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How Gaming Helped a Trans Woman Find Community

Cetine

Cetine Dale, the cohost of the podcast Bit Different, recounts how video games provide a support network for the LGBT community.

Over the years, video games have made a major shift from something to be played alone in mom's basement to a worldwide social phenomenon. Because of this, queer gamers like myself are suddenly finding a niche within gaming culture to access community, friendship, and a space to share our voices. Bit Different, a video game podcast I began, started as an entertaining resource for queer nerds -- and as Bit Different hits its 50th episode, I would like to reflect on how gaming has had a positive impact on my life and can serve as a supportive network for the LGBTQ community.

Bit Different began by giving a trans woman, myself, and a cis gay man, my cohost Rob, an opportunity to share our voices within gaming culture. On the show, Rob and I discuss upcoming game titles, pop culture news, graphic novels, movies, video game soundtracks, and personal stories from our lives. To make our podcast "extra," we call out weekly sexy video game characters as our "Crush of the Week." The podcast also tackles more controversial topics like current events and discusses how the present political climate affects us as LGBTQ people.

My realization of what gaming could afford me happened in 1997 when I was given an outlet to explore my identity as a transgender person. Blizzard released Diablo, an online dungeon-crawler, where for the first time in my life I had the opportunity to explore my identity and converse with other players as the Amazon character. Online, nobody cared that I was a boy playing as a woman warrior (which was 15 years prior to my transition). My teammates only cared that I pulled my weight and fought demons off their backs. The moment I realized I could be the Amazon and be appreciated without judgment was a breath of fresh air, and I have remembered that feeling of empowerment ever since.

One of the most exciting facets of gaming is the community. Yes, the games are what bring us together, but it is also the friendships created from playing games that make it all the more appealing. Gaming is an entire culture with cosplayers, eSports, Twitch streams, podcasts like Bit Different, conventions like Comic-Con and E3, and the gaming devices that keep us connected year-round. And for me, a trans woman who can often feel like the pink elephant in the room, making friends is easier in nerdy circles because we are all "outsiders" who indulge in living in fantasy worlds through our gaming consoles.

Video games expand our imaginations and take us away from the rigmarole of everyday life -- an escape queer people often welcome. Where else can one be pitted against monsters in Monster Hunter, access robot technologies in Horizon Zero Dawn, seek forbidden treasure in Uncharted, release the tormented souls of the damned in Bloodborne, fight off mutant zombies in Resident Evil, or align with aliens to save life from obliteration in Mass Effect? Gaming makes us accept the impossible and welcome difference because no matter the outcome, by working as a team, we always win.

The gaming community is rapidly growing, and Bit Different is here to cover it all. Today it's typical to watch players stream, meme, comment, voice chat, and team up with others in massive online games that can host hundreds of players. ESports are a colossal success and have drawn in more viewers than popular television shows. And anyone who owns a smartphone or game console can stream and get connected. The ease of streaming games on my Twitch channel has afforded me enduring friendships. And as gaming continues to evolve into this social haven and add new voices from diverse crowds, it's an honor for Bit Different to play its part.

As Rob and I continue to release weekly episodes, we have felt the love of gamers from all over the world -- queer, straight, cis, trans -- who chime in to hear us rant about our nerdy adventures. Now, as we're past our 50th episode, it gives Rob and me great pride and responsibility to represent our communities in the gaming world uniquely and freely without reservations. Gaming has always had a unique impact on my life, and it is very exciting to see where the industry will take us tomorrow. But one thing I have learned from gaming that I take with me is that games come and go, but the community and the fellowship among gamers stay with us.

CETINE DALE is the cohost of Bit Different, a podcast that can be found on iTunes, GooglePlay, and other podcast listings. Follow @bitdiffpodcast on all social media; @cetine on Twitch; and @cetinethedream on Instagram and Twitter.

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