Seeking queer utopias in virtual islands and valleys
By: Jocelyn Deane
In the window between lockdowns, I go to a friend’s birthday. A bunch of touch-starved gays sit together on the same couch.
We joke about what kind of Cottagecore, polyamorous transqueer commune we would hope to live on, once the rich were dead and climate apocalypse averted somehow.
“In all likelihood,” someone says, “we’ll just end up as Mad Max characters. Free, in a gross, Anarcho-Capitalist way.” We all laugh.
“You could’ve changed shit” – the assumption is there, coiled in the room – “but the world ended,” my friend’s partner says.
They get up to fetch the cake. “We’d just roam the wasteland, burning off utopian energy, stealing people’s teeth for barter,” they say from the kitchen.
The cake appears. My friend and I trade stories about our Animal Crossing: New Horizon Islands and Stardew Valley save files.
I know several transqueer friends who play both games for release, especially during lockdown. A poet friend in Stardew Valley invites their partners to the digital farmstead they spent the first lockdown managing. Everything is ethically sourced.
I join their game and help them pick horseradish.
“This is what a transqueer utopia could look like, after the end of the world,” they message me over Discord.
When I imagine the future, a transqueer one that seems so tantalisingly close, it’s like I can feel the person I’ll be, reaching backwards and egging me on to make them real.
Everything – virtual wheat-fields, cows, berry bushes, apple trees – could be free, of its own volition. There are no markets large enough to demand pesticides, factory farming or exploited labour. The land has never been violently colonised; it can belong to itself in the future. Indigeneity is not a fact in these games. Your relationship with the land you occupy is unproblematic, the game says.
I think of my secret desire to be a Cottagecore lesbian/trad wife on a farm with my friends, raising chickens and looking after one another’s children. The fact that it doesn’t exist, and never will, is beside the point.
I feel the same way about Animal Crossing’s island. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call utopia a body, located in space.
Except here, the game tells me, it’s just my body, isolated, unable to do harm to anyone. I’m the custodian of a fluid outcropping of land sold to me by a Racoon man. I can terraform it without consequences, except personal regrets. There is no gender, except a spectrum of fashion choices.
Lockdown lifts and then begins again. I had been planning to start HRT in the window between lockdowns; I have a list of things I want to do, building up in real-time as my hair grows back too quickly and my body weighs on me. But it is okay because I know I will do something about it. A window, or gap in the door, is all I need.
I have a visceral sense of living with a good spirit on my back, whispering in my ear. When lockdown begins again, the spirit leaves, and I sink like a boat with a hole.
I invite my birthday friend over to my island, during the second lockdown, where we can simulate tea and dress up for each other. The only residents are bipedal animals. They’re just passing through, unless I invite them to stay. It gets late and I log off, inviting my friend around next week.
I wake up the next day, still in lockdown, check twitter, feel things, and check the island: everyone is happy, the scarcity and gameplay loop a suggestion more than anything. Everyone is relaxed in a way that you can only be when your needs are perfectly met and you’re at leisure to be who you are, at last.
Why does all this matter? What is making me look for a transqueer utopia in these games?
My friend’s Switch is placed next to the window, the city skyline on the horizon. They took photos of the CBD as they went to work during lockdown. The streets are ghostly and unoccupied. How long would it take to reclaim these spaces, turn the Myers into share-houses, with no-one maintaining them?
I imagine my friends in overturned clothes racks, as happy as their virtual selves, visiting the spaces I laid out for them.
Utopia demands to be realised, to be made real. My body, what my body will be, demands to be made real, but can’t be right now. Utopia demands a narrative: a coming out story, a transition timeline, a destination, a horizon.
My friend quotes Jose Esteban Munoz’s Cruising Utopia to me: Queerness has a spatial dimension “insofar as it is located in displacement… Queerness is primarily about futurity and hope. That is to say that queerness is always in the horizon”.
Virtual spaces, brief gatherings cut short. An island where narrative is stilled, and your body is made to explore the possibilities. I’m hatching my plans.
Josie/Jocelyn Deane is a freelance editor/student at the university of Melbourne. Their work has appeared in Cordite, Southerly, Australian Poetry and Overland, among others. They live on unceded Wurundjeri land.