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.


  1. I dont think i have much in the way of questions, but for what is worth, i didnt know until yesterday and besides a couple of internal "What? Really? uh", i think that it was very brave of outing yourself, specially, in the videogame industry, that is not particularly known for its openness

    You'll have to forgive a typo or grammar mistakes as English is not my first language, but i'd like to know if you ever had to out yourself in public to someone who had no idea and what their reactions were?

    I think in those cases, you get to really see what people think as the shock of surprise usually doesnt let you "fake" an attitude.


    1. PS: Is there anywhere that i can go to read about why you're not working in PA anymore? i was really surprise to just not seeing your articles there and there wasn't any post or anything like that on the site.

      Thanks again :P

  2. I had no idea that there were legal requirements surrounding the whole "gender presentation" thing. That adds a whole extra dimension to the transgender fight that I never knew existed.

    Thanks for sharing your story. Keep being awesome!

  3. Had no idea, don't care either way! Be proud of who you are -- who you feel you are -- and own it. The insecurity seems to drive a lot of transgender folks into dark places, so I hope that the relative relief of having this truth out there will help you out. You are awesome.

  4. Hi Sophie. I'm a gamer and a transwoman. I've been out as a transwoman for the past 10 years and a gamer for much longer. I just want you to know that I'm incredibly proud of your courage for coming out and for standing up in the face of some very hurtful things. You do us, transwomen, queer, and female gamers proud. I wanted to share that I, too, had some of the same thoughts as you back in the day regarding "can I learn to be happy as a man", but in truth, the answer for me is no. No matter how hard I tried, I'd have never been happy that way. Living that lie would have likely killed me. The person that I am today is the real me...the whole me. Ultimately, now I don't care who knows. I'd rather be myself than let someone else dictate who or what I should be. I don't care if I "pass" or not. This is me, and no job, no relationship, no nothing will ever take that away from me. I know it's different for everyone, though. I'm happy to chat if you ever need that...though I'm sure you have a ton of friends. I'm @janiukjf on the Twitters and Jessica Janiuk on Google+. Just know that this woman supports you and thinks you're awesome. :)

    1. >> I don't care if I "pass" or not. This is me, and no job, no relationship, no nothing will ever take that away from me.

      YES. Thank you. :)

  5. You're awesome, and I hope your bravery does nothing but help your career.

  6. As with several of the other commenters here, I had no idea, and nothing's changed now. Well, nothing apart from perhaps gaining even more respect for you ;)

    Regardless, thanks for writing this Sophie. As a white male who identifies as a male, it can be hard getting into these conversations sometimes. I believe with all my heart that everyone has a right to live with the identity that feels right to them, but the fact remains that this isn't an issue I grew up being aware of; which means I'm sometimes ill-equipped to deal with it.

    It can be frustrating. Sometimes I try to express my thoughts and do so in a way that (to me) feels extremely supportive of LGBT individuals, only to be attacked and called transphobic. Certainly, there is a strong element of truth to the idea that I'm still ignorant on many things, and I still stumble for the right words to talk about this.

    But eh, my intention here is not to whine about how hard it is for me as a heterosexual Caucasian man (That is a joke!). Rather I just wanted to congratulate you, and thank you for the olive branch to those of us like Mike- whom I don't align with exactly here, but I sympathize with his plight- who want to be supportive but sometimes need help learning how. I think for a lot of us this is new territory, and attacking us for making mistakes as we try to explore is misguided, I think.

  7. When I read the phrase "Recently, I considered giving up on being Sophie", I kind of winced a little. I don't even know you personally and I can't even begin to imagine your experience, but the thought of you giving up on who you are is hard to digest. Please, don't do that. As hard as it might be, don't do that.

    I only know you through your (quite excellent) work in games writing and your Twitter postings, but I like the person I see. I know how people are, I've been on the internet long enough to know that you're probably right in some of your fears about the way people might treat you, and I'm sorry for that. I apologize on behalf of our fellow humans.

    I hope that maybe one day, at one of these big gaming shows or something, I'll randomly encounter you. I'll be sure to thank you personally for your great work as a writer and your willingness to stand up and be heard on such a personal, yet important, issue.

  8. As many others I discovered this fact recently. And as many others I say "It's all right".First: we respect you for your work, and we will always be.

    Taking a more personal view, I can just empathise with your personal situation, and for what I read (both this entry and PA), must be hard as hell. We support you on overcoming your doubts! (even if it looks as an empty way to cheer you, I really mean it).

    About what I think: I see you both as a woman, and one of my favorite videogame journalists. I always saw you like this, and I think it won't change, even if I haven't met you in person.

    P.S: I'm sorry if my English isn't very good, it's not my first language.

  9. Hi Sophie!

    I've only been introduced to you recently through PAR, and from the onset, all I knew was "This writer is amazing." I didn't know who you were, and we haven't met, but I admire your work.

    I understand that today's events and exchanges (and probably all the other people's messages today) would be overwhelming and heavy. I want to let you know that I look up to you because you are talented. I recognize you as special, and that your genetics and gender, both a mystery to me before today, have so little to do with why I think highly of you.

    Thanks for reading, and I wish you well!

  10. Thank you for sharing this, Sophie. Incredibly brave. The internet can be an acerbic little twat sometimes, so I can't even imagine the kind of courage it takes to come out this way.

    As someone who only knew you from your writing on Penny Arcade (and hadn't even realized you'd left) here's my only question:

    Where are you writing now, and how do I read more of your work?

  11. I'm proud of you for being so brave, both by telling your story, and by living your truth as Sophie. Much love and respect to you!

  12. Honestly, I hadn't heard of you until I read through Mike's post yesterday. Which I only found because I'd seen the Social Justice crowd on tumblr coming down on him for what he'd said.

    Personally, throughout everything that was thrown out last yesterday, I found myself mostly agreeing with what Mike was saying. I have a pretty black and white view on the world when it comes to biology, but also that if you present yourself to me as a guy, or a girl, I'll treat you as such.

    I appreciated your calm, well though-out comments in your emails. The way you presented things was a lot easier to get my head around than the "YOU'RE WRONG. PRIVILEGED WHITE MALE SCUM!" argument that a lot of the Social Justice crowd put across.

    Any way... I don't know if any of that makes sense, is worth even commenting, but as others have said, reading that you thought about giving up 'being Sophie'..? - I don't know you at all, I don't know how hard it is, but the idea of feeling like it might be easier if to give up who you are? I really hope you get to a place, or have got to a place where that's no longer the case.

    I'm useless at comments, it'd seem.

  13. When I came out as gay, I had to explain a lot of things to my straight friends. I wanted to be accepted for who I was, but I didn't anticipate having to be an ambassador for sexual identity. I wasn't really prepared to answer all their questions, and in some cases took offense at the more insensitive things that were said. Over time I came to the realization that what I was taking as insensitive/offensive was coming from a place of genuine confusion. I came to embrace the role of "explainer of teh gay" with my friends and family. I like to think I changed a few hearts, and I educated a few minds.
    Congratulations to you Sophie. I wish you every happiness. We don't ask to be representatives of some larger community when we come out. But I think you are doing a fine job.

  14. I felt so mad I had my wife write on my surgical scars, you're great, but I'm done with the comic, I hope you can become who you want to be < 3 all my love

  15. Please don't give up on being Sophie. I'm sorry that openly being who you feel you are is so difficult for you. As a woman who was born a woman, moments like this remind me how fortunate I am to have no problems with my gender identity. Thank you for talking about this. People try to tell me that I'm not a real woman because I don't wear makeup, and that makes me feel bad enough, so I can't really imagine how bad people can make you feel. For what it's worth from an internet stranger, as far as I'm concerned you *are* Sophie, and no less of a woman than I am.

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. D'oh deleted my first one cause I wanted to edit it and then lost my retyped one. Take three XD.

      "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've held the sames feminist views since childhood (born male) inspired by being frustrated with all the exclusively male characters in cartoons and videogames. I feel like this doesn't invalidate things all. ;-)

      Incredibly inspiring post. I'm going through some TG related stuff in my life right now and am always uplifted by these come out posts. Keep living life as Sophie, you're beautiful.

  17. I used to think along the lines that Mike is thinking. Then I met someone who transitioned and it changed all my assumptions.

    This person was one of my favorite people at the martial arts school where we trained. She was a black lesbian who was full of angst and had lots of problems connecting with the women in her life. We would hang out after class and bitch about our love lives together.

    So, I moved away, came back a year later, and found that she had transitioned to male (I'm sorry if I'm using the wrong terms here). And it totally made sense. This rebooted person was confident, happy, and a more complete person. You could see it instantly in the easy way he held himself. I am super proud of him because I saw what he's struggled with - things I'm sure I don't even fully appreciate as a straight cis white dude.

    I wanted to extend my support to you as well, and share this story because I hope Mike can see what I've seen, and learn about privilege and why it's so naive to say "I don't give a shit about gender issues."