Hi, I’m Rachel, also known as rho, and I am — amongst many other things — a woman, a geek, a gamer, and a transwoman. Skud has invited me here to discuss some of the issues and experiences that I’ve had being both a transwoman and a geek, and I’m delighted to do so.
There are a whole lot of issues I’d like to go into at some point, such as privilege issues from the perspective of someone who’s been on both sides of the line or how feminists can sometimes exclude transwomen (accidentally or otherwise) but to start with I’d just like to discuss something a little lighter.
As I mentioned above, I’m a gamer. Video games are my poison of choice, but all forms of gaming are good. For transgender geeks, games are a wonderful escape. For as long as I can recall and certainly since before I realised I was transgender myself, I always used to play female characters in games wherever I had the option. Whether it was perfecting the timing on Chun Li’s spinning bird kick or just being sure that my @ sign was definitely a female @ sign when I was playing a roguelike, I was always drawn to female characters.
Role-playing games were the best, of course. Back when I was struggling with my identity and wasn’t generally able to be myself an immersive world with only a computer for company and nobody to tell me that I couldn’t be who I wanted to be was ideal. I suspect most people feel the allure of getting to be someone else for a while, but for transfolk such as myself it’s a particularly strong one.
Time has passed, though, I’ve transitioned, and I’m at ease with my gender identity. Mostly. One of the things that can still make me anxious on that front — in a huge twist of irony — is gaming. For starters video games today are no longer the solitary affair that they once were. MMOs are all the rage, and even my not-at-all tech savvy dad has heard of World of Warcraft. From a gaming perspective, this is great. From an escapism perspective, not so much.
Many female video game characters are, unfortunately, designed primarily to be aesthetically pleasing to the straight male primary audience (and in many cases, the straight male game designers and artists). Far too many games have the problem of “Wait? That’s meant to be armour? I thought it was lingerie!” for their female characters. Male characters get tough leather or iron armour whereas female characters wind up in a skimpy piece of cloth that wouldn’t keep you from catching a death of cold, let alone serve as protection against incoming arrows or fireballs.
This leads to a lot of male players creating female characters for no reason other than to ogle their pixelated behinds. I’ve even seen guides to in-game trading that explicitly recommend that the player creates a female character to get extra trade, and that they should pretend to be female and helpless to make other players more willing to trade with them. The author of this particular document didn’t seem to realise either that some of the players might actually be female or that females are not generally helpless and pathetic.
The default assumption then becomes that anyone playing a female character is actually male which leads to the whole “there are no girls on the Internet” thing. I’m sure that pretty much all women gamers have encountered this at least once, and probably many many times. It’s annoying at the best of times, but for a transwoman who has had to battle to be seen as a woman in the world at large, it’s doubly annoying. The final kick in the teeth for me comes when there’s voice chat involved. I don’t have a feminine-sounding voice, and while on the phone it’s a simple matter to correct someone who assumes I’m a man, when gaming, it’s a lot harder to convince people.
After all, there’s no such thing as a female gamer.