Awhile back I made a comment about how a lot of games often feel as if they’re written from a cishet perspective, and I was DM’d asking me to elaborate on my position. I feel like this is a good thread to make what I said back then public (with the other user redacted for their privacy). These thoughts also tackle sexuality–it’s a bit more “Differences in Portrayal of Queer Characters”, but I do specifically talk about gender as well.
When I personally speak of something that I believe is being portrayed through a cishet lens, I mean to say that I believe it was written with the assumption that a straight, cis person is the default. This can be malicious, sure, but I would hazard a guess and say that often (especially in this particular community) that it is accidental, born from ignorance of the other. We do write what we know. Switching mediums to give a very concrete example of what I mean: there’s a bisexual RO in Mass Effect: Andromeda. In his romance scenes, a male protagonist has very feminine movements, and there’s consistency issues re: the models’ heights. It becomes obvious to the player that these scenes were mocapped with a female actor and then the male model was plugged in to those scenes for the mlm romance. There are even voice lines that refer to the MC as the ROs “queen”, indicating that they likely never recorded lines to reflect the possibility that the MC is a man.
This is a pretty extreme example obviously, and often it is harder to identify in media that is only text, especially if you aren’t hypervigilant or familiar with the issue. I find that it most often manifests as silence. This isn’t inherently a bad thing: I’d much rather play a game that only ever mentions my MC’s trans identity during the option to set the variable, over a game that doesn’t even have the option to be trans.
“People with queer identities experience themselves and their relationships in different ways to each other, or in different ways to cishet people?”
I meant specifically: people with queer identities experience themselves and their relationships in different ways to cishet people. It is absolutely right to say that people, in general, all have unique experiences and unique relationships. There’s no One Size Fits All for anyone, regardless of gender or sexuality. My queer experience very well could be different from another LGBT+ person’s experience, and their voice matters just as much as mine, provided they are not actively spewing hate or false information into the community or to its onlookers.
Communities, especially minority ones that are Othered from the main, do develop their own communal cultures. This is true of races, ethnicities, religions, regions, etc. The LGBTQ+ community is no different. Hearkening back to my previous point, this is why I find the (metaphorical) silence of LGBT characters to be so telling as to what perspective the story is being told (written) from. For example, if you had a character who was proud of their indigenous heritage, it would be strange for them to never talk about their culture and/or display their connection to it. Or if they conversely feel disconnected from their heritage because their parents were ashamed and assimilated, I would expect the writer to communicate this to the reader. An example–If two Hispanic characters who would otherwise speak English in public were having a private conversation, the writer may specify that they’ve switched over to speaking Spanish with each other. It’s a little detail that probably doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of the plot, but it references the characters’ cultures and history, while coloring the scene (both with characterization and the fact that the words being spoken are, to some degree, private).
A really good example of the expression of queer identity in interaction fiction is definitely @malinryden’s Fallen Hero series. If you play a trans character or pursue a mlm/wlw relationship, it’s handled fantastically well, and it’s obvious to me that I’m reading something written by a fellow queer person; they know what they’re talking about, and it’s evident that they put research into the things they don’t. There are so many good parts to choose as examples of queer-conscious writing, but a prevalent one would definitely be Ortega’s bisexuality and how the narrative addresses both their realization/coming out and their gender-preference, both of which are common bisexual experiences.
(I’m putting this next bit in a spoiler blur because I’m referencing a steamy romance scene late in the Retribution alpha.) An example of queer-conscious writing from a trans perspective is definitely ((the MC’s entire coming out scene)) but specifically how Ortega ((handles it really well)) makes a comment about how they’re starting to understand Sidestep better–like how it finally makes sense why they wear so many layers in Los Diablos [aka SoCal], even in the summer. There are actual plot reasons why Sidestep covers up so obsessively, but Malin, in that tiny bit of text, ties together Sidestep’s history with the very common trans experience of having gender dysphoria and how we often wear our clothes strategically to hide the parts of us that cause us discomfort.
“Apart from probably having an effect in what kind of situations one may find themselves (and who one finds themselves attracted to), how does having a queer identity affect how one sees a, say, friendship? (Friendship is a relationship, isn’t it?)”
(It definitely is!) To this I would say, it’s not exactly how we see the friendship, but how we act in the friendship. Believe it or not, I have friends who are cis and friends who are het but no friends who are cishet. I find it much easier to relate and connect intimately with people who understand fundamental parts of my identity and can empathize with my personal experiences. My mother, who is bisexual, is quick to banter about our shared identity with me, but she’s also said that she cannot talk about or allude to homosexuality with one of her straight friends who is a homophobic, (ex-)Trump supporter. I couldn’t ever be friends with someone who is homophobic as being gay is such a large part of who I am and what my interests are, but for my mom, what she gets from that relationship outweighs the negative. Her experience with her identity may be different than mine, but what remains the same is that it does influence how we conduct ourselves in our relationships with other people, especially those outside the community.
But again, it’s not necessarily a failing to have a story that doesn’t specifically address gender or sexuality. I think it would just be cool if more (both cishet and LGBT+) writers evaluated why they choose not to and if they’d be willing to attempt queer-conscientious narratives.