This topic I'm about to cover is a very serious one for many different people. Therefore I feel it's crucial that I give an introduction and history of sorts. I'm a cisgender female (born female, living as female). I live happily within my birth gender. There are many though, actually around 1.4 million people in the U.S. alone, that do not identify with their birth gender. I personally was introduced to someone who was transgender in the late 2000's, my late teens. One of my best friends revealed to me that they identified as transgender and would be taking steps to make their transition. It meant a lot to me to be included in such a major life change, and I wanted to do whatever I could to support my friend as they started their journey. Around a decade later we're still friends, and while life has gone through some major changes for both of us, I'm still incredibly proud of her.
Because of the people I've known in my life, I have a tendency to err on the side of what makes people happy, what makes them feel most like themselves. I think most of the world would agree. Who are we to stop someone from feeling like their best self, am I right? Society hasn't always been this way of course. Issues like transgender transitions were marginalized and made taboo. It was something that people outwardly suppressed and ignored just as much as they pretended it didn't exist. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but it feels safe to say that the issues are much more talked about an accepted than they used to be.
Recently it's been more possible to talk freely about transgender issues. Pop culture, like it always does, has started to pick up on this. Transgender characters are being included in television shows, like Laverne Cox's character, Sophia Burset, on Orange is the New Black. Films like The Danish Girl, while criticized for having a cis male playing a transgender woman, did put a transgender character in the spotlight.
It really was only a matter of time before our favorite popular culture medium — video games — began to include transgender characters as well. Most recently, there was a character in Mass Effect: Andromeda that was revealed to be transgender. She had very little screen time and yet made the most impact on me. Just before that was a character in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Gerudo Town is an all-female city within the game and included within its walls is a transgender character. Another vague reference to a transgender character is made in Horizon Zero Dawn. The character Janeva is a guard at a Carja prison. Aloy makes a reference to the character being a woman, to which Janeva responds, “I'm not one of your sisters. No woman can wear Carja armor. When I was young, I chose to become a soldier.” All of these characters are transgender. The woman in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild still has a beard. Janeva knew at a young age what was best. Hainly Abrams, the NPC from Andromeda, is looking for a whole new life.
Hainly especially struck me as the most unusual out of all of these characters. She offered up her dead name, her pre-transition name, immediately after meeting Ryder. All the main character asks is what brought Hainly to the Andromeda. This is a very vanilla question that I would assume almost any character could be asked. That in and of itself is important to point out, as if it is only an option available with Hainly, it's clear that it's just a question to reveal her past. If it can be asked of everyone, then kudos to BioWare for normalizing Hainly's past.
The reveal of Hainly's per-transition name is a little disturbing however. After being friends with the person I know is transgender, I couldn't even tell you what her dead name is. It's not a part of her. Ot is something that never needs to be brought up, as it isn't who she is. Hainly stating her previous name immediately after meeting someone sort of glosses over the fact that this was a big change in her life. But in a way, it makes the move to Andromeda make more sense. Hainly was surrounded by people that knew her per-transition and she was constantly being reminded of who she was. By moving to Andromeda, she will be able to start over completely. BioWare even made mention in her brief conversation with Ryder that Hainly is engaged and will be getting married. It is also clear that the remainder of Hainly's days will be as she chooses.
I could talk at length further about Janeva in Horizon: Zero Dawn and the transgender woman in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but this at its core is one of those subjects that I could talk and discuss forever. Let me leave you all with this. The inclusion of transgender characters in video games has a long way to go. There have been some mistakes with the characters that have been introduced thus far, including some of the ones I mentioned in this article. However, it is fair to say that the first few transgender characters in video games will have to push a few buttons. Not all transgender characters have to be introduced as such, but when they're first being included, it is almost necessary to recognize it in a straightforward way. When it becomes much more commonplace for transgender characters to appear in video games, we'll then be able to be more subtle about it. As someone who is aware of transgender issues, I'd already be able to spot the subtitles, but I recognize that not everyone would.
Please, feel free to let me know how you feel about these three characters I've mentioned. What other games have you played that had a transgender character in it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!