Hey Lich, thanks for sharing all that! It is very interesting and I do not discount your experience in any way, everything I wrote above is true, yet what you say makes total sense to me and aligns with some of my experiences as well.
The creepiness of dudes at cons or in “nerdy” pursuits is both legion and legendary, even now, and on Reddit there are subs called “RPG horror stories” and “Neckbeards” with girls and guys relating 100s of creepster stories and experiences. I also have about 5 stories myself of players acting extremely inappropriately at my games. Mostly it was stuff along the lines of being a Munchkin/Min-Maxer, an attention hog or just plain weird, and not so much creepy.
Since GMing my first game I have also made it my mission to never let this stuff slide, before I even agree to play with anyone I send them a short document (good-natured in tone yet extremely clear) of what I go for and what I do not tolerate at my table. Being creepy to women or making anyone feel uncomfortable for your own jollies is at the very top of that list, it is as clear as can be and as such there is no warning, discussion or second chance, I kick you out of the group. Done. I don’t ever want to spend time with bad humans, much less when I am trying to have fun and hosting people at my home. Especially since I started sending that document about 15 years ago, I have had 0 problems. Sometimes people do not work out in the group but that has never been due to creepyness in last ten years or more, just wasn’t the best fit.
As you say, It is truly amazing, this Renaissance in table-top (I am not talking only about the OSR, talking about the whole thing, OSR is one of several components, perhaps not even the most important one). And the beautiful thing about it, is that I think it will never go away. The huge stigma (“only for losers/nerds, satanic, difficult”) that D&D once had has been thoroughly debunked or at least gets rapidly smaller every year. With this critical mass of new players and information out there, table-top will never become super niche or obscure again. As long as the internet persists, table-top will remain a large hobby with many (would be) players. But I will never forget the reputation it once had, only seven years ago I would never mention that I played RPGs on a first date or any first impression type scenario. I had learned the hard way, through experience, that talking about D&D with a not insignificant amount of people could precipitate disaster or a too long and/or very awkward conversations where you would have to try to erase a bunch of totally mistaken preconceptions and prejudice. Often, despite trying, I would not succeed at completely erasing any misgivings or even a little mistrust.
I would love for you or anyone to start playing (again)! You obviously love RPGs! So I will give some tips and opinions below that might help in this.
While Facebook is a good way to find players I would recommend you do not make an account. They are imho truly an amoral/evil company that destroys your privacy. I wish I had never! gotten an account, I did delete my account wholesale and had FB remove the data (as much as that can be done and trusted) about five years ago and it feels great. I have found players just as easily since then, on Reddit and through friends of my existing players. At most perhaps you could use a friends (if they do not mind) FB account to find prospective players and simply have them e-mail you on any e-mail address that does not feature your real name. Direct messaging or texting is also an option as soon as you establish first contact on FB.
Reddit is not great in terms of privacy either but it is leaps and bounds better than Facebook. All it is, is a very large forum with a subforum for almost anything and millions of users, which all upvote or downvote content. You simply decide which subforums you join/you want to see. If you can use this forum, you can certainly use Reddit! Is very easy really. This explains it a bit more: https://youtu.be/tlI022aUWQQ
So if you want to find players, just go and have a look at Reddit and use their search function to look for any Subreddit (=subforum) that is only about your city or locality and see if it appears quite active. If so, you can almost certainly find players there with a few weeks patience. This is just an example, say you lived in Pittsburgh, you would just check this: https://old.reddit.com/r/pittsburgh/
Of course “selling” the game you intend to run, if you make a Reddit post asking for players, is not a bad idea, I explain the vibe of my group, that you need 0 money to join, how we play and how much fun we have. Last time I posted one of these virtual flyers I got literally more than 15 persons who were very keen to play, all responding within days. I had to whittle it down to 3 candidates. Two of which still play with me today. All this despite putting up a few barriers to entry in my flyer/first post. Such as people needing to be very reliable and showing up on time, ideally being in our age range etc.
Concerning keeping your professional and gaming life separate, this is not a problem and a good practice anywhere online. Make sure you sign up to Reddit with an email (for privacy I like Posteo or Tutanota and stay faaar from Gmail etc) that does not have your real name or any tie to you profession, pick a user name on Reddit that could never be used to identify you, your job or location. If you post on Reddit asking for players, I always put my zip code to explain where I live and we will be playing, but I do not post any information pertaining to my real name, exact location, my job etc on Reddit or anywhere online. You simple ask people to email you for that info or use something like Telegram (my RPG group communicates via a Telegram group chat, which is exactly like Whatsapp except with better privacy, Signal is another good alternative).
Youtube, to be honest I never watch RPG playing sessions either, any time I tried I lasted five minutes since I just keep thinking: “I wish I was GMing/playing!”, “I would not use that system!”, “Why is the group so large and the combat so loooong?”,… XD But I think it is wonderful that it does entertain and pique the interest of tens of thousands of people who have never played! For them it is a gateway drug, for me, I want the real thing! I prefer to watch videos from really experienced GMs explaining their craft, their house rules/own system, their campaign setting and GM notes, those videos are far shorter, instantly applicable for me and some of them are extremely entertaining to boot.
About the women in RPG, it is honestly awesome! It changes the dynamic at the table, and I would say for the better, for everyone. My best and longest serving player at the table is a woman, she is way smarter than I, gets super into the game and her investment in turn reflects on the others and makes them also get more present, emotionally tied to the game and not afraid to show a more vulnerable side. She, and her dog she brings, makes us laugh every session. And at the same time this girl and the other two women in the group can be more creative or ruthless in combat than I could ever hope to be as a player.
What you describe, your feelings, make it plain you really want to start playing again. So just try it! Try the above. I do recognize those feelings, in those thirty years as a GM I have started writing my own rules/entire game system at least 4 times, never finished it, however this time around, I am about to!
More importantly, there were periods of 6 months and perhaps one period of 3 years that I did absolutely 0! with RPGs. Life happened, circumstances etc. But every time I would miss it, feel that pull, more and more,… I too would remember what an amazing time I had and crave both the unique social and gaming aspect of table-tops.
As I write elsewhere, I put a good RPG session on par with anything else I have done in my life including skateboarding, playing music live in front of an audience, romance, being out in beautiful nature etc etc.
Nietzsche wrote “Without music, life would be a mistake”,… I feel the same about RPG.