So, this came out on Thursday:
Normally, I’d issue a long, irritated sigh and go about my day, but a lot of my trans friends seem to be into this, so I felt the need to get it out of my system. (This post is technically safe for work, but honestly: it’s kinda not.)
Now, I should preface that when it comes to problematic things, I have as many faves as the next person. I own a great many Garth Ennis comics, I have watched a number of movies starring actors I know to be crummy, I have played every game in the increasingly horny Shantae series and I did just spend last night watching a clip of one-liners from Bulletstorm, the cult FPS from 2011 where you get bonus points for shooting someone in the dick.
I get having a problematic fave, especially when it comes to something as innately sexually charged and swathed in The Gender Feels as the subgenre called “Whoops, I’m a Girl Now” (or forced feminization, if you’re nasty.) And it might yet throw a curveball at me by being more thoughtful after all, though given that the website advertises “embarrassing costumes” including a cowgirl bikini for Mai Shiranui…
…my hopes are not exactly high.
But I still sigh heavily when I look at this, and I feel depressed, because I have a pretty good idea where this is going. This isn’t going to be Terry Bogart coming to an important revelation about their gender and getting the fighting game magic equivalent of HRT and surgery; this’ll be a “haha, you’re a GIRL” story. It’ll be a game where no, honest, there’s a very good reason Terry has to be dressed like a cheerleader. It’ll be evoking the frisson of humiliation that is all tied up in the shame and embarrassment I felt when I first felt trans tendencies. It’ll be the same kind of thing I grew up on, that was just as much barrier as stepping-stone.
The one thing I’ll give in is favor is that the website still calls him a him, which is accurate; but given that all the reactions I see to this are “Terry Bogard’s a girl now!” I have to ask how firmly the lesson has stuck. And the social media campaign, of course, has to sneak in the implied wink and nudge…
Without getting too deep in the weeds here, forced femme/the “what the hell happened to my dick” genre is a genre that I feel is just trans-adjacent enough that I wind up frustrated by all the ways it’s not trans, and in fact, gives the wrong impression about being trans. I described Ranma ½ in my ComicsAlliance overview as being about “a cis boy who sometimes turns into a trans boy,” and that’s still basically what I believe to be true, if a little simplistic (trans boys don’t get the luxury of having their dysphoria cured by something as simple as a pail of water.)
I see attempts to reclaim this as a trans girl narrative, which I sympathize with but ultimately can’t agree with. I know that queer people reclaim narratives all the time; I’m familiar with Disney Villain Queer Theory. I see the POV of claiming that Terry Bogart secretly wants to be a girl and wish fulfillment happened and so on and so forth. I wrote stories like that, too, way back in eggmode. But all the trans narratives I feel actually are trans narratives start with the realization and then the journey; even such a reclamation, unofficial and limited to headcanons, gets things exactly backwards.
I feel that getting this sort of thing exactly backwards leads nowhere pleasant, because I have to ask if that’s not just taking a different path towards cisnormativity; you have the parts typically associated with gender X, so you’re gender X whether you want to be or not. I ask how this isn’t any different from stuff like The Assignment, the infamous movie about forced feminization.
And I look at myself, with my terrible hair and broad shoulders and unwanted body parts, stuck in neutral in my own body and my own life, and I see in this take on Terry Bogart everything that I’m not, with impossibly bouncy anime tits he doesn’t want and that I’ll never have. I ask myself: if Terry Bogart’s a girl because of external attributes Terry didn’t ask for, what does that make me?
So that’s why I’m not on board.
Like I said, I get Disney Villain Queer Theory. But I can’t help but notice that several decades of reclamation in the name of Disney Villain Queer Theory has yet to actually give us any canonically queer Disney characters, and I’m forced to conclude that it’s because it hasn’t forced Disney to give a shit. And why would they? If all they have to do is heavily imply that, say, Elsa is queer, and we do all the work of proclaiming her as such, they get to have it both ways – they get plausible deniability towards homophobes as well as some nice, unearned goodwill from queers (and money from both directions.)
In light of that I’m ill-inclined to try and reclaim this. There’s trans art by trans people speaking from life experience, and by cis people who actually are putting in the effort (see an upcoming issue of Astro City I’ll be reviewing.) I’d rather give my heart to that. If you want to try and reclaim this, go for it, but I’m at the stage where this is the kind of narrative I’d rather leave in the past.
Plus, I was around for the “Why Crossdressing Cloud in Final Fantasy 7 is Good, Actually” takes, directed towards a sequence that I still see referred to as “Trap Cloud,” so I’d rather clock out before I get to the “Why Terry Bogart in a Cheerleader Outfit is Empowering” thinkpiece. You know it’s coming.