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Or: How I learned to stop worrying and be inclusive without talking about America’s Next Top Model
Last week I talked about sexuality at the game table and how it comes up; I promised, in that vein, to provide "practical tips and tricks" for "dealing with" gaymers, and so here we are.
You may raise an immediate objection: "But Jason!" you may say, with indignation, "queers don’t need to be ‘dealt with’, they’re people too, you know." And you would of course be correct. I mean "deal with" here in the sense that anyone "deals with" someone else, someone different, someone other. Because, like it or not, we are all different and we all "deal with" the people around us, day in and day out (even- or perhaps especially- our loved ones).
So you may say these bits of advice, as it were, are less about "dealing with" or "handling" someone so much as positive ways to make the game table a more inviting, open, inclusive place- for gaymer and non-gaymers alike.
1. Don’t be a jerkface.
2. Don’t make a big deal about someone’s sexuality.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes people over-compensate in an attempt to be "inclusive" or "welcoming" or "accepting" or whatever. I definitely appreciate that (some) people want to be super inclusive and super accepting, especially right after someone’s just come out. This is great, but it’s also worth remembering that sometimes the homos just want to be treated like people and not be constantly reminded about All of the Gay Stuff constantly.
(Side note: I’m dwelling a little on this point because several people have geekmailed me and asked me for advice on this very issue [which, incidentally, is fine], so I thought I’d briefly touch on it here.)
Your mileage may vary, of course: the level of reaction you should/ought/might want to have when someone you know comes out is going to be different depending on how good your relationship with them is. If it’s a gaming partner or a casual friend, you might just want to subtly mention how it’s cool with you. Alternately, if it’s a gaming partner or a casual friend and you know they’re having a rough time with it, it may not be a bad idea to go out of your way to make sure they know that, whatever’s happening elsewhere, the gaming table is a safe place for them.
3. Don’t assume you have to behave any differently.
You really don’t, you know. You don’t have to talk about America’s Next Top Model (or Glee) just because there’s a ‘mo at the table. I have friends with whom I can discuss the antics of the Tyrannosaurus Banks, you don’t need to assume you have an obligation to talk about these things just because I’m around.
Similarly, you don’t need to apologize for your interests, either. In fact, this mostly just goes back to touch on a larger point: stereotypes are sometimes true, but mostly they’re stupid. That is, you don’t need to assume anything about me based on my sexuality; I’m a person, you’re a person, we all have interests, sometimes they will fit into a stereotypical box, sometimes into a stereotypical box with glitter. Whatever.
4. Don’t get all grossed out by dudes getting it on with dudes (or chicks with chicks, or whatever).
A common response whenever a heterosexual male encounters some guy-on-guy action (or perceived guy-on-guy action, or implied, or whatever), is, "Eww, man, gross." (See also: the phrase "no homo".) This is practically a socially conditioned response used by heteros to assert their own (non-homo) sexuality. It is also very silly.
Look, I get it; you have no interest in two dudes getting it on, either explicitly or implicitly. That’s fine. But, really, acting grossed out about it is awfully childish. I don’t act all grossed out and offended by the thought of two women getting it on; I’m certainly not interested in such a situation, I get nothing out of it, but it’s not going to send me running for the hills.
So, really, if such a possibility really does raise an "ick" factor with you, just keep it to yourself. Here’s an example: Last year I was playing DnD with my regular group in North Cakalaky and, on a break for dinner, the subject of attractive redheads came up (and how there weren’t very many attractive celebrity redheads). So, they were trying to think of some, and I offered up "Prince Harry" (whatever, he totally is). And the reaction was, "Okay, but can you think of another dude?" (I could not.)
The point is not that you necessarily have to solicit opinions so much as that simply treating a homo-opinion (when it comes up) the same as you would a hetero-opinion is the best thing to do. I’m not using the exchange above as an example because it was a bad thing; rather, I’m using it as an example because everything was completely fine, no one gave it a second thought, and no one was grossed out by it (or, if they were, it wasn’t mentioned).
5. Don’t use the word "gay" to describe something that isn’t, you know, gay.
Language matters. It does. The equivalence of "gay" with "stupid" in parts of our culture is troubling, it is unfortunate, and it is unacceptable. There is an agenda behind it and, though people may not realize that when they say it, tossing out "gay" as a descriptor for something that is stupid is only furthering our culture’s subconscious rejection of homosexuality.
Similarly, please don’t buy into the notion that there are "gay" things in the world. Glee is not gay. HGTV is not gay. RuPaul’s Drag Race is not gay (oooookay, maybe a little). The point is that these sorts of statements just feed back into the stereotypes I mentioned above. They aren’t helpful. And, really, objects can’t be gay. "Oh man, that shirt is so gay!" "Really? How do you know? Is it having sex with another dude-shirt?"
Fortunately, this one is pretty easy to subvert. A lot of people who use the term don’t even think about it, so simply pointing it out to them when it happens (though you should always be polite, obviously) is usually enough to end it. Alternately, you can take the tack in the quote above, and just use humor to get the point across. Just say something like, "Oh man, that is so heterosexual!" That usually gets the point across.
In a similar vein, don’t be afraid to call out straight-up bigoted language. Sometimes people say offensive things without even thinking about it, and it’s helpful to point this out. One should always be indefatigably polite; you’d be surprised at the dividends such an approach can yield. If someone uses words like "fag" or "dyke", it’s okay to say, "Hey, that kind of language isn’t appropriate".
Ensuring that the language being used in a gaming environment isn’t bigoted/offensive is a good way to ensure that the gaming experience is going to be a good one for everyone, regardless of their sexuality.
And that’s it, really. Gaymers don’t need to be "dealt with" like one deals with cleaning up a mess or doing chores or whatever. Rather, these are just small pointers on issues that might not be noticeable, that might seem small, but can ultimately make a positive difference.