Rolling for Gender: Why I’m Angry At A D&D 1st Edition Magic Item

A long, long time ago, a man named Gary Gygax created D&D 1st edition. And while there were MANY problematic aspects of it that continue to proliferate and cling onto D&D and Wizards of the Coast at large, I am here today to talk about a particular part of the 1st Edition that always stuck with me since I became aware of its existence. 

The Girdle of Femininity/Masculinity is a curse item. As what was seen by many trans players back in this time as the closest thing to acknowledgement of them in the “World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game” , the sheer fact alone that it is classified as a curse item should show you what the game back in those days thought of people like me.

We – trans people – are not a good thing. It says that we cannot be in this world naturally, and any existence of us is against our own choice and will and is instead something misfortune throws upon us. This blends well into the harmful myths of trans people: that we are wolves in sheep’s clothing, unsound of mind, or simply too naïve to know better. All harmful and untrue ideas of the trans experience.

That alone should be enough to throw this in the trash along with all copies of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. But the passage is not content to simply stop there.

The Original sex of the user cannot be restored by any normal means, although a Wish might do so (50% chance)

The “Impossible to go back” myth of transitioning is apparent, even back in the bygone years of 1E. The fact that not even a Wish spell  something that can bring the dead back to the living world – has only a 50% chance of reversing the change should show how permanent the creator of this item believed transitioning to be. It’s something you see from groups such as TERFs quite often. 

10% of these Girdles actually remove all gender from the wearer.

Ah, we’re on the super-cursed variant now. The one that not only has binary transphobia baked in. But non-binaryphobia tossed into the batch of shit-stew alongside it. This presents a simple idea. Being trans is bad. But being outside the binary? Perish the thought. It’s a prevalent belief even in trans communities. The idea that being non-binary is trans, but with more of the bad stuff thrown into it. Given this belief the item, considering the time it was made, was also likely taking shots at the intersex population. 

Those who exist outside the binary – whether in identity or society’s idea of a body – do not need to be further othered. And this item’s variant does just that.

But back to the passage.

It takes god-like creatures to set matters aright with certainty.

And we’re on the “God doesn’t make mistakes” part of the story. Oh boy, I was wondering when we would arrive here. We’ve seen it in many media. The idea that only through grand and perfect power can people change gender. Forget what you truly are in your heart and mind, if the downstairs doesn’t match, nothing else matters. As someone of faith (good luck getting which one out of me) I have no issues with the idea of being trans fitting in well with my faith. How? Because being trans is not a negative. It is not something to fix. I am a woman like any other, and I take pride in the differences of my body.

And finally, I’m going to sum up the message of this item and why I’m making a post breaking down how harmful it is about 43 years later.

It removes consent. The item is not something a trans adventurer in the world of Faerun would pick up to help themselves feel more at home in their body. It is a prank at its most generous interpretation and a punishment at its worst. It is based around the idea that being trans is not something you are, but something that happens to you. It is transphobia. Codified and statted into “The World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game”.

And the fact that so many trans people back all those years ago had to take this horrid item as solace that, in at least some way, the game they loved acknowledged them is the worst blow. 

I don’t care if Wizards of the Coast makes a boiler plate “We’re better now” statement on their book listing that contains this while still making profit off its sales. I don’t care if they include a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trans character in their games. I don’t care if they put that tiny blurb at the start of the player’s handbook that takes me three re-readings of the exact page to find.

I don’t care. Because those trans people – my bygone siblings – had to take THIS as their inch. Frankly, they could make a whole book dedicated to us and it wouldn’t be enough.

Maybe invest in a time machine and write a better 1st edition instead.


Now that the rant is over, time for something more productive.

The purpose of this piece was a jumpstart of sorts. A way to get me going on the road of proper research that I had been angling to do for a while but needed a proper motivator to spur me on from just thinking of doing it.

And, well, spite is a hell of a motivator.

Transgender people have had a rough go of it in RPG history. But, improvements have been made. We’re getting acknowledgements from companies that if it were 20 years ago, would not have wanted a thing to do with us. The indie scene has a solid cornerstone held up by trans designers. We see ourselves as characters, both as the players and in the game world, of many an actual play.

Progress is happening. But it’s not enough to simply smile while looking at where we are. We need to know our history. Where we were, no matter how low. The early trendsetters of real life trans RPG communities. And how we can progress even further.

This is the first of a series of articles known as Rolling For Gender: The History of Trans People In Tabletop RPGs. The title is cheesy, I know. But it works well for the algorithm.

This will be broken up into separate, general parts:

  1. The Early Days: A tour of the first examples of trans representation appearing in tabletop RPGs.
  2. From Own Voices: A set of potential interviews with trans figures in the community about their experiences.
  3. Actual Play and Trans Rep (May contain actual trans people): A summary of trans representation in RPG actual plays. Both in trans players and cis players playing trans people.
  4. Where We Are Now: A final piece of a summary on where we currently stand and where we can go from here.

And as someone who has to begin with The Early Days…………………….This is gonna be a LOT.

One thought on “Rolling for Gender: Why I’m Angry At A D&D 1st Edition Magic Item”

  1. I believe it is categorized as “cursed” because it changes the character regardless of consent. I doesn’t take your desire into consideration, it just acts.

    Like

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