Thoughts on Mass Effect: Andromeda

Anyone reading my blog may know that I am a huge Bioware fan, particularly of the Mass Effect trilogy. I played each game a minimum of 5 times each and love every second of it, even down to the controversial ending of 3 (though only post-DLC). I counted down the days to Andromeda’s release and was excited to step into an open-world (like Dragon Age: Inquisition) set in the Mass Effect universe. I was not disappointed.

The following feedback is based on the PS4 release.

This game got a lot of hate. Some of it deserved, but you may notice that as more fans (not Negative-Nancy bandwagoners or critics) finish the game, the reviews are leaning more towards the positive, and this is also rightly deserved. Perhaps more-so than the hyper focus on the problems.

I will preface my whole review with saying that yes, Bioware is a AAA studio, and they should, theoretically, be able to put out a polished and well-oiled game, but let’s be real guys – has ANY game been perfect, ever, in the history of games? A lot of people talk about The Witcher 3 as being some amazing feat, but I’ve run into so many bugs and graphics issues that it certainly has its flaws too. It also has BOOKS of content to draw from. Bioware was world-building from scratch with Andromeda. Destiny on its release lacked story and motivation, but people are still loving the crap out of that game. Call of Duty release the same thing pretty much every year, and they still get their praises sung in many aspects. Every game has good and bad things – why people chose to rip apart Andromeda to the levels they did, I just don’t and can’t understand.

So, here’s my take on this game [beware spoilers], and why I think it’s a great Mass Effect and maybe even the greatest Mass Effect game so far. I also don’t explain many of the story aspects so it may be confusing to someone who hasn’t played. Continue reading

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Out of the Closet: Bioware’s Success with LGBT Characters (Cont.)

I finally got around to romancing all the characters so I can finish this post. If you’d like to see the original one, you can find it here.

So, to summarize for anyone just joining us, Bioware is one of my favorite game developers. Actually, they are probably my favorite by a long shot compared to any other company, and part of the reason has been their amazing job at portraying romances in their games. In particular, the LGBT romances, and Dragon Age: Inquisition took the best and went above and beyond.

Here is a brief run down of each of the LGBT characters in Inquisition and what makes them so great. As with the previous post, there be spoilers (not really for the main story – just the romances), so remain cautious.

Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014)

IronBull Iron Bull – Bi
 Iron Bull is an interesting case. He is the leader of a small band of mercenaries (which include Krem, more on him later), and he is a qunari. Already, he is an unorthodox romance choice in that he is of a more “monstrous” fantasy race, but he is just a fascinating character. He loves killing dragons and is fiercely loyal to his men, to the potential point of getting exiled from his own race. Not only is he a romance option for both men and women Inquisitors, but his story incorporates BDSM culture, to the extent of mentioning a safe word if things get too rough. And the romance is really anything but standard – he doesn’t really seem to have any gendered concepts at all, so his interest in both is just completely natural to him, and he doesn’t think or mention much of it. In addition to that, the way you win over Iron Bull’s affection is through the exchange of a dragon tooth necklace, through this, you express your commitment to more than just purely “sex for fun,” and it is quite a touching scene when you reveal your true feelings for Iron Bull. As a bonus, there is a hilarious scene where your advisers walk in on you in bed – their reactions, particularly Cassandra’s, are priceless.
Sera Sera – Lesbian
 I was actually super excited when I read about Sera being in this game, as my usual first go-to character is a female/female relationship and some type of rogue/stealth-type deal, and both being rogues, I thought it would be fun. Her personality grated on me at first, with a relentless dislike of nobles and silly off-beat comments that seemed unnecessary and mildly annoying, and I eventually decided to go with Josephine on that first play through instead, but finally, on a different character, I decided to pursue Sera. And  to my surprise, it ended up being well worth it. Her humor started to grow on me, as did her personality, and sitting on the roof together discussing cookies after spending an afternoon pranking all of the advisers, well, she definitely won me over. She is a character who has a rich backstory, and who is troubled and opinionated, but her flirting with the Inquisitor is rather adorable, and overall, the relationship you develop with Sera is charming and heart-felt. She is also the first of Bioware’s fully lesbian characters that is fleshed out with her own story line and who can travel with you as a companion (unlike Traynor in Mass Effect).
Dorian Dorian Pavus – Gay
 As much as I like Sera and Josephine, and as much as I like playing a character who represents me in a game, man do I love Dorian, like adore Dorian. From the moment he turned up in the game, I knew I had to make a male character to romance him. I wouldn’t want him to not be gay, but he is fantastic – definitely a video game boy crush for me. So yes, he is wonderful. He is a mage from Tevinter, where mages rule the government, and he is from a fairly well off family who he doesn’t get along with too well because of his gayness. Of course, this is not something you find out right away – Dorian appears with an air of confidence, a pretty boy in every sense of the word, and he knows it, and he flirts with everyone, man or woman, but he prefers the company of men, and it becomes rather obvious quickly that this is so. His backstory is nothing groundbreaking in terms of LGBT stories, but you get to experience his coming out to his father, and whether completing this mission as a friend or a lover, it is a touching moment, and a vulnerable one for Dorian that shows his sensitive and less-confident side. He truly is a well-written and fun character and easily one of my favorites in the whole game. I take him on most missions because I love his banter and quips with all the characters.
Krem Krem – Transgender
 Krem is the first example of a transgender character in a major mainstream video game that I can think of who is not treated as a joke or a silly thing. While only a side character and not a true companion that you can spend a lot of time with, he is Iron Bull’s second in command, and when discussing Krem with both Iron Bull and in a scene where Iron Bull introduces his men, there is never a question that Krem is a man and always has been so. As the Inquistior, you are given the option to dig deeper, with questions such as “Did you always know?” and you can ask Iron Bull if he is okay with Krem’s “passing as a man,” and in both cases, the answer is the same: Krem is a man, and there was never any question about it, until you ask Krem about his family who always tried to marry him off to a man, but this is why he’s now a member of a mercenary group. Once serving in the military where women were not welcome, Krem hid his sex, but when a new army doctor came around, no more bribes worked, and he was kicked out. Iron Bull took him in and it was true bros from there. Whatever questions or conversations you have with Krem or about Krem, it is all handled tastefully, and the questions asked were clearly written to help those who maybe haven’t met a transgendered person in real life to understand their situation and open their mind to the concept. I think Krem is wonderful, and I wish there were options to see more of him.
Josephine Josephine Montilyet – Bi
 Josephine was my first character’s romantic choice, and I didn’t regret it. She is a bisexual option, so is therefore interested in both male and female Inquisitors. Like Iron Bull, she seems to have no preference to gender or even really pay it much mind, and really she just wants to know more about you and build a sense of trust. Her family does have a rich and interesting story line, and sorting through this is a major part of building her trust. She is sensitive above advances and wants to know that your interest and love is real and not just a ploy. It really is a very sweet moment when she gets embarrassed about the Inquisitor actually being interested in her. It turns out, however, that her family has already arranged a marriage with a man, as is the standard for noble families, and this leads to a rather epic dual between you, the Inquisitor, and this suitor to win the heart of Josephine. She is, of course, concerned for your safety, and it is just a really fun, cute, and touching scene when you win – you can choose to spare the man’s life if you want. Overall, I thought that, despite not being a main companion, she was a well rounded character with a lot going for her. In particular, I think I enjoy Josephine’s dance with the Inquisitor during the Empress’s ball the most, and the flirting and eventual romance seemed very genuine and relateable.
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Not What I Expected: Fallout 4 Review

Warning: There will be spoilers.

Bethesda made us wait 5 years for Fallout 4, and the day that they announced it, I couldn’t have been more pumped. Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas were some of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had, and I have replayed those games numerous times as well as earned my Platinum trophy in both games. Never once did I find the story dragging, and even on future playthroughs, I still found myself enjoying the same missions over and over again.

I picked up Fallout 4 at midnight launch, and if I didn’t have work the next day, I would have stayed up all night to play, but I was responsible (for once) and let it run the install while I slept, then powered through my work day ready to go home and load right in to post-apocalyptic Boston. Work could not have felt slower that day.

I knew what to expect with the opening mission as I had seen footage from E3 and followed the release religiously, but it was still great to get to play it through myself. I started off with a female character, focused on sniping, stealth, and breaking into things, as I usually do on my first playthroughs of any RPG.

I thought the opening cut scenes recapping the war were great, and the opening sequence of running to the Vault literally as the bombs were dropping had me hooked right from the start, even though I knew it was coming.

I  was genuinely surprised as I watched my husband get killed and my baby taken, and when my character woke up, it was sufficiently disorienting enough to not understand how much time had really passed since both the bombs and the taking of my son. You are brought right back to your now destroyed home town where your Mr. Handy bot is waiting to tell you the bad news – it’s been 200 years.

At this point, I am still pretty hooked, and I am excited for the prospects of evolving missions, learning the stories of Boston, and experiencing the settlement building. In fact, the moment I had a chance to start working on Sanctuary Hills, I spent a good few hours just scrapping objects and messing around, before I even moved ahead with any other missions. I never even knew there was supposed to be a tutorial for it after you started some Minutemen missions.

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2016 Resolutions

I am not usually the person to get behind New Year’s resolutions, as I find that most of the time, people set themselves up for failure. The amount of New Year’s resolutions that actually get completed from general observation is very low, and personally, I’ve never really set a resolution that I’ve successfully completed. I want 2016 to be different.

Why is this year THE year? No reason, really. 2015 was also not a bad year for life in general, but it was a bad year for some other life goals I had set for myself, and so 2016 will be the year to change that.

I am writing this post to be accountable to myself and to the world. I may not have a lot of people read this, but to have it out there is encouragement and motivation for me to work towards this. Luckily, I have the support system of my family, and my fiancee in particular who is following the same plan with her own goals.

So here we go, my 2016 New Year’s resolutions are:

  • Focus on losing weight and getting healthy
    • Lose 2 pounds per week until I reach my goal weight
    • Exercise at least 3 times per week (30 mins minimum)
  • Read more – at least one book per month
  • Write more – at least 500 words per weekday (blog, creative, or personal)

Now the next step – how will I complete these goals? Well, my fiancee and I are gamers through and through. We are also completionists who love to aim for the Platinum Trophies in our Playstation games, so why not apply to our resolutions? We did exactly that. We made a Google document with a personal trophy list for each of our goals.

Each Trophy has a point value, and we are both tracking percentages and progress as we go. The Trophies aren’t just for reaching the final goal though. We’ve broken them down into smaller pieces.

For example, my resolution to read 1 book per month – for my first book, I get 5 points. For my 2nd book, there is no reward, but for my 3rd book, I get 10 points. This continues in increments of 3 until 12 books, but we didn’t stop there.

We wanted each set of trophies to have one “go beyond” goal. In the book example, if I read 15 books by the end of the year, I can score additional points. This is so that we can not only achieve our main goals, but always strive to go just that much further.

However, earning points alone is not enough to motivate most people. Unlike Playstation trophies, there isn’t a level or profile to display them on, so we added a set of rewards based on our cumulative points. We decided to make the points cumulative because we felt it would help us encourage each other more to work harder towards our goals.

At 100 points, we both will get $25 on the Playstation Network to buy whatever we want. At 500 points, we will go out for dinner (our diet consists exclusively of eating at home unless we are being taken out by family members or work). At 1,000 points, we can buy Toronto Maples Leafs tickets. And finally, at 2,200 points, a value we can only obtain if we complete pretty much all of our goals, including the “go beyond” ones, we get to go on a vacation.

So far (mainly due to an unexpected early goal completion of my finacee getting a promotion the day she returned to work – so proud of her for that!) we have earned 75 points, so we are well on our way to the first reward, and we couldn’t feel more motivated to make 2016 our best year yet!

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Last Week: Reflections on obtaining an MLIS

So, the time has finally come. I am in my last week ever of school (hopefully). I spent 5 years in undergraduate studies and now two years in graduate school, and it has been a challenging but rewarding ride.

I will be finishing my final class on Thursday night and leaving the room knowing that I am walking away with a master’s degree in library and information science. It seems like it could have been just yesterday that I started my program at Western, unsure of what to expect, especially coming from the US to Canada where grading is different and stepping up to graduate school for undergraduate where expectations are higher, and mostly unsure of what I even wanted to do.

It has been a mix of great and frustrating things, but I consider myself lucky that overall it has been a very positive experience. I had many wonderful and knowledgeable professors. I had fantastic and dedicated groups for all my team projects. I had the opportunity to work 8-months on a co-op that was one of the best things I could have done for my career. I met amazing people and learned so much.

I am leaving Western a more experienced and rounded person who is ready to take on the world and whatever it can throw at me.

I am also one of the lucky ones who managed to secure a job prior to graduating, and that has taken much of the post-graduation fear and apprehension away, but I know I wouldn’t have this job, or anything close to it, if I didn’t come back to school.

A lot of people who might be considering graduate school, or library school in particular, might be asking – is it worth it? And I would say absolutely yes. Sure, you might go into more debt, but I went from working as a kennel assistant at a dog day care for minimum wage where I had little control of my hours, had to work physically hard daily, and be exhausted every day, to finding a 9-to-5 office job that I can truly enjoy and grow in. My old job might work for some people, and in fact, for a true dog person, it might be a dream job (it honestly was quite a fun job and someone has to do it after all), but it wasn’t working for me, and allowing myself the extra education and experiences that graduate school provided gave me an edge I didn’t previously have to fight for a job I really wanted, not just a way to make money.

As for library school? Yes, it’s true. There are more librarians graduating than there are library jobs, but those aren’t the only jobs. My job title won’t be librarian, it will be community manager, and that’s okay. There are so many more things we, as librarians, can apply our skills to.

If you really want to work in a library, academic or public, then the competition will be high, but a library school degree will serve to teach you the things you need to know – but don’t stop there, go for the electives that can really give you more. Go for the tech courses. Get interested in maker spaces. Get a part-time job at an archive, or university library, or as a research assistant. Do things that can give you that extra bit of experience.

Keep in mind where libraries are going in this digital information age and don’t let that scare you, embrace it! Libraries aren’t quiet spaces to be shushed in anymore, and they aren’t just filled with books. They are community hubs, they are computer labs, they are places to learn and meet new people, and if you are going into library school to find a library job, you should be ready to deal with that.

At the end of this all, I can proudly say that I am a librarian and an information professional, but I am comfortable with that not being my actual title. If you are interested in helping people, finding information, management, technology, open access, research, archives and museums, or even the age-old librarian love for books, then an MLIS may just be right for you, and it is something I will never regret spending my time on.

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Learning is not just for school: continuous education and why it’s important

I am the type of person who genuinely likes to learn, but not just the type of learning that happens in school or at university.

Yes, I got a bachelor’s degree and am on my way to receiving my master’s in August, and I have enjoyed these experiences and the knowledge I’ve gained immensely, but it’s what I’ve taken the time to do in my own time that I find has even more meaning.

Why? Because there are no obligations – I am not being required by law to attend school nor am I paying for it, so there is no real reason to be doing it except that I want to.

In fact, some of this self-taught (with some assistance from the internet) knowledge is things that I didn’t enjoy in school (programming) or things that in the classroom setting I just didn’t seem to get. Maybe it was the professor, maybe it was me – at this point, it’s impossible to tell.

But what I can tell you is that learning scripting and programming on Code School or Codecademy was fun, engaging, and not even a little bit frustrating, like it felt for me in school. I could try and try again, and I had full access to a forum of helpful people and examples, and it wasn’t cheating, because there were no grades – it was just me and learning.

When I was on co-op, I took every opportunity that corporate job allowed me to take. Free webinars on a variety of subjects, such as intranets, slidedocs, and information architecture, access to a current version of Sharepoint to play around in, and a host of peer and supervisor knowledge from my colleagues’ experiences.

If a class provides access to a tool I wouldn’t normally have access to, such as CapitalIQ or Balsamiq, I take that and run with it for as long as I can and use it as much as I can in my free time to learn it and get as much experience using it as possible.

Through these experiences, I’ve learned to more quickly adapt to new software. I’ve learned hard technical skills that I would’t otherwise have. I’ve improved my awareness of the world and opened my mind to even more possibilities. This isn’t just important for jobs or careers, it’s been an overall improvement on my quality of life by giving me something to engage with and keep my brain working and thinking. It keeps me on my creative toes and get inspires me to do more – and not just spend another day watching that TV series.

There are tons of free courses and knowledge available on the internet in just about any subject you can imagine. The University of Reddit has courses in a variety of university subjects, and Coursera hosts classes for a wide range of universities across the US.

So why stop your learning today? Take that thing you might be interested in and go find a course on it. What you end up liking may surprise you. You might meet someone new or find a new hobby, or just be that much better at trivia the next time you play, but whatever reason you choose, never stop seeking more knowledge – especially when it’s free.

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Carbs are a vehicle: an off-topic post about a change in perspective

I am going to get a little personal here, because I made a life-changing decision that I feel I need to share because of how it has affected my life in a short period of time.

For the last two years, my and my fiancee’s eating got a little out of control. One day I stepped on the scale and realized I was almost 200 pounds. My heaviest before that was around 170. I am a 5′ 6″ 25 year old woman, and I was having a hard time fitting in a lot of my clothes. I know to a lot people on a weight loss journey, this isn’t even that much, but for me, it was a wake up call.

I was never really one to care much about weight and appearance, and I still don’t, but I was tired all the time. I was lethargic. I got winded walking short distances. I got home and just wanted to sit around and do nothing. It was about how I felt, and I didn’t like feeling that way.

Now, I have never had an eating problem to the extent that many others struggle with, so I am well aware that my journey is easier than most, and I know I am lucky in that regard. I can easily distract myself away from food, sometimes even not eating at all if I get caught up in a game or something equally engaging, and I rarely think about food, but I eat a lot of it if it’s put in front of me, and I would never turn it down if offered.

To those who are fighting over-eating disorders, more power to you – keep it up!

But my problem was that it was just so easy to become complacent. Eating take out all the time because I was busy with school or just didn’t feel like taking the time to cook. It was convenient, and I had the income to afford it, so why the heck not? And I hardly did any physical activity aside from walking to and from the bus stop, especially when my brief period of morning runs fell short after a knee injury, so the calories started to add up.

We tried a variety of meal plans. Strict calorie counting diets mostly and attempted exercise, but we were always still pining for that bad food. We still wanted to go out and get that greasy slice of pizza, and it was hard to resist when we could order in an extra large, a pound of wings, and garlic bread for under $25 instead of dealing with weighing out and calorie counting an elaborate dinner.

Nothing seemed to be working. We would lose weight and gain it right back. It became a cycle of diet, no diet, and a feeling of constant failure which was disheartening to say the least.

That was when we discovered keto two months ago. Short for ketogenic, the concept is to basically reduce carbohydrate intake to around 15% or less of your total daily intake. The focus is high fat, average protein. Instead of burning carbs for energy, your body burns fat, and because it burns fat slower, you stay full and alert for longer after eating.

This has been an absolute revelation for us. Now, I am not going to say that this will work for everyone, but I am going to talk a little about what this has done for us.

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Gamers watching gamers: a culture of “Let’s Play” and eSports

I remember a time in the not so distant past of the early to mid-90s where I lived for Saturday morning cartoons. I could rely on Nick, Discovery Kids, and Cartoon Network providing me with hours of entertainment throughout the day – from Rocko’s Modern Life to Scooby Doo. Our childhood heroes were the characters from these shows, and our time on the playground often reflected role-play of our favourites (I’m looking at you Sailor Moon and Power Rangers). I also remember coming home and relaxing in front of my Playstation or Nintendo64; in fact, I even sometimes woke up an hour or two before I had to get ready for school just so I could sneak in some game time. We brought our Gameboy Colors to class with us until they were banned, and we were only just beginning to understand the internet.

Today, there’s YouTube and Twitch. And with these services comes a new thing to watch, particularly for those of us who enjoy games: “Let’s Play” videos. These range from first-person-shooters and horror games to Minecraft and silly indie games, like Goat Simulator, to MMOs and MOBAs. I, personally, bought right into this.

RobbazI started watching YouTubers Robbaz and PewDiePie, not realizing at the time how big it would truly become. I now go to YouTube to get gaming tips – watching someone play Call of Duty or Hearthstone to improve my skills, or having someone show me exactly where I need to go in Ratchet and Clank to get that final platinum bolt – and just for fun, to watch someone get scared while playing Amnesia or get a good laugh as the “Elders React” group tries to play Grand Theft Auto V and teens try to play games from the 90s. One of my professors even said that his son no longer watches TV; his free time is instead spent watching people play Minecraft on YouTube.

Children’s heroes are no longer characters, they are gamers. People in the real life who play video games, and it is influencing kids in untold ways. Did Bill Nye and Discovery Kids breed a generation of scientists and engineers? Maybe – I have no stats to prove it, but I do have a fact that proves games are making a difference. A group of children were surveyed about their dream jobs for a re-design of the board game Life…and lo and behold, one of the top contenders was video game developer. Clearly, the Saturday morning cartoons and TV shows are well in the days of old.

maxresdefaultAnd aside form the watchers, this isn’t just something the video creators do for fun – it’s their job, it puts money in their pockets. PewDiePie makes millions a year to chronicle himself playing games, and StampyCat, one of the more well known Minecraft players, makes his living on his videos too. Of course, these aren’t the only videos on YouTube or Twitch, but as a gamer, it fascinates me how we can find joy in watching others game. It is no longer something you do on your own, it’s a community with names and faces. It’s more than just talking over microphones, it’s truly interacting with each other in a creative and collaborative space.

This is a great move for the gaming community, particularly in a time when people are arguing that gaming and gamers are a dying breed, but I beg to differ – I think we are stronger than ever.

So now where do we go from here? We have the community, we have the viewership. We have gamers who have built up armies of fans who idolize them like rock stars. Now, we get serious. The world of eSports. Continue reading

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Out of the Closet: Bioware’s Success with LGBT Characters

It’s no secret that I’m a huge Bioware fan. From the moment I started up Dragon Age: Origins in 2011, I was hooked. I created a female dwarf rogue and set off into the world of Ferelden ready to take on the Blight. I played through the game at least six times, and I tried every combination of decision and every romance option. This included all the DLC and eventually a platinum trophy on Playstation. I played Dragon Age 2 on PC with just as many playthroughs, and I recently bought it for PS3 and will eventually add that Platinum to my collection as well.

Months later, when I discovered the same company had a science-fiction game called Mass Effect, I was again hooked. I did come a little late to that party, but science-fiction is my thing, and if I was addicted to Dragon Age, then this was a whole new level – super addiction?

I played Mass Effect 2 first, but after my first playthrough, a female Infiltrator, I just had to backtrack and get the full story. So I went through Mass Effect 1 three or four times and returned to ME2 ready for action with my first game choices behind me. This was on PC, and I got through the game probably two or three times, tracking my choices in a spreadsheet to prepare for the third game I knew was on the horizon, but this was before Mass Effect 2 was released for Playstation – the day I heard it was being released for my console, I bought a second copy and got a Platinum for that too with an additional eight characters under my belt.

But in all these playthroughs, there was the one thing that brought me to Dragon Age and Bioware to begin with: the chance to have an LGB relationship, and this was in a series of games that were well-received and critically acclaimed well before the LGBT rights movement was at the stage it is today, and it continues even stronger in the newest game, Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Anyway, you get the point – I love these games, and I’ve played them a million times.

So, I’m going to break down some of the LGBT characters in Dragon Age and Mass Effect and talk about what makes these characters (and by extension Bioware’s writers) so fantastic. Continue reading

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Existing outside the binary: queer theory and nerd culture

When discussing Foucalt’s idea of queer theory, the particular concept of unfixed identities and the power of labels resonated with me. Not only as an LGBT-identifying individual, but as a gamer and a cosplayer (particularly a cosplayer who often “cross”-plays – more on that in a moment).

From here, I think we, as humans, need to have an understanding that while we can’t always control what options or labels are presented to us, we can control how we use the labels. Take, for instance, the option to select only male or female on many applications. Of course, with the growing trend of acceptance for trans* individuals, often other or a number of additional options are being added now, but there are still many places where this is not the case.

Washrooms in North America, for example, have clearly labeled “Women’s” and “Men’s” spaces; even the addition of a single-stall “Family” washroom doesn’t really excuse the gender binary as the image depicted on these rooms are a (presumed) married man and woman and their child. So how can we push back against these labels? Fairly simply – if you identify as the opposite portrayed on the door, just use that washroom. In most places, it is not illegal to do so, and it is unlikely anyone would have the guts to report someone anyway. In both washrooms, there is the option to use a stall, so you can still do whatever you must do in privacy without affecting others.

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