We cried for hours. After 15 years together, we broke up. And the following day, Giant ROM began.
I had just finished Commander Ryckert, a very silly game about Dan's adventures in space. It was getting positive feedback in the forums and I was elated. Then someone mentioned how a lot of people were making cool games with a Giant Bomb theme lately. Someone else said a game jam would be cool. Another implored someone, anyone, to start it up.
This was early 2015; my resolution for that year had been, and still is, to silence that voice inside me that said I couldn't do it, whatever "it" was at the time. I started up a thread and put together what would become Giant ROM.
I had never organized a game jam before. Hell, I hadn't even participated in one. But I loved making prototypes and small games, and I figured this would be a fun adventure. Interest and support poured in; people supplied logos and free art resources. Others offered up game codes for prizes. It quickly grew out of nothing, into something with potential.
That was right before PAX East, my main motivation for wrapping up Commander Ryckert. The game itself was a ludicrous concept that had grown out of a pun, and I had gone with it. Why not? I had free time and I wanted to make games. And, due to my contract as a game designer, I couldn't sell games I made on my free time, so why not make games that I couldn't sell anyway? Finishing it before PAX was key, because it would be a neat icebreaker if I met people from the Giant Bomb community or, fingers crossed, any of the staff themselves. I worked hard, made my stupid, stupid game, and everything went well. I even got to ask a question during the Giant Bomb panel: the best time to hold the game jam, i.e. the least busy time for the GB staff. April-ish was the answer, and that's what I went with. Giant ROM would take place over 9 days; two weekends and the five days between them. I returned from PAX East. Time was growing short and the date was soon approaching, but everything was coming together.
At that point, I had been with my wife for 15 years; married for the past 5. She's an amazing person; always behind me 100%, supporting me with my endeavors, inspiring me, helping me grow. And for all of those 15 years, I had been denying who I was because of a tortured mess of impostor syndrome, faulty self-analysis, doubt and fear. For years I had convinced myself these deep, powerful feelings were lies, that I wasn't really who I felt I was, deep down. And if I was, well... it couldn't work out the way I wanted, so why even try? If I couldn't have perfection, it wasn't worth having anything at all. I had myself figured out.
Note to Daytime Alex from Late-Late-Night-Post-Con Alex. You can do great things. Let me out more often; I'll help you figure yourself out.— Alex Van Chestein (@havochq) March 1, 2015
At PAX Prime, and then PAX East, I was alone, away from everybody I knew, far from all of my familiar landmarks, miles from my comfort zone. I was separated from the things that distracted me from who I really was. And then I was surrounded by incredible people who had found themselves and were living it proudly. I met passionate fans. I met inspiring creators. I met Samantha Kalman.
In hindsight, Convention Alex wasn't a quirky persona or a bad joke. It was the real me, finally being heard. Begging to come out.— Alex Van Chestein (@havochq) July 9, 2015
For weeks after returning from PAX East, I was a wreck. I didn't eat. I couldn't work. I went from therapist to therapist, looking for confirmation of who I was. Looking for a solution that could make me happy while at the same time making my wife happy. I was on the verge of finding out who I really was, but what if that person was someone that my wife would no longer be attracted to? The thought of being alone, of losing a relationship that I had invested so much time in, was the most terrifying thing to me. I was all about compromise; I always found the solution that pleased everybody. I was never willing to sacrifice one part of the whole.
Then it happened. "I know you," my wife said. "You've already made your decision. You're just too afraid to admit it." And she was right.
We cried for hours. After 15 years together, we broke up. I finally accepted the truth: I was transgender. After years and years of self-hatred and denial, I was transitioning. And the following day, Giant ROM began.
It was the most chaotic period of my entire life. My entire being was being questioned and re-evaluated. Secrets piled on top of secrets. My reality turned upside down. My longest relationship irrevocably changed. My dearest hopes and dreams finally beginning to come true. My fears raging like never before. But I had to make a game, and I had to organize a jam, so I made a game and I organized a jam. And this focus helped me make it through the storm.
Braking Brad, another silly game, came out of that emotional maelstrom. Along with 19 others, all of them exquisitely unique, made by passionate members of the community. We all came together in celebration of this rag-tag bunch of charismatic jesters who never failed to entertain us; to help us keep our spirits high during difficult times.
And then, some weeks later, John Drake, Adam Boyes and Dave Lang watched and judged every single game on Giant Bomb's Big Live Live Show Live as Drew played and Jeff hosted, to the delight of each of us. It was the wonderful culmination of our hard work and admiration. It was magical.
It feels so long ago today. But then again, 2015 has been such a wild, crazy, amazing year for me. Three months ago my life turned upside down...
And today... she's finally free. pic.twitter.com/rOho4GQv1k— Alex Van Chestein (@havochq) July 9, 2015
...And yesterday, I lived my first day out in the open as a woman. What a long, strange trip it's been. The past few months have seen the highest highs and the lowest lows of my life, but I wouldn't change any second of it. I've finally figured myself out; I found out who I really was. And every single moment that I can be myself, surrounded by the support and love of those who are dear to me, makes it all worth it.
In the meantime, PAX Prime 2015 is coming soon, and I have another silly, silly game to finish before then. It's going to be pretty rad.
I hope to see you there. :D