Role-playing the Self – Trans Self-Expression, Exploration, and Embodiment in Live Action Role-Playing Games


  • Josephine Baird



trans, role-play, larp, emancipatory bleed, autoethnography


Accounts of trans people using role-playing games (RPGs) as a safer space to “try out” another way to be gen- dered can be found in numerous sites – from the memetic, to the anecdotal, to the academic. Using autoethnography and post-structuralist queer theory of performativity in combination with scholarly perspectives of RPGs as sites for potential- ly transformative experiences, I consider the ways in which live-action role-playing games (larps) might help trans peo- ple express, explore, and embody their subjectivity. I argue that despite there being a relatively small (though growing) number of larps designed to encourage players to consider gender and sexuality norms in society, there remains no larp that intentionally allows trans people (or those questioning their gender) to consider their gender subjectivity therein.

Scholarly perspectives on larps suggest that they might provide a site for the simulation of complex socio-cultural dy- namics, a space to adopt different social roles, and the alibi and scaffolding to do so in a way that is validating with a community of like-minded role-players (Deterding 2018; Bowman and Hugaas 2021). I present examples of larps that, either by design or not, seem to have provided opportunities for gender role-play and transformative experiences for some trans players. I consider the possible limitations the embodied experience of larps -- as opposed to digital and table-top RPGs (TRPGs) -- might have in allowing such exploration for some trans players, particularly in potentially transphobic play environments. I argue howev- er, that the embodied nature of larps might also provide an opportunity to explore gender role-play in such a way that allows for the validation of more diverse physical and social gender presentations, as well as the rehearsal thereof in a safer space. I present accounts of trans people -- including my own autoethnography -- using role-playing games, larps, and other activities/ environments not necessarily consciously designed for the purpose of gender exploration as the basis for how this might be designed for intentionally in larps. I conclude by proposing to design a larp that could provide an opportunity to express, ex- plore, and embody non-normative gender, and I pose a series of questions that I believe such a design should seek to answer.




How to Cite

Baird, J. (2021). Role-playing the Self – Trans Self-Expression, Exploration, and Embodiment in Live Action Role-Playing Games. International Journal of Role-Playing, (11), 94–113.