Save Me Cortana: Gaming, Coming Out, and other Black Nerd Problems

Cortana from Halo
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To kick off Pride Month right, we’d like to share a longer read on a cross-over between coming out as a gaming nerd and a lesbian. It is part autobiography, part short story (credit to biomythography and Audre Lorde here), but pure Black Nerd Problems. This is a long one, but something we think will move you. Have some Halo history, and have lots of Pride.

Happy Pride Month to all!

Girl Stuff

The first time I played Halo I was 11 years old at my best friend Danielle’s house. I remember it so vividly. It was one of the first times I recognized that there was a true difference between “Boy Stuff” and “Girl Stuff.” I mean sure, my mom always asked for the girl toy at McDonald’s and never thought to ask me if I wanted a Hot Wheels car, but even then it never dawned on me because well, she never asked. It never really mattered to me until that moment.

Danielle’s dad was a retired Army Captain, so they had it pretty well off. They lived in one of those gated Army Reserve Suburb communities. Giant brick homes with huge backyards. The inside of their home was just as you’d imagine a Black suburban family home. White walls, black leather couches, and random scattered African artwork including Leroy Cambell and Synthia Saint James paintings. (You know the paintings of black people with no faces. The ones everybody has.) Even though they were scattered with seemingly no purpose, they were there to remind you that you were indeed in a Black family home.

Halo
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Fighting Tools, 2016 (Leroy Campbell)

You know the paintings of black people with no faces. The ones everybody has.

Danielle and I had plans: nails to paint, shit to talk about the girls in gymnastics, and what we thought about the boys in gymnastics. I was about these plans but as we were walking up the stairs I heard gunshots that sounded like lasers. My head immediately whipped around to the direction of Ryan’s room — Danielle’s older brother. “Ryan got a new game system. He’s been in there for days.” My attention was completely snatched. “Can we go check it out?” I asked.

We sat and watched Ryan play Halo for the rest of the day. It was literally the coolest thing I had seen in my life. That’s kinda sad, but it’s true. This was the first M for Mature game I was exposed to. The live gun violence and killing aliens had me shook and hooked. I had never seen a video game world that I wanted to exist in before. I grew up playing Mortal Kombat, Mario, and Smash Bros, but nothing had ever taken my attention like this. “So the Halo Ring Planet was created to move about the solar system attracting these aliens called The Flood. Once they infest the Ring, it self destructs.” I didn’t understand a word Paul said but I was down.

“Wanna play?” Ryan asked.

Halo
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The chunky ass Xbox controller was not the easiest thing to understand. “Wait, I have to look with the left stick and move with the right? That doesn’t make sense.” I couldn’t move and look anywhere the first 10 times I tried to play. I kept getting killed and couldn’t even see from what direction.
“Glynn look up.”
“I can’t. It’s just not the way my thumb wants to move.”
Ryan grabbed my controller and went into the settings. “I’m setting you on inverted.”
He set the controller so that when I moved the stick up, I was looking down, and vice versa. This changed everything. I was more coordinated with the movements and I was living for it. Weirdly, so was Ryan. It felt like the first time he saw me as his equal. Ryan had always been that older brother that played pranks on us, and always made it known that he was older; it was nice to find this common ground. Danielle left the room. She was over it.

Ryan and I played until their mom came in the room and told us to go to sleep. I got up and went into Danielle’s room. She was crying on her bed.
“Danielle, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”
“Do you like my brother? Why didn’t you come back to the room when I left?”
“I just really liked the game.”
“Whatever.” She sighed and turned away from me.
“Danielle, I just wanted to play the game. Why are you mad at me?”
“You were supposed to come over and we were suppose to do stuff together. Girl stuff!”

I’d fucked up.

Age 11

Danielle’s 11th Birthday party was a few weeks later. I didn’t really know any of her other friends. I just knew that their parents were also retired Army veterans and they all went to the same church and schools. I was a low key outsider. Not only that, Danielle was my best friend and something about having to fight for her attention at this party was not sitting well with me. It made me understand how I’d made her feel the other night by hanging out with Ryan. But no 11-year-old is aware of their actions nor analyzing their feelings like that. The emotions just bottle up like crazy and then BAM, you act out.

There were 5 other girls at Danielle’s house. We had just finished having cake and watching a movie in the living room downstairs — some white girl rom-com. Side note: Can we talk about how there are soo many white teen rom-coms and no Black teen ones? Like, yes, we had Raven, but that was it, and look where that got her…and us…a lack of Black teen rom-coms.

Save Me Cortana
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Like, yes, we had Raven, but that was it, and look where that got her…and us…a lack of Black teen rom-coms.

Anyways, things got a little crazy later that night. The lights were off but of course, no one was ready to go to sleep and Karen, Danielle’s friend, made sure of that. Karen was a few years older than us. She was in 7th grade so we all wanted to impress her. “You all know what sex is right?” At 11 it’s tricky. You’ve heard the word. Your parents might have had a really rushed talk over what it is but were too nervous to really explain. Your older cousin uses the word “sexy” meaning “really cute” but there’s something about this word “sex” that has this higher meaning that you have no understanding of but know its a really big deal.

“It’s when a guy sticks his penis in your vagina and it’s supposed to be the most amazing feeling you’ve ever felt.” Whooooaaaaa. Some of the girls tried to pretend they knew. My sweet sweet Danielle; completely traumatized. I knew what sex was from staying up really late at night after my parents had gone to sleep and watching late night pornos on HBO, but what I missed was that tiny detail. The HBO pornos never showed actual penetration. This was new ground.

“Wait, what?” I asked.
“Yeah girl, that’s what makes it feel so good. What did you think they were just rubbing privates together? How do you think babies are made?” More new ground.
“Can we talk about anything else?” Danielle asked. “I don’t want my parents to hear us.”
“They can’t hear us Danielle relax,” Karen assured her. “Wait, have you guys ever seen sex?” A couple of girls actually said no.
“I’ve seen it on TV,” I said.
“Okay we should demonstrate for them,” Karen said.

Halo
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I freaked out so hard in that moment. How the hell were we going to demonstrate sex? Neither one of us had a dick! What exactly were we going to do? Also, we’re girls! What in the actual fuck was going on!? I had been laying on my sleeping bag the entire time and the next thing I knew, Karen had straddled her self on top of me and started making thrusting movements. “This is what you do. You’re supposed to just like ride it.” I tried to keep it cool and let it happen. But secretly I was so down. Before I knew it my hands were around Karen’s waist. I low key didn’t want her to stop. “Wait are you liking this?” she asked looking down at me. The other girls started laughing. “Wait are you gay?” the funny thing is looking back at this now I would have replied “Bitch, are you gay? You just straddled me and started this whole thing?” but I sat there and shook my head.

“Oh my God, you’re gay as shit.” Karen got off of me as if she’d found out I had the plague. Danielle got up and walked to the kitchen face buried in hands. “I bet you wanted to keep going!” one of the girls said. They all started laughing. I was over it. I jumped up and ran down the hall and up the stairs into Danielle’s room. I did like it and I did want to keep going, why was that so bad? But why does that make me gay? I had never been with a boy or girl. My thoughts were interrupted by a female voice down the hall “Sleep well? Did you miss me?” followed by gunshots and sirens. It was coming from Ryan’s room. I knocked and asked to come in.

Ryan and I played multiplayer campaign all night. This time I actually got to see the game and understand the story. I had never been this invested in a video game before. The coolest aspect and my favorite character of the game was Cortana — the female hologram/artificial intelligence who guides the Master Chief through his missions. That was fucking lit. You have all these men running around in this game screaming and crying that work for the space army scared as shit on this damn ring. Even Captain Keyes who’s ass get captured by The Flood and the one person that has the ability to locate him, figure out how to deactivate the Halo ring so the covenant doesn’t figure out how to use it is Cortana. A woman, the only woman in the game. Not only that, she was made to be this glorified guidance technology that pretty much ran shit. She is the soul of Halo. Without her, Master Chief wouldn’t know what to do. He’d just be wack ass John Smith.

Halo
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Ryan and I fell asleep on his floor. I woke up to their mom telling me my mom was there. I suddenly remembered what had happened. I was humiliated. Why? Discovering sexual energy. Tale as old as time. I got up and went downstairs. Karen was eating eggs at the table with Danielle. The other girls had left. I got my things. I went over to Danielle. “Are you mad at me?” I asked. She said no but didn’t say anything else. “Okay bye.”

That was weird.

Age 15

The ending to Halo 3 is savage as fuck. The ring is self-destructing and you have to get you, Cortana, and the Arbiter off of it and on to an escape ship. Even more brutal, you’re driving a warthog over falling and exploding panels for what seems like forever. It literally looks like space hell. Architecture is blowing up and collapsing over on top of you. Covenant and the Flood are coming at you from all angles. Then on top of everything Cortana has you on a countdown. This took me like 10 times to get through. As you seamlessly glide away into the abyss while watching the ring explode, Cortana comments on how much had been lost and the damage that was done. Master Chief looks at her and says, “We’ll be alright.” Calm as hell. As if he didn’t just almost die. The game ends with Master Chief hopping into a cryo-chamber and passing out for a few thousand years as Cortana patiently waits for him to wake.

High school and the end of Halo 3 are the exact same thing. A bunch of insane hormone driven, teenage creatures, in Ugg boots, blowing up, destroying each other and trying to kill you. Not only that, you battle with issues that you don’t even know are actual things yet, issues like depression, microaggressions, and of course labels. All you’re trying to do is get to the end so you can get the fuck out of there.

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I spent most of high school trying to pretend that I didn’t have feelings for girls. Like I tucked that shit down into my soul to the point where I believed I was straight and then wasted time trying to figure out why shit wasn’t working out with guys.

In high school, my best friend was Jasmine Wright. She was a God-fearing cheerleader who’s older brother Austin was on the football team. She lived like a mile away from me, across the street from our middle school. She was the definition of a Black girl with a bit of privilege. I don’t remember exactly what her parents did but they were loaded. Not only that, but Jasmine’s father was one of the football coaches and a Deacon at the church down the street. Everyone knew the family and respected them. Jasmine and I bonded off of Kat Williams, polo shirts, greasing down our baby hairs into perfect swoops across our foreheads, and how we were going to lose our virginity. Dumb shit.

Jasmine and I bonded off of Kat Williams, polo shirts, greasing down our baby hairs into perfect swoops across our foreheads…

Jasmine and I were unnecessarily close. We talked on the phone like every night. We told each other every single thing we were thinking, and even made a pact that we would lose our virginity same day, same place, same time. Like, who does that? I just remember a part of me wanting the closeness of her being there to feel safe. We did a lot of shit together. One night we went to a teen club with her brother and his friend. However, we once we got in the club, we bailed, and went to hang out with these rando-guys that we had met on Ocean Drove. No fucks. Fifteen.

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That night I lost my virginity in the back of a Dodge Charger in front of Jasmine because the pressure was too much. Jasmine had broken our psycho virginity pact and told me that night. I felt super behind and needed to play catch up. I was really pissed at her.
“Were you just like not going to say anything?”
“Glynn calm down it’s not that big of a deal? Why are you tripping? Did you think we were going to have some huge orgy or something?”

I didn’t know what I thought honestly. I just thought that it would be the thing that solidified my closeness to her as a human being — aka satisfy my repressed feelings for wanting to explore the same sex. I could also tell that Jasmine was beginning to think that I was a weirdo.

Age 16

So my birthday was a couple weeks after and Jasmine did nothing. It was as if she forgot. I didn’t even get a text. Nothing made sense that day, to be honest. Last period, I was in theater class. I was furious and I knew that as soon as that bell rang I had to go confront her at her locker. My theater friends tried to comfort me and tell me it would be fine once rehearsal started later that day. Five minutes later, my ass was down the hall in a rampage. I jogged all the way down to Jasmine’s locker knowing she would be coming down the stairs any second to get her bag. Jasmine’s locker was at a 3-way classroom intersection in the sophomore hallway so mad students started coming out of classrooms from every direction. Then the stairway door opened and Jasmine came out with 2 other girls. She looked at me like this -_-.

“So did you forget or something? Like what the fuck. I even texted you and you didn’t respond?”
“Glynn! I’m not your fucking girlfriend!” She yelled. Mad people froze in the hallway and started screaming.
“Yoooooooooo!!!!!!! Glynn’s gay!”

In that moment, the panels were breaking underneath my Warthog. Cortana and I had fallen to our fiery-yet-cold-space-hell death. Jasmine’s friend stood next to her like a bodyguard and kept looking at me like she wanted to throw hands. I stepped forward but then I felt a hand pull me back. My friend Morgan from theater was standing behind me: “Glynn, it’s okay. Come back to class.” She pulled me down the hall. I was traumatized and crying. “Glynn, it’s going to be okay.

This fucked me up. The part of me that I had kept tucked away had been dragged to the surface. It felt like someone had peeled my skin. The funny thing is, I was never in love with Jasmine or anything like that. In some way, our friendship had taken the place of a romantic relationship and it reflected. I was conflicted, embarrassed, and mentally exhausted. The last thing I wanted was to make Jasmine uncomfortable but never expected this shit to happen. Where was my cryo chamber that I could just pass out in for four years?

Where was my cryo chamber that I could just pass out in for four years?

Thinking back to the end of Halo 2 and during Halo 3, I think of the Arbiter. The Arbiter is a disgraced commander of the Covenant elite who serves until death as punishment for his failures. As the game goes on, the Arbiter learns the truth behind the Halo Rings and why The Prophets — the Covenant alien leaders — want full control over them. They aim to wipe out all sentient life in the galaxy for an unexplained “higher power”. Once he realizes the facts, the Arbiter betrays the Covenant to stand with humanity in the fight for existence. In other words, the Arbiter is a fucking G. He betrays his entire race in an instant to save life! And shit, who wouldn’t? If your entire race was set to annihilate the planet, you bet your ass you’d be quick to team up with the opposing side!

When viewpoints are this extreme it’s easier to see what is right and wrong. It’s easier to see what you stand for because the lines become clear as fuck. When “Glynn’s gay!” was shouted across the hall, a part of me died. I saw a clear line between the person who I was pretending to be and the person I was — someone attracted to the same sex. It was time to start letting go of everything that I was pretending to be.

College

Halo: Reach came out that September. It is by far my favorite Halo game because it was the prequel to the entire series. You find out so much shit before the Pillar of Autumn take-down. I started at Stevenson University pretty much at the same time the game was released. Probably the best thing about that school was that there was a GameStop right down the hill. The GameStop sold out within a week. It was pure madness. There were tournaments everywhere, in dorms, in the main hall on the weekends. This was so exciting for me because I never really had a mass amount of people to play against in person. I mean, of course, the group consisted of a bunch of frat douche bags, but at least I was doing something I loved. Doing something that felt right. Doing something to distract me from my toxic, secret relationship at the time.

After the Jasmine shenanigans, I had found solace with my theater friends. I discovered my love for musical theater and acting — as a sexually confused teen girl does. Spring Awakening showed me that self-discovery was definitely a work in progress. Rent showed me that there was nothing wrong with being gay. Morgan had convinced me to audition for Little Shop of Horrors at the teen theater company down the street from our school. Surprisingly I got the role of Ronnette, double-cast with Nadia Thompson.

I fell in love with Nadia hard. The way she carried herself with so much confidence and attitude struck a nerve inside of me that I couldn’t shake. She was a powerhouse performer: incredible singer, dancer, and actress. I had no idea how I got double-cast next to her. She should have been the only Ronnette to be honest. Eventually, Nadia became my best friend even though she hated my guts at first. She thought I was super annoying because I always wanted to be around her. I was obsessed, but this time it wasn’t subconsciously. I would call her after school, and if she didn’t pick up, I drove over to her house and knocked on her door until she answered. She’d be mad at first but then she was always down to go get fro-yo and listen to The Color Purple soundtrack in my Jeep. Those were some of my favorite days.

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It was all up, down, sideways, and diagonal from there.

Time passed and we eventually got really drunk at a friend’s house and hooked up. It was all up, down, sideways, and diagonal from there. When we woke up the next day she freaked out, swore that she was going to go to hell, and that she never wanted to see me again. But as you can guess, that was not the last time Nadia and I saw each other. We had rehearsal that day and all the same friends. We tried to move on as if nothing had happened, but our attraction grew stronger. We started hooking up in secret at friends’ houses, at my house after rehearsal, and eventually, I told her how I felt. I told her that I was in love with her and had been since Little Shop. Then I told her that I would ask her to be my girlfriend every day until she said yes. When she did I was ecstatic but completely unprepared for the next 2 years ahead.

Growing Pains

We didn’t tell anyone. Not even our two best friends Ron, who was out, and Mason, who had begun to come out around graduation. We were two beta fish trapped in a fishbowl leading double lives, still pretending that we were into guys. Nothing made sense anymore, especially when Nadia started treating me like absolute shit. She would get distant at parties, make fun of me to all of our friends constantly while I did my best to play it off and play along. After all, I got that she was just doing her best to make it seem like nothing was up, however, it started to feel way too real. At Stevenson, most of my free time went to calling her and texting her and when I didn’t she assumed I was cheating or doing something crazy. I couldn’t even think. Most weekends her and Ron would drive up and spend the night. I was in love but I knew I was missing out on growing.

Besides that struggle, I was also dealing with environmental struggles, for example, my roommate Ashley. Ashley had no home training or respect for other people’s space. She would constantly turn the heat up for no reason. Her track glue was on every surface. She would bring a boy in at any time of the night when we had 9am classes the next day. I’m not going to lie — when Nadia would come over on the weekend, we definitely did our thing but we were discreet about it and respectful, never did anything in front of her. I mean it was definitely this unspoken thing that I’m sure Ashley knew, like why were these two girls sleeping heads next to each other in a twin size bed, but she never said anything until one night.

I had just gotten back from playing Halo down the hall and had to work early in the morning at Panera Bread. Two hours into my sleep I wake up to Ashley and some guy coming in and fucking loud as hell next to me. I had had it. I got up, looked at them butt-ass naked in front of me.
“Ashley, what the actual fuck? I have work in a few hours can you not?”
“Oh, whatever Glynn, this is my room just as much as it is yours,” she said as if she wasn’t doing anything wrong.
I was over it. I had to pull out the sniper: “Ashley, you do this like every other night with a different guy, like this is so fucking disrespectful.”

Headshot.

The guy spoke up, “A different guy? Really Ashley?” The guy got up and started putting on his clothes. Ashley tried to stop him as if there was a chance that they’d be able to keep going, but the guy got his things and dipped.

“Wow Glynn, for real? That’s really fucked up. You know what, fuck you!” Ashley got up and started putting on her clothes, but then she stopped to say something to me that I will never forget in my life. “You know what Glynn? I know what the fuck you are?” she meant for that to be a bullet to my head, but it was actually ammo for me.
“What? Ashley What? What the fuck am I? GAY? A LESBIAN? Tell me something I don’t fucking know! And while you’re at it, go tell everyone else down the fucking hall!”

I had never felt so much like myself. She stood there half naked and stunned. There was nothing left to say. She grabbed her shirt and ran out of the dorm to chase that boy. I sat up in my bed completely overstimulated by what just happened. I had just came out at the top of my lungs in my dorm room. HA! Yes! I like women! Go fuck yourself, Ashley! And Karen AND Jasmine for that matter. I was done letting people out me. If anyone is going to out me it’s going to be my own damn self.

Halo
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Pillar of Autumn

The end of Halo: Reach is one of saddest and thrilling endings of any game in the series. You’re playing as the Noble 6 Spartan. Your last mission is to sacrifice yourself so that the Pillar of Autumn can launch with a preserved Master Chief. Once the ship launches your only objective is to survive. After thwarting a few packs of Covenant, more keep coming and eventually 2 Elites come and slay you with their Energy Swords. The last shot is of Noble 6’s helmet in the sand.

Halo
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Obviously, Halo all these years didn’t make me gay. However, Halo has been around all along for me and in some ways it helped me get through the pains and confusion of hiding my true self. Being into video games was already a thing that my girlfriends didn’t take seriously, but with that I could easily flip them the bird and press Start. Coming out was hard, but it was the “no fucks given” way of thinking about gaming that paved the way for me to stand up against Ashley, and not give a fuck about coming out.

That’s how you have to go about everything to protect what you like and want to do; your energy over-all. That’s you just being you. When you don’t care about what others think, you allow yourself to be you. Bottom line. No matter how ridiculous life can get, and no matter how many people try to label you, out you, and degrade you, if you can stick with the things that you like and want you will stay rooted within yourself. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not a complete walk in the park. But sometimes we have to fight off several packs of Covenant in order to launch our Pillar of Autumn.


Save Me Cortana Halo
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Guest post by HIGHGNX (Glynn D.) DJ, Producer, and OG Halo killer. You can find her online on her Instagram page: www.instagram.com/highgnx

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  • Q

    This was beautifully written and low key brought a tear to my eye. One, singular thug tear.

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