I attended a large-scale LGBTQ conference a couple years ago where the first day was completely dedicated to racial justice. It was broken up into three sections: the first presentation was to the conference as a whole; then we broke up into race-based affinity groups; lastly, the day wrapped up with topic-specific breakout sessions. Although the opening session was very productive, I was skeptical of the affinity groups. While I didn’t doubt the need and benefit to affinity groups for people of color at the conference, I had doubts in white people being able to teach other white people about racial justice. However, I do think it ended up being a worthwhile endeavor. It was as much about reflecting on our past as it was learning how to be a better ally and people were surprisingly vulnerable in the ownership of their racism and privilege.
For the last section, I went to the breakout group for race in transgender communities. Now that we were in topic-based groups instead of affinity groups, that vulnerability I saw earlier disappeared. Instead, what I witnessed were inauthentic, performative attempts at proving they were the good white person. Worse off, these acts made it so that white people were dominating the conversation, despite everything we had learned to that point.
This experience will always stick with me as an example of how important affinity spaces can be. But as important as they can be, they sure are complicated as well.
Ganymede’s Girls as a group acts as a gendered affinity space. The group defines itself as a space for “women-aligned gamers.” So what does that mean? There’s no universal definition, but in general it is a signal that a space is for women and non-binary folks who hold any sort of connection for the woman-end of the gender spectrum. Now that is a pretty broad and ambiguous definition for a non-binary individual to try and determine whether it applies to them. Luckily, Ganymede’s Girls has a pretty efficient litmus test built into its name. If you are non-binary and comfortable being in a group with “girls” in the title, then this is an appropriate group for you. And I think it’s important for gendered groups like this to expand its borders. There are not a lot of spaces just for non-binary folks and if it is appropriate to include them, then that space should be made.
So that’s the what of GG’s gendered space; onto the why I want that kind of space. Gaming is a tough scene for women, but they aren’t the only marginalized identity in the space. Why does it specifically need to be with women? Well, it goes back to that value in affinity groups. Yes, gay men are marginalized within gaming as well, but they experience that in a different manner. And being a marginalized masculine identity does not necessarily change how masculinity is presented. For example, I’ve participated in an LGBTQ Overwatch group before and had an experience where I was constantly spoken over by men on the pickup team I was assigned to. By the end of that tournament, I was completely silent in comms. That’s simply not something that has happened to me in Ganymede’s Girls.
There are other types of gendered communities that I’ve participated in outside of Overwatch. One local queer group I am part of defines its space as essentially anyone who is LGBTQ other than cis men. I certainly see the merits to that. LGBTQ groups tend to get dominated by cis gay men, particularly white ones. By excluding them from the space you are opening it up to voices that might be drowned out in a general LGBTQ setting. However, I’ve always been uncomfortable with this for a couple reasons. First, it feels like a subtle undercutting of trans masculine identities. I can only speak to my experience of a trans woman, but my guard would certainly be up in any space that would put trans women and cis women in different categories. Even though in this case, it is separating out trans men for a positive reason, I wonder if it has a negative effect. Second, I feel this strains the limits of having healthy affinity spaces. “This space is for this specific identity” feels a lot different to me than “this space is for everyone except this specific identity.” It feels like it shifts the intention from inclusion to exclusion.
So that brings us to the sticky question of where Ganymede’s Girls draws its borders. If they include non-binary folks, why not all trans folks? I’m not an admin, so I can’t speak to the final decision-making on the final definition. One thing I can say for sure: if a GG member came out that they hold a trans masculine identity, they would be enthusiastically supported by the community. We would never think of kicking out someone for transitioning. However, as they build new community and connections, I imagine eventually a space defined as women-aligned and with “girls” in its name would not feel comfortable. But for those who have already transitioned… trans men are men. Their masculinity would change the space.
I greatly appreciate the space Ganymede’s Girls has created. I’ve put more hours into Overwatch than any other game in my life and that is directly the result of GG enriching my experience in the game. I also appreciate the groups that are for a broader group of LGBTQ players, for platinum players and below, and even for shy players. I participate in these groups as well and it is great that there are so many affinity groups to choose from. But for me, the women-aligned space of Ganymede’s Girls will always be my home base.