The “Appropriateness” of Gender Topics and Youth in TTRPGs

As a “forever” Game Mistress (GM), as is colloquial in the Tabletop Role-Playing Game (TTRPG) community, I follow quite a few GM YouTubers. Today, during my research for articles such as this, I came across a video by one to which I subscribe. In this particular installment, DawnforgedCast was reviewing a recent (at the time) article from discussing how Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), and subsequently Wizards of the Coast, were dedicated to further LGBT+ representation and inclusion in its products. While that remains to be seen, my curiosity was peaked more by the questions that DawnforgedCast asked his viewers.

“Is reemphasizing the sexuality of characters one of those things that is…necessary to do? Or is it something that generally…not what we do in our game?”

While the focus was on sexuality specifically, it applies to trans representation as well. Should we broach gender issues in TTRPGs? It is an even bigger question when we realize that almost half of all TTRPG players are under 24. When so many adolescents and teens are playing these games, do we avoid those topics?

In short? Absolutely not.

As highlighted in Avery Alder’s “Monsterhearts” RPG game, adolescents and teens experience a world of confusing emotions and bodily changes during those formative years. Speaking from personal experience, these changes, for good or ill, need explanation. Our youth need to have some rudimentary understanding of what is possible so that they can put words and meaning to how they are feeling. Youth don’t always have someone at school or home to provide that context. Further, burying themes of sexuality and gender for the sake of “protecting” youth is just as harmful. It’s akin to abstinence-only health education. If the knowledge to make safe decisions is absent, teens’ health and lives are at greater risk. Conversely, there are no ill effects in exposing adolescent players to these topics; only benefits.

What’s great is that gender variant and trans characters are so easy to incorporate. In fantasy settings, certain races are perfectly suited for breaking gender binaries. For those who prefer Sci-Fi settings, technology allows for near perfect transitions, such as biosculpting in Shadowrun or changing ‘sleeves’ in the Altered Carbon RPG. It simply takes the storyteller a moment to decide that a Non-Player Character (NPC) is gender variant. Maybe the burly innkeeper used to adventure to raise money for a potion of sex change and retired once the magic had fulfilled his wish. Perhaps a genderless deity’s entire priesthood eschew the trappings of gender in honor of their god.

It is important that storytellers include organic examples of trans representation in their games. Even brushing past such ideas normalizes them and defuses the confusion that a trans youth may be feeling. It will give their feelings context and open opportunities for greater self-awareness. Ultimately, trans and gender variant ideas in a TTRPG help in building an inclusive community and give voice to those youth who may be still searching for one.

About Winter Phoenix

A 20+ year tabletop veteran and storyteller, Winter is dedicated to providing LGBT+ people of all types and ages spaces where they feel safe to express themselves authentically.

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