Before I begin, I’m painfully aware this is not about me, and yet this is my blog so it is about me. I get that’s confusing but, the experiences of complete strangers going through whatever changes they have.. These are journeys and they’re different for everyone. I only have my own personal experiences to go on, and this isn’t about what’s right or wrong or wherever you happen to fall on this spectrum. I am writing this, and these thoughts will be mine. You may find them too politically correct or not at all politically correct, or may otherwise take offense, again depending on your subjective perception of reality. This is where I fall on the spectrum, for better or for worse. I respect wherever you are on this spectrum. I’m just sharing where I am. I’m not trying to say my place is better or worse than yours. It’s just different, and diversity is our strength.
Back in the 1990s, I was into roleplaying games. I have both played characters and mastered my fair share of games. That was a long time ago, and I’d be hesitant to go back into it now cuz I’m rusty, but my interests in this genre of entertainment are being rekindled in recent weeks, so I’m finding myself exploring old boxes and dusty corners in my house where I left the trappings of my youth. I was actually looking for my old dicebag, which I still haven’t found BTW. I may have given my dice to a nephew. It’s been a long time since I even needed dice – heck nowadays there’s websites that work like random number generators, or I could download an app does anyone really even use dice anymore? Anyway, instead of finding my dice bag, I found many old books that I used to create characters and help me explore story ideas for game sessions. One of the books I found, which brings me to writing this little blog entry, was written by an individual known then as Paul Jaquays. It’s a book called “Heroes NOW” and the focus of this book was to allow one to use dice and one’s own creativity to flesh out both Player Characters and Non Player Characters. The idea was to start on page 18 of the book, follow the instructions, and where one was directed to roll dice you looked at the appropriate charts provided and wrote down your results on some paper, and then moved on to where the book directed you next. It was very useful, and also just a lot of fun to explore in my free time. I recall using it to develop characters for short stories too, which may still be written down somewhere in this house. I doubt any of them would be worth publishing. Anyway. It’s a fun mental exercise if nothing else.
Some might think this would lead to cookie cutter characters, but I found that Jaquays approach was a great starting point, and I could sometimes accept the dice roll and other times just scan through the descriptions until I found one that sparked my imagination and led me down a path that helped me find my way to my characters. It was a useful tool. Admittedly, the available descriptions are strongly influenced by Western Culture. Rarely was it possible to role up characters that were too far removed from my own personal experience. I found most of the time the end result was someone to whom I could still relate. This wasn’t a problem for me at the time, but in hindsight looking over this book now, I rather imagine Heroes Now was not very attractive to anyone not a white straight male. Since I am a white straight male, I was not aware in the 1990s this was a problem.
So just a few days ago I found myself looking at the cover of this book again for the first time in decades, a wistful smile playing on my lips as I turned a page or two. Fond memories are being triggered as I catch the scent of the pages and am reminded of gaming sessions long ago where friends gathered around a table over alcohol and pipe tobacco and laughter and music. Good times.
Then I came across this on page three:
I remember reading this in the 1990s, and agreeing with it. That memory felt like a shot across the bow to the me of 2019. My how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go. Elsewhere in the book there are many choices that one can make to elaborate on the backstory of one’s characters, and there’s a great deal many possibilities to be had in the hundred or so pages. However, these choices do intentionally have an editorial bent and if one happens to be of the Christian persuasion, I doubt it’s noticeable, but paging through this book today, in my decidedly not Christian perspective, yeah there’s places where one might get triggered. Still being binary, I can only imagine how a nonbinary would react to this same book. How would someone who lives in the Eastern hemisphere react to this book today? Some efforts are made to keep the descriptions nongender specific when plausible, but it does admittedly have a sort of male bent in places. Again, less noticeable twenty years ago but a bit more glaring today.
Time is not being kind to Jaquays efforts, but I doubt she’d consider going back and fixing this now. I’m not even sure if there’s a market today for what these “Central Casting” character enhancing books intended to accomplish. A couple decades ago I was completely oblivious to how insensitive and narrow minded this approach objectively was. This was years before the Me Too movement or the Gamer Gate and other issues which have brought cultural insensitivity to the forefront and caused racist nationalist types to rear their ugly heads once again an attempt to reassert themselves into the global consciousness as if their argument has not already been made countless times before and proved wanting. I think of myself at times as progressive in thought, or at least liberal. In the eyes of some I’m a bit of a moderate, and in the eyes of others I’m no better than extreme fascists. Like I said, we all fall on the spectrum differently, and I’m not trying to say my place is better or worse than wherever you fall. I am aware where I used to fall differs from where I fall now, and yet some things haven’t changed much for me.
I remember agreeing with the sentiments of Paul Jaquays before, and not putting the book back on the shelf. I used it a great deal for some years. Jaquays was essentially saying they wrote this book for people like themselves, which I guess at the time included people like me. If someone happened to not be like-minded to the Jaquays of 1991, then they were not welcome to use the book. “You had best return the book to the shelf now.” If you take offense to being excluded, go write your own book. That was the Jaquays of a couple decades ago. Would that same person feel that way today? On a whim, I did a couple Google searches to find out. I was very surprised at the results.
Perhaps I should repeat this as I feel it’s important to catch, and some readers may still be blinking and it’s not tracking in their heads, while other readers look at this and shrug and don’t get why this is a thing at all. I’ve only just recently learned that Paul Jaquays, the writer and artist involved in not only Heroes NOW but some other RPG materials I enjoyed in the 1990s, is now Jennell Jaquays and has been for a few years. Page 3 of her work Heroes Now has this “PC Warning” which, given her journey since is. well. That’s just it. I don’t know the whole story. I can only speculate. However, if Paul became Jennell in the past twenty years, I can only surmise she’s had her own trek which makes my abandonment of faith pale in comparison. It’s one thing to discover that western culture has lied to me regarding gods and magic and other beliefs, and come to terms with that. It’s quite another to learn society’s narrow binary approach to gender identity has a personal effect on your own psyche. I am still struggling to relate to that, still feeling binary myself.
The whole Paul/Jennell thing has been blowing my mind in recent days. In a good way. I’m so happy for her! It’s just that back in the 90s I used her Heroes Now book and this “PC Warning” is something she may regret today. She’s come a long way. Happy for her growth as a person. This is old news for some, and some may not even know this. Most don’t care one way or another and will live and die not having this admittedly unimportant knowledge in their brain but I feel this strangely important to examine this anecdotal example. Jennell is of course not the only person who have spent their youth seeing reality from a more conservative perspective and then as one progresses through life leaning more towards progressive and liberal ideas in some ways. I’ve experienced this too. Many of us have, just in different ways, which is why I’m bringing this up here and now.
I went through my young adulthood seeing things far differently than I do now, and Jennell Jaquays was in not a large but also not a small part instrumental in confirming my presumptions, back when she was a he, and now I learn she was just as much in the dark as I was, and that her insistence on prefacing her publication with this “Political Correctness Warning” may have been a hint to a greater cause, or a symptom of her own gender dysphoria. Perhaps years or even decades before she realized the problem was there.
I bring this up now hoping to illuminate a point few on all sides of this argument wish to explore fully: we will not always “awake” at the same time or speed. Some of us are never going to accept everything in our lifetimes, and others among us may readily be willing to accept far more than is necessary, or prudent. There’s the illusion of security, and there’s doing what’s fair and just for everybody, and there’s thousands of variables and obstacles and other elements in there. Many of us are out of our depth, and rather than ridicule one another as we all struggle to stay afloat or make it to shore, rather than malign one another or chastise, perhaps we should seek more to be there for each other. I don’t fully know how to do this, cuz sometimes I feel like I’m out there in the river trying to keep my head above water, and other times I feel more like I’m try and on terra firma but I can’t do much more than throw a flotation device out for someone else cuz I don’t even know how to swim in this metaphor.
If Jennell Jaquays were to revisit this idea of making character handbooks that help players and game masters alike flesh out their characters, would she have a “PC Warning” from the perspective of her current sensibilities? What would she say? Would be be more tolerant of other views? Would she be less tolerant of the views she once had? Would she try to make a series of books that are more open to a wider audience? Perhaps challenging her readers to create characters they would not normally want to roleplay? Would her efforts be more accepting today or less accepting? And from my own selfish perspective, if I were to use that theoretical “Heroes Now 2020” book written by a Jaquays of the 21st century, would I accept the die roll when it said I’m gay? Or black? Or from the eastern hemisphere? Why would it be okay for me to decide whether or not my character had a wife, but less okay if I had a husband? Do I have to be willing to explore such concepts myself in order to consider myself open minded, or is it enough to want everyone to have the equal opportunity of that choice, but I personally don’t have to make the choice that’s not right for me?
There are times here online and even offline in the ‘real’ world when I observe more conservative minded people, folk still short-sighted and willfully ignorant, attacking and maligning those different from themselves; attacking their fellow sentient hominids on this planet for being different. I also observe folk on the opposite side of the spectrum, who see themselves as progressive and accepting of nonbinaries and the more diverse among us, perhaps that’s because that’s who and what they are, yet malevolently shouting just as much bile and vitriol at the conservatives. In fact, there have been a few tweets from folks whom I thought were on “my” side, but they said they wanted to see all binaries killed, and that included me. So suddenly I found myself wondering just whose side I’m expected to be on, if in fact I can take a side at all?
I’m painfully aware I happen to fit many of the stereotypes of the more conservative among our species. I’m Caucasian. I’m straight. I’m male. I live in the deep southwestern United States. I’m in my fifties now, so I’d trigger some folks who are ageist. I’m a college dropout so I’m certainly not the brightest crayon in the box. However, I make far less than $100K a year which seems to have more to do with the cultural divides in our species than many wish to admit. While I abhor the extremes of both fascism and socialism, I lean more towards Liberal and Progressive solutions to problems.
I used to be Southern Baptist but since 2009 I’ve been a staunch Abrahamic gnostic atheist. I know the bible and quran are fiction. That’s verifiable and so far as I’m concerned, confirmed. The argument is over. I’m agnostic atheist when it comes to nonAbrahamic gods. I don’t know, but I still seriously doubt it. More importantly I don’t care. H. P. Lovecraft may be right. To find out would mean I’d lose my sanity, so what’s the point? It’s just as plausible we’re protected by pan dimensional Care Bears and My Little Ponies. There comes a point when exploring these avenues is completely irrelevant.
What is relevant here, for purposes of this blog entry, a few days ago I learned that someone who was very conservative and short-sighted back in the early 1990s has embraced their true selves and woke up. Paul is now Jennell. Perhaps they were always Jennell and it just took awhile for her to find herself in the mirror. Sometimes I look in the mirror and realize I’m still trying to figure out who that person is too. Pretty sure I can’t pull off a dress in any reality, but I have pulled off a kilt once or twice, so lets keep our avenues open.
I guess what I’m trying to say, if Jaquays can seek to figure this out, so can all of us. We’re just not gonna take these journeys at the same speed, or at the same time, and we may not always arrive at the same destination. That’s totally okay. We need to be more tolerant and patient with each other. We’re all flying on this spinning mud ball in space together, and that’s not going to change any time soon.