‘Tri Force Heroes’ & Trans Girl Link: The Necessity of Visibility
Did you know there’s this thing where people question the legitimacy of a trans person’s gender? (And I’m not talking about people who insist everyone is the gender they’re assigned at birth.) I didn’t know until I came out as trans. It’s like another layer of transphobia, one that was harder for me to detect because it can came from self-identified allies, fellow trans individuals, and even from within myself. It’s a myth perpetuated by a simplistic and damaging definition of transgender identities. According to this misunderstanding, trans women have the characteristics of heteronormative cis women and have interests in things that are considered feminine. This is one of the main obstacles I have had to struggle with since coming to understand myself as trans, and it is part of the reason I did not come to that realization until my mid-20s.
For a long time, I thought maybe I was a girl, but, on the other hand, I loved video games. They were my favorite pastime and they were a “boy thing,” so I probably wasn’t a girl after all. If you’re a cis woman that’s enthusiastic about video games, you might be labeled as a ‘tomboy’ or ‘one of the guys’ since video games, despite our best efforts, are still largely considered a boy zone. If you’re a trans woman and you have that same enthusiasm—and you’re already pressured to fit the feminine mold of a trans girl—it will feel like the ‘tomboy’ label and the ‘trans woman’ identity cancel each other out, so you’re just a boy.
We know that video games are not exclusively for boys, but the idea that they are a boys-only area is still prevalent. Reminders are important for us to claim the truth that they are for us—especially for kids who are just discovering gaming and will soon discover exclusionary entitlement in games culture if they haven’t already. Positive representation of girl characters in video games are a good symbolic reminder for us.
At E3 2014, Link’s new character design was revealed in a breathtaking trailer for the upcoming Zelda game for Wii U. Link appeared more androgynous than usual, and in response to enough people asking if this Link was a woman, the rumor was, disappointingly, officially denied by Eiji Aonuma.
The idea of Link being reimagined as a woman wasn’t new at the time, but it seemed rekindled by this incident. PBS Game/Show released an episode about the concept, and Female Link Jam, a game jam where participants created fanmade The Legend of Zelda games featuring a lady Link, was held in April. (Incidentally, I participated in this, but did not complete a game.) Both featured pictures of the androgynous Wii U Link as a banner image. The idea of a girl Link is clearly important to some fans. To me, she is, canon or fanmade, one of those good reminders I mentioned that games are for women.
A similar phenomenon to the one sparked by Wii U Link in 2014 occurred at this year’s E3 when Nintendo announced The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes, a new Zelda title for the 3DS featuring a co-op adventure similar to the Four Swords titles. The central gimmick of this release is the ability to change into different outfits, which gives the player various stat boosts and abilities. One of the many outfits revealed was Zelda’s dress. It was around this time that I discovered fan content that portrayed Link, not just as a girl, but as a trans girl. I don’t know if this headcanon existed before this past E3, but my impression is that it was Tri Force Heroes’ femme Link that sparked it. The final touch for me was when I first saw this particular drawing of Link proudly wearing Zelda’s dress.
It stood out, of course, because this drawing was official artwork released by Nintendo. See, if you go watch Nintendo’s E3 digital event, Femme Link wasn’t even revealed during the Tri Force Heroes trailer, but in the presentation following the trailer, and only briefly. Outfits like the big bomb suit were the main focus. It’s like Nintendo was being coy with us. “Oh, by the way, Link can wear a dress. No big deal.” Femme Link was a big deal—and they knew it. And now she was front and center in promotional art.
Just as the message of Girl Link is “video games are for girls,” the message of a specifically Trans Girl Link is “video games are for trans girls.” These messages overlap, but the trans qualifier in the latter is important for trans inclusion. As Girl Link is an important symbol for girls growing up and getting into games to know that games are for them, Trans Girl Link is important for girls—young and grown up—who are just discovering that they are girls, so that they know it is possible and fine and good to both be a girl and love games.
Trans Girl Link is important for me. In my third year of understanding myself as trans, I still find myself sometimes doubting my identity because of that mold that all trans women are expected to fit. These days. when I need a reminder that my gender identity and interests align perfectly, I think about Link.