That kind of insensitive banter has fallen out of fashion; in some circles it has become anathema. I get it. Kids can be cruel, and bullying can have terrible consequences. I understand the impulse to defuse it at all costs. But in my own case, policing schoolyard taunts would have been counterproductive. Goading one another was part of how my friends and I were able to connect. You couldn’t have stopped us without blocking off one of our main routes to true friendship.
In the past 50 years, Americans have moved from stigmatizing homosexuality to tolerating or even celebrating it. When progressives tell that story, they often cast straight, cisgender males as the villains: Change would have come sooner if society weren’t so hidebound with outdated notions of manhood. We should therefore expunge traditional forms of masculinity from our public life so gay people can be liberated, along with women and anyone else who might feel alienated. Video games, according to that narrative, are breeding grounds of the boorishness and exclusivity that can make maleness so harmful.
None of that rings true for me. Like everything else, video games and masculinity can go wrong—if unchecked, they can foster aggression or even violence. But those are corruptions of things that are, to me, inherently good. The playful belligerence, the bravado, and the intense competition with which my friends and I gamed together weren’t obstacles to our acceptance of one another; they were how we formed and expressed that acceptance. I know plenty of other guys who came out as gay, or bi, or trans with a controller in hand. For many of us, gaming is a way of talking and relating to other men that feels normal and relaxed—a way to be one of the guys while still finding space to open up.
My boyfriend, Josh, is a gamer too. He and I have been separated by the Atlantic Ocean for much of our relationship, and playing together online is one of the ways we deal with the distance. We spent a formative few months playing Diablo III, a collaborative game in which you slay undead demons. Most of the time we played with two other guys, who are also a couple. I’d stumble to my laptop in the dark at 5 a.m. in England, while Josh and our friends would settle in at 9 p.m. in Los Angeles. Over a four-way Skype connection, we’d alternate between strategizing and small talk.
Sometimes, as the hours wore on, we’d find ourselves tackling tougher subjects: our dissatisfactions at work, or our fears about coming out to folks who might not respond well. We joked that we were taking down CGI demons in the game and personal demons in our conversations, helping one another defeat whatever we were facing, online or in real life. These bizarre and distinctly modern get-togethers were like virtual double dates—part hangout, part support group, part romance. We called ourselves “The Boys Who Fight Hell.”
Josh and I also started playing online with my father, so that the two most important men in my life could get to know each other. I couldn’t help thinking back to that day playing Spider-Man 3, when I had told my dad the secret I feared might change everything. Here we were 12 years later, and it seemed as if almost nothing had changed between us. It was still him and me, talking and laughing and playing games. Only now it was him and me and Josh. We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.
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