How Gaming Helped Me With Gender Dysphoria
As I’ve stated in previous articles, I realized I was trans at a rather young age and my dysphoria really started to kick in when I hit puberty. In the 90s there weren’t a whole lot of options available for trans people, especially since during that time being trans was still viewed as a sexual paraphilia that needed to be “cured” and had a massive stigma attached to it. Hell, we were just barely becoming ok with people being openly gay, so that should tell you the sort of environment that I was in at the time. While my parents I assume would have been supportive (since they are now) I was still afraid and struggling internally with my dysphoria.
I had an outlet (though it took me years to realize was a life saving outlet) for me to safely cope with my dysphoria, and that was gaming. Video games were the main way to go about it, but there were also table top RPGs (TRPGs) that allowed me to step away from my dysphoric body and become who I actually was for a short period of time.
While I did from time to time play a female character, my favorite and most memorable characters were all masculine in nature (whether of indeterminate sex/gender or were male) and through them I was able to escape the so-called betrayal of my body.
I was able to be who I wanted to be, and I could take on the mannerisms associated with masculinity during those sessions without fear of being shunned or teased for being “butch” or a tom boy because I was playing a character….or at least that’s what the other players thought. In truth it was my way of figuring myself out and being able to be comfortable for a bit before having to step back into the psychological and physical distress I dealt with every day. I was Johnothon, I was Garrett, I was Lyre Seraphim, I was Michea (yes I had an RPG character named Michea back then), I was Kalen, I was a man. I was who I was inside, even if it was only on a character sheet and acted out once or twice a week.
As MMORPG games came around and were more and more accessible to someone like myself (MUDs came first) I was finally able to put a sort of physical form to the characters I was playing. Kalen’s long brown hair and van dyke facial hair were finally visible to not just my mind’s eye, but to everyone. Johnothon and his dark eyes with red pupils, his paper white hair, and his blue skin were visible to those around me, and he was able to take form. Even though they didn’t look exactly like I wanted them to look, I was at least able to better visualize and interact with my characters, putting pieces of myself inside them as I fleshed them out, putting myself in their shoes to once again escape the distress I was dealing with.
Games such as City of Heroes/City of Villains gave me the ability to create myself in multiple different appearances, and due to the sliders I was able to make characters who had “feminine” hips while their main body was masculine. I was able to make characters that were my height instead of being forced to stick with a character the same height as everyone else, I honestly was spoiled by how customizable the game was and how accepting the community was of people from all walks of life. The community helped a long way in allowing me to work out who I was and feel like I belonged even as I was trying to find my place in the offline world. I have yet to find a game like it since its closure.
After I came out, I began playing three specific characters almost all the time and across platforms: Michea, Lirotiel, and Kalen. They were all facets of myself, with Michea (or M’ichea in SWtOR) being my visual representation of how I wanted to look/how I felt. From the red hair to more masculine voice and body, I got to become my avatar as I played, and it helped me alleviate the distress I struggled with when I was offline.
Slowly I became more comfortable with my own identity, and I began to weave stories about my Sith lord and how he was himself a trans man who had used Sith alchemy and the surgical skills of the Empire’s medical facilities to achieve the body he desired. When people saw him without his armor and shirt, they could see the scars from his top surgery, they could see that his hips were more “feminine” in appearance than most men, and he wasn’t as tall as most of the other male models in the game. Through him I was able to begin to accept my own body and its little quirks, from the wide hips, feminine facial features, and my height, I was able to peel the dysphoria away from those areas and accept them as a part of myself.
While I still required top surgery to deal with the dysphoria centered around my chest, I began to work through my avatars to accept the rest of my body, and to remind myself that change is gradual but I will eventually level up and be able to access/deal with more and more aspects of the body I was born with.