Austen Crowder

(Net)hacking through the anti-LGBT political climate

Filed By Austen Crowder | January 24, 2010 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Geeks, Politics
Tags: anti-LGBT, nethack, politics, Prop 8 trial, Segura

Nethack, like politics, is a humbling game.

Originally released in 1985, Nethack is still among the most uniquely complex games that I have ever had the pleasure to play. It is also the single hardest game I've played; even after a year of bashing my head against its ASCII-drawn walls I can only barely beat the first branch of the Mazes of Menace. It's not entirely uncommon to play the game for years on end without ever beating it - it is just that hard.nethack.jpg

Anyone who wants to taste a true exercise in futility should try this game at least once. Starting a game requires memorizing a long list of commands - from (f)ight to (Q)uiver to #pray to #rub - and learning to discern @ from ) from c on the map. (From left to right: your character, weapon, cockatrice.) Once you get those basics down, the game proceeds to drop weapons, potions, scrolls, and other items without telling you how to identify them as blessed, cursed, good, or deadly. And in the ever-likely case that you do die there are no save points in Nethack: death is permanent and swift.

In a larger sense, though, I think that Nethack can teach us a lot about LGBT politics. Which is good, because with Goldgate bringing a sudden surge of trans writers to the forefront, Brown winning the Senate seat, ENDA's increasingly grim future, and the Prop 8 trial in full swing on Twitter, I've really had little of value to write about. People in higher places are covering things better than I ever could. However, Dr. Segura's testimony at the trial about the anti-LGBT national political climate and the futile excersice of playing Nethack is just too good connection to let pass by.

I have a mantra when it comes to big-ticket LGBT issues: "Either way the vote goes, politics are about to get real interesting." When things get heated, I prefer to step back and see politics as a game, as that seems to be the only way I can keep my sanity while still remaining involved. Life's too short to let my blood pressure shoot up every time LGBT needs get shot down, especially with the frequency of these let-down events. Victories of hatred of bigotry are not worth my everyday sanity and happiness; the sad truth of politics is that you win some and you lose some.

Seeing Dr. Segura's testimony reminded me of why I take this tack: LGBT issues lose 70% of the time when brought to the polls. Given that anti-LGBT groups respond to our victories by immediately organizing repeal efforts, it almost seems that any victory we celebrate should be assumed to be short-lived, and any inkling of increased freedom treated as a platform for fear-mongering and mob-justice attempts to push us back into the closet. No matter how vocal we have tried to be, and no matter how hard we try to look like upstanding citizens, we lose 70% of our fights for basic human rights and dignity. (Which, I should mention, is far superior to the 100% loss rate in my Nethack games, but YASDs don't exactly take away the rights of minorities.) Seeing that figure is a hard pill to swallow for anybody.

Maybe it's just a sign of my age, my social status, or my refuse-to-feel-inept attitude, but seeing concise proof that LGBTQ people are a politically weak class really did discourage me. I am a pretty heteronormative trans woman, all things considered, and as such my life is not exactly the shining example of "queer and fighting the system"; however, it hurts to know just how badly queer issues fare at the voting booth. I had a sinking feeling when I began hearing the "2009 is our year!" mantra that LGBT concerns would be quickly traded away for healthcare cred, and I was right. Lip service has never done us much good, and Obama's "fierce advocate" speechmaking was no exception. The same thing applies to Brown's win: it means that Dems will probably avoid LGBT needs as if they were steaming piles of manure - later relying on our short memory spans to beg us for campaign money, of course - made me wonder just how useless our advocacy efforts really are. All I can do to abate myself is realize that this Democratic defeat does the most to shake up the political spectrum, and that certainly will make the game more fun to watch.

Looking at Nethack again, I don't play because I think I'll win, or because I enjoy being frustrated. The game is frustrating if you let it be a game about winning and losing; one mistake in tens of thousands of turns can easily kill your character. The same rule applies here. I do LGBTQ advocacy because it helps get me much-needed rights, yes, but at the same time I do it because I enjoy working for a cause. To go about this any other way just invites excess heartache into my personal life.

When something like the Coakley loss happens, or politicians start ignoring the LGBT issues they gave lip service to, and the progressives commence with backbiting and finger-pointing, I tend to step back and wait until the dust settles. I'm here to affect change, not to point fingers at my allies, and I now do so knowing full well that we will lose all but 30% of the time. To put it in Nethack terms, I stand in a corner and engrave Elbereth while the progressive blogging sphere reaches its fever pitch. Our rights are important, but they're not worth more than my happiness. Yet Another Annoying Death, I say to myself, and then I do my best to enjoy the fireworks.

Dr. Segura's testimony cut me like a knife. Yes, his intention was to paint us in the weakest light possible, but his figures are really, truly disturbing. For example, one of his studies gauged "warmness" toward minorities on a 100-point scale. For most groups this number fell in the 60-70 range. LGBT people had a 49.4% mean, a full 10 points short of everyone else. (I'm sure the value would rise and drop, respectively, if LGB and T populations were parsed out, but that's my gallows' humor talking.) Let's be honest: at this point the LGBT name is "mud" as far as politcs are concerned. No matter how far we come, larger, more politicallly potent organizations are actively working to turn us back into the closet, some even going as far as to advocate our imprisonment. We fight hard political fights, but at the end we always come back to square one: People Don't Like Us, and that's enough to take away our rights.

Is it right and proper to protect one's sanity and not dream for too much, in light that we are hated so much? Going back to nethack, I've never played a game where I didn't expect to die a horrible, horrible death. As far as I'm concerned, I feel that I have to come into political advocacy with the forward knowledge that we are going to lose eventually, barring some Big Change. I just don't have the time or the energy to scream about how crappy our leaders are. I just want things to get fixed, or to know how I can bunker down and survive my life without being sideswiped by a "gotcha" aimed at the easy-pickin's LGBT community.

Politics are fun, but the results keep evading our grasp. Just like Nethack. Punishing, not fair, beatable only if you play the game absolutely perfectly and the RNG decides to play fair. Even still, one wrong move sends a great game straight into the toilet. I just hope that sometime soon I'll be able to save my pointless pursuit of victory for the @ sign on my screen, and keep hope alive that my rights will be granted sometime in this lifetime.

After all, the best part about Nethack and politics is that you can always start fresh after you lose.


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I have never understood the point of LGBT's going to the polls for any kind of majority vote on their personhood. What minority EVER received full citizenship that way?

Then again, when I consider that the US supreme court is stacked with catholic conservatives, what chance do we have there?

It's probably time for some actual protesting, civil unrest and disobedience. LGBT's seem to think working within the system will eventually yield results, but it's a bit hard when the system is codified specifically to keep you in the closet.

charles powell | January 24, 2010 4:40 PM

One of the problems of winning a court victory rather than a poltical victory is that you are not ready to defend what you have won. If you then lose at the polls, you are stuck. Abortion is an example and samesex marriage is another

Cheer up, Austen! It's "always darkest before the dawn."

The 5 Supremes are in the process of demythologizing the Supreme Court as a sacred part of our nation. Last Thursday's decision about free speech and treating corporations as persons will have the effect of completely destroying our form of government, probably this year. This decision deliberately destroyed the rights of every human being in the USA, and they knew exactly what they were doing. The implications of this ruling have been understood in areas of the political science community for decades, but the injustices were too damn evil to care what they were doing as they handed everything in America over to their corporate paymasters. This is quite a bit worse for the world than their deliberate stomping of LBGTQ rights. Fucking worthless parasites.

It is my personal belief that the human population of earth has reached the end of the line in social evolution. We are entering a period of absolute dictatorship which may dominate the entire world through American audacity, power, and greed.

I cannot conceive of the possibility of any civilized settlement of these matters occurring without some sort of worldwide shift in attitude. Which gets to the core of the problem:

There is a dominant belief in human society that erotic play is not an acceptable use of one's body. That the only moral purpose for having one or another set of genitals is to be able to couple xy/xx to produce offspring. And the whole affair is disgusting or angry or locked in some other bulshyte vault. And this is without getting into issues like how xy's or xx's dress, behave, love, and be.

This proposition, this viewpoint, this organizing principle of sexuality on this planet is 100% WRONG. It is wronger than anyone would imagine. The truth is:

The ability to experience erotic play is one of the great gifts of God to humanity. This kind of experience, this sharing of energy and affection, this culmination in the gift of ecstasy to another is one of the greatest powers that bind people together in love and mutual understanding. This denial takes all humankind away from God and murders any possibility of the expression of human potential, preventing the eventuation of the brotherhood of humanity.

The heteronormative theme of human sexual civilization throughout all recorded history is one enormous LIE designed to keep people from god, to keep people from learning love, to keep people divided against each other, and to permit small conspiracies of subhuman actors posing as "leaders" to dominate the people, starting right in their bedrooms and from there controlling everywhere else.

As we seem to be approaching a true climax of spiritual ugliness on this planet, I feel something is happening that must lead to our final day of justice. The good in our culture is exhausted, but much has been achieved. All that remains of our future on this timeline is decay into the pure vortex of final hatred and non-existence. This is the best time to harvest a civilization, extract the good, discard the chaff, and plant a new age.

I pray earnestly that we be empowered to address this profound change and lead humanity to understand and embrace a wonderful new social order. I hope and trust this will be achieved through our love, expressed as an outpouring of truth, beauty, and goodness in service of our fellows.

I urge everyone who reads this to join the LGBTQ community nationwide on Thursday, 4 February, in celebrating the American Prayer Hour (see www.truthwinsout.org). My own petition on behalf of us all will be:

• I pray that we shall be able to fulfill our destiny as the leaders of humanity into your New Age.
• I pray that those who have abused us be freed from their fears and enabled to love and be loved.
• I pray that we shall always know how to follow the will of God in our lives.

Such a prayer will not fail to be answered.

Let the rejoicing begin…soon.

I remember playing Nethack back when it was just Rogue. Definitely frustrating, but as you say, the idea is to see something new, not really to 'win.' Of course, once you see something new, it will probably kill you -- but so it goes.