Gayme On: London Gaymers, Pride, and the Importance of LGBTQIA Spaces

London Gaymers are providing a vital space for LGBTQIA gamers in the UK’s capital. Our correspondent Joseph tells us about leading their march at Pride, and why communities like the Gaymers are crucial.

There’s no need to beat around the bush: as trite as the following may be to some of you, my general rule-of-them when going about navigating social spaces is pretty much as the lyrics for the chorus to Linkin Park’s 2003 banger Somewhere I Belong illustrate. You read that right: the chorus to Linkin Park’s Somewhere I Belong is something of an axiom and yes, it’s stuck with me since high school (bear with me as I adjust my swooping emo fringe).

When I think about it, Chester Bennington belts out precisely what I’ve always felt going through life and interacting with people and he does so in earnest, complete with his trademark grisly melodic tone. So, when I’m looking for a group of people to hang out and possibly even bond with, one looks forward to that genuine sense of relief that comes with knowing I’m being enriched by someone nice and vice versa (I wanna heal, I wanna feel what I thought was never real). As I go about trading anecdotes, information, and laughs, all my anxieties seem to melt away gradually (I wanna let go of the pain I felt so long) and an increasing sense of camaraderie starts to emerge (…I wanna feel like I’m close to something real). For me, the odds of making friends and alienating people are 50/50 so when interacting with others, I tend to overthink things; thus, overthinking my stature in any given space. I’ve no shame in admitting that I’ve always struggled with managing how much or how little I invest in the perceptions of others and how they view me as a human being – if they even see me as human, to begin with – but it’s nonetheless key to how I go about making it from moment to moment. As a result, finding people I vibe brilliantly with is like finding an oasis in the desert that is the Nerddom – so imagine how refreshing it is to discover one such group of LGBTQIA gamers where one doesn’t feel out of place (I wanna find something I wanted all along, somewhere I belong).  

Living in London can be a deceptively isolated experience. Despite being in a city of near nine million strong, it’s not always straightforward interacting with people, and even if things are initially positive and good vibes are being exchanged, things don’t always turn out to be sustainable. Naturally, when I happened upon London Gaymers (or LG, for short; not to be confused with the South Korean electronics manufacturer of the same name) on a whim by searching for new activities to participate in and new people to connect with, my interest was piqued almost immediately. Initially instituted in 2012 on Google Groups and Reddit, LG went on to be a flourishing community in their own right, hosting monthly meet-ups and using Discord to organise everything from online game nights to general chat. LG also has a website of their own and a Facebook page, the latter being what put me on to the Gaymers back when I used Facebook myself. The opportunities to go to meet-ups prior to finally meeting up with the Gaymers at Pride in London earlier this year were fleeting, at best. Amidst the chaos of personal tribulations, coursework, and financial trials, it became a case of either not having the time, not being able to afford the expense or both. The universe saw fit to see me marching with the Gaymers this time around and I was ecstatic about it. Picture a man who only just came out as bisexual last summer and was about to take part in not only his first Pride, but also his first Pride participating in the parade, and first ever meet-up with LG. It was truly a day of firsts. I can remember bouncing up the stairs at Baker Street station, anxious about who I’ll be marching with, but that anxiety was all but illusionary once I turned the corner and entered the meeting spot. Matt, great guy and one of LG’s executives, greeted me as I walked up to confirm my arrival and get my wristband (one that I’m still wearing at the time of writing this, FYI). I didn’t have time to get an LG shirt to march in, so as per the agreed stipulations, I decided to march in cosplay. I came as Finn from Star Wars (The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi), because I have the jacket he wears in the film and because I happen to fancy myself as Finn from another timeline where he’s bisexual, somewhat aloof, and a complete dork but loveable, loyal, and mildly handy with the ways of The Force. There were so many great cosplays, forgetting that we’re marching in Pride and not attending a geek con of some description. Among my favourite cosplays that day were Joey’s who came dressed as one of the masquerade patrons in BioShock (complete with the rabbit mask that went with the tuxedo); the adorable Jackie who came dressed as Chun-Li (a complete show stealer, if you ask me); the effervescent Vaneet who came as Professor Kukui from Pokémon, complete with a cape (a Bisexual Pride flag, one he so graciously allowed me to pose in a photo with); and the beautiful (and inspiring) Femi and Olivia, who came as Wakandans from Black Panther.

It’s not an approval, it’s a recognition of one’s humanity; a grandiose way of thousands of people saying I see you and I’m glad you’re here.

After seemingly everyone checked in, we made our way to the Pride parade starting point. Along the way, I got my firsthand look at the kind of pageantry and energy Pride is world-renown for but with a certain Londoner je nais se quoi. Diverse doesn’t even begin to describe the makeup of the massive turnout for this year’s march. Everyone from Brazil to Bradford were out in fabulous force. Despite the march being delayed by a small clique of trans exclusionary radical feminists demonstrating and espousing the usual terfy nonsense they often do, we got moving and the empowering magic of Pride really started to sink in. With each step we took, the cheers from the enthusiastic and massive throng added that much more pep in our step. The love and adulation for simply existing as the queer people we are was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. Yes, you can argue it’s symbolic in nature but that’s precisely what I’m drawn to. It’s not an approval, it’s a recognition of one’s humanity; a grandiose way of thousands of people saying I see you and I’m glad you’re here. We had our own loudspeaker on wheels so there was plenty of music to keep us going. Coupled with the cheering of the crowd, the various pop tunes blasting through the speaker, and the superb samba band in the Brazilian section in front of us, it made for a rather incredible atmosphere. All while marching down the streets of the Big Smoke, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t dreaming. This was not a mirage, nor a fleeting ideal. I am marching in Pride with a wonderful group of people that are a smorgasbord of complete nerdiness and queer identities. Despite always trying, the bigots couldn’t and can’t take over this space, and it was here when I looked around at all the grins on everyone’s faces that I felt almost invincible. Passing through Piccadilly Circus and through to the final leg of the march route, the vigour never relented. We literally danced our way through London and had a blast doing it. Once the march was complete, we regrouped for a group photo and headed to the pub for a well-earned pint. Some folks switched into Pokémon GO mode (as you do… we are Gaymers, after all) as we all fraternised and relived our momentous occasion.

That was just the first of three meetups I attended. Some of us met up at UK Black Pride (also my first one proper, FYI) and had an incredible time then I’d meet up again at Secret Weapon in Stratford for one of the gaming nights. With pretty much every console and tabletop game you could shake a stick at, it was a cracking night and good to see some of the folks I marched with again having not seen them in just about a month. For me, it was a bittersweet evening. I had found such a brilliant collective who treat each other like family and I’d be moving away again in a couple of weeks.

I don’t want to make it sound like the emergence of gaymers are a recent phenomenon in the gaming subculture because while we have always existed, the medium we all love hasn’t always reciprocated the same respect to us; namely in the form of representation to ensure our evergreen existence is at least made known to the subculture’s own mainstream, never mind mainstream culture writ large. In other words, gaymers have had to fight to simply not be homogenised while all the usual disrespectful and sometimes dehumanising tropes are thrust into the games we play, books we read, and the shows and films we watch that are either embraced by or straightforwardly of geek culture. Before the publishing of Jason Rockwood’s groundbreaking public survey (The Gaymer Survey) backed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2006 detailed a sort of reverse Kinsey scale effect where 23.4% of respondents considered themselves completely homosexual and 4.9% considered themselves completely bisexual, Sara Andrews notably created the guild Oz in World of Warcraft, a specifically dedicated space to members of the LGBTQIA community and a safe haven from the usual anti-LGBTQIA rhetoric abounding in the general chat channel of the game. Recruiting for queer-friendly guilds was never a walk in the park, as players who used the general chat channel for recruiting purposes were usually met with a barrage of verbal abuse and harassment and not just from other players but from the game’s moderators as well.

The lighthouses steering queer gamers to safe haven were now shining brighter than the bigoted gaming sirens could use their bilious rhetoric to bring us to shipwreck

Andrews was threatened with expulsion by a game administrator for simply putting the word out using terms like ‘gay,’ ‘bisexual,’ and ‘transgender’, citing that by doing so, Andrews violated WoW’s terms of service. Andrews fought back, responding with saying that homophobic language is permitted without any challenge from Blizzard’s top brass and that two of several other queer-friendly guilds allowed to operate in-game (who at the time wrote letters of complaint about similar treatment). The response was semi-satisfactory in the end. Blizzard did apologise to Andrews via email, conceding that she shouldn’t have been warned for her comments to a game administrator and that the game admin misinterpreted the ToS stipulation regarding the use of those terms. However, it was one step forward and two steps back, with Blizzard insisting players do not divulge information about their personal lives as they believed that was the best way to combat out-of-game harassment. Still, it proved to be a pivotal moment in a long line of pivotal moments and advancements for the community within a community. When you consider the creation of a convention that made it a point to focus on LGBTQ geek culture called GaymerX in 2012 that not only met its Kickstarter funding goal of $25,000 USD in five days but came away with a total of $91,389 after the entire funding period of thirty days elapsed and received support from GLAAD and gaming publishing giant Electronic Arts, you could feel a proper paradigm shift was happening and things were slowly but convincingly changing in favour of the gaymers that have always been of the culture. The lighthouses steering queer gamers to safe haven were now shining brighter than the bigoted gaming sirens could use their bilious rhetoric to bring us to shipwreck and so far, it’s been encouraging to see. It is without question that the founding and furthering of organisations like London Gaymers are a part of the push to carve out a niche just for us.

All this to say that there is an undeniable amount of power in the forming of a fun, supportive space. London Gaymers’ organisers, mods, and admins deserve every possible plaudit they can get and are a testament to the good things people can do when they come together and create a bit of light in a dreary world. The point is this: spaces like these get mocked by those who don’t need them, but in doing so, they show a type of belligerence that prompted the creation of the kind of space they gleefully and bigotedly taunt. When it comes to living in a world where your sexuality gets either erased, misunderstood, or even abused, one needs a community of people that can empathise with you. The way I see it, bigotry is a systemic ill which seeps its way into everything, including the spaces we thought we’d be okay in. Therefore, part of the systemic cure is granting systemic liberty to those targeted by anti-LGBTQIA forces and one of the things that do are communities like London Gaymers. Some things just aren’t meant for everyone and that’s okay. Online or off, that’s a resource you can’t put any finite value on, and that’s why it must be protected at all costs.

Long live the Gaymers.

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