As with the predecessor to this post, trigger warnings apply for homophobia and various attempts at internet bullying.
Before I published This Gaymer’s Story, I’d never quite put out there the major instances of all the homophobia I have experienced. Bits and pieces to friends, but it was largely something that was only known to myself. As someone who refuses to be classified as just a victim, there was something in me loathe to put all of that information in a public space, but I felt it was important for a few reasons.
Before I get into that, it might be useful to outline the order of events: I was in Fulda, Germany, having just left Berlin, and preparing to move to Tennessee to live with one of my best friends from college. News of the Blizzcon event caught my attention, and after it was posted on GayGamer, I promoted it to other sites, including Rock, Paper, Shotgun. They wrote up the occurrence, and I happened to read the comments. What I read fueled such a level of bile in my throat that I felt the need to spew out a post explaining why straight men were not the ones capable of ‘reclaiming’ faggot as an insult that supposedly removed gay men from the equation, nor dictating who could be offended by it. It grew a bit while writing. As Walker himself noted in the comments, the fact that the comments occurred showed a prime example of why homophobia still is an issue in games. At that point, it honestly stopped being just about Blizzard or Blizzcon, which is why I first posted it on Vorpal Bunny Ranch. It was about the community that comprises gaming.
So, I hesitated in posting, but felt it was necessary. I was opening my personal story, and was also quite cognizant that I may well be verbally attacked for posting such, but that I was in a position to be able to take the brunt of those attacks in whatever form they came. In fact, in the past two months my posting has dropped off a bit, largely because of an international move and figuring out I feel about the entire affair, but not because I have felt particularly unwelcome (gamers, you can keep saying these things and it serves to irritate me, but won’t get me to stay away).
A few hours after posting my story, I received an email from Kirk Hamilton: Stephen Totilo had read my post and apparently mentioned it to Kirk. Their next step was asking me to repost it to Kotaku. Shortly after that Tami Baribeau from The Border House also contacted me, asking to repost it there. While I am a staff writer for the latter, the former presented a curious opportunity for me: it would put the story in the exact place where I felt it could reach people who might not have thought of it in such terms.
As should be apparent, I am not opposed to being confrontational. I have been fortunate in my life that I have always been sociable in a way that I never failed at finding friends (despite how caustic I can appear at times online, I’d like to think I have a certain charm about me in person), which has led to constantly having a core support network. This in turn meant I felt empowered to come out of the closet, become an activist, and generally suffer whatever was slung in my direction. That is not to say it hasn’t been difficult, or painful, but it allowed me a level of defiance that I do not recommend for everyone based on their own circumstances.
Therefore, I chatted with Kirk via IM and arranged for This Gaymer’s Story to be published on Kotaku that evening. Some trepidation entered my mind: that week was supposed to be my down week between Germany and my return to the U.S. On the other hand, I felt that mixture of audacity and carefree attitude that commonly happens in liminal phases of one’s life.
I knew what to expect in some regard: tl;dr. Threats via email. Comments picking apart individual points of my story, seeking to ignore the larger picture I was painting. Straight men selectively quoting Louis C.K.’s ‘faggot’ sketch (and failing to link to a later point in his career: this poker game with some of his peers, one of whom is gay). I even predicted, and was correct, that some people would try to verify the facts of my molestation case in Clarksville (which I found both tiring and amusing, largely because I was a minor and my name was never used).
What I did not expect was all the people emailing me to thank me, or sharing their own stories. Those were the ones that wrecked me, in truth. Reading about other peoples’ pain only further drove home how my story was just one in many, in just the games industry alone. After all, in my own life I have known all manner of people, and in particular LGBT persons (what I get for volunteering at LGBT centers), who have had much worse lives than mine. Which is to say I was confused that some people made the argument that I was saying my life was the worst! No, it wasn’t, and I’m quite aware of this fact.
Of course, I am also quite aware that I opened myself to be ridiculed. As many reported, on WoW predominant sites I was seen as annoying and trying to ruin peoples’ fun. The thing is, I am okay with that last part, particularly if someone considers the use of faggot to be a requirement for their fun. Predictably, here was where entered discussions about having thin skins and just needing to deal with it. As I’d stated already, having a thick skin is something I tend to have. Of course, just because one has a resistance to some manner of jackassery, that does not mean one enjoys being poked and prodded with insults and predictable arguments.
No, you see, I would call someone who has a thick skin and allows people to constantly test the limits of it — without doing anything — apathetic, completely desensitized, or afraid. One accusation in particular that caught my eye was saying I was just putting my life out there for attention, which I feel is actually perfectly true. Generally speaking, in order to make a point, it is required to have peoples’ attention.
What I did was not just for myself, however, but to get a conversation rolling in the opposite direction of where I was seeing it headed. The truth is, I rather doubt I’d ever be able to convince everyone of my point of view. I have never been quite so idealistic. My method is to give people a voice, an example, a point of reference. Eventually, what I would like to see is enough voices in opposition so that faggot is not erroneously ‘reclaimed’ as ‘just an insult that has nothing to do with gay people.’
Of course, the argument against such (despite addressing it, people felt they still had the right of it and my attempts are futile) tends to be that language changes, mutates, and that one is unable to stop such. Which is a convenient excuse isn’t it? To assume that a societal change cannot be stopped? We could probably have a good conversation about fate when it comes to that. However, I feel it probably says quite a bit about the feelings of powerlessness some people have in thinking they can effect change. And a person by their lonesome? That might be difficult, but it isn’t about doing it alone.
It is about reporting those instances of people using such words when you see it come across your screen in an MMO. If you have the patience and ability, it is about confronting them on various voice chats and telling them to knock off their behavior, letting them know such is not welcome, nor will it be harbored. Boys may be boys, but that does not mean boys need be assholes in public. While some may be perfectly willing to say it is inevitable and we are asking for change, I tend to believe it is change that can be effected, and it requires this discussion right here to let others know it is okay to stand up against any language that seeks to denigrate someone for who they are, whether that be related to their sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, disabilities, or any such things that make just one part of our identities.