Come on, Gabe, you're better than that.

2013-06-20 11:38

Penny Arcade’s Gabe is doing the “poke the trans people” thing again (too lazy to link, its on the twitters). Gabe, dude. Claiming that anyone with a vagina is necessarily a woman is sort of a dick move (sorry, couldn’t pass on that straight line). It’s not cool or edgy. It’s also not usefully true. And the thing is, I totally get the idea that it would be nice if the world were nice and simple and everything fit into easy categories. But the world isn’t all that simple, not everything fits into easy categories, and dismissing people as not existing is an oversimplification with a significant body count.

Thing is, there’s a motive in here which isn’t all bad. There’s this ideal that gamers should get along and respect each other just because they’re gamers, and that subdividing the community will undermine this. So people identifying as “trans gamers” are undermining this ideal. And you know, that’s not an awful ideal. I’ll totally concede: It would be great if this were not a distinction anyone bothered to make.

The thing is, though, Gabe’s attacking the wrong people. He’s attacking the people who are pointing out that there’s trans gamers, and that they are a part of the community, and that they might have slightly different requirements from their games than other people. For instance, one of the reasons a lot of people I know don’t play WoW is that Blizzard won’t let you change your name without some kind of legal paperwork, which is no big deal for a lot of people, but a huge deal if your name is in fact likely to change. That’s an issue which nearly all trans gamers run into at some point, and which most other gamers don’t. And those distinctions exist, and they affect things. Same way that gamers who are married and raising kids might have different feelings about raid scheduling than gamers who don’t have either of those time commitments happening. It’s not inherently a huge deal.

But it’s a huge deal for LGBT gamers, because there are so many people who react with outright hostility and ostracization whenever they find out another gamer is gay, or trans, or whatever. And that’s a big problem. Maybe Gabe’s never had people kick him out of a guild he’d been in for three years because he mentioned a boyfriend. Some people have. You will occasionally see commentary on how shitty the video game industry is to women. And it is, indeed, spectacularly shitty to women. But you won’t see much if anything on the question of how the video game industry treats LGBT people, because for the most part it doesn’t. Xbox Live’s general use of “fag” as the gold standard insult is the state of the art. And the reason that still happens, and still gets tolerated, is that people habitually assume that all gamers are straight males.

So the solution is: Get people used to this. Get people past that first “hey this is really weird” thing and to the “oh, them again” phase. And that’s why you see all these people going out of their way to say “yeah, I’m a trans gamer” or “I’m a gay gamer”. Because they are doing the same thing in gaming that they do everywhere else; be visible enough for long enough that people get over their initial freak-outs.

So fussing at the people for coming out and saying “yeah, we exist, we play games, deal” is missing the point badly. If you really wanna get away from the subdivisions and special cases, you can actually help bring that about. You can stop poking fun at the freaks and start remembering that ideal of thinking that gamers are just gamers, and maybe promote that awareness a bit. What with having a huge and influential following. And that could, you know, actually help bring about a state where no one cares so much, and people stop making a big deal of it.

You could probably, if you hadn’t just made it clear that you were a hostile and uninterested audience, even get some of the hundreds of people who read your comic and know something about the issue to explain stuff to you since you’re apparently unable to do the research on your own. It’s okay! We can use little words.

Peter Seebach

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