We Have Always Been Here, Motherfucker

The year is 1978. I receive a gift from my aunt and uncle. It’s an electric keyboard. I hear “Nickelodeon” sung by Julie Andrews on The Muppet Show. I play it by ear, and start piano lessons. I win a lot of awards. I love the Muppets, but wish I could play the drums like Animal.

The year is 1980. I have read every book geared for “kids,” so I veer into the adult section and discover Stephen King. I hide my books from my parents. The librarians keep handing me books. My dad doesn’t speak very good English. He is always angry. I cannot understand him.

The year is 1981. I win a community award for my first short story about a character named Ella. It is printed in a newspaper for the spirit of Halloween. No one congratulates me. They say I am very bright.

The year is 1982. I am at a strange house, in a sunken family room. Everything is very brown and shaped like mushrooms. I watch a short man singing on the screen, but I do not like the music. It is Rankin/Bass’s The Hobbit playing on the TV. There are no women or girls in it that I can remember.

The year is 1983. There is a fight on the playground. All of the girls want to play Princess Leia, and the boys say there can be only one. I ignore them and pretend to be Han Solo. I fly away making pew–pew noises. I join a book club. I fall in love with Flowers for Algernon and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.

The year is 1984. Van Halen and Michael Jackson and Gremlins and The Karate Kid. I worship at the altar of big hair with my Aqua Net hairspray, listening to my Journey cassette tapes. I do not have cable, but I watch MTV’s music videos whenever I can. Something feels wrong. Missing. Broken. I have no idea how to fix it, so I read more books.

The year is 1985. I receive my first death threat, but it is not the first time I’ve been bullied. My classmates sign a petition claiming the world would be better off if I killed myself. I crack a joke, knowing my dad will ask what’s wrong with me, and I wonder what that is. I pretend Madonna is my big sister.

The year is 1986. I am old enough to baby–sit, but not old enough to hold a job. I play Pong and Pac–Man and Donkey Kong and Frogger. I dive into Metroid, Super Mario Brothers, and The Legend of Zelda in between piano lessons and trips back to my room. I go to birthday parties at the local Chuck–E–Cheese’s, and play games not long after the neighbor kids have gone to bed. I am scared shitless to start high school, but I pretend I am very, very brave.

The year is 1989. I live in fear of my father, desperate to get out, hoping one day I do not have to worry about telling the truth. I discover Tad Williams, and read all of his books. I wonder if he’ll ever write a book where I could be the hero. I like his books, anyway, because they are big and fat and filled with story. I change the gender of his main character in my head. His books give me hope and make me feel as if I’m not alone. I think I want to go to college, but I’m not sure I can afford it without help. I have no money. I wonder what I will be allowed to do.

The year is 1990. I read The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman. I see myself as Haplo. I feel so much like him, so utterly alone. There are so many rules, so many hurts I cannot fix. I wonder if anyone suspects I’m in pain, but I pretend nothing is wrong. I earn the nickname “ice queen.”

The year is 1991. I graduate from high school. I have no idea what will happen. I have “a mouth.” I don’t imagine I will be rescued, and do not know how to save myself. I have never found the answer in all the books I read. The boys don’t like me, and I like a boy who I know will never like me back. No one knows why, but I do. My crushes were never really about those boys. They were assholes.

The year is 1992. I have locked myself in a bathroom, freaking out that my parents will throw me out on the street. They pack up my suitcase, because I flunked out my freshman year of college. I had fun. I had mono. I had hope. I lost what little I had, trying to be something I was not. I do that over and over again, until I take the hint. I threaten to kill myself, and they back off. Finally, someone takes me seriously.

The year is 1993. I am back in college, and to cope with the stress of exams I play Tetris with a friend. I minor in ethnic literature and spend more money on books. I discover James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston and Chinua Achebe. They fill a hole. They tell me why my world was incomplete and wrong. It is too white, and that whiteness is a lie. I read more books.

The year is 1997. I earn a degree in creative writing. I am optimistic. My professor compares me to a “young Kurt Vonnegut.” A worried graduate student waits by the door to the admissions office, hoping for advice on how to make money. I see a professor on the street, who tells me to go to New York or L.A. I thank him for the advice. I cannot afford it, no matter how hard I try. I wonder if I’m cursed.

The year is 2000. I have an office job I hate, a studio apartment, and a place to paint. I live in the city, and I have friends I hang out with. I have finally rescued myself. I have stopped playing piano. Y2K is bullshit. I am not writing. I take a break.

The year is 2002. It is the worst year of my life. Car accidents, funerals, job losses, homelessness, heartbreak, heart smashed, heart gone. I am alone. So alone. I play a computer game I bought secondhand called Septerra Core for an entire summer. I feel better, and pick up the pieces of my broken life. I discover Final Fantasy.

The year is 2003. Some friends call me up and tell me they have a surprise. They have a copy of Knights of the Old Republic, a sound system, and a big screen TV. I play nothing else for four days, and figure out puzzles with a kid in London I’ve never met. I audition for a rock opera and sing, hoping I remember how, hearing how I am shit over and over and over again. I perform for two years and start to feel human again.

The year is 2004. I am drawn back into tabletop games, and play Orpheus and Obsidian: The Age of Judgement. I have shock red hair and wear black leather and read all the punk and vampire novels I can. I am not alone anymore. I play with lots of friends and we hang out in goth clubs. I discover Lovecraft. I hate his racism and his sexism, but am fascinated by his fatalism. I cannot believe such utter hopelessness and despair. There is always a way. There has to be.

The year is 2005. I enter a writing contest inspired by Gaiman’s Mirrormask. I write a story about a bird of prey that kills her master. I win an Honorable Mention and wonder if I’ll ever meet him someday. I later find out just how many other people do, too. Instead, I read Hellboy and watch Studio Ghibli movies. I start designing jewelry.

The year is 2006. I answer an open call. I am excited to make a game instead of play it. I write about fairies for Noumenon, which is based on Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I get paid four cents a word. My boyfriend is very proud. I do not know what to think. I feel behind. I am now part of a directory for women in role–playing games, and there’s talk of setting up a Women in Gaming panel.

The year is 2008. The Family Protection Act is introduced and bashes violence in video games. I tell everyone how stupid it is, how games are fun, how they helped my brain when I needed them the most, how gamer was not a bad word. No one listens to me. They call me immature. I tell them to fuck off and I play another game.

The year is 2009. I have not seen my family in five years. I do not plan to, either. I write whenever I can, and discover I am not happy if I don’t write. I make more games, and hear players are having fun. So, I make more of them. I struggle with a day job. My boss knows I don’t want to be there. I am doing the best I can and work hard. I do not feel it is enough. It isn’t.

The year is 2010. A friend tells me she has to hide being a gamer, because her boss will think she’s immature. I sympathize. I tell her I bought a game at a game store, and the clerk warned me how violent it was for the kid I do not have. We buy games and books and comics on the internet instead, and become invisible. No one knows what we buy or why. It feels like heaven. I stop getting recommendations for diapers.

The year is 2011. I complete my first gaming assignment with a major publisher. It is for Vampire: The Requiem. I hope to write for Vampire: The Masquerade one day. I want to hear if fans like what I design. I meet some players at a convention and geek out about vampires. Then I meet some designers at Gen Con and geek out some more over whiskey and cokes.

The year is 2012. I am at a convention moderating a panel about women in science fiction and fantasy. Tamora Pierce is on the panel. I prepare as best I can, but I fuck it up because I do not realize what the problem is and why those panels are necessary. I do not see how I have been lied to all this time, how I’ve internalized why women are invisible. Tamora saves my ass. She tells the writers to write heroines instead of heroes, how important it is for little girls. The little girl inside of me cries, and wishes I read her books sooner. I later apologize to another panelist, and hope I don’t fuck it up next time. I vow never to hide my gender. Tamora Pierce is fucking awesome.

The year is still 2012. I am asked to be part of a conversation to talk about the possibility of a Firefly Role–Playing Game. I am working with Margaret Weis and try to be respectful when I meet her in person. I am later asked to be the developer. Sometimes I get so immersed in the work I forget about the people, my fellow artists and writers and designers who are as complex as I am. That’s when I fuck up. I try to do better next time. I want to do better, hoping there will be a next time. There is.

The year is 2013. It is my first time overseas, and my first time at a World Fantasy convention. I finally meet Tad Williams and thank him for his stories. I do not know if he understands how much his books meant to me. Everyone there is apologizing to me because they are not Neil Gaiman. I want to listen to their stories, and they are worried they aren’t interesting enough. On a panel Gaiman says how lucky he is and how Alan Moore taught him to write comics. I agree. I am happy for his success, but we do not share the same path and know they’ll never cross. I want to run back to my hotel room to write. I want to find a grand piano and play how I feel. Instead, I go to the bar and drink. I hear about the Sad Puppies, and am frustrated there are bullies in science fiction and fantasy, too.

The year is 2014. Hashtag GamerGate. Hashtag not all men. I roll my eyes and do not take it seriously at first. I see the ignorance, and I ignore it. The fires do not die down. Many women are getting death threats for making games, and no one is taking them seriously. It sounds familiar. They are told to suck it up, be silent, take responsibility. They should stand up to trolls on a platform they don’t own. I know how badly words hurt, and I want to give them nicer ones—but I can’t. I don’t know how. Days later, some asshole on the internet says women don’t play games. Weeks later, all my years of advocacy for gaming has been annihilated by a guy who wants to get revenge on his girlfriend. I am so very angry. I make more games because I love to do it. It takes me twice as long, because I want to do the best job I can. I wish I were smarter. I wish I had more empathy. I wonder if I will ever own a puppy. I can’t look at them. My partner goes to the emergency room. He survives.

The year is 2015. It is my second time overseas and I am a guest at a British convention. My dad dies, and I convince myself I am not depressed. Instead, I think about how lucky I am. I wrote, revised, developed, and published over one million and a half words for the Firefly Role–Playing Game line in two years. I worked with dozens of RPG companies, was the marketing director for Steve Jackson Games, and managed illustrator John Kovalic. I love my life, and I am surrounded by great people. I have plans to write more stories and keep making art, even if no one remembers my name. I don’t care. It is how I breathe. I turn off Twitter. I turn it back on. I slip into a depression without realizing it, because I am finally safe and free.

The year is 2016. I am now fully awake. The fog has passed, and I have clear boundaries. My problems are small and have to do with George Washington. Then Trump opens his mouth, and I hear the ghost of my dad. Mean, angry, full of hate. My fears are now on screen in red, green, and blue. I listen to other people who are hurting and dying, and I don’t know what else I can do. I set up my keyboard. I am terrified to play again. My friends are being nominated for awards, and I am not. I cheer them on, happy for their success. I am a Gen Con Industry Insider. Only, my credits are scrutinized. I’m lumped in as a data point, and am told women do not matter and we’re ruining gaming. I get angry, rant to my friends and peers, and make more art. There is another Women in Games panel. My new Shadowrun book is covered by Geek and Sundry. Terry Pratchett’s poem erases my 40,000+ word contribution. I am invisible once again. Terry Pratchett was never mentioned in that supplement. I am grateful for the coverage.

The year is 2018. It is 2020, 2039, 2054. It does not matter what year it is. Open your eyes. What do the authors and game designers you love look like? Are they all white and men? Picture a white woman who’s up for an award. Or a black man who just got a major book deal. Or a Chinese woman or a queer Latino or the hundreds of thousands of other writers who are not straight, white men. They have always been here, too, motherfucker. Don’t believe me? Don’t think they have their own fandoms and have been making art, too? Take this timeline and imagine it retold in 10,000 different ways. See the pattern yet? Do you see the lies you’ve been told: that the reason we don’t deserve fame or opportunities or recognition is because we don’t work hard enough? That we haven’t been here all along?

It is not our problem you are just now realizing we exist, motherfucker. Welcome to the year 2016.

Monica Valentinelli

Monica Valentinelli writes stories, games, essays, and comics for her original works and media/tie–in properties. For more about Monica and her latest releases, please visit www.booksofm.com.

5 Responses to “We Have Always Been Here, Motherfucker”

  1. Nigel63

    Monica,
    You had me at Mrs Frisby.

    I’ll forward this to FB so my daughters can read it.

    – cheers,
    Nigel.

  2. guyinabunker

    If Firefly the RPG is the result of women ruining gaming, then I hope everything gets ruined. More diversity in books and games means more books and more games and better books and better games. You are a mother fuckin’ rockstar in my eyes.

  3. Jedinews2010

    What a superb article, really has me invested and interested. We all have diffetent journeys and this just proves it – along with those 10000+ other versions you mention.

  4. MegInk

    I found this article through a rather roundabout way, from an article that linked to another article, that mentioned this. Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. I am one of those millions that you talk about, quietly accepting that the stuff I love was not written for me. Reading Tad Williams and playing Final Fantasy (and silently hating that the girls were so often just love interests or healers, and never the main character.) Finding The Dragonriders of Pern and devouring the series that felt for the first time to speak honestly about strong women in a fantasy/scifi setting. Constantly having my “geek credentials” challenged. Shying away from cosplay because I didn’t want to wear outfits that revealing, but there wasn’t anything else for me to choose. Thank you, thank you thank you for giving us a voice. For being the one to stand up and shout for us all.

  5. Garwalf

    Thank you for this beautifully written piece from a man also of Gen-X.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment. You can register here.