A good friend of my dad’s advised me to join a church group. I was on my own, newly escaped from my abusive relationship. Changing jobs, between houses. Not quite on my own: I had family overseas, support from a local charity, and care from a friendship group. I was reading this lady’s book and I emailed her about how isolated I felt after reading how she found a place in her own journey. Join a church group, she replied. They’re ready-made communities; I would have a network almost immediately. It worked for her.
I was unwilling to get involved with a religious group, but I saw her point. Communities surrounding an ideology don’t depend on the individual so much. They just operate. People come and go surrounding a core of regulars: a person need not be a regular to benefit from the social network, and where it was anchored around a particular set of rituals you didn’t even need to know anyone. Everyone is there to do the same thing.
I found a similar kind of camaraderie in Dungeons & Dragons players. Growing up, it was common to have friendships form over the game. Usually, if you enjoyed playing D&D with someone, you would play with them for years. It was hard to not become friends after that kind of regular contact. And like religion, there is a set of rituals followed: regular meetings, a set of expected activities, a text to guide you. A shared story. That the friendship group I did have nearby was a group I taught to play D&D anecdotally shows that this model works, albeit on a smaller scale than Christianity.
"iT GAVE ME THE SOCIAL FOUNDATION I NEEDED: A READY-MADE COMMUNITY THAT ACCEPTED ME BECAUSE OF WHY I WAS THERE."
Rather than a church group, I found myself going to the local support group, run by the charity that helped me. I haven’t been to a church group since I was a small child, but I expect it operated in a similar way to this meetup: regular meetings, a loose script, sharing of news, various resources to refer to. We were all there for roughly the same reason and we all shared our stories; they inevitably formed a common narrative despite their differences. It gave me the social foundation I needed: a ready-made community that accepted me because of why I was there.
For me, this is what the movement is for. It’s an insurance policy for those that are in trouble and need support. It’s a community where acceptance is offered regardless of how involved you are. A safe space. Some folks found that with church groups. I have (and still do) found it in D&D. I find it in queer spaces.
Regular readers might notice the contrast between this and other, more critical things I’ve had to say about the LGBTQ+ movement. I am still critical, but being critical without recognising function and merit isn’t actually critical thinking. The movement exists for good reason and it sees success; we need it. I’m critical of the movement because it is worthy of criticism rather than dismissal.
Shifting to the critical, the number of positive parallels between religion, D&D, and the LBGTQ+ movement (and really any other organised activity you can think of) is accompanied by its share of negatives. To name them: elitism within groups, zealotry, and the demand that members buy into a set of ideas and/or ideals.
It might sound crazy to assign that kind of behaviour to a game like D&D, but hear me out. Every D&D circle has its favourite version. Often, there is conflict between those who prefer one version over another, particularly 4th edition D&D, which is quite different from the other four editions. There’s also an old guard that insists on playing the old TSR editions (1st and 2nd) along with those that play the basic set that TSR eventually discarded in favour of AD&D. Each insist that their favourite is the best and sometimes will get quite aggressive about certain suggestions. During the 5th edition playtest, there were countless arguments amongst testers that basically revolved around two poles of people: those who quite liked the way 4th edition solved some problems thought to be inherent with Dungeons & Dragons and those who didn’t. Those who did would accuse those who didn’t as defending sacred cows of a legacy game and invited them to join us in the 21st century. Those that didn't accused those that did of reducing a role playing game to a maths problem or video game.
And like the zealots in every group, they are all incorrect, misguided and directing their energy to the wrong places. I’ve been quite vocal about my experiences being called a class traitor for finding validation among unqueer folks, but it can be more subtle. My article discussing inclusion showed an automatic buy-in happening amongst folks who should know better, and when pressed those individuals did concede that inclusion didn’t require visibility at all. But when a Stonewall campaigner and a corporate inclusion trainer make the automatic response that visibility is inclusion, it’s clear that they’ve bought in.
"ALL GROUPS REQUIRE A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF BUYING IN; IT’S HOW THEY SELF REGULATE."
All groups require a certain amount of buying in; it’s how they self regulate. If everyone is there for the same reason, they’ve all bought in to some extent or other. In many ways, this is an important part of constructing safe spaces. Conventions are required so folks understand the environment they’re in. These things range from a belief in some kind of god, a love for a game, or an ideology. The whole point is to concede certain things on a personal level for the sake of functioning as a group.
My dad once described a friend of his coping with the sudden death of a family member and how the church stepped in and just told him what to do. This person wasn’t in a state to make a lot of decisions; he was a member of the church but never actually went or thought of himself as religious. That didn’t matter. He had a thing to solve and the church knew what to do. They were there when he needed them. Moreover, the church recognised that it was their role to be there. They described themselves as an insurance policy for these situations.
We all need insurance policies, even if we don’t buy in. Communities function best when they serve the individuals within it; it doesn’t matter how much that individual may or may not invest back. That’s not the point. The LGBTQQIAAP movement is one of my insurance policies: it was there when I needed it and isn’t going to go away just because I backed off. Yes, I had some negative experiences and I am critical, but the community functions either way. Whatever my personal conflicts with the movement may be, they are there for me and I’m glad of that.