JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

These affective continuities hold true for digital, virtual bodies as seen in digital games as well, perhaps more so, thanks to the interactive way in which a player inhabits a virtual body by taking a degree of control over its movement. In The Transreal: Political Aesthetics of Crossing Realities I write:

“I propose that transreal aesthetics cross the boundaries of realities created by a fragmentation of reality that occurred as a result of postmodern theory and emerging technologies... thinkers such as [Jack] Halberstam, Dipesh Chakrabarty and Gilles Deleuze propose a multiplicity of times and spaces which coexist. From there, one can look at contemporary artists’ attempts to create and work with realities as a similar form of multiplicity” (2008, 18).

In the book, I consider artists working with recent technologies including augmented reality and mixed reality, as well as artists who create works that they describe as alternate reality games. The Transreal describes transreal methods including transreal performativity—performing multiple simultaneous characters in different realities; transreal technologies that function on logics that exceed reality such as imaginary computational systems; and constructing transrealities—building narratives and environments that blend truth and fiction. In part, this method is meant to subvert the common dynamic of cisgender audiences who voyeuristically wish to know the truth of trans experience. I understand the audience for Dilating Destiny as including trans people with whom I wish to share some of the experience of dilation, as this is rarely discussed. For cisgender players/readers, I hope to expand their conception of trans experience and politics.

Transreal aesthetics have resonance with the genre of the "New Weird," which blends magic and science fiction with facts to reveal, in some cases, the horror of the everyday. In the case of Dilating Destiny, that horror is the ongoing deaths of black and trans people, which continues at the time of this writing as large protests over the killing of in Charlotte, North Carolina are being met with militarized police violence. Keith Lamont Scott, a disabled man and father, was shot and killed by police, and his family says he was simply reading a book in his car at the time (Norton 2016).

Dilating Destiny uses a transreal aesthetic to add to the list of bodies I’ve inhabited not just male and female, but also Awoken and warlock. While alien characters are common to science fiction and video games, they are rarely the subject of transgender autobiographical stories. In doing so I continue the thinking of theorists such as Sandy Stone who claims, “we can seize upon the textual violence inscribed in the transsexual body and turn it into a reconstructive force” by rejecting the gender assigned to me at birth, a kind of violence committed through enforcing language onto my body, and reimagining other possibilities through new languages (2006, 230). Stone’s analysis, though, is more than textual. She states that transsexual political struggle is a “circumstance in which a minority discourse comes to ground in the physical,” describing the transsexual body as “the battlefield” and “a tactile politics of reproduction” (2006, 230). In doing so, Stone demonstrates that transgender studies can be a mode of analysis using embodied experience as a ground for knowledge beyond textuality, and as such, provides a ground for affective, autobiographical media analysis through one’s body, which has resonance with éciture feminine, literature of intoxication, and Sobchack's continuum between the body and media.

Similarly to the way that Becoming Dragon engages with and critiques the platform of Second Life, Dilating Destiny is a meditation on contemporary video games. My previous twine game “A Survivor is Reborn” also engaged with the 2013 playstation remake of Tomb Raider to critique the way that it commodified depictions of sexual violence against women, portraying Lara Croft’s death as a sexualized scene over and over again. “A Survivor is Reborn” told a personal narrative of experience with sexual violence and the slippage of reality that the character in the game feels upon seeing #SURVIVOR billboards for the game around Los Angeles, as well as while playing the game. "A Survivor is Reborn" is no longer available online, like the game "A Synchronous Ritual" which I discuss later in the article. Online games made by trans women are often deeply personal, ephemeral and temporary. Dilating Destiny continues the exploration on the lack of boundaries between realities that some game players may feel, as well as the differences in audience reception of games based on their genders.

Dilating Destiny tells the story of a character who is taking large amounts of pain killers, just days after receiving Gender Reassignment Surgery. The following screen in the game—which one can see as a single poem if the game is considered a series of poems—was the initial inspiration for the project:

Inspiration for the project, Dilating Destiny, gameplay screen shot.

As I looked at my medication journal, I recalled a previous poem I had written for my performance Becoming Transreal, a performance which extended Becoming Dragon into a science fiction narrative of biohacking and pharmaceutical piracy. The one line poem in Becoming Transreal is this:

“prometrium 100mg.” (2012, 63)

With this poem I sought to convey that the drug prometrium, and the experience of it, was in itself a poem with unspeakable dimensions. The poem consisting of a list of drugs, above, spoke to me of other lesbian poets such as Gertrude Stein who also used repetition and lists in her work. Yet here I invite the reader to consider the depth of meaning of each individual medication.

Dilating Destiny, Twine Code editor interface

Another main inspiration for Dilating Destiny is the artistic movement of trans women’s video games, many of which are made in Twine. Twine is a free, open source, easy to use authoring software that makes game creation accessible to a broad spectrum of authors. Merritt Kopas’ game “A Synchronous Ritual” allows the player to virtually take estradiol, a pill form of estrogen, if they wait for the proper time to take it, the time when the author of the game presumably has to take it. Thus, a ritual is enacted where estrogen is being virtually consumed synchronously with her actual consumption of it. I understand this game bringing the player into a small part of the experience of being a trans person, as well as creating an imaginary community of support for Kopas, which in a world with so much transmisogyny, is an important gesture, even if only imagined. The game is no longer available online. Twine allows authors to experiment with the form of videogames, expanding the kinds of interaction beyond the usual mechanics and expectations of entertainment to create digital storytelling experiments in which a primary game mechanic might be to take a pill, as it is in Kopas' game and in Dilating Destiny.

Game creation as an act of solidarity

Kopas' game was one of the inspirations for Dilating Destiny. Kopas released a call on social media for game developers to contribute to a bundle of games called “Devs with Baltimore" which could be downloaded by people who made a donation. Kopas had previously organized the “Devs with Ferguson Bundle” by asking independent game developers to contribute works into a downloadable bundle. The “Devs with Ferguson Bundle” raised $11,761.96 for the Ferguson Public Library in just a few days, following the Ferguson uprising in late 2014. When I saw her call for a similar bundle to support the Baltimore uprising, with all proceeds going to the Baltimore lgebra Project, a coalition member of Baltimore United for Change, "a coalition of concerned citizens and organizations working for justice in Baltimore city" (Baltimore).

I contacted her and told her that I wanted to create a game for the bundle. What resulted from that was Dilating Destiny, which describes my recovery process as I followed the events of Baltimore online. It considers how solidarity doesn’t always mean standing together, for people who cannot stand. It points out the ableism of political language that often goes unquestioned and tells the story of a character who wants to act in solidarity with Baltimore but is physically unable to get out of bed. Dilating Destiny continues the development of my thinking of the importance for solidarity between disability justice and gender justice movements, expanding the ways solidarity is thought to be embodied (cárdenas 2014; e-fagia 2014; Digital Humanities 2012).

Dilating Destiny, Twine story editor interface

The Baltimore uprising occurred after Freddie Gray was murdered by Baltimore police, having his spine crushed while in police custody (BBC). In the days that followed, social media posts pointed out that a black trans woman, Mya Hall, had also been murdered by federal agents near Baltimore. While some would separate her murder from her gender, I see the violence of the prison industrial complex as co-constitutive with gendered and racialized violence against trans people, as trans theorists such as Dean Spade and Che Gossett have argued (Smith, Stanley). Dilating Destiny brings Mya Hall’s name into the story of Baltimore in an effort to challenge the persistent invisibility of the murders of transgender women. To date, while social movements have successfully demanded numerous investigations into the cause of Freddie Hall’s death, the city has dropped all charges against the officers involved (Linderman, 2016). I have not found evidence of similar demands for investigations into Hall's death, which follows the trend of trans women being murdered and no investigations being made into their deaths (Rivas, 2015). In an essay titled "They Were Our Sisters: Feminists Should Not Abandon Mya Hall or Miriam Carey," Katherine Cross states,

"When we talk about the oft-unmourned women of color slain by police, we would do well to recognize that trans women of color are very often the most forgotten of that already marginalized group."

Cross makes an important addition to the dialog about the focus on black male murder victims that inspired the #SayHerName hashtag, extending that concern to trans women as well as black women (Khaleeli 2016). The deep sadness and rage I feel about both of these murders challenge any attempt at a realistic rendering, leading me to try to address them through a trans of color poetics which shifts through multiple layers of affect and media.

Dilating Destiny describes a transreal narrative , slipping between the language and story of the online massively multiplayer game Destiny and the everyday experience of a transgender woman.In Crack Wars, philosopher Avital Ronell writes,

“You understood so very little about the chemical prosthesis which was the real, insubstantial vehicle constituting the virtual… The age of the chemical prosthesis had already begun” (70).

She brilliantly links the condition of the body and mind as altered by chemical substances to the space of possibility outside of the real, not just the virtual as in the digital, but also the realm of fantasy. Ronell describes the philosophical challenge she is taking :

“To gain access to the question of ‘Being-on-drugs’ we have had to go the way of literature… Drugs resist conceptual arrest” (51).

Focusing on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Ronell calls on a broad range of theorists including Martin Heidegger, Sigmund Freud, and the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, among others, to get a deeper glimpse of the implications of addiction and drugs in order to understand being-on-drugs. Similarly, Dilating Destiny also considers the implications of being, and writing, while heavily medicated on painkillers, expanding commonly held assumptions about the meaning of transgender experience. While people often assume that transgender art, literature and theory is limited to concerns about gender norms, Dilating Destiny expands the discussion by probing the limits of agency while one is affected by pharmaceuticals and the range of possible transformations that a body can undergo. Dilating Destiny questions the limits of solidarity and the forms solidarity can take in a form that blends genres of autobiography and science fiction. The game considers the experience of the trans body as one that exceeds reason through the experience of pharmaceutical drugs and which exceeds the options for gendered embodiment presented to us in interactive media such as video games. While the character Roja is described as female, my depiction of playing her as my avatar expands her binary gender to one that is transsexual. While Destiny's designers lack the imagination to give alien races new unimagined genders, the character’s performance of Roja in Dilating Destiny imagines a new gender in the form of a transreal trans woman, whose body is non-binary in its moment of healing, still bleeding. Roja's consciousness is defined by the blurring of realities caused by drugs, and as such she is part alien guardian of interplanetary space and part human woman on earth in passionate solidarity with those who would be guardians of black lives.