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Notes on Self-Discovery

I’m the most cowboy folk I know
out of Durango boots, absent faded-
bronze Ariat hat (1). I feel myself best
as FL4K (2), the non-binary automatonic
star of the loot-&-shoot galaxy.
They command creatures of the waste
lands, a glimmer of unforgiveness
in their halo-green eye. Clad in ripped
cloth, they care as much about gender
as the mercenary whose forehead kisses
the barrel of their Jakobs-brand shotgun.
On a planet like Pandora, or Promethea,
or Eden-6 (3), I’m alive after years
of searching for the me that was
incorporeal in game developers’ code (4).
In all the shooting galleries of universes
I’d spelunked, my body remained
a question until a renegade beastmaster
endowed with an evolving AI stared me
down across the screen & said, I see you.
Recognition takes its form as molt,
a puddle of human skin at my feet
to show off the metal that has always
glittered underneath my pores (5). Ragged,
barely standing, caught in the scope
of an alien soldier’s gun, or the hexed
grip of a Siren, or the friendly fire
of a fellow Vault Hunter, I’m finally
a presence (6). We’re all cowboys
on the desert battlefield—real outlaws
to make grown men cry—our fray
laced with prayer: I was, I am, I will be.

(1) I own exactly one pair of Durangos gifted to me by a gay Southern couple. I refuse to buy a “serious” cowboy hat lest I look like the simulacrum of a man claiming a culture never meant to represent the fragile male condition.

(2)  FL4K is one of four playable Vault Hunter characters in Borderlands 3 (2019), a first-person shooter video game set in a dystopian universe characterized by gunslinging, thievery, & mayhem.

(3)  Every planet features a ragtag crew of fugitives, mercenaries, & survivors. Eden-6, specifically, is dominated by the Jakobs Corporation, a Western-style gun company headed by the gay, Abraham Lincoln–esque Wainwright, accompanied by his partner, Alistair Hammerlock.

(4)  Borderlands 3 is the first game I’ve encountered that features a major non-binary playable character. While some role-playing games post-2010 have included non-binary customization options, FL4K is a fully developed being with a history & thoughtful discussions of gender to share, all told through their voice actor, SungWon Cho.

(5)  Many non-binary individuals have turned to metaphor to describe their kaleidoscopic genders. “Xenogender,” for example, is a term for identities that can’t be described with a concept such as masculinity or femininity; rather, they’re best related through ideas & beings.

(6)  Gazing into the cracks scattered across the atmosphere, I know I was born for the hunt.

Dani Putney (they/them) is a queer, non-binary, mixed-race Filipinx, & neurodivergent poet originally from Sacramento, California. Salamat sa Intersectionality (Okay Donkey Press, 2021) is their debut poetry collection. They’re also the author of the chapbook Dela Torre (Sundress Publications, 2022). You can find them on Twitter @DaniPutney or Instagram @daniputney1.

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