Building a Queer Geek Butch, Part 3

This meandering bit of memoir is brought to you courtesy of thoughts inspired by friends of the Glitter Collective: Pixel Therapy Podcast, where a couple of very smart and creative queer folks talk to other very smart and creative queer folks about videogames and their feelings around them. Check them out! They posted an interview with me and my brilliant wife a bit more than a week ago!

But don’t blame them for these posts — they’re all my own doing. And Part 1 of this set of posts is here and Part 2 is here.


Things do get better

In the mid-90s, I escaped grad school, an abusive straight relationship, and the temp work hellhole that was my life. I got a fantastic girlfriend, moved back in with my parents temporarily, and started on the road to what would become my actual career. And still videogames and gaming were some of the things saving my sanity as I detoxed from the last phase of my life.

This is a tiny, tiny corner of my ttRPG collection. As is true and proper with all people who play tabletop games.

It was a return to my days of playing on the PLATO terminal in my parents’ basement, except now the computer was a Mac IIci and the modem was faster and didn’t require me to plug the handset of the phone into it. Now my games were text-based RPGs on MUDs, MUCKs, and MUSHes. Not only did it enable me to continue to play RPGs — because coming out of an environment where every evening was gaming was definitely a cold-turkey kind of experience — but it enabled me to talk to my girlfriend for free when I wasn’t at her apartment the next state over, because we were still in the time of long-distance charges (I still can’t think of the amount of long-distance charges I racked up my disastrous first semester of college without cringing). With another friend, I ran the last LARP I have so far run, a mashup mostly-vampire White Wolf game.

My co-GM was attending Bryn Mawr College at the time, so we got to run our LARP in this amazing room.

The next year, my girlfriend and I moved in together and I ran a Mage: The Ascension campaign for her and some of our friends. I think we stabilized at 7 players every Monday night. The gaming group included a couple folks who were working on writing the 4th edition of Ars Magica (as you can see in the photo at the top of this post, I never ended up with anything beyond 3rd edition) and a larger bunch who stumbled into being test players for Magic: the Gathering. If I recall correctly, they were test-playing the Ice Age expansion and possibly the one right after that? I had left most of my MtG cards behind when I left my Evil Ex, so I wasn’t really playing at the time, and the test-playing kind of burnt out everyone else in the group (they hit a point where they could play a round in something like 30 seconds because the initial plays determined the rest of the outcome). Therefore, I never got back into collectible cards games.

I found myself a new comic shop. I’d left all but my favorite comics behind (I’ve written about my long history with comics elsewhere), so I started picking up compilation books and new issues of Teen Titans and Legion of Superheroes, as well as Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting.

After more than a year of our characters fumbling through their magical awakening and their frosh year of college, I managed to wrap up the Mage campaign around the time everyone decided to move to New England.

Whereupon I moved back in with my parents while everyone else moved away and I jobhunted in hopes of following them north. MUSHing was my lifeline of talking to people and gaming. I met some folks online that I’m still friends with today, though I’ve never met them in meatspace, plus I was still able to talk to my girlfriend without racking up long distance charges. The main MUSH I settled on was GarouMUSH, which started in 1993 and still exists now. I was online so much and running so many scenes that I was invited to join the Wizard Corps (the game administrators). I wasn’t a Wiz for long, probably 7 months or so? But it was an interesting and valuable experience.

I also decided to get back into console gaming, so I toddled down to Gamestop to buy my first Playstation. I bought a couple games, but then discovered a tiny hole in the wall shop that rented videogames, which was brilliant. I don’t remember all the games I tried out, but the games I do remember trying included:

  • Alundra
  • Castlevania
  • Crash Bandicoot
  • Grandia
  • Loaded and Reloaded (a friend showed me the latter and I ended up buying it)
  • Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee (bought this one and barely played it)
  • Resident Evil (taught me that I can’t cope with games with either zombies or jump scares)
  • Tomb Raider

My girlfriend, meanwhile, saw the opening credits and gameplay for Final Fantasy VII at a friend’s house and raved about it to me. I went and bought the game based on that, and I too loved the opening credits, but just couldn’t really get into the game until I moved up to live with her. Once I was moved in, we shut ourselves into our room, set up the TV and Playstation at the foot of the bed, and played FF7 together every night until we finished it. As soon as we finished the first playthrough, we found a walkthrough online and started over to hit all the things we’d missed (like getting the Knights of the Round limit break and such like).

I landed the first of my science/tech writing jobs, which was an amazing step up incomewise. I started my own MUSH (with the most rudimentary hand-coded HTML background website ever), riffing off the White Wolf games and fixing things I didn’t like about them. That ran for a solid 3 years before I handed it off to someone else to run. I also started another tabletop Mage game, this time, teaming up with my girlfriend to run the game.

Around this same time, our roommate brought home the first tape of Revolutionary Girl Utena.

At the time, only first 13 episodes of the series were under license in the US. We chewed through them like crazy. A butch girl in a magical high school and her “bride” that she duels for? Yes, please, and where was this when I was a teenager?

I immediately went and spoiled myself for the end of the series because… anime. I didn’t want to invest my emotions in this series only to have her go straight at the end with one of the crappy dudes. I wanted her to get the girl.

She didn’t end up magically straight. Also, the story is convoluted and full of abuse themes and characters with complex backstories and there was a canonical lesbian. That was good enough for me.

Anthy and Utena, from one of the art books. Image from Ohtori.nu, a fansite that’s been around for nearly as long as I’ve been an Utena fan.

Good enough that I immediately got all the fansubs to tear through, and more than 20 years later, Utena is still my primary icon on much of my social media and blogging, and my friends and family are still giving me Utena merch as gifts. My name just about everywhere online is “heaven’s calyx” (a literal translation of the kanji making up “Tenjou Utena”). I still have my ancient fansite up. And I spent 10 years writing an epic novel-length after-Ohtori fic (as well as a bunch of other Utena fics). I would be remiss if I didn’t link to the many amazing pieces of fanart I received from readers over the years for Archimage.

We watched other anime than Utena, of course, having gotten back into anime via friends showing us Neon Genesis Evangelion. We were incensed by the terrible ending of Vision of Escaflowne. Our friends, one of whom I had originally bonded with over Star Blazers and Robotech back in high school, showed us other shows, like various Gundam shows. We got a Chinese-with-English-subs collection of Miyazaki movies to soothe ourselves with. (We’d originally seen Totoro as a terrible multigenerational fansub videotape where the picture was so bad we couldn’t even see the soot sprites to understand that scene of the movie. Getting the DVDs was fantastic because we could finally see everything.) But Utena was my channel into meeting other folks who were into similar things in anime, especially girl/girl romance. I stumbled into Yuricon and various folks involved with it, and even helped in a small way with the first convention.

You know, it might just be time to re-watch Totoro.

Our gaming group went through a lot of different tabletop campaigns, and I actually started playing in other people’s games from time to time. The systems became steadily more homegrown. One of the group members wrote his own science fiction game, so we playtested the system extensively in a fantasy setting and later in his SF setting. (He used the SF setting for two novels and a third in the works.)

In August 2002, I started blogging on Livejournal, where I ended up meeting and following a lot of fellow geeks of a similar age. It was the first time I ever managed to journal in any meaningful way, and I’ve been at it ever since (though I migrated to Dreamwidth after the LJ management kerfluffles of the late aughts). I hit 10,000 posts in mid-2017. The lion’s share of my blogging has been just silly personal updates, but I also did a not-inconsiderable amount of writing and fandom via LJ and DW that I’ll probably write about later.

In the land of videogames, we chewed through Final Fantasy 8, Final Fantasy 9 (my personal favorite), and Final Fantasy X. We’d discovered Wild Arms, and played that and Wild Arms 2 and Wild Arms 3 (we attempted Wild Arms 4, but it was terrible; we’d also been introduced to Persona, though we failed to get the first one and ended up playing through Persona 2: Eternal Punishment (and have never played Innocent Sin, despite it being imported finally and also gay). Best of all, we discovered the Suikoden series, and fell in love particularly with Suikoden II, since that started out with Maximum Angst.

How much angst can get packed into pixel art? I would argue that Suikoden managed more than the Final Fantasies.

After May 2004, when gay marriage became legal in our state, my girlfriend and I got married, which was an unexpected delight! I say unexpected because when we got together in 1995, the idea of gay marriage was just… ridiculous. No one thought it would happen in our lifetimes. (That’s aside from the fact that many those of us who grew up in the 80s didn’t think our lifetimes were going to be particularly long, even if we weren’t part of the demographics that particularly suffered from the AIDS crisis.)

May 17, 2004, Cambridge, MA, City Hall. We were somewhere over by the YAY! sign. I have never been in a place so incandescent with joy in my life as I was that night.
(Photo: John Niedermeyer)

I was still closeted to my biofamily at that point. I mean, I was living far away, so they didn’t know about my day-to-day life. And I was afraid because I certainly knew people whose families had disowned them. (Intellectually, I knew my family wouldn’t do that, but when the pervading narrative is one of “I didn’t think they’ve throw me out but then they surprised me” one might be forgiven for fear.) But I felt that I needed to come out to them before I got married. (To be fair, a considerable portion of my extended family would’ve been furious if I hadn’t told them they were getting a new family member.) So I pulled up my butch pants and came out in October 2004, and we got married in December, in our Justice of the Peace’s living room. We couldn’t go to my family’s Xmas celebration, unfortunately, because immediately after we got married, I came down with chicken pox from the attenuated-virus varicella vaccine I’d been talked into when I went to get my blood test for our marriage license. (I never had chicken pox as a child.) It was, therefore, a quiet Xmas at home.

Looking back, 2003-2004 was a major time of transition for me: we bought a house, I got laid off from my First Real Career Job, got a new job with Growth Potential, and we got married. None of which were things that I thought, as a big-ass fat queer with a career I thought was destroyed when I was thrown out of grad school, I would ever have.

Our gaming group and local social group was completely overhauled by two couples moving out of the country and by my wife and I moving out of the city. The internet was taking off and fandom was galloping along with it. My wife was splitting her time between doing her dissertation work and teaching.

Here I was in my mid-30s, and I was adulting furiously.

This seems like another good time to break. Next week in Part 4, we’ll see how far we get in time. Maybe we’ll even manage to get to current day? Who knows?

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