To Games Workshop,
Today we wish to address the accidental (we are to assume good faith) use of Gender Critical* language in the Horus Heresy Age of Darkness Rulebook, but there is no reason that such checks shouldn’t extend to further minority subjects such as race, ethnicity, and disability in your mainline products.
While this letter directly addresses this particular use of language in the recent Horus Heresy AoD release, we request that the suggestions made here be at least considered for all future materials of the various Warhammer IPs.
To clarify, this is not a letter asking for, or about, the subject of female Adeptus Astartes.
This is a letter imploring you, Games Workshop – in order to better protect members of your community – to employ or consult sensitivity readers for subjects that mirror the lived experiences of your hobbyists, but extend beyond the lived experiences of your writers.**
While the rules excerpt focused on in this letter touches on the subject of gender, sex, and identity, it is merely one example of how this service is often necessary within the scope of your publications.
It is 2022, and as you are making great steps towards reaching out and including everyone in the Warhammer community, this comes with an unignorable increased responsibility regarding the language employed in your published materials – if we are to all believe those inclusive efforts are sincere.
Let us continue to love your settings and your materials, without trepidation over the way they are written.
You understand the power of words; you know that for decades, every word that your authors have committed to paper or file, has been analysed with fastidious attention by those who love your IP and creations; by those who need the certainty and guidelines that those words provide for their hobby experience. Sentences written today will be held onto and discussed for years, if not decades.
You also know by now, that at the same time, words are all too frequently seized upon, and thrown in the face of the same minorities you’re now taking increased steps to welcome, by those who would bar our entry to this community.
We have grown accustomed to outdated language being dug up and used to justify why we would be persecuted and eradicated in the fictional settings we love. From old texts that were not meant to withstand those decades of scrutiny and deliberate misinterpretation, to more modern, casually written community articles.
Which is a part of why we ask:
Please, for our improved safety in your community, hire sensitivity readers for your future mainline publications.
We are asking that you understand how accidental use of language that echoes real-life pain and harm, not only breaks our immersion in a setting that we cherish, but shakes our faith that we are truly regarded as part of it to begin with.
We are not asking you to stop writing about these subjects.
We are asking that you understand the cudgel which you hand to certain groups, when an author who is not educated about these subjects in reality, makes statements for your fictional setting.
When your authors do this, and do so with regularity, it becomes increasingly apparent that your creative teams do not represent the very diversity that you wish to see in your audience.
It leaves us feeling uneasy, as with one hand you reach out and claim that you want us here, but with the other you continue to produce materials that actively make that existence harder.
With the understanding on both sides that no malice was intended, let’s break down the particular example from Horus Heresy, Age of Darkness
“The process by which Space Marines are created relies inherently on the hormonal and biological make-up of the human male, meaning that only males can be subjected to the transformation.”
While the merits of including this sentence in the book at all, could be argued back and forth, it now exists. So we will examine it as an example of accidental harm.
We understand this sentence was clearly written with a mind to sound pseudo-scientific in a fantasy setting. However, the issue is that it misses that mark by including terms that are frequently used to harm gender minorities in the current day: hormonal and biological make-up of the human male
It is an immediate and very cruel slap back to reality for any gender minority who has experienced modern bigotry and wishes to seek escapism in your work alongside everyone else.
[NB: For consistent abbreviation herein, “gender minority” is used in place of “transgender, non-binary and intersex individuals”, but in many cases also extends to cisgender women, as ‘minority’ is used in regards to minority within a field or subculture, not simply the wider population.]
Firstly the wording muddies the understanding of sex and gender by assuming that the reader understands this is an oblique reference to cisgender men.
However this is unfortunately phrased in a way that is uncannily and uncomfortably close to the rhetoric used by Gender Critical and trans-exclusionary groups. You need only skim tabloid press for examples of the terms “biological male” being used in malice, and open the comment sections for the people who use them to justify hate.
Additionally, “hormonal … make-up” is a particularly unfortunate term to use in an age where we already know better; HRT has been safely used by gender minorities and cisgender women since the 1960s (and unregulated, many decades prior). There is no detectable hormonal difference between a cisgender person and anyone receiving the correct dosage of HRT. That is why the HRT exists.
Then we have the terms “biological make-up” and “human male” which are increasingly meaningless to those who understand the spectrum of gender expression, but are still often enough thrown in the face of gender minorities constantly. Both by the media and narrow-minded people who would have us ‘othered’ to benefit their narrative.
It is hard to believe that there exists anyone today who has not at least heard of their use in arguments being made against the inclusion of trans athletes in sporting events.
To give a full lesson on gender diversity, would take far more time and wording than can be afforded in a simple letter, and would somewhat dilute the point that we wish to make. But hopefully, this small insight outlines enough of that point.
The merits of a sensitivity reader include preserving the integrity of the original concept while making it safe to enjoy for everyone.
To give an example of simple rephrasing that wouldn’t have hit against this specific issue:
“Human males have been the only successful candidates gleaned from the arduous transformation process by which Space Marines were originally created.”
The removal of ‘biological’ satisfies:
The spirit of the lore (tradition)
The need of the author (to signpost their idea: ‘male’)
The casual reader (to understand: ‘male’)
Without excluding any gender minority (who understand that ‘male’ can have many variations, and can happily head-canon themselves into the setting)
As mentioned earlier, we are not asking for the removal of ideas. Simply that those ideas are allowed to be grim and dark within their setting without bringing in the real pain people currently live with.
We trust to your consideration, and hope this letter is received in the spirit in which it is written; from a position of love for the worlds you create, and the desire to visit them alongside you.
– The Undersigned
“We shall be judged by results, not by intentions.” – Ulrach Branthan, Iron Hands Legion
*’Gender Critical‘ is the media palatable term for ‘transphobia’ when pushed as a political belief. Not to be confused with misogyny or the criticism of individual genders.
**This also means consulting with someone from the correct demographic, without treating minorities as a monolith.
e.g. While you could not expect a Chinese British person to proofread Black experiences, you should also not expect a cisgender gay man to sufficiently consult for gender minority issues.
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Letter was written by Bennett Woolley, with consultation from various members and allies of the LGBTQ+ wargaming hobby community.
For direct communication, Bennett can be reached here