Today’s article is a guest article by a Cis man about Trans representation in media. I know that might send alarm bells ringing for some of you, but I promise you it’s a well written article that brought a really interesting positive Trans portrayal to my attention. The author J.L. Oakman is a Sussex based writer and gamer, currently studying towards an MA in creative writing. You can follow his writing on his website, www.fortknightstale.com or on Twitter @JLOakman”
So, before I start this article proper, I want to mention I am a cis male and this article is about trans representation in gaming. If you are uncomfortable about that, that’s totally fine. I may not be the best voice for these issues, but this excited me, and I wanted to write about it. If you would rather not read this piece knowing the above, I completely understand.
It’s common knowledge that Bioware games are often at the fore of diversity in triple-A games; though that isn’t a difficult competition in the modern gaming scene. Because of this I went into Dragon Age: Inquisition with certain expectations: I knew I’d be able to romance someone of my gender, or of a different race to my character, I knew I’d be able to play a person of colour, or with giant horns if I really wanted. What I did not expect was to meet a trans character in a triple-A game, even a Bioware one. Imagine my surprise then when the trans character in question turned out to well handled.
Spoilers abound for a couple of characters below, though all of these conversations happen fairly early on in the story.
Iron Bull is one of the companions you meet early on in your career as person-with-a-glowing-hand, and should you accept his offer of service he’ll bring along his mercenary company, Bull’s Chargers.
Bull’s second in command is the strong but insightful Krem, a Tevinter warrior who left his home for a new life. You can talk to Krem whenever you like at your base, and learn facts about his history and his life under Bull. After gaining Bull’s respect, however, he will invite you to drink with him and the Chargers, where you can optionally talk to Krem and learn that he is “passing”: a term used both in the real world and in Dragon Age to refer to someone who is trans, but who is able to generally avoid their status as Trans being noticed unless revealed.
So, why do I love the way Krem is handled? There are a few reasons:
You don’t find out right away that Krem is trans. When you first meet Krem, he doesn’t know you from anyone else; he might respect your accomplishments, but he doesn’t know you as an individual. As you build a rapport with him and his boss, you will share more time with the Chargers and eventually Krem will be willing to discuss this piece of private information in front of you.
You also learn the qunari has a word for those who ‘pass’: Aqun-Athlok, those who are born as one gender, but live as another. Iron Bull then makes me love him so much more: he explains that Aqun-Athlok are treated just the same as anybody else in qunari culture; according to their skill. Being a trans person is simply a detail to the qunari – it doesn’t affect how you are seen or treated.
You have the option of questioning Krem quite a bit on his life decisions and you learn the real reason he left Tevinter. It turns out the culture that loves slave-trading and demon worship also hate trans people and thus he was forced flee if he wanted to be accepted by those around him.
Something I found quite odd is the questions I could have my inquisitor ask him, even in private. I saw a mage only dialogue option appear to ask him if he had considered using magic to alter any physical aspects he might want to change about himself.
I suddenly flashed back to hearing my friends rudely questioned about matters that should be treated as private. I dreaded the response I was about to receive. Then, Krem gives my character a slight look of what I would describe as disappointment, and simply explains that he isn’t interested in any magical intervention, and that’s that.
Next time I talked to Iron Bull, I saw a new option had opened up. I could question Iron Bull about his thoughts on Krem, and specifically what he thought about his ‘passing’.
When questioned, Iron Bull would simply answer “He’s a good solider, and a better second-in-command. I don’t give a nug’s ass that it’s a little harder for him to piss standing up”.
So I decided to hit the option I really didn’t want to, as I had to know what lay beyond. The option was titled “Him being her isn’t an issue?”
It got worse. It was then made pretty clear that the glowy-handed herald knows little of this world, as she asks “You don’t care that he’s a woman?”
Ouch. I knew then that whatever Bull said, I was going to reload my save. It might not affect the game in any way at all, but I wasn’t having my character ask these questions.
The moment my herald asks the question, Bull looks right at her, and he looks pissed. “He’s not a woman. […]Look, I’ve got giant horns and you’ve got those pointy ears, we’re not the best to go around deciding what’s normal.”
I love you, Bull.
So that’s that. A well handled, three dimensional character, who happens to be trans. Awesome.
Oh, also he’s voiced by Jennifer Hale. That isn’t all that significant, I just F*&king love Jennifer Hale.