It’s so rare that I’m able to write about trans characters in media, written and performed by non trans people, without having any criticisms or complaints at all about their representation. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever before been able to write so overwhelmingly positively about a trans character created by a non trans creative team.
So, for those not in the know, The Adventure Zone is a long running DnD 5th Edition podcast where three brothers and their dad play a long running campaign comprised of smaller narrative arcs. The show, which is currently still ongoing at 60 episodes, features a prominent gay character as one of the primary protagonists, multiple lesbian characters, and has gone to great lengths to improve on representation across the series run.
While the series first pair of gay characters introduced fell prey to the Kill your Gays trope, the show creators took on board fan feedback, introduced further gay characters to avoid the earlier death robbing the show of its entiere LGBT cast, and the creators often have on air discussions out of character regarding accidental decisions that could have lead to stereotypical portrayals and how they went about avoiding them.
Put simply, this show has done a good job of learning from its mistakes and representing gay characters tastefully.
In the most recent episode of the show to air, Episode 60, the cast introduce Lup, the show’s first trans character. I honestly can’t say enough about how tastefully her introduction is handled.
Lup is the twin sister of Taako, one of the trio of player crafted protagonists. While her and her twin brother were both orphans, traditionally the realm of tragic backstory for trans characters, the fact that she and her brother share this backstory saves this from feeling like a dark backstory being given because of the character’s gender status. The DM also goes to great lengths to state that the intention is that it be a motivation for the twins scrappy nature, not a tragedy that defines either of them.
When her trans status is revealed, it’s revealed as an offhanded piece of character introduction information. The show cast correctly use the term Assigned Male at Birth (AMAB) to refer to her trans status rather than cliches like “born male”, “born a man”or “A man who became a woman”. The show cast discuss out of character Lup’s pronouns, which pronouns to use when her childhood is brought up (she and her), and then move on to allow her to be a character.
Lup is incredibly similar to her brother in terms of their over the top bombastic and fabulous nature, with one key difference between them that really impressed me. Considering the pair are twins, it was a really nice touch to see Taako, the cis male twin, portrayed as more traditionally feminine than his trans woman sister. Considering how often trans woman characters are expected to stick closely to traditional femininity to be societally accepted or to be taken seriously as women, it’s really nice that Lup’s character is allowed to portray more traditionally masculine traits than her brother, yet that doesn’t invalidates either of their experiences of gender.
Taako is a cis man who wears skirts and uses he and him pronouns. Lup is a trans woman who angrily hurls fireballs at a magical abyss while her brother runs off screaming. Both of them are comfortable in their gender expression. That’s really impressive to see in terms of trans character portrayals.
Also of note, at no point is Lup portrayed as facing any adversity for being trans. She was aware she was trans, she started using she and her pronouns. Everyone on the team thinks Lup’s a lovely awesome badass.
While I would usually be critical of a trans woman character being portrayed by a cis man, I’m not going to be critical of that aspect in The Adventure Zone. Griffin, the DM, voices every NPC character in the show. That includes cis men, cis women, and now a trans woman too. The consistency of NPC’s being voiced by the DM in all cases for me nullifies any issues with Lup being portrayed by a cis man.
I do have one concern regarding Lup’s character, but I already have suspicions regarding how it’ll likely be sidestepped, and have evidence to cite as to why I suspect the issue won’t arise.
Let’s talk about the potential issue and solutions to The Adventure Zone killing off its only Trans character.
Lup as a character is heavily implied to be dead in The Adventure Zone. We meet her in a series of flashback memories that take place 100 years before the main campaign and of the cast of these flashbacks she is the only character not to directly turn up in 59 episodes of the primary campaign. Lup is heavily implied to be dead, a skeleton whose body was found during the first arc of the show.
What is suspected to be Lup’s skeleton was also found holding a magical umbrella called the Umbra Staff, a magical tool Lup’s twin brother Taako uses as his primary weapon in the campaign. The Umbra Staff at multiple points in the series seems to have a mind of its own, and at one point even burns Lup’s name into a wall. The implication is that Lup’s spirit lives on in the staff, potentially available to restore to a body.
The Adventure Zone canon includes a device which, using DNA from an individual, can create them a new body. I suspect this will be used to create Lup a new body.
Lup is AMAB. I suspect Taako is her identical twin. Using Taako’s DNA to create a new body for Lup would allow her to return to living in a replica of her own body.
While I don’t know for certain this is where the show is going, considering the cast of The Adventure Zone has talked at length out of character about their regret at accidental employing the Kill your Gays trope in the past, I highly suspect they’re aware of the implications of permanently killing off their only trans character and have a plan similar to the one above in place.
Regardless, right now I am incredibly happy with Lup as a character. she’s a really interesting and engaging character who avoids all the pitfalls of trans portrayals, is discussed tastefully, and honestly really impressed me.
I want to thank the McElroys for reaching out prior to this episode seeking trans consultancy on the introduction of a trans character. By asking those of us in the trans community for advice you’ve created perhaps the first trans woman character by a non trans creative team I have zero complaints about that. Well done on that.
Seriously, I hope Lup maintains this level of rock solid representation. I’ve been waiting so long for a piece of media to present a trans woman this well.