State of the ‘Corn: “Eat the Press” Edition

16 bit video game screen showing Princess Peach wearing a white dress with red trim jumping between two green pipes against a clear blue sky with a goomba running around on the ground below.
Super Peach from Nicholas Elias Wilson’s hack of Super Mario Bros.

So, I updated the space with a meaty new article a few days ago, but you can still rightly be forgiven for wondering where you’re unicornish correspondent has been these many weeks and months. I’ve been doing a lot of travelling and a fair amount of work of late. I’ve also been interviewed for a few media outlets about gender in gaming.

First is this article in the Wall Street Journal, hitting the streets tomorrow morning: “Fans Take Video Game Damsels Out of Distress and Put Them in Charge.” I was very grateful to be interviewed here and pleased to see the Journal covering this important angle of gamer resistance. I should, however, add further commentary lest my lonely remark be misinterpreted or taken out of context.

I think that this trend of ‘flipping the script’ in these games shows that people want to see women protagonists and are willing to both make and support these hacks. It is also worth adding that even as there has been opposition and some vocal nastiness, a lot of gamers have come out in support of these indie projects. It stands athwart the so-called market logic that says gamers don’t want female protagonists, and that’s an important grassroots-level indicator that, hopefully, augurs for some positive change in the near future. What hasn’t changed in gaming culture is the fact that there are still all too many people who, despite our reverence for hacking, modding, and reinvention as gamers, still oppose these hacks for nonsensical reasons that are transparently sexist. But the winds are indeed shifting, and that very shift has contributed to some of the virulence of the opposition; it is a form of backlash. These creative hacks, and the fact that there are gamer dads who want their gamer daughters to see themselves in classic video games, are hopeful signs of changing times.

NPR's logo, N in a red box, P in a black one, r in a blue one.I was also interviewed by NPR, for KPCC’s cultural programme Take Two to discuss the meaning and context of the recent Microsoft E3 rape joke debacle. To the credit of the show’s producers, they decided to take a wide-lens look at the broader issues facing women in the gaming industry and I was very happy to help with that in my small way. You can listen to the audio here. It was hard to pick one thing that was wrong with that scenario, besides the rape joke itself: the fact that the woman in question was set up to fail (amidst a thick soup of stereotypes about women’s innate lack of gaming skill), or the fact that there was laughter at the ‘joke.’ I was glad to see Microsoft apologise, but this ritual has become, by now, depressingly familiar. A gaming company engineers a scenario very likely to run afoul of sexist landmines and then promptly acts surprised and unconvincingly penitent about the resulting explosion. There’s a disconnect here, one that can be mended by simply listening to women and respecting us as equal participants in this community.

In further ‘Corn news, I have triumphantly returned to writing at The Border House with a review of Capcom’s Remember Me. The ultimate verdict is: “give it a chance, but prepare to be disappointed with the story.” I have plans for more Border House articles and possibly another one here in the near future, so stay tuned!

State of the Corn: Not-Quite-a-Weekend Update

So, a brief sidebar for all my usual readers whom I love and adore; yours truly has participated in Bitch Magazine’s blog carnival celebrating all manner of feminist click and anti-click. I wrote an article about the meaning of online gaming to me as a trans woman and as a feminist and posted it on The Border House. You may find it in all its glory here. The essence of the article is that I learned a tremendous deal about what it meant to be a woman in contemporary society- vivifying the second half of Susan Stryker’s famous (to me) definition of womanhood: “A woman is one who says she is and then does what woman means.” I learned, in ways both empowering and painful, what being a woman meant.

What’s more, I would come to terms with who I was, and most important of all, roleplaying showed me that there was courage and strength in womanhood. It prepared me for the fight that would explode forth in all its fury when I finally decided to come out. The article was meant to convey some of the reasons that a video game can be more than “just a game” and to illustrate the importance of pride in a world where shame remains all too common. There were more issues that I should have explored, in retrospect, and might be fruitful areas of consideration for future articles. While I looked up to several women characters in video games, and some on television like Star Trek’s Captain Janeway, what was inescapable was the whiteness of all of these women. It was something that has complexed me to this day; it’s still a struggle for me to see myself as beautiful when compared to white women. Video games by themselves are hardly to blame for this, indeed I would cast more of the weight with our wider media culture, but they still played their role.

Conversely, Night Elves offered a curious escape from that trap. I could at least be proud to be purple. These are matters I’ll have to think on more deeply to be sure. My analyses of cybersociology often miss issues of race in any great measure and this is something that has been bothering me more and more. I have things to say on this, things I’ve felt, things I’ve experienced through that ultimate form of participant observation research known as life, but it will take time for me to order them in my head.

On that note, enjoy the blog carnival and I will be back soon with another Transgender Studies update!

The Nuclear Unicorn Solstice-cum-Christmas Special

When I first began blogging many years ago I never dreamed of being able to do what I do today; what began as yet another emo diary on Livejournal has evolved into something beyond my wildest of dreams (which at the time were pretty modest, admittedly, but still!). I made the move to WordPress to make a fresh start after I had reached a point in my transition where I felt comfortable talking about trans issues and my own experiences in a more public setting, and yet even then I never expected much.

My feminist mentor at the time, who encouraged me to blog, told me that she knew my writing in this space would do something positive. She had such starry eyed, high, maternal hopes for me that I felt sad at what I thought the inevitable disappointment would be.

Yet here I am, a year and a half later, engaged in the self-absorbed metawank of blogging about blogging and looking back with a smile. I never expected, nor wanted huge numbers of readers. But I also did not expect to have a positive impact on peoples’ lives; one woman came out because of something I wrote here that let her know she wasn’t alone in having a non-traditional trans childhood experience. That remains one of my proudest accomplishments and one of the best examples of the power that writing has. It’s the reason that blogging is its own kind of activism; if the pen is mightier than the sword, so is the keyboard. Writing gives people hope, it can comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and it does have the power to make the world a slightly nicer place. So long as it can do that, I feel comfortable spending what time and energy I can spare on this space and on my other online writing projects.

Words do matter, and they have the power to heal as well as destroy or wound. I see it all the time on sites like Questioning Transphobia, which themselves inspired me to think that my voice mattered enough to be heard on trans issues and feminism more generally. Those pounds of prose, both on and offline, gave me the strength early on in my transition to get self-acceptance right, to learn to love myself, to learn that the problem lay not with me but with a cissexist and misogynist culture. I’ve had limitless self confidence, energy, and pride ever since. Writing and reading the writing of others did that for me. It was those powerful words that helped me feel unashamed of being trans, proud of being a woman, and taught me the potency that comes with defiance.

All of this has lead not only to an improved quality of life for me but also helped me do more out in the world, helping student organisations at my university and organising activist events as well as spreading the word about trans feminism to all who would hear it at school; all of this helps, and all of it began with me reading the work of someone who dared to speak up. That, for me, is what made my life liveable. So, this is why I write.

Writing is its own kind of activism and part of a new vanguard in a number of movements that reaches more people than resistances of ages past could have dreamed of. It’s something I’m proud to be a part of for a number of reasons.

Over the course of these festive next two weeks I will be trying to kick back and relax after working assiduously over the past semester- working harder and with more enthusiasm than I ever knew was possible for me- and above all I want to thank everyone who’s visited this blog, the friends I made through my writing here and elsewhere, the people whose comments- supportive and critical- add to what I write here, and to the various famous people I’ve critiqued who were kind enough to start conversations with me, like Andrea James. If my words make you feel a little better about our often troubled world, or lend you some comfort and reassurance I am glad for that. Because I sure as hell can’t play the violin, so this is the best you’re going to get.

Words have enduring power, they stir and cause a quivering of the marrow whose resonance is unlike any other. I didn’t begin this process of writing to enter the world of activism; in many ways, it found me when I had people telling me that things I’d written, whether here, or as comments and posts on other websites, had a profound effect on them. It found me when people made connections with me, romantic and friendly, that began with powerful writing. Beautiful emotions, comfort, reassurance, love, peace, friends, all of that came from what I had written. I thank all of you not only for following and being a part of my work, but also for all of the amazing things you do, literary and otherwise.

What a long, strange trip it’s been- and it’s going to keep chugging right along. I’m aware that normally themes of ‘giving thanks’ surround the US/Canadian holiday of Thanksgiving, but between wanting to roll my holidays into a big, mushy ball of happy, and not having written a proper Thanksgiving post here, I’ll just say that I’m giving thanks here and now. This is a pretty big time of year for me, not just because of the Winter Solstice or Christmas, both of which I keep in my own ways, but because I actually came out this week a couple of years ago. That, and tomorrow’s mah birthday. So I figure it’s a good time to say ‘thank you for giving me the gift of your readership.’

If I don’t update this space much for the next week it’s because I’m out in the world having exciting adventures that will someday be turned into feature length films and totally not because I’ll be playing the new World of Warcraft expansion or anything.

Happy Holidays to you all! Goddess and/or Flying Spaghetti Monster bless us, everyone!

Lest We Forget

There are ample things to be said about such a day as this. For me the Day of Remembrance is about remembering the lives of those we have lost as they would want to be remembered, as the people they truly were, not as the lie that cis media repeats ad nauseam. I have wondered aloud if journalists go to a special school where they learn how best to utterly trash and defame dead trans women. The rather unpleasant spectacle created by the British press- both populist and ‘higher class’- surrounding the death of Sonia Burgess is just one all too contemporary example of the kind of slander that becomes so bad many have described it as a second death. Yet deaths like hers are often the ones that get the most attention; as the list on any number of TDOR websites will tell you, those we lose are often from groups less likely to be mentioned in the papers under any circumstances. The unremembered women on the front lines of sex work, impoverished women in Latin America just trying to get by, the poorest of the poor right here in my hometown. They too must be remembered, for their passing is often completely unmarked.

TDOR has been, for me, a time to remember who these people- the crushing majority of whom were women- really were. Their true names, their true lives, they way they lived, and what they lived for. So often, here at the nadir of cissexist hatred in our society, that same society avails itself of the opportunity to broadcast to all who will listen lies compounded by lies about the lives and identities of the now dead trans woman who is now utterly unable to speak for herself; the media takes this opportunity to tell us a tale of men in dresses and of female names in scare quotes, a sirensong of salacious goings on, whispers of sex work, a dramatic narrative of deception and “surprise”, and the curtain falling on the pinnacle of the final act, another nameless woman dead and waiting for the cameras. For the media, that is who we are- a lovely little piece of the puzzle that fits neatly into a story they have already written, about a life they care next to nothing about.

Thus it is that we insistently dare to remember, dare to call our lost and fallen siblings by their real names, and today is a day where we dare to thumb kyriarchy, dare to call the patriarchal press the profound virtuoso liar and cheat that it is, and dare to survive, dare to remember both our own courage, and our worth.

There are some who say that this day is too sombre, sad, and depressing. There is a lot that is worth celebrating about our existence, they say. Life as well as death. Joy as well as pain and loss. Some of these same people say that it’s even a whiff of internalised transphobia that makes this commemoration of death “our holiday” rather than something more festive. To this I say the following: due to the foregoing I have said about how we are so often not remembered, or explicitly and intentionally misremembered, this day is a necessary bearing of witness. It is a necessary reminder of the need to protect our identities and the truth of our lives, and to protect the memory of those who have been lost. The near total disgrace and erasure we experience on death, a death so often at the hands of another, is something that is almost completely unique to this community. A day devoted to a community and ally based remembrance of the truth then becomes necessary and powerful.

For me, there is a rich and potent joy to womanhood, to trans-ness, and to the journey that I will always be on. The people I have met, and the experiences I have had are treasures I would trade for nothing else on the Goddess’ green earth. Those joys I know are the product of me living a life where I am true to myself at last. Thus we had best remember that truth for those who are no longer with us.

Let every other day of the year be the grand, insistent, defiant, radical and oh-so-beautiful celebration of our lives. But today we must remember.

Because, as is unfortunately true about so much else in this community, if we do not- who will?


P.S. The slug off to the far left is playing Amazing Grace, in case you were wondering what a bagpipe was doing in that picture. ::winks::

Pledge Drive Without the Tote Bags

I’m sure that many of my readers also read Questioning Transphobia and thus this may well not be news to any of you, but just in case, I felt I ought to boost the signal on something posted there very recently.

Ok, so we hate to do this, but it’s necessary.  It’s hard to ask for help, even when you’re desperate.

Lisa and I are both struggling to survive.  Both of us are unemployed.  I don’t have money for food this next fortnight–let alone internet or hormone treatments.  Lisa has a staph infection she can’t afford to see a doctor for, and no money for hormones either.

We know that so many of you are struggling hard too, especially at the moment.  We don’t do this for money (there is none), but we’d appreciate it so much if those of you who can afford it would think about helping us out. The paypal button to donate is here:

I have already donated and am raising awareness amongst my good friends about all of this. If you’ve a dollar/a pound/a euro to spare, please consider it. Questioning Transphobia is an invaluable resource for trans people on the Internet- it has built community, provides a platform for radical thinking and empowering trans folk to be proud of themselves, and is a strong antidote to the self-loathing society often imposes upon us. Not too long after I came out I stumbled onto this site and was amazed at the possibilities it elucidated. I didn’t have to be ashamed? I could claim subjectivity as both a trans person and as a woman? Feminism could include me? Such realisations were hard won, and QT’s provision of a news and opinion service to the trans community that does not apologise for our existence and bows to no one is still something of a rarity.

On a personal note, Lisa and Emily are wonderful, zany people whose friendship is quite valuable to me. Like so many people I care about in my life I wish to the Goddess that I could simply will their problems away. But life is, alas, not so accommodating. Despite that, I’ve found the people who somehow make it through their challenging lives can be quite remarkable and it is that which has kept QT going all these years; support, love, and generosity from the trans community and its allies. It never fails to impress me, and is one of many things that does continue to give me hope.

At the risk of sounding terribly trite, keep the flame burning.

State of the ‘Corn, Update!

Brief posts on this site are very much like unicorns. Rare, nigh on mythical beasts whose appearance occasions the weavings of stories to be told to your mates over a few drinks.

Anyway, what’s this post about? Well as some of you may have noticed my most recent blog posts have been me reposting classwork, albeit with commentary. Fully original articles will be returning soon, however. But the other reason my creative energies have been a wee bit absorbed has been because I’ve been taken on as a writer at Border House where I’ve recently published a few things. Their editor liked a piece that originally appeared here (my ‘World of Warshaft’ one, about Blizzard and their rather flighty relationship with the concept of privacy) and I’ve been taken on as a staff writer.

If you’re interested, my two most recent articles can be found here:

  • Ain’t I a Gamer?, about the issues surrounding the invisibility of women in gaming spaces and the subconsciously perpetuated ideas that entrench that lack of visibility.
  • Problematically In The Voice of a Night Elf Woman, which is an introspective piece about how I felt returning to World of Warcraft post-transition. This piece may also appear elsewhere on the Internets, so stay tuned.

My attention is split many ways lately, and as the articles point out, yes I’m finally back in WoW (caricature of me with Night Elf ears is forthcoming) but I’m trying to do something much more productive with that this time, and that’s why I’m writing about it and applying the many things I’ve learned over the last couple of years to it.

State of the ‘Corn, 2010

Needs a name badly.

I present to my loyal readers (all 4 of you) a once in a lifetime rarity on Nuclear Unicorn: A short post! As some of you may have noticed, the theme of the blog has changed considerably to something I feel is cleaner, more readable and more professional. As well as wider. With the monsters I tend to write, the extra width is a huge help.

One of the bigger changes recently has been the new and improved About Me page complete with illustrations and the new resting place of the old banner that once graced the top of the front page, for those of you who thought my bad colouring was just the bees knees. The main purpose of the about me page’s expansion was to provide an explanation of the tortured logic that led to this blog’s name, and to provide a permanent home for the slug family since their appearances are rather rare (drawing pastries with eyestalks on them is hard work, yo.)

Pictured above is a scratchy sketch I made of what it is I envision when I think of a nuclear unicorn. While some may argue that it’s a nuclear narwhal, they will be banned from this blog forevar and their views don’t count. But if you want free pastries with eyestalks on them, name the bomb with a horn on it!

Here’s to a ‘corny new year. ::raises coffee mug::