To Listen, Click… Here
It’s been some time now, but as you might imagine the Metroid world isn’t always gifted by updates. And the big story before this one was Federation Force. So there’s a lot of unhappy Metroid fans out there, and a lot of people laughing at those unhappy fans. The latest one is a doozy, and it’s got some of us asking a question through quivering jaws: Is Samus Aran a Transgender Character? But not only that, because it’s a complex matter. In better times, it wouldn’t be, but this is our time, here and now, might as well embrace it.
It must be said every time, and it’s been established, but I, Harrison Chute, am not. I am not female, I am not transgender, I’m not black, I’m not even really white. It’s been plenty established what I am, so for reference you can look through the archives and you’ll probably be like that Nazi at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, because that stuff is pretty face-melting.
So much to say that perspectives matter in this case, and they’re all that matters. The perspective I bring is being a vague Metroid fan, having loved the series from a distance for my entire life, and Samus in particular really broadened my appreciation for interactivity in games, that for a woman playing as Samus in Metroid Prime, she wasn’t Samus necessarily, but Samus was her, and she could be anything. Metroid Prime empowered the player to do amazing things, because there wasn’t that barrier to immersion as seeing the looming visage of some bearded space marine filling the frame.
“WHAT YEW MEAN??”
Samus is a woman, full stop, that’s all that mattered. Characterize her any further, beyond the interest in exploration, and she becomes less of a blank canvas for the player to associate with. Character as portal to experience, that’s what video-games can do. They take you by the hand and rocket you into all kinds of wonderful worlds! (I’ve never really played an open-world game, they’re so boring).
I was really happy with that conclusion, partly because it took everything that existed into consideration, where even the contradictory stuff like Other M and some of the comics could be dealt with. It’s all about interpretation, at an extreme level, so if you don’t agree with something, just disregard it. It’s not part of what made you fall in love with the character, and it doesn’t help you with identification or empowerment, or whatever it is that you need and is fulfilled by Samus, intergalactic hero.
Samus the Scientist
So what would it mean if Samus is transgender? One marginalized group gleefully (and with pointy fangs) pulling her away from another group?
Here we return once more to the tomb of the unknown author, where of course, intent is one thing, and interpretation is another, especially in the case of Metroid, which has had a gallery of authors internationally and through time. Of course, saying so has a pointed edge to it, as refutation to the article by Brianna Wu and Ellen McGrody, which was published at the top of the month and started this whole thing.
“In 1994, the writers of the official Japanese Super Metroid strategy guide asked Metroid’s developers if they could share any secrets about the intergalactic bounty hunter. Hirofumi Matsuoka, who helped work on the original design for Samus Aran, claimed that she “wasn’t a woman,” but instead, “ニューハーフ,” or “newhalf.””
Samus Never Backs Down!
I don’t know, guys. The evidence seems pretty good, or at the very least, consistent with other material that became canon. Though what also became canon unfortunately was the mass conspiracy to cover up any masculine history for the character, as her recent incarnations have prioritizes the cat suits and the bouncy blonde hair. Canon is made by agreement, so we have to understand both sides of that.
Wu and McGrody talk about JK Rowling’s announcement that Dumbledore is gay as an example of authorial intent being authoritative. At this point we might sneer, saying the author’s intent is the only thing that matters when it suits us, but the fact is, are we gonna argue with JK Rowling?
The Harry Potter you ultimately enjoy is the one you create in your mind, but remember that JK Rowling put it there to begin with. You fell in love with what she created, with her mind as it joined with yours. And the mind that gave me lemgardio leviosa is the same one that created this gay character. Granted, Rowling could’ve established that Dumbledore was gay in the text, because no matter what the text looks like, she apparently did not, given that she had to clarify after the fact.
And even if the evidence wasn’t very good for Samus, the idea that she’s transgender is now floating out there and will always be associated with her. But let’s imagine for a moment that it wasn’t transgender, that maybe it was a flexibility in race, which we’d be more comfortable with (we’d still pitch a fit though). Like if someone said that Samus is actually Japanese, and she’s just blonde for some reason, like Maetel (or every anime character who ever existed).
Blondes have more fun
Imagine if Colin Salmon or Idris Elba had been selected to play James Bond. It would ruffle the feathers of assholes we’re not really talking about in this discussion, but for the most part, it’d simply mean that James Bond becomes a friend to all people. He’s an idea, and he always had been, but now it’s more explicit.
I want Samus to be a friend of all people like that. But where we are now, even for liberal men, female and transgender Samus cannot contain each other and be both, the way a theoretical racially diverse Bond could be at peace with itself*. From how I see it, 2015 was the beginning for true transgender conversation, so this Samus thing is dropping way too early. It’s just too new, and people are still trying to register.
And to be honest, the measure for me of 2015 being the year was Caitlyn Jenner, because people who get paid to be vapid idiots on network news talk shows are doing their best to talk about her, even if it’s just scandalous bullshit. But that’s a conversation, and the general air is, have some respect, because not only is this particular person transgender, but she’s also a Kardashian. So whenever one of them makes news and infiltrates your life, people get fucking pissed off. So there was a torrent of shit, and then people were like, whoa, okay, maybe, let’s try another tactic on this, guys.
The difference between the homosexuality conversation and this one is that homosexuality could never affect you, and people eventually got that, once the idea was finally hammered in by popular culture. And also in popular culture, there’s a trope that we might call transgender panic, which goes a little something like, what if you pick up a girl and then later you find out she was once a dude! You may or may not remember that episode of Family Guy, where Brian has sex with Quagmire’s transgender father, thinking she was a normal woman. And he later throws up in one of those extended Family Guy jokes. That’s a pretty awful thing to put out there, but it reflects on a classic conservative type of fear — the theoretical kind.
As if the whole world was hostile and unknown
Though it is true that straight men are not sexually attracted to male bodies, and with transgender, there’s the matter of biology and philosophy. A belief that is not universally shared, and that’s not only the belief that this person was born the opposite sex, but also the line of ‘becoming biologically the true sex.’ Straight men would be highly discerning and sensitive to that line, because no matter how much chemical therapy and surgery, the thought of becoming intimate with male flesh is enough to teleport the mind back through a millennia of homophobia: “I’M NOT GAY I’M NOT GAY…”
When recently, the cultural shift in this country (of all countries), is saying that it doesn’t matter.
But what does it mean for it to not matter? Let’s be careful not to zing that one around as an end-all-be-all conclusion, because it hasn’t sunk in. Admittedly, it’s not so easy…
Well, what we’re talking about here is the straight male gamer’s undying love/fetish for Samus Aran. Being Samus is one part of the hypothetical objection to Samus being trans, and being with Samus is the other. I have to assume that a lot of male critics out there are parading the former with great passion to disguise the latter.
But what it means is that if you’re attracted to someone, it doesn’t matter who they are (just as long as they can consent), even if we’re talking about a fictional crush, which we’re taking seriously for the moment (we’ll beat you up in the alley afterward). It doesn’t matter who they are, and that’s an umbrella that also covers not mattering who they once were, in addition. You can be attracted to men as a man, you can be attracted to transgender as a man. “I’ve never been, and I’m not,” is now rendered false, because you have been — Samus.
We can continue to flag under the false assumption that given steady development in technology, transgender women won’t be able to look and feel the way they do on the outside as inside. There’s precedent — everyone loved Caitlyn Jenner, and what about this Canadian beauty queen Jenna Talackova, who was for me the first person to really illustrate the power of prejudice as it had cemented in my mind.
Jenna Talackova is sexy, and sexualized if you do a Google Image search. What would it honestly matter if she was born a boy in a world where sexual prejudice didn’t exist? Let’s try to imagine that world for a moment. Let’s say you’re a guy, and you thought a guy looked sexy, and you said it and everybody agreed and didn’t call you a name. If that happened, there’d be no problem to also thinking that she was sexy. If you did feel that way, and if it was Jenna, you would, because you’d never know where she came from, and it’s not relevant, it doesn’t matter! Pure attraction, that’s all.
I hope I’m getting this point across. It’s not a point for everyone, and it’s a shameful thing to begin with. But I had this awakening, let’s call it, in college (of all places). Way, way back, in college, I lived 45 minutes away, and so I’d go home all the time. One time even to pick up a camera, and then I drove back that night. For more useless backstory, I went to college with a high school friend, so I became his driver, since I was the one with the car. The only real problems that presented were that I couldn’t sing along to music, or scream, as it was, and that he got sick sometimes and that’s a good way to get sick is to drive a sniffly motherfucker through New England winter with the windows all rolled up.
The only actual real problem was that he was a fairly conservative guy, for a blue state liberal attending college for film. So he knew about my sexual quirks, but never fully understood them — simply because they were alien, not because they were wrong. So one day, we’re driving home, mired in one of our deep conversations about isn’t it funny the way this one professor talks?, when who do we spot out of the passenger-side window, but a woman driving a pickup truck.
“Nice!” I say, off-hand, trying more so to concentrate on my Asian driving. My buddy here thought it was curious, and thought my reaction was even more curious. “Nice?” Hmm, I think. “Yeah, you know how I like it when women are… men.”
He does know, but again, he doesn’t get it. And now I start to wonder. There’s a gendered part of this. Being attracted to women who take on traditionally masculine aspects, is that not an attraction to traditionally masculine aspects? Hmm, well I’ve spent my conscious life thus far thinking how being homosexual isn’t strange like they say, but now I begin feel it.
Not because I have a claim to homosexuality, and truly understand what that’s like, but because my heterosexuality is now compromised. It isn’t so straight. But is that really how human society is gonna work? There’s no such thing as alliance without some kind of ethos?
Put that way, I suppose not, but why can’t the abstract be enough? Why can’t I scan the horizon and stop at a group of marginalized people who are in trouble, and just give a shit, no questions asked? There is a difference between intellectual involvement and emotional involvement, and however you reach that emotional involvement — it’s important you do. A new world opens up. All these chirping birds out there on those talk shows, pro-life, anchor babies, cops lives matter, I miss Bruce Jenner — they’re speaking on behalf of other people. Real human beings with lives and feelings. How could they possibly have any authorial authority? Theirs is purely emotion, no involvement at all.
Samus and Sensitivity — I love this shot
They don’t matter. The creators of the stigma, the writers of society, they don’t matter. It’s only your feelings, once they’re separated from what’s been written by the writers. How would you honestly feel if someone as sexy as Samus approached you for an awesome space adventure? Would you listen to the chirping birds? Or would you press start, motherfucker?
That story about driving home, by the way, it’s a fine illustration of the male gaze — everything is sexual. You can’t even drive a pickup truck without some dipshit looking your direction, slackjawed. I don’t particularly like being an unattractive Asian American guy, but it is the preferable fate.
So. Is Samus a transgender character? Well, that’s for you to decide. But don’t turn up your nose, because you know what happens to a guy who’s nosy. (That’s a mixed metaphor, I think)…
If you’re attracted to Samus, it doesn’t matter if manhood was a part of her past — it clearly isn’t now, so the only thing that’s left is the stigma. That’s your journey, then, deprogramming. Maybe you’ll be so lucky as to pass a truck-driving woman on the New England highway, and really get to know what it means for things to not matter. To see people almost like ghosts in shells.
But in these conversations, however one-sided, it’s important to remember that there are things we do because that’s how we were programmed, like the male gaze, and like prejudice. And then there are the things we do to improve ourselves. I want you to improve yourself, because I started down that road in college, and it’s a happier life (and I’m not even close to the finish line, as you’ll see with my discussion of Selene and Jessica Biel in Episode 62).
Okay, but back to cisgender women gamers who grew up with Samus as an icon. It’s not my place to say, but I suppose this is one opportunity to transcend a single definition of the self. Samus could be a gateway to a galaxy of possibility, because there’s something about her you identify with, and gender was only one part of that, right? Gender matters, of course, but maybe it doesn’t have to limit how you personally identify with a fictional character, in the darkness of your living room, staying up past your bedtime and clutching the Nintendo controller in your clammy nerd hands.
But again, that’s up for you to decide. There’s only so much I can really say. I’d have to ask a woman if Samus being transgender diminishes their identification with her, but that’s a shitty question to ask, and I don’t need to know.
So the only thing this leaves is representation and reflection. Samus as a strong female character was one of few examples. There’s no silver lining there. We need a woman who just happens to be 6’3”, 198 pounds, and flies through space blasting aliens from here to Zebes. In my drug-addled brain, feminism may have lost one of its most physical icons, so all that means is it’s time to fill in. In the meantime though, we haven’t ‘lost’ anyone. Samus is still at it. The galaxy is at peace.
ALL THESE WORLDS EXCEPT EUROPA ARE YOURS
*For a second, people were also wondering about a female James Bond, but I believe it was Lexi Alexander who disagreed with the idea. Why bother, when it’ll cause too much controversy to make it worth it? Instead, let’s just create a female Bond from the ground up. That’s always the better option, though gender-swapping as an exercise is ultimately a good thing (except — shit, I’ll actually have to care about the Ghostbusters…?). In the case of Samus, she’s only ‘swapped’ in our minds, because the news broke late.