The Neonates and Ancilla of Atlanta sat around sharing their life stories. Florence, the young Harpy turned to the Elder Nosferatu in the room.
“What about you?” Florence asked the Elder who was roosting in a chair across from the conversation.
“This one is Rook.” Said the Nosferatu. An awkward silence followed where Florence expected more, and Rook said nothing else. The conversation resumed between the others shortly after, leaving Rook to observe.
In the above scenario within By Night Studio’s Vampire: the Masquerade, I play Rook. Rook is a genderless Nosferatu Elder, and one of the most challenging yet rewarding characters I have ever played. Almost everything about Rook is alien to my personal life, with one key exception.
While writing this article on my laptop I have my phone and my tablet next to me and I have music playing from my gaming console on my TV; to say I am connected to my technology is an understatement. I am only 26 years old, though my birthday is this month, so I’m basically 27. As a feminist, I believe in equal rights for everyone regardless of identity.. I am also genderfluid.
Rook, on the other hand, has a flaw called Archaic. If a character has this flaw, any technology less than 100 years old is foreign to them, and they cannot use it. Rook is over a thousand years old, so I am challenged to think far beyond my own scope in terms of taking actions and reactions. Rook very firmly has distaste for young vampires, with the stereotypical negative attitude that is associated with older people’s attitude toward teenagers. Rook is also genderless, as when Nosferatu are turned into vampires they are disfigured, and Rook’s disfigurement made determining Rook’s physical sex impossible, so Rook’s gender slowly left them.
Compared to the other character I play in the Underground Theater organization, Rook is completely different than I am. The other character I play, Jacquelyn, is much more an extension of myself. Dressing as Rook takes just as much time as Jacquelyn, despite the simple costume, partly due to all the face makeup that I put on to provide a ‘corpse-like’ appearance. I like to jokingly refer to myself as Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars when I’m putting the makeup on, due to the similar appearance.
Rook’s costuming is very simple, as you can see. I only wear a large black cloak to gatherings, and carry only one accessory: a red rosary. If I have to describe them in their Obfuscated Mask it is always something very simple and timeless, and still an androgynous/agendered appearance, and the rosary is still present. I also pose myself in certain ways to play down my feminine bodied curves. My bust line is large and binding would be a bit unsafe for me, so I have to use other methods to pull off a genderless appearance. I’ll push my shoulders forward, hunch, and keep my arms out in front of me to keep the cloak from hanging off of my bust line, giving me no clearly gendered appearance one way or the other. Catching myself in the mirror and not seeing the curvy lines of my own body or my normal skin tone really helps me to stay in character as Rook.
There are small parts of Rook that are extensions of myself. Rook is a bit protective of their family and those they consider family, and I am as well. I have stuck up for friends against all sorts of people who would bully them for various aspects. I will very typically make myself the voice who isn’t afraid to speak up. I will call people on negative behaviors, bad attitudes, creepy behavior, and the like because much of the time those disparaged people don’t feel they can speak up. I take this attitude into Rook by having them stick to their guns when it comes to the people they would defend, even to the detriment of their reputations. In VtM, having a Catiff offspring is seen as a failing of your character, and mine embraces (pardon the pun) the fact with pride. Rook has an openly acknowledged Catiff grandchilde and doesn’t really care how other people feel about it.
As I mentioned above, Rook is genderless. This is slightly different than being genderfluid, but this article isn’t about the differences between the two. The short version is that genderless is no gender at all, while genderfluid moves between various genders. Having Rook express a gender identity close to my own internal one in such an external method is super empowering for me. My body makes it difficult to express anything through presentation other than female, so having a chance to embody a non-female character is awesome.
A lot of people do misgender Rook as a female, due to my own body and their knowledge that I present as female, but I usually just handle it in character with in character language. I’m still waiting on the day when someone decides they have to hit on me in-character as Rook. I have an image saved on my phone for this exact purpose, because my character will have no qualms about flashing the whole gathering in character and pausing game a moment to show them all exactly what is going on underneath the robe.
I have had antagonistic characters purposefully misgender Rook, and I have had supportive characters ask Rook if they would prefer the ‘zir’ set of pronouns. Being able to have these experiences in a safe environment was very helpful for me should I have these experiences out on the real world, because I already know what my reaction would be. I haven’t had anyone be purposefully mean to me out of character about being genderfluid; due to my use of female pronouns with a female body most people likely don’t even realize I am genderfluid. I live in the South, so being super ‘out’ about being Genderfluid is pretty hard due to a lot of misplaced hatred.
I first started to experiment with my own gender through gaming. I played a lot of tabletop before I started LARPing. When I got to the Deadlands: Weird West setting at first, I played a saloon girl who ran away with a cowboy, a pretty typical role for a female character in a Western. After that character was finished, I moved on and started playing male characters in the setting, because of how things were for women in that time period. I found playing the male characters more freeing, more in tune with how I would want to be able to live in that time period. At first my male characters were caricatures of other characters from fiction. I played a Huckster based off of Gambit/every smooth talking gambler ever, and I played a doctor based off of House.
After time whenever I wanted to play a male character in other settings they quit being as two dimensional and started being fleshed out. To be fair almost all of my characters got more well rounded as I grew up and matured, but I quit looking at the male characters as something wholly different than my own psyche, just different permutations and variations on personality traits I as a person had. Having the safe space of gaming to experiment with these thoughts is an amazing tool.
For me gaming is as much a tool as anything else. To me, entertainment is what happens when you watch something you’re not participating in. I am entertained when I watch a video online, but with gaming I am enriched. I regularly describe the best gaming sessions as ones where I felt awful. I discovered another character’s wife changed to a wall, having her venom enhanced blood siphoned from her. I willingly went along with an antagonist to be tied up and flayed alive. Those two events were polarizing, and the best game sessions I had as that character. Were they ‘fun’ in the traditional sense? No, but they were so engaging and enriching that I will never forget them.
With Pride week in Chattanooga just having finished up, October being LGBTQ* History Month, and National Coming Out Day coming up in a week on the 11th, this time of year often makes me think of how far we’ve come as far as LGBTQ* issues and gaming. Most games wouldn’t let someone portray an LGBTQ* concept in an offensive way, or let players harm or make uncomfortable others due to their LGBTQ* status. If I wanted to I could make a male character in any of the games that I play in regularly and it would be received well and everyone would try their best to use character-appropriate pronouns and language. If I wanted my local gamers to use different pronouns with me I wouldn’t have to worry about it not being received well. I know not every gamer has that comfort and I know it can be hard to find in some places, but the fact that this is more and more the norm than the exception gives me hope for the future.
Every time I miss a game (and Amber’s amazing zucchini) I am sad I will not be able to express myself in an accepting environment, and enjoy the freedom that comes with it. Even putting on the costume and makeup to take pictures for this article was enjoyable, despite the face scrubbing I have to endure afterwards and the warmth of wearing the robe during the day. Playing Rook has given me the freedom to experiment with my own gender expression, and that has been amazingly refreshing.
Anna is an avid LARPer, and on weekend when she isn’t being a vampire she treks out to the woods to beat up her friends with assorted plumbing supplies and birdseed. Outside of LARP Anna is a feminist and part of the LGBTQ* community, and is the proud owner of two loving cats, and another that’s kind of mean but loves her anyway (probably). She can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/squeenoodles
*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.