When i first heard of Blizzard conflating advertising queer-friendly guilds with sexual harassment, i was pretty upset and blogged about it. Since then, numerous groups have spoke eloquently about the issue, Lambda Legal got involved and Blizzard apologized. It is always good to see digital demonstrations work. Given this, i will re-order WoW and check it out shortly.
While i should celebrate this positive change of affairs, my sunny spirits have been dampened by the ways in which participants justified Blizzard’s decisions in the commentary of many blogs, on mailing lists, and in person. It has been a real eye-opener at how much unchecked homophobia swirls around me, both from within the queer community and from without. I’m not talking about the overt “faggot” homophobia; i’m talking about the homophobia that comes from failing to recognize systems of oppression and privilege. When i wrote my post, i made some assumptions about my readers, about the people around me. I feel the need to explain the assumptions under which i am operating.
Imagine a world where a woman is told that they can’t talk about being a female because that would be encouraging people to attack her and thus it would be not permitted and would be deemed sexism. My hope is that most people can recognize that this is absurd. Of course, the funny thing is that we live in that world anyhow. In technical fields, we are often told that if we talk about being women, we are complaining. We are told that we live in a meritocratic world where women are welcome so they should just stop complaining. Yet, the reality is that being female is not just about the XX chromosomes, the estrogen, the boobs and hips. It’s a situated identity that cannot be untangled from experience. Sure, we can try to out-male the men (and many of us do indeed try) but the standards are still separate. We are still read as women when we walk in the door, whether we like it or not. We live in a sexist culture and pretending sexism doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. Tis the reason that i have much appreciation for Malcolm Gladwell for using narrative in explaining research to make this issue more visible – even when we think that we aren’t looking at race and gender, we are. If we said that we should not talk about being female, everyone would be assumed to be male and judged on that manner. You don’t create equality by removing the experiences that alters embodied identities… in those terms, the oppressed will always be oppressed, systemically. There’s a huge amount of sexism in WoW – even in watching over others’ shoulders, i’ve seen my fair share of “don’t be such a girl” and comments about the femininity/masculinity of particular characters’ representations. Would a sexism-free space be acceptable to the majority of users? I have to imagine that few people would say that is oppressing sexist bastards.
Sexuality has always been a more complicated picture because the debate is rooted in issues of morality. I will never forget the first time i was asked why gay people had to highlight their butt-fucking to everyone by marching down the streets. ::shudder:: This is when i realized that from a heterosexist point of view, “gay” is read as a set of practices, not an identity. It is assumed that when a group of queer people gather, they do so to fuck. This is just as stereotypically problematic as saying that when a group of women gather, they do so to bake. Sure, it does happen, but it is by no means the sole reason to gather… Gatherings happen based on identity, based on a set of shared values and views about how the world works. It’s about creating safe space where you don’t have to have your walls up high, have to be on constant guard for attacks, don’t have to constantly defend your view of the world. It’s a way to keep sane more than anything else. And it’s a way of being able to cope in a culture of oppression.
The problem i have with people saying it’s equivalent to a hetero-friendly guild is that hetero-friendly is the norm. Heterosexuals are not an oppressed population; they can walk proud on the street, show their love on TV without question, bring their partners to the company picnic without fear, have children without worrying how their love will affect their children. They don’t have to worry about feeling silenced by comments such as “you’re such a straightie.” It’s simply not the same.
Of course, i’m totally in favor of Blizzard keeping it a PG-13 (violence permitted) environment. I totally understand why watching two characters fuck would not be appropriate, but i don’t think that the gender of the characters matters. The thing is that is fundamentally different than eliminating identity. And queer is an identity first and foremost. Fantasy worlds may not need to have sex, but they do have to have identity. And people’s lived identities seep through whether we like it or not. To silence only the oppressed individuals in a system is beyond dangerous; it promotes a society that i can never support.
I also understand why some people are afraid to reveal their sexuality to young people for fear of being attacked, perceived as a pedophile (although more straight folks abuse children than gay folks), or thinking that sex should not be mentioned to children. The problem is that we’ve all been taught that to talk about our sexuality, our identity, is the same as bringing sex to the conversation. That’s a dangerous dangerous thing to internalize and i implore queer folks to stop doing that. No one should be talking about their sex life to children, but that doesn’t mean you should hide your identity because people have told you to be shameful of yourself. Young people need to know queer people as regular people – this is how tolerance is formed.
I respect that Blizzard has made the economically responsible decision to stop this tomfoolery. But i think that this issue is also critical for general societal reflection. Silencing people because of their identity is a dangerous proposition. We’ve done that a few times in our history to deadly ends. Let’s not do that again.