Rue Dickey, who lives in Corvallis, Oregon, said that as a transgender person, they felt helpless watching Texas officials begin to investigate parents of trans children.
Dickey, who uses “they” and “he” pronouns, said they were “having a bit of a crisis” at their day job in marketing when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state child protective services agency to pursue child abuse investigations into the parents of transgender children who are suspected of receiving gender-affirming medical care. (Those investigations have since been blocked by a judge.)
Dickey, 25, wanted to do something to help trans youth and their families in the state.
“The lack of things that I can do as a single person was super overwhelming,” they said. That’s when Dickey, who also designs tabletop role-playing games, remembered that Itch.io, a website that sells independent games, held fundraisers for racial justice, Palestinian relief and, more recently, people in Ukraine.
Tabletop role-playing games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, a popular game released in the 1970s, are interactive; players sit around a table and describe their characters’ actions, which affect the rest of the game. One player, usually designated the game master, describes the setting of the game and uses a set of rules to give players some structure and guidance.
Dickey, who has been playing the games for about 10 years and writing them since 2019, decided to gather other game designers and create a bundle of games to sell on Itch.io to benefit two small groups in Texas that support trans people, the Transgender Education Network of Texas and the Organización Latina de Trans en Texas.
The bundle they created includes 493 games from 300 designers, and it’s on sale until April 3. It’s valued at more than $2,700 but is available through the fundraiser for $5.
The bundle went live March 2, and Dickey said they initially set the fundraising goal at $1,000.
Just 45 minutes later, the fund met that goal. So they increased the goal to $5,000, and it was quickly surpassed again.
They went to bed, and the next morning the fund hit $11,000. Since then, they have increased the goal seven more times to $420,000. As of Friday evening, that had raised nearly $394,000.
“I’ve cried probably a dozen times at this point,” Dickey said. They said representatives from both of the organizations have been “super excited” about it.
“When I first reached out to them, I was like, ‘Hey, we’re hoping to give you at least like $5K each,’ and now every time I email them, I’m like, ‘Hey, just an update, you’re getting $170,000 each now,’” they said, laughing.
Dickey said both groups have been talking about what they’ll do with the funds, and they have been especially happy to hear what a difference it will make for Organización Latina de Trans en Texas. The trans immigrant-led group runs shelters in cities across Texas and also provides legal support for name changes and navigating the immigration process.
A representative for the organization told Dickey that the donation will be one of the largest that it has ever received, they said. “It’s going to be enough money for them to do a lot of renovations and revamps to the shelters and things like that, which I’m super excited about.”
Tabletop role-playing games have become increasingly popular among the queer community as the games have become more inclusive. Dickey said that they have two answers for why role-playing games are so popular among trans people in particular.
“My joking answer is that almost all tabletop games have werewolves, vampires, changelings or magic users, and I’ve never met a trans person who doesn’t identify with one of those,” they said.
On a more serious note, they said that “tabletop role-playing games, at their heart, are about storytelling.” Often, trans people’s stories are told by cisgender people, who identify with their assigned sexes at birth, and are “portrayed by cis actors who don’t understand us and don’t know what we live,” Dickey said.
Tabletop role-playing games give trans people “the ability to be at our own table and centering ourselves in our stories and getting to play trans characters who the whole through line of their character isn’t that they’re trans, it’s just a part of who they are, and they still have dreams and goals and ambitions, and they’re a part of an adventuring party, they make a difference in the world,” they said.
“How empowering it is to tell your own story and be a part of a narrative that centers you and your experiences, I think is a lot of what draws at least me and a lot of other trans folks that I know to tabletop games,” they said.
There are a few games in the bundle that Dickey recommends, including their own — “not to toot my own horn,” they joked — called “I Want Your Bite.” The game is based off “The Bachelor,” the dating TV show, “but instead of the bachelor just being a normal person, the bachelor is a vampire,” Dickey said. “So you’re not only competing for their hand, you’re also competing for immortal love.”
They said one of the “big ticket items” in the bundle is a game called “Thirsty Sword Lesbians,” which they described as a “rivals-to-lovers,” high-drama game. They also recommend “Wanderhome,” a fantasy game in which the characters are small animals who defend their home from various threats.
Dickey said creating the bundle, and now selling 40,000 of them, has brought them a lot of joy amid what’s happening in Texas and the dozens of other states that are considering bills targeting transgender people.
They hope that trans youth in Texas know that they’re not alone.
“It’s super important to know that there will always be somewhere that you belong and that the world is duller without you in it,” they said to trans youth. “So don’t let them try to put out the light that is so important that you bring to all the spaces that you’re in.”
Follow NBC Out on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram