Making noise is hard. Of course the actual act of screaming, or yelling, or shouting isn’t, but the act of letting yourself be heard very much is. Making noise means letting yourself be seen, even when the world doesn’t normally care for your voice. Your voice is so deeply paramount to who you are, how the world interacts with you, and the things you say can shape how the world listens to you. Having a voice is universal, but making that voice count? It’s a learned skill. The way I learned it? Tabletops.
My voice has never been considered default by any means. Being black, trans, and a woman (a fun trifecta) means that I have gotten incredibly used to shrinking myself down. Reducing my voice, minimizing my feelings, and placating others in order to not “rock the boat.” These are feelings that I’m certain aren’t unique to only myself, but most people who exist in the margin. Finding your voice is a messy, messy experience where you come out a lot different, but ultimately, more “yourself”.
The first tabletop I played was tried and true Dungeons and Dragons. I was 20 years old, pretransition, and the only non-white person at my table. My first character was a half elf wizard, his name a cheeky little reference to my favorite show community. He looked like me, only with a single elf ear. He was a joke, but like all good jokes, he got better with age. I added more drama, my first in-character trauma, a chance to take center stage for scenes and I loved it. Having all my friends enraptured by my actions felt utterly intoxicating. It was so much fun, so the next one I’d go even bigger. Our Voice? A whimper, but with something underneath the surface.
The second time I played I made a ranger. He had a bear, and a lot of family issues. This was familiar territory for me as a player (bear notwithstanding). I used the things I knew personally and made a messy character, someone who had both hurt and helped others, and desperately wanted to be heard by his family. Once again, I felt heard. People cared about my pain, my struggles, my growth, my triumphs. The meek voice was straining, but so desperately tried to sing. So I went even Bigger.
This Character. Tyrone. The one. Without them, I probably wouldn’t be a performer now. A bard, loud and proud. A warlock, motivated by a broken heart. This was the drama I needed. I took the stage shamelessly, it was something they would do. Their body, their sexuality, their gender? All fluid. The first time I dipped my toe in that water. They were messy, but beautiful. They were complicated, deeply imperfect, but had a good heart. I didn’t have to be small, I didn’t have to be perfect, I could just be them. And my table loved it. My wins brought joy. My losses brought care. My Death? My death brought tears. Real Tears. I felt like I won, and everyone wanted to see that journey. Our voice? A beautiful song that was cut off much too early.
That was 5 years ago. In that time, I found so much of myself. My hair color eventually started changing, my name was different, my body felt so much more of mine. I was happier, but there was still one mountain to climb, one slope that felt impossible, that I finally climbed. I finally played a girl. Not someone who was feminine presenting. I played a Woman. I finally embraced the part of me that I was scared to.
Her name was Pixel. She was a cyber goth witch, she was neurodivergent, and she was shameless in feeling joy. Not only was I playing a woman, but this would be for a stream. In front of an audience, not just the table where six college friends would gather when we could make time. I played her in Thirsty Sword Lesbians, a game that I mentally hadn’t let myself enjoy. A game I gatekept myself away from, because “only women” played that. This is of course, all untrue, but my brain was exceptionally good at bullying me. But I did it. And something changed. I so openly accepted my femininity, but on my terms. She wasn’t traditional in any sense, but neither was I. Her style was strange, but strange wasn’t always something I knew. She was weird, but so was I. She was a breath of fresh air I needed after holding my breath for 25 years. She fell in love, in a way so beautifully sapphic, a romance that I told myself wouldn’t happen to girls like me. I felt like a princess, waking up after a long slumber. I had been a girl, and now it was time to get even messier. From our voice, a soft melody began.
Thalia was different, so different from my usual bread and butter. She was a young woman. Tough, violent, a failure in so many ways. She was the messiness that I felt like I always had in me. She was even named for my old pre-transition screen name (a totally normal cis boy thing to have.) She was my teenage rage, my youthful energy, the spirit I had, the shadow of who I could have been if I finished the puzzle sooner. She failed. So much. But she kept getting up, she kept gritting her teeth, and she didn’t give up. She didn’t think she deserved praise. She hated the limelight. She felt like she was always one step beyond. But she beat the Big Bad. We had won. Our messiness made us whole. We weren’t perfect, but nobody was. We pushed past it harder than anyone, and we had a happy ending. We found joy. Our voice was seen, flaws and all, and everyone heard us sing a powerful ballad from somewhere deep, and angry.
Finding your voice may take a while. It may not be perfect. It may not be what you expected it to be. But that voice is beautiful. It’s yours. Nourish it, cherish it, and find others who sing your tune. I want you to make the most beautiful harmonies.