A Performance for My Masters: A Trans Story in Roleplay
I have known since a very young age that I was really a girl. Every night my mother tucked me in, I would lie there awake with a dreamlike gaze as I imagined who I would be. Fantastical stories would flicker in my mind like a film projection, detailing what nutty circumstances would miraculously make me a woman. My thick, curly blond hair would straighten out into beautiful waves of auburn that would blow in the wind, just tickling my shoulders. My teeth would straighten into neat lines, the over-large buck teeth sticking out cutely.
I would wear a little red dress with white tights and black buckled shoes. No one would laugh at me, my bright eyes and exuberant grin; I would have friends.
I could cry, I could dance, I could do anything.
So I chanced it. I couldn’t hold it in any longer, so seated in the back of the school bus in 1st Grade, I asked everyone what cartoon character they would want to be for a day. Surprisingly, no one had an answer; they were all speechless. So with bated breath, I egged them on and told them who I wanted to be: Blossom from Powerpuff Girls. She was brainy and pretty and a tough leader, and I wanted — still want — to be her.
That was my turning point in status. Kids began to chase me with bricks and lob them at my head. Kids would convince me to play with them only to quickly abandon me just so they could see my snotty tears pour out in front of everyone.
My third grade teacher tortured my mother by forcing her to send me away so experts could test if I was “special.” When I returned, my teacher would stamp her feet and shout at me. She’d group me with the girls for field trips so everyone could see what a sissy I was, and the other kids were in on the joke.
My story isn’t new; too many of my trans brothers and sisters have ended up in these sorts of places. We are forcibly separated, our voices silenced. Our feelings ripple so harshly through us that we cannot stand. For me to see clearly, I turned to online role-play.
I founded my own role playing game (RPG) in a dark corner of the internet, organizing it as a free roam sandbox style game, open for players to create whatever stories and characters they wanted. My first character was Kyle Eliwood Gawain, a fourteen year vigilante who was basically Batman but not really. I found him to be so boring that I didn’t even try to figure out what he looked like; there was no image in my head of him. Just text.
But it was good enough. Every day after school my RP buddies and I would all hang out on AIM while dueling each other in the forums and embarking on missions. Our RPG was like a Dungeons & Dragons campaign where every day a different player would resume the role of Game Master. This allowed for the maximum quantity of creative energy. No rules or dice rolls, just a bunch of kids using physics and their own feelings to figure out what would realistically happen.
At first, it was enough just to host the game, but I soon became hungry. I wanted a character with character too, so in a storyline more convoluted than Batman v Superman, Kyle died in a bell tower. None of the players liked Kyle very much so I made new characters who would initiate Phase 2 of my masterclass in storytelling: Kyle was put in a box that decomposed his body and then rapidly recreated him cell for cell, growing him from a baby back to a fourteen year old boy.
But when the box opens — uh oh! They messed up the regeneration. He’s a girl now!
What a surprise that I wrote that. Like, are you shocked right now?
Kyle became Katrina and while I never labeled or even understood her to be trans, it’s now clear to me that this was a signal flare to my friends. I am a girl, was all I ever wanted to tell anyone.
Through my many years of roleplaying as Katrina Elinore Gawain, players would message me on AIM and applaud me for being so shockingly good at playing as a girl, and every time I received that praise my heart would start pounding. Did they really think I made a good girl?
I would blush and keep writing. It was just supposed to just be a gender bender story arc but it ended up consuming her; Katrina stayed a girl. Not my girl though. As time went on I found myself catering to these misunderstood boys. To them, femininity was a girl curiously tilting her heads to the side. It was a soft pink that crawled up their cheeks whenever confronted with feeling. It was happy tears and sad onescrying. With each paragraph, I drifted farther and farther from Katrina. It didn’t feel right. But it was what they wanted and it made them compliment me and talk to me like I was a real girl, so I kept my head down.
Unlike Kyle, Katrina was very well-liked by the other RP characters. She started off dating a boy but quickly found herself falling into the arms of a broken hearted, traumatized girl. Katrina sobbed hysterical tears, her body morphing from male to female rapidly as she tried to tell the boy that she was gay. She couldn’t love him, and he accepted her. Other players felt sorry for this sad fourteen year old girl and decided to adopt her into their online families.
I remember rushing home one day to see what had happened in the in-game adoption agency while I was away from my keyboard — but that wasn’t new. I ran home from school every day. I needed to know what adventure was waiting for me.
As Katrina lived on, other players took a stab at womanhood, which unfortunately led to our RPG becoming a lesbian orgy. As it goes.
There had to have been at least fifteen different yuri couples by the end of the game, about four of them being my own, most of them pretty bland. But there was one special character; her name was Rena, and she stood out among the harem anime of Katrina Gawain’s life.
Rena was an eighteen year-old pansexual woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder. I can remember one overlong Friday night where Rena and Katrina went on a date. Katrina dressed in a cute red summer dress with a pink straw Gibson hat, and Rena wore jeans and a tank top. The plan was to get coffee somewhere but Rena had something else in mind, and she brought Katrina to a bar.
Being a thirteen-year-old without a clue, I had to be pulled into a private message chain to learn about alcohol. Rena’s player taught me that you can never have vodka on its own for it must be paired with Coke. This valuable intel saved me in college on my 21st birthday. It was my first brush with hard liquor and I only vomited once because I knew about the Coke trick.
Katrina got drunk and because I didn’t know how to play drunk, Rena’s player goofed around with me in the AIM chat, riling me up so I’d play a little sillier than usual, and the girls ended up having a night out on the town, running around using their superpowers to create mischief. They ended up in a dumpster where they kissed each other for the first time and wound up in each others’ arms for the night.
Things got a little complicated here. I never told Rena’s player, but as time went on I began to understand that she was Rena as much as I was Katrina. Her own pain was channeled through her role-play and I just wanted to be there for her and help her. Then she disappeared. It happens in online role play a lot; people sometimes leave. You get used to it, but the lack of closure leaves a certain emptiness. I continued to play, and Katrina hooked up with a different girl, a vampire girl named Elske.
As the characters became more intimate, so did the game, which exploded into a kerfuffle of cybersex. By the end of our two-year run, the cybering had become so rampant that the RPG turned into our silly little version of New York City bathhouses in the ‘70s.
The difference was that so few of us were actually queer. The rest were just perverted boys excited to take advantage. More than a few times, I can remember players initiating sexual activities with my characters and then personally guilting me into going through with it.
As Katrina would push away, (“Ina no!” Katrina crossed her arms, nose in the air, “I’m not ready.” Out of character: Seriously, stop.) I was assailed in messages on AIM, begging me to give into the moment. Their character would relentlessly pursue Katrina — or rather — me, and regardless of how many times I said no, I was a sucker for narrative and eventually it would become out of character for Katrina to refuse them so I would give in.
But it didn’t feel like anything. I felt empty inside as we went through the motions of love making that the other players probably got off to. I felt dirty. Was that all my femininity was good for? To satisfy their male fantasies? Was that why they were so accepting?
When I did eventually come out for real to my friends in an AIM group chat, thinking myself in a safe place, I was ridiculed. I can remember sobbing at my computer at 2:00AM as one of my friends bullied me by sending me pictures that would prove I’m not really trans.
Would you want to be this woman? Or this kind of man? See? You just want attention.
Eleven years later, I returned to the forum and without even looking very hard, I found a transphobic joke about me. All those gross feelings about my body flooded back and I somehow ended up in a Private Message chain with Rena’s player. Speaking to them felt as strange as finding your ex-lover at the grocery store.
Turns out she was trans too. Made sense. You’d be surprised at how many people I’ve gotten close to who ended up coming out as trans. Or not. Queer people tend to find each other, even if it’s not apparent at first.
What did throw me for a loop was how she threatened to hurt me if I told anyone about her queerness. So I deleted my account. There wasn’t anything left to say.
While my online role-play ended on a lot of notes that were pretty dang undesirable, ultimately it helped me find my femininity and my creative self. I wouldn’t be a writer without that experience, or at least, the kind of writer that I am now.
Recently, I was talking to my friend who was once a Tumblr RPer with vastly different experiences from me, likely because they had done their time later in life with a more socially aware group. I was rambling about the failure of our RPG and how it was the cybersex that did it in. The cybersex that I, the corrupt Site Administrator, committed.
My friend cut me off and looked into my soul with the softest expression I’ve ever seen and told me that it was normal for people to experiment that way online.
I’m twenty five years old now. I’ve mounted a lot of ambitious art projects and have a Bachelor of Arts in Film Production. I’ve written for some really cool sites and gotten paid pretty dang well from them and somehow, in all of that artistic self-reflection, I never once considered that.
I was — normal.
I am — valid.
And I’m still processing it all. And that’s okay.