We interviewed Alayna Cole, founder of ‘Queerly Represent Me’ about the representation of the LGBT+ community in gaming

DtL: Hi Alayna! Could you tell us a bit about Queerly Represent Me? 

Alayna: Queerly Represent Me is primarily a database of games that feature queer content. It is also a home for resources about queer representation in games, including data collected and articles written by me, and work provided by other researchers and writers. The database started as a private collection, designed to help me keep track of games I was researching in my academic and journalistic work about queer representation; during that process, I decided to make the resources public so that anyone interested in queer representation could make use of the research I was doing. We are currently in the middle of a major update that will introduce a number of useful new features, which will be released before the end of the year.

DtL: Why do you think something like QRM is important?

Alayna: QRM is important because representation is important. By collating and talking about the representation that does exist, as well as how it positively and negatively impacts the audiences who engage with it, we can help promote change. The easiest way to see more games with queer content is to clearly and rationally show developers what works well, what doesn’t work, and why. I think it also helps that the suggestions on QRM are curated by someone who is also a developer, game design lecturer, and journalist; it helps me to ensure the dreams of our audience are presented in a realistic way that is influenced by a range of perspectives.

“QRM is important because representation is important”

 

DtL: When you built the database, did you notice any reoccurring trends?

Alayna: I’ve found plenty of trends, and I actually spoke about them at the Digital Games Research Association Australia conference a couple of weeks ago. A summary of my conference presentation and a related paper should be available on QRM’s ‘resources’ page soon. Some of the key trends are a lack of asexual representation, diverse genders (transgender and non-binary genders), and diverse relationship structures (such as polyamory). Of the queer representation that does exist, a lot of it is focused on same-gender relationships, particularly between women. It is often presented to audiences in a way that is very focused on sexual behaviour, stereotypes, and what can be seen as attractive from the perspective of the ‘male gaze’. There aren’t many explicitly bisexual characters, with developers tending to instead focus on creating playersexual characters (who are attracted to the player no matter their gender).

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/about-qrm2-1.png”]

 

DtL: Is the landscape of gaming changing? Has there been been an improvement in LGBT+ representation?

Alayna: There have definitely been more games with queer content released in recent years than there has been in the past. There are a couple of key reasons for this, I think: firstly, more easy-to-use game engines are allowing independent developers to produce games that reflect their own diverse experiences; and secondly, our insistence that queer (and other) representation is important is not going unheard by triple-A developers. The games industry itself is slowly becoming more diverse too in terms of who is working at these larger companies, and that’s making it harder for developers to simply lean on ‘default’ characters. It’s a slow process, but we’re moving forward.

“Our insistence that queer (and other) representation is important is not going unheard by triple-A developers”

 

DtL: Do you think a lack of representation/visibility in the media we consume has broader effects on society?

Alayna: A lack of diverse representation in media definitely has broader effects on society, just as increased representation does. Increasing representation has two key benefits: it helps those within minority groups establish a greater sense of identity and belonging; and it exposes those outside the represented groups to diverse perspectives, which can help them develop more empathy and understanding. Without the positive impacts that representation brings, we have members of minority groups who lack relatable role models and who have lower self-esteem, and we have less empathy in the world. Empathy is what we need if we are going to address issues such as prejudice, discrimination, bullying, and hate crime, which are harming individuals and communities.

“We have members of minority groups who lack relatable role models and who have lower self-esteem”

 

DtL: What is next for QRM?

Alayna: QRM just received a major update, adding a spreadsheet view to the database, as well as new information to help users, researchers, and press. This update took hundreds of (unpaid) hours to implement, so I’m taking a short break on adding new features for now. Next on the list is better integration of social media so that entries can be shared and discussed more easily. I also want to add more categories, so that games can be searched through and sorted by the identities that are being represented. I’m still adding new entries to the database all the time thanks to tips from the community, and am working on feature articles and academic papers that help spread this research further.

 

www.queerlyrepresent.me

Follow Queerly Represent Me on Twitter and/or Facebook.

Vesper blogs about identifying as non-binary

Life would be easier if it came with a guidebook.

If it did, maybe it wouldn’t have taken me 27 years to realise that I didn’t actually have to subscribe to society’s assertion that everyone is either male or female. At the very least, ripping the book to shreds in a fit of rage would have made for great stress relief. Then again, had there been such a book I probably wouldn’t have grown up to be the person that I am today and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Hello, my name’s Vesper. I’m a 31 year old non-binary person who’s here today to tell you that gender is a much more beautifully complex thing than society would have you believe. That some people, such as myself, are neither male nor female but a different gender(s) entirely.

“Some people, such as myself, are neither male nor female”

 

Unlike some who struggled with the gender that society assigned them at birth from a young age, I grew up not actively thinking about gender. While I wasn’t oblivious to society categorising me as one thing as opposed to another, I was content to shrug off society’s assumptions. It wasn’t until adolescence when the background noise from society and my peers became increasingly difficult to ignore. It wasn’t until over a decade of denial and inner conflict later that I happened to come across the word “genderqueer” when researching my sexuality and all things LGBT+, which of course included the word “transgender,” a word I’d never heard of before.

The instant I discovered that there are, in fact, more genders than male and female, everything changed. While this may sound cliché and exaggeratory, the best way I can describe it is that it was like having gone through life for 27 years without glasses not realising just how blurred my vision had been until finally seeing it in focus with glasses for the first time. Everything made perfect sense! I was (am) neither male nor female, but a different gender entirely! I am maverique, one of many non-binary genders which are neither male nor female.

“I ran into criticism and rejection of genderqueer and non-binary people”

 

It wasn’t long at all before I started trying to immerse myself in LGBTQIA spaces online and no sooner had I done so than I ran into criticism and rejection of genderqueer and non-binary people. As someone who was brand new to discussion of sexuality and gender in general, it was incredibly hard not to internalise such negativity, especially since it was coming from people who I saw as my “senior” in the community. At the time, it was especially hard because the internet was my only means of accessing LGBTQIA spaces. Feeling under attack in the only space that I had caused me a lot of pain. However, having finally found words and a sense of commonality that made me feel comfortable in myself for the first time in my life, I sure as hell wasn’t about to let take that away from me. I chose to retreat from such spaces and create my own on Tumblr and YouTube.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/vv.jpg”]

 

It’s been 4 years since I was first able to put a word to my gender. A lot has changed and yet it hasn’t at the same time. I’ve watched as so much growth has taken place within online non-binary and genderqueer communities and even as the identities themselves have grown and changed. In 4 (relatively short) years, I’ve also seen online LGBTQIA communities in general grow, change and yet remain the same. There have seemingly been shifts in the negativity and bullying, but at the end of the day it’s essentially the exact same hurtful thing it has always been, sadly. Unlike before, however, I now have access to offline LGBTQIA spaces. I’m also out to select family members and friends, which has brought with it new challenges.

“I actually never intended to come out to anyone in my extremely religious family”

 

Truth be told, I actually never intended to come out to anyone in my extremely religious family. I ended up being outed time and time again in part thanks to my own social media presence. Make no mistake, being outed is a pleasant experience and I do wish things had happened differently, but 2 years after my first outing to my minister of a mother, I’m finally in a place where I can look back on it all and be glad to be where I am now. My being non-binary continues to be the biggest thing that my family struggles to understand and come to terms with about me, but things have improved a lot in 2 years.

Navigating LGBTQIA spaces as someone who is neither male nor female continues to be very challenging at times. That said, every day awareness and support of non-binary people grows. More than ever, non-binary people are carving out spaces for ourselves and I’m incredibly grateful for this. It means that even when faced with negativity elsewhere, there are spaces for us to retreat to for support and affirmation when need be. I’m so proud of how far things have come for non-binary people in 4 short years. There is still a long way to go, but I’m more confident than ever that we’ll get there.

“Self-care and self-awareness are perhaps two of the most important things I’ve learned since coming out to myself”

 

To exist in this world as a non-binary person is a challenge. Even more than that, life itself is an act of defiance. There are days when that fact makes it all the harder to get through the day, but there are also days when that fact can be empowering for me, making me love myself and everything that I am all the more.

Self-care and self-awareness are perhaps two of the most important things I’ve learned since coming out to myself. If you’re non-binary, genderqueer or otherwise struggling to navigate and survive in this society that we live in, I encourage you to take time out of life for yourself. Shut everyone and everything else out and check-in with yourself. Acknowledge how you’re feeling, allow yourself to feel that way and love yourself because of, or in spite of it. Be kind to yourself because you’re just being you and you’re doing your best. That’s more than enough.

Society in general, including the LGBTQIA community, has a lot of learning to do. In the meantime, keep being as awesome as you are. Let those of us who are in a position to try and help society learn, who are able to offer support/encouragement to others, do our thing.

“Navigating LGBTQIA spaces as someone who is neither male nor female continues to be very challenging at times”

 

Perhaps you’re reading this not as a non-binary person yourself, but as someone who’s curious and wants to learn more. There’s a lot that someone who isn’t non-binary can do to support those who are, but in my humble opinion one of the biggest things you can do is listen. Tips on what you can do to be a good ally to non-binary people can be found in the things that we say.

I may be but one non-binary person among many, but I’m one non-binary person among many who can genuinely say that things have gotten better for them and who is determined to help support and raise awareness for non-binary people. Stay strong! And hit me up anytime.

Written by Vesper

Follow Vesper on YouTube

Categories
Gender

Gender As a Spectrum

“Gender is not sane. It’s not sane to call a rainbow black and white” –  Kate Bornstein (American author and gender theorist)

Gender As a Spectrum is a book that challenges the notion of gender binaries and explores the lives of trans and genderqueer people in an intimate series of photographs and interviews. We spoke to photographer Joseph Wolfgang Ohlert and co-author Kaey to find out more about the inspiration behind the book and what it means to be trans and genderqueer in 2016.

 DtL: How did the idea for the book come about?
Joseph: A mutual friend introduced us. That was also the evening I photographed Kaey for the first time.
Kaey: I already knew who Joseph was and what he did, though. Back then I was working for a fashion magazine in Hamburg, I was already aware of him and his work. I‘d basically followed him from the beginning. That was about three or four years ago. I‘d wanted for a while to make a book about transgender people and wrote to Joseph about it. He already had a similar idea, and had already started on a project.
Joseph: I was sick of just model boys and model photography and wanted to start something a little more personal. During my time at high school I elected to take an art course with the name ‘Man, Woman and Individuality’, and I wanted to pick up on that again. I was out on the scene a lot and wanted to do something for the community, something which I felt was missing, something that I could make comprehensible in my pictures. When Kaey wrote to me, I was in the middle of my preparations for my final paper at the Ostkreuz School of Photography in Berlin. I’d already been dealing with gender for that, and our ideas fitted together well.

“There are more than just ‘men’ and ‘women’”

 

Kaey: Three years ago, not long before I started taking hormones, I had a phase in which I had a very strong urge to read some literature about it. I noticed there was nothing available, or just nonsense. It was absurd that there was nothing which reflected my reality, and that of many of my transgender friends. I felt that something was missing and I imagined what I would like to find. I wanted to portray people in their differences, their own identities, their personal pathways and their own words. Not written by some author conveying a story. Not from reporters or non-trans people who had written a book, but transgender people writing about transgender people. I think it‘s nicer to speak up for yourself.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/joseph_wolfgang_ohlert_1.jpg”]

 

DtL: The theme of gender identity is a sensitive and intimate issue for many; how did you approach the subjects and the interviews?
Kaey: From the get-go it was clear that the book and the topics should take the personal perspective. In practice, I decided because of that to conduct the interviews via email, so as to give people the time and personal space that they each needed. Sexuality and gender are often confused by many people and it was important to show that there are all kinds of genders, and that they also have all sorts of sexualities. That gender in and of itself doesn’t explain sexuality, but raises the question ‘how do I define myself and what I am into?’

“Sexuality and gender are often confused by many people”

 

Joseph: We wanted to have questions that were pretty intimate, but it was up to each person how they wanted to present themselves and which questions they wanted to answer. Some do it with humour and eloquence, without having to reveal their innermost selves. It was supposed to be a framework, so that people had the opportunity to say what was important to them.
Kaey: Ultimately, that opened up many dimensions for us; some portraits are very detailed, while others are very playful. Some respond succinctly, others put a lot of reflection into it. Although they are always the same questions, the variations in the answers made it very exciting.

DtL: Joseph – as a cis man, how did you arrive at the issue of gender, what relationship do you have to it?
Joseph: In Berlin you’re confronted with the fact that there are more than just ‘men’ and ‘women’, especially in the scene. Questions such as ‘who am I, and what makes me different from other people?’ arise. They’re thoughts which are fundamental to my understanding of human beings and how I deal with others. I always start with myself, with looking at myself objectively. The inequities between male/female, gay/straight, trans/cis – where are the boundaries, where do I locate myself in it and how can I disrupt it? I realised that there’s no fixed aspect of my gender and my sexuality that I could define as ‘me’, but that it is fluid. You can drift. You’re not trapped at any one point even if you, as I do, define yourself for example as a ‘man’. The book is therefore for me an analogy through which to understand life. Gender is a theme for everybody, and is part of every identity.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/joseph_wolfgang_ohlert_21.jpg”]

 

DtL: The book doesn’t limit itself to one side of gender identity, but it contains portraits of people from transgender to drag, binary to non-binary, it also includes performed, playful aspects of gender roles. What was particularly important when selecting the subjects?
Kaey: In the beginning it was my idea to make a book about transgender people, but Joseph was very connected to the community around the drag scene, having taken a lot of pictures at parties. That is what captivated him. We wanted to then open the issue up and not confine ourselves to transgender themes. It also made sense for the title of the book, and the question of how people define their gender. The hook was to present people who do that differently to the norm.
Joseph: Maintaining a balance was difficult. A lot of the work was in persuasion. These are the real lives of the people whose portraits are presented here, and that’s sometimes a very profound thing. Suddenly people show up who want to show that to the world; something that intimate. This isn’t a scientific study for which we sought and collected, but a documentary collection of portraits of personal encounters. It was primarily always about the person and not necessarily about having to have a particular facet of gender represented. I didn’t want the work to take a back seat in order to keep everybody happy. The book was important to me, but it was also a lot of fun. I would like the people to feel the same joy when they look at the pictures that I felt when I took the images, and not to think about what could still be missing.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/joseph_wolfgang_ohlert_18.jpg”]

 

DtL: For a while now, transgender issues have received the attention of the mainstream media. What is of particular personal importance to you about this new attention? Do you think your book could make a contribution to it?
Kaey: As a transgender woman I feel any visibility is important. When I was 18, there was no Internet, and what is possible today is worlds apart from that. Fortunately, there is now a limitless well of information if you‘re young and don’t know where you can, or want to position yourself. That well must continue to be filled, though. Transgender people and people who do not fit into standard categories still go too much ignored. It takes many voices, and it’s good that in the book there’s no Conchita Wurst or Caitlyn Jenner represented, people who get their press anyway. The average person, unfortunately, always hears more of the ‘shock stories’. It‘s great to have a book that just shows people as people, and I think that is still relatively rare for transgender people. When we give transgender people the opportunity to speak about themselves, it lends a whole new colour to the discussion. I know from personal experience that when cis people write about you, you’re always one of the very special butterflies behind glass – something to be admired before moving on to the next exhibit. When we speak for ourselves, I find it much more authentic.

“As a transgender woman I feel any visibility is important”

 

Joseph: Transgender has always been there, it’s not a new thing or a trend. Three or four years ago, when I started with this theme, there was no Caitlyn or Conchita in public
life. The increased attention was good for the work, though, and it has further convinced me that other people are interested in and being confronted by it. Due to the greater media attention, more people dare to stand up for themselves, and our work seeks to inspire people – that they can be who they are.
Kaey: I also find it important that it’s a book and not an exhibition. A book is something wonderful, something immortal! I would like to leave something for all those who come after me. Who do you have in Germany that talks about it? The book may be international, but in Germany we have far fewer icons like Caitlyn Jenner or Laverne Cox. Of course there are already conversations taking place about this topic in art contexts. The fact that we offered people the chance to tell their own stories themselves creates a great framework for discussion. Through Joseph’s eye an aesthetic is proposed which has nothing to do with bird-of-paradise readings, or representing people as sad freaks. Joseph has a flair for capturing people in their emotional presence. Not with a suffering gaze, but honestly. Sometimes melancholic…
Joseph: … and proud.
Kaey: Yes, proud too – it‘s a talent to capture emotions, whichever they may be.
Joseph: You can’t make a book on talent alone. Without Kaey this project would never have become what it is now. I am very glad that we found each other, with such a basic trust, and that something this valuable could come of it. We‘ve both grown through it. My photography has also evolved a lot over these two years. When you photograph someone, it is always a kind of convergence. It’s my desire to hold onto that – that interpersonal interaction of commitment that is created. As an artist, it is often as if that encounter would never have happened if I hadn’t taken a photo.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/joseph_wolfgang_ohlert_4.jpg”]

Gender As a Spectrum is available from [email protected]