Inspire Confidence— Know Thyself

First off, a special thanks to Monica for letting me use her blog to share my feelings with you today.

One of the reasons I love role-playing games so much is that you get to pretend to be all sorts of different characters. Some of them are very similar to yourself, and some of them are quite different. But a wonderful thing about playing a diverse cast of characters is the ability to see more of yourself through the lens of your character. In this way, role-playing games offer a type of self-exploration that can be life changing.

Sometimes you choose a hobby, profession, or some other aspect for your character that you know nothing about. Then through research and roleplay to make it seem authentic, you learn a new skill yourself or discover something about yourself you never knew. Occasionally a character will help you identify aspects of yourself that you may not have realized were there all along.

I’ve been playing tabletop RPGs regularly for 20 years, and video game RPGs before that. In that time, the majority of my characters have been female. If given the choice, I’d usually choose the female avatar: World of Warcraft characters, FemShep, Pokémon Go. They were just more interesting to me, and seemed like the clear choice, if given an option.

Some people thought this was odd since they’ve been telling me that I’m a boy my whole life. I sort of took it with a grain of salt thinking, “What choice do I have? I was born this way so it must be true; I guess I’m a boy. Still the girl characters are obviously better; it would be better to be a girl, so I’ll choose her.” Many games wouldn’t give an option and only had the boring boy characters, compulsory male heroes. They usually bored me, or at least had me less interested in the character than I was in the gameplay.

When making my own characters in RPGs, I had some GMs who would insist we didn’t play “cross-gender” characters; they’d force me to play some boring boy character. I’d barely give them a personality and just focus on the mechanics. It was not as fun, but it was gaming. Looking back now, my feminine RPG characters are some of the most complex and interesting characters that I’ve created.

I’ve played male characters recently, but they tend to be flatter, more two-dimensional. My male characters often end up being a stereotype representing a “male attributed” aspect of myself: the cock-sure paladin, flirtatious gambler, temper-burdened barbarian, or the valiant hero. Recently I’ve realized they are avatars of my own perception of maleness, often over-the-top and unrealistic.

My female characters are much more dynamic. Each has a dozen aspects that make them feel like complicated, real people. They have back-stories that are relatable, inform their decisions, and help me immerse myself in the character while I’m at the table. I am more comfortable playing a feminine role.

Despite this, and many other signs outside of gaming, I didn’t realize what I’ve come to accept is the truth: I am a woman.

I didn’t come to this realization all at once, but slowly until there was no denying that it was true. It all started back when I was writing The Solstice Scar. I remember seeing a post by Jen McTeague on Facebook pointing out the serious lack of positive transgender representation in Pathfinder Society. I immediately contacted John Compton to ask if I could include a trans character in Pathfinder Society scenario 8-99 and he agreed. I got in touch with Isabelle Lee, another prominent transgender freelance author for Paizo. Working with her, she helped ensure that we represented Medda, a kellid spiritualist with an important destiny, was properly represented like a true hero.

But then the strangest thing happened: while researching for Medda, I found a lot of transgender women talking about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Many of these made me think, but… that’s how I feel. Isabelle wrote about a character in a popular movie, “I don’t know if I want to date her or BE her.” I thought, that’s how I feel… It was then that it occurred to me the reason I preferred playing female characters might be because I am trans. The reason I’ve always thought it would be better to be a girl with all the pretty clothes and makeup, was because I am trans. The reason I never really identified with boys was because I am trans. I’ve always wished I was a girl… because I am trans.

The journey from realization to acceptance is another story, but this was certainly the start of it. This was the little snowball that caused an avalanche and changed my life forever. Looking back, I can see my desire to be someone else in Uliyara, the Jadwiga stilyagi in From Under Ice. I can see my lament for moments lost in Valais, the fiend-stitched adventurer in Thralls of the Shattered God. And then there’s Medda, standing tall and proud to be herself, a powerful transgender woman. Once again, Jen McTeague is too wise; she told me, “You are Uliyara, Valais, and Medda. You’re figuring out who you are safe to come out to, going on quests to remove undesirable aspects of yourself, and end up as an awesome trans warrior that leads Pathfinders on epic quests (by gming and writing).”

I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for gaming. I don’t know if I’d ever have had this epiphany of self-discovery without it. I feel like I owe so much to the community, who are supportive and loving. And I also owe so much to my friends, like Jen and Isabelle, for helping me discover the truth about myself. I am transgender. I am a woman, and I will never look back.

Vanessa Hoskins

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