To the community that made me, well, me, thank you. I would not be here without you.
So, I guess the best place to start would be here. Fun fact about my life: there are these carpeted stairs in my house that go up to the second floor. One of those ones that turns in the middle with a wider step, one large enough to lay on. My mom says it's like my second bedroom. When I was little, small enough to squeeze onto the stair lengthwise, I would fall asleep there, basking in the ray of sunlight that peeks through the window. I’m too big now but I still relax there, lounging on a pile of pillows as I rest against the fluffy steps. Those days, the last summer before high school, were spent exactly like that, endlessly scrolling through YouTube. A second fact, I’m an iPad baby, grew up in the modern age and all that cool stuff. YouTube was a massive part of my early life. In elementary school I would spend my free time swimming through the ocean of Minecraft videos. Middle school was more of the same, instead exploring the seas of Undertale. Now that it was time for high school, I guess it was time for something new, a new adventure to entertain and inspire me. A third fact or, just an extension to the last thing, a 2.5th fact? Anyway, every channel has the recommended channels tab, and when I find a channel I like, I go and check that out. It’s a small glimpse into the lives of these creators, and helps me get to know them a bit more by seeing their friends or the content they enjoy, or maybe it’s just another step on my endless exploration of the Internet. But that afternoon, sailing through recommended channels tabs over the ocean of content, I stumbled across a small lone island. Have you ever had that feeling where everything just clicks? Like you’ve found a missing piece and now everything seems so much brighter? Final fun fact, number 4 or 3.5 or whatever, I’m a nerd. I love storytelling and role-playing games and all that stuff. Since kindergarten I would make up these adventures that I’d play through with my friends, whether we were Greek demigods going on quests, or super-powered high schoolers fighting to become the strongest in the world, it didn’t matter. We had fun. As we grew older though, there was less time for that, and I looked for something to try to fill that hole in my life. And so I went looking, and eventually, I found it. On that summer afternoon, the last summer before high school, when I stumbled across a small homemade Dungeons-and-Dragons-esque channel, though I didn’t really know it yet, I had stumbled across my safe haven, my sanctuary. My home.
There’s something indescribable about finding something like this, nearly untouched. Like finding an undiscovered clearing in the middle of the forest, the tulips reaching towards the sky, with deer strolling across, taking a break from the chaotic and cramped forest to rest in the sunlight and breathe. A place you can call your own. It may not be a world famous natural wonder or anything, but it's beautiful, and because it's yours, it's special. Every Tuesday they would upload a new episode of their personal project, a small DnD inspired series, to the handful who knew about the channel to watch. In the great arena of YouTube millionaires, including the channel I had discovered this one from, such a small community was fascinating. That fact would become especially astounding by what I found there. I mentioned that this was a personal project but really, it was a personal project. Just a group of 4 friends messing around in a world of their own, but more than that it was simply amazing. All the art, the music, the stories, the video editing, had been created by this stellar group of 4. There was the smug and charming tiefling, half devil and half showman, the brave though somewhat oblivious warrior, who swung a pole-arm to power their life’s work of slaying monsters, and the bloodthirsty alcoholic rogue. More would join their cast as time went on, a wild and powerful engineer, a crass and sarcastic witch, a cyborg alchemist, and so on. They would state that this was their way of finding themselves, through their friendship and the world they created. Within the next few weeks I would spend hours lying on those carpeted stairs, watching episode after episode as the characters fought, grew, and traveled through this universe of fantasy. I was entranced. It seemed too good to be true, that something so great, so creative, fun and lovely, could exist so far under the radar. For the first time in a long time, something truly had drawn my interest. I noticed a Discord link in the comments, and clicked, not knowing what I would see beneath.
Anyone familiar with Discord could probably guess the basics of how my joining went. I popped up in the welcome chat, met with a handful of hellos. We start a conversation, move out of the welcoming channel down to our designated corner to just chat, and things move from there. I’m not the most socially literate, but that seems like how things are supposed to go, which is why it actually happening here was so strange. The first oddity was I accidentally joined with the wrong account, making a new one instead of using my existing one. Upon realizing that, I immediately left the server, and rejoined with the correct one, to be met by a vast amount of confusion regarding what had happened. It started a spark of interaction, which would turn into friendly conversation. What makes that single mistake so crucial is that, as one may have assumed by the fact that I am a D&D nerd among other factors, is that I’m not a social person! Whenever I join a new Discord server there is seldom a time where I bother talking. Joining a community is like moving into a new school. Everyone already knows each other, all the dynamics are in place, and you are left as an outsider looking in, someone who doesn’t truly belong, someone so scared of starting on the wrong foot that they don’t put any foot forward at all. That’s what that error did, it forced my feet into motion, creating a spark, and that spark would be kept alive by the hospitality that they offered me. A simple “How’re you doing?” would spark into an hour-long talk about the series that had miraculously linked us together. Who our favorite characters were, our favorite arcs, our theories on the future of the world, and more. There was something special here, both in the show that united us and the people themselves. It was warm, and though I’d only been there for a few hours, it was a warmth that felt familiar and comforting. The day would continue, me watching the show as I talked about it with these peculiar new people. As day turned to evening, things began to quiet down, person after person calling goodnight as they tucked into bed, to be met with wishes of good dreams and restful sleep as they went offline. There it was again. This intimacy, this comfort. The show had been created by a group of 4 friends, a friendship that flowed so naturally it felt like you, the viewer, were in on the joke as well. Somehow that exact easy-going feeling had transferred perfectly to its community. When the clock struck midnight, I decided to send in my goodnight. They had no reason to care, in all likelihood I was just a random new stranger to fall into the numbers of the lurkers and the forever offline. And yet, they showed that exact same warmth again. I would stay up another half hour reading and rereading their messages. I really had found something special. “What should we call you?” they had asked when I arrived. “Sebastian,” I answered. “Nice to meet you, Seb! Welcome to the family.”
1371 words in and we only finished my first day. But from here on, things moved fast. The next few weeks were a blur. Within a few days I pushed to watch the remainder of the episodes, catching up to the others so I could truly talk with them about the show that had quickly become my favorite of all time. On one special night, me and two others found ourselves talking about the latest episode, and how much this show had done for us, for all of us. It helped one rediscover their love for art and writing. For the other, it was a source of friendship and joy. I hadn’t quite figured out what it was for me yet, but for now I was just glad to be a part of this glowing community. Offhandedly one of them said, “I’m just happy to be able to chat with two good friends. :)” I paused for a moment, before smiling. A good friend. “Me too.” Those weeks were filled with chaos and wonder. There was the food crimes event, where a dozen or so of us all shouted over each other’s awful food opinions. Eating chips with a fork, milk before cereal, whether chocolate is candy, these sorts of atrocities. There was the era of cat-boys, alongside the Richard Invasion. We don’t talk about Richard. But all the while, a thought had begun to brew in the back of my head. As should not be a surprise, this community of DnD fanatics, artists, and general nerds, had a large population of LGBTQ+ citizens. It was something I’d briefly noticed when I first entered, but had truly realized as I spent more time with them. The flurry of they/thems and trans flags proudly paraded across the profiles of my newfound friends had, for the first time in a long time, begun making my head spin. It started small, adding ‘they’ to my pronoun list alongside ‘he’. Then research, reading up on neo-pronouns, the spectrum of identities, history, politics, giving up on politics. At first it was to understand my friends and then slowly to try and understand something else. I began to realize things about myself. As I saw the paths and journeys my friends were taking, I began to wonder about my own.
“I’ve never really felt like a guy, huh?”
“I guess so. But we’re still kinda a guy, right?”
“I think so. I don’t know. I need to think about it.”
“So… should we just stick with he/they?”
I nodded before pausing and realizing I had been talking to myself for the past half hour. I shut off my computer and ran up the carpeted stairs to my bedroom. I needed to sleep. I couldn’t think.
It was a fairly normal day. Only another week until school started, and the dread of its return loomed over me. A new episode came out and as was tradition, a group of us gathered to watch. A roaring adventure on the open seas, it was: a pirate’s interlude before the next story arc came to terrorize the characters. After the party was over, we began to discuss the desire for a last summer hurrah, spurred on by the excitement over the episode. Within an instant, Pirate Week was born. By the end of the day the entire server was re-branded in cross bones and gold doubloons as our crew assembled. Pirate profile pictures, pirate names, pirate chat boards, pirate celebrations. It was a wonderful time, where we could forget our worries before the stress of the fall creeped in. But of course, any good pirate crew needs itself a ship. The thoughts came to me. “This server, this community, this family. They’ve done so much for me. It’s time I gave back.” And so as I placed the pirate’s hat over my own head at last, I began my task of creating the greatest ship the world had ever seen. As the week went on I took notes of the assortment of details to add to our ship, and the roster of the hearty crew I would need to place onboard. Pride flags were a must, yes. Cannons to fire at our enemies! Portholes for our crew members below deck to peek through. A nearby island for that guy who refused to be a pirate and instead swore himself a pirate-hunter. A mast with the symbol of the show that brought us all together. I had never fancied myself much of a shipwright, but I whipped out my Photoshop subscription and art tablet and began. With each sunset, the crew bidding each other goodnight, I would continue my work, meticulously placing each wooden plank and ocean wave. But as I worked and evening turned to night, the thoughts at the back of my mind creeped back in. “Who am I? No, who would I be happy as? Is there even a difference between those things?” A few days prior I’d subtly added ‘she’ to my list, unsure if I even had the right to do so, not that anyone seemed to notice. I now had a full lottery wheel of pronouns yet nothing had come out of it. Sebastian the Shipwright, or Seb as I was dubbed, was a wonderful title but I increasingly began to doubt if it was the right one. As I frequently did, I said goodnight but continued to watch the chatroom roll onward before I truly went to bed, silently observing.
“Only one day left huh?”
“Yeppp. ‘Tis a cryin’ shame.”
“Lookin forward to the boat Seb’s making tho!”
“Aye! Our Shipwright be doin’ a great service to us all.
“Ye she’s pretty great”
She, huh? Is that who I am? Is that me?
“Aye, she be.”
Perhaps it should’ve been obvious. I never fit in much. I never liked the locker room, having to show my chest in front of a bunch of rowdy teenage boys, or the bathrooms, or the English class boy versus girl debates, or the other countless experiences that riddled my childhood. I’d written it off then but now with the perspective granted by time, perhaps there was something there. Perhaps my role as the leading lady in all my childhood games of pretend had been something greater than an attempt to balance out the lack of girls in the group. Maybe, just maybe. After another hour of talking to myself I went to sleep, a slight skip in my step. I couldn’t wait for tomorrow.
The sun rose once more over the Discord server, each of us rising from our slumber. As we said our good morrows, our final day of fun and piracy commenced! With summer nearing its end, we had to make the most of it. I woke up late that morning, exhausted from a night of shipbuilding and deep contemplation. It was almost time. As I rose from my virtual bed and ate my digital pirate breakfast, I went over the plan in my head. The morning was fairly quiet, giving me ample time to think. I waved at my fellow shipmates as they ran by, saluting to the captains of the community, otherwise known as the server admins. I triple checked the details of my week’s work to ensure we were prepared for our maiden voyage. As I walked up the imaginary stairs to the imaginary podium and announced it was time for the grand event, I smiled to myself, looking over the digital crowd of the friends, no, the family I had made over the past several months. The crowd hushed to a whisper as my presentation began.
“Lads, Lassies, and Enbies, welcome! As pirate week comes to a close, I have some things I’d like to say. I’ll keep it brief but, to all ye here today, thank you. You have made this week one the best of my life. And, well, over my few months here, you helped me realize something. By embracing me as part of this community and being my friends, you’ve helped me find myself. I’m shaking as I type this but, I’m officially coming out as trans! I’m a girl, and my name is Seraphina. Thank you all so much, really, I couldn’t have asked for a better crew. You’ve helped me be, well, me! So let this day be a celebration of friendship, of joy, of self discovery, and of general piracy. And so, I present to all, yer grand ship!”
The imaginary curtains fell, and the ship in all its gold and rainbow glory was revealed. For the rest of the day we clamored and explored the fullness of our grand vessel, from rudder to mast. As night arrived once more and the calls of goodnight arrived, we took to our new sleeping quarters to rest. “Goodnight everyone,” I called out. “Goodnight Seraphina.”
And that is how I began my life as she known as Seraphina. It has been years now since pirate week, though in many ways the true essence of piracy never left. The feeling of camaraderie as we await the new episode, the safe haven for us to discuss our days. Pirates were frequently opening queer, and thus so were we. Since that day I have seen many others join, welcoming their arrival and showing them around the wonderful ship that we had built together, our home. Although it was all digital, this show and its fan base had made all of our lives that much better. As I finish writing this memoir of sorts on the most pivotal part of my life, lounging on the carpeted stairs as I always do, I once again thank the community that made me, well, me. I would not be here without you.