This week, there has been discussion about whether League of Legends character Taric should come out of the closet as a gay man (by Todd Harper, Patricia Hernandez, and Kristin Bezio). It is argued that having a character be openly gay, rather than ‘wink and a nod, maybe’ gay, would represent a positive shift in the game’s diversity. From what I gather about League of Legends, I suppose it probably would; but the assumptions underlying this discussion are not at all welcoming of diverse forms of gender and sexual expression.
It’s claimed that by ‘remaining tight-lipped about his life outside of the league’, Taric as a character is furthering the idea that being gay is a hush-hush thing that should be kept out of public view and just whispered and giggled about behind closed doors. Todd Harper lists a few ways that Taric’s sexuality could be included in the game; maybe he has a boyfriend character, for example. This would, Kristin Bezio argues, positively reinforce sexual diversity, rather than simply using it as an in-joke.
I don’t disagree with the value of both fictional characters and real-life human beings coming out of the closet. I’ve benefited immensely from other people speaking and writing publicly about their identities and experiences. If there was someone like me on British TV, I would have a much easier time explaining my identity to my mother. But by assuming that Taric is gay, people are contributing to heteronormative assumptions from which I have only been able to escape in recent years, thanks to other people coming out and being public about their diverse gender identities.
Only because of other people coming out and speaking about their identities do I know that gender-variant people are not always defined by labels relating to sexual orientation. I’m not against coming out, but I am against the assumption that everybody will or should manage their social lives and personal identities in the same way. And even though I don’t play LoL, this call for an apparently feminine male character to come out as gay is deeply troubling to me as a genderqueer person.
People usually read me as a masculine woman. In queer circles, I regularly have to witness a look of disappointment on someone’s face when I refer to my partner with male pronouns. I always feel like I’ve not quite measured up to their expectations. Sometimes I wonder if people think I’m a tourist, as they turn around and decide to talk to someone else.
I’m no tourist. I’ve struggled with my gender identity for far too long. I was bullied at school for years on end for being different. I spent my university years trying to hide from the truth and turn myself into the very model of heteronormative femininity. I looked great. I felt hollow, ashamed and somehow separated from other people, like I was talking to them from behind a curtain. Slowly, tentatively and mostly privately, I’m now embracing my gender identity, and I feel the happiest I’ve ever felt in my life. By a wide margin.
I think that if I were a League of Legends character, Todd Harper would be asking me to come out of the closet as a lesbian.
The assumption that I’m a lesbian stems, I feel, from two insidious viewpoints that creep around like woodworms, undermining the structure of supposedly inclusive communities. The first is the cissexist assumption that I must identify as a woman, simply because I am blatantly glowing with all the outward signs of an estrogen-rich bloodstream. The second is the arguably heteronormative assumption that since I’m masculine, I must be exclusively attracted to women.
You can be the most well-meaning and liberal person in the world and still lay those nonsense assumptions on me. I was once chatting to an academic on a train, who turned out to be a world leader in gender studies. They clumsily blurted out “if you’re genderqueer, how can you be in a relationship with a man?” I then found myself in the awkward situation of explaining that gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing, to someone who founded a gender studies department at one of the most successful universities in the world.
So, first of all, maybe Taric is not gay. Maybe he loves women almost as much as he loves gems. Maybe he doesn’t identify as a guy. Maybe he just doesn’t know yet. Maybe he doesn’t need to explain his gender expression in terms that fit your worldview.
Or maybe he is gay, and he doesn’t feel the need to navigate the complex network of social connections between the League and the LGBT community through the rather culturally-specific rite of passage of coming out. Maybe Taric belongs to a culture where coming out isn’t the best option for him or for his family. Perhaps his privacy is very important to maintaining his connection with the community he grew up in. It doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t doing his bit to break down homophobia in that community, but the challenges might not be navigable by the same means that they are in your culture.
So yes, by all means badger Riot Games for some homosexual relationships in League of Legends. But please don’t assume that Taric should be involved in them. Arguing that Taric should come out is the very opposite of inclusive; it’s an expression of cultural hegemony and heteronormative cissexism.