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Transition: The Board Game

So this idea kind of emerged out of a bit of chat involving Anders over at the Giant In The Playground Forums about the possibility of using role-playing or Choose Your Own Adventure as an educational tool for cis people about the kinds of things that trans people go through, and the difficult choices we face.

My own reaction is that the best of both worlds could be found in a simple board game, which would additionally allow the presence of chance, and not sort of present the not-quite-as-realistic idea of what happens to a trans person being wholly predicated on hir choices. instead, a board game could lean heavily on luck, could be incredibly unfair, and could be structured such that sometimes nobody wins: just like real transition.

It’s also really bleak. Remember, though, that it’s meant to educate cis people about challenges faced by trans people. There is lots of joy, hope, fulfillment and awesomeness to be found in transition (and I hope to do a post all about that some time soon), but it’s tough to talk about that at the same time as talking about the difficulties we face… and talking about just how incredibly brutal those difficulties can be, especially for those of us who don’t get lucky.

A little bit a disclaimer, though: THIS IS MY INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY, YO. I wholly encourage people to go ahead and make their own home versions (which is basically exactly what this post is for) and to playtest it and tweak the rules around and whatever they want to do. I’d also love if I could get some feedback on the playtesting, and what rules or tweaks did and didn’t work. But don’t go mass-producing or marketing or selling or profiting from this game without my permission (though feel free to use it as an education tool), and don’t go pretending it was your own idea. Credit a girl, please?

This blog post is nice and time-stamped. Fun fact: this legally functions just as well as a copyright.

Anyway…

I had hoped to have a little draw-up of the board game, but that will have to wait for another time. So instead, you’ll have to just draw from your imaginations. So bust out some bristol board, rulers, sharpees and coloured pencils!

There are two start/finish places, marked “M” in a circle with the little speak/arrow thing, and “F” with a little distaff/cross thing (I’m sorry that the game assumes only a binary transition… I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate genderqueer while still keeping it relatively simple). A player can choose which position to start at, and their goal is to get to the other end.

Between each of these primary start/finish positions are 60 little squares / positions, forming a winding path between the M and F. Some of these are marked with a nasty bad-guy scary symbol and the word “Risk”. The Risk spaces start out sparsely, approximately five spaces apart, but gradually become more and more clustered towards the middle of the path, until at the center there are three in a row, with only one safe space on each side of this set before another “risk” spot.

Players progress from their starting point to their finishing point by rolling a single six-sided die. If they land on a “risk” space they can choose to draw a “risk” card and accept the consequences (almost always negative), or decide to return to their original position and roll again next turn.

12 steps from the start/finish spots is a special space called HRT/SRS. It functions as the “HRT” space when it’s close to your starting space, and as the SRS space when it’s close to your finish line. More details to follow.

Now each player has to keep track of two special sets of points, Resources and Stigma. Resources can be spent to buy your way out of some risk cards, and also help you out with HRT and SRS. If you run out of resources, you need to either do survival sex work (in which you gain +15 stigma, and +10 resources) or become homeless (in which you gain +10 stigma, but your resources remain zero). For each 10 stigma points you acquire, your dice rolls count for one less. So, if you have 11 stigma, and you rolled a five, you’d only move four spaces. Dice rolls can’t go into negative integers, though. So if you have 34 stigma, and roll a 2, you don’t move at all that turn. You’d need to roll a 4 in order to move 1 space, a 5 for 2 spaces, or a 6 for 3 spaces.

If your stigma gets all the way up to 50, you end up dying… perhaps you were murdered by a group of violent transphobes, perhaps you couldn’t handle things any more and chose to take your own life, or perhaps you self-destructed through addiction. One way or another, the loneliness and pain and hatred of trans people ended up becoming just too much. You’re eliminated from the game.

Your starting Resources and Stigma are determined by rolling dice. You start with 30 Resource Points plus a single dice roll mutliplied by five. For starting stigma, you roll a die to determine your passability-

6 – Because circumstances or a supportive family or money worked in your favour and you were able to transition early, because you had enough money to be able to afford a plethora of surgeries, or just because you happened to score the genetic jackpot and always had physical features concomitant with conventions and expectations for your identified sex, you’re totally, completely passable, and look like just like a cis person. No starting stigma.

5 – You are very passable. You have a few traits that don’t quite fit in with the norm for your identified sex, but it’s not strongly noticeable. Generally, people will only pick up on those traits if they already know you’re trans and are looking for them, or if they’re deliberately scrutinizing you for some reason… or if they have a Sherlock Holmesian level of perceptiveness. 2 starting stigma.

4 – You pass better than most. There are definitely one or two features or traits that stick out, but again, it’s not going to be noticeable to anyone unless they have a reason to look closely. Close friends and coworkers will pick up on things, but strangers, passerby and those you interact with on a casual basis won’t notice anything at all, and simply gender you like anyone else of your identified sex. You may get clocked, but only on a very rare basis. 4 starting stigma.

3 – You pass more or less average. You don’t quite fit into the norm of someone of your identified sex, and clocking is something you need to take into consideration in your life, and something you worry about, but it doesn’t actually cause you any significant problems. You get misgendered only every once in a long while. People may wonder, but they won’t know. 6 starting stigma.

2 – You have trouble passing. Whether it’s a small number of extremely noticeable traits, like your height or facial bone structure, or whether it’s just a whole bunch of slightly noticeable traits, being identified as transsexual is an ongoing problem for you. Although people passing you on the street don’t tend to openly notice or stare, interactions tend to result in people noticing, and can become awkward, and occasionally rude or hostile. Being out on the town on a Saturday night can be dangerous, and misgendering is a sad, painful fact of your life. 8 starting stigma.

1 – You are visibly gender variant. You rarely, if ever, manage to appear to others as cis. In almost all instances you are immediately identifiable as transgender. People openly stare, or snicker behind your back. You are misgendered very frequently, and not often treated respectfully as a member of your identified sex. When you are treated as such, it is often in a patronizing manner. Your life is even more difficult than that of other transitioners, you often still feel pronounced dysphoria, you are a target for open bigotry and hostility, and the threat of physical violence significantly compromises the kinds of social events and situations you are able to safely be in. Adding insult to injury, even other trans people will often shun you and not wish to be around you, fearing that your presence will result in them being more visible. They even will blame you for your visibility, as though it were something you chose. 10 starting stigma.

You cannot reroll. If one player rolls a one and another rolls a six, yep, that’s unfair. Very unfair.

The HRT / SRS squares are special… it doesn’t matter if you land directly on them or not, but landing on or crossing over these squares presents you with a choice to either undergo the treatment or opt out. Undergoing HRT or SRS costs 10 resources, whereas opting out adds 10 stigma. Both decisions may have additional consequences, depending on what Risk cards you may draw.

The risk cards themselves carry all kinds of different effects, explained on each. There are forty of them total (or more if you want), and you can make them out ordinary playing cards by drawing the description and game effects on some paper and gluing or taping it to the front of the card. These can represent a wide variety of various scenarios faced by trans people. 30 of the 40 Risk cards should be negative consequences for the player (to justify the mechanic of being able to “slow down, take it easy” and skip your turn rather than draw the risk in order to be able to continue forward with your transition). If you’re using more than 40 cards, try to have it be a 3/4 ratio.

Some example Risk Cards:

- You’re in a doctor’s waiting room and the nurse calls out your birth name. You gain +2 stigma.

- You find out your voice is noticeably “off”. If MtF or FtM who has opted out of HRT, you can either pay 5 resources for lessons or speech therapy, or take +2 additional stigma every time you’re obliged to take stigma for the next five turns while you get some practice. If FtM who is undergoing HRT, you take +1 additional stigma every time you’re obliged to take stigma for the next three turns while the HRT changes your voice a bit more.

- The seasons have changed, and you desperately need to buy some new clothes that match your new gender presentation and suit the weather. Spend 5 resources, or take +5 stigma for wearing your old seasonally-appropriate but gender-inappropriate clothing.

- You disclose your gender status to a partner, and ze is fully accepting, hir love and attraction to you turning out to be genuine and unconditional. Lose 4 stigma, thanks to the newfound confidence, support and happiness.

- Your employer decides that your transition is “disruptive” to your workplace, and terminates you. You seek legal counsel, but discover that in your region there are currently no protections for employees on the basis of gender identity or gender expression, and this form of discrimination is entirely legal. There’s nothing you can do. Lose 9 resources.

- While out at a bar, a cute somebody starts flirting with you. You find them attractive and reciprocate. Eventually, they ask for your number, and then return to a table with their friends. You feel happy, but suddenly hear them laughing uproariously, and you realize it had been a dare. You are completely humiliated. +4 stigma.

- While using a bathroom appropriate to your identified sex, one of the other patrons complains to a security guard, who then publicly chastises you for using the “wrong” bathroom. You don’t have your carry letter with you. +2 stigma.

- You are asked to contribute a personal essay to a local trans-friendly LGBT magazine on the subject of your choice, and they pay you in return for your efforts. +3 resources, and -1 stigma.

So that’s pretty much everything you need to know in order to be able to construct your own version of Transition. I’d LOVE to hear some feedback on what people come up with in terms of improving the game, what you decide to use for risk cards, how the game works, what should perhaps be included to help make it a more valuable teaching tool, or just feedback in general.

Sometime soon I’d like to do a follow-up on this with revised rules, a fully drawn board, and a full set of risk cards, so please let me know any suggestions or ideas you have!

Maybe someday I might even find someone interesting in manufacturing some of these and sending them out to organizations that might want them. In particular I think this would be highly valuable to LGBT organizations as a way of better understanding the “T” part of the equation, and being better able to understand the experiences of the trans element of the queer community.

Cheers!

(and sorry for all the depressingness… I’ll write something positive about trans experiences soon, I promise!)