Hi, my name’s Kaitlyn. I’m a transgender woman, and I love fantasy roleplaying games. What I love most about fantasy is how freeing it is: you can create your own truths. You can do anything, and be anyone. Yet there’s a simple trend I’ve found to be true: your first character is often an idealized or exaggerated version of yourself. It’s certainly true for me. Of course, like most, I didn’t realize I was doing this when I created Belegerwen Daeris, an elven princess. In fact, at the time, I thought I was making the most unoriginal character I ever had.
I consider myself, at heart, a writer. I studied screenwriting in school, and grew up wanting to write novels (and coming pretty dang close with the amount of Digimon fanfiction I wrote). Yet from 2013, when I graduated, until 2017, when I finally found myself joining my first pen-and-paper RPG, I hadn’t written a single word. After graduation, my struggle with depression and gender dysphoria took a front seat, and somewhere in there I lost my voice. When it came time to make a character, I had no idea how.
I did know I wanted to play an elf. Elves are cool; that’s just a fact. I was (and still am) enthralled with Kelly Thompson’s Hawkeye, so I took Kate Bishop, turned her into an exiled Elven princess, plopped her into a Pathfinder character sheet, and called it a day. I even kept her name as an alias. “Belegerwen” may look like a pretty Elven name, but go ahead and try to pronounce it. My partner played a character called “Scooby” so, sure, Kate Bishop. Fortunately for my self-image as a creative type, I took the comic background and used it as a springboard to quickly diverge from the archetype I’d made for myself. Unknowingly, the more I moved Belegerwen away from Kate Bishop, the more like me she became. She became my new voice.
Belegerwen Daeris is, both in spirit and her literal class, a fighter. She’s clever, but doesn’t always make the best choices. She’s the daughter of royalty, and destined to one day become queen of her people—but she’d rather run away and become an adventurer, so she taught herself archery and fled. Her temper has gotten her into trouble before, and will again, but she has a kind heart and doesn’t hesitate to share the wealth that she takes for granted. Her old life always pursues her, however, and no amount of denial will change the truths she has run away from.
This was all getting a bit more familiar than I anticipated. Belegerwen became a window into my own psyche. Not a complete picture, but a glimpse. My time spent before transition was marked by the kind of denial that was baked into Belegerwen’s core.
In exploring the things she’s fought and struggled against, I’ve learned more about the things I was fighting. Her childhood, spent spoiled and disaffected, became a vehicle for me to explore the dysphoria-induced depression that hung over my own childhood. Her fascination with the heroes and legends of the past in a bid to escape her bleak, grey reality smacks of my dive into the fantasy worlds of Middle-earth, or the Star Wars Galaxy, or any of a dozen others. Using Belegerwen as my voice, I was finally able to let go of everything by sharing it with others. I churned out pages and pages of backstory (literally hundreds by now) and side quests that she’d go on, both to flesh her out for my fellow players but also to get used to sharing that part of myself again.
As I’ve played Belegerwen, and used her voice to shatter the world’s worst case of writer’s block, she’s developed into the kind of woman I daydreamed of becoming back before I knew that HRT and transition were even options. She’s strong, and even though she’s frequently afraid, she doesn’t back down. She shares a lot of my weaknesses, but they don’t hold her back. Her fear of letting down her friends drives her to be fiercely protective of them—recklessly so, sometimes. I wanted to be that kind of woman.
And, okay, yes, she’s literally an Elven Princess. Ultimately, though, the things that have resonated with me the most about Belegerwen have been the places where she’s failed. And boy, has she failed. Whether it’s a botched will save or just falling victim to the machinations of a devious GM, Belegerwen knows what’s it like to come up short. But she’ll always get back up, grab another arrow, and take another shot. That was the kind of person I wanted to be. Hell, I still want to be that kind of person. Who wouldn’t? In her failures and her successes, Belegerwen Daeris helped me find my voice again.
Kaitlyn Lyons is a flailing Chicago queer fueled mostly by iced coffee. She won’t shut up about comics or her Pathfinder games and is an unrepentant fangirl of all things Elf-y. She tweets about this and more at @ArrowShootyKate.