Long before I was out as a gay man (I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t “out” as a gamer), I remember a conversation with my friend Jeff. We had been playing Dungeons & Dragons together regularly for some time, and the players were various friends of ours. At some point, the conversation took an odd turn.
“Do you think Mike is gay?” he asked, meaning another of our friends.
For a moment, I had a panic attack. Why was he asking me? Was it because he thought I was gay?
“I…um…why would you think that?” I asked, trying to be nonchalant.
“Well, he always plays female characters.”
I never found out if Mike was gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but the stereotype of it haunted me for years. See, I’m about as gay as they come, and I almost always play male characters. My husband, also pretty gay, almost always plays male characters. But I’ve also known gay people who play mostly women, straight guys who prefer female characters, bisexual guys and gals who tend to pick one or another…
The point is, there doesn’t seem to be a stereotype to follow.
Another odd stereotype I’ve hit during games is the idea that gay guys tend to play foppish or effeminate characters, or characters who are themselves gay. Currently, I’m playing two characters in regular games.
One is Rukh, a huge, bearish half-orc paladin, who I think of as being kind of hunky. But I know Rukh thinks of his human mother as being the pinnacle of beauty, and I’m sure he’s pretty darned straight. My halfling rogue, Toby, is fairly disinterested, or at least feigns disinterest. I suspect he’s straight, but it really hasn’t come up.
On the other hand, my favorite character of all time, Skittle, the mouse pooka from my friend Whitt’s game of Changeling: the Dreaming, is definitely gay. And Will, the bard NPC I’ve been playing for 5+ years in my LARP, The Isles, is bisexual, leaning towards gay. These were both games where role-playing has been more intense, personal, and pervasive than in my recent D&D games, and I know how these characters swing.
Now, maybe it’s me. After all, I’ve been told that I don’t “act gay.” (If I know the person well-enough, my standard joke is that I could have gay sex in front of them, if that would help put things in perspective.) I know what they mean, though; I’m not terribly effeminate, and I don’t act like the wacky gay neighbor in various sitcoms. The fact that I have a deep, basso-profundo speaking voice tends to throw them, too.
I don’t actually live up to a lot of gay stereotypes. I don’t have a lisp. I don’t call many people “girlfriend”. I have fairly terrible taste in clothing (thank God my husband doesn’t). I don’t really enjoy going clubbing (although I do like to dance). I don’t drink; I don’t smoke. What do I do? (Yes, that was an Adam Ant reference. So sue me.)
Well, I do love Broadway shows. That counts, right? And I weep openly at movies, especially Disney animated features, those manipulative bastards! And I’m sexually attracted to men. That’s the defining one, after all. Is that enough for me to hit my gay quotient? I just don’t want to lose my toaster oven. (And yes that’s an Ellen reference. What’re you, keeping score?)
If I have a point, buried somewhere in this morass of jokes and references, it’s that in this, as in so many other things, the stereotypes break down. We often play characters in role-playing games to have a turn at being that which we are not or that we cannot be. I’ve played a foppish bard in a game of D&D, sure. I’ve also played a shy wizard who slowly wooed a lady warrior. I’ve played a rogue who dallied with all manner of ladies. I’ve played a blunt barbarian whose idea of romance was a nasty grin and an inappropriate comment. I let the nature of the character inform my role-playing, rather than thinking, “Oh, wait…I’m gay. Better have my fighter flirt with the stable-hand instead of the bar-maid.”
When I create a character for a game, I’m a gamer first and a gay man second.
How About You?
Do your RPG characters reflect your gender and/or sexuality or do you decide on a character-by-character basis?