The Other M is For…: Gender and Samus Aran

9 Sep

A few days back, Brianna Wu and Ellen McGrody published a piece on The Mary Sue which argues that Samus Aran is a trans woman, and it has since spawned any number of rants, thinkpieces, and toxic screeds which either laud the forward-thinking nature of early Nintendo games or lambast Wu and McGrody (but mostly Wu) as raging feminazis who want nothing more than to pervert enjoyment of videogames for all time.

Given the amount of traction it’s received, I feel obligated to say something about it: “I don’t care.” I don’t buy their argument, but I don’t feel as though it’s entirely out of the realm of possibility. While I understand that many cultures include terms–like the one cited by Wu and McGrody–for trans people, and one of those terms was used in reference to Samus, such terms are not exclusively used for trans persons; they are sometimes used for persons who behave outside gender norms even when they identify with their ostensible gender (aka, when their gender aligns with their biological sex). Because all this is unclear to me, and because I just don’t have that level of investment in the biological background of a fictional character, I’m not prepared to do much in-depth research. Therefore, for the time being, I will continue to identify Samus as female.

It isn’t that I don’t care about trans rights or freedom of speech or enjoying videogames. It’s that I find it completely irrelevant whether Samus Aran is a person with two X chromosomes or an X and a Y or two X and one Y chromosomes. In the Metroid series, Samus Aran is a woman, and therefore she will continue to be a woman in my estimation, whether or not her chromosomal makeup is revealed. She might be trans, but whether trans or not, she is still a woman, just like every other trans woman (and just as trans men are men, irrespective of their chromosomes or genitalia).

Should her creator–because remember, people, Samus Aran is a fictional construct created by someone else–publicly confirm that Samus is a trans woman, I would consider it a moment deserving of celebration that a major popular culture outlet would be willing to have a trans protagonist, something that is sorely lacking in media in general, and videogames in particular. I think it would be great for such an outlet to have a trans protagonist, whether Nintendo or Sony or Microsoft or whomever.

If players of Metroid want to identify Samus as trans in order to better identify with her, great. If they don’t, that’s fine with me, too (although I would really prefer that anyone who disagrees with Wu and McGrody cease with the insults and threats and hyperbole).

In short, we need to have more diversity in games and in popular media in general so that there are gay and straight and lesbian and bisexual and asexual and white and black and mixed race and Asian and Middle Eastern and Hispanic and trans and cis and non-gendered and all kinds of characters, so that we don’t have to have people arguing about whether this character or that one is secretly any of these things because it’s perfectly okay to be any of these things without fear.

That’s what I care about.