Queerness and LARPing Day Four: Cole and Emrhys Benson

Today’s stories come from two more people whom I greatly admire. The stories are more full of advice and challenges, so I find them particularly valuable for younger queer LARPers and allies who want a better understanding of how to be GOOD allies to queer LARPers.

In the words of Cole…

“Prior to my first larp event, I understood that I had an attraction to females, the same as I do with males, however, coming from the family background that I do I was hyper-aware that those kinds of relationships were never something I would ever be able to pursue or even speak about. As my time in larp went on (and distance from my family happened) I started to feel more comfortable with exploring openly about attraction and, for the first time in my life, others were supportive of who I was. Supportive enough that in my community I am open about being bisexual even in my passing straight relationship. And that’s been a really amazing experience for me. It showed me that being surrounded by a loving and supportive community is actually what enhances a larping experience. Through my larping, I have come to experience the level open acceptance that I hadn’t even realized I had been craving in my life because I honestly never knew it would ever be an option for me. However, I have also experienced the opposite through my larping as well.

third - CopyAs I learned to get more comfortable in my own skin, finally peeling off years of layers of familial expectations and internalized issues, I discovered that I feel most comfortable in my own skin being both female and male or neither. I am genderfluid a term I use more to describe my outward presentation than my non-binary internals. On a daily life I am typically female to androgynous presenting. With this comes informing the people around me, the difficult part in all honesty. During this period I was an active member of three different larp communities. In each of these groups of people were who I consider to be some of my closest friends and acquaintances, people I had trusted enough to roleplay a variety of emotions and conflicts with, I have received three very different reactions. These reactions were even after they had all accepted me and my sexuality (which I have openly played in many of my characters) but it appears that gender for many people is an entirely different matter of acceptance.

The first community tried very hard to understand my pronouns but phrases such as “well your character can’t be X gender because you’re an X” were still being thrown around by players and staff alike. The second community was openly accepting and I was asked to clarify my pronouns within the first half hour of stepping into the game. However, as time passed at that game, more and more people defaulted to she/her even with correction and it became exhausting to constantly correct and advocate for myself until I was once again forced into silence. The third community has worked to understand and embrace me as the same cared for member as I was before. The key difference I have found here is I am not alone in my advocacy; I am not the only one who is correcting people or reminding them to respect my boundaries but my community members have also taken it upon themselves to help further the education of people so that I am able to be who I am in a safe space.

By most standards of the people I am around (including my partner), I have not been firstlarping all that long. But I have played numerous games with surprisingly little crossover of community members. All of these larps have had community standards of acceptance and safe spaces especially for marginalized peoples but their ability to put words into action has ranged from microaggressions to disregard to full blown support. These differences in people and community have taught me that while game and choice of play are important for a larper’s experience, it is the out-of-game experiences and the people you choose to surround yourself with are the key to the best in-game experience. To me, larp is about building relationships both in and out of game.  If someone can accept me as a dryad, fae, dragon, gunslinger, space wizard, or any number of fantastical personas I have donned over the years but not as the genderfluid, queer human I really am then that larp and its community is not for me.”

And in the words of Emrhys Benson, of the Queerical Errors blog

image2 - Copy“It does not seem like a long time, but the very first LARP I played in was in my freshman year of college, almost a decade ago. The world has changed some since then. The legalization of same sex-marriage in 2015, and recently, the announced revision of the World Health Organization’s ICD-10 to remove gender identity disorder from the chapter of mental and behavioral disorders, speak towards a better future, and help to overshadow some of the not-so-good ways that things have changed.

My own identity has changed as well, growing and developing in much the same way the LGBT+ and gaming communities have. From a cisgender, bisexual woman who considered herself an ally first and foremost, to a non-binary, trans-masculine, pansexual person still struggling with finding the right words to describe who I know I am, LARPing has been a thread throughout it all. I have been lucky enough to be involved in games that have had, for the most part, positive, progressive-minded organizers and players, and to have the support of those communities to explore my personal politics and identity.

Of course, hindsight is twenty-twenty, and there are a few things I wish I could have told myself all those years ago. So, some advice for young queer LARPers:

Do your research: Take the time to ask questions about the LARP you are about to attend. Does the LARP have an anti-discrimination policy? Does the LARP have a culture of respect for minorities of many types? Do the game runners support minority players, listen to concerns with an unbiased ear, and have open and honest policies for enforcing their rules? These are questions that you can ask the friends who have invited you to play, the game’s community through forums or groups, or can be asked directly of the game’s organizers through email. It is a good idea to get a number of different perspectives, and to ask follow-up questions about anything that may concern you.

Get to know your game staff: While games with progressive policies are beginning to spring up, some may still be struggling due to a lack of familiarity. The game’s organizers and their staff may not know anything about your struggle unless you make the effort to engage them. Reach out and introduce yourself; give them a face and a name to connect these important topics of conversation with. Share only as much as you feel comfortable with (and enforce your boundaries – more on that later), but be prepared to answer questions as well as ask them. Forewarned is forearmed, and having friends on your side can be a big help later down the line.

Be prepared: LARPing is a physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing hobby. Take the image3 - Copytime to think about how your needs, and ways to fulfill them when you are deeply engaged in the stories you and your fellow players are creating. This ought to include keeping yourself healthy, physically and mentally. For the gender-nonconforming, this can mean having a plan for safe and comfortable binding, tucking, or packing; and for those of minority orientations, this means having allies around who support you, and planning for the stress of microaggressions and other negative interactions.

On the more material front, have a list of things that I wish I’d brought with me to my first few LARPs as an open member of the LGBT+ community: menstrual supplies (tampons, pads, liners), extra socks, anti-perspiration powder or stick, wet wipes, neutral-smelling deodorant, condoms and lube. Whether you’re absolutely sure you will not need them or not, someone might – and one of the easiest ways to make friends, especially in the queer community, is to have that person’s back when they were not as prepared.

Build yourself (and others) up: Standing up for your identity can be a constant battle, and unfortunately LARP can be no different. Do not be afraid to correct people who misgender you. Call out people who engage in homophobic or transphobic behavior. Make it clear that you will not tolerate less than a culture of respect for all players. Ask your friends to do the same. Involve the game staff if you find yourself repeatedly struggling with a person or a group. You may feel as though you are making a big deal out of something unnecessary, but rest assured: you are helping those who cannot find their voices, and you are helping to better the gaming community by doing so.

Even within the LGBT+ community, there can be some contention. Do not allow this to frighten you or drive you away. Even if you find yourself disagreeing with someone, try to remember that we share common threads. Work towards unity, support, and building up others in the community, rather than tearing them down. There is strength in numbers!

Don’t be afraid to walk away: In the end, the only one who can make the decision to play is you. The “Sunk Cost Fallacy” (sometimes known as the “Concorde Fallacy”) states that although you should be able to make rational decisions based on the future value of something, the emotional investments of your prior decisions can make it difficult to abandon something that may in fact be harmful. LARPing is a huge emotional and financial investment, and you may feel the need to continue playing in a game in order to justify those expenditures… even if the game is or has become toxic. Homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and other forms of discrimination still exist within the gaming community. There will be times when even your best efforts to help better the community fall on deaf ears. You may face social isolation, loss of friendships, or reputation slander by pointing out issues that need to be addressed. It is important to remember that the only one who can decide to play is you, and your mental, emotional, and financial health is more important than any LARP experience.”


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