Sunday, 17 June 2018

Sunday Short - LARP: your prejudice breaks my immersion

This post is inspired by some conversations and mutual rants on my Facebook feed. Names are blanked out as this was not on a public filter. 

The subject of today's post is that of how people fight against the notion of using the correct pronouns and gendered terms for people. I have chosen to take excerpts from a thread of people who were all "on the same side" in this battle and who were collectively venting their frustration at people who look for any excuse not to use the correct pronouns for people when asked to do so.

This mutual annoyance had been triggered by a series of comments on a LARP specific facebook page in which a person had said they had some wooden pronoun badges available for people at an upcoming event. They also shared the relevant rules pages of the event that explained both acceptable in character (IC) and out of character (OC/OOC) language and the in character attitudes toward both gender and people who are trans and/or nonbinary. For the most part the responses were positive and supportive. Many people expressed excitement at how these would be personally helpful, while others expressed mild confusion to the concept along with their support and promises to do their best.
This is exactly the sort of response you would hope for.

Of course though there were those who adamantly insisted that it was all too confusing for them and others who insisted that having to use correct pronouns or seeing setting appropriate pronoun badges would "break their immersion". But more of that later.

I wanted you to see it from this angle as I think often in these situations, the minority group being targeted feels they have to go to great lengths to stay polite and reasonable and any show of anger and annoyance is seen as being unreasonable, demanding and disruptive. What's not understood is that actually these things really do upset people, that restraint is not just tedious but emotionally draining and actually, in safe spaces people have a lot to say. Not only that but that this isn't one or two individuals nor is it just those who are personally impacted there are many others who offer their support.

These excerpts are taken from a much larger discussion.
NB when it is necessary to differentiate between people posting I will refer to them by the colour used to blank out their names.

screen shot of a Facebook post. The posters name and profile picture are obscured. transcript below.
[red person] [LARP list - Empire - small rant cw. misgendering]
I am gonna start by saying I'm angry, but not necessarily at anyone in particular.
Yes, one guy said that PRONOUN BADGES BREAK HIS IMMERSION-ish. And sure he was way privileged but not malicious. Although it annoyed me because this was posted in the AMAZING [name redacted]'s post about their awesomeness to get IC pronoun badges out, supporting transfolk (including me!) And some cis-jebend comes out with this?
Nah bruv. Back of the line!
As was pointed out, there is (meant to be) no gender bias in Empire, but it's not gender blind.
Also if pronound badges break your immersion ... just ... really, it breaks your immersion?!?!
Luckily, though it's not about you or your immersion. It's about avoiding misgendering, which can be HORRID btw.
Luckily ppl have been amazing in response. 
I mean this sums it up really. It's frustrated and annoyed and the poster just wants to have nice things and not be misgendered.

Yet when a person starts complaining about having to call people by the correct pronouns that's what they are doing. They are knowingly getting a part of somebody's identity wrong. People will come up with all sorts of excuses about why this should be ok , or about why they should be excused from the basic courtesy of calling people by the name and gendered terms they are comfortable with.
As we shall now see.

Screen shot of facebook comments. The first comment is by ORANGE and has two short replies from RED and PINK. There is another comment from PINK. Both comments have a number of like, love and funny reacts.
 [orange person] Know what breaks my immersion? the tractor that empties the toilets. Know what form of immersion I'm happy to deal without? Actual literal tonnes of human waste.
[red person replies] YES!
[pink person replies] Hahahaha. Giggling at my desk here.
[pink person] If a wooden badge breaks his immersion, I dread to think what potion lammies, the caterers, the use of normal money to buy things, monstering battles, referees, the toilets, the continued existence of Silverstone on the edge of hearing and time-out do. But I have a long standing solution to people with immersion problems. It involves a large paddling pool and I didn't need it last event. 

Immersion, for those not familiar with the term in this context, is the concept of being fully immersed in the make-believe world of a LARP. It is how much you feel that it is all real as it is happening and "buy-in" to the game. It's not essential and it's never going to be 100%. At the end of the day we all do know we are at a game and this isn't real life. Some degree of immersion really can make for a better game, there's little argument there. We often strive towards as compelling and "believable" setting, story and characters as we can and that's great. If you don't LARP think about sitting down to watch a film or read a book and getting totally engrossed in it so that the mundane world is temporarily shut out. It's a much different experience than when people are rustling bags of crisps, talking and walking across your view of the movie screen.
But, our orange and pink people above aptly describe, there are always going to be intrusions. In a fest LARP they can range to basic modern sanitation like emptying the portable toilets to things designed to make the games work like referees (I've included a brief glossary of terms at the bottom of this post). We just work around them, accept them and carry on with our game.
The references to Silverstone by the way is because this game happens to take place near Silverstone Race Track and though we never run on major F1 days there are often other race days on which can sound like an alarmingly large swarm of wasps.

To argue that with all that, pronoun badges and calling people the right terms is immersion breaking is a weak excuse. It's churlish and transphobic. It's finding the thought of being reminded to use the correct terms so outlandish and unreasonable as to be more disruptive than a septic tank being emptied.
Not only that it is selfish. Even if it were somehow terribly disruptive to be reminded by a small wooden badge what pronoun a person uses, it presumes that your own sense of immersion and experience of a game is more important than not misgendering somebody for an entire weekend.

OK on to the next round.
Screen shot of a Facebook comment with three replies. two names have been obscured the third is mine. Transcript below
[red person] HALP
What can I reply to comments such as "[name redacted] see this is my problem to me, people are people regardless of these endless labels, we all are just people" ??
That's GREAT that you do and fab. The label, the one you scorn that helped me find who I am "Agender" is part of my IDENTITY. Don't DISMISS MY IDENTITY JUST YOU DON'T SEE IT.
[Robin Tynan] "though we are all just people labels are commonly used in our culture and language. Since we use them all the time for people it's a good idea to make sure we use the correct ones. Also while you may be happy to have any random word used to describe you, others prefer if the language is more precise. It's just personal preference and there's no harm in respecting that."
[green person] With an axe?
[Robin Tynan] ^ wait ignore me, do this.
What we have here being quoted by Red Person is a frustratingly common rhetoric. "We're all just people", "I don't see labels". Yet people do see labels. Most people are comfortable being called by their own name and not by somebody elses, or even by a variant of their name. I have worked with a Steve and a Stephen, they were very different people. Steve hated being called Stephen and vis versa. Equally, a lot of people get ranckled if they get a letter addressed to Miss instead of Mrs, Ms instead of Miss or Mrs instead of Ms: that's not even misgendering, they're all female but we know that in our culture each of those labels confers different meaning and so we like the correct one to be used. Most cis people don't have the discomfort of being routinely misgendered but wouldn't hesitate to correct somebody if they incorrectly used Sir or Madam - and those who got bullied when younger for being "like a boy" or "not manly enough" may particularly be sensitive to what pronouns and gendered terms get used for them.
And that's just us as individuals. Have you ever patted somebodies dog and said "How old is he?" only to be given a firm "She is eight." . So many people are very quick to make sure the "correct" labels are used for creatures (and even things, like boats and cars) who have no concept of English language let alone sex and gender.
This is a common and shared experience. Most people actually do care about and use labels far more than they realise and I can't think of anybody I have ever met who has genuinely appeared not to care. Yet when it comes to asking people to respect the pronouns of people who are trans and/or nonbinary people forget a lifetime of experience and turn into egalitarian hippies who shun labels and social constructs like gender. Its insincere, it looks insincere and it infuriating. Again it's hurtful and transphobic and unnecessarily passive aggressive. If these arguments only apply when you are in a conversation about trans and nonbianry people then you are discriminating against them and acting with prejudice.

Screen shot from facebook showing a comment and subsequent replied from the same person. The second reply itself contains a screenshot from elsewhere on facebook. Name obscured, transcript below

like, I'd already ranted about [name redacted]'s first comment last night, and it's like, it's not enough she's not being coddles for not being able to use "they/them", she then has to continue plowing in with her fucking aggravating comments. like SHUT THE FUCK UPPPPPPPPPP [name redacted].
[purple person replies] Honestly, Like, this comment is the only reason I engaged with her second comment. Like, first of all, there's no "problem". Second of all "if I'm uncertain"?? THE POINT OF THIS IS TO MAKE [SURE] YOU'RE NOT UNCERTAIN. THIS THREAD [the original] IS LITERALLY TALKING ABOUT HOW TO MAKE SURE YOU'RE CERTAIN ABOUT SOMEONE'S PRONOUNS.
[quoted excerpt from original thread] perfect I am older than the average LARPer and therefor find adjusting my language hard and have been known to cause offence inadvertantly. In an effort to prevent this if I am uncertain I use the person's name instead of pronouns. Problem Solved.
As you may have noted, Purple Person has some strong feelings here. You might think some of their responses are an over reaction, but I absolutely 100% agree with them and they are far from an over reaction. (keep in mind this response was not said directly to the offending person, the wrath was reserved for elsewhere). I want to focus on the quoted excerpt here. It almost sounds very reasonable and quite nice. They are making an effort aren't they? What's wrong. 
Well read it again, and read it from the point of view of who it is aimed at.
"I am older than the average LARPer and therefor find adjusting my language hard and have been known to cause offence inadvertently." This is actually a good start. Because you see, we're all human, we all make mistakes. People who are trans sometimes make mistakes about their own names and pronouns especially if they haven't "fully" transitioned or have to use one name in one context and another elsewhere. Adjusting language takes time. 
The thing is, most of us realise that firstly, if you make a mistake, most people aren't actually offended. They aren't because, mistakes happen. A single mistake isn't a problem. But reading between the lines here we know that this isn't a one off slip of the tongue. It's multiple mistakes. It's repeated "mistakes" it's mistakes with no effort to really learn and no real concern about the impact. You think you've likely caused offence. You know your actions are less than good. 
Secondly, this sort of statement should really be followed by an apology. There is no apology, just a statement that you know you do it wrong, you know what you do may hurt people and that's it. That's pretty self centred and pretty crap.
Now on to the second part "In an effort to prevent this if I am uncertain I use the person's name instead of pronouns. Problem Solved.". Really as Purple Person pointed out, you have already been given a solution to this, an aid so you don't have to just know or try and remember: pronoun badges, the thing you are grumbling about. This has a number of issues. Pronoun badges are things which many trans and nonbinary people have decided they are comfortable to wear and understand that it makes it easier for people to use and remember their pronouns and genders. When ti comes to dealing with "isms" and discrimination against minority groups it's very important that we listen to those minority groups. They are generally best placed to know what solutions will work best for them as they are the ones with first hand experience. So here we have a number of people who belong to a minority group saying "this is a tool which will help all of us, please use this to reduce a problem we experience". To be completely ignored and then to see somebody declare their own "solution" completely ignores and disenfranchises the minority group. It serves to assert the majority as the dominant voice over the minority.
The "solution" itself is a problem. It ignores the problem and erases a core part of the issue. If the issue is having genders recognised and respected including both nonbinary and binary genders, then a solution that seeks to ignore those and just use a name means you are neither recognising nor respecting the person. It also means that you are treating trans and nonbinary people differently to cis people. Other people are afforded pronouns and appropriate gendered language in a natural use of the English language: trans and nonbinary people will be referred to differently only using their name in a manner that is awkward with common English language usage. 

As previously Purple Person also highlights the use of excuses designed to place a person's comfort above a person's right to be recognised as their own gender (which is literally covered by the Human Rights Act 1996). In this case the excuse isn't "immersion" it is age. People are well aware that people with a lifetime of using one set of language may struggle changing that language, as noted above we all make mistakes and that's ok. However there is a marked difference between those who say "ok it may take me some time to get used to it, it's unfamiliar" and "I'm old so I find it difficult so I'm going to fight it.". Furthermore we aren't actually talking about anything particularly new here. People of any age are used to using a singular they/them - it's something we have done for a long time if we weren't sure of a person's pronouns e.g. "do you know when they called?" or "I got an email from Alex, I will reply to them later.". People are also used to being polite and respectful and using the pronoun, salutation or name asked of them: to use an earlier example "It's Mrs, thank you" "oh, sorry, Mrs Reynolds". Being polite and respectful around what people are called is nothing new and has little to do with age.

Purple Person made a lot of good points and one final thing I'd like to explore from their posts that is important to us all is, as they put it, "the pity party". That's really what a lot of this comes down to and I have already talked about it briefly: the idea that it is all about them. Somebody is making a polite request and sharing some useful information that helps a group of people: people reply in a way that recentres the conversation around them and how they feel about it. Let's be clear here, the original post wasn't a debate, it wasn't even a discussion. It was for the sole purpose of providing information. That it became a point for people of the same minority group to show appreciation was a bonus. There was no need for people not of that minority group to voice their opinions. Asking respectful questions "is it ok if ..?" "where can I find out about ..?" is one thing, challenging and arguing is another. 
Not everything is about you. Or me. Or them. Or that person over there. There are some people who are in more privileged groups, that is they are not in a minority or have any protected characteristics, who are very used to things being about them. The whole reason we have minority groups is often because our culture is set up to serve one particular group of people: names white, British, straight, male, able bodied and cis-gendered. The more of those groups you fit in to the more the world is set up to benefit you. People who find themselves in several of those groups often seem to express shock and annoyance when conversation doesn't revolve around them and there is a natural tendency for them to try and shift the focus. 
This means they are taking the voice away from an already underrepresented group. That's literally discrimination.

Face book screen shot with person's name obscured in blue.
[blue person] OOC prejudice sneaking IC breaks my immersion.

I love this comment. It sums it all up very well in my opinion. Plus I like a bit of dry humour. 
You think a small pronoun badge makes the fanatsy world a little bit less real for you? Well your prejudice makes the real world a lot harder for me and many others.
It's not a competition. It's not about trumping people. It's about being a reasonable person and sometimes putting people's real world needs above petty annoyances. 

A pronoun badge shouldn't break your immersion, but if it does, suck it up.


LARP - Live Action Roleplay
IC- In character, when a person is playing as their LARP character. Can also refer to things happening within the game world that the characters are experiencing.
O/OC - Out of Character, when you are being yourself and not your character: things experienced in the real world, not in the game.
Immersion - the sense of being part of the game world and story and experiencing things as your character
Referees - people who help to run the game usually in the function of enforcing or facilitating rules. They may be present IC or OC.
Monstering - the role of playing a non-player-character or monster instead of your own character in order to provide plot or action for others. Often means taking a turn playing "the opposing side" in a battle.

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