For more than a decade now, attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals have shifted considerably in tabletop games and their associated media. Positions concerning these lifestyles vary widely from complete acceptance to rejection and condemnation. Some insist that these lifestyles are immoral, corruptive, and violate the laws of nature. Others hold that they are natural, have existed since the dawn of humanity, and are a part of everyday life. The position of this article tends toward the latter viewpoint, and it does so with a view to expanding tolerance in the tabletop gaming community.
For the purposes of this article, all individuals who identify as LGBTQ will be discussed under the banner of gaymers. This is not meant to minimize, denigrate, or oversimplify the difference of these individuals; it is more an effort to streamline the discourse. The term gaymer is a common rallying cry in the LGBTQ community. It is not meant to assume that any given person discussed here identifies as gay.
With changing attitudes toward LGBTQ individuals years ago, a new issue arose in the tabletop gaming community—gay gamers. This raises any number of questions. Why is the presence of gay gamers significant? What is the current gaming tabletop landscape like for LGBTQ individuals? Should gamers make more of an effort to include LGBTQ characters in their games? How can gamers—regardless of sexual identity—portray more convincing and more realistic LGBTQ characters in their games?
The first question that needs to be addressed is “Why is the presence of gay gamers significant?” There are a number of answers to this question, but one of the biggest is homophobia. At the time of this article’s original publication, a short jaunt to Counter-Strike proved that homophobia was alive and well. The common use of the word “gay” to denote something that is stupid, uncool, or redundant was rampant and can still be seen in our gaming community. Many, when confronted with their use of this term, suggested that no offense to homosexuals was intended and that the word’s negative connotation had nothing to do with its more standard meaning. This unfortunate state of affairs shed light on the all-pervasive nature of homophobia in society: even today, rather tolerant people, who consider themselves above expressions of racism and bigotry, are comfortable with expressions of homophobia simply because it is legitimized by those around them.
The negative use of the term “gay” is the least expression of homophobia in the gaming world. At the time of this article’s original publication, bald-faced homophobia was expressed on even the most mainstream gaming sites, including the extremely progressive Silven Crossroads, the original publisher of this article. Since then, even though great strides have been made to increase awareness and tolerance, true hatred and fear still exist. It’s important to point out that homophobia is not alone; there is substantial biphobia, transphobia, and general intolerance of people whose sexual and gender identities do not conform to society’s expectations. This is the real reason that gamers must be aware of this issue. It’s easy to sit back and miss ignorance and prejudice when it doesn’t target you, but it takes a great deal more guts to stand up for someone else. Gamers must remain aware of this issue because they are likely to be confronted with it.
The other major reason that this issue matters is that most tabletop gamers, at some point in their lives, will game with someone who is LGBTQ. Unfortunately, this simple fact about a person is likely to have an effect on the game. If everyone in the group is comfortable with the LGBTQ individual, this effect would be minimal, but this is frequently not the case. Even if this discomfort is not openly expressed, a member of a gaming group may act differently around a gay member. This is to everyone’s detriment, since the game will suffer. The biggest complaint of many gaymers is that they don’t feel comfortable being themselves in a straight roleplaying environment. This results in awkward, unpleasant games. If a member of a gaming group is not comfortable with another member—for any reason—they should talk about it. Some people will always have a hard time relating to those who are different from them. Unfortunately, the onus is not on gay gamers to ignore this—most people are different from them. Honesty and discussion may be awkward and painful in the beginning, but it will lead to much better gaming down the line. Besides, one never knows who else in the gaming circle might share your concerns.
Before going on, I feel it necessary to point out to those readers who haven’t been witness to this or don’t believe it exists, that bigotry in tabletop gaming is real. I have personally been involved in a number of groups in which I experienced both blatant and insidiously disguised homophobia. While I can only approach writing about women (and other gamer minorities) from what I’ve observed and heard about, I can write about gayming from a deeply personal angle. I believe this makes my perspective somewhat more genuine on this subject than it might be on others. When writing about groups to which one does not or cannot belong—I am not female, disabled, a non-native English speaker, or some of the other topics on diversity I have or will discuss—I can only speak as an outside observer. All of these groups deserve text written by their own members, who can speak to what it’s like not only when they are or feel like an outsider, but also when embracing their own self-created communities. They own their own gaming “tables,” to quote Michelle Lyons-McFarland, both literally and figuratively. On this topic, I own my own table and can speak as someone who has experienced both feelings of alienation (and acceptance) in predominantly straight gaming environments, as well as feelings of welcome in queer positive and gaymer-created spaces.