Oftentimes I have found people complaining that LGBTQI characters don’t fit in some games. Somehow, having a non-straight character at the table could destroy the fine veil of historic believability a fantasy world has to offer.
Needless to say, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the real reasons are nothing to do with history or believability. There are many reasons behind this behaviour. That is an excuse I will concentrate on for this article.
However, I was given a genuine reason and it is a reason I want to concentrate on today: ignorance.
People who feel uncomfortable either having a character at the table, or playing a non-player character when they direct a game, because they are worried the portrayal of the LGBTQI character will be flawed.
To say that LGBTQI people have existed since the dawn of time is to state the obvious. Numerous records point at people with homosexual tendencies, transexuality, intersexuality, etc, from ancient times to today. It really doesn’t take too much to find serious studies on the topic from very specialised viewpoints.
You can easily find photos of people in same sex relationships in the 1800s USA, and 1800s and 1920s in the USA and the United Kingdom. And those were times when being out was far more dangerous than today.
If we can find people who were ready to have their photo taken, imagine how many more there were hidden. And those people were entrepreneurs, doctors, nurses, policemen… actors, directors.
Hence, even though the American government decided the first amendment did not apply to movies for a while and decided it was illegal to depict LGBTQI characters in movies, there were numerous references and appearances of gay characters during this period.
Even during that time, some creators found less plausible to have a world without gay characters and face fines than completely shut us down.
Because there were gay people. There were private clubs where people could go to have same sex encounters without being prosecuted or vilified. Or at least run a lower risk of being found out.
In short, there were Gays at times when we believe everything was soooo hard for them to be alive without being killed on sight.
Of course that extends to the middle ages with numerous studies showing different levels of tolerance towards LGBTQI people. We can also find LGBTQI people in the Middle East through the ages, or India, Japan and Native American Culture.
Therefore, to say that a Gay character doesn’t fit in the setting can only be a product of homophobia or ignorance. Because people were there.
So how can this be applied to RPGs?
Well, firstly it is a matter of deciding to what extent the historical background of the game matters. You, as a team of players, must decide if having Elder Ones in a game is OK but LGBTQI people are not. If having knights with magical swords is OK but having a Transgender NPC is too much. If seeing dragons or throwing fire balls is fine but a Lesbian Cleric is just not possible.
If you want to decide that LGBTQI has no place around your table, well… so be it. You are probably a homophobe.
I would also say you are doing a great disservice to RPGs. You are not playing them right.
Yes, I am saying there is way to play RPGs incorrectly if you think there were no LGBTQI people in ancient cultures, there were.
The application of the historic background and attitude towards LGBTQI people are optional. Nothing stops you from having an Inquisitor who is more interested in the mission he is going to entask the group with than one particular character. Nothing stops you from having a police officer in the 1920s who has better things to do than hassling an character for being gay. Nothing stops you from having a Shogun who has decided that a Samurai’s bravery is worth more than the rules about homosexuality. Nothing stops you from having any excuse to let your friend play a LGBTQI character.
Because the fact is that it doesn’t matter if someone wants to run a gay character. If it is a problem, then you should wonder if the problem is you. It probably is you.
By now I have already proven that they were accepted at times and places where we believe they weren’t. And that there was a support network, sometimes hidden. And people willing to risk their lives to show that we were there.
So, please, no more “gay people don’t fit in the system”. It doesn’t work.