Video games are a great avenue to explore your gender identity. For many transgender people like myself, games allowing the player to role play as the opposite sex can be […]
Video games are a great avenue to explore your gender identity. For many transgender people like myself, games allowing the player to role play as the opposite sex can be enlightening experiences. Whether it’s RPGs like Mass Effect that let the player choose their gender, titles with gender transformation side quests like in Fable 2, or relatable storylines like Fallout 4’s subplot regarding the personhood of synthetic robots, video games grant trans people with a safe space to experiment with repressed femininity or masculinity. For many kids and adults questioning their gender identity in potentially unsupportive households, video games offer a private sanctuary to grapple with these complex and tumultuous feelings. Video games, in this regard, are a godsend.
I speak from experience. Back when I was writing for the Escapist Magazine, I detailed my relationship between video games and my identity as a transgender woman in full, but I’m going to recap for those who haven’t read the piece. As a teen and young adult, playing video games challenged my conceptual understanding of gender and sex. I grew up in a religious conservative household and didn’t know what it meant to be transgender, yet video games still caused me to be introspective about my feelings. I asked questions like: Why did I secretly want to play as a woman in Mass Effect? Why was Fable 2’s gender change potion so alluring? Why did I relate to the plight of Fallout 4’s humanoid synthetic robots? All good questions that eventually cracked my transgender egg, making me realize that I was really a woman and desired to transition into my true self.
Oddly enough, I doubt that I would be where I am today without the help of video games. Mass Effect, Fable 2, Fallout 4, and other games were critically important to my transgender coming of age and allowed me to process my internal feelings in a way that was healthy, and for many present and future folks questioning their gender identity, more games will be released that give players an outlet to express and contemplate their true selves.
The newly released Final Fantasy 7 Remake is one of these games. In fact, the Square Enix title could’ve shattered my transgender egg if the game had been released a decade ago. While the new reimagining of the turn based strategy classic deserves praise for being a damn good game (in fact, I plan to sing praises in a future review), Final Fantasy 7 Remake contains a sequence that would’ve forced me to grapple with my repressed femininity and my gender dysphoria if I had played it at a younger age. Yes, the game really does hit close to home for me.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s trans curious section is its cross dressing scene. About midway through the game, the ex soldier and main character Cloud Strife is devising a way to save Tifa, his childhood best friend forever, from the clutches of a local womanizing gang boss named Don Corneo who dwells in the slums of Wall Market. To save Tifa, Cloud receives a feminine makeover from Andrea Rhodea, one of the local power players and owner of an LGBTQ club dubbed the Honeybee Inn, amid a dance off (no joke) in order to attract Corneo’s lustful eye. In the blink of a few edits, Cloud is transformed from handsome man to dolled up young woman in a scene that is simultaneously adorable, heart warming, and hilarious. It’s a very cute and wholesome sequence that was handled with incredible care, and I loved every second of it.
This gameplay sequence admittedly could have gone awry in a heartbeat. Cross dressing plots, subplots, or scenes in media often aren’t handled well. Many movies, games, and books portray men wearing women’s clothes as a joke in-and-of-itself. In films like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective or The Producers, men dressing as women are the focus of the punchline, and that’s a harmful cultural view that hurts transgender people and those who like to cross dress. These jokes portray men presenting as women as indecent and a worthy focus of derivative mockery which isn’t only wrong but is the cheapest of bottom of the barrel jokes. Femininity in men, and womanly qualities in those that our ignorant culture perceives as men, are regularly mocked even though comedy should never punch downward at the less fortunate, yet all too often, people like me are the subject of venomous ridicule. It sucks.
Some media, however, does cross dressing humor correctly. Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot is one such example, and despite its 1959 release date, the cross-dressing comedy holds up really well (better than most modern gender bending comedies anyway). In the movie, two musicians named Joe and Jerry witness a mob hit and hide from Chicago’s worst gangsters by pretending to be women in an all-female band (including Marilyn Monroe). This leads into all sorts of whacky hijinks regarding gender and sex, yet Some Like It Hot remains oddly appropriate. Unlike The Producers or Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, the fact that men are crossdressing as women isn’t the punchline alone. In fact, the joke is actually much more creative and contains nuance. Instead of focusing on the fact the movie stars two men wearing women’s clothing, Some Like It Hot has its sight on a different target much more worthy of ridicule: sexism.
Some Like It Hot effectively scewers discrimination of the fairer sex. Most of the comedy in the movie is derived from the way Joe and Jerry are treated once they start presenting as women. The laughs come from how men see Joe and Jerry as potential dates, and much of the interpersonal comedy between the two men comes from how restrictive it is to be a woman. Whether in literal clothing or in culture, being a woman can be far more limiting than being a man, and the two men learn about 1950s era sexism the hard way.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s crossdressing sequence works similarly. Rather than be the focus of the joke, Cloud’s feminized transformation isn’t what makes the scene humorous. In fact, one character even touts that both men and women can be beautiful, and Cloud’s friend and combat partner Aerith is in awe of how well he pulls off his feminized look. The humor comes from both Cloud’s discomfort as he battles with his internalized masculinity and the way in which people treat him differently. The scene isn’t cute and funny because Cloud is wearing the dress; Final Fantasy 7 Remake is trying to make a statement about how society (yes, we live in a society) treats gender, sex, and the way in which men avoid feminine traits. It’s pretty brilliant.
The scene eventually comes to a head in Don Corneo’s lair. Aerith and Cloud meet up with Tifa, who becomes star crossed over Cloud’s new girly look, and the three are escorted to Don Corneo himself. Of this particular chapter (Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a long game), Don Corneo is the antagonist in both narrative and theme. The depraved man is almost salivating at the prospect of a new wife to sexually and emotionally satisfy him for a few days, hell maybe even just a few hours. Don Corneo is the living embodiment of misogyny and is the perfect antagonist in a subplot about gender and sexism, opposing what Cloud and the player have experienced in this cross dressing sequence.
The cross-dressing quest ends in a confrontational manner. The slobbering Corneo eventually picks Cloud to become his wife, but Cloud is so disgusted with the Don’s pathetic sexism that he repeatedly shuts him down. Before Don Corneo unleashes his, dare I say, toxic masculine anger, Tifa and Aerith bring Cloud his old wardrobe and weapons so that he can look like his silent and brooding masculine self again. Cloud is once again fully himself after going through an illuminating experience about feminine beauty.
Cloud’s crossdressing escapades admittedly might not mean much in the long run of Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s story. Afterall, this subplot lasted roughly 1 chapter out of 18 and is only one small piece of a larger video game narrative. This short quest length, however, befits the experience of many transgender eggs that have yet to be cracked. For many trans people like myself, we often neglect our repressed femininity or masculinity for most of our lives before becoming confronted with an unavoidable situation that causes us to dwell on our feelings. These moments, like the crossdressing quest in Final Fantasy 7 Remake, are quick, but they leave a lasting memory inside us that is hard to shake. Once cracked, the egg eventually breaks, and with Final Fantasy 7 Remake, I predict that many a trans egg will hatch.