QGCon 2017: falling in love in a cyberpunk dystopia

Below is the text of a talk I gave at last weekend’s Queerness and Games conference, as part of a microtalk series on the topic of “Out of Sheer Spite”, moderated by Kris Ligman.

This time last year, I went through the worst major depressive episode I’ve ever experienced. Up until then, I’d experienced periods of what I thought was depression, but could really be more described as melancholy. This time around, however, was a complete, utter breakdown. I’d alternate between states of heightened anxiety and uncontrollable crying spells. I lost my appetite. I had trouble sleeping. I couldn’t even write code without having to stop because I was too anxious.

I’ve known how to program since I was ten, to give you an idea of how drastic that was for me.

I’d moved to Montreal at the beginning of the year, eager to have a few months to myself to live alone in a tiny apartment and make some games while living off my savings, waiting to start my PhD in September. For as long as I can remember, I would have given anything for unstructured time where I didn’t have to work for a living and could just make art for a while.

Unfortunately, my brain had other ideas.

Up until this depressive episode, I’d always though of myself as someone who didn’t need other people. I was independent. I knew how to take care of myself. I’d go out and just be alone, taking myself on dinner and movie dates. I was happy to just live in my own head.

Well, maybe happy isn’t the best word. I constantly felt lonely and misunderstood by the rest of the world. And even though I’d learned how to have friends and some semblance of a social life, I still felt a fundamental disconnect from other people. I guess maybe it would be more accurate to say I was resigned to being alone, and that I’d learned to be content with it.

As you can imagine, I didn’t really have much in the way of significant relationships. I mean, I had a few, throughout my teens and twenties. But they were, for the most part, profoundly unsatisfying. No one ever saw me the way I wanted to be seen. They read me as a girl, and they were attracted to a girl they saw, but that girl wasn’t me. She was controlled by me, sure, but she wasn’t actually me.

When I came out as nonbinary, I felt more like myself, but in a lot of ways, I felt even more unwanted. There’s no place for people like me in most people’s conceptions of the world, and I was more aware of it than ever.

Being alone was easier, because it meant I didn’t have to meet anyone’s expectations. It meant I didn’t have to disappoint them.

But then, during my depressive episode, suddenly, the inside of my head stopped being safe for me, and I hated being alone. So, I clung to people around me like life rafts. I hated myself for doing it, for imposing on them, for needing them, but I felt like I was going to die otherwise.

Fortunately for me, they let me cling. My Montreal friends kept me company and let me sleep in their couches and guest beds when I didn’t want to be alone in my apartment, and even took me to the doctor to get a prescription for antidepressants. My parents bought me a plane ticket so I could stay with them for a few weeks while they took care of me. And an internet friend of mine, a fan of my work, who’d been through many of their own mental health crises, offered to check in on me every day while I was recovering, so I took them up on it.

Eventually, the meds kicked in and I restarted therapy, and gradually started being able to do things again until I was back to a normal-for-me mental state. But after all I’d been through, I realised I couldn’t let myself be as isolated as I was. And that I didn’t have to be. Not anymore.

Later in the year, two major things happened, in very quick succession. The first was that a racist, misogynist reality TV billionaire got elected president of the United States. The second was that I fell in love with the aforementioned internet friend who took care of me during my depressive episode.

I don’t believe this was an accident. While this turning point in my life had, I realise, been brewing for quite a while, it took a world event of catastrophic proportions to finally stop giving a shit and let go.

And as I opened myself up to falling in love with this amazing person, it was like everything else in my life suddenly levelled up. I became closer to many of my friends. I started actually looking people in the eye. I finished a bunch of creative projects. And I decided, after quite some time thinking about it, to finally pursue top surgery, which I will be having early this summer.

Sometimes I find it weird how so many good things can happen to me at a time when many of us marginalized people are being made to be afraid. And it’s not that I’m not afraid. I’m terrified. But at the same time, when things are so bad, and don’t show any sign of getting better, what do I have to lose? What do any of us have to lose by caring deeply for each other, and for ourselves?

I don’t know how much time I have. I don’t know how long things are going to be this good for. It’s likely that everything will come crashing down on me at any moment. So just let me enjoy this while I can, okay?

Let me allow myself to be happy, for once.