The bell rings for recess, as I excitedly run outside the classroom to the usual spot.
Seconds later, my friend appears next to me and pulls out a tattered red book with missing pages throughout.
‘Today, I’m gonna draw Jigglypuff!’ he enthusiastically exclaims.
He puts down a piece of paper over the Pokédex picture of the round pink Pokemon and begins tracing the outline.
As he’s drawing and I’m watching along excitedly, we begin frantically talking about the latest TV episode of Pokémon. The episode we’d both gotten up early to watch before school.
As a relatively shy kid growing up, this way of communicating and socializing with others was an essential way for me to connect.
Now, after almost 20 years later, I’m still using Pokemon to connect with others.
Digital Pride is the only global Pride dedicated to enabling everyone to be part of a Pride, whoever they are and wherever they live in the world. This year, we are focusing on tackling loneliness and isolation. It takes place on Gay Star News from 29 April to 5 May 2019. Find out more.
Pokémon helped shape my formative years
The Pokémon franchise officially began in 1995, but the first game didn’t come out in Japan until February 1996. Over the next couple of years, the games reached North America, Europe and Australia.
As soon as I got Pokémon blue version and my identical twin brother got Pokémon red version, I was hooked.
With every new video game release (or even as simple as the release of Pokémonopoly), I was always excited to throw myself into the fictional world.
I also gained comfort (both physical and emotional) from owning Pokemon-themed clothes and memorabilia, as well as visiting the dedicated store in Tokyo — twice.
I even wrote an article about the queerest moments of Pokémon history.
But since the release of Pokémon Go, my obsession with Pokemon became inextricably linked with my LGBTI identity.
I began posting about my progress in the game to social media, often connecting the two identities.
I am obsessed with my new homosexual Pokémon pic.twitter.com/Tz6jKGv3aT
— James Besanvalle (@JamesBesanvalle) December 2, 2018
I started to build friendships through posting Poké-puns, articles and screenshots from movies or trailers. Mutual gay followers would respond with topical memes and reaction gifs about their progress too.
This led to a series of Pokémon Go meets with LGBTI people in real life.
On one such occasion, a group of us watched the original Pokémon TV series, as we sat around the screen on couches and casually flicked Pokéballs to incoming virtual foes.
I began following and accumulating followers with a shared interest in Pokémon.
So after the release of Nintendo Switch’s Pokémon Let’s Go: Eevee and Pikachu versions, most of my social media timeline became LGBTI people raving about it.
I couldn’t escape Pokémon content on social media and I absolutely thrived on it.
Find your own niche
As a 27-year-old gay man, I have received some backlash online about expressing my love for Pokémon.
One incessant criticism prevails: ‘Aren’t you a little too old to be interested in Pokémon?’
In the original TV series, Ash Ketchum is around 11 years old when he first sets off on his Pokémon journey and it’s a similar story for playable characters in the video game releases. If audiences are supposed to transport themselves into the characters they see on screen/in games, then sure, I’m probably not exactly what Nintendo has in mind.
But there are thousands — potentially millions — of people like me who still interact with the franchise for whatever reason, for over 20 years after its first release. Whether that be for escapism, nostalgia or pure entertainment value, there should be no shame in doing the things you love (if it’s not harming anyone else, of course).
It was simply all about finding and forging those friendships with like-minded people to create a community of Poké-powered content. Along the way, it made me feel less isolated.
I’m still not the most outgoing or confident person when it comes to social interaction in real life, but my Pokégays keep me going.
My advice for feeling less isolated or lonely is: Find your niche.
Whether that be things like flower arranging, bird watching or stamp collecting, be unapologetic about it.
I’m an unapologetic Pokénerd — what are you?
James Besanvalle is the Family Editor for Gay Star News and also a massive Pokémon fan. Follow him on Twitter.
What is Digital Pride?
Digital Pride is the online movement, by Gay Star News, so you can take part in Pride whoever and wherever you are. Even if you are from a country where being LGBTI is criminalized or leaves you in danger – it’s a Pride festival you can be a part of.
In 2019, Digital Pride is tackling loneliness and isolation with articles and videos connecting LGBTI people. Join us by reaching out to someone who needs it. The festival takes place on Gay Star News from 29 April to 5 May 2019. Find out more.