Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Sagas of Gender, Power, and Emotion

Had a brief discussion just now with John about my experience playing Sagas of the Icelanders at Origins this year, and how it was about gender expression, emotional expression, and struggling with my own abilities.

I played The Huscarl, which is like, Super Manly and involves a lot of behavioral cues, from my perspective. I play men or androgynous/fluid people a lot of the time, more often than women, for any number of reasons, but in part because I can't be a man or androgynous visibly, or perform that, in any other part of my life. I look and am seen as A Woman and I hate it a lot of the time. So, games! And playing against my assigned gender! This game actually was an element in my walk towards coming out officially, too. But!

One of the things I was discussing elsewhere about toxic masculinity and emotional play ( is that there are emotions I can express as a man that I can't as a woman. When I played this character, I did three things I can't do when I'm presenting as a woman without being given dirty looks, being shamed, or being told to calm down:

- I was jovial, which if you look at a lot of historical language is not commonly used for women, and I was allowed to be so just as I was.

- I was angry, blustering, and loud each at least once or twice, but no one looked down at me, in character or out (this was in part because of a beautifully arranged group, but they were all men, and allowed me to perform that). At one point in the game, I even got to play out the experience of a good man hurting someone unintentionally out of masculine bravado and egoism, and it was totally great to get that experience - not because I hurt someone, but because of the perspective it offered on the entire scenario and my character.

- I was seen as displaying positive vulnerability when I did seek help in character.

This is not meant to say that men have an easier time of playing, not at all. Men playing to express feminine-coded emotions is definitely a valid thing and I totally get that, because this is my experience expressing masculine-coded emotions, where I'm allowed leeway that I wouldn't be as a woman. And I tell you this after edging-up-to-20-years roleplaying, there are benefits to playing against gender, or against expectation.

But this also got me thinking of one of the things I addressed in game. One of the questions of the game, which is a challenge for me, was the subject of fertility and barrenness. However, it gave me an opportunity I hadn't expected. While most people were concerned about the ability of my character's betrothed to reproduce, when it came to light that her past husband had been infertile, I let my character experience the fear of losing or not even having virility.

For me, however, it wasn't of "can I have children?" but "do I lack the power to support the ones I love and give them what they desire?" See, from my perspective, the concept of fertility in history has often been tied to virtue (though that's a very ridiculous thing), and virility is tied to power. Fertility is reproducing and making, virility is inception and creation. They work together, obviously, but there's a lot of emphasis on virility being related to a man's power and him being weak if he doesn't have it - his body is weak, his body has failed him - and for fertility, the woman who lacks it has wronged herself and the world somehow.

These are both shit things, but through those concepts and the setting of the game, with the help of my character's betrothed and the aunt in the story, I was able to express myself in anger, in vulnerability, and with power, and it was incredibly meaningful. One of my favorite moments I've ever had in games was having a touching, emotional discussion with Tracy, playing my betrothed, and sitting next to Eric (playing the aunt) while he encouraged me in character to stand up.

I don't have a lot of physical power, and my mind is not often at its best. To explore the idea of losing power as something my mind conceived to be a powerful person? That was so helpful to me, to work through some serious feelings, and it echoes even now, months later.

Basically what I'm getting at is that sometimes these games can be super meaningful. We can experience all kinds of feelings and think about all sorts of things, and playing against type can really make a difference in that regard. It was such a beautiful game, and I hope to have many more like it.

(Thanks, as always, to +Jason Morningstar for running a great game, and for my cohorts, +Tracy Barnett +Eric Mersmann +Morgan Ellis and +Mark Diaz Truman)

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