This fact leads directly to another rather incredulous question: "Can there really be that many people out there having trouble with this particular issue?" Almost without fail, the answer is yes. In the case of this week's topic -- the social implications of being a transgender player in an online environment -- there are enough players struggling that even though we addressed the issue just two years ago, players continue to write in.
Here to answer two recent letters about coping with transgender issues is guest Drama Mama Rachel Gold, who you may have met just a few days ago in an interview here at WoW Insider. Rachel is the author of Being Emily, a young adult novel about a teen struggling to work her way through the implications of becoming a young woman after being born in the body of a male.
First, our reader letters:
Hey , I've been a role player since wow began , along the way I've met up and became good friends with a lot of people but over the few years I've been having gender reassignment therapy and now surgery, I've not been able to vent and Skype with my guild for ages and now I can't raid , I'm now asking for help with my drama. -- Melissa
And our second letter for this week:
Hello Lisa and Robin, Before I get into the question, a little background to set the situation: I'm the GM of my guild. We are what I'd call a fairly typical semi-hardcore raiding guild, and my raiders are fairly typical of the players I come across in the game who play at a Heroic raiding level. We're an adult group, every member is 18+, and we don't really worry about obscenities or throwing the occasional good-natured banter back and forth. Simply put, we're not a niche guild or anything like that, and we engage in conversation in ways that seem typical of the community.
This is where it gets a little more complicated. I'm male-to-female transgender. I have finally come to the point in my life where I am seeking professional help, getting evaluated, and finding my path with my gender identity. I don't plan to come out to my guild or my raid just yet, but that is something that will eventually need to happen, unless I were to move on from the guild. I can't pretend to still be male in game while I transition in the real world. I would be living a lie just as much as if I were trying to ignore it in real life.
I'm much more concerned about my raid group than the overall guild, because they are the people I spend the most time with in-game. It's a 10-man group, 80% male. The one other woman in the raid group is someone I've known for a few years, and knows about my situation. She shares my opinion that, while not something that I should rush into, I eventually will need to tell them.
My worry is exactly what would come to mind immediately. I'm worried about people either leaving, or pushing hate at me. I have the strength to move on if I really had to, but it is by no means my first choice. I built this guild from the start, took the raid group from starting out in Firelands to a full heroic clear of Dragon Soul and clearing MSV in the first 2 weeks. I could always step down as GM and hand control to the person I started the guild with. We've traded control of the guild from time to time when one of us has more time than the other. I know there are options and possibilities. I also know that people don't always recognize that I am and will still be the same core person. I have come out to a few select people in my real life, and some of them have taken a long time to recognize my personality is still the same, I'm still me so to speak.
So we come to my question, which is in a few parts. When the time comes, do I go about it by talking to each raider individually, or would it be better to do it in a group setting in vent, outside of normal raid time of course? Do I take a hardline approach when I say I won't tolerate hateful behavior, or would involving that in the conversation just seem to make me the villain? And finally, if I find these people can't handle it, and I need to move on, at what point do I make that decision? When do I say enough is enough?
Guest Drama Mama Rachel Gold: Hi, Melissa and Worried. Thanks for the opportunity to answer these questions for you and the whole WoW community. Lisa asked me to guest answer because my novel Being Emily is about a trans girl main character who also plays WoW. I've had a lot of opportunities to come out, first as a lesbian and now as the author of a trans novel. I'm also a guild leader and long-time WoW player, so that's the background to this answer.
Coming out can feel really tense and stressful, especially in a virtual environment where you don't have visual cues and often can't hear voice inflections (unless you're on Vent/Skype/etc.). I would recommend that when you feel it's time to come out, you stack the deck in your favor. There's a reason we take at least nine other people into a raid with us -- you don't want to face that boss alone.
Pick some allies. Not counting you, Worried, and the other female raider, we're looking at eight people on the raid team -- can you pick out two who you strongly suspect would be cool about you coming out to them? Come out to them first and give them a few days or weeks to get up to speed on the topic. Let them know that you're asking for their help to come out to the rest of the raid in a low drama way. Also you might want to line up a friend who's not in game to be the person to hear you venting if a few people do react badly -- it's nice to have a sympathetic ear who won't spread gossip in game.
How to make this issue a non-issue
The end goal, naturally, is that this be a non-issue and the guild gets to go on raiding and having fun as usual. To get to this goal, you want to set up the other raid team members to be able to hear the news, have their reaction, and get over it in the most drama-free way possible. For that, I'd get the whole raid together and tell them, possibly at your regular raid time, after you've prepped your three allies to also speak up. Now you're set up to have your announcement immediately followed by three other people supporting you and this creates a sense of social pressure for the other raiders to be cool with this news. Also if you go on to have a successful raid afterwards, that adds to the good feelings about the announcement.
Let them know if you're willing to answer questions and that the other three can also answer questions. Sometimes people are more comfortable asking awkward questions if they're not asking you directly.
I wouldn't take a hardline approach and say outright you won't tolerate hateful behavior. The reason for this is that it gives people something to fight against and if anyone has an oppositional streak (don't most of us!), they could fight against it on principle. Rather, make a cultural assumption about the guild that gives everyone the chance to be great human beings. For example, rather than, "And I won't tolerate any anti-trans hate," you could say something like, "I know this might be a topic some of you don't know a lot about; we've got a great group here and I want to keep it really friendly so if you have questions or concerns about how to talk about this or what it means, you can ask me or [name of ally]."
What if someone gets nasty?
If someone uses an offensive term, talk to them in whispers and start with something like, "I don't know if you know this, but to some people in the trans community, that term is offensive. Instead, maybe you could say ____." That gives them a chance to change without being called out.
However, if someone is repeatedly using offensive language or clearly being hateful on purpose, then a zero tolerance approach is warranted. If you've set up the support of the guild, they should back you in kicking anyone who really refuses to be decent.
To prep for this column, I asked a couple of my trans gamer friends about these questions. The responses were that the WoW community can be surprisingly kind and other times really disappointing. They've left guilds, and even WoW for a time, based on hateful behavior.
They suggested in general for trans players, if you're not in a guild where the leadership will support you and curtail hateful behavior, find one that will. It can be tough if you can't afford a server transfer and you're looking for a guild that's raiding. At least there are more semi-casual raiding guilds now, so you can shop around to find one where you really feel taken care of. It really is worth it not to have to worry about how people are going to treat you and to know that the leadership will stand up for you.
How can other players help?
Now I want to take a minute and talk to the non-trans players:
In the vast majority of cases, it costs you nothing at all to support someone who is coming out about their transition or about their gender identity -- and the rewards can be great. I know sometimes it feels scary or "ishy" or weird because most of us grew up thinking that men and women were these immovable, well-defined categories. They're not. We all choose to play in a world where people regularly turn into bears, cats, dragons, moonkin, etc. Let's embrace the fact that we live in a world where people can go from "man" to "woman" and vice versa, or they can hang out somewhere between or outside of those categories.
What do you do if someone says they're female but they sound like a guy on Vent? You use female pronouns and treat them like any other woman you know. And if you don't know what to do, you can ask them, "What pronoun do you prefer?" Think about how you would feel if you had to spend every day of your life as a kind of person you're not and no one believe you when you said you weren't that -- and then treat that other player with compassion.
When you support someone who is out about being transgender, you give yourself more room to be the person you are. You could be the most manly guy or the most feminine woman, but when you support another person's right to be themselves and their gender, you actually become more fully yourself. Try it out.
Turn to the Drama Mamas for more about coping with transgender issues in WoW, including a post by guest Drama Mama Seraphina Brennan, a former senior editor at our sister publication Massively, who has has personal experience with this issue. Learn more about Rachel Gold and her book at Being Emily.
"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) ... a blind ex-serviceman and the guildmates who keep him raiding as a regular ... and a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.