Well, That Escalated Quickly: A Samus Followup

The geek world thinks itself too smart to be affected by prejudices like transphobia. This is blatantly, harmfully untrue.
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Yesterday, Ellen McGrody and I wrote a piece for the Mary Sue that gained a surprising amount of attention. As of the time of this writing it has been shared 5,000 times on Facebook alone. The hashtag #samus was trending yesterday – and the Mary Sue article is approaching 2000 comments.

Unfortunately, the amount of insults, personal attacks and abuse both of us have endured has been extreme.

Fellow geeks, it’s time to sit down and have an adult conversation about the way some of you reacted to the mere possibility that Samus could be a transgender woman. Pull up a chair, because this is really important.

First, I want to give you some background about that article. This week, someone showed me a popular Tumblr post that had been made with a brief Twitter exchange between Ellen and me. It was a compilation of the arguments that Samus was transgender. The headline was, “Samus Is Transgender, Deal With It,” which I used to credit the original Tumblr post.

I did a Google search about the arguments, and saw that no mainstream periodical had ever written about them. On a whim, I wrote Ellen and asked her if she wanted to compile her best argument for it. She agreed. She passed me a 1,200-word document with impeccable sourcing, and I did a rewrite pass on it framing it in emotional, accessible terms so lots of people would read it.

And a lot of people did. Unfortunately, many of them proceeded to aggressively attack the two of us.

I don’t doubt that a small percentage of the arguments being made against the possibility of transgender Samus are done in good faith. But, let’s be clear – the extreme amount of blowback my co-author and I have gotten is not about the merits of any argument. It’s about geeks not being able to accept the idea that Samus could be transgender.

The geek world thinks itself too smart to be affected by prejudices like transphobia. This is blatantly, harmfully untrue. It has been shown time and time again, that geek culture shows an explosive amount of anger at any effort to include women, gay and lesbian people, black people, and especially people that are transgender or non-binary. Just to name a few of thousands of examples:

  • When the new Thor was a woman, geeks screamed from the hills.
  • When Commander Shepard was given gay male romance options, geeks screamed from the hills.
  • When Miles Morales became Spider-Man, geeks screamed from the hills.
  • When a Stormtrooper in The Force Awakens was shown to be black, geeks screamed from the hills.
  • When women’s soccer teams were added to the new FIFA game, geeks screamed from the hills.

Even more frustrating than the blatant transphobia are the unconsciously transphobic arguments. I want to tackle three of these head on, and I need you to listen.

1. The vast majority of people angry at this idea do not have a basic understanding of transgender issues.

Imagine someone screaming at a scientist, angrily denouncing the idea the world is round, when they have no idea what a sphere is. That’s a good description of almost all of the arguments we’ve gotten.

One popular, angry opinion is that because you saw Samus as a young girl in a manga – it is impossible for her to be transgender. This is, in particular, a really uninformed argument. I have a close friend with a gender variant child. This child likes dresses, having long hair, and pretending to be a princess. If you met this child, you would probably think they were assigned female at birth – but they were not.

2. Transgender women are women, period.

The most harmful, damaging argument by far is that by claiming Samus is a transgender woman, I am somehow taking away her legacy as a strong female character. This, put bluntly, is blatantly transphobic and terrible. Cisgender women do not have a monopoly on the female perspective. Neither do white women or straight women.

Yesterday, Idris Elba was trending because many white people were unable to see him as James Bond. Clearly, if you can’t imagine Bond as a black person, you have unconscious bias against black people. Similarly, if you can’t imagine Samus as a transgender woman, you have unconscious bias against transgender women.

As a friend of mine so eloquently put it, there is more evidence that she is transgender than cisgender.

3. A followup post by Yoshio Sakamoto said that Samus was not a “transvestite.”

Granted, I do not speak Japanese, and like others I am relying on fan translations. But I have seen all use this word in his quote.

I can hardly believe I’m having to type these words in 2015, but transgender people literally have nothing to do with cross-dressers, (that other t-word being an outdated and offensive term). Transgender women are not drag queens, either. This, to be blunt, is an extremely harmful misconception. To see Wikipedia’s discussion page using this “fact” as proof to shut down the transgender discussion shows just how much these presumably cisgender editors need to educate themselves before pronouncing editorial judgement.

Sakamoto’s further comment doesn’t invalidate the idea that Samus could be transgender, it just brings up more questions. Why would creators disrespect a character and trans people by dangling her potential transgender status as a joke? What does that say about how transgender people are treated by the games industry? And why can’t transgender gamers look at jokes like that and reclaim them? This is exactly what happened with Poison, whose transgender status was slowly accepted as cannon.

I want to leave you with a final thought. What would you do if you had a large platform to speak from? Would you post cat videos? Would you talk about Game of Thrones? Would you ask everyone to send you a dollar?

This is something I’ve thought about a lot as a public figure. It’s my opinion that if you have an audience, you have a moral responsibility to do everything you can to make the world a better place. This is why I spend so much time advocating for social justice issues.

Yesterday, a story came out that broke my heart. A transgender high school student had over 150 people protest her taking gym class. So many transgender friends have told me that story made them cry. I’ve thought a lot about what it must be like to be a teenager and get that amount of hate thrown at you. I wrote her a long support letter, but that’s simply not enough. 

I have a responsibility to stand up to transphobia, and so do you. If the idea of Samus, a fictional character, possibly being a transgender woman upsets you – you have some growing to do.

Brianna Wu is the head of development at Giant Spacekat, a software engineer and the host of Isometric and Rocket on the Relay.FM network. She’s also a frequent speaker on women-in-tech issues. Worldwide press has called her the “Games Boss.” For more information on Brianna, visit BriannaWu.net, or find her on Twitter, @Spacekatgal.

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