Saturday, June 22, 2013

Gender post follow-up

Dear guys and gals,

First of all, I want to say thank you all for the kind words and thoughts that have been shared my way since the day before yesterday - I literally have not had a single negative thing said to me about my situation. That being said, I told you all I'd address your questions and I intend to do just that.

The biggest question I've been getting is how I can personally say that I call myself male yet still identify as a woman. To be blunt, I believe that this ties back into coping with what I was told by several people throughout my life: you will never be a woman, you will only play pretend. I like to think of myself as a realist - albeit a generally positive, optimistic one - and I felt like, to an extent, these people were right; I would never be able to bear children, nor could I change my chromosomes, nor erase my history or legal status as a male.

And I was okay with that.

Just because I realize that, biologically speaking, I'm probably your standard XY male when it comes to sex (I don't technically know for certain, never had that sort of test) that doesn't mean I can't be a woman when it comes to gender, or that every time someone else identifies me as a woman, I think to myself, "yes, but..."

Some people have told me this is something called "biological determinism," and isn't necessarily fair to myself or other transgender people. Hormones are malleable and vary wildly from person to person; I don't actually know my chromosomes; we don't think of castrated men as not men, etc. This brings me to another point I want to be very clear about:

What works for me may not work for you, and that's fine. People have talked to me about how I should be angry with Mike. I'm not, and not just because I believe, like he does, that yup, I'm biologically male. I'm not angry with Mike because I don't believe in being angry with someone for believing differently from me. I have several amazing, hardcore Christian friends, and I know this may shock some of you, so take a seat, but I'm not Christian. My Christian friends likewise have some very close Hindu friends. They in turn have Buddhist friends. Religious beliefs are some of the most tightly-held, personal beliefs and life choices someone can have, and yet this web of people is connected together just fine, no spiders in sight.

In short: we can disagree and still be cool with each other.

I've also received some questions seeking advice. This happened a lot when I first came out at Iowa State as well. While I wish each and every person who has ever come to me asking for advice the best of luck in their journeys, each of these journeys is very personal, and I can't possibly give you the proper advice without knowing you far more intimately than is possible through Twitter and email. That's what therapy is for, and why it's a required part of treatment. The best advice I can give: follow the program, be honest with yourself, and do what you need to do.

Lastly, people have asked me how to approach someone in my position; do you address someone as "he," "she," "ze," "they"? What if you can't tell? It's rude to assume, but isn't it also rude to intrude and ask? Again, this will be different from person to person. Usually someone who falls outside the gender binary will make it clear how they wish to be identified, but if they don't, I feel it's not rude to ask, so long as you're asking "How should I address you?" and not "So.. what are you?" Transgender individuals tend to prefer being referred by the pronouns which reflect their presented identity, i.e. a male who presents as a woman (such as myself) would prefer you referred to them by feminine pronouns.

Both sides must be patient with one another; those of us who stray from what has been the norm for a very long time must understand that people simply may not understand what's happening or what they should do, while those who are seeking to learn must truly attempt to learn and listen.

Thank you all again for reading. Several of you have contacted me offering financial assistance for my transition and I can't deny that's very tempting. Honestly, if someone were to approach me with the money or a funding solution, I don't know that I'd turn it down. If that's something people really want to do for me, then I have to think on it. Right now, I don't feel I really have done anything to deserve it. I don't think of myself as more needing the funds than anyone else in my situation, and I try not to let my ego get too full of itself. I suppose we'll see where that goes.

For now, I thank you again for reading, and for those of you wondering when I'm gonna be getting back into games journalism, all I'll say is don't worry; this blog won't just be here to address this snafu-whatchamacallit, and I have an independent project I'm currently developing and prepping for on the side.

Thanks again!


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Penny Arcade / Who I am

Dear Reader,

Yesterday, Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade and I had a conversation regarding transgender identities. Mike had expressed some views via Twitter that many took offense with and were hurt by, including myself. I emailed Mike to let him know how I felt, and the resulting conversation left us both feeling a bit better about the whole mess. Although I initially wanted to keep the conversation private, I gave Mike the go-ahead to publish our conversation, and effectively outed myself as male-to-female transgender person to, oh, just a couple thousand strangers.

This post isn't to talk about Mike or what Mike believes regarding gender identity, or even what I believe. I'm not here to try and convince you one of us is right or how you should treat people you don't agree with, people who identify different than you, or people you frankly just don't understand. I want this post to be about why I gave the okay to publish that conversation, and what life has been like for me thus far. As with my conversation with Mike, this isn't to sway you or make you think any particular line of thought - this is merely me releasing the valve a bit and airing some dirty laundry, to confuse metaphors.

The truth is that, while the details about my transition were available to the public via several websites and articles - some of which I myself had written - I was afraid, for several reasons. Any of my Destructoid readers should know how highly I champion feminism and gender equality. I was afraid that, if people knew I was biologically male, I would be told I had no right to talk about situations which I could not possibly understand. What right would I have to talk about what it means to be a woman in games if I wasn't "really" a woman?

I was afraid that, for all the praise and compliments my work has received over the years, I would not be able to find work if people knew. For one, I would technically count as another male hire, since that is what I legally have to identify as. When sites and publications in the games industry start seeking diversity in their potential hires, "white dude" is not very high on the list, and as far as paperwork is concerned, that's what I am. We must also account for the fact that, as much as I love it, the industry is not well-known for being inclusive and welcoming. I was afraid that discrimination would be a factor, and that I might be denied work on the grounds that my identity would make people uncomfortable.

I still worry about these things, though the outpouring of support has certainly helped, and I thank you all for that. There is still a fear that my identity will be seen as a liability, or that I will be told my views and experience as a woman "don't count." I also worry about perception. To those of you who met me in person at PAX or any industry events, the short answer is yes, I was afraid you could tell. Yes, I am afraid every day that people can tell. No, I do not feel particularly confident in how I look and sound.

I am afraid of how you see me, because I want you to see me the way I see myself. I want confirmation from the mirror, both literally and socially.

Recently, I considered giving up on being Sophie. The stress of worrying about how people perceive me, would anyone find out, what would happen if they did, could I ever save up enough money to go through with the physical changes I seek, etc. were weighing very heavily on me. I knew I wanted to be Sophie, but the reality was too hard to face, and I often felt conflicted about wanting certain things; I wanted plastic surgery to help my appearance, but if I felt I had to be pretty and couldn't be happy just being a woman, was I doing it for the right reason? Things like that.

I thought that perhaps, if I could just learn to be happy as a man, I could let Sophie go, and I would no longer have to worry about such things. I've tried, and that simply hasn't happened.

I don't know if I'll ever be proud of myself the way so many of you apparently are proud of me. I don't know how this now highly-visible information will affect my ability to work in the field. I don't know that I'll ever be able to afford to be the way I wish I was.

But I do know I don't regret telling Mike how I felt yesterday, and I don't regret telling you about myself and my experiences today. Thanks for reading.


P.S. I have a part-time shift today I need to handle, but I'll be fielding questions in the comments later on. I'll try my best to get to all of them before the day/weekend is over. You can also email me if you'd rather keep our conversation private.

Some introductions are in order

Hi guys, Welcome to the blog of games journalist Sophie Prell. Things are just getting up and running around here, so please bear with me as I iron out the kinks and make this place a warm and cozy place to snuggle up. Sincerely, Sophie