Reposting with permission from David G. This is a good post on why conventions like GaymerX are needed.
Why Do We Need GaymerX?
I have the unique distinction of having been a guest at all four GaymerX events held to date: the first three in the U.S., and just last week in Sydney, Australia. It wasn’t something I’d set out to purposefully do, but now that it’s worked out that way I’ve gained some insight on how they compare to other videogame cons that don’t have the same focus on queer issues — of which I’ve been to more than my share over my 17 years working at BioWare.
The comparison seems to be of intense interest to some folks, those who ask the question, “why is a gay gaming con really needed?” They see those other cons as being big enough to accommodate all, and often have panels that deal with issues of representation and social justice anyhow, so why would any group willingly segregate themselves from the rest? Perhaps they see something like GaymerX and believe it elevates the “gay” as being far more important than the “gamer”, or they wrinkle their noses when phrases like “safe space” get tossed around.
I get it. I really do. I come from an era where sexuality wasn’t something you would consider even acknowledging in the gaming world, never mind treating as something worth representing. If you were gay, you just accepted the fact that entertainment would never show that aspect of your life as anything more than some character’s dirty little secret, or a funny gag. Nobody cared about what you thought or wanted, and maybe you even believed that’s the way it should be. The idea that anything else was even possible was completely foreign to you — as it was to me when BioWare first broached the subject in Knights of the Old Republic (2003) and then Jade Empire (2005). The idea to do so certainly didn’t come from me, and I was shocked when I heard we were doing it. I thought for certain the backlash would be both harsh and immediate, but that really didn’t come until later…at the time, it opened up my eyes regarding what was possible. I didn’t need to write stories that were solely meant for other people. I could also include some that were meant for me, or people like me. I was an intentional part of that vague group known as “the audience”, not just an incidental one. It’s taken a lot of time to get used to what that means. Indeed, the idea that we’re at a point where groups can argue about the type of representation and how much, instead of whether it was possible to be there *at all*, really shows how far we’ve come.
But I digress. My point is that, when I went to the very first GaymerX in 2013, I had some of these same thoughts myself. The idea that anyone needed a “safe space” seemed like the sort of coddling that was repellent to me, as if it was impossible to be both gay and a geek in a public space without having one’s precious feelings hurt. Coming from the era I did, “deal with it” was an attitude you heard a lot, so I suppose that’s what I instinctively expected from others even if I should have known better. Gay or not, I’m still a white guy who’s been pretty fortunate. Not everyone has it as easy as me. So while I was interested in seeing what a “gay gaming con” had to offer, I was also wary.
It didn’t seem that different at first. Lots of cosplay, check. Lots of fan art and various indie games on display in the main hall, check. Discussion panels with lineups, check. Excited gaggles of folks clustered in the hallways or just looking exhausted, check. There was a distinct queer theme visible throughout, from the cosplay to the art to the games, but it didn’t seem THAT different from what I could get elsewhere. I’ll admit to wondering what it was that someone like me could really get out of this.
It wasn’t until the second day at that first con I realized my answer. I forget exactly what had happened, but it was something Very Gay ™, and I was so delighted I needed to gush to someone about it. The folks I’d come to the con with were elsewhere, so I turned to a pair of gents next to me and exclaimed, “Oh my God! Can you believe that?!” They were right there with me, and we babbled a bit over how you indeed wouldn’t see that just anywhere. There were a few finger snaps, some laughs, and then we went on our separate ways with big grins.
That’s when it hit me: I hadn’t employed the filter.
You may not have any idea what I mean by that. You may not need “the filter”. Indeed, you might be queer yourself and not even be actively aware of it, because it’s always with you — that filter which you use to constantly censor all your thoughts and feelings based on the comfort levels of everyone else around you. You have to judge where you are, what sorts of people may be there, and what’s okay to talk about. What’s okay to expose yourself to. Can I hold my boyfriend’s hand? Can I notice the handsome man on the other side of the room without it perhaps being interpreted as an ogle and thus an affront to his masculinity? Can I shout “YASSS QUEEN” when one of my friends shows up in a fierce dress? Is that guy actually giving me a dirty look, or is it my imagination? Does that mean I should be extra careful going back to my car later? I’m not even what I would call effeminate, but this filter is something I have to constantly employ. Every day. Of my entire life. No matter where I go, even to cons full of fellow geeks.
Except there. In that moment, I realized that I had turned to someone next to me and I was able to assume they’d also be gay — or, if not, they’d be okay with it. It made me realize how very different it was to suddenly not need that filter…even if it was just for a brief time. Those of you asking why GaymerX is even necessary just don’t understand. How could you? A “safe space” isn’t coddling — it’s liberating, as in the kind of freedom you don’t need because you enjoy it every day.
Another thing I’ve noticed over time, as well: the people who go to GaymerX seem to be happier. I don’t mean happy as in “gay” (though, sure, also that), but happy as in…they’re happy for everyone *else* as much as for themselves. They’re happy everyone is there. Queer communities do exist in many cities, but I’m not sure everyone has the chance to be part of them even when they’re present. For many attending something like GaymerX, this may very well be their first chance to experience the idea that they’re not alone anywhere that wasn’t online. At every one of these cons, I’ve seen groups actively inviting others to join them, people embracing total strangers and forming friendships that (I hope) could last far beyond the con’s end.
It’s enough to warm the cold cockles of even my jaded heart, enough to make me think these cons are worth far more than the themed discussion panels or the networking or what have you. It’s about community, about awareness, about fostering healthy attitudes among geeks from all walks of life, and thus I think it absolutely has a place alongside the other cons. Maybe one day it won’t be necessary, but for now I salute those who spend so much time and energy putting this together for others to enjoy (I’d name names, but I’d likely forget some folks who deserve mention and so I won’t) and wish both them and GaymerX all the best in the years to come.