18 August 2012

Gaymercon Counterarguments

I just wanted to collect together a list of answers (mostly from myself) to the most frequently used counter-arguments to Gaymercon and Gaymer culture in general. Some of these responses are from my blog, some are from my Tumblr, some I've just written up now. For more discussion about why I think Gaymercon is actually a fantastic idea, check my previous Hyp/Arc post, "Gaymers".

"Sexuality has nothing to do with gaming! Stop making it about your identity!"

This seems obvious, provided you don't actually think about it. Why would sex affect how we play games? The fact that some people would choose to have non-heterosexual sex should not negatively impact their experiences when gaming unless they choose to have it be so. However, sex is infused into so much of our culture - and our biology - that in many cases, it DOES affect other parts of our lives - this goes for everybody, heterosexuals and queer individuals alike.

The vast majority of games are created with a straight, white, male audience in mind. Soul Calibur V was not marketed based on the girth of Mitsurugi's package - it was marketed on the size of Ivy's breasts. Bayonetta was not a well-rounded, well-thought-out, highly developed female character - she was Hideki Kamiya's virtual sex fantasy with superpowers added on. The Dead or Alive series is not known for its inclusion of gay scantily clad men whose bulges wiggle in combat - it's known for its Breast Jiggle Engine. A large number of influential companies in the games industry continue to perpetuate the idea that Men Do Macho Stuff, and Women Look Pretty. Heterosexuality is infused into the vast majority of games. A close contender is asexuality - internet memes aside, Tetris and Bejeweled don't really include much in the way of cultural depictions of sex.

For better or worse, sexuality does have a lot to do with gaming - and pretty much everything else in our lives.

Now, queer folk don't exactly have a lot of representation in games. They're never main characters - unless you're allowed to craft your character, like Shepard from Mass Effect, or the Dragonborn from Skyrim. When they are represented, it's often as blatant stereotypes. Straight characters are freely represented doing any number of different things, with vast and varied personalities and quirks - but queer characters are of the order of fey tailors, overcompensating macho dudes, or freaks with mismatching sexes and genders. It continues to perpetuate the idea that queer folk are "weird" or distinctly "non-normal", when really all they are is non-heterosexual.

As for not making homosexuality part of your identity - why, when being a gamer is obviously part of people's identities as well? Why should we not take the more simple, compassionate and reasonable option of not attacking people because they identify as something different and aren't hurting anyone?

"Just be part of a bigger con like PAX! Get a panel, not a con!"

We already have a lot of great cons where lots of gamers come together to talk about games they dig. Sometimes, though, you might want to head to a con where you’re even more likely to bump into folk who share similar experiences to yours, where you can freely discuss topics with people who really care about them and are more informed about them. A lot of the time, you can’t do that with more general cons - and they also happen to include people who are eager to discuss the topic without knowing very much about the experience of under-represented or unprivileged groups right down to folk who are downright abusive. I’m not saying those people wouldn’t exist at Gaymercon, but there’s much less potential for them to show up and even less potential for them to be tolerated once they become abusive. Gaymercon allows folk to discuss how being gay and being a gamer intersect, and makes it likely that issues close to their hearts might be talked about (either at panels or amongst attendees), and means that they’ve got at least two things in common with the majority of people attending, so it makes it that much easier to make friends.

Lastly, getting a con rather than a panel doesn't actually take anything away from anyone. It creates one more meeting space. It's not a mandatory event, it's not going to put everyone out-of-pocket, it's being paid for by donations... I don't know what else I can say to qualify the fact that this is not taking up the time, money or effort of anyone who doesn't want to be part of it.

"Homophobia/Transphobia isn't THAT bad at other cons!"

Homophobia/transphobia isn't always immediately obvious, and isn't limited to violence, threats of violence or slurs based on someone's Queerness - it can be things like making assumptions on one's ability based on their gender, sex, or sexual identity, making jokes at their expense, or simply not giving them a voice at all. It's impossible to gauge how endemic homo/transphobia is at conventions without asking queer folk themselves how they have been treated - and obviously there's enough queer folk interested in having their own con that they've donated over $90,000 to the Gaymercon Kickstarter, which had an initial goal of only $25,000.

But that isn't the point. The point is to give Queer individuals a place where they can talk about their own stuff and how it relates to their identities as gamers. Every convention aside from Gaymercon is made with a heteronormative individual in mind, hence why there often aren’t many talks on polyamory in games, the representation of trans* individuals, how to deal with homophobia etc at major games conventions.

"Gaymercon Promotes Segregating Gays!"

It’s not segregation if people of an underprivileged minority want to create a safe space for themselves in which they can talk about and share stuff that they normally can’t in a space dominated by a majority that is largely apathetic towards, unaware of, or hostile towards that kind of stuff. It absolutely cannot be said that this somehow “reverse segregation” or “heterophobic” - especially considering that a) straight people are welcome and b) this is one con geared towards folk with queer interests out of several dozens of cons that are primarily geared towards folk with straight interests. Queer people want a space where they can meet other people like them: that’s all. If it was an Armenian Gamers convention, it wouldn’t be a convention to exclude everyone who wasn’t Armenian - it’s just that it’s geared specifically towards Armenian people, the issues they might face, and with services that primarily affect them.

"We don't have conventions for black gamers, or girl gamers, so we shouldn't have one for gay gamers!"

For a start, we already have at least one female-centric geek convention. GeekGirlCon lets women interact with people more like them, and lets them discuss things that affect them without having to endure anyone putting forward bullshit like "lol get back in the kitchen", or the more insidious suggestions like, "your gender and gaming should be TOTALLY SEPERATE!" - well, they're not. Because assholes don't treat them like they're seperate either. Female gamers are regularly picked on.

As for gaming cons for people of different groups - why not have these? That would give them a safe place to discuss topics important to them and how the intersect with gaming in a place where there’s less chance a straight white heterosexual man will pop in and claim that there’s no such thing as sexism, racism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, e.t.c., that they’re actually encouraging people to treat them badly simply for wanting to talk to other people like themselves, and that their meetup is pointless and they should do it in a group where there’s less chance that they’ll even find people they share these traits in common with who also identify with these traits and want to discuss them. However, one of the great things about Gaymercon is that it’s not exclusive: straight people who might be interested are also welcome to come along.

"Gaymercon means you're running away from tackling homophobia!"

This con is also not about avoiding the issue. Just because gay folk want a safe space for themselves does not in any way imply that they’re running away from anything - it’s that they want a space dedicated for them. If I were to run a Scottish gaming convention because an American gaming convention doesn’t cater to my needs, that’s not me running away from the issues I’d have got from being part of an American con. That’s me saying, “Well, I can create a space specifically for Scottish people, geared towards Scottish interests, without taking up part of a more general con where finding more Scottish people in attendance may be more difficult in the first place.” Similarly, the organisers at Gaymercon obviously thought they would be able to do a good job of organising events specifically for their chosen audience rather than trying to bend PAX or E3 to have more Queer culture (or at least elements of the Straight White Male culture that dominates much of Western folk’s lives, i.e., booth babes, games with rampant sexism, folk throwing around rape jokes, predominantly white creators, predominantly male creators, predominantly straight creators, etc etc etc).

Besides, dealing with such pervasive issues as homophobia can be immensely tiring, even if you're not doing it often or in any publicly-visible way. Tackling homophobia often isn't as simple as posting a Facebook status saying how bad it is that gay people run the risk of being stoned to death and then forgetting about it - many gay folk can't forget about it, because it affects them every day of their lives. The response to Gaymercon highlights another big part of the pervasiveness of homophobia - we're still having to write articles and comments defending the decision just to have queer individuals meet up and talk about games.

"Having Gaymercon Means Gays Get Special Privileges!"

Treating people equally doesn’t mean ignoring all the differences between everybody and adopting a one-size-fits-all approach for absolutely everyone (which, conveniently, often seems to be the way that straight white male westerners would choose to deal with everything, not what the underprivileged would choose). It’s about giving equal attention to the issues that folk face.

Regarding treating gay people the same as straight folk - the reason we don’t just lump everyone into the same category as “human beings” is because folk committing hate crime aren’t doing that when they bash your skull in with baseball bats for attending Pride or come into your home and beat up you and your family because you’re trans*. We’re all gamers, sure, but we all have vastly different experiences - not least of which includes folk who often get blown off because straight people don’t understand or care about their problems, or they get beaten up just because they’re not heterosexual. Not everybody receives equal treatment all the time, and if people refuse to acknowledge that by saying “Well, I treat everyone in exactly the same way”, you’re going to run into problems - especially if your treatment of people isn’t equal or helpful for folk, i.e., making rape jokes in front of people triggered by rape; booking group events for able-bodied people but failing to recognise or acknowledge the needs of a disabled friend; shouting homophobic slurs at the TV when you’re playing a game and hurting someone who’s been getting homophobic slurs throughout most of their lives. You’re right that there should be no barriers between folk being treated equally well, but they shouldn’t be treated in exactly the same way, because different folk have different needs.

"Gaymercon isn't the best way to eliminate homophobia!"

Gaymercon cannot be and is not an attempt to end homo/transphobia once and for all - it’s literally a meeting place for people with a vested interest in queer issues. It doesn’t have to be the best way to end homophobia, it doesn’t have to be practically perfect in every way to be considered a good thing - it, like every other convention ever, is just a meeting space, not a radical rights march. Sometimes queer folk don’t want to have another rights campaign, another politically-charged seminar, or a progressive rally that will change they world - sometimes queer folk just want a safe place to hang out and talk shit with other folk like them.

"Gaymercon only exists so that gays can hook up!"

Just because two gay people are in close proximity doesn't mean they're going to be attracted to each other at all - similarly, just because there's a lot of straight men and women going to a convention doesn't mean they're all going to partner up and have sex with each other indiscriminately.

"Gaymercon SHOULD only exist so that gays can hook up!"

Lots of people who want to attend Gaymercon want to meet people who have similar experiences to them, listen to/talk to people who have faced the same issues they face, and can more freely be who they want to be without having to worry about being lynched, being automatically disliked, or how they might "represent gay people" as a whole. A convention is just a meeting place. Those meetings can be anything from a gamer and developer meeting up to play game demos, attendees becoming friends, or, yes, even people becoming lovers. 

"There are no gay issues in gaming - people saying 'faggot' over Xbox Live aren't homophobes, they're just stupid!"

They're both. Just because someone uses the word "faggot" casually now doesn't mean that it's not offensive - it's still used against people who are gay, and it still hurts. The fact that people somehow believe that a word primarily used to discriminate against gay people is somehow no longer offensive to gay people should set alarm bells ringing.

No more perpetuating the myth that people "choose" to be offended, either. True, the world would be a happier place if none of us get offended - however, we do. Ignoring that fact and saying you're "treating everyone equally" - usually meaning that everyone gets treated equally badly - doesn't make for a better place for anyone but the person being offensive.

And enough of the  about reclaiming the word faggot. It's not for heterosexuals to choose when and why homosexuals should feel offended, after homosexuals have been routinely and systematically abused by heterosexuals for centuries. We should let bygones be bygones, yes - and when the vast majority of the world - including homosexuals - decides that this is to be the case, then we can say "faggot". Maybe then we can also ask black people about the n-word too! 

"I don't see the point in Gaymercon {followed by a paragraph about their feelings about Gaymercon}!"

That's cool. You don't have to weigh in on the issue if you're unaware of the issues queer folk face in the world today, how queer culture might intersect with gamer culture, the idea of inclusive vs exclusive spaces, heteronormativity, the W.A.S.P. demographic used in the games industry, the pervasiveness of homo- and transphobia, e.t.c., e.t.c.. Commenting for the sake of commenting when you haven't researched the issue aren't actually interested in it and don't have anything insightful or new to add just makes you (at worst) a bigot, or (at best) completely irrelevant.

As I've mentioned in a previous article, I think Gaymercon is brilliant. It allows for folk with a lot of similar interests to get to meet up and interact in a safe space that's geared towards them - no having to justify themselves to people, no having to hide the things that make up a big part of their identity, no having to deal with homophobia - except, of course, the dogged interference of the Westboro Baptist Church, who are protesting Gaymercon.

Further Reading:

Denis Farr: "Gotta Keep 'em Segregated?"
Jim Sterling: "The Importance of a Gay Gamer Convention"
Kyle Orland: "Gaymercon Wants to Provide a 'Safe Place' for LGBTQ Gamers"
cbrachyrhynchos: "Gaymercon: Another Thought"

2 August 2012


So, today Kotaku posted a pretty good article, providing a signal boost for Gaymercon's Kickstarter page. There was even a video from John Patrick Lowrie, the voice of Team Fortress 2's Sniper, providing his support! (Incidentally, I only just discovered his wife is GLaDOS' voice actor, which is amazing/terrifying). If the post was a stand-alone type deal, everything would have been A-OK.

Unfortunately, it wasn't, because Kotaku allows comments!

A number of commenters appeared asking questions - sometimes sincerely, sometimes facetiously - about the need for a convention that's primarily gay-friendly (Gaymercon doesn't exclude heterosexuals), and, by extension, why "gaymers" should ever be a thing at all. I wanted to answer those questions, but:

  1. My account on Kotaku rarely actually lets me post, and
  2. Commenting on Kotaku makes me feel a little ill because of the sheer amount of vitriol decanting from one comment thread to another.
So I'm doing it here instead. 

Rest of the article is under the cut - and I'm adding a **TRIGGER WARNING** because it also includes mentions of and links to news articles about hate crime.