Heather Alexandra, a transgender writer for the video game site kotaku.com, recently reviewed the 1994 video game Earthworm Jim, a run-and-gun sci-fi platform game created by American artist and author Doug TenNapel. In the review, Alexandra called the game “a mean-spirited satire” and “frustrating but engaging.” Responding via Twitter, TenNapel deliberately misgendered Alexandra and later said, “I hoped it would wake him up.”
TenNapel’s initial response to Alexandra read, “Heather, you’re a good man and entitled to your opinion. If you ever want to go into why we created the way we did in the ’90s let’s chat.”
TenNapel’s misgendering was deliberate. He ignored that Heather is an obviously female name, and as folks pointed out his misgendering, he doubled-down, saying things like, “He misgendered himself. If people ignore his madness to arbitrarily go after my sanity, they impugn themselves,” and “There’s no harm in what they call themselves. There’s harm in demanding everyone in the world to endorse it. That’s how adulthood works.”
TenNapel has a history of anti-LGBTQ politics
TenNapel called Alexandra’s article, “a political hit piece,” but it’s far from it. Though the illustrator continues to draw and write new material, Earthworm Jim is now 23 years old and Alexandra’s article was the sort of retro video game review that Kotaku runs all the time.
If anything, his response to her article reveals just how sensitive he is and falls in line with his history of conservative queerphobia. He has written articles for Breitbart.com’s “Big Hollywood” blog, a site that regularly publishes racist, Islamophobic and anti-LGBTQ articles; has executive produced an installment of the Christian-themed animated film series Veggie Tales; and has spoken against marriage equality, likening it to “taking a dump” in the wrong bathroom.
A 2013 piece on TenNapel’s political views summarizes his reflexive political sensitivities very well:
“He feels that criticism of his comments equates to censorship, that the freedoms of others encroach upon his own, and that we’re enveloped in a culture war in which both Christianity and heterosexuality are under attack.”
The article also made the point that supporting his work could help fund his anti-LGBTQ politics in the larger world, much like eating at Chick-fil-A.
It’s important to support transwomen in video game space
Alexandra isn’t the first trans gamer to get online hate for having an opinion. Trans Kotaku reviewer Carolyn Petit has received transphobic abuse for her work as well, and the odious GamerGate movement targeted women specifically with misogynist abuse, rape and death threats. As we’ve said before, it’s important not to let these haters define geek space.
Also, lest we spend too much time focused on TenNapel’s transphobia (too late), Alexandra’s work is well-worth supporting too. Her Kotaku articles offer thoughtful takes on older games and strong opinions on popular favorites, pointing out interesting features you might have overlooked in beloved shooters and platform games.