Queerness and LARPing, Day Two: Michelle Stagnitta

There is no way to celebrate Pride better in my mind that to let my girlfriend showcase herself. While not all of you know her, she’s been in LARPing almost as long as I have and has been an advocate for queer gamers even LONGER than I have. Her experience wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, however. I think it’s important to see all sides of how queer experiences can go in a gaming setting, so I asked her to share her story.

In the words of Michelle Stagnitta…

“I first figured out I was queer in my late 20’s. At that point I had been larping about five years, and had been in a cis/het marriage for one. I’d only played one game (though multiple chapters of that game), at that point, had two characters at said game, and was running plot at one chapter. Much of this story centers around my main character, an elven healer named Ezri, as my orc didn’t really care enough about these sorts of things.

To say my coming out was ill received would be an understatement. It was a scandal. This was 2007.

The only thing that stopped people from talking about us? Another player came out as trans a few weeks later and we became old news. Pedestrian by comparison. Fast forward to 2018. She’s only NOW rejoining the larp community.

All of this had a lot of ripple effects. What did I want to do with my current characters? Should I just make new ones? How would it change the way I was perceived when it came to being in charge at game?

While the owner of the game was supportive and still wanted me running things, the player community was torn. There were some who were happy I’d ”found myself.” But there were others who were less than pleased. My girlfriend and I had former male friends at game forbid us from being alone in a room with their girlfriends, which made cabin arrangements and certain game encounters… challenging.

At the time, Ezri was handfasted to my (now ex) husband’s character. Obviously that would not continue. He stopped playing when we split, and thankfully, nobody was crass enough to ask about it in or out of character, knowing full well why. So, she was single for a bit. However, after what people seemed to think was a respectable period of time (is there such a thing?) I had a lot people ask me what I would do with the character and her orientation. I honestly wasn’t sure. At the time I was dealing with a lot of upheaval in my real life. Pretend life didn’t seem like something that needed to shift just yet. However, everyone had just as many opinions on how I should run my make believe life as they did my real life. And it was infuriating. “Well, if you’re gay why isn’t she gay? She needs a girlfriend! Wait, why isn’t your real girlfriend her girlfriend now?”

In some ways it was part of me wanting to keep my character a separate entity from myself. Just because something had changed about me didn’t mean the character had to follow suit. A lot of people have issues with that divide, particularly when it comes to romantic entanglements. A part of me wondered if I was making excuses, trying to hang on to some vestige of my old life. Some bit of “normalcy.” In truth, coming out was exhausting in the real world. I didn’t have the energy to do it all over again in the pretend world. At least not yet.Doc Williams

Since then I’ve created numerous other characters, both in that game and in others. And all of them have been some flavor of queer, from my cat-faced sarr privateer at Alliance to my very proper college educated doctor at Dead Legends. Somehow building a character from the beginning as queer was far easier. It wasn’t until this year at DL that I had the emotional energy to attempt coming out as a character. Getting to re-explore all those emotions as Dr. Elizabeth Williams has been cathartic and comforting in ways I hadn’t expected. Getting to walk into town in Lazarus Gap on the arm of Dr. Wylodine Grove and get indulgent looks instead of scandalized stares… soothed a lot of old wounds I didn’t even realize I was nursing.

Last year, as a teacher in real life, I’d attended a workshop largely intended for cis/het teachers to begin to understand what it’s like to grow up queer. The moderator lead us through an exercise where he had everyone close their eyes and envision lots of firsts. Your first crush. First school dance. First date. First kiss. Then he asked everyone to imagine not being able to share any of this with the people you care about or not being able to have these things at all because you’re queer and in the closet. I got about halfway through the exercise before I had tears streaming down my face and my coworkers looking at me with concern.

Frontier MedicineHaving Elizabeth and Wylo be treated like any other couple at the winter ball while playing Wink or dancing (which was their first date) meant so much. They were goofy and awkward with each other, as first dates often are. But they each had people in their corners giving them advice and gentle teasing (damn that cloven orange) while nudging them together. Not unkind stares or jeers or epithets thrown at them. The worst thing they heard all night? A lovingly joking “well it’s about time.”

And Ezri? Heh. She went on to become a knight, then a baroness. Married a barbarian and became a countess. She and her husband now have a four year old daughter. Because that’s fantasy. And she is just as real and valid as any of my other characters.

LARP spaces have come a long way when it comes to the acceptance and safety of LGBTQ+ players and characters. There are still some who don’t quite grok it. And there are still some old tropes that need to go away, some communities where more representation is needed in the story. But it’s up to us to tell that story. “

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