Supportive People are the Best People

After deciding to make a career off of being an independent writer/creator, I’ve been ultra in-tune to the attitudes about my decision from others. On that same note, I’ve been ultra sensitive when I feel like someone is discouraging me from that kind of a career, even if its something as simple as a look that suggests that I’m crazy. In a sense, I sometimes feel like I am crazy in regards to this career path, but hey! I’M STILL DOIN’ IT. 

With these thoughts rolling through my head constantly, I recently had a conversation with some friends about this new-found career path of mine. Of course, I felt like the question was approached with a tone of “what are you even doing with your life?” Granted, I lost my mother in October, and I was in the process of looking for a job at that time despite the stress of her being in hospice taking its toll on me (which meant that the job search didn’t end up lasting too long), so I’m sure most people I know have a giant question mark in their head as far as where I’m at with my life. My friends all seemed fascinated by what I was aiming to do with my life of trying to make it as a writer/content creator, and though I didn’t really know how to respond to that particular sentiment, I found it more invigorating than the alternative: making me feel like this big choice I made would ultimately fail, making me poor, homeless, and more of a disappointment than I may already be to those who disagree with what I’m trying to do. Can you tell that I’ve been thinking about this a lot? 

And this isn’t to say that I’m uncomfortable with the decision to become a full-time writer, trying to become successful through my creations. It’s felt like the right decision to make for over a year, but never really became a viable option until just a few months ago. It’s the one passion of mine that has stuck around for the longest, while everything else seems to come and go. While I recognize the unconventionality of it, and what could happen if I don’t succeed, all signs in my life have seemed to point in this direction. So whether or not people support it, it’s still something I have to throw all my efforts into it. 

To the credit of others in my life, the group of friends I spoke with weren’t the only ones to be enthused with the choice that I made for my career. Plenty of other friends and family found it exciting, and thought that it’s definitely something I could pull off. Every time I talk about this scary, but ultimately fulfilling decision I’ve made for my career, and I get a supportive response, I feel hopeful. That sounds cheesy, and I know you probably just thought “okay, cool” but there’s honestly not a better way to describe how it feels. The feeling of hearing someone tell me that they think I’ll be successful at what I’m working toward is almost as satisfying as accomplishing that thing, itself. It’s like the kindling to a bonfire of a career. 

The more I discover which people in my life are supportive of my big career choice, the closer I feel to them, and the more I become aware of the kind of people I need to surround myself with. That’s not to say I only want people in my life who approve of every single thing that I do, because we do need those people who keep us grounded, too. However, there’s a difference people who try to keep you grounded, and people who try to pull you so far into the ground, you can’t see the light. Having people in your life that lift you up rather than drag you down, especially when it comes to things you’re passionate about, is such an important part of feeling secure in those decisions that you make. You don’t necessarily need that support to know you’re doing the right thing, but feeling that it’s there certainly takes literally a ton of weight off of making the decision.

This video of Will Smith made its way to my Twitter feed, and I feel like it’s so applicable to what I’ve been talking about, and a great reminder to us all about the kind of people who deserve our time.

The Problem with Excluding Trans Women from RuPaul’s Drag Race

As a community that has worked hard convince heterosexuals that we should be accepted for who we are, you’d think that LGBTQ+ individuals would be better about accepting differences. Also, if you’re someone that most of the community looks up to, you’d think it’d be because your views and position in the community is an overwhelmingly positive one. You’d also think that, as the face of a TV show, and unintentionally, the modern-day face of an entire art form, that you wouldn’t use your position to exclude an identity within the LGBTQ+ community from said art form. 

You may think I’m exaggerating, but from what RuPaul Charles, the face of RuPaul’s Drag Race said about whether or not he would allow a trans woman to compete on the show, it may not seem like it’s all that far-fetched. 

To summarize the parts of RuPaul’s interview with The Guardian that are in question, when asked about whether or not he would allow a trans woman to compete on the show, he said “probably not,” citing an example from Peppermint, a competitor in season 9 as someone who “didn’t get breast implants until after she left our show; she was identifying as a woman, but she hadn’t really transitioned.” Seeing RuPaul’s opinion on trans drag queens on her show during season 5 with Monica Beverly Hillz, which originally seemed pretty accepting, and then also seeing that Peppermint, an openly trans queen, was competing on the show, made me feel that this wouldn’t be an issue. Sure, she did have to get called out for the “She-Mail” segment of her show, and has a horrible track record of using the word “tranny,” but I guess some hopeful part of me thought that this meant her views were changing. Those thoughts all came to a crashing halt when she made an official statement on it, and now I fear that we will never be free of a problematic face of modern-day drag. 

Don’t get me wrong, I believe RuPaul has definitely done good work with the show. He’s an openly gay, black drag queen on mainstream television, casting other drag queens in the community for the show, all of many different races and ethnicities. He’s created quite a stellar piece of representation with Drag Race, and it’s amazing to see this incredibly important aspect of LGBTQ+ culture on VH1. However, that doesn’t make him immune to criticism. While he’s definitely a trailblazer for representing LGBTQ+ identities in mainstream media, his recent interview showed that he still has a lot to learn, especially as the current face of drag.

I’ve seen many people say that, because it’s Ru’s show, she gets to make the rules of who gets to compete on it. While this is true, RuPaul’s Drag Race is our society’s biggest, most prominent look into what it means to be a drag queen, and to insinuate that it’s a “cis men only” club is an insult to past and present trans drag queens. Drag Race did not give birth to the art of drag, rather, it’s a vehicle to display the talent and identities behind those who are drag queens. The unapologetic femininity in the queens’ performances is one of the reasons why the show creates such an impact, and a major reason why drag is such a powerful art form to have on mainstream television. The importance of the men being cis men isn’t lost on me, because society does encourage them to stray far away from anything feminine, yet Drag Race encourages a full embrace of femininity. However, it’s also not lost on me that RuPaul did suggest that trans women don’t have a place on his show, despite a man transitioning into a woman being the biggest embrace of femininity that could truly be done.

Ru says that Drag Race “is a big f-you to male-dominated culture,” so…what does that make being a trans woman? It seems counter-intuitive to defend this viewpoint by saying that only men who aren’t actively transitioning into being a woman are allowed to be on the show. Drag has become such a massive art form, and excluding someone from a chance at showing that art across the country just because they’re actively trying to live as a woman must feel oppressive. On that same note, Ru telling trans women that they can’t be on the show is literally a man telling a woman what they can or can’t do with their talents, at least in his world, which just so happens to be aired for all of the country to learn from on Thursday nights. 

As the lovely Monica Beverly Hillz said in the season 5 finale, “drag is what I do, trans is who I am.” Drag is an art form that anyone can (and should be able to) participate in, and to exclude people from the chance at competing on RuPaul’s Drag Race for not being a cis man is an incredibly low blow. The art form has progressed, and if Drag Race is meant to show the realm of modern-day drag, that means the face of its show (yes, I’m talking to you, Ru) should take a seat from making tasteless tweets defending their outdated views, and think about the values their show needs to convey.

All this being said, I admire what Ru has done for mainstream television. RuPaul’s Drag Race is a powerhouse for representing gay men in the media, as it shows a a cast full of unapologetically homosexual men displaying the talents that have given them successful careers. It shows such a deep look into what it means to be gay in today’s society, showing gay men of many different races with many different personalities, all who have unique experiences that define who they are. That alone makes it a trailblazer for LGBTQ+ media, but the “T” is that we shouldn’t deliberately exclude the T. They’re just as important (that’s why they’re in the acronym), and their drag is just as valid, so they deserve an equal shot at the crown, whether or not the person running the show personally believes they should.

Queer Eye for the Self-Esteem

When I watched the first episode of Queer Eye, I loved it so much, I knew I’d want to gush about it in the form of a blog post. So of course, I proceeded to binge the rest of the first season, calling it “research.” A friend of mine who’s published two books said that it counts, so I’d say that 8-ish hours of binge-watching was justified. 

For those who aren’t aware of the show, or who haven’t seen its predecessor, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the show centers around five gay men called “The Fab Five,” and in each episode, they’re tasked with improving the image and lifestyle habits a different guy (who’s usually straight). Each of the fab five members specialize in different aspects of lifestyle, the categories being food and wine, home decor, fashion, culture, and grooming. They spend about a week with these guys, giving them tips and tools on how to make themselves look and feel better to improve aspects of their life that are making them feel stuck. It’s like a home improvement and make-over show all in one series. Neat!

Though I never watched a whole episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, I found the title revamp to just Queer Eye was a great nod in the right direction, as far as showing progression. It already gave the impression that it was less about contrasting straight men and gay men, and more about simply offering their perspective in the guys’ worlds. The old title felt very much like “I have taste because I’m gay, and you don’t because you’re straight,” and I feel like that put both communities under an false, wide-spread generalization. It immediately gave the impression that the show was more about showing similarities, rather than pushing gay men into that “other” category.

The unifying themes don’t just stop at the title. Queer Eye has a general sense of accepting differences, and they even push the boundaries on topics about extreme differences, such as the police’s relationship with the black community, as well as Christianity’s relationship with the gay community. They handle these topics in a way that shows that it’s possible to talk about these things in a respectful manner, and it sheds light on the fact that a lot of our misunderstandings with these subjects are because of a lack of conversations between the two communities. The show also does well at showing that they aren’t easy conversations to have, but that having the openness to listen can go a long way. Of course, the show isn’t saying that we always have to agree with those who are on the other side (especially when it comes to issues of racism, sexism, and homophobia), but it suggests that we at least have these tougher conversations so we know how each side feels about any given issue. 

Aside from all of the positive representation and political commentary in Queer Eye, the main content of the show itself is uplifting in a way that is very much needed, especially in reality TV. It’s not about changing these men to the point where they’re entirely new. Rather, it focuses on putting them on the right track to improve their lives. The Fab Five has their opinions about what they should do, but they ultimately give the guys they’re helping the agency to make these changes in a way that feels comfortable to them. This is a much more positive take on the concept of a make-over, showing that making changes in your life is less about becoming a new person, and more about simply brushing some dust off your shoulders. It portrays that all of us are already beautiful, wonderful people, but we just have to extend that beauty to how we treat ourselves. 

I think Queer Eye is so important, not just because of it’s positive LGBTQ+ representation, but also because of powerful messages about self-love. I feel that some people think taking the time to indulge on things that The Fab Five focus on can make us seem vain or self-centered, but I love that the show reminds us that it’s okay to do these things to promote positivity within ourselves. We don’t have to feel vain about using a face mask every once in a while, or making sure our hair looks good, or even just making sure our clothes show off our personal style, because how we love ourselves can say a lot about the love we put into others. The show is empowering in a way that is so modern, and so relevant to so many different communities, that no matter who you are, you’ll find yourself learning new ways to love who you are.

Queer Eye is currently available only on Netflix! Get in there, reserve some time for yourself to experience this delightful show, cry about how many feelings it gives you, and maybe fall for one of members of The Fab Five. Surely I won’t be the only one, right? Regardless, you’ll have no regrets.

Too Gay? Or Not Gay Enough?

I absolutely love being gay. I love being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and I feel love for the people in it as if they were a part of my own family. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes exhausting to be a gay. As I get older, it continues to be more apparent as to why my gay friends try to only hang out with other LGBTQ+ people. However, I sometimes feel pretty out of place among other gay men, as well. Though I am fully aware that there’s no reason for me to feel this way (especially among others in my own community), I often feel like I’m in some sort of purgatory between these two realms of society.

Basically, I feel “too gay” for straight people, and “not gay enough” for gay people.

I have mostly straight friends and family members, so spending time with people I know usually means spending time with straight people. While my friends and family are accepting of my sexuality, and generally don’t say anything that’s considered homophobic, there’s always a latent level of heteronormativity or straight-centric attitudes that become pretty blatant at times, making me wonder how to handle it. I’ve only recently started being able to call it out, but when I’m in environments where I feel that my viewpoint is outnumbered, it takes a fair amount of mental and emotional energy to actually say something. It’s not that I’m not comfortable with my own viewpoint, or uncomfortable about my sexual orientation in that moment; it’s that I’m preparing for a slew of defensive comments that invalidate my experience as someone of the LGBTQ+ community. 

More often than not, straight people seem completely unaware of what the genuine experience of being in this community, and will often make tone-deaf comments that are not only exhausting to hear, but extra exhausting to have to correct. I often recall a straight man telling me that he figured I was gay, asked me to confirm whether his assumptions were correct, to which he proceeded to tell me that he knows a lot about the community because he has a gay cousin. I’ve also been told that I should know a lot about penises because I’m gay. There have been many other instances, of course, but these are the ones that have happened most recently. While I harbor no resentment toward the people who made them, it’s tiring to constantly be in environments where people feel it’s okay to say these things, and feel entitled to them despite what a member of the community feels about it. It becomes a chore to have to be a walking encyclopedia for the straight people in my life, just because they won’t bother to learn how to properly navigate interactions with this LGBTQ+ person who, presumably, is an important part of their life. 

And if all of that wasn’t enough, there’s also this latent level of anxiety that I harbor in straight-centric environments when it comes to talking about my own sexuality. While it’s good to feel like my gayness isn’t some giant elephant in the room, the reality of the situation is that it’s still there, permeating the air like a rainbow-tinted mist. I often find myself becoming reluctant to express parts of my sexual orientation because of the tendency for straight people to perceive being LGBTQ+ to be this exotic experience that is far too unique to understand. My sexuality is an important part of me, and I want to be able to talk about it with my friends and family the way I know I can, but it’s hard when it just feels like talking about it is more of a spectacle than it is a conversation. It feels more like my gayness is a performance to be learned from in straight-centric environments, and having to be that person who’s more of a reference than a gay person with unique experiences doesn’t necessarily make for a relaxing time with friends and family.

As my experience in straight-centric environments becomes more expansive, I start to see why members of the LGBTQ+ community often lean toward spending time with each other rather than with those outside of it. However, the experience of interacting with other members of the community is no strut down the runway, either.

You know what the strangest thing is about me feeling this way? I don’t even know the exact source of it. As often as I dig through my mind to pull out some sort of “aha!” moment, there are no aha’s to be found. I know that there are triggers that make me feel this way, and maybe seeing the community through the lens of the internet affects that trigger a bit, but sometimes it feels like that’s only ever scratching the surface. The trigger I’ve been noticing lately is how open many gay men seem to be about their sexuality (not so much their gayness, but more so them as sexual beings). It seems like every gay man has posted a shirtless photo, most gay men have posted a pic in their underwear, and many have shown the internet their butt. On dating apps for gay men, it feels like a requirement to have all three, and a photo of your penis.

There just seems to be this widespread attitude that you’re not comfortable with your sexuality as a gay man unless you’re willing to express it in a way that bears it all. While I don’t personally feel like showing the social media realm your butt, torso, or underwear is bad, I find myself feeling like, as a gay man, I’m required to follow in this trend just to get noticed. And it’s ridiculous to feel this way, because I know it’s not true. I know that any gay man I ask would (hopefully) tell me to just do whatever makes me happy within my boundaries, but I can’t help but feel like there’s this growing clique of gay men that only approves of other gay men that show their bodies on the Internet. 

There have also been plenty of times where I feel that my interests as a gay man have to align in a certain way just to fit in with the community. I’ve been a big ol’ geek for most of my life, and I’ve noticed that being a gay geek very much puts you in a different category of gayness. It seems like the two worlds are so separate, that you have to ditch your geeky interests to fit in amongst the more broad gay community. So if you want to fit in as a “gay geek,” you might have to sexualize your identity as one a bit more by being shirtless with that new video game that you just got. If you want to, more power to you! But if that’s not something you’d want to do, I get the feeling that you’d get overlooked. Sex really does sell.

Though I have other interests that align with what the broader gay community, a few being Rupaul’s Drag Race, female pop icons, going to Pride festivals, and other entertainment that falls into gay culture, I often wonder if I wouldn’t be considered a “good gay” or “gay enough” if I wasn’t. I’ve seen it in others; they blame themselves for not being a good member of the community simply for not being into something along those lines, and for reasons that aren’t necessarily linked to any gayness associated with these interests. Luckily, most of the gay people I interact with regularly don’t subscribe to the idea that you have to like any certain things just to be “gay enough,” but given my past experiences with gay men telling me that I have to like certain things because I’m gay, I can’t imagine how much others have been pressured to do the same. It’s all ridiculous to think about because the only thing that should truly and honestly make you a member of the gay community is, you know, being gay. We’re all so different despite our similar identities, and our interests spread across such a vast spectrum, that adding extra requirements to being in the community feels like more like an exclusion than an invitation.

Like I said before, I feel like this only scratches the surface. There may be something all of this is directly attached to, but these are the things I’ve noticed the most as I become established in my identity.

As much as I love being a gay male, it can be more exhausting than I’d like it to be. Straight people being generally oblivious to LGBTQ+ identities makes it hard to interact with them in a way that’s comfortable, and though I feel at ease interacting with other gay men, I often feel like I have to be more than I am just to be accepted. I know that not every straight person is insensitive to issues regarding other sexual orientations, and not every gay man thinks all gays should do certain things just to be considered part of the community, but I can’t help but feel these insecurities when it comes to my relationship with either community. Maybe it’s just one of those things that I’ll continue to get more comfortable with over time, or maybe it’ll be one of those insecurities that I’ll never be able to shake, but always be great at hiding in casual conversation. Either way, they’re very present insecurities, and if you have them too, just know that you’re not alone, and you deserve to feel comfortable with your identity. 

Is it Bad to Identify with Stereotypes?

 Illustration by  Paul Tuller
Illustration by Paul Tuller

When I get into conversations with people about representing LGBTQ+ individuals in the media, or how LGBTQ+ people express themselves in society, the topic of stereotypes almost always comes up. People will say that characters in TV shows, movies, books, etc. shouldn’t identify with stereotypes, and that people acting according to a stereotype in real life asserts that we’re all the same. Whether it’s a good or a bad stereotype, we know that it’s harmful to assume everyone in a group identifies with it, but what do we do when someone genuinely fits a stereotype? Do we automatically have to assume that this is a bad thing? 

As an example, last week, I wrote about how J.K. Rowling should step up and actually represent Dumbledore’s sexuality with the new Fantastic Beasts movie coming out after failing to write it in the books, despite her declaring to the world that he’s gay. After publishing this article and sending it out into the social media world, I got many arguments in return saying that trying to put evidence of Dumbledore’s sexuality would feel forced, and that it seemed like I was asking that she make him a stereotype. First off, let’s note that a straight person told me this. Things always get weird when straight people think they know what’s best for the LGBTQ+ community. Aside from that, they seemed to generate this idea that I wanted him to resemble a flamboyant, over-the-top gay wizard, though all I asked was that she indicate in her content that he’s gay. They also had the audacity to tell me that the possibility of a flamboyant, over-the-top gay wizard would be a setback for the community. While I agree that this personality type could be out of character for Dumbledore, is there really something so wrong with a powerful, well-known wizard who’s the headmaster of an esteemed magic school aligning with a few gay stereotypes? 

I think what people often don’t realize is that there is a difference between identifying with stereotypes, and asserting that all people within a group act this way. If you put a gay guy in a show, and he happens to be flamboyant, this is not automatically a way of saying that the whole community is like this. If you somehow use this character to assert points about all gay people acting like that, or if you don’t give subtle hints that these personality traits are separate from his homosexuality, then that’s where you can have a problem. However, if you ask me, I’d rather the media represent gay people who happen to align with a few stereotypes than have no LGBTQ+ representation whatsoever. Presence is powerful, and erasing a gay presence just because a few stereotypes may come up is way worse than not representing the community, at all.

Some people in the community genuinely identify with traits that are considered stereotypes, and to say they don’t have a place in the media (or even in society, for that matter) just because they express themselves that way, is offensive. 

More importantly, I have a problem with the fact that people think identifying with a few stereotypes automatically makes you a bad representation of the community. I understand wanting to avoid portray the community as being just one big stereotype, but get this: sometimes people genuinely align with some stereotypes. Crazy, right? However, that doesn’t mean that having these traits is the equivalent of saying that the entire community identifies this way. Rather, it probably says a lot about you if you meet a “stereotypical” gay male, and you think “wow, this must be how all gay people act.” Underestimating the complexity of individuals in a community just because they have just a few traits that match stereotypes is pretty insulting, and a giant misstep when it comes to interacting with the community at large. At the same time, saying that someone shouldn’t act according to a stereotype is insulting, because sometimes an individual’s personality just so happens to align that way, and that should in no way affect how you see the community as a whole. 

We get so wrapped up in stereotypes, that it often becomes the only thing we see in the groups who so often get stereotyped. I personally feel it’s okay to identify with some stereotypes (as long as it’s not harming anyone), but we shouldn’t be acting like it’s a statement about the entire community. People should be allowed to express themselves in a way that makes them feel good without feeling like their expression represents more than just themselves. The only “bigger picture” that a person’s personality should represent is that there are many different archetypes of individuality within a community. Putting pressure on someone to act a certain way because it might misrepresent their community is ridiculous, and speaks more to how they believe the community should express themselves, rather than allowing everyone the freedom to be expressive in a way that makes them feel fulfilled. 

J.K. Rowling Has No Time for Gays

Ah yes, it looks another installment of “Keep the Gays Out of our Favorite Things” is unfolding right before us, brought to you by J.K. Rowling, and several fans of Harry Potter who find joy in insinuating that our childhood selves wouldn’t be welcome in the wizarding world. Us LGBTQ+ people are just such a nuisance, aren’t we? Wanting to be represented in the stories that we’ve grown up with, and wanting that feeling of identifying with a character who’s gone through similar struggles. Geez, we’re just so awful.

Sorry, I jumped into my own bitter emotions without giving context.

It was announced that there would be a sequel to Fantastic Beasts, a spin-off installment of the wildly popular Harry Potter series, and in this sequel, Dumbledore will be heavily featured. The next one is subtitled “The Crimes of Grindelwald,” and from what J.K. Rowling said in an interview (and not through the books), Dumbledore is a gay wizard who had quite an attraction to Grindelwald. Yet, despite that important part of this very powerful, very important wizard’s identity, the next movie is apparently set to skirt around his homosexuality that Rowling says is there, even though she avoided canonically representing it in her content. Reasonably so, many fans were confused and upset about it, including Lucy here, who represented J.K. Rowling’s thought process about all of this pretty well:

Saying “oh yeah, that character of mine is clearly gay” is a lot like saying you’re a drag queen just because you’ve watched RuPaul’s Drag Race. If you aren’t planning to go all the way, then be prepared to sashay away, henny. 

It’s a huge thing for Albus Dumbledore to be represented as gay, especially as someone who’s regarded in the wizarding world as one of the most powerful wizards, as well as as the headmaster of an esteemed school of magic. When you throw in the fact that he’s gay without  featuring his homosexuality in the actual source material, it leaves us with a lot of questions. What is it like for a gay wizard in their society? Is the their world equally or less homophobic than our reality? Is Dumbledore the only gay wizard? How do the students feel about having a headmaster who is homosexual, assuming he’s openly gay? So much about LGBTQ+ representation in Harry Potter could be represented through this one character, yet instead of following through on her boldly saying that this powerful presence is gay, it sounds like it will be completely avoided. I guess us gays don’t really have a place in the Harry Potter series.

Oops, was that too much? Rowling hasn’t said otherwise, so I’m more inclined to believe it’s true.

Of course, those defending her are also throwing out all of the typical anti-LGBTQ+ representation arguments, such as “you can’t just force a gay character in a story” and “characters shouldn’t be gay just for the sake of being gay,” among many other ridiculous arguments. This is basically how it goes down every time I hear them:

 Credit:  @hammishsteele
Credit: @hammishsteele

Does that mean I’m not gay just for the sake of being gay? Was I born gay for a deeper purpose other than just being attracted to men? Are you not straight just for the sake of being straight? Were you born straight so you could tell gay people that they can’t be wizards? I’m just asking the important questions, here. 

You know what straight privilege sounds like? It sounds like people complaining that a gay character in a popular piece of media would be “forced,” or that they’re not in there for any reason. I can’t even begin to tell you how incredibly connected I feel to a good story that has LGBTQ+ characters, as opposed to one that has only heterosexual characters. I can’t even fathom the words to tell you just how important that book, TV show, or movie becomes when it reveals that a central character is gay. And as someone who’s written several short stories, I can’t even begin to tell you how easy it is to give some indication in your story that someone is gay. It can be subtle, or it can be a little more explicit, depending on the context, but to act like it’s not possible is basically telling the LGBTQ+ community that our inclusion is an inconvenience.

I refuse to think of my identity as an inconvenience. We, as a community, deserve to be represented without ambiguity. Shoot, at this point, we demand to be represented.

LGBTQ+ people aren’t some sort of handy-dandy acceptance scapegoat for making yourself yourself look like a good ally. We’re not your “gay best friend,” we’re not that one gay person that you say you like so it’ll look like you accept the community, and we are most certainly not some random identity you get to unofficially slap onto a character in a wildly popular book/movie franchise just so you can look good. I shouldn’t have to say it, but apparently that hasn’t really sunken in to the collective heterosexual mind, yet. You can’t get people’s hopes up by unofficially adding in an LGBTQ+ identity, and then copping out when the time comes to really deliver on that representation. This series has such a large audience, and to pique the interest of a large group in that audience by saying that a central character is homosexual, only to say “nah, let’s not shed any light on that” is a big insult to the community. Whether it was Rowling’s decision or not, the Harry Potter series is ultimately her creation, and I’m sure simply saying that they should feature more of Dumbledore’s sexuality would be enough to get something done. 

But of course, LGBTQ+ representation is just too hard, and it’s such a pain to include us in anything, so why bother? Good work, Rowling. Sorry I’m not sorry that less than the bare minimum got you on the wrong side of the rainbow! 

Night in the Woods: An Adorably Emotional Roller Coaster

Every once in a while, I play a video game that delights me beyond words, while also gripping my heart so hard, that I can’t help but feel teary-eyed. It’s not that I don’t always enjoy the video games that I play, but not all of the ones I play give me an emotional experience that leaves such a lasting impression. Games like those are what really inspire me as a storyteller, so they often mean more to me than just an entertaining story that tugs at all of my emotions.

Recently, I played Night in the Woods, and it did just that, to me.

Don’t let the cute art and quirky characters fool you; this game has some intense moments that kick you right in the gut with no warning. The themes in the game were described by Paste, an entertainment magazine, as covering “mental illness, depression, the stagnancy of the middle and lower classes, and the slow death of small town America.” For those who don’t know what the game’s story entails, it follows the story of four friends in a town called Possum Springs, and how their lives have changed in the meantime after the protagonist, Mae Borowski, returns home after suddenly dropping out of college. Hoping to return to the days before Mae left for college, she shortly learns that her friends’ lives have little time to accommodate her, her parents are more distant and stressed due to financial strain, and the town just isn’t as thrilling as she remembered it to be. It’s a story full of hardship, learning about yourself, and trying to move past moments in our lives that keep us from growing. I want to say something like “thank goodness the art is adorable,” but I don’t really know if that helped lighten the mood, or made me feel worse for these cute critters getting their hearts crushed by reality. 

Also, two of the central characters (Gregg and Angus, the fox and the bear) are in a same-sex relationship! And it isn’t made out to be something out of the ordinary! You better believe my bleeding gay heart was ecstatic about that.

The high moments in this game were high, in the sense that I couldn’t help but let out a laugh at so many of the the things these ridiculous characters do and say. Every time Gregg wiggled his arms, I I felt my soul inflate with joy. Every time Mae’s dad made a dumb pun, I rolled my eyes, but in the most loving way. There were also several low moments, and those low points gave a conscious effort at ripping your heart out. With each back-story that we learn about, I feel my heart hurt for the experiences of these characters, wishing I could somehow jump into Possum Springs and tell them that everything’s going to be okay, and give them the biggest hug. 

The game focuses on exploring the town and interacting with the friends Mae had in Possum Springs, and it works in a way that lets you choose which character you would like to spend time with on each day. This allows you to choose the character’s story that you may be more interested in, or try to balance the time between both, but balancing the two would mean missing scenes from the other character’s story (the developers sure knew how to get that replay value in). The game prioritizes narrative, spending most of its time observing dialogue between characters, but also offering some fun mini games on occasion. It caters to many different gaming styles, but those who are looking for a rich story with complex, dynamic characters will be the ones who enjoy this game the most.

This is easily one of my favorite games that I’ve played in such a long time, because of how well this story is told, how relatable these characters are, and the range of emotions it captures. You find yourself thinking you feel one way about a character, only to realize that that character is more than what they’ve been letting on, and your feelings go from sky-rocketing to taking a nose-dive with very little warning. The situations in it are raw, not glorifying or dramatizing any of the real hardships faced by these characters. The dialogue is so smooth, so individual to each character, and the banter will easily be the thing that makes you fall in love with everyone in the game. The story is one of a kind, and no matter what kind of stories you enjoy, I think you’ll find yourself enjoying this one from start to finish.

If you just can’t wait to play this game, it’s currently available for download on Steam or the Playstation store! For those with neither of those, it will be available for the Nintendo Switch on February 1st. 

If you’ve already experienced this delightfully emotional creation, let me know how you felt about it in the comments! I could talk about this game for hours and hours. For real.