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My body is male, and I identify as male.
This hasn't been always the case. Back when I was about eight years old, I didn't perceive the two genders as separate. I believe that's actually fairly common among eight-year-olds.
Me and my brother spent much time alone at home. We made up stories of exploration and adventure, and we cast ourselves as fictional heroes. The name I picked for myself most of the time was “Kasia”, and yes, it's female. I often, if not most often, identified with characters who happened to be girls. One of a few things I remember from that time is how, at one point, I wanted to be a princess with angel wings and all that stuff. You might think I wanted to be a girl, but that was not the case. I simply didn't realise boys were not supposed to be princesses.
One day I noticed some people were placing their left foot on the right and their right foot on the left as they walked, so I decided to give it a try, too. My father noticed and made fun of me, because I was “turning into a woman”, and that was, apparently, very wrong. Let this anecdote illustrate the point that there are plenty of things we take for granted that aren't actually hard-wired into our identities. We have learned them from our parents and peers. We just don't remember.
This isn't a “coming out of the closet” piece. Despite what I just said about princesses, I am not a crossdresser. The idea doesn't feel appealing at all, and in fact I'm quite obsessive-compulsive about wearing the same kind of clothes all the time. I never wear belts, button shirts, ties, or suits. When I bought my first T-shirt that wasn't a shade of grey, it felt like a big, brave step into the unknown.
On an unrelated note, I only fall in love with women, for some reason.
The person I am has been at odds with the person I am supposed to be since I was five. That's when I was told I was “being a woman” for the first time. My leg was hurt, and my (female) teacher in pre-school didn't like the fact that I was crying. This is how early we start to indoctrinate our children not only into thinking that there are “boyish” and “girlish” things, but also that a boy doing “girlish” things is wrong and disgraceful. Or, to rephrase it in a much more unpleasant way, that being a woman is bad.
I was, of course, oblivious to all this subtext until around the time I first fell in love. Suddenly, things got complicated, and all that men vs. women drama begun to matter. It always made me extremely uncomfortable. One of the most hurtful prohibitions was the one that said I was no longer supposed to have female friends. Before my tenth birthday, I had seven school friends whom I remember to this day, and five of them were girls. But after that, every time I admitted to something as simple as having a conversation with a girl, everyone would assume I was having a crush! There was nothing in between any more! My mother was particularly keen on making fuss about it, but class mates were not much behind. On top of that, I was a quiet and shy person who didn't like confrontation. I hated breaking rules. I felt comfortable gossiping, but not having fights. Alas, boys who gossip are “being a woman”, and that's just despicable.
I spent my entire adolescence in this limbo. I desperately tried to fit in, but I was very bad at it. I tried to avoid all the forbidden things that I was good at, and it made me very unhappy. As one of side effects, my way of thinking about women became so weird that I'm really glad the Internet wasn't around at the time, because I would probably come across as one hell of a creep. I was pretty much doomed to a lifetime of misery at that point.
It took me a good few years to realise that my world didn't need to be like this, that I could be the person I really was, and that all those rules were arbitrary. I believe literature was my gateway to this revelation. Because I was a good student, I took part in a writing contest, and for my research I needed to read “Anne of Green Gables”. I ended up reading the entire series. These books were officially sanctioned as “good literature”, and the protagonist was considered a good role model. She was also someone I admired, and someone like me in many ways. So why on Earth was I allowed to admire Anne of Green Gables, but not be like her?
Fifteen years later, in a certain level design meeting, a certain creative director would mock “Anne of Green Gables” as an unworthy reading that undermined one's masculinity. I don't think I've ever despised a person more than on that day.
I'm quite confident about my gender identity, but I'm also pretty sure my body is a bit more fuzzy on this subject. It gives a noticeable (and somewhat erotic) response to pregnant women (all of them), so I guess that's where it's fulfilling its macho duties. Sometimes I suddenly get high on hormones when I'm around children aged one year or less, and I'm not sure if it has anything to do with gender at all, but it's definitely not part of the “male” social role. I have experienced a number of peculiar and actually quite pleasant sensations associated with infants that I have had trouble comprehending – but I suspect they involve my body somehow being fooled into thinking that it can perform breastfeeding. That's not a “male” thing at all. I distinctly remember that one occasion when my body thought it was holding a baby, but it was actually a bag with a kilogram of apples in it (which goes to show how silly one's body can be: newborn babies weigh 3-4 kilograms on average).
Oh, and by the way, at one point in my life I spent thee years playing Counter-Strike every day. I was in a clan. I had good stats. For those in the know – I preferred the SG over the AK. If you've read up to this point, you're probably not surprised.
I am deeply unhappy with stories in games. There is almost never room for me in there. I'm a thirty-something with a male body, I identify as male, and I'm even, you know, heterosexual, and I still tend to identify with female characters, except that there are very few female characters worth identifying with. On the other hand, the male characters usually act and speak in ways to which my only response is “oh God, they're not like me at all, they're some aliens from another planet”.
Or perhaps I'm the alien.
Or maybe we're all aliens in one way or another, only we've taught ourselves not to admit it.
The characters we put in games are not like us, but they are shaped after the people we are supposed to be. It's a vicious circle. We are taught to admire certain combinations of traits, rather than traits themselves, hence we apply those combinations to our characters, who are supposed to be admirable, after all. They become points of reference for our audience, and the stereotype is reinforced. But think about it in this way: I would probably be a complete mess, if not for Anne of Green Gables. Yet, people like her are such a rare sight among game characters.
Diversity does not reside in our crotches, but in our brains. Even if you narrow your scope down to heterosexual males with male bodies – I don't think you should, but I can't stop you – you are still going to see a huge variety of personalities that aren't reflected in our creative output. You don't have to look that hard to find men who are more comfortable gossiping than fighting, teenage boys who might want to write a diary (I did!), men who feel comfortable around infants, men who cry from time to time for mundane reasons, or men who can be soft, passive, kind, or weak, but still remarkable in one way or another. And you will be neglecting the strong, determined, bullish, or otherwise non-stereotypical women who also like to play games.
You have the power to foster this diversity. You can't change the way people are raised, and you can't undo the things their fathers, mothers, teachers, and peers put in their heads, but you can create gateways for their self-expression and self-discovery. You can offer new points of reference. You can build new role models. You can make people feel at home.
Somewhere out there is a boy, or a girl, whom you can rescue from a lifetime of misery.