Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Voices in the View

Introduction to the Series

by Alex "Elouan" Groom

This article will be the first in a series of articles in which people with marginalized identities talk about LARPing/gaming. If you would like to do an interview or write an article about your own experiences, and we haven’t reached out to you yet, please let me know! To kick off the series, I’ve written an article about my own time as a nonbinary person in Realms.

For those who don’t know me already, I’m Alex Groom (soon to be Cannamela), aka Sir Elouan of Rhiassa. I use they/them pronouns. I’ve been playing Realms for almost a decade now; I was a fighter for about six years, and have been a caster on and off in the last three. When I was asked to write about my experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community (specifically, a trans nonbinary person) who LARPs, I immediately knew the topic I had to write about. Today, I want to talk about how gaming can provide spaces for LGBTQ+ people to explore their identities, and how we as gamerunners and players can support that.

When I first started playing Realms, I was not out as nonbinary. If you go through my old Realms photos, I certainly looked like a typical straight cis dude; for the most part, I also acted like one. If you asked me, I would have said I was a straight cis dude. And yet...I didn’t quite know it yet, but I would be wrong about that. Or, at the least, I didn’t have the knowledge or experience to know better.

Learning about trans experiences is a lot easier nowadays than it was even a decade ago. We as a society have a long way to go, but we at least talk about trans issues more openly nowadays. In the town I grew up in, that didn’t really happen, even when I was in high school. I don’t want to go off on a tangent too much, but long story short is I didn’t have great resources when I was younger, I found better resources when I got older, and realized that I am some sort of not cis a bit over two years ago.

The issue then, was, how could I explore my gender identity and expression in a way that goes beyond just reading? The answer to that, for me at least, was through LARPing. LARPing gave (and continues to give) me a place to comfortably explore my gender. To be perfectly blunt, I’ve been wearing makeup and dressing how I want far longer in Realms than I have in real life, and longer than I’ve been out as nonbinary.

When you’re playing a character, there’s a layer of separation between you and the character. That separation translates to safety for someone who isn’t out but might be figuring out or experimenting with their gender. In my case, this meant changing how I dress and wearing makeup for the first time. The first time I wore eyeliner was to a Ren Faire, where I could pass it off as part of a pirate aesthetic. In Realms, my character turned into a demon just as I started realizing I was nonbinary (these two events are unrelated, for the record), and let me tell you, I used that 100% as an excuse to dress and look however the hell (pun intended) I felt like. And yes, some of that was just playing up the fact that I was now playing a demon. But, at the same time, I was using that as an opportunity to explore facets of my own gender. My character was arguably no longer a man or a woman, and that gave me an outlet for feeling out how I felt about my own gender.

Further, that layer of separation lets someone explore aspects of themselves they might not otherwise be comfortable exploring. A lot of us were raised with negative portrayals of LGBTQ+ people. Undoing those stereotypes and prejudices doesn’t happen overnight. And even then, a lot of us have internalized the hatred we saw LGBTQ+ people face when we grew up. I spent a good chunk of my childhood (age 6-12) in early 2000’s northern Michigan. I wasn’t even out as a trans person (or fully aware of being one), but I was already having queerphobic slurs thrown at me just for acting differently. Even knowing that that was wrong, it’s a hard thing to shake. And so, a lot of us build defenses to maintain the illusion (even to ourselves) that we are “normal,” if just to stop the bullying. Part of those defenses, quite often, is to strictly conform to gender roles. As such, not conforming to those gender roles can often feel dangerous - after all, we tell ourselves, that’s why we were bullied in the first place. If, however, someone is playing a character, they might be more comfortable stepping outside of those norms. “I’m not trans, my character’s gender just doesn’t match my own” is an easy out for anyone who might need that justification to be okay with breaking down the barriers they’ve built up.

Finally, LARPing gives me the chance to choose who I came out to first and who I interacted with while out. Even now, I don’t always dress or look how I want in public; sometimes, the possibility of harassment just makes it not worth it. Realms isn’t perfect, but it’s a heck of a lot better than a lot of other places. When I go to a Realms event, I know who the jerks are and generally can just avoid them. Even then, there are people in game who I know have my back. I know that if I’m having a rough time at a Realms event, there are good friends I can sit down with and talk to who will make me feel better. I also know that if someone is gonna be transphobic, I have friends who are gonna stand up for me, and I’m not on my own.

With all this in mind, there’s some easy steps that you can take to make your game supportive of players who went through the experiences I went through. The first is to avoid making disparaging or sarcastic remarks about someone who has changed up their appearance, or is playing a character of a different gender than their own. For all you know, that is a trans or gender nonconforming person testing out the waters for the first time - and first impressions are hard to shake. If you make the game feel unsafe for them, it may be a long time before they feel safe to express themselves in that game, if ever. Finally, be supportive of your trans friends. If you do see someone being transphobic, call them out. You don’t have to change their mind, but saying something - especially publicly and visibly - tells the trans friends in your game that that sort of behavior isn’t tolerated, and lets people who aren’t out yet know that the game will be safe for them when they’re ready.