Gaming Culture and Safe Spaces

As of Tuesday, April 8th, the trans- prefix has been uncensored! We did it! I am continuing to work with Blizzard as they are also overlooking how they deal with issues like this in the future. For more on that, please see the coverage over on Ars Technica.

Diablo III’s most recent patch allows for the creation of clans. As someone who created several trans gaming groups, my girlfriend (Olivia Quin) and I thought this would be a wonderful time to create a trans gaming clan on Diablo III. There was already as Gaymers clan, why would there be an issue for a trans-related gaming clan? We were wrong. So very wrong.

It turns out that the prefix trans- or tran- is banned. I can understand that tran- would be banned to prevent people from creating groups using t****y, but why not just ban that slur and several variations for it? That should be enough, correct? Apparently not. Anything involving the prefix trans- is forbidden in clan creation. This means that clans with involving non-trasnsgender are also banned as well such as transformers, transdimensional, transcend, and any of the words beginning with the extremely common trans- prefix.

So, I contacted Diablo III support. I had to do it in a slightly roundabout way. This is the exact message I sent to them:

Hello!

I am contacting you in regards to creating clans in the newest Diablo III patch. I am trying to make a clan for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals who would like to play the game together in a relatively safe space of like identified individuals. However, I have come to find out that the prefix trans is banned in clan creation! I understand this is to prevent people from creating offensive clans, but it is doing just the opposite. You allow the word gay as a prefix for clans, as there is a Gaymers clan, yet do not allow the same for transgender individuals. In fact, this forbids words such as transdimensional and so forth. The word gay has much more room for offensive and harmful clan names than trans does and deletes the possibility of safe spaces for transgender people to get together and enjoy your games. This creates a harmful environment for people like myself who wish you play your game and know that I will be a respected member of my clan, regardless of my gender identity, presentation, how my voice sounds over Vent/Skype, and so on. This sends a message that gay people are allowed to create their own clans and freely interact on your servers, but trans people are not. Please reconsider your ban of the prefix trans- and thus banning all transgender related clans and groups.

Thank you for your time.

I was told to post something on the forums as that was the best way to contact the developers. As someone who knew nothing of the Blizzard forums, I did just that, adding in this statement as well:

Banning the prefix trans while allowing the word gay sends a message. You can be an openly gay gamer, but you cannot be openly trans. They allow for clans to be created around being gay, such as the Gaymers clan, but will not allow a similar TransGamers clan (which is what was trying to be created). This creates an environment that allows for people to be openly gay, but not openly trans, and requires people to create codewords, and in community buzzwords to create a similar clan for a similar experience, gaming with people who share the same identity and will respect you for who you are. Blizzard is sending a very poor message to the trans gaming community by not allowing people to create safe clan experiences for themselves while allowing others to do that with words which can be used in a much more harmful sense (such as gay).

This seems pretty straight forward. There are no negative drawbacks to unbanning the prefix trans- and allows for people to create safe spaces for like-minded trans gamers and their allies, friends, partners, and so forth. The unbanning of the trans- prefix would allow people to also create a variety of non-transgender related clans in the game. The filter system was already pretty disliked by the Blizzard community due to how strict is can be, why would something this small be seen as anything but positive?

I was wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.

I was repeatedly called bro and sir on the first pages due to the fact I was assumed to be a trans woman. All the examples given within the rest of the thread, as it stands, confirms this suspicion. When people think transgender or trans, they think of trans women due to the relative invisibility of non-binary trans people and trans men. These were repeated attacks to misgender and attack me, sinking to the lowest of lows. These were coded transphobic (and ultimately transmisogynistic) attacks, aggressions against my very person and identity.

Someone also suggested I was trying to ultimately get the Gaymers clan removed, which is not true. I was simply showing that this clan is allowed to exist but a similar clan, such as TransGamers, related to a trans gaming experience, was not allowed. I was being turned into a villain for pointing out the obvious, gay people are allowed to congregate and exist in a safe space for themselves, but trans people were not.

There was of course comparing being trans to bestiality and that the next step would be allowing clans centered around raping animals. Of course, this is a ‘slippery slope’ as well as a straw man argument. Did I mention this was all on the first past, within the first 20 responses? People were so vehemently against this change that would not affect the majority of them. All of the people expressing concern, hatred, and disagreement were cis people who the policy change would not ultimately affect.

Come page two I was told to kill myself. These posts have been removed (as was the bestiality one) but there are quotes that contain these posts. The non-existent clan was considered discriminatory, despite people not raising objections to clans that would be parents-only, college-specific, WoW guild specific, and so on. The fact the Gaymers clan would be considered discriminatory was never called into question. The analogy between a trans-specific clan and a white-only clan were made several times, completely ignoring the racist history that makes such a thing extremely problematic (also, how does one tell race on an online video game?). There were little to no issues when the example was a female-only clan either. Just a trans-related one.

Some people were proclaiming I was painting a target on myself by existing openly as a trans gamer. They, ‘fortunately’, tended to lump the Gaymers clan in here as well. They said we should not have to have a clan dedicated to our identities since it is inviting people to harass us for existing and daring to be open about it. This is victim blaming 101. Instead of going after the people who would attack queer people for existing and daring to openly label themselves as queer in a potentially hostile environment, the queer people are at fault for existing. Blizzard has rules against this very type of harassment, but of course, the poor people antagonized by our queer existence were the real victims here, not us for wanting to be able to exist openly. Someone even so kindly compared it to the fact that women wish to be able to walk around naked and not be raped. Blaming the victim, never the assailant.

There was of course the people saying trans people were mentally ill. The typical person proclaiming you can’t change your genetics, and the typical tropes expected when it comes with discussing anything trans. However, there was something this lacked. A discussion that did not center on a cis person saying how it would personally affect them. These people were invested in the conversation, stating how horrible it would be to allow a trans-related clan, due to their inability to join. Of course, this ignores the very purpose of clans, to create a private group to dictate who joins and who doesn’t. These people would also state how they would not want to join, but were vehemently against the creation of a group they had no interest of joining, why?

It’s thinly veiled transphobia. These people simply wish for the group to not exist because they do not want trans people to exist openly. Someone was saying why should people be allowed to shove this in someone’s face. No one is being forced to join the group and it is very unlikely they would encounter guild members. If they did, how would it affect their lives? The answer is, it wouldn’t, not more than the existence of someone in a women-only clan or someone related to the Gaymers clan. They simply do not want to acknowledge that trans people exist and play the very same game they do (despite how much they said that they ‘don’t care’).

This discussion and resulting thread (which hit max post count, without a single mod saying anything, but still can be viewed here. The second thread, which is currently ongoing, can be found here.) highlights why the group is needed.

People like to game in environments where they know they feel safe. Not only that, people like to game with people who share similar interests. There are gaming clans for people who go to a certain college, are friends off the games, who enjoy certain TV shows, and so on and so forth. These people find each other through clan names that clearly are references to their purposes or clearly state what type of clan they are. People control who is part of the clan and who isn’t.

The responses I and others received for supporting the removal of the ban on the prefix trans- show why safe spaces are so important for queer gamers, including trans gamers. These types of clans, as mentioned in my original ticket, provide environments where people will not be questioned about their voice, their identity, where pronouns will be respected, and so on. Like any clan, these clans have rules and if members do not adhere to them, they are removed, creating a mini community inside the larger community of the game.

These spaces are often bubbles of safety, separate from the culture of the main game. A trans-related Diablo clan would allow people to play the game together, without people telling them who they are, telling them to kill themselves, and the thinly veiled transphobia I experienced on the general Blizzard forums. These clans allow people to game among people where they do not have to constantly explain how transgender is not a sexuality, how people besides trans women do exist, and how its not all about genitals. This type of repeated education gets tiring.

The gaming community, as a whole, is relatively hostile to trans people. Look at how Scarlett is generally treated by the Starcraft II community. She is constantly misgendered, has slurs slung as her, and worse. The words gay, f****t, and so on are slung on the daily in League of Legends. Gaming culture is a hotbed for bigotry against queer people, especially trans people. Safe spaces allow us to enjoy the games we love while being able to be separate from these people and among those who will respect us and the lives we live.

They also provide visibility. They allow people, non-members, to realize that yes, there are queer and trans people who play these games. They allow people to realize that we are indeed everywhere and enjoy the same games too. We can freely discuss our lives and not have them criticized. It allows for a free sharing of information among people who may need it. It provides support for those of us who are just coming out or struggling with family issues. It allows a sense of belonging and escapism, even more complex and in-depth than simply playing a game. We can not only escape our realities through the game, but we can also be among people who will accept us and not harass us for existing. We can be among people who understand us without having to educate along the way. It allows us to engage in education and discourse if we want, or even weed out toxic players if they decide to harass us for simply existing. This visibility also shows that we will not exist in the shadows if we do not want to. They allow us a sense of pride in our lives and identities, something the majority of society still tells us we should be shamed of.

This is not about shoving our genders or sexualities in the faces of others. Simply stating ones gender, history, or sexual orientation is not shoving it in anyone’s face. It is not less shoving it in someone’s face than when someone mentions they have a girlfriend, boyfriend, or a partner. It is no less shoving it in someone’s face than if someone mentions they have a dentist appointment or that they are working through some medical issue. There is no shoving, we are simply existing. You do not accuse people of shoving their school alumni in the face of someone if they are wearing a class ring or part of a college-specific clan. People who tote this line of ‘logic’ simply want us to not exist.

There is no reason to disallow trans-related clans nor for keeping the trans- prefix banned. Ban the slurs and keep tabs on the clans, just as is done with clans with the word gay in them. Intention or not, Blizzard is saying that trans people should not have their own related groups and clans while gay people are allowed to. There is no reason that trans- would be banned than to prevent trans-related groups and the prevention of people using the t****y slur in titles. However, the easy fix would to be ban this slur, similar forms of this slur, and open up trans-. Trans- is an extremely common prefix in the English language and is in no way problematic. Those who are affected by the change have voiced their support while those who will remain unaffected are the ones who are decrying the change. We need safe spaces in our communities. The reaction to this simple request proves it.

Edit: Since the original creation of this piece and the petition, this has grown to be more than a simple unbanning of the word in Diablo III and WoW. There lies a deeper issue with this. In an interview I gave to Sound on Sight, I talk about how Blizzard is sending a message to their trans players.

I want Blizzard to think of the type of community they are creating and allowing by forcing people to remain silent about who they are. They are not making a safe space for trans gamers and are doing quite the opposite. This originally started as a simple want for a Diablo III clan for trans gamers, but has shown the issue is ingrained into much more than that. Blizzard lacks policies that include not only transphobia and cissexism, but misogyny and sexism. They lack gender specific Code of Conduct clauses on the forums, and thus, in their games. This issue has expanded to beyond Diablo III and into the company as a whole and how they deal with things regarding not only being trans, but gender in its entirety. No mod ever stepped in to say that the transphobia that I and the other openly trans gamers was experiencing was against the rules. I have a feeling that if homophobic language and ideas were being thrown at gay players, they would have stepped in. However, as a trans player, I received  no support from Blizzard. I received no support from customer support either, simply being told to tough out the bigotry I was experiencing in the forums and hope that someone would see what I was going through. So far, I’ve received no support from Blizzard staff. The thread is now closed due to posting limit and did not receive a single post from any forum of Blizzard employee. What kind of message does that send to trans gamers? We’re not as small of a minority as some think, and since when does the size of our population matter? We play games to escape the bigotry we experience in our lives, not be reminded of it. Clans and guilds allow us an extra level of escape, and that is simply not being provided to trans gamers via Blizzard’s games.

This is something that needs to be worked out on Blizzard’s end. I hope that this opens the doors to more nuanced discussions about gender and gaming, on all spectrums. I hope that even some small amount of viability allows for people to educate themselves and like when Blizzard had issues with WoW LGBT-centric clans, I hope this leads to increased education for Blizzard employees so that they can open the doors for safer environments for potential and current trans employees. This has grown beyond a simple clan name to expose a major hole in Blizzard’s protections for their players.

As of Tuesday, April 8th, the trans- prefix has been uncensored! We did it! I am continuing to work with Blizzard as they are also overlooking how they deal with issues like this in the future. For more on that, please see the coverage over on Ars Technica.

11 thoughts on “Gaming Culture and Safe Spaces

  1. Thank you for writing this article; you’ve succinctly pointed out exactly why I, as a gay trans man, refuse to identify as a gamer. I love video games and the community aspect of a lot of them, but it’s the community itself that makes me sick to my stomach, so I actively avoid games that are TOO community-based like WoW. I hope Blizzard responds positively and that you can create your trans gamers community. It’s quite obvious that it needs to exist, seeing how violently folks on the forums responded.

  2. Pingback: Petition: Uncensor the Prefix Trans- From Diablo III Clan Making - Sound On Sight

  3. Marc, I went through a few years where I refused to associate with any gaming sites or identify myself as a gamer as well, because of the constant homophobia, transphobia, transmisogyny, misogyny, racism, and ableism, and I am probably forgetting more. I still played games – even MMOs – but I avoided fora and discussions outside of my guild and other trans people like the plague.

    Lucian, I hope you get this changed soon. I’ve spread the word as I can, currently.

  4. Pingback: Blizzard, How About Allowing “Trans*” Diablo III Clan Names | Rock, Paper, Shotgun

  5. just a random message from australia to say that i think you’re:
    really cool;
    argue your case politely;
    yet back it up with well reasoned/thought out points;
    are doing good things, & i admire you
    lots of support/hugs/etc
    all the best in the future :)

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  9. Pingback: Why Blizzard's Ban on 'Trans' Diablo 3 Clan Names is So Concerning

  10. Pingback: Van Diemen Gaming » Blizzard takes steps to placate LBGT community, removes ban on the word “trans” in Diablo 3 clans

  11. Pingback: Blizzard, trans clans, and the evolution of online harassment policy | Cardiff Computer Rescue

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