When I was 14 and struggling with feelings I couldn’t express, I came up with a character for Dungeons and Dragons that baffled my DM. They were a cleric that was, although none of us knew the word, agender as a result of a “cursed” item that was in the 2nd Edition books, the dreaded Girdle of Masculinity and Femininity that filled the cishet boys with existential horror, yet granted me a giddy hope. And if any of those cishet boys puzzled about why I would play a “cursed” character or explore something so alien to their thinking as being outside the gender binary – in ’94, in Tasmania – none spoke up to chastise me for being *them*. They were the Cleric. They were part of the team. I healed them and called upon potent magics to serve the cause of good and smite evil. It was all that mattered. And for an hour a day, I was free.
Dungeons and Dragons is what leaps to mind when most people think “roleplaying game“ but the industry is much broader than that, offering decades worth of games that cover every possible genre or budget. I’ve seen supernatural detective noir, multiple versions of cyberpunk, magical girl anime, zombie survival, pulp superhero, simple sword and sorcery games that fit on a booklet, horror high school mashups and investigators taking on eldritch horrors beyond mortal imagining. These days there’s heaps of licensed stuff, too – Power Rangers, My Little Pony, Marvel and DC superheroes, Avatar the Last Airbender and more have all had recent releases. You’re only limited by your imagination – all you need are a few rulebooks, some dice, pencils and paper, and like minded friends. The hobby is there for anyone regardless of physical ability, neurodiversity or age, and can be held in places away from the service and consumption of alcohol, be that a conference room in a library or a private back area at a queer friendly cafe.
Although there are some gatekeepers who would keep LGBTQIA+ people out of these games, we have as much right to play them as anyone else. And when we do, like a closeted transgender teenager experimenting with a genderqueer cleric so many years ago, we find a space to explore our joy, create the heroes we want to see, and tell our own stories. We can try out new identities, or explore themes and social situations that we aren’t yet ready for in our day to day lives, and build lasting friendships over shared adventures.
And most of all, for a few hours… we can be free.