A List of Things I Don’t Really Know Much About

Time to time I’ll have someone ask me questions or suggest topics and while I’ll give everything a go, sometimes I have to use complex topics I don’t understand to launch off into spaces I do. That’s why Fullmetal Alchemist is a great place for me to talk about Paratext, but not so much a place for me to talk about guns.

Here then is a short, non-comprehensive list of things I don’t know much about

  • Cars. Pretty much all cars. I know the basics of how a car works, in that there’s an air-and-fuel engine that makes tiny explosions that drive some pistons and then the rest is just controlling that and making it work well, but that’s all I got.
  • On that front, competitive car racing. Grew up surrounded by it, met some very important people in it, no clue how it really works. I have a tiny bit of knowledge about one thing in NASCAR and that’s it.
  • Firearms. I’ve never handled one. I think I may have handled pieces of one at some point but I genuinely think I’ve never been closer than five feet away from a gun, and that was probably on a police constable’s hip. Any conversations I have about guns are going to focus on culture around them rather than the devices themselves.
  • Modern military operations or aesthetics. There’s a real space for people like me who know their asses from their elbows talking about ‘real soldiers’ and whatnot, but that ain’t me and if you see me commenting on it, odds are good it’s because I’ve read something someone who knows about it is saying.
  • Makeup. I have applied it once or twice to other people and experimented with using it to hide injury. I do not know anything meaningful about it.
  • Recent anime. I’ll check out some stuff that gets recommended, but only once it’s all done and nothing that needs a hundred damn episodes. I want enough familiarity to talk to people at cons, not enough to go all Mothers Basement on things.
  • Driving. See also cars: I don’t drive, don’t know how to drive.
  • Code. I have opinions about how people should talk about code but I don’t know how to do anything more complicated than Twine or Wiki coding.
  • Ways to divert the flow of history by killing, meeting or changing single events. I just don’t know this stuff. I know there are some people with firm opinions on it, and I think it’s a good idea to consider the ways that individuals have diverted history through accident, but I am by no means an expert.
  • Islam! I have some broad, general criticisms of religious institutions as institutions, but if you asked me to provide specific criticisms of Islam, I wouldn’t know where to begin, and it wouldn’t, I imagine, be interesting at all.
  • Oh and while we’re at it, Judaism! Everything I know about Judaism is filtered through a fundamentalist Christian background. I may know more than you expect, but I don’t know anything about Judaism as she is lived today. I may know some things that are meant to evoke jewish-ish-ness, but you can fill a barn with what I don’t know here.
  • Stand up Comedians! Lots of these guys blur together, for me! And I do mean guys!
  • Music. I can tell you how music and lyrics make me feel, but I am clueless about how to make music. I don’t know how to sing well, I just know how Choir drilled me.
  • Game Theory. This is a wing of mathematics, and I don’t know much about it. I do Game Studies, which looks at games as cultural entities. There is some interesting stuff with ‘Game Theory’ but it’s mostly about the idea of rational actors responding to incentives, like much of economics, rather than anything to do about how political agents move.
  • Carpentry. Not a clue. There’s this thing that Ian Bogost has talked about, with using the term to refer to doing philosophy through making stuff, but actual joinery and stuff? Not a clue.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh. It looks like a game that has nothing meaningful in common with the games I play, but looks like it does if you don’t know either game that well.

Why this?

Because I think it’s worth taking stock and thinking about what you’ve been asked. I want to be able to hold on to the ability to say I don’t know and not have that be a wound against me. It’s nice to feel like an expert, it really is – and I try to limit that to when I’m dealing with students, who I actually have an authority over and where my expertise is what they’re literally paying for.

Everywhere else, it’s important to hold on to your own capacity to be a dumbass.

June 2020 Wrapup!

June’s down! It’s been a bit of a fog right now, in no small part because some of my plans got spiked. One of my plans was to do give aways and spend money sending people my silly pride themed t-shirts that yes, I am proud of, but also, maybe, now is not the time to be making people do competitions for silly queer shirts. Generally, I feel now is a time to keep my head down, to try and promote some uplifting stuff, and not do things that make me seem like I’m trying to take advantage of this moment.

There were some articles I was happy with: The Speed of Crowds, which was meant to coincide with Games Done Quick, talked about the way that speedrunning was collaborative orchestral art. Holding On To Pride wound up being, it seems, very well-timed to suggest that folks had to be kind to themselves, and why Pride even matters at all. And the somewhat basically named Post About Being A Cis Boy explored how being aware of trans women’s experience did not require some mystic spiritual insight. I was also fond of my article about Burnwillow, who remains a character I think about from time to time when discussing the way we make limited assumptions about what things like trans and cis mean.

There were lots of shirts this month – I’d been banking designs so I could do them all in Pride Month like Last Year. That means we got four designs, one of which was about thirty designs, one of which was a much smaller nine and two more classic designs: Diceheart, This Shirt Says Trans Rights, Pronoun Stamps and Gay Wrath Month.

Here’s this month’s video, about Lore Finder! I really liked this game demo, and I’m really glad it dropped when it did, so I could spend my Pride Month game watching a nonbinary person bicker with their parent and turn into a tentacled slimebeast.

June was a month in which teaching came to a conclusion (for now) and my workload got weird (for now). I got to mark student projects, which I do genuinely like doing, because students are great. It was also a month for articles about Pride Month.

Pride month articles were great for everything but the Piles. I hit my limit real quick on the non-Pile articles, and I have been bubbling to see the reactions to this month’s how to be for… some time now. The Story and Game Piles – well, I figured what I’d do is save up all the really queer games and movies from 2019 and early 2020 and pick the best of them to Pile in Pride Month. That just didn’t seem to happen, though, which was a real bummer.

What’s more, I save some slots month to month so that when I hit the themed months, I can do things based on the reactions to existing articles, and uh, you know what hasn’t much happened this month? Everyone has other stuff on their mind.

Story Pile: Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas

I really liked Nanette. I thought it was really good and I wanted to share it around with my friends, because at its best, the Story Pile is an opportunity to just grab all my friends and talk excitedly about something you haven’t seen, or, if you have seen it, to jump up and down with you and show you how clever we both are for liking this thing. I liked Nanette so much I did a very rare video examining it where I trotted out Steve Geyer of all people.

Not to go over my love of Nanette, though, because it was a prickly recommendation at the best of times. Basically a ninety minute long Content Warning with its own absolutely brutal conclusion that nonetheless brought with it some truly body-blowing comedy that oh no here I’m going and praising Nanette again, but the point is, fuck that, Nanette is great, and Douglas is great too, phew, got the subject back into the cradle oh wait now we’re talking about A Knight’s Tale oh well that was great.

Now, Douglas is a show that helpfully starts out with a table of contents. Seriously, Gadsby goes over the themes and subject matter in the show and just tells you what’s going to be going into it, which means my normal concern about spoiling in a show that’s so built on timing and surprise is a little diminished. Particularly, then if I tell you this show is about autism, well, that’s something that she mentions in the opening, and she does so without making the phrase itself shocking or startling.

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The Mysterious Fogs Of Amerimanga

There’s this term that you see sometimes used by digital archivists, called bit rot. It’s this phenomenon where electromagnetically stored media, despite being ostensibly ‘permanent’slowly accumulates non-critical errors in the storage media, meaning that you get these special kinds of errors, which can often result in this eerie kind of work where the structure of what how computers save and store information is different enough to ours that we see things that look really wrong but in a really interestingly recognisable way. Bit rot doesn’t tend to show you media that’s completely alien, just that what it prioritises looks really weird. Sometimes it’s a simple as half a picture being A Bit Green. Sometimes it’s all the colours becoming neon and bright while still keeping as much of the shadows that preserve the image.

Bit rot is not just limited to the data stored on electronic media, though. The internet has its own form of bit rot. Any given site you visit on the internet isn’t necessarily talking to one computer hosting one website. It’s going through a vast network of interconnected components. Websites reference one another, in some cases hosting images on one another, and when you start digging into the old web, you start getting weird errors that, again, are about the way computers preserve things in a way that you wouldn’t expect, because computers aren’t people. The internet, originally conceived as, in part, an indestructible archive of the sum of human knowledge, therefore, has the eerie phenomenon of human archivists who do their best to try and manually ensure the internet is preserved in ways that won’t break over time.

Thus it is for someone who grew up knowing about Crosswinds and AngelFire and Geocities and the like, and came of age during that period where the webcomic boom coupled with the first arrival of the manga market in the west resulted in lots of stuff getting platforms with a lot of things that were normally gatekept away. There was a demand for people to make webcomics and manga and well, that meant lots of stuff got put out there, got a viewing and then… at some point, stopped. And then, with the internet moving on and various platforms taking over, that means those old sources have bit-rotted away.

I bring this up to explain how it is possible that I have this strangely resonant familiarity with the category of media I jokingly call ‘Amerimanga’ without being able to name a single real actual example. I went looking, I really did. I tried to find it – remembering character names like Colvin and Kyle, and transition that was enabled by such wild things as haunted videogame cartridges and the fact someone started reading fanfic about themselves or in one cases, a duck.

The genre is pretty simple: I describe it with an image, usually of some unrelated, or generic non-anime anime source, and then use the title of the thing to describe a very specific plot that has in some way gone off the rails from an existing, ‘legitimate’ framing to instead be about the main character being a girl, and being very in to that.

What happened then was that in this weird little space of webcomics-and-non-manga manga, where often comics weren’t really being overseen and all that could get you driving on to keep going was an audience response, was a lot of people were making the stories they could best throw out, week to week or issue to issue, in some sort of vague, semi-professional, almost-a-failure but-probably-not way. This isn’t to talk ill of this space: Odds are good, it’s just like any other existing community of creatives, where some fail and some succeed and that’s it.

But the most amazing thing about it, to me, is that going back to find this stuff, this little weird bubble of what amounts to ‘fanfiction through to published works that are all tapping the same basic vein of queer feelings, as a weird genre joke, ha ha’ is pretty much… nothing. I can’t find it again.

It’s gone.

It’s old shames or it’s lost histories or it’s pseudonyms that disappear or it’s fragmented onto livejournals. And all that remains is the stuff I can dredge from my memory and pin in place in my silly joking images.

Pride Shirt 4: Gay Wrath Month 2020

As with previous shirts in this, the month of Jesus Christ What Next 2020, these are decorative, fun items that are ways for you to spend your disposable income in ways that amuse you and I do not think that you should view them as making moral statements or supporting me for its own sake.

That said, I’ve been having some pretty complicated feelings about Pride Month of ltae, because Pride isn’t an emotion I ever really feel at the best of times. There are other feelings I’m a little more tuned to.

Here’s this week’s design:

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

The Complicated Explication of Danielle Bunton Berry

Hey, CW here, folks. This is about a trans woman, who did some cool things, and died, but it’s also about how bad and limited my means are to communicate about her. You won’t miss much if you skip it, and if you want to know a more traditional approach to Berry’s legacy, you can check it out here on this eight year old GamaSutra link that I am not going to vouch for, but which presents a number of the quotes I sourced before realising I was in trouble.

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Being The Thing On The Doorstep

Lovecraft is a super useful thing to use in classes about games and media. First, it’s a deeply thematic part of a lot of games culture. It’s also a way to introduce ideas of copyright and media ownership, there’s that. Then there’s conversations about accessibility and who the work excludes, because of how ornate and wrought the type of text is, and how you can overcome that with signalling and clear communication.

There is a way that he slows things down, though, because no matter how we cut it, bringing up Lovecraft means we tend to open with the dude was a massive racist, but, and then there’s a conversation about what we do with the work of bad people, and it just slows the conversation down. It’s understandable, mind you. Particularly, he was definitely racist as hell and racist themes are throughout his work; he was misogynist as expressed by the absence of women with agency in almost all his stories, and then you start to look for other axes he bothered to mention.

What’s particularly wild is the dude actually did manage to veer into transphobia, and not just in shaded tropes; given the way stories are normally structured in our science fiction and fantasy space, trans and cis status are normally subjects that require invoking information that we don’t get. It’s possible every Lovecraft protagonist is a trans man and we’d never have a reason to know, for example. That means bringing in transphobia involves going to something that you normally don’t have to bring up in order to kick it around.

In the story The Thing on the Doorstep, spoilers for a century old short story that’s not that good, but whatever, in The Thing on the Doorstep our narrator and kinda protagonist observes his best friend decaying in real time from a marriage to a woman that ruins him. Eventually he discovers that his friend has been married not to a woman, but rather, a man in a woman’s body, and that man then takes his friend’s body, leaving him in an older body it had, and that is the titular thing on the doorstep that the protagonist encounters. The horror of ‘what if the woman you got in a relationship with was actually a man’ is a very, very old, very well-worn trope, and it’s transphobic at root.

Lovecraft wrote about encountering alien minds and the strain it put on the human who was reading it to comprehend it. That there were certain mindsets – just ways of thinking – that were so fundamentally aberrant to humans that contemplating them could force the mind to adhere to alien programming and fall apart. There’s a twofold fascination that follows for me.

First, Lovecraft’s aliens and the horrors they represent are all things that a scientific mind can grapple with: There’s a thing I didn’t understand, and we can prove its effect, and so in cataloguing it, we can handle and understand that information. That means that the vision of rationality that Lovecraft had for his period of time was completely at odds with actual rationality – that information people couldn’t handle was in fact literally incompatible with their brains. For all the racism in his work, he paints there as being a whole category of people who can handle dealing with this information, and that’s the other. If you’re trans or queer or a person of colour, in Lovecraft’s world, you can actually handle that nonsense that wrecks white people from the mind out.

If you’re basically anything but a Prince of Privilege, in Lovecraft’s vision of the world, you are the monster. You are the beast from outside. You can move between mirrors, you can see the undersea places, you have the ancient knowledge and you can move amongst the most dreadful forces, and you’re fine. That’s wild. He’s so intent on dehumanising the nonwhite that it involves turning the white into the weakest, most pathetic type of person there is; completely unprepared and incapable of being alive in this dreadful world. It’s racist, sure, but it’s racist in a really pathetic way.

Here’s the other thing, though.

It is fundamentally hard, if not impossible, really, to get a grip on how Lovecraft thought this stuff. It really is. This dude was so racist he was able to get himself divorced for being racist in 1933. When we talk about the dude there’s this framing and apologetics about just bringing him up, as if we can’t let his racism pass without also making it an excuse to drop the topic.

Lovecraft’s racism is so utter and confusingly fearful that it’s kind of hard to really get. It’s hard to explain or explore it without a lot of deep reading of his work, and that’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Lovecraft was so racist that trying to think like him now doesn’t make sense, because with the benefit of a century of hindsight, everything the dude thought is aberrant to natural, civilised, adult thought.

Lovecraft wrote about a world of alien, parisitic monsters that consumed humanity and destroyed you by following its thought patterns and did not care about what affect it had because it would outlast any one person it ended.

Lovecraft never realised he was the monster.

How To Be: A Squid Maid (In 4E D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

And now, it’s Pride Month! Since I haven’t done one of these on a single straight character yet (if you believe my fanfics), I had to do something a bit special and out of the ordinary, and so, let’s do something that’s extremely culturally important.

That’s right. It’s Squid Maids time.

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Story Pile: Smokin’ Aces

When I resolved to not spend this month complaining about queer media I didn’t like, nor to subject myself to queer media in a form I knew I wouldn’t like, I didn’t realise how challenging that was going to make things since I didn’t have another Wynona Earp land in my lap. That meant going back through either movies I meant to comment on or movies I had commented on but never on the blog, and to my amazement, I found this.

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The Speed of Crowds

Okay, this isn’t a pridey thing, but given the number of queer speedrunners, let’s just say it’s queer adjacent. Also, at the time I write this, there’s a very real chance there’s not going to be a Summer Games Done Quick Event, the thing that I, originally was timing this article to go up alongside. So be it all.

Anyway, speedrunning. It’s great, it’s a cool thing, you should check it out because it’s as big as the ocean and you’ll find your own particular little slab of coral reef with weirdo little orangey fish that do that bloop thing with their mouths that you find yourself immensely invested in and wanting to hang around there to see which of the orange fishes are the best at, I guess, getting little grubblins out of the reef and the comparison of observing competitive sport to ecosystem observation isn’t perfect but it’s also more apt than you think it is because this entire thing is so much about where you choose to be. I’m not going to explain speedrunning myself, because a nameless bloodstained rival of mine has already penned that text, and I’m sure we can talk it over when we next meet atop a cathedral with blood staining my fingers and duel not so much for the honour we say it’s about but as much just for the sting and the pain of it all, but anyway, the point is, go click that link it’s going to cover stuff I don’t have time for or the methodical mindset to cover.

Part of my job is putting what we call text into a position where you can see the lines that connect it to the things that may have been responsible for its creation or things that may help you understand the way that that text in ways it may or may not be intended. The way I describe it to students who are dismissive of the difficulty of the degree is that media studies is merely the study of how literally every human being interacts with every other thing that exists or doesn’t exist. This can be deeply confusing for people who want experts to give them meaningful answers, to be consulted directly and spit out a useful or usable answer, which we kind of just don’t tend to do in media studies, because so much of what we’re dealing with is examining culture which runs on a level that is simultaneously saturating through and yet also the surface that everything else runs on and beholden to their forces in a sort of whole general mish mosh of stuff.

It’s complicated.

Point is that you come to this blog to hear someone who’s got a lot of practice writing this blog, and by ‘hear’ I mean ‘read’ and by ‘read’ I mean what Marshall McLuahn referred to as making an ear of an eye, which is some body horror shit right there but the point is that that thing I did there where I dropped someone you never heard of but you could look them up on google and be told they wrote a bunch of books and they have a wikipedia page and were probably a skeevy sexist or racist and you don’t wanna necessarily go digging into their books yourself so you’re happy to let me serve as an interpreter because the odds I’m that bad aren’t so bad, that sort of intercessionary media is kind of what I do and when it comes to speedrunning, I need to pull off some impressive bullshit to try and relate this work to a greater academic space in a way that’s funny or engaging.

I’m not about to write a piece like Speedrunning Science, nor my nameless foe’s beautiful introductory and expanded primer, and there are funnily enough not a lot of people who had opinions on how this kind of thing worked, though I think with some minor contortions I could get you to ‘Roger Caillois thinks that speedrunning isn’t a game, but speedrunning with twitch chat live is.’

What I do want to talk about though is how speedruns are an interesting form of collaborative art, which may seem a little weird to those of you who watch these events where you get to see a runner executing a run a sort of gamer tribute when we refer to people as the best or world leader or the fastest or next level or whatever wording you favour when you hear these people described as the people who try over and over and over again, missed the first split, break, try again, missed the first split, try again, bad first level spawns, reset, try again, even if maybe you notice the way that every single one of those runners will espouse that their community is literally the best and they’re all so great and this trick, this Greg Egg Trick, all of that, all of that can be seen as a sort of breathless, collaborative communal composition.

DwangoAC, the spokesperson for TASBot, has drawn a direct parallel between TAS (or tool assisted speedruns okay I guess I’ll do a bit of nomenclature), and the historical device of a player piano. The player piano is a machine that’s designed to be played – it’s a piano, after all – but it contains within it a device that lets you feed into it someone else’s composition and let the machine play itself. The composition, the paper you feed into the player piano, is itself a sort of coding for the machinery, and that composition is made by the work of multiple people, coming together to form a rendition that you can replay in your home.

This vision of a machine that plays itself being a form of play is extremely interesting to me, especially as a games studies… person… where the question of what new and weird forms of gameplay even are, with my massively permissive vision of game definition. I’ve argued that players watching a game on twitch and contributing via chat are playing a game (though not the same game as the person they’re watching), it’s just the control mechanism is extremely obtuse, and that they’re playing a game with the person playing the game.

When you’re watching a speedrun, the metaphor of music is applicable once again, because every speedrun is not just the execution of the one runner in front of you but the combined and contributed effort of an orchestra of people who have played alongside that person, encouraging them and showing them techniques, helping them practice, driving them to succeed, filling out leaderboards and showing them what can be done, what can work as the communal effort shaves the techniques and design down, and down, and down, as if you have a composition of a single whole piece, where the orchestra perform it in isolation but each composer is working on nailing down sometimes sections as small and as refined as a single

note.

Speedrunning is cool, and the best speedruns can, for all that it’s a meme, be the product of an amazing community.

Shame about all the gross fuckin’ transphobes though. Don’t let those people be welcome.

Pride Shirt 3: Pronoun Stamps

As with previous shirts in this, the month of Jesus Christ What Next 2020, these are decorative, fun items that are ways for you to spend your disposable income in ways that amuse you and I do not think that you should view them as making moral statements or supporting me for its own sake.

Still! This here’s a set of shirt designs for showing off pronouns of choice and making a bit of funny text along with them.

Here’s an example.

 

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

Game Pile: Timespinner

There’s chances are you’ve seen this game on Steam. You may have seen it show up in Pride lists. You may have seen screenshots out of context. And what you see is a pixel art metroidvania with upgrade paths and a female protagonist and she has a little buddy dragon and you may be asking yourself hey, is this too good to be true?

Turns out no.

It’s just good enough to be true.

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Holding On To Pride

Hey

Things are pretty rough right now.

I get that there’s a certain degree of hopelessness that comes with just being? Because everything that is is just kind of busy with reasons to focus on pumping pain into your ear, because the alternative feels like complicity with things you can’t help or focus on?

I get it.

There’s this thing I’ve taken to saying to queer folks on their birthdays. It’s been more and more important as time has gone on since I started. The average age for queer folk is typically much lower than nonmarginalised groups – same for people of colour, and even moreso for queer folk of colour. It’s all kinds of bad out there when you look at the statistics. And we know for a fact that these are imposed, societal burdens. Queer folk aren’t living in worse areas because they like smog more – they’re being pushed to those spaces by diminished earning potential and exclusionary housing policies, for example.

The idea is this: Every day you live while the world is telling you to stop is a day you have stolen.

Every birthday, you are fighting to push back a number that is used to diminish the hope of others. Every expression of pride, every step forward, every refusal to hide and be polite about it, is pushing the average that people just like you, five, ten years ago, are going to be living into. Make your life better, make it happier, be proud of yourself, and be proud of refusing to die in a life that seeks to be cruel to you.

Right now there’s a lot saying no, stop. Be queer but you know, keep a lid on it. Be tidy about it. Don’t put your pronouns in your bio because that makes us uncomfortable. Why you gotta make a fuss about it? Why is Pride so flamboyant, why are people so out there about it, why do you have to post ‘girls’ twenty times in a day?

And whatever it is you love, I encourage you to embrace the lesson of the mermaid:

The Dipper Pines Trans Headcanon

Hey, didja ever think about how Dipper Pines might be trans?

That’s not the fun way to start this, I know. That’s a reasonable sounding position that forwards its idea as a thing to think about and a characterisation point as a sort of fanfictiony, culturally exchanging storytelling kind of way, but the fun way to start this is

DIPPER PINES IS TRANS AND THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT

which is provocative and it’s confrontational and it sets a tone for a sort of performative destructiveness of a hypothetical other because you’re not going to read any further if you don’t agree so instead we get to smugly sit here, under that line and go hey, hey, how about that asshole who wandered off, anyway, here’s my conspiracy board of interconnected nonsense to explain the cartoon character thing I said.

But hey, this is something that’s been kind of just lurking in my mind for a few years now. See, one of those ‘hey, every character could be trans and you’d never know it,’ and like, yeah, that’s true. Then the question becomes ‘what stories look interesting or meaningfully different when there’s a trans character?’

The original analysis I read suggested that Asami Saito reads as a trans woman, and then suggested, hey, what does this internal knowledge do to change the character?

That’s when I got thinking about Dipper.

I don’t dislike Dipper. He’s a really good little Adventure Boy character, with all the struggles that come from that. Smart, but not super smart, tenacious in the way that kids tend to be, and that tenacity becomes a genuine virtue that also ties into a very preadolescent feeling that you’re on the precipice of some great discovery and some great change. That’s fine.

Dipper is also probably pre-pubescent, and very focused on growing up. This isn’t very uncommon, and it does make him keenly aware of traits of his that we associate with weakness (and commonly, therefore, femininity). He wants his voice to be deeper, he wants to be bigger and stronger, he’s heavily invested in the idea of measuring up to bigger boys, even through violence. Throughout the whole series, Dipper is constantly trying to reject comparisons to his sister, constantly trying to assert his masculinity, and constantly trying to prove himself to a masculine standard, even as everyone around him is incredibly kind and permissive about his behaviour and encourages him to be who he is.

We do get some hints about what we’ll call off the rack biology when his voice breaks and his eager interest in his chest hair – which doesn’t prove anything, either way, but it’s still common to signify that with those traits. C’est la vie.

The thing that I find interesting is that if Dipper is an AFAB trans boy, that precipice he’s standing in front of is puberty, and the potential unwanted changes that brings to his body, and the ways he keeps trying to assert control over himself are things that are very much big and scary and can feel beyond his control. All that masculine behaviour isn’t a cis boy deconstructing his own relationship to toxic masculinity but is instead a trans boy trying very hard to construct masculinity that he’s going to hope can keep his identity together.

Is this a better story? I dunno, I’m not a trans boy, I don’t know if I’m being insulting or what. I like Dipper. I like both these possible interpretations of the character. If you give me a choice, though, between whether I’m more interested in a boy learning to be less of an asshole and a boy trying to learn how to be a person and avoiding ever becoming an asshole, the latter is more interesting to me.

I’ve talked in the past about how gender and sexuality are pretty different in stories, because they don’t necessarily get expressed in the same meaningful way. To reveal a character’s sexuality to an audience, you just can demonstrate it by showing who that character expresses interest in. That’s easy, and we even have a whole set of storytelling signifiers for when characters feel that kind of thing. But when you want to talk about a character’s gender, there’s really no good way to express that because even if a character talks about it, it’s possible they’re lying because the pressures to do so are so phenomenally strong.

It’s wild and pretty unfair, and there just aren’t that many trans dudes in media period. I can’t think of a single Adventure Hero Boy who’s AFAB, which is a real shame, because I think it gives us cis boys a chance to look at how our masculinity is constructed, in real time, in a way we often won’t trust other cis boys to show us.

When D&D Got Horny

Hey friends, have you seen Discourse on D&D lately, that imply that the blessed and sainted arrival of Gay People into D&D’s player space has brought with it this blissful enlightened period where player characters want to try seducing everything in sight, and how hilariously, entire encounters with major boss monsters are interrupted by bards rolling to seduce. The Monster Manual is Basically Tinder, the joke runs, which

Look, I’m old, I guess? In D&D terms, I’m old. I played some 2nd edition online, I played 3rd edition and 3.5, I played 4th edition, and then the transition from 4th to 5th revolted me and I instead opted to stay happily in my older generation of an edition I personally think of as ‘superior,’ just like the old beardie dude who only played Basic while I was looking for people to talk about 3rd edition with. And that means that for me, it feels like there are these people who have recently got into D&D because they started being alive after I started playing D&D, and they want to talk authoritatively about the way the game works in general, and they say these

things.

Things that I want to holler at them about because you darn kids.

I’m not getting off to a good start.

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Story Pile: Madoka

Man how much does it suck that this blog that is ostensibly about the critical engagement with pop culture media and niche genre spaces with an eye towards queer and marginalised people has to open conversations about extremely popular media with a disclaimer about how, hey, woah now, hold up, just so you know, I’m going to fail to fawn over this work for its excellence. Like, how poisoned is the entire idea of discourse that media must be treated with kid gloves, because the people to whom it matters are so starved of the kind of media they love that they fancy the idea of ‘their’ media being criticised as being an act of violence.

Point is, I’m not really interested in talking about Madoka itself.

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Pride Shirt 2: This Shirt Says Trans Rights

Ho boy, this month is a great time for me to be advertising products eh.

Well, look, these shirts are, as always, made to be fun and decorative. You are not making a political statement by buying my shirts. In fact, if you have Politicking Money floating around, hey, why not uh, hey, why not spend that on people’s bail funds, rather than on my silly shirts.

If you have money that will help you feel less constantly anxious, or you want to buy this shirt because, I don’t know, it’s a work expense or something, hey, cool, go for it.

Here’s this week’s design:


No stickers of this one, because, uh, the sticker would say trans rights, and then I’d need to redo the design. I can do that if you want.

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

Post About Being A Cis Boy

Hey, this one’s been in the hopper for

God

Almost two years.

Okay, so some time ago, someone posted in my CuriousCat asking:

I first became aware of you and your tweets from your “Amerimanga cover” posts, and also apparently you’re a cis man. The ways that repressed trans feminine people can express their gender feelings is an easy enough thing for allies pick up on, but I’m curious if you have more of a relationship to queerness than just knowing people.

I provided an answer, which I’m now going to reframe a little bit, for archival purposes, and also, to flex here where the word count isn’t so weirdly limited and maybe clean up some typos I was realllly embarrassed to not notice the first time around.

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Burnwillow

Science fiction, fantasy, and the hyper-reality of genre media lets us explore things that aren’t real, or true, but make sense to humans who are used to things that are.  We can set rules for the way a world is, and the audience is just going to go for it while you get around to explaining it.

Burnwillow is a superhero who I’ve had around for a while; first created back in the original City of Heroes, then expanded in the Generation 4 roleplaying space, and then remade in the new City of Heroes Homecoming, she’s had a lot of time to have her backstory revised. The person who made her story to start with and the person I am now are two very different people and know very different kinds of things about the kind of person she is. Tracing her origin, I think she may have been created as early as 2007, when the term ‘Burnwillow’ came up from the Magic: The Gathering set Future Sight.

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Story Pile: John Wick 3: Para Bellum

You know what, I’m not going to unpack for you the incredibly obvious idea that I, me, the person I am that writes this blog, loves the hell out of John Wick. Right? And okay, the series of movies are moody and atmospheric and they’re excellently made and full of deeply thoughtful imagery and they’re created primarily by the people who normally don’t get power to make movies like this, so you’re seeing the expertise of a niche group expressed in the medium they’re best at and so you get this fricking amazing movie of practical stunts put together by stunt crew who know their discipline down to the the bottom of the floor. Excellently made, brilliantly compelling, fantastically fun, and full of all these actors who are great doing a great job, nobody needs to hear this because as a mediocre millenial white guy of course I love John Wick movies you can just kind of assume and even if you were wrong it wouldn’t be offensive or anything.

There’s your basics.

No real spoiler warning, I’m going to talk about one character and they show up early.

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MTG: Says Trans Rights

You know, it’s pretty rare to be able to mention tabletop games these days that overlap well with my expertise. The history of D&D and queer themes are kinda mutedly embarrassing, videogames so commonly fuck it up, and even in the wild west of board and card games, most high-production value games are struggling with the idea of including women.

In that context it can be downright surprising to look at how Magic: The Gathering, a big budget high production value game that dedicated time and resources on its primary, important platform, to promote and spotlight an important and meaningful trans character and then didn’t colossally heck that character up.

In 2015, to go with the release of the set Fate Reforged, Wizards released a story called The Truth Of Names, by James Wyatt. Completely unironically, I think this is a great story, it’s tight, it’s short, it does world building, you don’t need to know what a Mardu is, but it communicates what they are. It focuses on our protagonist of this story, Alesha, a trans woman warrior who is also the kind of person who can shank a dragon.

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Pride Shirt 1: Diceheart!

Okay, look, this isn’t going to follow the normal template. Part of why is because there are too many options.

Check this out.

Presented here is the first Pride design, called Diceheart. This presents you with seven different queer banners, including rainbow, bi, lesbian, pan, trans, genderqueer and ace, and five different dice colours.

They’re both set up as collections available on Redbubble and TeePublic. And

Christ

It’s so much work to upload and manage allllll these files.

Game Pile: Final Fantasy 5

I’m reluctant to talk about Final Fantasy. Five in particular. On the topic of Pride Month especially.

One of the people I respect and admire in my field is something of an expert in Final Fantasy, particularly in the way that literally nobody is right about it. Two of my friends are experts at the game, and they’ll both go ‘oh, no, I’m not an expert’ but they’re both fucking liars, they are experts. Neither of them, bonus, are cis boys, which means that suddenly opening the genders door puts me at the intersection of a lot of spotlights.

Nonetheless, this is Pride Month, and there are not a lot of games that land in this space, accidentally or deliberately, so le’s go.

One of the strangest things to do is to describe a Final Fantasy game without treating it as if knowledge of the game is a foregone conclusion, because sometimes doing so makes the game sound very different to how it plays. For example, Final Fantasy 5 is the story of three lost princesses and the men in their lives as they work to prevent an evil tree from smashing two planets together like clacker balls. And this sounds like nonsense, but also, it could be described as a long, wandering epic story from a random wandering to rescuing an old man to befriending women and pirates and becoming empowered by the nature of reality itself to eventually deal with the reawakening of old gods and new deaths all in the hands of a dude named Buttz. It’s a story that’s somehow epic but only really expresses that in being long, vast but happening to mostly six people.

It is a land of contrasts, and also, a society.

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Pride Flags In Pride Month

Hey, you know how I talk about flags?

You don’t?

God, it’s hard to have a coherent, clear brand. Anyway, yeah, I talk about flags? Sometimes? But when I do talk about them I tend to talk about them a lot because people are really bad at making good flags, even though ‘good flags’ is a category that’s super easy to work on. Anyway, there are a bunch of pride flags, and I’ve worked with them – you may remember my Captain America Pride Shields, for example.

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