Thank you to 52532 for pointing me toward Naoto and Karla for telling me about Gwyndolin.
Last updated: 25 May 2015
When the question was raised I realized that maybe not as many people as I thought know about the history of transgender characters in video games. Especially gamers who are not into the fighting game genre.
I think the subject has been written about before I but I also believe I can hopefully bring a little bit of a different take on the subject. I am included some characters that aren’t specifically transgender when I think they are relevant.
Birdo is, as far as I know, the first transgender video game character. Birdo (Catherine in Japan) debuted in the Japanese game Doki Doki Panic in 1987 which was later released as Super Mario Bros. 2. The Instruction manual for Super Mario Bros 2 says, “Birdo thinks he is a girl and likes to be called Birdetta.” That’s the first example of how not to handle a TG character. I don’t like the use of male pronouns. I can’t say for certain but based on what I see, if Birdo was real, she probably wouldn’t like the male pronouns. Most MtF trans people don’t like male pronouns. The description of Birdo for the Japanese version of Double Dash says this: “Catherine appears to be Yoshi’s girlfriend… or does that mean boyfriend!?” I don’t know if there is a cultural difference that makes that statement OK but it doesn’t sound good to me. Birdo continues to be a re-occurring character in Mario spin off games.
Just 2 years later, Poison appeared in Final Fight. Poison has been the source of many debates/arguments for me. I’ve written about some of them before. Poison’s history is, as far as I’ve come to know, somewhat ambiguous and debated. I have heard that she was always intended to be transgender. About her gender Yoshinori Ono said, “Let’s set the record straight: in North America, Poison is officially a post-op transsexual. But in Japan, she simply tucks her business away to look female.” I think it should be obvious by now that I don’t like this. He kind of implies that because she hasn’t had SRS in Japan that she isn’t really a woman but at least he still uses those female pronouns. It could be handled worse but there is plenty of room to improve. Poison frequents Final Fight and Street Fighter games and is a popular character for fan art and cosplay and appeared in the recent Street Fighter X Tekken.
In 1998’s The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, Princess Zelda goes into hiding as a Sheikah boy named Sheik. While Sheik isn’t specifically transgender, Sheik can still be related to from a transgender perspective and that’s why I included him in this list. Both Sheik’s gender and sex are speculated one and debated hotly on forums. I always enjoy reading a good Sheik debate.
Bridget, from the Guilty Gear series, joined the cast in 2002 for Guilty Gear XX. Bridget is the character that I knew the least about when I started writing. Bridget, if I understand correctly, is actually a guy. He is a feminine man who likes to dress as a nun complete with a habit. I never played the Guilty Gear franchise but I always wanted to and Bridget seemed like one of the more memorable characters to me. Since he was intended to be a male identified person who wears women’s clothing and because I haven’t heard much about him, I have no real complaints about how his character was handled.
Vivian is an important character and a party member in the game Paper Mario TTYD (2004). In the original version of the game and in some translations Vivian is described as a boy by many characters in the game but identifies as a girl. The character description is reminiscent of Birdo’s from other Mario games; it reads: “Vivian appears to be a girl but is really a boy.” As is common in Nintendo descriptions, transgender translates into “is really a boy.” As tends to happen with gender issues, there is no mention of any of this in the English version of the game.
Eleonor Kliesen first appeared in 2007’s Tekken 6. Based on what I’ve read, Leo has no gender. I’m not sure if that would qualify Leo as Genderqueer since typically people will self identify themselves and the creators have not said, to my knowledge. I like Leo. Leo looks cool, seems tough and is a good step forward. ‘Love this character regardless of gender’ the developers at Namco Bandai demand. Leo is in my opinion the most positive character on this list. Bravo Namco Bandai.
Persona 4 brought us Naoto Shirogane in 2008. Naoto is one of the coolest characters ever designed. It is a shame that the game handles him so badly. Naoto is a FtM crossdresser. Naoto always dresses as a guy and uses a deep voice, which he only very occasionally drops. He seems to be insecure and uncomfortable with his feminine body. Throughout the second half of the game he continues to try to keep his body hidden. What makes me sad about Naoto is that the game switches pronouns abruptly as soon as he is outed even though he continues to present male. “Why couldn’t I have been born male. It would have been much easier for me…,” Naoto said to my character in one conversation. He could have been the best, if only the game was more trans friendly.
Kainé from the Nier (2010) was the original source of many arguments for me, even before I started transitioning and before I started identifying as transgender despite already being a crossdresser. Kainé is a female hermaphrodite (that’s the developer’s words not me). What frustrates me about Kainé is the number of fans who like to call her a guy. She isn’t featured in articles anymore so I don’t have to get into arguments anymore, which is a good thing. I don’t think the word hermaphrodite is typically used to describe humans anymore. I, also, am not entirely certain what the developer means by hermaphrodite, specifically, nor will I spend too much time worrying about it. Kainé has just appeared in her one game which has 2 versions.
Continuing their streak of handling transgender characters poorly Atlas brings us Erica in 2011 for Catherine on both 360 and PS3. Erica works at the Stray Sheep as a waitress. She is a friendly, attractive red head who also happens to be transgender(or transsexual, I don’t think It has been explicitly said). I think that the worst thing the game does is give Erica nightmares which only male characters get. But making that slightly worse, the character Vincent makes several references to her not being a woman. Another character describes sex with Erica as “weird”. And she is surrounded by generally transphobic characters. I think Erica is could be a great character, unfortunately still not handled as well as trans characters should be.
Dark Sun Gwyndolin is a boss in Dark Souls (2011). A boss who has a disappointing amount of information on the internet so I am going to quote another blogger named Karla:
“She was the child of a god, and raised as a daughter because she had an affinity for the moon. Though many item descriptions list her as male, the whole affinity for the moon thing combined with a few hints at her hating her body and the one character who is closest to her using female pronouns in reference to her, makes me pretty dang sure she’s a trans girl.”
Krem is a trans character from Dragon Age: Inquisition. He is not Bioware’s first attempt at a trans character, and after the blunder from Dragon Age: origins, I was not feeling too positive about his portrayal. This was especially true after hearing that he was going to be voiced by a female voice actor, as that reminded me of the many trans women played by men in hollywood movies. Overall though, from what I’ve read, he seems to be a fairly positively portrayed character and a definite step up from Bioware’s previous attempts.
Faris Scherwiz (1992) – An androgynous female Pirate from Final Fantasy V
Roxy (1989) – A color swap of Poison.
Flea (1995) – A boss from Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.
Serendipity (2011) – A “Drag Queen” prostitute in Dragon Age II.
Beauty (2013) – In Pokemon X/Y there is a Beauty in the battle dungeon who is transgender and used to be a Black Belt/Karate King.
I also left out most instances of characters wearing women’s clothing for reasons other than gender.
and I like to think that My version of Commander Shepard is a TG Lesbian
The world needs a good transgender character that is handled properly. Personally, I’d like to see a MtF character who isn’t in a fighting game. But that’s just me since I am MtF and am not good at fighting games. Feel free to note anyone I left out.