Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

dev_chieftain: (red)
So let me tell you all about Ash.

Achernar Nehara is my character in the latest game, which Danny is running in Paizo's Golarion setting. He's using the Rise of the Runelords adventure path (because why not, but no spoilers please if you've read or played it; D&D's about the only place where I occasionally enjoy being spoiler free more than having spoilers to look forward to. Well, that and presents, because I like the mystery). I tried putting some advice I read somewhere once to use, so Ash is kind of a grandmother.

See, the advice comes from this blog I have sometimes read called Gaming as Women-- this particular article contains advice presumably for men on how to play female characters and not just tokenify or marginalize them.

I happen to be female, so you might think 'what do you even need that advice for?' But here's the tricky thing. I usually crossplay. I crossplay all the time. Half of the reason is that I enjoy male eye candy and personally, I think it's okay to objectify people sexually if everyone is doing it. The other half of the reason is the dark part, which is simply that I feel more comfortable appropriating traditionally male mannerisms and stereotypes than I do being stuck with the traditionally female. I have never ever been comfortable with things that are exemplified as feminine.

It's not that I don't like being pretty (anyone who doesn't has clearly transcended the natural vanity I suspect most humans are born with-- guilty as charged) or wearing skirts and dresses (when I can fit in them anymore-- I used to be much more active and thus more shapely in a way that dressmakers give two flying fucks about) or flowers or nature or feelings or diplomacy or wisdom or resolving conflict or cooking or horses or dragons or pretty boys, or music, or art. I like all those things. I just ALSO like things that boys try to claim for themselves, like history and science and being in charge, and driving and action movies and wrestling (especially the fake stuff) and steak and potatoes and never, ever wearing make-up if I can help it.

It's easier to claim the male things than the female things because I've been doing it for so long it's second nature. So I know it sounds weird, but I felt like I needed that advice from that article as a women who's been playing nothing but men to hide in my comfort zone where I don't have to deal with the sexism that upsets me when I express it myself. Internalized sexism is the most unpleasant to deal with, and we have to acknowledge that we ALL have it. You can't not have it when you grow up in a society that is still so inundated with it.

I'm a woman, and sometimes, I'm sexist against myself. And that? Fucking scares me.

My safe zone, my comfort, is to write male characters a lot. This started probably with me writing too much slash fiction. I think it's important to note that while I wasn't a bad writer in high school, I often felt that I didn't understand how to write about people. Writing fanfiction, slash fiction, allowed me to get better at it. It took years (I think it takes anybody who is serious about writing years to actually get good at it) for me to hit a point where I could write people that felt and acted and breathed and talked like people, and not bad actors. It's also possible that people other than me wouldn't feel that these people I write about feel realistic at all, but I do write as true for myself as I can, and I feel like whatever else I might complain about within my own work, I do know how to write people.

Trouble is, because it was slash fiction, the vast majority of my people are male. Not even because they need intrinsically to be male. Just, somehow, that made my default become dudes, all the time. I don't even feel the need to ship most dudes with dudes, though that has ever been the kneejerk assumption of people who are not so much okay with slash fiction; it's just that it's a safe place for me now. I can write about dudes, and I know them. I live with lots of them in my life as my friends. I can put myself in the shoes of a dude character, and I can see how I as this man would fall in love with something I couldn't have.

Put in a woman, and I get awkward and stiff, like an artist who's been drawing anime style fifteen years who is confronted with a desire to develop a new style. Me! A woman! What business do I have feeling like I don't understand my own gender?

But I don't, not really, anymore than I actually understand men. I understand this kind of ridiculous balance of the two. I understand liking and enjoying things that are considered girly, and things that are considered boyish, and I don't understand the mutual exclusion that both sides seem to imply. I have trouble remembering that, even though there aren't ANY women in media like me, it's okay to write about people like me.

So that article up there is pretty good stuff, and it really helps me to put things in perspective. Maybe I don't need to play a grandmother (Ash is not, as she has never had children.) and maybe I don't have to worry about oversexualizing my character (I have sexualized my male characters, no matter how craggy-faced, so why wouldn't I sexualize Ash in a way I am personally comfortable with? And I have been, though Danny nearly ruined it saying she looked like my mom. Squick.). But having those considerations did help me.

Ash is a grouchy old doctor who happens to be an ex-soldier. She is a cleric who is, quite literally, guarding secrets with her life, secrets she cannot risk letting loose. And I'm excited about playing her.

It took a lot, a lot, a LOT of work for me to get this far. I have boundaries that really need pushing (from me, not an outside source), and a comfort zone that isn't big enough that I know I want to expand continuously. I'm working on it. It's been a very slow burn, but once I finally hit the details of what makes Ash a me-character (ie, needlessly tragic and gruffly badass, generally speaking), I realized I really, really like my character.

So D&D has been pretty awesome. I'd summarize it, but uh, everybody's been doing that pretty AWESOMELY regularly over on the forum, so you can see everyone's take on it there.

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