Gays In My Gotham: A Note on Empathy

It’s no huge secret that we don’t get a ton of traffic here at Invisible Gamer; we don’t have the resources or know-how to build and engage with a large community, and it’s without a doubt the biggest regret I have about a site I’m otherwise incredibly proud of. So naturally, I make it a point to engage with the few people who bother to comment on our posts, whether through Twitter, Facebook, content aggregators like N4G, or directly on-site via Disqus (why aren’t more of you commenting, by the way?)

Recently I published my review of Batman: Arkham Knight, and while it’s not the best thing I’ve ever written, it is something I’m proud of, and so when a commenter made an off-handed remark about the inclusion of “gay” (his quotation marks, not mine) characters in the game — something which I hadn’t even addressed in the review because it was such a minor occurrence it didn’t seem worth it — I responded that I thought it was pretty cool. He responded by calling me a Social Justice Warrior, and declaring in sum and substance that this country was going down the crapper because of the increasing frequency with which people get offended by things that seem trivial to him (though it’s okay for him to be upset that they got the gays in his Gotham.)

Some brief context before I continue:

All throughout the Batman: Arkham games, there are random thugs who exist solely to be pummeled by the Dark Knight. They serve literally no other purpose. We’ll just refer to these thugs as “randos.” In previous Arkham games, the dialogue written for these randos was peppered with a healthy dose of misogyny; Harley Quinn and Catwoman are frequently referred to as “that bitch,” “that crazy bitch,” etc. (you can find a much better sampling here at Kotaku, if you’re so inclined.) It never really bothered me, and still doesn’t: these are bad guys, I’m the Batman, and it gives me yet another excuse to smash their faces into the concrete. My mom and sister, who raised me during the long stretches of my youth that my dad was away on business trips, would approve.

In Arkham Knight, I never really heard that kind of dialogue from randos as I was soaring high above Gotham looking for the next dastardly plot to foil. For whatever reason, Rocksteady’s writers have had a change of heart regarding incidental character dialogue, and the randos in the latest game are funny, surprisingly warm, often nostalgic for the early days of Batman’s career. It made me like them a little bit more, though it didn’t change how good it felt smashing their faces into the concrete. They’re still bad guys, after all. One piece of random dialogue surprised me, though:

“”My other half’s a human rights lawyer. He thinks I’m on a business trip.”

Oh, really, Rocksteady? Even gays can be bad guys! How progressive!

Now, to be completely honest, I wasn’t going to give this commenter the satisfaction of a response (don’t let it get to me, don’t let it get to me). I sent a text message to the friend who brought this particular commenter to my review, ready to settle in for the night with the Professor Layton game I’m currently working my way through and eventually pass out from exhaustion. But then I spent hours thinking about To Kill A Mockingbird, watching clips of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, and thinking about all the ways that personal biases get in the way of what’s supposed to be the right of all Americans: to be accepted as equal to the person standing next to you, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc. And I couldn’t let it go.

Here’s what I told him:

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Anyone else’s. As a healthy, straight white male, like me, you will never know what it’s like to be marginalized. You and I will never know what it’s like to not be accepted as a de facto privilege, or to be rejected because of the way you were born. Lucky us, right? If you were born literally any other way—black, or as a woman, or with physical deformities, or gay—you’d be singing a different tune.  

You’re wrong about this country. It’s changing for the better, because people are speaking up for the marginalized, the downtrodden, and the disenfranchised. And all of our lives are better for that. “All men are created equal.” Never forget that.

It’s hardly a groundbreaking opinion; I didn’t have to dig deep for the right words, because the state of the world today is such that we’re faced with these kinds of issues on a daily basis (though I’ll admit I was inspired by an image of Atticus and Scout, sitting on their porch and ruminating on perspectives.)

The fact of the matter is, there’s no right way forward in this country that doesn’t involve each of us accepting one another, whether we like it or not. As a straight white American, I will never know what it’s like to be marginalized. But I will never, ever be of the opinion that just because I don’t understand someone else’s struggles, that they aren’t real, and that they aren’t worth making noise about.

Now, maybe you think I’m making too much about this one comment, that it has nothing to do with Batman, that I should get down off my high horse and go back to my video games. In fact, it has everything to do with Batman. If I’m an SJW, it’s because I’ve grown out of a childhood spent worshiping my heroes — heroes like Batman and Atticus Finch, the Kings of Social Justice. Earlier this year, I read an issue of Batman where the Dark Knight defends a gay kid from some particularly vicious high school bullies who cut his hair off and shave the word “fag” onto the back of his head. It’s one of the best Batman stories I’ve read in recent years. Here’s a brief excerpt, taken from two different points of the story:

batman121 batman122

It’s a shame Batman wasn’t around to save Ronin Shimizu, a 12-year-old boy in a suburb of my hometown who’d been picked on so severely for being a male cheerleader that he took his own life shortly before Christmas last year. It’s a shame there’s no Batman to defend the up to 28% of gay American teens who are bullied by classmates every school year. It’s a shame Batman can’t just swoop around, saving everybody. But there is no Batman, because life isn’t a comic book, or a movie, or a video game. There is only you and me. We don’t always see eye to eye, and it’s almost impossibly difficult to cope with the idea that we should compromise on the values we were brought up to live by. But the next time you’re out there, struggling just to make it through the day, try to remember that everyone else is struggling, too. It’ll open your mind in ways you could never imagine.





  • Cal

    As a queer transman, beautifully said and thank you for your awareness of your own privilege and where others are lacking. It was dead on. Where these small changes may barely be a blip on your radar or a slight aggravation to your commmenter, they can be life blood for marginalized youth. When we never see or hear ourselves in the media we consume, small things like this ping big on our radar, help us see that we’re real and valid to the outside world, that we’re apart of it just like everyone else. We need more, and we need more guys like you asking for open minds and hearts.

  • Alex Brill

    great article :> i didn’t even know that about arkahm knight

  • Nick Abrams

    WOW. I will be sharing this on the Joystick Jerks Facebook page. This is a great piece. Bravo!