Earlier this month, I pitched a Windy City Times article that sought to explore how role playing games (RPGs), such as Dungeons & Dragons, enable queer people of color (QPOC) to explore their gender and sexuality safely in a fantasy world.
To be interviewed, one had to be: 1) a queer person of color; 2) in the Chicagoland area; and 3) involved in role-playing games. After a week of searching, I couldn't find any sources who matched these three criteria.
I had called multiple Chicago board-game stores, searching for QPOC affinity groups, leagues or players. Those who answered the phone expressed enthusiasm about my idea, but none could point to large communities of queer people of color in the RPG space, even when they could gesture to predominantly white queer affinity spaces.
"I know a lot of queer players, but I don't know if I know anyone at the intersection you're talking about," one store manager told me.
One helpful employee emailed me the name of a dice-collection Facebook group and said I would likely find dozens of people willing to talk to me. Based on that lead, I posted in four RPG-focused Facebook groups, explaining my article and asking interested folks who matched the criteria to message me.
Two groups rejected my post, presumably because it didn't adhere strongly enough to the guidelines requiring that posts be RPG-related. Two groupsone with 28,400 members (the initial dice-collection group), and another with 4,200 membersaccepted my post.
Amidst the couple dozen comments across the two posts, only one woman messaged me and said she would be interested in chatting. I was thrilled to find my first source. However, the interview turned out to be quite shorta few minutes in, she revealed she was white. She had apparently missed the (bolded) guidelines in my post specifying that I was searching for queer people of color.
Attempting to find sources for this article reminded me that reporting beats focusing on queer people of color are not only vital, but possess the ability to reframe our stories. 'This would be easier if I only had to find a queer person,' I caught myself thinking once. As in: it would be easier if I only had to talk to white queer people, because I was able to find affinity spaces, players and Facebook users that led me to white queer RPG players.
The thing is, an absence can indicate as much of a story as a presence. That only white queer people involved in RPGs in Chicago were responding to me, even in Facebook groups of more than 28,000 people, indicates a systemic issue, not a sourcing one.
As one WIRED headline declared in December 2020: "Dungeons & Dragons' Racial Reckoning Is Long Overdue."
If I weren't writing for the Windy City Times fellowship, a reporting position focused on queer people of color, I probably would have used the sources readily available to mewhite queer playerswithout thinking much about it.
Had I done so, I would have ignored the story about why there are so few queer people of color in this space to begin with. Just because D&D has expanded to be queer-inclusive in many places, that doesn't automatically mean it has addressed its racial stereotypes and become an inclusive space for queer people of color.
The story I initially wanted to tell was one of white queerness. It focused on finding queer acceptance within a predominantly white space. To center queer people of color in a meaningful way, white reporters like myself need to resist inserting queer people of color into our existing frameworks.
Instead, we must actively engage with the racialized systems that shape absence as much as they do presence in our queer communities.
Henry Roach (he, him, his) is a trans, queer writer. Originally from Wisconsin, he is now in his second year at Northwestern University with a double major in journalism and gender and sexuality studies. Other academic interests include creative writing and environmental policy. When he's not doing homework or covering a story, Henry enjoys running next to Lake Michigan, diving into a dramatic YA novel and playing Bananagrams. He is thrilled to write for the Windy City Times this fall.
Roach is one of the Field Foundation fellows writing for Windy City Times this fall.