Since I started playing EvE and writing this blog back in February, I've always made it a policy to keep my RL and in-game realities as separate as possible. With only just a few minor chips here and two major dents on the E-O and E-Uni forums inflicted on that wall over that time, I think I've done a fairly good job of it. Now, however, real life and EvE life have suddenly crashed into each other so directly and significantly that I feel I can no longer rationalize maintaining that wall any longer, that to do so, to remain silent and uninvolved, would be in direct conflict with the values I believe in and live my life by. And so, the wall has to come down now and it has to come down hard. Bear with me as I grab my sledgehammer and hang on. This is going to get messy.
I came this realization late last night, when I logged into EvE and read an MOD (Message Of the Day) as I checked to see who was in the GLBTA chat. Our moderator was furious about something and offered a link. Since the link didn't work in the IGB, I copied it, logged out, pasted it into my browser, and found myself at the third page of an E-O forum discussion thread. At first, I wasn't quite sure what was so upsetting to Nealla that he'd post such an angry message, so I went back to the first post and read all three pages of comments, but I still didn't quite get it until the final post from an ISD forum moderator put a capper on it for me.
The thread was titled "Any other Homosexuals playing EVE and upset at CCP support?". The original post was from a newly-out gay player who was upset at the blocking of certain words from the E-O forums. He asked why words such as "gay", "lesbian", or even as commonly used and relatively inoffensive as "crack" were blocked. Even though I hadn't felt the question important enough to address publicly, it was certainly easy to understand why he and other players clearly feel otherwise. After reading the full thread from beginning to end, I decided that I too could do no less.
As I came to the end of the thread, a post by ISD forum moderator Jacques Archambault caused me to from from curious and mildly annoyed to downright furious, completely offended, and completely in concert with Nealla's feelings on the subject. It reads:
Please do not discuss issues regarding sexual orientation and adult content on the forums. We understand that many people feel strongly about this and inevitably a heated discussion arises between both sides. In the interest of maintaining peace and keeping the EVE-Online Forums a pleasant place to visit for everyone (irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, race, culture etc.), we kindly request to discuss adult themes outside of the EVE-Online Forums. Please understand that we have a teen 13+ rating and these kind of adult topics do not belong on the EVE-Online Forums.
As always, if there are any questions regarding forum moderation, please feel free to email the EVE-Online Forum Moderator Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And now, I've got my sledgehammer hefted and ready to go because it's time to tell you why this post made me see red.
Let's just get the basics out of the way right up front. I'm a transsexual woman. I was born male and lived in that gender for the first thirty-five years of my life. I've lived and identified as a woman and as a lesbian for the last ten and a half years. Both of these identities, as well as others I choose to label myself with, are integral to who I am and how I see myself. I could no more separate myself from them than I could change my skin color or my personal life history.
I take pride in who I am and how I live my life, despite the opinions of others who feel I have no right to do so. While my gender identity and sexual orientation were not conscious choices, my acceptance of words such as "gay", "lesbian", "queer", and others to define myself to other people certainly was. Labels, as opposed to orientations, certainly are consciously chosen. They are a way for people who's lives and outlooks on life differ significantly from that which is considered the norm can express to other people their pride in that difference, in their identities, and in themselves. They are the way we begin the process of helping others to understand who we are, what matters to us, and how we live our lives.
This is, as you might imagine, a pretty big deal for many of us, especially for those like the original thread poster, those who have only recently come to accept some of these labels and identities as their own. Hollismason was understandably upset that the very word he chose to define himself with, a word which is so commonly used it appears in most dictionaries and all over popular media would be banned from even so much as being mentioned in a public discussion area. As saddening as that is, though, I completely understand and share the anger and outrage so many Queer EvE players must have felt when Jacques said, in essence, that even simply the very mention of his chosen identity is considered by ISD to be derogatory and offensive. While I doubt it was intentional, Jacques further increased the level of offense by telling this young gay man that this action was taken in the interest of protecting children.
The rest of ISD's argument is even less credible. Jacques contends that the E-O forums have a "teen 13+" rating. Does ISD really believe teenagers have never heard words like "gay" and "lesbian" in common usage, or they would be somehow negatively impacted by seeing them in print? Considering what passes muster in video games rated "Teen" these days, the very idea is absolutely ludicrous.
Jacques also cites "maintaining peace" and keeping the E-O forums "a pleasant place for everyone (irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, race, culture etc.)" as reasons for the ban. The implications made here are nothing short of out and out anti-gay bigotry. The inference clearly made here is that simply the very inclusion of these non-heterosexual identities on the E-O forums would be considered offensive and unwelcome in and of themselves, devoid of any actual offensive context in which they might be used. In my opinion, the fact that words which directly describe a person's sexuality are censored but those which might describe the other aspects of human identity Jacques cites are not effectively puts the lie to this line of reasoning.
Given the evidence, there is no question here that banning these words are a direct, specific, and intentional suppression of gay and lesbian identity within the E-O forums. If this policy were universal in all aspects of EvE, it might be arguable that CCP simply felt the best way to deal with the issue was to completely eliminate it from the game universe across the board. It would still not be right in my opinion, but at least the policy would be consistent. As anyone who's played EvE for a while knows well, that simply isn't the case.
This is a game where alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and illegal drugs are traded as commodities, where violence, death, war, crime, and other happenings usually considered not-so-pleasant or even tragedies in real life not only occur regularly, but are considered the most entertaining aspects of the gameplay. It's a game universe where the Minmitar Gay Rights League roams the spaceways and where a chat called GLBTA (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Accepting) can be joined in-game. To allow players this level of freedom in-game but then deny it to us in the discussion forums indicates that the erasure of non-heterosexual identities is a decision made and enforced by the ISD forum moderators, not by the designers of the actual game itself. That places the responsibility for this censorship and for the anti-gay bigotry behind it not on CCP, but squarely on the shoulders of the ISD forum moderators.
Sexuality not only isn't an adult topic, but one which every teenager confronts and explores during their adolescence. Indeed, it isn't really sexuality that's being banned here, it's valid and accepted non-heterosexual identities which are being censored through the filtering of the words which define them. Does ISD really believe that every teenager who plays EvE or participate in the forums is straight? What about the right of gay and lesbian teens (not to mention gay and lesbian adults) to feel welcome and respected on the forums? Do they even care? As far as I can detect, the answer is a rather clear and direct "No.".
When you think about it, you realize that there's really no other possible reason than the homophobia of ISD moderators for filtering these words out of the E-O forum discussions. These words have perfectly valid and acceptable uses in polite conversation, it is solely their connections to non-heterosexual identities which are offered as the reason for their being filtered. Since these words are so commonly used and accepted in all aspects of real-world discourse but even those uses are disallowed in order to prevent even the possibility of their being used to describe non-heterosexual identities, the homophobia and discomfort of the ISD staff are clearly the true motivators at play here.
It's not an issue of context, as it should be. Of course, these words and others like them can be used to disparage and offend, but in order to truly prevent that CCP would have to take down the forum and ban all discussion. Those who are looking to treat others badly and express their hatred and bigotry toward those they don't like will certainly find ways to do so, without or without using those specific words. When such things do happen on the E-O forums, the ISD staff is quite diligent in editing and removing offensive posts and in sanctioning those responsible.
Yet, it seems that when it comes to EvE's queer players and our own rights to define and describe ourselves accurately within the limits of polite conversation, ISD apparently doesn't feel that we're entitled to the same benefit of the doubt, or even of the same level of effort to protect us from the the use of these words as attacks against us and the ways in which we live our lives. Rather than make the same kind of proactive effort in this regard they consistently make when other forum discussion guidelines are broken, when it comes to gay and lesbian players ISD uses only a computer-controlled, automatic gag filter to simply eliminate our identities from all forum discussions. Apparently, ISD just doesn't consider the comfort of gay and lesbian EvE players on the E-O forums worthy of the same effort they exert to ensure the comfort of those who are heterosexual. To call it bigoted and offensive doesn't even begin to cover it.
To those of you who are reading this and scratching your heads wondering what the big deal is, let me paint you a little word picture, in the hope it'll become more clear:
Imagine you live in a world where you're treated badly and disparaged, not because of anything you've actually done, but just because some people don't like or even hate you because they find the way you choose to live your life distasteful or even downright disgusting. You cannot attend your local church because the pastor and parishioners consider you so ungodly and sinful they aren't even willing to tolerate you worshiping in their midst. Your government leaders passionately speak out against your equality under the law and successfully deny you and others like you the most basic of civil rights protections, such as the right not to be fired from your job, regardless of your work performance, just because your employer decides he doesn't want someone like you working for his company, or even the right to enter into a legally sanctioned relationship with the person you love. If you rent your home, you can even be evicted because your landlord doesn't want your kind around. If you go to a local bar for a drink, you know you may be kicked out or be made to feel unsafe and unwelcome for no other reason than who you are, how you act, or the way you look.
And then, you try to escape that hard reality for a little while with an online game based in a fictional star cluster far, far away, set thousands of years in the future, and discover to your dismay that everything you were trying to get away from is still right there, in your face, and for all its fantastic sci-fi trappings the discussion forum focused on this universe marginalizes and demeans you, your identity, and the way you live your life, saddling you with much the same disdain and disrespect as the real one.
Starting to get it now? Welcome to OUR world.
As for the rest of it, why I care so much about this (aside from the obvious reason), let me take a few more swings and knock out the last few bricks from that wall. Many of you who have followed this blog regularly for a while probably know I host a radio show. You've probably also figured out that I'm a writer. Here's the parts you probably don't know:
I'm also a pretty well-read journalist, blogger, and op-ed writer. On my other blog (found here or here), I cover a lot of social and political issues, most of them LGBT or specifically transgender-relevant. My radio show is defined as "The LGBT Internet Radio Show That Puts The "T" First!", and covers much the same topics with a special focus on transgender-relevant content, as does my podcast. I do all of this, a lot of it without pay, because I'm also an activist, someone who has dedicated her life to helping people like myself become more informed and more in tune with the topics and issues that are important in our lives.
I love what I do, and I'm passionate about it. That professional media job I've referred to here now and then? It was to be a host on a new LGBT radio network called GAYBC. It still may happen, but the network is now on hiatus because the founders are having trouble getting the funding to keep it going. If you read the US LGBT community political blogs and news media, you may have seen some of my work now and then. I'm pretty well-known within those circles, and more and more so all the time. While I do usually make my actual living as a retail manager, I've made it my goal to try to make my media work my professional career.
At the age of 45, a career change of this magnitude probably isn't the smartest goal to have, but being able to rely on those who were creating this kind of media when I came out in 1997 helped me to understand that I wasn't alone, that there was a place in the world where I was welcome and wanted, a place that not only didn't have a problem with who I knew myself to be, but actually welcomed and even celebrated it. After having already tried to commit suicide once, discovering that place probably saved my life, and so I've dedicated my life to ensuring that such a place will be there for the next newly-out Queer person who desperately needs it.
Hollismason sought such a place within the EvE universe, but ISD, their policies and their soulless word filter not only denied that place to him, but communicated to him and to every other Queer-identified EvE player paying attention that who he is and how he sees himself are neither welcome nor wanted on the E-O forums. He learned that his very identity is considered so vulgar and offensive by ISD that even the very word he chose to describe himself wouldn't even be allowed to appear in print. I see myself in his place ten years ago and I know how I would have felt if I had reached out for support and companionship and received the same kind of reception.
These aren't just words that can be used to express hate, they can also be used to express pride, community, culture, and to reach out others in love and support. Automatic word filters cannot make such value judgments, they can only do as they are told to by those who program them. Requiring human judgment to be employed in the vast majority of actions taken by ISD, but leaving Queer identities to be moderated solely by an unthinking, unfeeling computer program is the very lowest form of bigotry and disdain for our lives, our personal identities, and yes, our right to have that same pleasant experience on the E-O forums Jacques claims to wish to protect for everyone, not to mention being completely inconsistent with the far more inclusive and positive values incorporated into the game itself by its creators.
I love EvE. I wouldn't have spent the last six hours writing this post if I didn't. Still, I can't help but be offended to the core when I'm told that my own identity is being automatically banned by a computer program because some people find it so offensive that they believe children must be shielded from even seeing it appear in print.
How would you feel if it were an identity you use to define yourself were being rendered invisible in this way? How about if it were someone you love, a brother, a sister, a child, a friend? Would you be offended? You'd want to fight back, wouldn't you? If your answer is yes, then you do get it.
I'll be sending a copy of this post to ISD. Honestly, I really don't expect them to care much, if at all. Any group of people who are comfortable treating a different group in this way probably don't have much room their hearts for us or our concerns, much the same as in most parts of the world. Still, I guess I've got nothing to lose by trying. If you feel as strongly I do about this, I hope you'll take a few minutes and drop them a note to say so. Thanks.
And of course, I'll continue to play EvE. Indeed, it is the game itself which is an escape for the institutionalized, mechanized, and standardized anti-gay bigotry and homophobia which has insinuated itself into the E-O forums not because of those who post there, but because of those charged with protecting participants from it.
So, the wall is down, destroyed because it had to be, because I could not be true to myself and what I believe by continuing to remain silent. I know it's possible that some of you reading this may be put off by some of my revelations here. I can only hope that's not the case, that you enjoy reading what I write here for its own sake and that knowing I wasn't born female or that I'm a lesbian won't change that. I understood that I was taking a chance from the moment I began writing this post, really from the moment I lost a longtime friend when I announced my transition from male to female a decade ago. This is a reality all of us accept when we choose to be true to ourselves, and it is a reality I know I may be forced to now confront again as I bring this to close and publish it for all to see. All I can say is that I hope you'll stick around regardless. Oh, and one other thing:
Thanks for listening.