Note: This is another LONG post.
There’s an experience I failed to mention in my post about PAX East, and I felt that I really owed it to the Diversity Lounge to give it its own post. I’ve worked in the Diversity Lounge selling my wares at three PAX conventions now (South 2016, East 2016, and East 2017), and while I have enjoyed my time selling at the previous two, I feel like I actually took the time to be a part of the Lounge this time. My time spent there was unique to that room, and has made me more determined to become a more active voice for representation in the community.
I’ll preface this by talking a little bit about my own identity, which I am super public about on my less professional platforms such as twitter and tumblr, but less so on my website or fanpage. I’ve been identifying and out as bisexual since 2004. It feels a little silly to me to realize you like girls because of a video game, but seeing Morrigan from Darkstalkers when I was 10 was the first time I’d really considered it. It wasn’t until high school that I learned that bisexuality was a thing and it had a word. Even still, while out, I didn’t become largely vocal about my sexuality until my 20s, when my friend group changed again and suddenly almost everyone I knew was not-straight.
My gender is a different issue. A few years ago, if you’d asked me, I would’ve told you I was a woman without hesitation. Questioning my own gender wasn’t something I’d really considered. As my friend circle continued to grow, so did my awareness of gender not as a binary but more of a spectrum. People did not have to fit into “man” or “woman.” Last spring I started coming out as a “demigirl” (partially identifying as a woman/girl/feminine, but not wholly). I felt that word pretty much described how I felt in my body and as a person. Kind-of a girl? But also not a girl. More of…not a binary gender. Girl/agender. And it worked, for a while. More and more I found I was just referring to myself as “nonbinary,” or “nonbinary femme,” and that felt more right. And then for National Coming Out Day, I made an Instagram post about being bisexual and nonbinary, and have been coming out (again) since.
What does this have to do with the Diversity Lounge? If you’ve never been to the Lounge at any of the PAX events, it’s a place for those who don’t quite fit the expected demographic of gaming events (cis straight able-bodied white men) to share their creations, events, and ideas. It’s a safe space for those who might not necessarily feel safe in spaces that are heavily dominated by that demographic. It’s PAX telling marginalized people that they are trying to be more inclusive. My role in the Diversity Lounge is usually to sell my things as a queer creator, and (try to) talk to people about LGBT HQ on behalf of Jay Justice when she’s not there. While that part didn’t change, I did also make an effort to talk to other creators in the room, and also to…sort-of exist as an openly queer individual at this event.
What does that mean? For starters, I actually talked to the folks at the Toronto Gaymers, who I’ve seen at a few events but for some reason, despite being from Toronto, I’ve never really approached them or attended their events. I bought a shirt! It’s pretty great. I spoke to the AbleGamers and learned what they’re about, and signed up to be apart of their fundraising initiatives to purchase special controllers for disabled gamers. And I sat behind the table and talked to the people who came by. If you Google the Diversity Lounge, some of the first results are talking about whether or not there’s actually a need for it. I want to respond with a resounding YES. There is no other place at the convention where I saw people of all genders, of all races, of all ages, of varying levels of ability, more or less OUT and comfortable. Maybe on the showfloor someone might hide part of their identity because, let’s face it, the gaming community can be pretty unwelcoming. But in the Lounge, these were their people. They were welcome, they were home. And I felt that connection with so many of the people that walked in the doors. And it was just so good. And so important.
The Diversity Lounge is a necessary and meaningful space. I’d love to see more spaces like it at other conventions. You can’t guarantee a convention is going to be safe for everyone. You can try, and you absolutely should, but unfortunately, shit happens. Give marginalized people a place they can exist without fear of violence.