Why the game's so gay - Bright Blades devblog #4
Because gay people exist and can be heroes too, end of discussion.
... Okay, sure, I can elaborate a bit more.
I'm not very good at the whole, "Being a normal dude" thing. Maybe it's because I'm autistic but the way other boys acted as a kid never made sense to me. For starters: why is so much male-male socialisation based on glorifed bullying? Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate a bit of lighthearted mick-taking, but once you start stealing peoples' stuff or kicking the backs of their chairs or shoving them down stairs, it stops being, "Just jokes" and crosses a line into full-blown cruelty to me. Yet, apparently, we're just supposed to suck this up because we're boys? Okay, but... why?
It's better when you hit adulthood and can more discernably choose who to befriend, instead of making the best of the bad situation of being trapped in a pond full of antisocial sharks, but I've recently realised that it's something that's still with me. I don't hate men, but I was always more comfortable making friends with women (and, as I learned after they started coming out, agender and non-binary people). I'll be honest and say that I'm not really sure why that was. Some have suggested it's because women are "more emotional" than men, so it's easier to read their mood, but I don't buy that because, 1) I don't know every woman on the planet and can therefore only speak for a small section of their gender, and 2) It's just not true in my experience anyway. Heck, as I said in a previous blog, I know women are just as capable of being stone-cold badasses as men.
So, what does this have to do with LGBT+ people? Well, remember when I said that I didn't really "get" the way most boys behave? I'm ashamed to say that didn't include their attitudes towards LGBT+ folks. I wasn't openly homophobic but I did do that, "I don't have a problem with gay people, but they don't have to be so gay about it" thing. The 2000s precursor to the modern, "I'm not homophobic but." The irony, of course, is that I didn't know any gay people. I, and a lot of other kids, just believed that gay people were out there, being gay, doing gay things that were openly gay because that's what we were being told by our conservative little English environment. By TV and teachers and other grown-ups in smart suits whom we'd been conditioned to think knew best. Even some of the left-leaning staff held attitudes along the lines of, "We don't have problems with gay people, but there's no reason to boast about it." It seemed like a reasonable compromise to stupid kids who didn't know what either of those words meant.
But, in hindsight, I think there was another element to it for me: self-preservation. I don't know what it's like for kids nowadays but there was a lot of homophobic bullying in the 2000s, even though no one in my year was gay (that I know of - I've cut almost all of them out of my life). And guess who got a lot of that? Now, I knew I liked girls because boys were stupid and cruel and smelled like sportsball and crotch sweat, but that didn't matter to them. It was just one more thing to bully me with, whether or not there were any truth to their claims didn't matter. My deepest desire, as a lonely autistic kid who didn't have any truly close friends in school, was just to "be normal" because I thought, if I was, no one would ever pick on me again, so I embraced ideas that seemed "normal" to me. Or, rather, I embraced ideas that the people who looked most "normal" to me had.
But then something miraculous happened: I got to university and grew up. I started being able to choose my own friends, and I ended up in crowds of fellow nerds that were mostly made up of gay and bisexual people. Those are the people who ended up becoming closest to me and, because they did, I realised that everything I'd absorbed was wrong. There wasn't some dramatic moment of character development, like having some great internal angst for months or some big Eureka moment in the rain, because I was just happy to finally have friends who liked me for who I was. Who they were and who they loved didn't matter. So, all that nonsense I'd been unwittingly indoctrinated into just fell by the wayside because it was never anything that I believed particularly in. It was just a shield I'd picked up while I was in a bad place and, once I realised that I no longer needed it and it was made of crap, I could drop it.
Thing is, though, just because you're not holding a turd doesn't mean you don't still have its stink on you. I had a big group of LGBT+ friends and I'd begun to understand that the world was unequal and we needed better opportunities for everyone, but it took me longer than it should have to realise the conservatism I'd come from was, in fact, the problem. Now, there were a few big shifts that whittled down the health bar of that my ignorant old ideas but, since going over them all would take too long, I'll just cut to the coup de grace. Basically, I realised that there was a surprisingly big overlap between the LGBT+ community and my own autistic group. I knew by now that there were efforts to "cure" gay people, and that they were wrong and had to be stopped, but I was horrified to learn the same thing had happened to autistic people. In fact, it's still going on.
The controversial Applied Behaviour Analysis was in part pioneered by Ole Ivar Løvaas, a psychologist who considered autistic people to be closer to monsters than people and advocated using violence to control our behaviours. Løvaas was also an advocate of conversion therapy, and endorsed using violence to discourage young boys from acting in "deviant" ways. The anti-vax movement was effectively born from the followers of a corrupt former doctor who tried to discredit the MMR vaccine for money. That movement believes it's worth risking children catching deadly diseases to avoid the (entirely made-up) possibility of them getting autism. Their very existence tells people like me that we'd be better off dead than what we are now. I imagine some people will find that atrocious sentiment horribly familiar.
But why are people like this? What did we ever do to deserve this? Well, I don't think it's really about what we did so much as it is just who we are. Autistic people don't behave like a lot of neurotypical folks. We think differently, we struggle to fit in with the rules they've set for the world, and we're almost never allowed to tell our own stories unless they're about how wonderful it is that we rose above our oh-so-tragic disability to become a contributing member of society. Strange how "success" for an autistic person so often looks like "conformity". Well, I don't find conformity to be a particularly admirable quality anymore. Not when the authority being appeased is as blatantly exclusive as the one we're living in.
And then, once I said that aloud, I realised, "I'm starting to sound a lot like my gay friends."
Those friends have consistently been my best friends. They've been unconditionally loving, shared my nerdy passions and introduced me to new ones, and have just helped me to realise that I can in fact feel happy and comfortable around other people. Perhaps more importantly, however, they've made me better myself. Whether they know it or not, they helped me realise what's wrong with the world and helped me become a better, more understanding person. Without their wisdom, influence, and general compassion, I don't know if I'd have been happy growing up. Call me corny, but I really do believe because of the impact I know they've had on me that the Power of Friendship really can change people. Being bad doesn't always take the form of being openly cruel and exclusive, sometimes it's just inheriting ignorance from people who didn't know better and clinging to that ignorance because you're afraid of being wrong. If I have any virtues, I'd like to think one of them is that I've always known I can be wrong, and I appreciate people telling me when I am because that helps me know how to avoid messing up again. And I don't want to mess-up with my friends. I love them too much to want to disappoint them.
Not-too-long ago, I was asked by someone if I'd ever considered getting into touch with LGBT+ rights groups and seeing if they'd help me promote Bright Blades. A tempting offer but I don't think that'd be right. I don't think I have the authority to dictate how gay stories should and should not be told, and there's plenty of amazing creators from that community who could use the help more than me. What I do hope, though, is that my silly little retro game about gay princesses and non-binary fencers just helps to normalise a community that, unfortunately, some gamers are still hostile to.
I'm not naive enough to think that I'm going to be the one magical boy who comes along and fixes everything. That's absurd. I do, however, hope that my game will find its way into the hands of a young lad who's feeling lost and confused. Maybe someone who's on the receiving end of a lot of homophobic bullying and is trying way too hard to "prove" he's not gay. If my game can get to one person like that, and help them realise that that mentality is toxic and wrong and that, actually, making a bunch of gay friends is a great way to get on the road to being a smarter, more empathetic person, though... Well, I'd be pretty happy with that result.
Happy Pride, my friends. Yeah, I know it was in June, but I'm proud to have you in my life every single day.