on february 15, kotaku ran a “feature” on dani bunten. i’m not linking it – you can find it pretty easily if you want – because it’s disrespectful in a way that, as a transgendered woman, makes me cringe. the article, written by luke plunkett, perpetuates a misinformed attitude about trans people that is downright dangerous in a culture in which we’re already as marginalized as we are.
specifically, the kotaku article is rooted in the idea that a transgendered woman lives a dual-gender identity, that she “was male” prior to her transition. the article opens with a photo of a trans game designer pre-transition, and goes on to refer to her by her given (birth) name and male pronouns. halfway through the article, it springs her gender identity upon the reader like a plot twist, finally showing us a picture of her post-transition and using her chosen name and pronouns. if a feature on me called me by my birth name and had a picture of me with a beard, i would shit myself and then the author.
as a transgendered woman, let me DISPEL SOME MYTHS.
transition is not some BEFORE / AFTER DIET PILL AD. a transgender woman isn’t a man before she A) chooses to identify as a woman or B) has her genitals operated on. and the latter is in fact irrelevant to the former: i identify as a woman, but i have no plans for surgery. when you are born into this society, you’re assigned a gender. i was assigned “male.” but though i spent many years struggling to fit myself into a male identity that doesn’t mean i consider myself to ever have been a boy or man. i had not yet come to terms with my identity as a woman.
identity is a complicated thing, one that every person, trans or otherwise, experiences differently, and i can’t claim to speak on the late dani bunten’s behalf. but i can speak as a trans woman who deals with transphobia on a daily basis, especially in spaces related to videogames. and i can tell you on authority: if someone identifies as a woman, you call her a woman. if she internalizes female pronouns, you use female pronouns to refer to her. if she tells you her name, you use that name and not one that was chosen without her consent. oh, she expressed regret once about leaping into surgery she might not have needed to get? doesn’t invalidate her identity.
transphobia is rampant in games culture: it’s dangerous to all transgendered people and all women. it’s dangerous to everyone who participates in this culture. i remember a tigsource thread on “girl game designers” where someone said: “if you go on a blind date with a female indie game designer, you have a 50% chance of ending with a dick in your a**” (i think the word the poster dared not type is supposed to be “ass.”) to perpetuate incorrect myths about trans people and our identities is grossly irresponsible for a site like kotaku.
i posted on twitter about the article this morning, angrily, because I WAS FUCKING ANGRY. stephen totilo, who currently runs kotaku, reacted defensively, calling the article an “earnest tribute” and that he thought the “word choice” was “valid.” he didn’t say this to me, of course. i don’t know whether he blocked me or was simply ignoring me, but he refused to engage me, tweeting his responses to my concerns at courtney stanton, who i think was retweeting my tweets so that he could see them. while i was writing this post he finally buckled under the pressure of piles of tweets from trans people and allies, and changed the pronouns in the article and announced plans to change the top photo, but that doesn’t address the fact that the article – whose title includes the words “transgender video gaming pioneer” – is more about the novelty of bunten’s transition (“the narrative,” as totilo put it) than her actual contributions to videogames.
so let me tell you about dani bunten and how much we all owe her. she was one of the earliest voices in games to recognize that videogames were becoming solitary experiences, and that they had tremendous potential as interpersonal, social experiences that they were failing to actualize. “no one ever said on their deathbed, ‘gee, i wish I had spent more time alone with my computer,'” is the quote most often attributed to her. her digital game design was strongly informed by that of board games, which has been really good at this interpersonal dynamic thing for quite a while – her best-known game, m.u.l.e., adapts a number of traditional board game ideas, like auctions, to videogame contexts. and if you can’t see how this is relevant to my work in 2012, you haven’t been reading my blog.