So recently the social media account for CD Projekt Red, of Witcher and Cyberpunk 2077 fame, made an off-colour ‘joke’ relying on the played-out line “Did you just assume my gender?”. Their apology was that classic non-apology ‘Sorry if you were offended’. Now, I read the replies to that tweet and boy howdy, I hate gamers. In the same way that a high school bully defends themselves when consequences come knocking, most of the replies boiled down to ‘it’s just a joke,’. Is it though? I’m going to explain why these sorts of ‘jokes’ are tired.
Let’s start with the obvious. The big problem I have with this joke is rather simple. The structure of the ‘joke’ suggests that someone who is relatively cis-normative (cis meaning not trans or non-binary, normative meaning assuming a norm) misgenders someone who is presenting in a somewhat androgynous way. They could be trans or non-binary and the person ‘assuming’ here is trying to correctly identify them as either male or female. The crux of this ‘joke’ is that the gender non-conforming individual is incensed by this assumption and that their gender should be obvious. Their response is the huffy ‘Did you just assume my gender?’. Now, I’ve encountered a few people in my life who have mentioned that they’re trans or non-binary in my circles. Here’s how they would be introduced to me.
‘Hey everybody, this is Alex. He’s an accountant,’.
[Some time later]
‘Yo Alex, are you trans?’
‘Yeah, I am actually’
At least in the circles I travel in, those who have a queer identity bring it up very nonchalantly when they trust the people they’re with. If you suspect that someone is withholding a part of their identity from you, maybe it’s because they don’t feel they can trust you. That might sound hurtful but consider the life that those who live as marginalised people have. With bathroom bills and gay/trans panic defences, people who are trans have a reason to be afraid of interactions with strangers. The reason the ‘joke’ is horrible is because it assumes that trans people are over-offended huffy people instead of the scared marginalised people that they are.
Another ‘joke’ along these lines that also bugs me is the ‘I identify as an attack helicopter’. Which is weird as a joke. Most people whose gender identity is more fluid still find themselves across the spectrum of gender. The attack helicopter seems like its way out of left field. It’s looking at humans identifying across the scope of humanity and then the way that idea is taken to the extreme is to identify as a non-human machine? I saw it explained recently that humour about the nature of gender has a way of working and it relates to how some people can think about gender. The attack helicopter comes from seeing gender as being about stagnant categories. Man/woman.
However, if we shift our thinking around gender as more fluid and as more of a spectrum than a more interesting brand of gender humour arises. If we think of gender as a societal conception, then we can play with gender in interesting ways. If we think of male/female as arbitrary, then creativity can spawn from that.
‘There are only two genders: glass half empty and glass half full.’
‘I identify as the infinite void of space’.
One of the more frustrating aspects of this whole story is that the game connected to it has potential. Cyberpunk 2077 sounds promising. However, with this off-colour joke and CD Projekt Red’s anti-union stances, will that affect how they tell a cyberpunk story. Cyberpunk is about rampant capitalism and technology coalescing to maintain existing inequalities. Also, the nature of a world of body modifications could have some interesting implications around gender identity. These issues have made me hesitant to trust CD Projekt Red to handle these ideas in this space and has made me worried about the game.
I understand that there might be two reactions to this piece. Those that agree with me and feel like I’m preaching to the converted, and those that reject everything I’ve said. However, I believe that there’s a middle ground. Someone who thinks of themselves as progressive but still sees gender in rigid terms. My hope is that this piece starts discussion and introspection within that person about this stuff. If this is you and you have questions, I invite you to contact me on social media. If I genuinely can’t answer your question, I can ask around. If you come to a social movement that you’re unfamiliar with and ask people nicely, they might point you in the right direction. At the same time, Google is your friend. These questions have been asked before so some people might not give you the time because it is exhausting trying to justify your existence when you’re just trying to live. For those who seek understanding, listen thoughtfully and learn.
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