul.

For a large part of my life, I was raised to believe that men are superior to women in so many areas. Although, I don’t feel that way today, it’s interesting to cast a net back to that time to see how I got entangled. Instead, I am a fan of a more matriarchal society. When I first moved in with another woman I was very conscious of creating a household based on gender equality.

I learned about sex watching porn. I viewed hours and hours of footage that showed females acting entirely passively and in sexually degrading positions. A lot of the time the images I saw were no different to rape. How did I know that the participants were even doing so voluntarily? I was watching these pictures from aged 9-years old onwards in various forms.

In a 2008 episode of the TV show Mad Men, there was a scene where a boyfriend rapes the character, Joan Holloway. The actress who played Holloway, Christina Hendricks, later told the media that she was shocked that so many viewers didn’t understand it was a rape scene because it didn’t constitute their view of ‘rape.’

How does this affect a young child and his attitude towards women?

I was trained to be this way, right out of the vaginal gate.

In 2010, in a rape case in Cleveland, Texas, an 11-year old girl was subjected to a gang rape. The jury heard how she lured her male victims into sexual acts by wearing makeup, and the fact that she was of Latina descent was a part of her ingenious honeypot trap. A writer for the New York Times wrote that the community was shocked, not by the rape, but by the fact an 11-year old girl could ‘seduce’ men into that type of violent behaviour.

These kinds of shocking cases are at the front of social media lately after Brock Turner was caught raping a young girl who had passed out unconscious due to alcohol. A judge thought his act of abuse was only worthy of a six-month jail sentence. The victim told the court through an emotionally charged statement that she ‘no longer wanted her body’ after the assault.

Perhaps, you think I am going to far by comparing rape with sexual microaggressions in poker? I believe it’s all connected, and unfortunately, all too common. At a recent gathering of close friends and family, I did a mental count, and the vast majority of women present had been a victim of sexual abuse including rape.

Did we automatically believe Jaclynn Moskow when she came forward with allegations of sexual assault during her time with Poker Night in America (PNIA) or did we Google her and have doubts when we saw her cleavage?

Back to Bonomo and the actions of his dealer and I have no doubt he meant no harm. I have seen dealers act this way for years. For most of them, it’s an awkward way of breaking the ice. They mean no harm. A lot of them think it’s customer service.

What Next?

Follow Justin Bonomo’s lead. Don’t attack him or abuse him for speaking openly about the problems women face in the world. By doing that, you are trying to push him underneath a rock. Think about the reasons behind your need to silence him? Why are his truths so uncomfortable for you?

He is not complaining. He is not trying to be the centre of attention. He dyes his hair pink because he wants to. It’s a social stereotype that tells us otherwise. He is creating an open discussion and raising awareness of a problem that affects us all, not just in poker, but in this beautiful planet we call home.

We need people like Bonomo. I want him to keep a diary of every sexual microaggression and share them all because this is how we fix this thing. Let him be an inspiration for even more people to come forward. The Bonomo’s of this world provide the courage for people like Ms Moskow to come forward and share her PNIA experience.

Men should want to be a part of the solution. We all have mothers, some of us have sisters, and a lot of us have wives or girlfriends. A lot of them will also be in denial hence why some of them even add to the abuse women receive by telling them to man up. Yes, women also need to support each other because so many of them have also bought into this idea that success = machismo. If a woman complains about a sexual microaggression, it’s seen as falling back into the weaker female stereotype. Therefore, other women vilify other women.

It’s also interesting to note, that although I maintain in this article that my father’s behaviour influenced my growth, he was hardly in my life, and it was my mother who cultivated most of my beliefs and values.

Harvard Studies have shown that gender equality increases life satisfaction of both men and women and that women suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ much more than men meaning they are more likely to underestimate their ability. If the cherry on top is ‘abuse’ it re-enforces these false beliefs. I believe it’s one of the reasons men are dominating the poker world, and that’s not good for the game.

The Japanese game developer Capcom recently banned a male pro video gamer from all their competitions after he was caught on camera touching the rear of a female. The offender was banned for a year, and could face a lifetime ban if he repeats his offence.

When was the last time a punishment was handed out to a male because of his behaviour towards women at a poker table? How can we police it if those paid to do so are also part of the problem? We have already seen in the Bonomo case that sometimes the official is the catalyst. We all need more education and hyper-vigilance about such things. This is why Bonomo should be given some love and not hate, and I don’t want to hear anybody tell me about how he was a cheat because that’s classic 101 deflection of the real issue. We are masters of this, and it needs to change.

In September, I am going to be a father again for the first time in 15-years. I am going to have a baby girl. She will be my first. The thought terrifies me. And I am not talking about the birth or the upheaval in my life.

I think about how I have treated women in the past. I look at how other men treated them. I reflect on Bonomo and poker. All of it makes me worried about her arrival in the world. My wife sent me an article yesterday. It was entitled: How to Teach Your Boys Not to Rape.

As I read it, it worried me further. Not just because people believe there is a need to teach our men about these things and that my wife is bringing a young girl into the world, but because 15-years ago I had a son. If I adopted my father’s beliefs without even understanding the consequences of my actions, then doesn’t it follow suit that my son will inherit mine?