Angry Lesbians & White Feminism: The Problem With Sera in ‘Dragon Age’

Dragon Age: Inquisition

When I heard rumblings that two canon gay characters would be featured front and center in Dragon Age: Inquisition, I was at the same time utterly thrilled and very, very wary. For the record, this particular post won’t discuss Dorian at all, though I certainly have more than enough to gripe about given how deeply unsettling it is that you can continue to aggressively flirt with him as a straight woman. Can we not play into the sassy gay friend trope anymore, devs? Please?

In any event, I’ll be focusing my attention on the first (and only) exclusively gay woman to enter into the Dragon Age franchise, and just how upset I am about the way she was handled, both before the game hit the shelves and during gameplay. For anyone who hasn’t read any of my past articles, I’ll repeat myself for clarity’s sake: I am a gay woman and have struggled to come to terms with my identity all my life. When I hear that a character who identifies the same way will be featured among the main cast in a game, I tend to err on the side of critical. My skepticism was, unfortunately, well-founded in this case.

The fact that Bioware had the chance to destroy all stereotypes with the addition of a lesbian character, but instead chose to play into every single trope greatly saddens me and significantly lessened my playing experience. Before I loaded Inquisition up on my Xbox, I fully expected my playthrough would involve constantly interacting with and ultimately romancing Sera. Instead, I almost never brought her along in my party and endured her personal quests with gritted teeth. This wasn’t the gloriously reaffirming playing experience I’d anticipated, friends.

A special thanks to cypheroftyr for kickstarting my interest in the topic after leaving this particular article half-finished months ages ago. You’re an inspiration! 💕

[Concept art]
[Official Dragon Age: Inquisition concept art]

Lesbian (n): A woman who is always angry or behaves erratically. Usually at the same time.

As you can see above, Sera was originally slated to be designed as a woman of color, which would have brought sorely needed diversity to an already white-washed elven race. (You’ll note that Solas was also intended to be something other than undercooked egg whites.) This could have greatly improved her character arc, as a diverse background would have served to highlight Sera’s struggle with her identity. Not only does she feel set apart from other elves due to her upbringing, but also because of her skin color—a bright contrast to the endless globs of Elvhen mayonnaise.

We’re far more likely to sympathize with the issue she takes with other elves when they’re such a deeply exclusionary people to begin with. The Dalish are well-known for their immediate distrust of any beyond who they deem their own. An elf of color raised by humans and surrounded by the culture of shemlen? One who learned the abilities and skills befitting a human rogue, not an elf? If Sera ever crossed their path before, it’s highly likely the Dalish were as vicious to her as we see she is to them. Could you really blame her, if all of this were the case?

But that wasn’t the case, and for that, Sera’s constant diatribe against the elves only comes across as insensitive. This behavior further plays into her sexuality, as the Psycho Lesbian trope (while an ablelist label) is well-loved and immediately recognizable in popular media. Everyone knows all lesbians are angry and all gay men are cheerful! At least, Dragon Age certainly seems to prop up their gay characters within this limited understanding of the rich complexities of queer stories. Sera comes off more like the widespread cocktail of self-righteous anger and incoherent babbling that make up your token lesbian character than an actual human being, but the issues don’t stop there.

We could have had it all, Bioware.

Dragon Age: Inquisition
[More delightfully cissexist Dragon Age: Inquisition concept art.]

Feminist (n): A person who polices the gender identity of everyone within shouting distance.

“White Feminism,” for those of you who don’t know, is a catch-all term used to describe the wholesale brand of feminism touted by white women of privilege. Urban Dictionary actually has a pretty accurate definition, for anyone looking for further clarification:

“A brand of feminism centered around the ideals and struggles of primarily white women. While not outright exclusive, its failure to consider other women and its preoccupation with Western standards and the problems faced by the “average woman” is often alienating to women of color, non-straight women, trans women, and women belonging to religious or cultural minorities.”

Right now, we’ll be focusing on the most glaring aspect of Sera’s character within this concept, and that’s her blatant transphobia. On top of her delightfully racist ranting, she seems incapable of not running at the mouth on other offensive topics, and I’d be willing to bet her comments likely flew under the radar of most cis players (myself included—at least during my first playthrough).

Her first interaction with the Inquisitor has been criticized for being cissexist, though much of her humor is almost entirely related to genitalia and the policing of it. You get a real sense of this in the codex entry involving Josephine given the “Velissisima Ladyparts von Knucklefronts” comment. Further—because oh yes, there’s more—if you choose to bring her to the Winter Palace, Sera offers up this stunning little gem in regards to another guest attending the party:

Dragon Age: Inquisition

This begs the question: why, then, was it absolutely imperative that these vile comments be added to Inquisition when it was unlikely many gamers would see it on their first—or even second—playthrough? You can’t engage Sera in a discussion about why her snide comments are completely inappropriate like you can when Dorian asserts to a Dalish Inquisitor that slavery isn’t really that bad. At least in that instance, you have the option of engaging the problematic behavior to explore where the character is coming from and how they might, in fact, be saying hurtful things.

Dragon Age: Inquisition
[Subtle. Real subtle.]
We don’t even have any indication that other characters called Sera out on her transphobia, which would have at least been a little improvement, particularly when there just so happens to be a character who is trans in-game. How did Sera feel about Krem? Did she react to him the way she reacted to elves and mages—with disdain and fear rooted in ignorance? Seems just a bit too unlikely that they never crossed paths and came to an argument, given just how unapologetic her opinions are on the lives of others. It’s one thing to include characters with problematic viewpoints in games, but it’s quite another when none of said problematic viewpoints are ever challenged. That sends a message, friends, and it’s not a positive one.

Ultimately, I took less issue with Dorian’s portrayal than I did Sera’s, but I’d be interested to hear the experiences of gay men on that front. There are a lot of articles out there from the perspective of straight people where they learned, gradually, not only to empathize with the experience of LGBTQIA+ characters, but to eventually find themselves playing through it. I’m all for opening up that conversation! It’s delightful that we can introduce our experiences to others, thus bringing a much-needed perspective of normalcy to the fore. (Confession: I cried during Dorian’s personal quest involving his father. Damn, that hit close to home.) That said, we need to be careful of harmful stereotypes when creating these inclusive characters or we’ll just be taking several flying leaps backward.

I need more than just diverse games: I need realistic, positive representation that actually helps to differentiate from the games oversaturated with tropes and queer-baiting.

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25 Comments on “Angry Lesbians & White Feminism: The Problem With Sera in ‘Dragon Age’

  1. First of all, I personally didn’t like Sera. At all.
    This is probably influenced by the fact that during her personal quest I chose to keep asking questions to gather further information before deciding anything, and she reacted in the worst possible way. When we got back to Skyhold, I took all of her gear and kicked her out.

    On the gameplays that followed, I kept her in and simply reacted like she wanted so she wouldn’t mess up again. In the end, she wasn’t that bad, but I agree that she’s problematic, to say the least.

    Now…

    “We’re far more likely to sympathize with the issue she takes with other elves when they’re such a deeply exclusionary people to begin with. (…) Sera’s constant diatribe against the elves only comes across as insensitive.”

    This is almost funny to me. I’ll speak from my experience as a Latin American that was born and raised in Latin America, and still lives there to this day.

    To me, Sera is all about internalized racism.

    There’s this racist attitude here that I call “Latinos that are anti-Latinos and believe themselves Europeans”. Here’s why: At least here in Argentina, white people believe themselves “above” and hold a deep grudge and hatred towards anyone with a darker skin colour or from a lower social-economic class (than theirs).

    On top of it, many actually claim themselves to be Europeans and reject having anything to do with natives. And then they speak of patriotism and national pride… It’s full of Seras down here. To me, it’s only a delusional denial of identity mixed with white supremacy crap.

    So, in a way, even if Sera was not written by a Latin American, I see some points in common between her and the reality around me.

    This is more common than you’d think here. On TV, in telenovelas (“soap operas”) all people are white. However, if you walk down the streets you quickly realize that’s not a reflection of reality, much less our indentity. Same thing with models, TV hosts, random famous people, etc.

    (Again? An endless comment of mine?! OMG…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, hello! I apologize for the super late reply—I’d initially thought my comment had went through, but alas. Just wanted to say that, firstly, I probably could have worded that sentence better, though I’m very glad it prompted you to share your experience! I have very little understanding of the complexities of Latin American culture, so this was definitely an eye-opener. It definitely sounds similar to the way Sera responds to all other elves.

      Thank you for sharing that!

      Liked by 1 person

    • fellow argentnian here, boy do i agree w/you. never played inquisition, never played past the first half of origins even, but your take on how shitty patriotism is down here, it got to me. only time we ever see ourselves being “proud of our nation” is during the world cup, and it’s all capitalist bullcrap being thrown in your face, messi’s face sponsored everywhere, yet everyone loves to forget they’re argentinian while badmouthing the villas, everyone loves to forget they’re argentinian when the qom protest in 9 de julio for their basic human rights when the police is running them over, tryna kill them. everyone loves to forget they’re argentinian during national holidays, seen entire assembly halls of high school kids during a national holiday celebration, barely mouthing the lyrics to our anthem, only a quarter of them singing, maybe.
      it’s true what you say, all of it. we love to include ourselves in everything about the latin american community, but look down on other countries, thinking we’re better off. we’re not, not by a long shot. white porteño elitists only want their fancy wine, their showmatch and tinelli, and their fancy european imported products. the latino identity, but without the burden of being latino. the “white latino” i call it. that’s what we are, that’s what we’ve filled this country with. white latinos at the cost and the lives of natives and poor people starving in the villas.
      if sera’s like us, then i should give a shot at inquisition. maybe i’d see much of our own country in her.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you mentioned the Internalized Racism, because I was going to mention it too.

      I remember hanging out in the official BioWare forums (where many of the game developers sometimes post comments or answer questions) during the months leading up to the game’s release, and the devs would BRAG about Sera’s anti-elfiness, like it was this amazing, positive character trait that made her so fundamentally unique and likable by itself, saying things like, “She’s not your typical elf. ;)”

      Then I actually played the game, and not only was my Elf Inquisitor put off by Sera’s intense hatred, ridicule, and dismissal of anything “elfy,” but like you I quickly caught wind of internalized racism. In Thedas humans are the privileged majority, while elves are a marginalized minority. Humans stereotype and degrade everything elven as inferior to everything human. And Sera, who was raised among humans, accepts all the negative elven stereotypes, seems to go out of her way to act as human as possible, and tries to put as much distance between herself and other elves as possible to show how SHE doesn’t fit those stereotypes!

      Typical internalized categorical behavior. (I’ve seen the same behavior from women who internalize misogynist rhetoric who hang out with and try to act more like men to distance themselves from other women; Jews who internalize anti-Semetic rhetoric and try to act more like gentiles to get gentile approval; Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing people who internalize Ableist rhetoric and try to pass as hearing; etc.)

      In fact, if you get the “cookie on the rooftop” conversation, Sera explains how her human foster mother had the cook make Sera cookies, then said he hated elves so Sera wouldn’t go near him to cover for the fact that she couldn’t bake. Choose the right conversation options, and Sera admits she’s still furious about this because, “She made me feel like there was something wrong with me [for being elven]!” And I just thought, “Sera… you still seem to feel that way. You’re just not aware of it.”)

      The thing is, I don’t think the devs intended for Sera’s anti-elfiness to come across as internalized racism. I could live with it if it was framed as a young woman who’s part of a marginalized minority internalizing the majority’s negative view of them, then acting like the majority as much as as possible and dismissing and distancing herself from the minority as much as possible to avoid feeling like she’s “one of them” “in a bad way.” If Sera and/or the devs addressed it and/or grew from it, I could live with it.

      But it’s not. Based on the developers’ comments that I read, they seem to think Sera acting human is this great thing, and that by rejecting elven culture she’s the “good elf” who saw through the bullshit and embraced the “right side.”

      And considering Thedas humans are fantasy culture counterpart White European Christians, while Thedas Elves are a mix of many real-world minority cultures, histories, etc (Jews, Romani, Afro-Native Americans, historical Irish, etc), this has the uncomfortable parallel of many real-world whites/Europeans/whatever (for example) who “approve” of a PoC because they ACT like a white person. Like my mom. “Oh, I don’t dislike black people, I just don’t like black culture. But I like YOU because you look, think, act, dress, and talk like white people.” (THANKS MOM!)

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  2. I have complicated feelings about Sera. In game, weirdly, she was the first character that my Inquisitor befriended even though I, personally, took an instant dislike to her from her character outline. Because she doesn’t believe in doing things for the ‘greater good’ and I’m a huge proponent of the greater good just in life, in general.
    In game, she grew on me, despite her abrasiveness. I think I liked her because she went out of her way to aid the Inquisitor even though she had no reason to, no loose connection to it. Also, she liked me. That helped.
    Anyway, I don’t think that all representation of lesbians need be completely positive in order to be… positive. For one thing, such a view can be creatively stifling. And character defects are often more interesting than virtues. Moreover, God knows, her flaws are realistic ones. So, I don’t object to her abstract presence in game although it’d be nice if you could call her out on some things.
    However, considering that she’s the first (as far as we know) lesbian character in the DA games and gay women are so underrepresented in video games in general… well… a niggling part of me wondered whether the writers were inadvertently promoting negative stereotypes with her. Which would not be great.

    In fact, the presentation of romantic relationships between women in Dragon Age is a little… I have very mixed feelings.
    Look at Leliana and Marjolaine. Incredibly abusive. Then there’s Branka and Hespith. Incredibly abusive. Celene and Briala. Not so incredibly abusive but Celene did *spoiler* *spoiler*. On the other, the actual in-game romances between women tend to be tame. Although you can, technically, hand Isabela to the Arishok and kill Leliana I don’t imagine a lot of people chose either of those options.
    I have a strange confession to make. Despite being a queer woman who derives the normal amount of vicarious pleasure from video games, I actually tend to romance the guy characters because their romance arcs are more dramatic (Solas, Alistair, Anders, Blackwall) and I like an interesting story. I like to cry, what can I say?
    I mean, I’d personally prefer if the romances between women had more meat on them and could potentially end tragically in a way that makes dramatic sense. And I’d also like it if the most abusive relationships in game weren’t all between women. Honestly, I don’t think such wishes are contradictory.

    So yeah, Sera– I don’t have a problem with per se. As long as in the next game there are at least three lesbian characters who are in accordance with my very, very specific list of demands :-p

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  3. I’m inclined to agree with Elektra Kenway, Sera seems like a case-study in internalized racism to me. She’s an asshole to elves because she was raised in an environment that was unsympathetic towards them, so she adopted a stance that rejects her own ‘elveness’ in order to avert self-hatred. And that’s unpleasant to see depicted, but it isn’t unrealistic because we see the same thing happens sometimes in real life.

    As to her transphobia, I don’t know if we can assume it’s a blanket attitude of hers– she made an insensitive reference to someone at the Winter Palace, yes, but she didn’t seem to have *anything* nice to say about *anyone* in the upper class. “He’s a she” almost sounds like reaching for some slight in the absence of something on-par with squire-beating or a physical deformity. Maybe the reason we never hear about an altercation with Krem is because there wasn’t one– *maybe* Sera saw Krem as someone respectable who didn’t need to be brought down a peg so she never said ‘boo’ to him. We only know about the instances of Sera’s shitty attitude that we see, but there’s also plenty that we don’t see.

    Finally, I kinda’ have to question the “white-elves-as-racism” angle. Variations in human skin colour & features– commonly seen as the markers of “race”– were the specific evolutionary product of migration over a couple hundred-thousand years. Dark-skinned people retained dark skin as protection from the equatorial sun, people who migrated north lost pigment to reproductive selective pressure to synthesize more vitamin C. There’s really no reason to expect that members of a non-human species from a world that isn’t Earth would necessarily have the same variations in features. (By that same token I see no reason why *all* elves shouldn’t be black… or green for that matter, or why all dwarves shouldn’t look like something that lives underground.) Anyway, race in any fantasy setting that doesn’t reference the evolutionary influence of prehistoric human migratory patterns across the face of the Earth seems like a bit of a “Earthist” conceit; a really radical exercise in worldbuilding would throw out all the conventions and assumptions and say that world-history-X produced people-who-are-Y.

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  4. This is purplemonkey dishwasher memnetic Sera hating at it’s absolute purest form, including a lovely little aside in the middle based on PURE NON-CANON CONJECTURE that Sera “probably argued with/was shitty to Krem”. Guess who Sera gets along brilliantly with? Iron Bull – do you honestly think that Iron Bull would be so jovial and friendly with someone who was shitty to his bestie, esp since Bull is an ardent ally (although his understanding of trans-ness is filtered through his cultural understanding of gender roles, but you know, he’s trying).

    The Winter Palace quote has been infamously taking out of context – when you’re talking to Sera, she’s just repeating the gossip and expressing disgust at how the nobles talk about each other (at least that’s how it read to me and most other people I knew who took her to the Winter Palace and actually, you know, *used her in their parties* unlike 99% of the people fueling the Sera hate-machine).

    Actually, guess who else Sera gets along brilliantly with? *Basically the entire freaking party* with very few exceptions (her treatment of Cole is incredibly shitty; like Vivienne, she never quite accepts him, but it’s realistic that a handful of party members don’t like being around things they have literally been told are DEMONS). I keep seeing these think pieces and posts about how Sera is “angry” and “rude” and “mean” and “selfish”, but if you actually use her in your party you’ll discover that she forms solid, empathetic friendships with the vast majority of the party. She likes to play around, she gets to know people and she’s usually the first person to offer a drink and a shoulder to cry on to your love interest if you dump them. Her anger wrt Thedas class also isn’t “incoherent babbling” – her class convictions are p well articulated and sincere, she even calls fan favourite Varric out on how disingenuous his “slumming in bars and gutters” is when he grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth. This is an interesting and important perspective that I’m glad the writers chose to represent considering how much fantasy lit is about “kings and knights” and I think it’s kind of telling that the fandom has thrown it out wholesale with claims that Sera is “random” and “incoherent”.

    I have a hard time not believing that a LOT of the hate leveled at Sera has to do with people’s dislike of seeing crass, uneducated women being crass and mouthy and inarticulate People talk about “cringing” when she speaks for reasons entirely unrelated to all the fuss about how “problematic” she is. When the game first came out people complained about how “random” and “annoying” and “try hard” she was. They talked about how she sounded “dumb” and “thought she was so funny”.

    I have a hard time not believing it’s about gender because there is SO MUCH concern expressed over how she ~*~doesn’t think the dalish are the greatest thing ever~*~ but wow, wow, remember who is a beloved fan favourite who shits on the dalish way of life and constantly tries to distance himself from elven identity? *Fenris*. Nothing Sera says in the game even scratches the surface of how nasty Fenris is to Merrill over the issue of elven identity.

    And of course, it’s totally okay for Solas to be shitty about dalish identity… and dwarves, and qunari (who he literally calls BARBARIANS and tells the Inquisitor that they are a credit to their race) while being as white as an uncracked egg. But of course, that’s different. Solas is “elfy” and he is “smart”. It’s okay for him to be a condescending dick to a romanced Inquisitor about their dalish identity because, of course, unlike dumb, incoherent little girl Sera, Solas is a wise man who ~*~knows better than you~*~. Sera is just angry and doesn’t understand.

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    • While I don’t agree with 99% of your sentiments on Sera, I’d just like to say that you made quite a few interesting points here, particularly in the way people respond to Solas (who I also fundamentally dislike) and Fenris (who I adore), as they are ALSO elves who are vocally against the Dalish. That certainly begs a spin-off article of some kind! Not one that I’d feel comfortable asserting any opinion on until I’ve replayed the games, certainly, but I’m glad you pointed this out in regards to the fandom-wide response to them.

      Thank you for the insightful reply! I appreciated it, even if our opinions differ.

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  5. First off, I’m a white cis straight man, so let’s get that out in the open. I also consider myself to be an ally of the repressed, marginalised and otherwise crapped on elements of the society in which I live.

    With that in mind, I’d like to point out a couple of what I perceive to be factual inaccuracies in this piece, without delving too much into life experiences that I’ve not lived.

    Firstly, it’s a half-truth to say that Sera was initially conceived as a person of colour. Just Google “Sera Dragon Age concept art” and you can see that they were clearly considering a variety of looks for her. The dark-skinned version shown here was only one of them. I’d add to this that in a world where different sentient species exist, skin colour is clearly far less important than in our world. Vivienne and Ser Barras’s skin colour is barely commented on in-game.

    Secondly, I think you are misinterpreting the line from the Halamshiral ball on two levels, but before I explain, let’s consider who Sera is. She’s the head of an organisation that has as its main motivation the idea of being a thorn in the side of the nobility. Sera clearly articulates her disdain for the Theodosian upper classes at many points during the game. It is made abundantly plain when you meet her, during her banters and in her personal quests that she receives intelligence on the activities of nobles from disaffected servants and other members of Thedas’s oppressed peoples with regularity.

    So, with that in mind, let’s look at what she says: “Crotch rot. Beats his squire. He’s a she. Extra toes. What a fun, close-marrying crowd.”

    This is not a statement about one person. She’s listing the things that the various attendees of the ball are hiding from the rest. Each sentence refers to a different member of the nobility, which is why she finishes by referring to them as a crowd. She clearly has information on each of them from her Red Jenny contacts and the statement is intended to show their massive hypocrisy in thinking and presenting themselves as superior while harbouring secrets that “polite society” would be scandalised by.

    While the “he’s a she” line can clearly be read as transphobic and I personally wouldn’t have included it in the game, it’s not even 100% clear that she thinks it’s a bad thing. She’s just listing what the nobles consider to be “dirty secrets.” The intent of the line is to highlight the hypocrisy of the nobility, which aligns with what we already know about Sera’s character from many other things she says in the game. It’s also worth noting that the only person who hears this line is the inquisitor. It’s said in one-on-one conversation at Halamshiral.

    Now, let’s look for other evidence beyond those three words to back up the assertion that Sera is transphobic. Unlike the author, I’ve had her in my party with regularity throughout three playthroughs and have romanced her, and I can say with certainty that such evidence does not exist. in all the conversations that you can have with her, and all the banters she has with other characters, she never says one transphobic thing. Contrast this with her clear and oft-repeated distaste for the nobility and Elven culture. Surely if the writers had intended to portray her as a transphobe, they’d have inserted more than three words of dialogue during the hours of things that she says in the game. Especially worthy of note is the fact that she gets on well with Iron Bull, and yet Krem is never even mentioned.

    The clear conclusion to make is that the writers did not intend her to be a transphobic character. They made an error of judgement by including one three word line that should’ve been caught in the editing process, replaced by something else and discarded. The reason that Sera is never called out on her transphobia is that the other characters never hear her say anything transphobic, which is because she wasn’t written as a transphobe.

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  6. It’s astonishing that I can tell from the first paragraph that you don’t know much about this series or its development team. Dorian is a “sassy gay friend” stereotype? Sure some fans reduce him to that, but in-game? Not really. Not to mention he was written by series creator David Gaider who is, you know, gay. And being gay isn’t nearly as big a part of his character as being Tevinter.

    That you can flirt with Dorian as a female character is inconsequential, you can also flirt with Cassandra as a female character, you can flirt with Sera as a male character, you can flirt with some characters who aren’t even romanceable. Because, well, people can flirt with other people. It’s a thing that happens.

    And with that tangent aside… I am also a gay woman. I also dislike Sera. But that’s because she’s an underdeveloped character with no arc and a nigh-on fanatical devotion to willful ignorance. None of that is making a statement about how lesbians are, it’s bout who SERA is as a person. Unless you think gay characters aren’t allowed to have any personality flaws (which is how you end up with patronizing faff like “sassy gay friend” to begin with.)

    I’m not understanding how you believe having darker skin would have improved Sera’s story arc. Lines of prejudice are not drawn by skin color in Thedas but by country of origin and species, generally. Elves are already a extremely marginalized people. Not to mention early concept designs aren’t the “intended” version of the character. Characters go through several iterations and designs before one is chosen. Would you say Vivienne was “intended” to be white just because the very earliest sketches of the character line up have what looks to be a blonde, white woman in her role? http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20141215190316/dragonage/images/8/8e/Inquisition_character_study_concept.jpg

    “Sera comes off more like the widespread cocktail of self-righteous anger and incoherent babbling that make up your token lesbian character than an actual human being”

    Where are you getting the idea that her character archetype is a “lesbian trope”? Typically lesbians are depicted as straight male fantasy objects or salt-of-the-Earth sexless older women.

    I’m surprised you liked Dorian’s personal quest so much since it is a bit of typical Lifetime Movie “gay issues” thing (although it did contribute to the lore), whereas Sera is utterly comfortable with her sexuality, as she should be, as it’s practically a non-issue in Southern Thedas

    And lastly… “transphobia” is repeating the gossip you overhear at an Orlesian party and… knowing female anatomy exists? Alright. If you say so.

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  8. After I got finished screaming inside for a few minutes, I took a second to breathe before tackling a reply. You know, just so I don’t seem like an angry lesbian.

    I’m not a huge fan of Sera, which is a shame, because that leaves me with Josephine as a romance option and I prefer dating party members. I did love how absolutely complicated and flawed she was because it felt so real. She’s judgmental, childish, shortsighted, and so delightfully rude that I finally felt like I had an actual person on my team instead of a political statement or tailored friend material. She was a challenge to get along with, just like Fenris, who pretty much nobody complained about, by the way…

    Sera wasn’t an angry lesbian. She was a person who was messy, and angry, and confused who also happened to be a lesbian. We have some sort of weird idea that any minorities portrayed in media (LGBT, racial, female, mentally and physically disabled) have to be portrayed as perfect and pleasant always, which actually dehumanizes us and makes us hard to relate to. As for the transphobic language…I wouldn’t have done it, but I think it’s more of an insecurity that Sera ferreted out rather than an overarching hatred for trains individuals. I really can’t she her doing that to Krem. I’m not even going to touch the race issue, because it’s a shitty argument to get into on either side and I have strong words for both. I’m so annoyed with bio ware fans screaming about everything and anything they see in a way that doesn’t really come off as constructive. It makes it really hard to be part of a fandom I once really used to love.

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    • Hey! I really appreciate your comment, and I’d just like to reiterate that I respect the fact that you had a different experience playing the game. That’s a GOOD thing! I still adore Bioware and their Dragon Age series, I was just attempting to address what rubbed me the wrong way about Sera. You’re right—LGBTQIA+ characters don’t have to be perfect, but I personally felt that Sera was a walking trope (my experience, not everyone’s). I’m glad this at least opened up a discussion regarding inclusivity! No one’s perfect, and I honestly didn’t expect Bioware to ~totally nail~ representation without some growing pains first.

      Anyway, tl;dr thank you for commenting with a polite response. Was interesting to get your perspective!

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  9. Pingback: Video Games Are Utterly Failing Trans Gamers & It’s Time We Did Something About It | FemHype

  10. This is entirely my own POV, and I come it from a trans woman’s perspective. Personally I have only romanced Sera in all the run throughs of the game I have played, and as such I wanted to offer a counter point to your post.

    I find Sera to be the most down to earth and relateable character in the entire game. I find her funny, rude, brash, misguided, yet also someone who can take the sting out of the pomposity of the whole situation. I appreciate all that you have written, but unless you have actually romanced her and dug into her background I think your comments are misplaced.

    During her romance you find out about her past, why she acts the way she does, and that her whole modus operandi is about protecting the weak from the rich. She is not an angry lesbian, IMO, rather a character with a moral compass firmly directed towards protecting those who cannot protect themselves. If you find course behaviour unrefined fair play, but to simply dismiss her as a one dimensional trope machine is also unfair. If her and Cassandra had their sexual orientation reversed would you complain about that too? Same with Lilliana (who I romanced in DAO). Lilliana is a lesbian who kills, is cold blooded, and single minded until you convince her otherwise, does that make her another walking trope?

    As far as the whole feminist police argument goes, I would argue Sera is the least of it. If you actually talk to Krem and Bull about Krem’s past you can follow the breadcrumbs of Krem’s gender and ask some pretty impolite questions through ignorance (which I did on my first run through). Truth be told, Sera is as ignorant as the general populous, and while it would have been nice to educate her, it is a very minor point compared to the epic way Bull handles Krem – namely he does not give a flying f*** about his gender, rather letting skills prove the mettle of the man.

    In summation I personally think you have misread Sera completely, and not fully understood the nuance of her character, or why she was written the way she was. She is brash, scared, alone, and determined to do right by the little people at the start of the game. By the end you realise that she is loyal, fun,and rude as anything, but also that she has a massive heart of gold that helps steers the Inquisitor’s moral compass back towards the people rather than the princes. Plus, she does make you cookies and chills out considerably when you romance her.

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  11. Multi-Racial, Cis Pan male. I typically play female characters in RPGs.

    I have a love hate with Sera. I love that she talks about class inequality. No one else in DA ever mentions it and I for one love to see someone who fights for the common folk. I never associated it with her sexuality. I agree with Rob McD’s comment about “Crotch rot. Beats his squire. He’s a she. Extra toes. What a fun, close-marrying crowd.” I read that as a collection of comments about people in the crowd, people of wealth and privilege, who she was opposed to.

    Now I suppose the committed rebel against societal norms is part of lesbian tropes, but its a heroic one in my mind. The committed rebel, be she fighting for racial, sexual, religious, gender, or economic equality is someone to be admired. It takes amazing courage to stand up against the weight of society and fight for what is right.

    Skin color appears to be meaningless in the world of DA. In a game full of slurs and hate, there’s not a single reference to color being one of the things that people judge others by. So Sera’s skin color wouldn’t really factor into anything other than aesthetics (At least in terms of the game’s reality). Both of the most noble characters you have in your group of associates are women of color, the lowest is a pasty white woman.

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  12. Sorry to dredge up an old article and blast you wit a huge great essay!
    First things first, I have to say that your article brings up some extremely valid points about Sera – particularly the transphobic remarks, which I do not find acceptable in any way. However what I want to bring up is my particular experience with Sera, as a lesbian with ADHD who has previously suffered bouts of mental illness.
    I only began playing Inquisition in April of this year, and what with the game having been around for a while prior to my playing it I saw a great deal of Sera critical content. It didn’t particularly bother me at the time, I thought “Well dang, guess that’s another character off the tolerable list.”.
    However, once I began playing, I found she was probably one of he character I was able to empathise to best within the game – despite having to disagree with some of her sentiments.
    It was apparent even from her introduction – particularly in the way she speaks. Admittedly, her writing is a little ham-fisted and jarring at points, however it felt very familiar to the way I myself speak. To me, Sera has issues with translating her racing thoughts and feelings into speech, resulting in her somewhat aggressive, simple speech patterns. She has issues pronouncing certain words, she’ll often lose a point part way thought a statement as if she’s forgotten the last word she said and in party banter she will consistently bring up an older conversation to add a point she has only just thought of ways to articulate. She also appears to need time to process other people’s responses or questions, as shown through her frequent use of “What?”. While I personally can follow her speech patterns with ease, and infer her sentiments, I have noticed a large number of players simply labelling her as “stupid” and “rude”- along with a number of more colourful insults. In game she refers to herself as “stupid”, leading me to believe it’s something she has been told so many times she believes it to be true. I have previously been called a number of these, purely because of difficulties translating my particular thought patterns into words. It frustrates me and upsets me to no end, as I’m sure it would someone like Sera, who has shown at points to be particularly perceptive and strategically-able. In words I find myself frequently using when trying to explain what I’m saying; “the words aren’t working right” for her.
    Without going into too much detail with regards to my personal life, I have had my rationality, intelligence and general sense of self questioned by the people around me. Since a young age I believed I was generally intelligent, I just wasn’t able to use it “productively” like other people were. It resulted in a lot of “stupid” and “lazy” comments. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t meet people’s expectations of me, just because of the way I am. To my primary school, secondary school, and college tutors, I was lazy, absent-minded and moody. At the risk of sounding like every YA novel out there; I genuinely found people were unable to understand me.
    As such, it resulted in me beginning to question myself, and developing severe depression and a panic disorder through my teens. Even when I was being treated within the mental health system, none of the professionals I came into contact with were able to truly understand the situation, assuming it all stemmed from a “difficult home life and bereavement”. The experience caused me to become irrationally upset or angry whenever someone attempted to tell me what I “was” (e.g:”You’re not gay, don’t be stupid, it’s a phase” would elicit the response “F**k off, don’t make me doubt myself” – And then later along the line: “You’ve shown no interest in sex; I think you’re asexual, not a lesbian.” would elicit the response “F**k off, you can’t tell me what I am and what I’m not; I decide that.”).
    It was only when I was diagnosed with ADHD that I finally began to realised that I wasn’t “lazy” or “stupid”, that I had been right in most respects and knew myself better than anyone and that I had been failed by the education system in their inability to recognise that I had ADHD.

    To me, Sera has similar experiences. Human society, particularly Lady Emmald, failed her in it’s inability to accept her as socially human and instead applied crude elven stereotypes to her and questioned her intelligence. While I fear I may be projecting a number of ADHD “symptoms” onto her, I believe that they, and the constant “you’re an elf, so shut up and deal with it” attitude she was faced with are what resulted in her near hatred of “elfy” things. Her banter with both Solas and Cole infers she may actually have a deep connection to elements of elven culture, even the fade, however her desperate attempts to fit into human society and the fact she was manipulated into believing “elfy” things are bad cause her to deny them. She stuck in the “F**k off, don’t make me doubt myself” mentality, and most likely will be unable to leave it. as Bioware probably won’t give her or us a chance to truly explore her character, due to how unpopular she was.

    There’s a number of other points I would like to raise in correlation between Sera’s personality and actions and ADHD, however I’m unable to work out the words hem coherently and I’ve already written wwwaaayyyyy too much and want to mention something in relation to Krem. I actually believe that Sera would accept Krem and support him, as he is someone who has been told throughout his life that he’s not the person he truly knows he is.
    Once again, sorry to dredge up an old article, but I know that a number of people in the Autistic community to have voiced that they feel connected to Sera too, and that I could maybe give another insight into her character.

    Like

    • Hey there, Frankie! I just wanted to sincerely thank you for bringing your perspective to the discussion. This is the first time I’ve read anything like this in relation to Sera’s character, and I’m so glad that you shared your experiences!

      I feel like I may have been a bit harsh in my article here (I wrote it six months ago when I was fairly fresh into my DA:I playthroughs), but I’d just like to stress that it’s her WRITING I had a problem with, not her in particular. I totally respect the fact that some people may love and even identify with her/her experiences. This was more a space I carved out to discuss the issues I had with her construction as a character.

      That said, you’re seriously inspiring me to start yet another playthrough just to get to know her better. Thank you again for taking the time to write this thoughtful comment! I hope you’re well. 🙂

      Like

  13. Hi

    First, I have to admit that I’m a straight male, so my points are might be not valid on this matter, but I think you completly missunderstood Sera.
    I’ve never seen her as an angry lesbian (though I didn’t like her at first, that’s true), she’s more like an uneducated, harsh, but caring girl, who happens to be lesbian. At the first meeting she seems like a hateful stupid bitch, but if you take your time to know her better, you’ll learn there is much more about her. I think many people misjudge her just because they stick to their first impression about her, and that’s a huge mistake. Yes, she’s a little bit crazy, and have a certain way of looking at things, but all of her personality flaws have their reasons. She’s an outcast as an elf, since she was raised in a human way, in a human, elf-oppressing environment, so she can’t really have anybody to relate to. Of course she’s not human, but she’s neither an elf, so her position is rather similiar to a black-white mixed race children in the USA in the 50’s. Other than the Jennies, the Inquisition is the first place in her adult life where she can settle in. This explains almost everything about her. Why she is mistrustful, why she feels obligated to defend the helpless, why she’s so childish, Of course you can’t agree with everything she says, because she knows very little about the world, and can be narrow-minded, but can you honestly say that you don’t like anybody in the real life with the same flaws? She’s fun, she is really kind to those who she likes, she cares about others, she does everything she’s able to to help those who can’t help themselves, so all in all she really is a great person. Of course she’s not perfect, but to me it just makes her even more loveable (you know: we like people for their qualities but we love them for their defects). She’s absolutely real, generally as a person, and more specifically as a women too. Of course I can’t tell that how realistic lesbian she is, but I don’t think that there is only one type of lesbian women, so I’m pretty sure she’s realistic even in that part. And if you look closer, she doesn’t have more flaws than the other romancable characters. I mean except Josephine of course, but the good Josie is as exciting as a glass of water.
    And why would Sera be an angry lesbian stereotype? First she’s not that angry. She despises those who don’t look under their feet while they try to reach higher. That’s why she hates Vivianne, that’s why she beats that fucker noble to death, but other than standing up for the oppressed, she doesn’t act angry. In the banters she’s fun, if she likes you, she’s fun with you, and always ready too do some foolishness. Childish? Very-very much. Angry? Only when she has a reason to it. She can’t control her emotions, that I admit. And to be honest, other than the fact that she’s unromancable with a male Inquisitor, I didn’t see anything about her that would make her a(n angry or not) stereotypical lesbian character. She would work just as fine as a bi, or straight character, which knowing the fact that homosexuality is accepted in all of Thedas (except in the noble families for the obvious reasons) I think the logical way. I mean if it’s widely accepted, then it shouldn’t defy a character’s personality in any way, right?
    But I do agre on that she’s might not the cup of tea for everybody. We can’t be the same. I see why can she be hated, but I don’t think it makes her a bad character. I mean I hate Vivianne, but I believe that she was meant to be written to a type of person that I can’t stand, so that’s right. And I also accept the fact that if you don’t like Sera’s personality (which I adored dearly), it can be frustrating, since there isn’t any other real romance option for lesbians in the game. (Just to be fair: for straight male characters the only real option is Cassandra, which also not a huge variety)

    I don’t really understand the skin-color part of your post. First, in the Dragon Age series, skin-color was never a reason of separation (literal race, and/or nationality and/or magical capabilities and/or social state were). Second, why do you think that there should be elves with darker-colored skin? We are talking about an IMAGINARY race, so why is it so obvious to you that there must be other colored elves than the flour-shaded ones we saw? And even if there were, why should that be just as separating as it is in our real life? It’s just as stupid as the wyvern-dragon argument lately. We speak about imaginary creatures in imaginary worlds.

    About the transphobic thing, sorry, but this is nothing more than the usual overly sensitive PC bullshit. Believe me, I’ve been told much harsher things in real life that I didn’t take personal. Even if Sera mocked a transsexual (which I strongly believe wasn’t the case), that’s not transphobia. Yes, I know that people became so sensitive that they can take even the slightest hint of an offend as the other raped their mother, but the truth is, every people say things in their life that could offend somebody, luckily not everybody takes a slight mocking as a real offend. And don’t forget, in this game these characters are warriors (not by their class of course). Believe me even the harshest rant from Sera can’t match with an avarage argument between two real life soldiers.
    And even if Sera meant that three word in an offensive way (which I still don’t believe is the case) isn’t she allowed to say such things? I mean if an afro-American can say “nigga” why can’t somebody from the LGBT community say something offensive about an other member of the LGBT community?

    All in all, I LOVED Sera. Even though I found her ugly, even though she was childish, even though she was really uneducated, I wasn’t even considering of romancing anybody else in my playtrough with a female Inquisitor. Behind Liara she’s right next to Jack and Isabella on my favorite BioWare female characters list.

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    • 1. Calling a transgender person ‘transsexual’ is rude. Trans identity has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Please don’t do it.
      2. You are straight and cis male. You lack the experience any member of the LGBT community has to be able to appropriately judge what is an unnecessary, offensive comment, and what is ‘overly sensitive PC bullshit’. Maybe people have said harsh things to you in your life, but comparing insults that have nothing to do with your identity or orientation to insults against the same is calling apples oranges.
      3. No, it’s not okay for a cis lesbian to misgender a trans person. It’s not even okay for a trans person to misgender a trans person. Comparing that to black people calling each other the N word is, again, apples and oranges.

      Like

      • 1. I didn’t mean to be rude. It’s not my fault that I don’t know the the correct terminology. If anybody gets offended by this, I can’t say how much I don’t care.
        2. I’m a straight male. Period. There is no such thing as cis. The 99% of humanity is this so called “cis” so it’s rather annoying that PC people had to invent a word for people who live accordingly to their biological gender.
        And of course, only LGBT people can be offended for their identity. It’s not like fat, thin, too tall, too small, too ugly, too different raced, etc can get insulted for who they are… It’s totally a LGBT privilage to be publicly humiliated. So sorry, I really didn’t see Sera’s words that offending, and I still don’t. If some people would take out their head of their asses, they would see the world doesn’t orbits around them. And by that I mean all the PC, SJW assholes. Yes, there are injustices in the world, yet, I haven’t seen any SJW to fight against the real problems.
        3. Not apples and oranges. It’s always been like that. People from a certain group are allowed to say offending things about their own groups.

        Like

  14. On Sera, I agree that Internalized Racism in play, most particularly after her personal quest–the March. If you have an Elven Inquisitor, you can try and argue that their culture is important, but her hatred is VERY deepset. She gets so angry that she’s more than happy to point out that the Inquisitor–as an elf who also proclaims to be the Herald of Andraste–is a walking contradiction and even they have pretty much given up their ‘elfy-ness’. And concerning the “Always Angry Lesbian” trope–I really don’t feel like she falls in that category. Her anger is justifiable and with reason. Maybe not always the best reasons, but she has them. And I like to take the lack of connection between the anger and her homosexuality as a win.

    And on Dorian, he definitely is the more likable character, but unfortunately that’s thanks to the “Cheerful Gay Trope”. On the surface. He has his own anger and his own issues, and he was just handled way better than Sera, and given more love. It’s obvious that the creators were more invested in him than Sera, and while it could just be a thing, it could also be a “gay men are so much more fun than lesbians” thing.

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  15. Maybe we aren’t meant to sympathize with her. You can look at it as her written to fall into the angry lesbian stereotype, but on the other hand she’s a good example of bluntness, contrasting with the people who shield themselves from criticism by playing the minority card. It’s shown more on social media, but there are many people under the impression that just because you belong to an oppressed group means that you cannot be racist/transphobic/homophobic/etc. To me, Sera seems more real in that way, showcasing that just because you fall under the minority umbrella doesn’t mean you can hide under it. And at least she doesn’t use that excuse to defend herself. I didn’t like her comments but I enjoyed her unlikable character, much in the same way people enjoy Rorschach from The Watchmen.

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  16. Maybe the problem is that people are expecting LGBTQ+ characters to make some sort of statement. Let’s use Sera’s own words, “People are people.”

    I disagree that Sera is not well written. I think she’s fantastically written. I found her jarring and obnoxious at first, but as I got to know her, I came to understand her. She’s childish, but why not? Firstly, it’s a barrier she erects. She expects people to think the absolute worst of her. She expects people to not understand her. The woman has so little self-confidence where it counts that she acts up to that expectation because why not? It’s a form of confirmation bias. If you chastise her after the Verchiel March, she gets angry with you for doing so but she’s not too bothered because she expected as much.

    If an elven Inquisitor chooses to believe the elves at the Temple of Mythal, she breaks up with them because Sera believes that she’s “not elfy enough”. If you break up with Sera after she basically tells you that she loves you, she barely even puts up a fight, because again, she expects it. She’s been told she’s all sorts of horrible things throughout her life, including things of which she had no control over, so she’s slow to trust and takes a rather bleak outlook over how others perceive her. In doing so, she’s adopted a fiercely independent and rebellious streak.

    “I am really not used to that acceptance thing you’re doing” – she says that because she is genuinely surprised. She knows that the Inquisition isn’t somewhere that she fits in – it’s adorned with nobles (Josephine, Varric though he eschews it), proven warriors/commanders (Cullen, Cassandra and Blackwall/Rainier) and generally people of some sort of “stock” or importance. If there were not a cataclysmic event going on, she wouldn’t be there.

    But she is there, for many reasons. She’s looking for something, looking for acceptance and to find a place in the world. Red Jenny gives her purpose, but her “friends” are mostly a group of disconnected individuals that she has little to no interaction with. Sera’s the girl that has been put upon her whole life – of course she’s angry.

    The Inquisition potentially affords her an opportunity to find her place, but also to explore her religion over which she is conflicted – “I want to know, but I don’t know if I really want to know”.

    She craves some sense of belonging, so much so that even if you’re not particularly friendly with her (and don’t even get the Pranks cutscene) she asks to stay after Corypheus is defeated because she’s found something that means something to her – and goes on to find more with Dagna.

    And she’s also childish probably because she didn’t have a real childhood. She was told lies by a well-meaning but deeply irresponsible woman. She grew up hating that she was an elf because she thought everyone else hated her for being an elf. How many lesbians, bisexuals, transpeople etc. grow up hating what they are because they believe that others hate them for it? I know I did.

    But she does have a heart. The Inquisition affords her the opportunity to do something good for everyone by sealing the Breach. Even when she is panicked about what she’s gotten herself into (“Maker, what did I step in?”) she sticks around and doesn’t run. In her time with the Inquisition she grows in confidence. Moreover, she starts to realise that people can actually like her. Most of her early party banter with Vivienne, Cassandra, Dorian etc. is hostile. Those people are belittling her, much like everybody else has before, and because of the game mechanics, the Inquisitor herself (or himself) says nothing to stop it.

    Vivienne, especially, early on is sickeningly cruel to Sera. Dorian, if you tell him you’re in a relationship with Sera refers to her as an “imp” and you can’t chastise him for that. In fact, Cassandra, Solas and Vivienne also speak badly of the relationship. Meanwhile, when Iron Bull jokes to Sera about bedding her way to power, one of her responses is to angrily state “You don’t talk piss about what matters.” I appreciate this is game mechanics and limitations, but Sera is invested in you which makes her more fragile and vulnerable, and I dare say that a lot of her anger, a lot of her hostility and a lot of childishness come from a place of fearing being vulnerable.

    These people are sucking up to you, the Herald of Andraste, because they believe in you and the power you wield (or in Vivienne’s case, because she wants to politically capitalise on your power for her own ends). Meanwhile, they think nothing of slating Sera whose only crime towards them is wanting to help and lowering the tone of the Inquisition with childish pranks and bad language. Only Iron Bull and Blackwall give Sera a fair crack of the whip. Varric is generally nice to her, but takes little time to understand her. The others treat her like dirt. And yet she still sticks around.

    And all these awful comments about Sera serve to confirm her outlook. It fits with her worldview. She’s a nobody, and all these big toffs are punching down on her. So she plays pranks on them, but mostly, she punches back up by proving herself as a skilled, competent warrior (well, rogue) herself. I think it’s fitting she has one of the most powerful focus abilities for killing dragons.

    In not quitting and proving herself, eventually, the others mostly start to behave in a more respectful manner to her. She’s braver than she gives herself credit for, she’s smarter than anyone gives her credit for and she becomes a stronger person. By the time Tresspasser rolls around, Sera’s no longer as angry – either she’s with Dagna, or the Inquisitor and though she’s still doing the Red Jenny stuff, she’s found confidence, acceptance and love.

    Regarding the transphobia – I actually believe that might be poor writing. Sera’s a lot like Mordin from Mass Effect in speech. Quick, blunt. “He’s a she” – I doubt she’s transphobic. I doubt she’d get on so well with Iron Bull if she was hostile towards Krem. I doubt she ever said a bad word to Krem. I doubt she cares that Krem is trans – again, people are people. What she cares about is hypocrisy, and you can imagine in Orlesian circles the transman will be openly hateful towards others, towards those who he believes lower than him, yet he hides a secret that his peers would deplore. Orlesian nobility is devious and conceited and they all wear masks to hide. I imagine that would make Sera sick, because she wants people to be open.

    Bioware has already done the competent (if not confident), successful and slightly quirky lesbian in Samantha Traynor in Mass Effect 3, the same way they have already done a very different gay man to Dorian in the same game. It made sense for Sera to be different. It makes sense for Dorian to be different. The Dragon Age series is often about nobility and the pretences, hypocrisy and showboating that comes with that. Sera shuns what people think she should be, and that’s fine.

    I even understand some of her racism. The Dalish would be the first to exclude her. The Inquisitor can remark she fears that her own clan won’t welcome her back. The Dalish clan met in the Exalted Plains won’t even trade with a Dalish Elf Inquisitor because of her status in a “shem” organisation until you’ve re-earned their trust. The Dalish clan from DA:O that reappears in DA2 is racist towards humans. And all Dalish clans appear to look down on city elves and believe themselves superior.

    So Sera has been taught that humans hate her because she’s an elf, and even knowing that her adoptive mother lied to her won’t easily erase that outlook, but she’s also very likely aware that other elves will look down on her too. There’s even a very real possibility that the City Elves in the Denerim Alienage would distance themselves from Sera, because she’s been around the humans too long.

    She’s not racist towards Qunari, or Dwarves. It seems more that she’s hostile to those she believes will be hostile to her, possibly as a defence mechanism. And, as we’ve established, she’s hostile to anyone who thinks they’re better than others – and the Dalish really do fit that category (and two of my playthroughs in DA:O have been as Dalish, and all in DA:I have been Dalish – I actually quite like them!).

    To be honest, the fact she’s a lesbian is almost a footnote given everything else about her character. I’ll be honest, that’s the type of representation I prefer to see. I don’t want a big deal made of an LGBTQ+ character because they’re LGBTQ+. I just want to see characters, and if they’re LGBTQ+ great… but who they are is the most important.

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