I had a sudden encounter with homophobia in the relatively recent past. It kind of came out of nowhere, and, ironically, I didn’t know about it until afterwards. Dealing with it, however, reminded me that it’s still out there, even amongst gamers, who I think of as some of the nicest and most accepting people there are.
I was involved with a gaming event recently. I don’t want to cause a scene, point fingers, or have people guessing. Suffice to say it was a big game with a lot of players that I was involved with. All of a sudden, we realized that two other people who were involved were gone. We assumed they’d had other obligations, their absence didn’t stop the game from going, and so we played on, oblivious. It wasn’t until later that someone said that they’d left because they were uncomfortable with all of the open gay couples that were also involved.
When I heard that, I felt like I’d been gut-punched. Had I seen some PDAs from the gay couples? Sure, I had. But no more than I’d been seeing from the straight couples. Could this be true? We did some digging, and innocently asked the person who’d invited them if he knew why they’d left? Had they been having a good time? He said he hadn’t spoken to them, but, without us asking if they’d been uncomfortable, their friend mentioned that he thought that one of the people who’d left was homophobic, and he suspected that’s why’d they’d gone.
Hearing such a thing just makes my stomach ache. It gets me mad, sad, and confused at the same time. So since the fallout is fresh in my mind, I thought I’d ruminate over the subject, as painful as it is to me and many others.
First off, the word homophobia is pretty silly. Taken literally from the Greek, it means “fear of the same”. What it has come to mean, of course, is a wide-ranging category of negative attitudes towards homosexuals, lesbians, and so on. A lot of homophobic behavior I’ve seen has been anything but fearful.
A homophobe walking into one of my gaming groups, the LARP I help run, or just about any other local gaming anything in the Boston area is likely in for a shock. My normal gaming groups include homosexuals, bisexuals, lesbians, crossdressers, transgender individuals, and so on. Gaming, in our area, at least, seems to draw a tremendously diverse crowd. Which is probably why this incident came as such a surprise. My brain wonders how anyone with any experience in the local gaming community can have missed this fact so completely.
The worst I can remember encountering to date has been a sort of “I’d rather not talk about your social life” vibe, which I’ve never had an issue with. When I sit down to play a game, I’m there to play the game. I’m not interested in discussing my sexuality or my players’ sexual orientations. I’m more interested in discussing whether or not Kidalis Havengard’s cousin has indeed turned to the cult of the Elder Elemental Eye, whether Tilly Thistleshanks is ready to take on the massive fey crocodile that ate his father, or if Al’lan Malkier can have Olaf Feyskorn hold his sword, then swing Olaf around by his ankles in order to have reach. (That last one’s still a no, by the way, Jacob.)
I know some of the people I game with, both LARPing and tabletopping, are more conservative than I am. Heck, one of my best friends at The Isles has had a “NObama” sticker on his car since before the 2008 election and considers himself a Fundamentalist Christian. I don’t care about that. I care that he’s personally a really nice guy, and that he’s a good roleplayer with a lot of great plot ideas. He knows I’m gay and married, he knows my husband, and we all get along just fine. That’s the kind of benign “You live your life, and I’ll live mine” sort of attitude I’ve become used to from the gaming community.
Speaking only for myself, romance, no matter what flavor, makes me smile. If I see a couple kissing, whether they’re two men, two women, or a man and a woman, I smile and look away, politely. I’ve seen all of those permutations take it too far, of course, and I’ve either left, or, if it seemed appropriate, asked them politely to perhaps continue once they have a room.
I want to give the people who left the benefit of the doubt. Maybe one of the gay couples was taking things too far, and they didn’t feel comfortable. Maybe rather than cause a scene, they took themselves out of the picture. But part of me worries that they simply left because they didn’t want to be around “those kinds of people.” And that makes me wonder if there are others at our games who are feigning a benevolence they don’t feel. If they are, they’re doing a damned good job of it. Most of the people I roleplay with – LARP, tabletop, online, etc – are like family to me. A whacked-out, dysfunctional family at times, but family none the less.
If there’s a hidden discontent, I’m not sure what I’d hope for. Would I hope they’d just quietly remove themselves like the folks did that I’ve mentioned? Not at all. I’d want them to tell me, to open a dialogue, to see if there’s some substance to what concerns them and not just some cultural or religious reflex kicking in. After all, good old HPL said that the most powerful kind of fear is the fear of the unknown. He may have been talking about cosmic, tentacled horrors rather than sexual orientation, but the fact is that we tend to be afraid of what we don’t understand. Maybe if there were more open, friendly conversations with a real intention to bridge understanding between people, we could put the ghost of homophobia to rest for good.