My character loads up and stands, holding a bulky, steel shield and a longsword, dressed in a full suit of armor. Reacquainting myself with my surroundings, I move the left joystick forward and hold down the B button, willing my character to run forward to my next conquerable goal. On my way to the bell tower, where two huge fire-spitting and sword-wielding gargoyle demons await me, I use the triggers on the back of my controller to slice and dice any poor enemies who happen to be in my way.
Even though I’m playing on a small screen, my surroundings slowly fade away and my vision becomes immersed into the world laid down before me. The clicking of my controller is barely noticeable, in fact, after a while, it becomes inaudible. The only things I’m worried about are the stone wings flapping above me, the gargoyles ready to smash down on my character and knock me prone.
My movements aren’t fast enough. My health bar, usually filled with a dark red, is now completely black. The message flashes on the screen: YOU DIED. The screen fades to black, and after a moment, the world reappears. My character loads up and stands, holding a bulky, steel shield and a longsword, dressed in a full suit of armor. I try again, and again. Slowly my mind zones out and thinks in emotions rather than sentences.
I’ve always been an introvert and a loner. As a nonbinary kid, the decision to go to Pride and march in the Pride parade was always a hard decision for me. I’m not a fan of crowds, and I usually get anxiety from the large and the loud. My amazing, supportive mother, however, pushed me to go and get outside my comfort zone. In fact, at my first Pride march, she was in the front with a megaphone leading the chants, since her activism organization helped throw the parade that year. In Baton Rouge, there is a large liberal population which of course my family is a part of, but the conservative crowd always manages to show up in places they’re not wanted. At every Pride event I’ve ever been to, there have been old redneck white men with goatees, wearing camo and beige vests, screaming at the parade and at the event. They surround the march route, holding signs that say “F*** Go To Hell” and “Sodomy Is Sin.” They march around us on the sidewalks while we march on the road, screaming obscenities at us and quoting the Bible.
As soon as I saw them, the first time, I immediately was filled with a sense of dread and fear. I tried to stay in the middle so that I wouldn’t be the object of their shouting, but I’m a slow walker so I ended up in the back with fewer people. One of them walked right beside me, a boy about my age, who screamed at me continuously until I managed to hide within a group of people ahead of me. Part of me wanted to leave, to take off my rainbow shirt and hide, to run back to the car and wait for my mother to come back. But as I was considering this, I heard a noise. Someone at the front of the crowd had a radio with a speaker, and they were blasting Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way.” Most of the walkers started laughing and singing along. A boy in front of me, a little older than I was, started dancing next to one of the protestors and singing as loud as he could, drowning out his yelling.
I could no longer hear them. Instead of looking to my left and right, I looked forward—at the people, at the rainbow flags and the signs, at the people dancing, having a good time. I start singing, too. The screaming of the protestors was drowned out by the sound of a crowd of genuinely happy people singing, laughing, and chanting. We reach the venue where the rest of Pride is held and we filter into the building, ready to visit all of the vendors, meet new people and groups in the community, and to feel safe and welcomed.
My character loads up and stands, holding a bulky, steel shield and a longsword, dressed in a full suit of armor. I run up to the bell tower and roll around the gargoyle’s airborne attacks. I dodge a sweeping strike of its sword and I make a final well-placed hit in its chest, making it shriek and fall, bursting into a white smoke.
I heal up, dust myself off, and move on.