When I first came out, it was a strange time. I had to cope and come to terms with a great many things. Some of them very good. “I can finally wear the clothes I want to.” “People calling me she and her is AWESOME!” “I can be me.” Some of them less so. “God, I was a real little shit before this wasn’t I?” “I can’t tell this person yet. Don’t know how they’ll react.” “How long before I can start hormones?” All in all, it was a wild time. And while things have calmed for me and my transition at this point, there is always one thing that weighs above all else in trials I may never come to terms with.
I never got to grow up as a girl.
I’ve heard it called “The Youth that could have been” from other trans folks who came out older like I did. It happens to quite a few people who have experienced trouble or different from the average childhood. It’s one where you’re constantly thinking about things could have been, How they should have been. It’s one of wondering of “what-ifs” and “why couldn’t it haves”. It sucks. Royally. You look for any out or avenue to get away from the pain of it. From the constant imagination of the childhood you never got to have. That imagination tends to go wild and overpowering.
But. You know what else requires a good imagination? You guessed it: roleplaying games.
“I think trans narratives are important simply because 1)they tend to focus on a claiming of personal identity, which is really important when virtually everything outside of a small number of spaces tries to pathologize the trans experience and shove people into even tinier boxes. and 2), i think it also gives people the ability to experiment with pronoun use and how different names “feel” in a way that’s more detached and safe. it’s less like gambling with how other people perceive you directly and facing scrutiny for “changing your labels constantly” and more figuring out what feels like a fictional character vs what rings truest to your own experience. for me, playing Topaz was really fun, but I can’t relate to being solely one gender on any level deeper than just a character I’ve written.”
Masks: A New Generation is a game about teen heroes. But as the awesome Brandon Leon Gambetta once said (And I’ll paraphrase): Every PBTA game has a Genre and a True Genre. For Masks, the Genre is teenage superheroes. But the True Genre is about finding identity.
Ask any trans person. Identity is a BIG word for us. And so when I sat down to play my first game of Masks as a player, I chose the Bull.
Now, if you’ve kept up with Masks communities, you know the Bull is all about emotion and protectiveness. It’s someone who radiates strength, isn’t afraid to cry or yell when they need to, and will throw down with anyone who hurts their friends.
When I was in the closet as a teen, I was a horrible person. Quiet out of fear of being made fun of, I usually only spoke up to say something horrible to try and “fit in”. Being too cowardly to stand up for the people who were actually decent to me when I should have. I was not a good person by any stretch of imagination.
So, when I saw the inspirations for the Bull such as Ms. America Chavez and X-23. I thought of these characters. Strong. Willing to be who they are. Never let anything happen to those they care about. They were good people.
So, I made my Bull. Her name was Lone Wolf. And she was a trans girl.
“The trans experience in real life isn’t always the best, and the stories about us in the media are usually tragic, or fetishising, or both.”
“Trans narratives in ttrpgs give us the space to tell our own stories the way we want them to be told. They also allow us to explore names and identities that we might not have the space to explore in our day to day lives”
It was the first session I played where I felt like crying after. I got to be a girl. Not like the games of D&D I played before. I got to be the trans girl I wished I was. I got to reclaim my youth, if only for a brief time. I got to punch villains who had it coming. I got to be vulnerable with my teammates. I protected those who needed protecting.
It was an amazing one-shot. One I’ll hold dearly to my heart for a long time.
But the story doesn’t end there. A few months later, I joined a game of Masks. A longer form one. A campaign. There, I had no doubt in my mind that my new character would be a trans girl. Couldn’t stop now after finding out how cool it was. But I didn’t want the pure thrill ride of before.
I wanted something more concrete. I wanted what would have come with my youth if I had come out. The trials and tribulations of being a trans girl from such a young age. I wanted a youth where of real life. I wanted my youth.
So, I made a Legacy. Her name was Apollya. And she was a trans girl.
First known as Apollya the Protector, she was in a long line of women inheriting the power of her mantle. Only she was the first trans girl to hold it. My GM was awesome, offering to completely remove any form of transphobia from the setting. If a GM doesn’t offer that when you make a trans character, it’s usually a bad sign.
Apollya went through quite a bit of her life. From suffering a bitter and pyrrhic victory on the bridge where the team commenced their first mission. To become an embarrassing internet meme when she lost her cool on her cousin’s, Achilles, youtube interview show. To her eventual darker turn of a heroic career to Apollya The Breaker.
But, trans youth is not all downfalls. Despite what some media creators would want you to think.
“What really “hits the mark” for trans narratives in RPGs is when the GM just completely abolishes gender in the world that they have created. It’s really affirming for me as a non-binary person to immerse myself in a world where what matters is what spells I can cast rather than what’s in my pants, you know? Plus, if I’m playing a character who looks androgynous and/or uses pronouns other than he or she, the other players and NPCs don’t bat an eye! You don’t get that awkward “ma’am.. uh.. sir?” like I’ve gotten in the “real world.” It’s just really refreshing to be free of the confines of gender.”
Apollya had joy. A family that loved her and wanted her to become the best superhero she could be. A former villain turned somewhat hero of the same age named Damian Blackfyre who was head over heels for her. And a badass trans girl friend group. Cos absolutely everyone of us needs a badass crew of trans girls.
Apollya, all in all, had a real life. A life of being a girl, Maybe a girl different from what most think of girls. But she was undeniably a teenage girl going through the struggles a girl like her had to deal with. But also experiencing the sheer elation that came with being undeniably her true self.
Apollya was the first character I looked at and went:
“Wow. I put a lot of myself into her, huh?”
“I play a lot of younger characters, and yeah part of that is because I never got to be a young boy, but not entirely. It allows me to get mad, get overly emotional, all these things I don’t get to be in my real life. I think if I’d actually known I was trans from a young age I don’t think I would’ve been as fiery about it as my TTRPG characters are. I think I would’ve kept my head down and kept all that rage inside. Part of that is feeling like I would’ve been punished for expressing those emotions. Rage and despair, those were impolite, inconvenient emotions, and they were emotions I felt a lot growing up. At the table though, oh no. I can let that sh** loose.”
If you take away anything from this little article, it’s this: Don’t be afraid to embrace who you are in a game. Don’t be afraid to make your games, whether as a GM or a player, just a little bit more you.
RPGs are, at the end of the day, a game. But they can also be so much more.
I’ve been in many games since that Masks campaign. I’ve played different systems, styles and campaigns. But I’ve never not played someone who wasn’t a badass trans girl. I’ve never not played a character who didn’t embody the spirit of Apollya. Or Lone Wolf. Or many other trans girl characters who came down the line.
Because I realized something after playing Lone Wolf:
I spent so much time not being who I was cos I had to. Why would I spend any more time doing that?
Thank you deeply to Alice, Lance, Storm and Nate for their invaluable contributions to this article. You can find the link to their social media in their quote attributions.