Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Samus Aran: Transgender?

I debated on whether to put this here or on my Entertainment blog, but I think it goes here.

Samus Aran has been my favorite video game character since her debut in 1986.  For those who don't know what I'm talking about, Metroid is the story of an intergalactic bounty hunter named Samus Aran.  She is sent to infiltrate the planet Zebes, to stop some space pirates from using cosmic jellyfish (metroids) to take over the universe.  Until the end of the game, the player is led to assume that Samus is male (she's even referred to as "he" in the instruction booklet), but at the end of the game she removes her cybernetic armor revealing her feminine form.

My high school art
I wasn't surprised by her end-of-game gender reveal, as that plot twist had already been spoiled by my friends.  But it was one of the first things that made me want to buy the game.  While the original game is primitive by today's standards, I found myself deeply immersed in the game's mythology.  I drew my own Metroid comics in high school.  I programmed Metroid-related spin-off games on the Commodore 64.  I've even considered the name "Samus" as my female name.  I could talk about Metroid for hours, but that's not what I'm blogging about today.  (But here is a Metroid blog I wrote in 2009.)

While Samus and I had nothing in common, really, I identified with her more than any other video game character.  I loved jumping around Zebes in her robotic suit, getting to live another life for a while.  This was years before I knew I was transgender - well, before I knew the word "transgender", anyway.  But I've always had a thing for stories about male characters who turn out to be female (Mulan, for instance).  I wouldn't have been able to put it into words at the time, but on some level I wanted to rip off my outer disguise and reveal a girl underneath.  

So, the other day it became news that Ronda Rousey, a former UFC Champion, wants to play Samus Aran.  The problem?  She's made headlines for putting down transgender people.  Generally I try to be good about separating actor from role, but I have to admit it can be difficult.  The Lethal Weapon movies were a bit harder to enjoy after Mel Gibson's antisemitic rants, and Bill Cosby's old routines are just no longer funny.  Samus is my hero.  I don't want her played by someone I find odious.

Now, I'm not worried about it actually happening.  At least twice a year I see an article about an actor wanting to play a certain role, and I've only seen actually happen once (Deadpool).  Just because an actor wants to play a character, doesn't mean a studio will suddenly throw a movie together.  Plus, while various Metroid projects have been announced in the past, they never even get as far as having a script.  By the time a Metroid movie actually gets going (if ever), Rona Rousey will likely be too old to play her.

But as I read all the articles about Rousey's acting aspirations, I stumbled across some even more interesting.  Apparently some people consider Samus Aran transgenderHow did I miss this?  I've followed Metroid news for most of my life, and I've followed trans news for a good decade.  This is the first time I've seen the two intersect.

It started in 1994, when one of Metroid's designers referred to her as a "Newhalf", which is a Japanese word for transgender.  I've done a little digging, and there seems to be some dispute over whether newhalf is a bigoted slur akin to "shemale", or if it's just another word for transgender and/or transvestite.  In any event, he was probably just making an off-color joke regarding Samus Aran's unusual strength.

But apparently a lot of fans latched onto this bit of trivia, and adopted it as canon.  That's cool.  I'm not a big stickler for canon anyway - let's face it, it's all fiction, none of it "really" happened.  So if a transgender Samus makes you happy, believe that.

A prominent transgender video game character is good for the trans community.  Everybody wants to identify with fictional characters, and there aren't enough fictional transfolk.  At least, not ones presented in a good light.  It's empowering to be represented.

On the other hand, the idea may have started with a transphobic joke.  It's like the designer was saying, "No 'real' woman could be so strong, so she must be part male," which is offensive on several levels (seriously, I made myself sick just typing that).  I'm worried that canonizing it somehow legitimizes the slur.  It's like saying we approve of the designer's bigoted attitude.

If it becomes widely accepted, I could see it hurting sales...  or at least Nintendo might think it will hurt sales, and Nintendo doesn't need another excuse to ignore the Metroid franchise.

Eh... I'm probably just being a worry wart.  The bottom line is that I want what's best for the transgender community. 

But will I personally accept it as canon?  ...I... don't know.

I've said this before, but (IMO) the biggest difference between a gay person and a transperson, is that  a gay person is fine with being gay (assuming a non-bigoted environment).  As long as they live somewhere tolerant, a gay person can be happy with who they are.  They can sleep with whomever they find attractive, without having to say "I wish I wasn't gay".  I could be wrong about that, but I generally assume that if a gay person says "I wish I was straight", they really mean, "I wish I had the acceptance and privileges of straight people."

I can't say that.  Frankly, I don't want to be transgender.  Now I don't presume to speak for all transpeople; maybe some are happy to have had a chance to live on both sides of the coin.  But in my case, I want to be a woman.  Period.  Not a transwoman, not a woman who used to be a man, not a crossdresser or a drag queen or any other type of gender bender.  I simply want what 51% of the population takes for granted, to be a natural born female. 

Life would be so much easier if I was just gay.

So when I look at Samus, and I identify with her, and I wish I could be her... I'm picturing her as a ciswoman.  I don't want to identify with her as a transgender person.  I'm already trans, why would I fantasize about it?  Officially, I firmly believe it doesn't make her any less of a woman.  As far as I'm concerned, trans people are whatever the gender they feel they are, and fictional transfolk are no different.  But on a personal level, if I'm going to imprint on a fictional character, then they're going to represent my perfect ideal self.  And my ideal self is genetically female.

If my refusal to believe Samus is trans is insulting to the trans community, then I apologize wholeheartedly.  If this was about literally any other fictional character, I wouldn't even be in crisis.

I fully support those who want Samus to be transgender.  If Nintendo were to make it officially canon (don't hold your breath), it wouldn't bother me.  Heck, I'd proudly defend Nintendo's decision in countless internet flame wars, repeatedly getting called an SJW by bigoted internet trolls (I'm used to it).

But in my own personal headcanon, she's cis.  To be fair, I don't always accept everything that Nintendo has done with her, either.  Her Zero Suit design has shades of "Outer Space Barbie", I never really liked her "raised by Chozo" backstory in the manga, and don't get me started on Other M.  My point is, I don't always accept or approve of what gets written, but it doesn't offend me.  I'm not going to fight the possibility of of a transgender Samus Aran.  I'm not going to spam message boards arguing against it.  It's a good idea whose time has come, it's just not going to be part of my little fantasy world.