This is Taylor Mason, a character from the tv series Billions. Even though I’ve never even seen the show, Taylor is important to me. Let me tell you why. Continue reading The Personal Impact of Representation
I am a gamer.
Hardly a controversial statement, but it’s not always entirely uncomplicated for me to make it. See, I suffer from a very particular sort of impostor syndrome: I’m never quite sure if I’m geeky enough.
Gamer Geek Cred
Whenever I meet someone new who is into gaming, there is that vaguely uncomfortable conversation where we gague whether we are the same sort of gamer. No matter how nice the person is and no matter how well we’re getting along, I always feel like I’m judged against a sort of Gamer Geek Cred Score. It looks something like this:
- Plays first-person shooters +10
- Plays real-time strategy (esp. StarCraft) +10
- Plays competitively (pvp or against highschore etc) +20
- Plays World of Warcraft +5
- …on a PvP server +5
- …in a proper raid guild +10
- …on a RP server, as an actual roleplayer -5
- …casually (no matter how many hours/week) -10
- …as alliance -5
- Mostly plays casual games -5
- Plays old cult titles +5
- Prefers playing on higher than default difficulty +5
- Prefers playing on lower than default difficulty -5
According to this scale (which I just pulled out of my ass, for the record), I’m usually somewhere around -15. I can’t play FPS because I am easily frightened and get very stressed by fast-paced action((There are many games in the genre I really, really want to play because of their awesome story (e.g. Half-Life) or because they just look so goddamn fun (e.g. Overwatch). I did give Half-Life 2 a very honest try, once. I had watched partners play through it a couple of times and really wanted to experience it for myself. I gave up when I got to Ravenholm.)). I find it difficult to play competitively because of performance anxiety and because I take it personally when people try to kill me. I’ve never seen an RTS that struck me as remotely fun to play. And when playing games such as Dragon Age or Mass Effect, which at least don’t score negative points, I always keep the difficulty setting low enough that I rarely risk dying. After all, I play for immersion and story, and the hero dying every now and then is extremely immersion-breaking.
All of this makes me secretly judge myself to be a Fake Geek Girl. Doesn’t matter how many times I have played through the Myst series or how many
hours days weeks(? who’s counting…) I have spent leveling alts in World of Warcraft. Unless I like blowing people up, I’m probably not a Real Gamer™.
The Fake Geek Ghost
Of course, no one has actually told me any of these things. No one has said I’m not a Real Gamer™ or True Geek™. Apart from a few veiled barbs from an ex, all my “fake geek girl”-shaming comes from within. I have been so programmed by society that I hold myself to bizarre ideals that I would never, ever hold anyone else to. I’m haunted by the ghost of a Fake Geek Girl that never even existed.
And it makes me so fucking angry.
The idea of the Fake Geek Girl is rooted in pure misogyny. It’s a bizarre form of gatekeeping into a community that proclaims to desperately want girls to notice its existence. But how are girls to feel welcome when who they are, what they do and what they like is constantly downvalued?
What girls like and how their channel their interest is always seen as Less Than. Consider, for instance, fanworks of different kinds. Women are overrepresented among people who create fanart and write fanfiction. And these things are at best considered a light-weight form of geekiness, usually contained with the term “fandom”.
However, people who build mods for their favourite games are mostly male. I have never seen this called “fandom” – but it’s definitely something that gives you geek cred.
I’m a Fangirl Baby, So Why Don’t You
Kill Me Go F*ck Yourself
I am not remotely ashamed to admit that I have spent a lot of time of writing fanfiction, primarily based on Dragon Age. And by a lot of time, I mean a lot. The longest story is some 80,000 words – that’s two novels’ worth of writing – that I wrote over the span of perhaps three or four months.
The process involved a lot of research: Playing out scenes in the game over and over to explore different nuances of character interplay, delving into lore to make sure I wouldn’t accidentally create an AU, reading the works of other fans for inspiration… And yet, when comparing myself to the (predominantly male) fans who instead spend that time crunching numbers to make sure they’re using the most effective armor for their build when playing on Nightmare difficulty with one hand tied behind their back and no health potions, I feel like my kind of fandom just doesn’t quite cut it.
And I hate this. It’s ridiculous. I am beyond passionate about the titles I love; when I get into my true fandom periods, I live and breathe games. There is absolutely nothing fake about it.
A Different Class of Games
It’s not just about how we express our love for games, but what kind of games different players tend to gravitate to. There is a huge industry around creating casual games that attract people of all sorts of ages, genders and lifestyles these days, but it’s not like avid Farmville or Candy Crush fans ever call themselves “gamers”.
Girls and women are far more likely to play casual games and games focused on stories and immersion, rather than the violent and competitive AAA-titles that have become almost synonymous with Gaming these days. And no wonder – these games often seem to be designed to actively repel the female audience, by being rife with sexism. Sometimes the almost-subtle kind where female characters are included in the story only as victims to give the male protagonist a cause, sometimes overt objectification (even being offered as a reward), always with the constant subconscious awareness that whatever game you play, you are likely to meet far fewer female NPCs than male ones.
The audience is given the very clear message that these games are not for women, they are for heterosexual men, and the gamers know it: Women who dare to enroach upon that territory despite all the warning signs are frequently heaped with equal parts sexual harrassment and downright abuse.
So – we have a class of games that are considered cool, and those are the games that men play. And then there’s the other stuff, for kids, women and whatever else is out there. It’s become a toxic, self-reinforcing class system.
But I do see signs of improvement. Most notably, Blizzard seems to be doing really well at making Overwatch a multiplayer fps that appeals to a wide audience. It really isn’t that difficult. Just make a point of providing a bit of diversity, and the divergent will come to you. We’re starving, after all.
So Many Games, Gotta Make ’em All
These days, I can (somewhat) confidently call myself a programmer and game developer. Fact is, although there are plenty of games I really would love to be playing right now, I simply don’t have time – I’m too busy developing. It seems that to my subconscious, this lends me a certain amount of geek cred that outweighs my deficits.
Yet I still worry that people I meet in the industry will assume that I like games I’ve never played, or that I know more than I do about certain topics. I worry that they will be disappointed when I don’t match these expectations, and that they won’t trust me as a developer because of my missing geek cred.
No matter what I do to distance myself from the gender binary and shake loose the remnant threads of narrative clinging to my mind, I still find myself mired in these internalized expectations. Well, I’m done now.
I’m a gamer, and that’s the end of it.
Every day for the past week I have come to a point where I’ve had to accept that I would not be able to do any more programming that day. Either because it was getting late or because my brain was fried. Every day I have, with great regret, closed down Visual Studio and Unity3D and tried my best to put my current task out of my head. Every day it has been nearly impossible. I have never been so in love with a job – and I’m not even getting paid for this one.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to me. This should have happened years ago. If there is one aspie tendency in me I have never questioned, it’s a penchant for logical, systematic reasoning. As much as I am driven by emotion, and as much as I geek out on relationships, I even approach my feelings systematically. No wonder I’ve taken to programming. Continue reading My Road to the Code
Anyone who’s known me for longer than a year, however superficially, knows I’ve undergone some dramatic changes lately when it comes to how I present myself. I suppose it’s not so obvious for everyone that these changes have been a long time coming. They would have come a lot earlier, if not for the strange way my strongly individualistic nature has clashed with my equally strong desire to fit in and follow the rules.
I was bullied as a kid – surprise surprise – and although that time has definitely left its scars, the strange thing is how I can’t remember what I was bullied for. Kids make up all sorts of arbitrary reasons to pick on each other, of course, but usually these reasons are communicated to the victim. Not so much, in my case. Anyway, I do remember one time where a boy accused me of having cheated on a test. I remember it because that was one of the few times I hit back (verbally, at least). Because the very implication that I might have cheated got me furious.
Okay, but what’s this got to do with style? In my case, everything, as it turns out.
A need to follow rules has been a very strong theme in my life, without me knowing it. I always considered myself a very individualistic person, an outsider who likes to do things their own way. But fact of the matter is, I’m terrified of being caught having done something wrong. Even if that is simply wearing my hair wrong or combining the wrong pieces of clothing.
At the same time I’ve been actively uninterested in fashion. As in, I considered it anathema to the person I wanted to be. There were styles like synth and goth that appealed a lot to me ever since I was a teenager, but where I felt like trying them out would be putting on a costume. I listened to the wrong music, I didn’t have the energy or interest in learning to wear make-up … basically, I thought I had to buy the entire package to be allowed to wear the clothes and hairstyles I thought looked cool.
All this meant that I often dressed well, and in some ways originally, but always somewhat conservatively.
So that’s one aspect of what I used to look like. But my need to do things right didn’t just mean shutting myself out of alternative fashion. It also meant that I restricted myself to an imaginary binary.
Stuck in the Binary
It’s been a couple of years since I realised I completely lack a gender identity (what this means exactly is something I’ll probably get back to in a future post). When I first did, I didn’t think much of it. I’m AFAB and wore femme clothing, and as such enjoyed all the privileges, such as they are, of being interpreted as a ciswoman. And since gender literally means nothing to me, I didn’t really care if people kept thinking of me as a woman.
I also made one of the most embarrassing errors of thought I can remember: I thought, “Well, if I’m gonna dress as a man, I’d want to pass, and with these wide hips and narrow shoulders, ain’t no way that’s ever gonna happen.”
It never once struck me that there are other ways to present myself than fully feminine or fully masculine. That there’s a whole spectrum of gender expression, I knew. That there are plenty of people breaking the binary and challenging norms, I knew. I applauded and looked up to them. But for myself, I was completely entrenched in binary thinking.
So I thought that if I couldn’t pass, dressing masculine was pointless, and I told myself that with these wide hips of mine there simply was no chance of ever fooling anyone. Except perhaps very briefly, if seen at a distance. Simply going butch was never on the map, and what’s even stranger, it never struck me that I could dress androgynously. Even though I’ve carried a life-long fascination with androgyny.
All this changed, obviously. It changed through meeting the right people. The first step was, somewhat ironically, embracing femininity. Although I definitely had an interest in looking good before, I suffered from internalised femmephobia, which prevented me from wearing skirts and the colour pink. It’s okay, you can laugh. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
The first step involved meeting a man who was interested in fashion. Not fashion as in what’s fashionable, but as in how to find clothes that suit yourself as a person, how to combine them to accentuate good features, etcetera. And I realised that hey, this is actually a legitimate interest. A hobby, even. One doesn’t have to be shallow or vain (attributes frequently associated with femme) to find this interesting or fun. Besides, if I refused to wear clothes I liked simply because our culture tells me I should wear them because of my perceived gender, then in a way, culture would still be winning.
And that was the beginning of my femme revolution.
Over the next few years I enjoyed a variety of styles with a focus on around-kneelength skirts and brightly coloured and patterned tights. I mostly went either for conservatively cute (as opposed to full lolita) or high femme.
The problem was, it still wasn’t me.
Letting Go of the Rules
The final change began when I started hanging out with the people who are now my closest friends (and in some cases, lovers). Suddenly I was surrounded with piercings and sidecuts and interesting, norm-breaking styles of dress and above all, a very relaxed attitude towards it. They were not cliqueish in the least, and when I started expressing an interest in trying out some new style elements – like dying my hair in unnatural shades – this was met with enthusiastic support and offers of help.
And so I took my first few careful steps. A purple ombre. A discreet undercut. A not so discreet medusa piercing. A sidecut. Another sidecut.
View this post on Instagram
I am not a woman. I don't know what it feels like to have a gender identity at all, which is why I style myself agender. I am not a woman. I have learned to play the part, and to some extent it has been both enjoyable and empowering to embrace chosen parts of hegemonic femininity. But it doesn't define me. It never has. I am not a woman, but I know what it feels like to be seen as and treated as one. Thus I am a feminist. Today, on Intl Women's Day, I ponder how lucky I am to live in a time and place that allows me to think about gender identity and expression in terms like these. Most people never had that luxury. So – here's to past victories, and future success. #internationalwomensday #iwd #iwd2016 #nonbinary #enby #agender
And then, sometime this spring, I had many long conversations about gender identity and expression with my partner Deus, and through these realised what should have been obvious all along: I had been LARPing a woman, and for a long time felt comfortable in that role. But I didn’t have to keep doing that. I didn’t have to pretend to be anything that wasn’t me.
I could, in fact, start dressing to look androgynous. Or butch. Or weird. Or whatever I feel like at the moment.
And that’s where I am today. I cut my hair off and dyed it black and purple. I wear a fake leather jacket and prefer men’s clothing, especially trousers, which just have so much more space than the ridiculously tight trousers I wore before. I also happily abandoned the grossly uncomfortable underwire push-ups I had squeezed my diminutive bosom into (telling myself I needed it to get closer to the much-coveted hour-glass figure), in favour of sports bras.
And not just that – I started sitting differently. And standing, and walking. I suddenly became acutely aware of how I, while trying to act like a woman, had constantly been policing my own behaviour, adjusting it to fit the idea of what an attractive female person should be like. Now, I’m finding it amusing to try to emulate male ideals instead, in an attempt to perhaps land somewhere in the middle.
In the end, this journey (which obviously isn’t over yet) has led to all sorts of insights about myself and how I express my personality through my exterior attributes. I’m happy to say I haven’t just become far more relaxed about how I present myself, but also less judgmental of others. In the end, the important thing is to dress and look the way you like and feel comfortable with.
So, if you’re reading this and feeling even the slightest twinge of envy: Just Do It. Go on and buy that piece you’ve been ogling but didn’t think you’d dare wear, or get your trimmer and shave a side-cut. It’s less scary and more liberating than you think, and you can always change your mind.