Today, I’m bringing you the words of two people I incredibly admire in gaming. The community of Dystopia Rising gave me the pleasure of meeting both Lex and Maeve; but better yet, it let me see their amazing storytelling skills in action. They both speak from a place unfamiliar to me, about transgender issues and queer LARPing, so I am so excited to share their stories.
In the words of Lex Pulice-Farrow…
“The first, and primary way that I have engaged with LARPs is through queerness. IRL, I am a white non-binary queer person (she/they pronouns), who is exclusively attracted to femininity. My experience through LARPS have been shaped through my own personal experiences with these identities.
My first ever LARP experience was through Dystopia Rising (DR), where my character, 3, entered into game as a cisgender butch lesbian. Though that first game was a ton of fun and hooked me as a player, I realized that something didn’t feel right about 3. After a few discussions with other players, and realizing that I *didn’t* have to make my characters cisgender (or even the fact that I was able to have 3 change and grow), I have since played 3 as a heterosexual transgender man. His gender identity isn’t central to the role play I pursue, or something that 3 talks about in general – instead, it’s a facet of his identity that has shaped and challenged him, but isn’t the encompassment of his personality, choices, or beliefs.
I believe that this is something incredibly important to not only playing a character of a different identity than myself, but acknowledging marginalized identities in game. One of my fears with playing 3 as a transgender man (while not holding that same identity) was that I would inadvertently play a caricature of this identity. In the world of DR, trans folks exist and are (from my perspective) well-received and not the recipients of intentional, in-game transphobia, and while slip ups OOG may happen, they are (to my knowledge) appropriately dealt with by the community.
Personally, I have worked hard from my own standpoint in order to honor and fully flesh out my character, regardless of his identities. I feel as though as an academic (my IRL job is a PhD student/college professor), an advocate, and a trans person, it’s my duty to make sure that people who feel marginalized or unsafe OOG find a safe space IG.
One issue that I encountered early and often while playing 3 was when people would misgender him. On one level, I understood it — I use she/they pronouns, 3 uses he/him exclusively, and people got Lex’s pronouns and 3’s pronouns mixed up. However, after almost a year of playing him, I was getting incredibly fed up with the same people over and over refusing to correctly gender him, and it was breaking my immersion with the world. So, the Misgendering Tax was born (something that was also inspired by a good friend and player at another branch in DR). After a gentle reminder, the offending party would have to pay 1 currency of In-Game money. A small hit to one’s wallet, and a small reminder of etiquette. The tax was well received, and since then, the incidents of misgendering have decreased from 20-30x per game to 1-5x.
I understand the privileges that I have, both in the LARP world and in the real world. I am hopeful that, through the stories we aim to tell, our world becomes softer, kinder, and a bit more inclusive. There are folks who, for whatever reason, don’t feel safe or welcome in the Nerd/LARP communities. I believe that it’s our duty as leaders of this amazing community to work together in order to make this space more welcome and accepting for these folks. Together, we can seek to make our community brighter and richer.”
And from Maeve Agreste…
“I was actually introduced to LARP by a close nonbinary friend of mine who spoke highly of Dystopia Rising Virginia’s community of staff and players. I had known about LARP before, but I was too afraid to engage because of prior poor experiences with public gaming communities. At that time, I was also only out as transgender to my close friends, and I tried to stay out of the public eye to avoid conflict. It was for this reason that I made a male character at first, because I was afraid of committing to a female character and being shunned for my transgender identity.
I actually ended up having a horrible first event, between poor character choices for my playstyle and trying to learn so many new and confusing things at once. But what I think hit me hardest was the realization that I was hiding myself without need. I was initially distrustful of these strangers, but what I observed was that I could have been honest about myself from the start, and they would have respected and supported me for it. It was a foreign concept to me, to be welcomed into a community that wasn’t specifically a queer space. I was still scared, but I made the decision to embrace my identity moving forward.
That was the best decision I ever could have made. Introducing myself out-of-game as Maeve and not my deadname, playing a female character that I was comfortable with, and just existing in this space with my queerness with people who cared and understood was the most fulfilling milestone in my transition yet. I have grown so much as a person through the dear friends I have made through this hobby, and I’ve never felt such overwhelming love and support before.
The only curiosity left is a question I have yet to answer, even to myself, because I don’t know how to feel about it still. People have asked me before, “Are your characters also trans-identifying?” My response so far has been that the answer is irrelevant, because that’s not anyone’s business but my own. It is still relevant to me though, as the person piloting these fictional beings, and that’s not something I’ve spoken about before. In a game where I can be anyone I want for a weekend, it’s entirely possible for me to play a cisgender female character, and that is a curious concept to consider as someone who has always struggled with gender affirmation. It raises the question of what it’s like to be transgender in the post-apocalypse, and how that would or wouldn’t affect a character’s experiences in an already cruel world. I’m not sure if it’s something I’m comfortable exploring in-game, but it definitely makes me reflect on the identity of myself and my characters, as well as what experiences I may or may not share with them for it.”