Play As You Are: Embracing Authenticity During Pride Month

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” – Carl Jung.

Happy Pride!

As Pride Month 2024 begins, we are invited to reflect on the power of embracing our true selves and celebrating the rich diversity that makes our community vibrant and strong. Pride Month is a time to honor our collective journey towards authenticity, critically reflect on the progress we’ve made and the challenges we’ve faced, and inspire each other to continue living our truths.

The Importance of Authenticity: A Personal Story

I’m originally from a small town in south Texas, a place where everyone knew each other. Small towns can be incredibly supportive and close, but they can also limit the freedom for identity exploration and personal expression. When you feel like everyone already knows you, it can be much safer to live within their expectations than to be your authentic self.

When I was in middle school, one of the boys from my church, who I’ll call “Jack” to protect his identity, came out as gay. This was during the mid-1990s, a time when slurs directed toward gay men were common in my small town, and “gay” was used to describe generally disagreeable things (“That math test was so gay”).

Jack came out via email. It was the way he could safely express himself without being spoken over, shouted down, or ridiculed. His email was full of concern for his continued acceptance and safety but was girded by a profound need to be honest and authentic with the people who cared about him. It was simultaneously cautious and unapologetic.

I so admired Jack for his courage. Jack and I had played with action figures as kids and rode around the neighborhood together on our bikes. I remember the profound sadness I felt that Jack was struggling to share who he really was, and how I wished I could have been someone he felt safe enough around to be himself. I also remember watching my community struggle with the news as they expanded their understanding of who Jack was, both as an individual and as a member of a vastly underrepresented group in our community.

Jack’s family moved out of town (a work relocation for the family) a few years later, and I lost touch with him. Even though we haven’t connected in almost 30 years, his story has stayed with me. I have held it in my memory as I have had future opportunities to personally and professionally advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusion. How can I support other “Jacks,” and how can we as a community help other kids in similar situations feel safe, seen, and supported to be their authentic selves?

To paraphrase a quote from Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy at a recent event (another blog post on this soon), it can be incredibly stressful to walk around with a mask on all the time. When we feel safe and supported, living authentically leads to improved mental health and more meaningful relationships. When we are true to ourselves, we create a more inclusive and accepting community for each other.

Sometimes being authentic means marching in a parade, sometimes it’s having an honest conversation, and sometimes it’s sending an email. Pride Month celebrates the journeys of all of us.

Game to Grow’s Mission and Vision: Play As You Are

At Game to Grow, we often say, “if only more people would play RPGs together, the world would be a better place.” Well-facilitated gaming environments in the Game to Grow method create inclusive and supportive spaces where everyone can be their authentic selves.

I have been a professional game master for more than a decade. My work has largely been with youth who have struggled to belong for various reasons. Our work focuses on creating inclusive environments where they can feel safe, seen, and supported as they explore and express their authentic selves and build social confidence. Our goals often involve helping them build social confidence so they can carry that self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-advocacy into other aspects of their lives.

Many players in my years of experience have used the playspace to explore and express their identity. Many have used the opportunity to “take off the mask” and express their identity as LGBTQ+. Sometimes they’d use their characters’ backstories as a way to test the safety of the group. “My character was married…” a female player once said, looking around the room for a sign of acceptance, “…to a woman named Lucy.” To the player’s relief, the other players were unfazed by the announcement of the character’s same-sex marriage. They wanted to know what had caused the marriage to dissolve! They were interested in the player and the aspect of themselves they had infused into the character. In a later session, the player shared that they were planning to ask a girl from school out on a date. Their fellow players expressed their support and encouragement.

This is just one story that highlights the power of authentic play-based programs and the supportive communities that can be built through intentional facilitation. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen players express their identity exploration through the safe sandbox of a great RPG game. Many trainees and facilitators of the Game to Grow method have shared similar examples with me.

This is why our work is so important.

Being who you are is a journey worth celebrating. Let us continue to support each other in embracing authenticity and strive to do so ourselves. The world will truly be a better place when we can all learn, play, and grow together, unmasked, in our authentic wholeness.

Happy Pride Month!

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Spread the word!