Exploring Identity as a Transgendered Gamer

Hey everyone!

I hope you enjoyed last week's advice for new cosplayers--part II will be posted next week. In the meantime, it's World Pride in Toronto right now, and there are incredible events all over the city hosted by groups like Toronto GaymersAlso, have you checked out Gaming in Color yet??

This is another awesome Kickstarter project about the LGBTQ++ gaming community which I think everyone should watch. I also want to thank everyone from this community who has been supportive of our project and who has shared their personal stories.

Speaking of Kickstarter and personal stories, this week's guest post is by KickstartVentures writer Serena Nelson who is "also known as Intendant S on most forums and Twitter. She started her adventuring career at a young age by cutting her teeth on a copy of Zork and King’s Quest (and chipping a tooth on the floppies). She has since fallen in love with the genre and has hungrily gobbled up any good ones (and a few overripe ones) that she could find." (I stole this bio from the site....since I couldn't have written it better myself.) By the way, Serena deserves a gold medal for patronage of the arts for backing over 40 projects!! 


Before I start, a bit of a disclaimer. I’m transgendered. That means that I was born male but have felt the need to become female. The issue of gender identity is a sensitive subject, but in the end it comes down to just being the person who you really are. And I have discovered that one area that has really helped me during my journey of self-discovery was through gaming. Games in general are a much more interactive medium than most forms of entertainment. You’re playing as the main character, not just being a passive voyeur in the back seat of the action. You literally ARE the star.
Being trans is an incredibly scary experience, especially when you’re just starting out on getting to know yourself. And games are a safe place to explore your identity. Single player games that let you customize your avatar and choose your gender, such as the Mass Effect series, let you not only play as your chosen gender but also to make him or her look like your ideal self. Of course, online games like most MMOs let you do this too but that’s a bit more of a touchy subject that I’ll get to in just a bit.
Back during the dawn of computer gaming, one genre that stood out was text adventures (or interactive fiction as it’s also known). To my knowledge, no other style of play talks to the player in the second person (“You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.” for example). While there are little-to-no graphics involved in these early titles, the power of imagination quickly sets in and you can visualize whomever or whatever you want to be. Even the poor graphics of the late ‘70s and ‘80s had players fill in the blanks.
Granted, you won’t see many outside of the “old school” crowd playing these older games, but I wanted to include them for completeness sake. Today’s games are much more realistic than previous generations, which means with the exception of first-person titles (such as shooters and some adventure and RPG games) you’re seeing yourself on screen all the time. Even the more “cartoony” games are a huge step up from yesteryear.
Online gaming is another major way to explore one’s identity through this medium. My first MMO experience was roughly fifteen years ago with Dark Age of Camelot, which was also my first foray into playing a character of my self-identified gender in a multiplayer game. Prior to this my experience was through single player games that either let me choose a gender or already had a strong female protagonist. I’ve also read about  other transgendered people who have explored this through World of Warcraft and other more modern titles, and it’s not unusual to see this happen more and more often these days, particularly due to the anonymity of the Internet.
One good thing about this is that unless other players know about your trans status they won’t know unless you talk over VOIP, such as raiding. I know I’ve hated having to do this back when I was playing WoW heavily as a tank, but it was required for my role. This was years before I started working on my voice and it made me very self-conscious. Even today I’m still hesitant to talk over Skype or to lend my voice to podcasts and such. But, as they say, you’re your own worst critic.
But, there’s also a downside to exploring your gender online. Remember when I said that it’s a touchy subject above? Well, as much as I’d love to say otherwise there’s still plenty of hate towards the LGBT community. At its least offensive, other players will just dismiss you as a “guy playing a girl” or vice versa and leave it at that, perhaps even tease you about it from time to time. At its worst, though, you can receive threats and other harassment. While I’ve thankfully never experienced any of this kind of abuse first-hand, I have heard some horror stories.
Of course, it’s not quite as bad as I’m making it sound. There are plenty of trans guilds out there in numerous games and while I’ve never been a member of any of them I hear that they’re pretty supportive. And titles like Second Life even have support groups for transgendered persons. In short, if you can find other players who are open about it and you’re just starting out discovering yourself these groups would be a great place to look. And if you’re still too shy about meeting strangers online you can never go wrong with grouping with a close group of friends like I did.
Being openly trans means you’re putting yourself out there for the world to see. And it’s scary as hell. As I’m fond of saying, I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure that most are more than content just to continue living their lives without anyone being the wiser. I know that for me I didn’t particularly want to be out beyond a select number of people that I’ve come to know, respect, and like. I won’t speak of what made me more vocal towards the trans community, but there’s plenty out there on the Internet from November and December of last year to get some idea of what happened. I will state that it’s gaming related and leave it at that.
The gaming community does have its fair share of malicious individuals, which isn’t limited to just fans and fellow gamers. But, there are also plenty of others who are supportive, whether they’re cis or trans themselves. The thing is, you just never know which camp someone is in until it’s too late. For me, the gaming genre that I’ve been most active in has been in adventure gaming. And the vast majority of people that I know personally have had absolutely no problem with who I am. With the very rare exception, of course. Every genre has its problem child, so to speak. Even the most open-minded of them.
Games help to empower the player in ways that no other form of media does. As mentioned above, you’re not just playing the hero but you ARE the hero. You can live out the fantasy of saving the land, world, universe, etc in the comfort of your own home without taking risk. There are always save points and extra lives to be had, after all. While it’s a form of escapism and a way for someone to feel better about themselves, it’s so much more for someone whose sense of self is quite different from who they are, for lack of a better term, “in real life”.

Thanks for reading and happy Pride!