Did an interview/roundtable discussion with an independent game developer about LGBT characters in games. We touched on Bioware’s RPGs, Gay For You, and how things can continue to improve. Had a great time doing this one. :)
This is an odd entry to write. Most writers use their blogs to talk about current projects, or failing that, things that matter.
I don’t know how many of you feel that table-top roleplaying games actually matter, and I don’t expect to make any converts with this entry, but writing is supposed to be, in some way, telling the truth about yourself. The truth of the matter is that, yes, I’m a tabletop gamer in my off time, recently part of a group again after a near ten year hiatus. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons before I was ten years old, pulled into it by my sister who played in a game run by our uncle. My cousin had had to drop out because his mother, my aunt, was deeply Christian and had a problem with her son playing “Satan’s game”.
Her niece and nephew, it would seem, were okay to let burn in hell. Continue reading
Coastal Magic was definitely a good time, both for meeting readers as well as other authors, and one of authors I had the opportunity and pleasure to meet was Damon Suede, who, let’s face it, is a hell of a lot more known than me, funnier than me, and… I’ll put it this way, a conversation with Damon is a sudden ride, and you can either try to keep up, or just sit back and ride along. I attempted the former, ended up doing the latter, it’s like a taste of what elevated conversation at a society party would be like. He shines bright and big, that’s the best way to put it.
And before I went to CMC, I did some reading on Damon, read the bit of his bio that starts with “the right wing anus of America”, which I guess is Texas, and as a gay New Yorker, the only thing I really know about Texas is to never fucking go there unless I go to Austin. That’s the rep the Lone Star State has here, you know? New York, well, we’re New York City and a bunch of real estate and parks and a few colleges and stuff, but we’re New York, the Democrat stronghold, a bastion of liberalism. If Damon Suede was ejected from a right-wing anus, than I was ejaculated from a set of genitals that leaned heavily to the left.
And I’m guessing Damon and I had… different experiences when we came out. You would think that coming out in Texas vs. coming out in New York would have a clear winner. It does, it’s just not NY in this case, and community is the big difference. Community is the difference, let’s be honest, between whether you come out knowing you’ll be accepted and that a whole bunch of people have your back the moment someone gives you shit, and being thankful that Ricki Lake had a talk show.
I was seventeen, in Central New York, which isn’t Brooklyn or Queens, it’s north of Syracuse, and you’re raised to think that people from New York City are assholes because they believe by virtue of living in NYC, they’re better people than you. The town I lived in was poor, in the poorest county in NY, and being on any sort of public assistance made you an easy target for bullying. A fixed income plus “child support” (from a deadbeat dad) put me in that category, so I’d endeavored to look as working class as possible. My mom was on disability, so she watched soaps and a lot of daytime talk shows, in particular Ricki Lake, who I only recognized as a “that girl” actor. I wasn’t doing fantastic, my sister was already off to college and it was looking like I had the test scores to get me into a lot of good schools, which didn’t mean anything because I didn’t have the money to afford them. (Luckily SUNY Oswego had a great Writing Arts program.) As a result of that and being seventeen, I was, let’s face it, pissy and bitchy and not the greatest of kids, but I wasn’t a criminal, doing drugs, drinking, smoking, skipping school, or anything like that. Part of it was having a crush on one of my best friends, and sorry, but there was zero chance of him suddenly going all “gay for you” upon finding out I was into him.
I was also going to a high school where “smear the queer” and “bag the fag” were acceptable games in gym class, and the track team that I was on was the athletic haven for nerds, geeks, and outcasts, because running away from aggressive men was something we had a lot of practice at. There was one kid who was known to be gay, and let’s just say it was a public hell and he was too bug-eyed and weird for the girls to take him in and protect him. Having a gay friend wasn’t “in” yet, it was better and easier to hang around the girls and let the guys think I was trying to get them to go out with me. It also meant, to sell it, I’d have to ask one of them out publicly. She’d be embarrassed, I’d get shut down hard, it’d be humiliating for both of us and get around and I’d be tormented, but I’d be tormented for asking a girl out, and that’d buy me a few months out of the critical eye.
And after one of these instances, I got into a fight with my mom, and it was looking like I was going to be kicked out. Most gay guys, if you ask them, plan their coming out, or blurt it out from a place of frustration, or make it funny or entertaining or tearful or something. I don’t know how many come out as a Hail Mary to avoid getting kicked out of their house. But it worked, well, sort of. My mom’s first response was actually, “No, you’re not!” It was incredulous, complete with eyeroll, and then she noticed I wasn’t laughing, I was crying, and it really started to sink in. She stumbled and fumbled through a few sentences and paragraphs, and eventually found her way to an episode of Ricki Lake she’d seen a few days before. The episode had kids coming out to their parents, and the parents that were accepting were applauded, the rejecting ones were booed. Yeah, in the 90s, coming out to your parents was worthy of a talk show episode.
That wasn’t that, though. A few weeks later, she took me aside to ask me if I was still gay, but it was the hushed, secretive way she’d said it that I remember, even though everyone in the house knew. It took her some time, I could mention where she grew up, the year, the attitudes, but if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that everybody’s different, and I came out into a pretty nonexistent community until I got to college. Coming out to my friends was a little easier, and I never told my one friend I was into him, because by that time I was more interested in someone else. The more people I told, the easier it got to tell people, but from what I understand that’s par for the course. Time’s moved on, I guess it’s supposed to be easier now, but one thing I have to give my mom credit for is that she never treats my being gay like a choice. I’ve said out loud that no one in their right mind would choose a life like this, given how you’re treated, but there’s still an element of choice involved: the choice to come out. And I don’t know, isn’t it a better choice to be honest?
I might’ve mentioned before that I’m a professor, no matter how little I’m paid, so I do have students, class discussion, all that. Most discussion is through writing prompts and all of us having a laugh at the sillier and clever efforts, but this is the first semester I’ve been given a lit course, no matter how introductory, so it’s given me the chance to actually encourage the sort of class-long discussions every professor hopes to see in their career. The opening of the course dealt largely with stories, poems, and plays examining the various issues and conflicts faced by women and men, some traumatic, others mundane, all enlightening, and near the end, there are a number of poems that examine LGBT issues as well as gender issues.
I didn’t assign any of them, rather I allowed the class to pick 6 poems from a long list to write reactions to in their journals for discussion, and a few students did go with the LGBT poems. “Crazy Courage” by Alma Luz Villanueva, which examines gender identity, was the one that some in the class loved, but it eventually brought out the reminder that I’m in a rather red part of NY when several students took the time to make it all about gay marriage, and why they didn’t understand why it was such a big deal to the gay community. “Gay agenda” was even dropped, and I did my best to not cringe, and make a smartassed retort that a thousand memes already have about what the “gay agenda” truly is.
“We’ll just say I disagree with you on that point. I’m not going to argue it with you, because right now we’re having two completely different conversations at the same time, so we’ll just wrap up and move onto the next poem.”
William Blake’s “The Garden of Love” proved to be much less controversial.
And yeah, I did want to really put out there what I felt, but I can’t, because let’s face it, fear is still a very real part of the daily gay experience. But, we were having two different conversations, and the odd thing was that I wasn’t angry at the student, because hey, it’s their opinion, and I’ve kind of run into this before.
The student’s conversation was that they simply don’t understand why gay people want to get married, and have it called a marriage, when there are other options. The student was straight, male, and likely never had to even consider why it would be an issue. It’s just not part of the sum of their life experience, they’re largely innocent to what it’s really like to be gay in the US, even with all the advances. To that student, we’re just fighting over a simple word.
My conversation was a little different.
My conversation was about how I refuse to be “less than”. And by “less than”, I mean “less than human.”
I’m not going to be angry at that student, because how do you be angry at someone who honestly has no idea what it’s like? How can you fault them for failing to possess skills that they will never have to possess?
Here’s a short sampling of just a few skills I’ve utilized over the past week:
1. My fiance and I have perfected the unspoken communication to stop holding hands in a nonchalant fashion, separate to at least 3 feet apart, and not make eye contact with anyone approaching, yet still smile in a genial fashion to seem nonthreatening.
2. My collection of gender-neutral pronouns that I use to describe the man I love has quadrupled since I started teaching here, while I’m discussing football, automobiles, and heavy metal with enough knowledge to be considered in the know of generally heterosexual male subjects. I’ve always been a fan of the Seahawks, but I’ve been clinging to that fandom like a talisman to ward off the muttered “faggot” comments.
3. My fiance and I can go to a restaurant 30 minutes after I’ve proposed, and act as if it’s a simple dinner between two good friends.
4. I can keep a countdown going in my head, informing me of how many days are remaining until I can feel comfortable enough to let it slip around my students that I’m engaged to a man. That countdown is to the last day of withdrawing from the course without financial penalty, because I lost five students in one week when I let it slip during the last three days of add/drop.
5. I can recall, at will, a list of people who know, people who don’t, and people who can’t, and can edit, revise, delete, and add to my conversation topics and talking points when talking to them to keep people in the dark a little longer until I can exit the conversation with a sigh of relief.
6. Before I go anywhere I know various people are going to be at, I can remember which version of me I have to be and apply the necessary filters in less than ten minutes. Personal best is four minutes, but I had a soundtrack to help.
7. I can, in less than an hour, successfully remind myself with adequate confidence that I am still, in fact, a human being and am worthy of being treated like one. Personal best is thirty-nine minutes, but that’s largely thanks to Odesza’s Summer’s Gone.
Like I said, two conversations. Two sets of skills. I have to appreciate the fact that we spent time on William Blake, as he had a number of poems exploring Innocence vs. Experience, poems that examined the same issue from both sides, whether it was God, faith, love, hope, or life itself.
And sometimes never the twain shall meet.
So I might’ve mentioned on my Twitter and the Facebook page that I’ll be attending Coastal Magic Con, and who knows? I might even see some of the Damn Coyotes at the con. :) If you’re attending, here’s a schedule of the events that I’m attending, or will be a part of:
12:30pm – 2:00pm – Lunch with an Author (Still have seats open for this)
2:15pm – 3:15pm (Discussion Panels)
- Man Up! – Panel of male UF/PNR authors discuss how they approach storytelling. Is there any difference from their female counterparts? – Eric R Asher, Vaughn R Demont, Elliott James, Christopher Rice
To the trans, queer, intersexed, and genderfluid people I know, and also the ones I don’t:
I’ll start this simply. You’re right. I have absolutely no idea what it’s like. I’ve never felt unsure about my gender, or trapped between them, or felt like one one day and another the next, or lived my life feeling that I was born in the wrong skin, or any of the other feelings about gender that live across the cis line. I’m in the group that raises hackles, the white cis male, so I’m not going to do the idiot thing and imagine I can give you advice on what and what not to do. You have each other for that, so I’m not going to intrude, because that’s what it would be. An intrusion.
Being gay doesn’t grant me any sort of carte blanche or special access, I’m aware of that. There’s Gs and Ls and Bs and Ps and Os and probably a few other ones I haven’t learned about yet, but it’s not the T or the I or the Q, and that’s probably the hardest thing to learn. I came out before gay marriage started making its sweep across the country, when Vermont’s civil unions were a huge deal, and the community was just GL and still working on accepting the fact that Bs existed. It’s not an excuse, definitely, but what it evokes in me is the word that was bandied about constantly in the community.
That was what you called someone else who was gay or lesbian or bi, no matter who they were, because no matter their life experience, you had something in common with them, something you could commiserate over and know that you weren’t alone. It’s likely what you have in your community, and offer to anyone who finds themselves a part of it. There’s always that unspoken line between the GLB and the TIQ, sometimes boiled down to the oversimplified, “who you fuck vs. who you are”, but it’s not like that. It’s all about who you are, no matter the letter. So, you’re still family.
And like I said, I have no idea what it’s like to feel I’m a different gender, or be unsure of it, or feel I’m both or neither, so I won’t speak to that experience. I don’t have the right to, so I won’t insult your experience by trying. But we’re still family, and even though you’re going through something different than I did, we might have some things in common to commiserate about.
My dad walked out when I was eight, left us for an older woman, my sister and I have been dealing with that in our own ways ever since. He made it clear in the divorce he didn’t want custody, and at first he didn’t even want visitation. We ended up having to move, lose all of our friends, and grow up in a single parent family with a fixed income. Suffice to say, it sucked. If a parent walked out on you and felt you weren’t worth their time, I can commiserate.
School was my own particular brand of hell, like it is for most people. Getting online meant calling BBSs, nothing more, so there was no Dan Savage to tell me to stick it out because it was going to get better. I wasn’t gay then, just a nerd, and on the last day of 7th grade I was walking home, found myself surrounded by six older boys, and they promptly began to beat the shit out of me. They never said anything, I was just there, alone, and I didn’t fight back because I’d been raised to believe that fighting was never the answer, to just walk away. I blacked out on the side of the road and came to a minute later. They were gone, and cars had been driving by from the nearby high school during that period. No one stopped. I limped home bruised and bloody, and spent 8th grade with the chief bully of the group seated right behind me in homeroom. It took all year to summon up the courage to simply ask why he’d beaten me up. His response was, “I dunno. You were there.” If you ever felt you could be left on the side of the road, a victim of random violence, your chest feeling like God reached down and pinched it so you couldn’t take a deep breath without it hurting, I can commiserate.
High school wasn’t much better. I was writing, sure, but it was the kind of cliché-ridden writing you do in high school that I’d cringe to look at now, but it was helping me through a lot. I was in full-on sullen teenager mode, as well as clinically depressed, my studies were doing shitty, so my mom demanded a meeting with all of my teachers to find out what was going on. I had an inkling that I was gay, but I was still in the denial part of it. I had the slightest crush on one of my friends, a friend that a girl would come to me, and told me had attacked her. She was the first person I came out to, because she had trusted me with something like that, so I felt I needed to show her the same amount of trust. I was then promptly terrified that everyone would find out and my life would get even rougher than it was. So, the night before the meeting with my teachers, I went down to the kitchen at two in the morning and took out a kitchen knife, trying to force myself to cut up my wrists and “do it the correct way”, and for a moment, I felt an incredible freedom, because suddenly I didn’t have to give a shit about anything that was stressing me, because I was going to be dead. My sister had left a book on the counter, Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned, and I figured since I didn’t have anything else to worry about, I could start reading it, and after it was done, I’d kill myself. It wasn’t poetic, sure, but I’d lost the ability to give a fuck at that point. So I read, and it’s not a fantastic book, it’s not a life-changer, it’s just plot sprinkled with a lot of erotic prose, but I read it. I went to school, kept reading, ignored my classes and teachers, kept reading, and eventually I passed the low point. I was still deeply depressed, but I was past the “end it all” point. It was the first time I’d hit that valley, it certainly wasn’t the last. If you ever dealt with depression and it’s lower points, I can commiserate.
College was at first okay, but it was a lot of required general education courses, and people usually don’t figure their life path in any 101 class. I was studying to be a writer fully knowing it would never make me any money, but I wanted to do it anyway, and I took some computer science because programming seemed like solving elaborate puzzles for a grade. After my junior year, I was at home, talking to someone online when my mom called my name and followed it with, “It’s your father!” It was the tone that gave it away. My dad had always had heart problems, he was a smoker, didn’t eat all that good, and exercise was getting out on the golf course down in North Carolina, which at the time was very deadbeat-dad friendly. I didn’t cry when I found out. We piled into the car and drove down for the funeral, my sister read The Green Mile out loud to kill time. Didn’t cry then, either. Mostly, what went through my mind was the last time I’d seen him. I was out to the family by that time, save him, as my mom had convinced me that with his heart, telling him I was gay could kill him. My dad had tried patching things up by that point. My sister welcomed him with open arms, I was pissed off and wanted nothing to do with him. He took me to the mall to see The Thomas Crown Affair and we drove back home afterward. On the drive we took an on-ramp that was a steep curve that he was taking about 20mph faster than he should’ve, and one thought went through my head: I can tell him I’m gay, right now, he’ll lose control of the car, and probably kill us both. I didn’t tell him, unless telling the vacant air and the internet after his death counts. I didn’t cry at his funeral. I still haven’t cried for him. I probably never will. If you lost a parent before you could tell them the truth about yourself, and you still wrestle with whether or not it was a good idea to keep quiet about it, I can commiserate.
I withdrew from college shortly afterward. It’d be a three year hiatus, but I felt done at the time. I went through a string of boyfriends at the time that, looking back with proper distance, I can see was eventually just working out my issues with my dad. After one particularly bad break-up, I fell hard for a guy I met in Virginia, who moved up to NY to live with me, and it all went downhill from there. I wasn’t blameless, definitely, but once the other guy starts beating you, degrading you, causing you to learn how to remain perfectly still so he’ll think you’re asleep, how to go without food for days, hold your bladder for four hours longer than you should, all in service to not angering one person you still think you love despite the fact that he hits you… God, there are things I STILL do despite that he’s been out of my life for years now. And no one even knew until the day he decided he was finished, and moved out, leaving me alone to hold the financial bag while I huddled in my room, clutching a cheap claw hammer, my arms covered in bruises when my mom finally came to the apartment to see how everything was going. WASP family, WASP upbringing, so we just don’t talk about it anymore, but if you’ve ever survived an abusive relationship, I can commiserate.
One year after he left, I was back in school, going part time, dealing with what had happened probably in bad ways. It fucks with your head, self-esteem, identity, too many things to count, and having already been depressed didn’t help, but I had enough experience with it to know that all I had to do was get through the low points and I wouldn’t want to kill myself, and I could make it to the next day out of the hope that maybe it could get better. So I might’ve mentioned the whole “holding your bladder” thing. Turns out that can cause kidney stones. I don’t recommend them. They fucking hurt no matter your gender identity, take my word for it, but I was prescribed Vicodin to deal with the pain, and I hardly ever took them, so I had a near full bottle left after the stone was passed. And then I hit a low point. I was still up on campus, and my mind kept focusing on the bus schedule so I could go home, and empty the bottle, and then that would be it.
So instead I went to the health center, which had a counselor on staff, and I told them I needed to talk to someone because I was having suicidal thoughts and I wanted to ride it out so I didn’t do anything stupid. I luckily only had to wait 5 minutes, and saw a counselor, and proceeded to tell him pretty much everything I’ve told you all, along with the fact that I knew all I had to do was ride it out, and I’d be okay. After an hour, the low point had passed, the tone of the conversation had changed, I asked him if he could contact my professors to let them know I’d either miss class or be late, and then he asked me more questions about my ex. I mentioned I hadn’t seen him in a year, but one of his friends had contacted me online out of the blue, and being a little paranoid, I told him the truth about what his friend had done to me, and then lied to him. The lie? I told him that my uncle had lent me his rifle to defend myself should my ex ever come back, an Enfield 303, because my uncle had mentioned having one once. That was when I learned the rule: never ever ever ever ever EVER say “gun” around a counselor. It’s like saying “bomb” at the airport. Within seconds he excused himself from the room “to contact my professors”, and ten minutes later he returned with campus security. I was handcuffed and escorted out of the health center in front of other students, and put in the back of a police car. They didn’t tell me what I’d done or where we were going until they were pulling into the county’s mental health center. I was scared, humiliated, and terrified to have any sort of emotional reaction because I didn’t know whether to scream in fear or anger. I felt betrayed, especially when I was taken to the upstairs part of the facility to be “given a physical” when I was actually being put in lockdown for a mandatory 3-day suicide watch. I was placed in a semi-private room with a man who was an alcoholic who hated fags, and was in there for beating his wife and threatening to kill himself if she left, but, because I didn’t show any emotion during my “intake interview” (Apparently it’s called “flat affect”), I was the one they were worried about. It was terrible, horrible, humiliating, scary, and I’d never felt so betrayed in my life. By the third day I practically wanted to kill myself purely out of spite. When they let me go on the third day I don’t think I’ve ever run so far or so fast, never wanting to even see the street that the center was on. For the following years I completely believed that if I hit a low point ever again the last thing I should ever do is ask for help. I didn’t get past that until maybe 2 years ago. If you’ve ever dealt with a part of the system you felt hit you with a broad brush instead of actually listening to you, I can commiserate.
So… yeah. You’re right, I have no idea what it’s like to be unsure about my gender, and all the fucked up stuff society brings to bear against those who do. But you might’ve gone through some other stuff too, maybe big things, like not wanting to have sex with your boyfriend but being too afraid to tell him no, or having a one-time thing with a guy and finding he put $20 in your pocket afterward and never having felt so worthless, or maybe little things like trying to reconcile your faith with who you are,or going to some dinner with your future in-laws where half of them know the truth and half of them don’t and you get to dance on the high-wire in-between for five hours, or wondering at what point when you’re at work that you can open up to your boss about what you are. I can commiserate.
Or, if you’d rather, we can talk about nothing to make the day a little lighter.
After all, that’s what family’s for.