Sunday, July 13, 2014

GaymerX and the Power of Safe Spaces

It's the final day of GaymerX2! Unfortunately, I didn't go this year because of my upcoming Japan trip, but In honor of this awesome con I thought I'd write about my own experience at last year's inaugural outing!

So before I get started, I'll give some background on myself. Real talk here, guys, get ready.... I'm gay. Shocking I know! Especially given my blog's title and rainbow colored marquee! I'm also from a small town in a small state and come from a very religious family. My parents don't just go to church every Sunday, but every day! Suffice to say they are not the most accepting of me and from a very young age I learned to guard myself as a survival mechanism. This "guard" is more like a constant awareness of my surroundings and careful analysis of any new person I encounter. Sort of like a constant stream of questions that runs through the back of my head when I meet someone: Is this person "safe"? If they find out I'm gay will they beat me up or verbally harass me? I don't want to speak for everyone in the LGBTQ community here, but I feel like this is something a lot of us can relate to in our daily life. As I've gotten older and moved to a really liberal city, I've learned to relax more and more, but I still feel like this guard is always looming in the back of my mind.

Growing up, the fact that I'm gay always made me feel like an outsider in my family, but then because of my gamer status I didn't always find solace in the gay community either. Matt Conn, One of the founders of GaymerX, has mentioned being a gamer in the gay community almost requires a second "coming out" which is very true. On revealing my passion for gaming, I've had LGBTQ folks act like I'm a weirdo or sometimes have even met with instant dismissal if it comes up in a dating situation. (Although with my boyfriend, I made sure to lay everything out in the open from the start, "Hi there! I'm a Scorpio, I like long walks on the beach, and here's how many different GameBoys I own!") But even though both examples I mentioned are very different situations, it's possible for an LGBTQ gamer to almost feel like a double outsider.

Despite all this, an awesome thing happened when I attended the first GaymerX. I felt an overwhelmingly positive sense of community even with total strangers. Whether they were lesbian, straight, transgender, or gay everyone was there to celebrate their passion for all things nerdy and were just basking in all the love and support. I saw couples holding hands without judgment, strangers swapping tips for Dark Souls while waiting in line, random games of Magic: The Gathering popping up, and most importantly everyone just being respectful to one another. I've never been in a new situation before when all my mental blaster shields were down and I could completely be myself. When the famous GLaDOS assisted proposal happened, there were very few dry eyes in the room and it felt like a large group of friends sharing a touching moment together.

(Chris and Koen's adorable Portal themed proposal officiated by the fabulous Ellen McLain.)

During the closing ceremonies the head of security announced there were zero incidents where they had to intervene and zero reports of harassment during the whole convention. This is the essence of a safe space. I immediately thought back to times when my female friends faced harassment at other conventions or times where I had to pretend to be their boyfriend in order to rebuke unwanted advances from a pushy stranger. I wanted to run and tell them everything about GaymerX and to bring them next year to share the experience.   

Sadly, I wasn't able to come back for GaymerX2 but I'm glad to see that many other people are having a blast there right now and feeling the same sense of safety and acceptance that I experienced last year. It's a shame this is the last annual GaymerX, but I can only imagine the amount of effort that goes into pulling a three-day convention together and it's totally understandable that the volunteers can't keep it up every year. I feel like after just two years the con has done a ton for the LGBTQ gaming community through visibility alone. It's also shined a spotlight on queer gamers everywhere and showed gaming companies that inclusivity matters. I know the ideal is to not have a need for safe spaces like this, but until we reach that point I hope GaymerX will still continue on through smaller events or become the inspiration for other conventions. 

3 comments:

  1. Well said, Marty. I'm sad that I never got to attend GaymerX, as by all accounts it sounds as if it was a great addition to the gaming/gayming community. Here's hoping someone else stands up to take GaymerX's place -- or maybe some/all of the other gaming cons will work to become safe spaces as well?

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    1. Awww, yeah hopefully you'll get a chance to go someday when it comes back! A nichiest panel of them all with you, Anne, and shidoshi would be awesome! ^^

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  2. This is something that I think goes over a lot of peoples' heads when it comes to this stuff. I hear a lot of people ask "Why do they need a gay gamer con?" just like people asked why women wanted a female-oriented con back in the day. The answer is the same for both - it's to create a safer space where people can feel less alone.

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