Last weekend, the MESSAGE crew were very privileged to be invited to the Lesbian and Trans* Community Group Showcase organized by the great folks at Queensland Association for Healthy Communities. See the photo below!
It was a humbling and inspiring experience to be surrounded by so many people dedicated to improving and enriching their communities. Of course, the MESSAGE itself did not have much to offer, because we’re coming from the opposite side of the equation. The people at Sunday’s event have worked to set up a whole range of wonderful events and groups and activities that are loudly and proudly welcoming of and targetted at those whose genders and sexualities don’t fit the common denominators.
The MESSAGE, rather, targets those of us who are the common denominators, both in society and in gaming: white, straight, cis-gendered men. Chances are, if you’re reading this, that is exactly what you are. I am, too. We’re the people with the privilege. The people who are, it seems, the problem. After all, all these wonderful people are trying to hide from us. They had to go and make special groups to feel safe and welcome, instead of just joining a group of cyclists, or joggers, or ultimate frisbee players, or comic fans. And they had to do that because they have – with good reason – fear of being attacked, humiliated and excluded when they try to join those groups.
That was my Saturday: being surrounded by dozens of people dedicated to providing spaces to get away from people like me. And the fact that that hit home like a hammer is the very definition of privilege. I get to go wherever I want, play whatever game I want, join whatever group I want, turn up at any space I want, without being afraid of being judged for who I am or who I love or the contents of my pants. And let’s be clear about this: in gaming, this is only true if you are a straight, white, cis-gendered man. And it is true for you everywhere. In effect, every game store, club and convention you have ever been has had a sign out front saying “We prefer customers to be straight, white, cis-gendered guys.”
You didn’t see the sign. But it’s there. It is absolutely there. Because everyone who doesn’t fit into those categories noticed the sign and went off to make their own space where the sign wasn’t there. They set up groups for gaming girls, and gaming mothers, and gaymers, and trans gamers and gamers of colour, and disabled gamers, too. There isn’t a game store in my city you can get a wheelchair into.
Societies, groups and especially commercial entities always tend towards the norm. They always cater for the biggest groups, the general throng, the mean and mode of the population. We can’t change that. We can change attitudes, but that takes time and doesn’t effect the natural tendency of the norm to embrace itself and exclude the different. But what we can do, right now, is be aware that the sign is there. That invisible sign on the door that turns people away. And what we can do is put another sign up instead. A sign that says – and says explicitly – that our stores, our groups, our games, our spaces – are safe. That our gamers are allies. That our groups are welcoming. That we accept everyone.
And it has to be explicit. You don’t get to do nothing and still be the good guy because you know you’re not prejudiced. Because on the outside, you look just the same as everybody else. And nothing you’ve done makes you deserve an assumption of innocence. So you have to wave the flag. Be visible. Wear the t-shirt. Post the sign. Put it in the rules of the club, on the walls of the store, in the ads on the web. Wave the flag high, as high as we can, so everyone can see it, and feel welcome.
The good news is that because we are the people of privilege, we can raise that flag higher than anyone. Because there’s so many of us, we can bombard the world with our acceptance. Because we’re the norm, if we wear our colours, we can paint the hobby a rainbow. But we have to do it. We have to care. We have to wave the flag.