Gerard Way and Support for Trans Fans

GerardWay-Brixton_Academy_London230115JasonWilliamson_(8)_1058_705_95

Over the course of the last week I’ve seen Gerard Way perform two live concerts in the UK, in which he has gone out of his way to make a series of speeches that have firmly convinced me he may be one of the most important people in music today.

For those not in the loop, Gerard Way is probably best known for spending a decade as the lead singer of the band My Chemical Romance before they disbanded in early 2013. A New Jersey rock band, My Chemical Romance had a huge career that is considerably larger than the small period of controversy most know them for.

Over four albums MCR took their audience on a decade long, incredibly healthy journey through dealing with depression. Their albums covered anger and denial, moving to sadness and acknowledgement, continuing to defiant insistence that “I am not afraid to keep on living” and ending at an energetic celebration of life.

I spent the better part of my teenage years infatuated with My Chemical Romance. As a child who battled with feelings of dysphoria and depression all throughout puberty, their brand of music really felt like a constant source of support for me growing up.

Weirdly, it’s not actually Gerard Way’s first solo album Hesitant Alien that convinced me to write this article, but his actions outside of the studio that caught my attention. Back in October 2014 Gerard Way took part in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) where among all the other questions he was asked, he spoke to a transgender fan about his feelings on gender presentation. The fan, who attributed much of their willingness to explore their gender presentation to Way’s feminine presentation on stage during My Chemical Romance, asked what style icons Way took inspiration from during that era when it came to his musical persona.

Way responded incredibly respectfully to the fan, expressing empathy with those who have struggled with gender in their lives and briefly touching on his own struggles with gender identity, granted not on the same scale as someone who identifies as transgender.

Wow! I’m so glad that helped in figuring out your gender identity. I have always been extremely sensitive to those that have gender identity issues as I feel like I have gone through it as well, if even on a smaller scale. I have always identified a fair amount with the female gender, and began at a certain point in MCR to express this through my look and performance style. So it’s no surprise that all of my inspirations and style influences were pushing gender boundaries. Freddy Mercury, Bowie, Iggy, early glam, T-Rex. Masculinity to me has always made me feel like it wasn’t right for me.

It was really freeing to be able to talk about gender identity btw”

For a lot of transgender fans, myself included, this was the beginning of a real love of the man behind the music. It’s incredibly rare in any form of mainstream media to see gender fluidity openly acknowledged, or any level of support and acknowledgement for trans individuals. It was heart warming to see and amazingly was only the start of an increasingly bold series of actions on Way’s part.

This prompted a lot of questions to Way on Twitter, which he responded to with remarkable patience. He discussed his regret over the character “ladyboy” who appears in the Danger Days music videos and shares their name with an anti trans slur, as well as talking about his reasons for deliberately misgendering a trans character during the song Get The Gang Together on his Hesitant Alien album. He interacted with trans fans, he offered support and he willingly went away to learn much more about a group of people he had never really taken the time to understand growing up.

Reading through a series of his tweets with trans fans prompted me to dig back a little through the opening weeks of his solo career, where I discovered that as early as his first promo show at Warner Bros, he had been referring to his backing band as The Hormones. Was this a direct move of support toward trans fans, I honestly have no idea. Still, with the context of his later trans support, I will probably forever associate the idea of Gerard Way and The Hormones as a move of support for trans fans.

A couple of weeks ago, in early January 2015, I started to get excited about seeing Gerard Way play in the UK and began to watch clips of some of his live performances from the previous few months. Three or four videos in I stumbled across a video from one of his earlier shows where he was up on stage giving a speech in support of his trans fans. As touching as it was by itself, it became even more touching when I realised the reality of the situation. Gerard Way was stopping during every single one of his shows to give a short speech in support of trans and non binary individuals. Ever since his North American tour began, following the short run of promo shows at WB and in the UK, he had been repeatedly taking time to support trans fans during his shows.

Just let that sink in for a moment. Gerard Way is a hugely successful solo artist, selling out venues, taking time out of every show to show support to fans struggling with gender identity issues. That’s unbelievable.

As someone who really struggled throughout their teenage years with depression caused by gender dysphoria, My Chemical Romance were a constant source of strength and inspiration. As a woman in her twenties who is finally getting her life where she wants it to be, knowing the man whose music kept me going for a decade cares this much about supporting a group usually only regarded as a joke by media is unbelievably important to me. I seriously could not wait to see him perform.

So I camped out twenty two hours early for Way’s Southampton tour date. Many people, my mother in particular, told me I was crazy for doing so. I don’t think she understood wanting to see anyone perform so much they would turn up that early. Truth be told, Gerard Way is the only artist I would have done that for, just because his recent trans support pushed me from a fan of his work to someone I sincerely wanted to personally thank for what he has done. I got centre barrier for the Southampton show, he gave his trans support speech, and I just cried. The entire room erupted into applause in support of his words. For the first time in my life I was in a room packed with people where I felt like everyone supported me. The feeling was incredible. One man offering trans support transformed a room of thousands into somewhere that felt unanimously safe.

I unfortunately missed my opportunity to meet Way that night and give him my personal thanks for what he had done to support trans fans of his work. He said on stage and on Twitter he would not be signing or meeting fans that night. Ten minutes after I left to catch my train, he came out of his bus and met a group of fans.

I headed up to Brixton in London a couple of days later for his final UK tour date. Arriving at 6am, I was around 20th in line for the show, which got me a spot on the barrier, but over to one side away from the centre. I had little hope in seeing him after the show to thank him, as he had to be in Amsterdam the following night and would likely have to leave the venue fairly quickly. I decided to use my time in line before the show to make a simple A2 sign to try and get my message to him. Taping several pieces of card together I wrote as large as I could a short message thanking him for everything he had done for his trans fans. It wasn’t much, but I just wanted to let this man know how much his support meant to me.

Right on cue, about a third of the way into his show he did a speech in support of his trans fans once again. I held up my sign and my friends on the barrier all did their best to draw his attention to my message. It was unclear if he had read it, but I felt I had done all I could.

Then, the thing that kind of blew me away happened. Once per show during this solo tour Gerard had been pulling a fan up from the crowd to play tambourine with him on stage during one of his songs. He walked over, pointed at me and told me he wanted me up on stage with him. I don’t know how much was to do with recognising me from the previous show and how much was to do with the sign I had made, but I would like to believe he saw my message of thanks for all he has done and appreciated it. I hope so, because I appreciate the hell out of everything he has done for his trans fans. Getting to join him on stage was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but getting to thank a man whose music has been a constant source of strength for me was the real reward.

Thank you Gerard Way. It may not seem like you’re doing much, but in a world so against trans people, the fact you’re taking time out to support us means the world to me and so many others in my situation. I hope one day I have the chance to chat to you face to face properly, because I owe you a huge thank you.

Saints Row: Gat out of Hell Review

SaintsRowGatOutOfHell Good 9

As someone who had never really been a fan of the Saints Row series in the past, I ended up being a huge proponent of Saints Row IV when it released. It was a hugely satisfying open world super hero game with consistently strong humour, polished combat and world traversal mechanics and a character creator that allowed me to create a kickass lady president who swore at anything that moved and murdered anything that stood in her way. It was an incredibly well thought out game that gripped me from start to finish. Saints Row IV won me over to the Saints Row franchise in such a strong way that its sequel, Gat out of Hell, has been pretty high on my most anticipated list for this year.

Unfortunately, Gat out of Hell just doesn’t live up to it’s immediate predecessor. At times it shows off the same levels of creativity, polish and humour that made Saints Row IV great, but those moments greatness are spread out few and far between. At times I loved Gat out of Hell, but most of the time I was sat focusing on all the things it just failed to get right.

SaintsRowGatOutOfHell Good 10

Gat out of Hell takes place shortly after the events of Saints Row IV. The earth has been destroyed, The Saints are aboard a time travelling space ship with Jane Austen and it’s Kinzie Kenzington’s birthday. As a celebration, the crew decide to take out a Ouija board and commune with the dead.

The board tells them The President is going to marry the daughter of the Satan, before sucking them through a portal to hell and mocking those left behind. Gat shoots the board and demands it take him to Hell to track down The President, with Kinzie tagging along because it’s her birthday and she wants to be part of the adventure.

From here you’re thrown into a world that looks an awful lot like the world of Saints Row IV with a red and black colour palette applied to it and a series of abilities that are lifted wholesale from the last entry. Oh, your ability to fly now goes with a pair of evil burnt angel wings which look pretty badass.

The main Gat out of Hell campaign is at times highly enjoyable. Chunks of the story are told through a fairy tale picture book narrative that works surprisingly well when contrasted with the dark subject material. While I’m not usually a fan of picture book cutscenes, here the contrast between presentation and content really did work well.

SaintsRowGatOutOfHell Good 19

It’s also important to note that the writing of the cutscenes in Gat out of Hell is of an incredibly high quality throughout. While these cutscenes are not super frequent, when they do come up every character is charming, full of personality and over the top in the best possible way. The cast are superbly portrayed and always a joy to watch interact.

Right, here’s the part of the review where I have to start tearing this game apart a little and talking about the ways it fell short of expectations.

Gat out of Hell took me around five hours to complete, and even at that length it felt arbitrarily padded to extend it’s length. Over my five hour playtime I spent almost the entire experience grinding the same handful of missions, taken from Saints Row IV and re-skinned, over and over to unlock the next piece of narrative.

SaintsRowGatOutOfHell Good 4

Loyalty missions are made up of shopping lists of these same missions at different difficulties over and over with seemingly no narrative reward and at times narrative progression was locked until I went out to grind these same missions by myself on the overworld. Even at a completion time of five hours, I found the game arbitrarily padded with unnecessary, repetitive rehashed content. Where Saints Row IV had unique narrative rich missions for each character you rescued and recruited, Gat out of Hell gives you a few lines of dialogue then send you out with a repetitive shopping list of missions.

Also, toward the end of the experience there were a couple of serious difficulty spikes that ground my progress to a halt. It’s interesting when a game throws a new challenging enemy at you, it’s not so fun when a game takes five of the strongest enemy you have fought so far and throws them at you at once, alongside five enemies that cause you to randomly float into the air, unable to attack but vunerable to others attacks. It’s difficulty spikes through sheer brute force and they really killed my enjoyment of the mechanics in the later sections of the game.

SaintsRowGatOutOfHell Good 6

While we’re discussing the game’s mechanics, they are near identical to those in Saints Row IV for better and for worse. Speed running, charged stomps, flight, wall running and elemental blasts are still fun to pull off, but the sense of discovery and evolution that existed when discovering these for the first time in Saints Row IV is gone, replaced with a desire to get those moves back as soon as possible. It’s still a strong set of mechanics, but nothing about it feels particularly new.

One of the big new mechanical additions to Gat out of Hell which was promoted heavily before release was the games new signature silly weapon, the Chairmageddon. Where Saints Row IV’s Dubstep gun could be collected early in the game and was rewarding to use, Gat out of Hell’s mechanised armchair kills your movement speed to a crawl, cannot aim vertically and arrives in the game late enough that it’s highly impractical to use compared to the weapons you’ve already spent money to upgrade. Oh, and it has almost no vertical aiming axis, making it impossible to use on enemies who are not stood on the ground at exactly your level.

SaintsRowGatOutOfHell Good 1

I think the most disappointing aspect however of Gat out of Hell is that it has some fantastic ideas that appear for a moment then never get reused. The key example of this is a superbly written and extremely funny musical segment in the middle of the narrative where all of the characters sing through their thoughts on the current situation. It was incredibly enjoyable, but happens in a single cutscene and is never referenced again. Several times when the game shone at it’s best it was trying something surprising that worked well and then never got used again.

SaintsRowGatOutOfHell Good 12

Lastly, I want to talk about character customisation, gendered player options and how these are applied to the game. I played Saints Row IV as a female customised President, who I became very attached to over my 15 hours with the game. As you can imagine, I was slightly surprised in Gat out of Hell when The President is a generic looking man. Turns out Gat out of Hell did not recognise my original PC save for Saints Row IV and as such I was a little disappointed to spend the game trying to rescue a President I had no attachment to rather than my own.

With a name like Gat out of Hell I expected I would only be able to be able to play through my adventure as Gat, but as it turns out early in the game you are given the option to swap and play as Kinzie instead. I was quite excited about this and as such I proceeded to play almost the entire game as her. While I was pleased to see this option, I was really disappointed by how rushed its implementation felt. Every single cutscene references how Gat is killing demons and catching Satan’s attention, but not one ever mentions all the things that Kinzie had been doing in my playthrough. As far as cutscenes were concerned she did nothing during the whole adventure.

Oh, and players who choose to control Kinzie for the whole game will find they are arbitrarily made to play the final fight of the game as Gat. Kinzie is in the room, she’s fighting in the same fight, she’s using the same weapons and powers but you’re forced to win the final fight as Gat. How silly of me to think I would be allowed to finish the game as the playable female character. Women just are not up to shooting the devil in the face.

Oh, my female Saints Row IV President would have a lot to say to the creators of Gat out of Hell.

SaintsRowIV 2013-08-23 23-54-30-29

Gat Out of Hell was ultimately a disappointing game, made all the more disappointing by the glimmers of brilliance sprinkled throughout it. If a little more time had gone into it’s creation it could have been something fantastic. As it stands, it’s a five hour experience that feels padded for additional length. When it shines it’s fantastic, but you really have to fight for those moments of brilliance.

Note: I also need to talk about bugs. I played Gat out of Hell on PC and toward the end of the campaign encountered an audio bug where voice clips would fail to play when visual indicators for them were on screen, sound effects would cut out and everything but faint background music would cut out. The standalone version of Gat out of Hell on PC is not due to be patched before release.