Recently, an article at The Mary Sue proclaimed that Samus Aran, kicker of asses and chewer of bubble gum, is actually a trans woman (citing a quote from a 1994 official Japanese strategy guide as evidence). This had the exact effect as you think it did, causing a huge glut of hateful, transphobic comments all over the Internet.
This is unfortunate, for two reasons. One, it reminds us that people suck and are horrible. Secondly, it could have been avoided if some people weren’t in a rush to prove minority erasure where none existed.
Full disclosure here: I’m gender-fluid. There’s a huge amount of detail, nuance, and contextual situations involving my gender expressions, but if you want a sound byte, the best I have is that I’m the prettiest princess who will drop you with a spinebuster. So, when I see all the hateful, idiotic, transphobic responses to the idea that Samus is a trans woman, I want to declare it to be true just to spite those assholes. Seriously, if you refer to transwomen as “shemales,” you are a horrible human being.
However, in this case the idea that Samus is a transwoman is actually more harmful than helpful.
I mean, I get it. Trans representation throughout video games is fairly sparse. We’ve got Birdo from Super Mario Bros. 2, who’s some kind of weird dinosaur creature and also the butt of a lot of Nintendo jokes. We’ve got Poison from Final Fight, who’s only trans due to the fact that people in the United States apparently think it’s acceptable to hit a woman if she’s trans and not cis. There’s Krem from Dragon Age: Inquisition, who’s treated fairly well, though players are still forced to ask some pretty insensitive questions. Otherwise, there’s not much.
Unfortunately, this has led to us, here in the States, trying to shoehorn trans narratives into things that don’t have trans narratives. Naoto in Persona 4 comes immediately to mind. People try to claim she’s a transman, but the game doesn’t actually back that up. She’s actually just a ciswoman who dresses in a masculine way because she’s trying to be taken seriously. At least, that’s the implication I read from her dialogue in the TV world, where she says things like: “What I should be striving for isn’t to become a man.”
Yet, because trans representation is so thin, we try to shoehorn a trans narrative onto the character. This does a disservice to the game, and to trans representation in general. It takes something the game does really well — an exploration of gender expectations and stereotypes — and turns it into something that suggests that there’s no functional difference between gender and desired treatment by society.
The Samus being trans thing is similar: It’s based on a single comment made by designer Hirofumi Matsuoka back in 1994 — a comment that, based on how gender is typically viewed in Japanese culture, is more likely transphobic than anything else.
Not only is the proof rather thin, but if we allow that Samus is a transwoman, we then allow some really insulting subtext.
Think about it: Samus is a large woman, standing at 6’3 and 198 pounds according to Nintendo Power. She’s a powerful bounty hunter who takes precisely zero shit and needs no help. She’s violent, she’s physically strong, and you don’t see any problematic subtext with saying she wasn’t born a cis woman? Given how often the “she must be a dude” line is used to dismiss the idea that women can be physically strong and dominant, I’m surprised this is even a talking point at the moment.
I understand the desire to have a well-loved, well-established character to have been trans. I understand how obnoxious it is for Nintendo to have taken a strong, powerful woman and turn her into a sex symbol the way they’ve done over the years. But in our desperation, we’ve turned a transphobic comment into an attempt to dictate canon, and in doing so we’ve changed a great symbol of progressive female characterization into a character surrounded by some really insulting subtext.
So, as much as I hate the idea of agreeing with TERFS and MRA assholes, in this case I think we need to let it go. Samus is better in every way if we allow her to be a ciswoman, because then we don’t have to look so desperate.