Birdo, Poison And How To Construct Trans-Pride From Transphobia

I’m not really a gamer. I don’t own any consoles. It’s been a long, long time since I did. I’m usually pretty okay with that. Life is too big and expansive to fit all its subjects and media and passions into one little brain and lifetime. With some things you just have to accept “okay, I guess I’ll just be mostly oblivious about that particular thingy” or “okay, I guess I’ll just accept this particular gap in my education”.

(which is fine as long as you remember not to start acting like you are an expert on those things)

But every once in awhile, something comes along that makes me think yeah, I really kind of wish I did have a console or two, and was a gamer.

Like the recent release of Street Fighter X Tekken.

Why? Because I could play as Poison, the semi-iconic (and tediously “controversial”) transgender character originally from Final Fight. I could play as a beautiful, femme but totally badass trans woman, and spend all day kicking the will to live out of a series of virtual cisgender assholes. Kick back and harmlessly vent my increasingly pent up rage at a non-virtual world where all too often we’re the ones who get hurt.

Like Agnes Torres Sulca. Like Mark Aguhar.

The thing is, I love Poison. A lot. She’s awesome. I’ve mentioned her before in the context of Playstation magazine actually issuing a reasonable and sincere apology for the transphobic language they used in reference to her in one of their articles. For me, and for a lot of trans women, she ends up feeling like a symbol of trans female power. She’s not just a sex object. She’s not passive. She’s not a victim. She’s a fighter. She is clearly in possession of herself, and fully confident, and is able to carry herself just fine in a world filled with violent cis folk. If you fuck with her, she will fight back.


But what really interests me, and speaks to the genuine and real life strength and power of the trans community, is how Poison came about, and came to be understood as such a symbol. She was definitely not originally written to be an icon for trans women (particularly us geeky and/or gamer types). In fact, her origins as being trans at all were very much rooted in transphobia and sexism.

You see, originally, Poison (and her colour-swapped sprite-twin Roxy) were, in the Japanese version of the original Final Fight, just cis women…albeit violent gangster women. But while porting the game to the USA, American censors complained that it was not okay to have your male character beat up women. Solution? Poison and Roxy aren’t “really” women!

Apparently while it’s not okay to beat up a cis woman, it’s totally okay to beat up trans women.

(this kind of thing should give you some inkling as to why the idea of a game that would offer me the chance to spend all day playing as a trans women beating up cis people sounds so appealing)

Since then, the issue of whether or not Poison is “really” female (ugh) or “just a trap” (ugh-er) has been a “controversy” (ugh-iest) in the fighting game community, with Capcom steadfastly refusing to issue any kind of definitive statement one way or the other…and happily enjoying the free buzz generated by the ambiguity.

But that hasn’t held us back, or left us wondering. We’ve claimed her as our own all the same. Which is what I find so powerful about the whole story.

But first, I want to take a moment to consider another example: Birdo. She’s probably a lot more familiar to most people, given that she comes from the Mario series, which you really don’t need to be a gamer to have a bit of familiarity with.

Birdo was that egg-shooting pink dinosaur-ish monster wearing a bow that you fought as a mini-boss at the ends of stages in Super Mario 2. You know, you had to ride her eggs and then throw them in her face? And that ni-ni-ni-ni-ni-ni-ni-ni music was playing? And afterwards you got some kind of magic orb that would make an owl face nom you into the next level? Yeah.

Well, according to Super Mario 2’s instruction manual, Birdo was “a boy but thinks he’s a girl”.

And thus another transgender videogame icon was born.

In both of these instances, these characters who we’ve proudly embraced as icons were born not out of any deliberate effort to offer us that. They were created instead from the hostile, prejudicial and transphobic attitudes of the 80s- wherein it was morally unacceptable to inflict violence on cis women in a video game but totally cool to inflict violence on trans women, and where we made for funny little insta-punchlines in instruction booklets. “HA-HA thinks he’s a girl! Hilarious!”

But somehow none of that mattered. Just seeing ourselves was important to us. And whatever position or intention Capcom and Nintendo had wasn’t really important. As soon as they rendered these characters trans, they were ours. They belonged to us. The jokes didn’t matter. The intention didn’t matter. The official statements, or lack thereof, didn’t matter. The transphobic idiocy of the gaming community as a whole didn’t matter. What mattered was what we saw in those characters, what we put there, how we claimed them as our own and interpreted them in such a way that they were something we could find happiness and a presence in.

It’s things like this that make me annoyed when people knee-jerkedly roll their eyes at the “death of the author” thing. Because you know, sometimes the author is an asshole. Sometimes he needs to be killed. Sometimes what we the audience bring to things is a whole lot better than the author’s stupid intentions.

(see also George Lucas)

In a way, it wouldn’t even matter if Capcom came forth tomorrow and issued some big statement saying definitively that Poison is a cisgender woman, with XX chromosomes and a functioning uterus that menstruates seventeen times a day and was born with her hair already pink and pulsates with magical female energy that instantly causes everyone in her immediate vicinity to begin lactating and has never ever so much as looked at any toys other than Barbie and Disney Princesses. Because Poison’s gender doesn’t belong to Capcom anymore, it belongs to us. For us, she’d still be trans, and she’d still be awesome, and she’d still be a way for us to see ourselves reflected in video games. We’d still interpret their idiocy through our own lens of pride, and refuse to allow them to take that away from us.

In fact, that’s more or less exactly what happened with Birdo. Nintendo has made some fairly serious efforts to erase the whole “Birdo is trans” thing and have consistently presented her as nothing but female for a long time now (and have even pretty much canonically placed her as the romantic interest for Yoshi). But the thing is, Nintendo doesn’t quite get it. For starters, Birdo being female and her being trans aren’t mutually exclusive concepts. Nor does her and Yoshi being in love means she’s not trans. As said, she belongs to us now. That genie is not going back into any bottles.

Why do we make that refusal? Why do we create these icons out of circumstances that were anything but supportive of the trans community?

Well, a big part of it is that we can. A bigger part is that we need to.

The fact is that no genuine, fully-intentional positive portrayals of trans people are forthcoming in the hyper-cis/heteronormative (and hyper-male-dominated) world of gaming. Where we have any trans-positivity in gaming culture at all, it is either by way of happy accidents (like the Saints Row 2 gender slider in the character customization screen) or by real-world trans people in the gaming community who fight tooth and nail against immense bigotry and hostility but are just so damn talented that they can’t be excluded, like Kayo Satoh. Otherwise it’s a big, intimidating, scary place to be a trans person, with few indications you exist at all, other than perhaps as an insult to be shouted at opponents in online Call of Duty shootouts.

So we build what we need out of what little we have. And we invest it with that need, that yearning and resentment and survivor’s strength. If the gaming community won’t offer us trans icons to be proud of, well fuck them, we’ll take their cissexism and build something positive out of it, everyone else (and their stupid intentions) be damned. Like Poison, we become tough fighters to deal with a hostile world.

And that is something awesome to see.

Trans women: way tougher than you think.



  1. says

    Speaking of trans women in video games, are you familiar with Saints Row 2? Do you have an opinion on it?

    For anyone not familiar with the situation, it has become standard for modern games that allow customer characters to allow female characters. This was not the case a few years ago. The first Saints Row game only allowed you to play as a man. The second game wanted to expand your options, but you are still the same character from the first game. Also, it can’t import your data for whatever reason. The solution? Your character is caught in an explosion at the beginning of the game and you start by telling a plastic surgeon how you want to be rebuilt (character creation). At this point, you have the option of choosing a female character model. This doesn’t change any of the writing, so you end up playing as a lesbian trans woman if you do this. As is expected from a gang leader, your character is a bit of a misogynist, too. Voice acting isn’t an issue as the player character doesn’t speak. Kotaku covers it here:

  2. Anders says

    How disappointing. She’s not in the movie.

    Also, I while I have nothing against strong women per se I get nervous around people who can kill me in under 10 seconds. Nothing personal, Poison.

    (Not that I would have had any chance anyway… :))

    • Emily says

      I have no problem being around people that could kill me in 10 seconds, as long as they are on my side. 😉

        • Anders says

          Not anymore. Voluntary since 2010. I’ve never done military service, though. They didn’t want a 100-pound chicken with panic attacks…

          • Sour Tomato Sand says

            Ah, then you must be from Sweden, right?

            I just had a very silly image of you being nervous around a lot of trained killers who had no intent to harm you. 🙂

    • says

      One of my partners (the female one) can totally kill someone (not you necessarily) in 10 seconds.

      I am just glad she is on my side too.

      Important note, she won’t actually kill anyone. She is just very capable of doing so.

  3. Sour Tomato Sand says

    You know what I found really silly about the “Birdo thinks he’s a girl” thing from the SMB2 American manual though? She produces eggs. (Also, thank you oh so much for getting the SMB2 boss music stuck in my head.)

    That aside, I often play as female characters in MMO’s, single-player games with customizable characters, and so-on. A lot of cis men actually do this, too, and I know plenty of cis women who play as men. But you still get the “omg its a girl” reaction if you are male and play as female, and vice-versa. If you want to be really fucking disgusted by the gamer community, play as a female in any MMO and count how many times someone says “tits or gtfo” to you.

    I remember one of the first ones I played was Phantasy Star Online. I played as a FOnewearl (a short female elf that wore like foot-high platform shoes and had badass magic) and I got hit on constantly. The thing that seemed especially weird about that to me is that there were stat and class differences between males and females, so that if you wanted to play a certain class you had to be a certain gender. And people still assumed you were whatever gender your character was.

    • leftwingfox says

      If you want to be really fucking disgusted by the gamer community, play as a female in any MMO and count how many times someone says “tits or gtfo” to you.

      Ugh. Yeah. I got sheltered a lot from this when I started WoW initially. (Male playing a female Tauren), partly from the padding of privilege, partly because Tauren women are barely considered “women”, and partly because I was in a guild which was 40% women and did pretty well at kicking out racism and sexism.

      Didn’t last. Rolled a dark-skinned human female priest at one point on an RP server. The level of outright sexism and _racism_ that character got was just jaw-dropping. I swear it got worse as time went on too.

      Should have been a [Chlorine in the Gene Pool] achievement for reporting racist/sexist bullshit.

    • Mak says

      You know what I found really silly about the “Birdo thinks he’s a girl” thing from the SMB2 American manual though? She produces eggs.

      So does Yoshi…

  4. says

    If you want another more recent example of a transsexual character in a games there’s also atlus and persona 4’s Naoto more specifically. (spoiler warnings for those who care for persona 3,4 and Catherine)

    Naoto actually started off fairly well (or at least better which admittedly isn’t saying much) in my books if they hadn’t completely fumbled it as it went on. Here’s a little article on Naoto and some of atlus’s other trans characters.

    I give them a little credit for at least including trans characters in their games, I liked Erica even if everyone treated her badly, I just wish they’d handle them better.

  5. says

    Pout my comment got eaten or something… ok try this once more.

    Possible spoiler warnings for Persona 3/4 and catherine

    If you want examples of trans characters in more modern games the Japanese publisher atlas has included some in 3 of their recent games albeit not well handled in any case. Here’s a little discussion about it mostly focusing on Persona 4’s Naoto.

    I give them a little credit for at least having some trans characters in fairly prominent roles, Erica was easily the most likable person in Catherine even if everyone treated her badly, I just wish they’d do a better job with them.

  6. says

    Y’know… Birdo being Yoshi’s love interest doesn’t matter whether or not Birdo is actually trans. Yoshi could be merely a progressive dinosaur.

    Of course then the whole spanner in the works being the fact that Yoshi’s sex is bizarre. Even though he’s called a boy, he lays eggs…

    • says

      (meant to be in the first reply)

      The problem I have with Poison, however, is that she’s extremely attractive (for being made up of pixels… or cosplayers.) And it reinforces the brutal cultural norm of needing to be beautiful to be accepted as feminine, and it kind of makes it difficult for people like myself to approach transition. Being not exactly feminine, I fear being harrassed for not being “girly” enough.

      • says

        Yeah, but that’s all women in games. Even games with heavy character customization won’t usually let you make an unattractive woman. Look at the scar options for manShep vs. femShep in the Mass Effect series, for instance. Saints Row may be the only exception.

          • says

            This is sort of a Bethesda thing. Try making a an attractive character, of any gender, in Oblivion, I dare you.

            (Speaking of Oblivion, I find it kind of ridiculous that in it, and in Skyrim, clothes are gender specific, without player control. In Morrowind, your male character could adventure to their heart’s content in a dress, but in the later games they mystically transform depending on the wearer… Not that I ever really use male characters, but it was irritating that I could steal some pants from some dude’s corpse, only to have them become a skirt when I put them on… wtf?)

          • says

            @Miri — That’s a memory-saving feature, I think. I, too, would love to have me some PANTS in Skyrim.

            On the other hand, the dress designs, some of them, are really quite nice — there are a few I’d actually wear, if I had them IRL.

        • says

          It still doesn’t help though. It’s the whole image of abso-friggin-lutely beautiful women as the only acceptable image. It’s hard on the self-esteem.

          (Saint’s Row may be the best game ever. I put freakin’ spinners on an APC. A purple and green APC, with gold plating)

        • Movius says

          You should try the dwarves from dwarf fortress. All dwarves of either sex are born ugly with full beards. Most are covered in scars.

          See also: Liberal Crime Squad with the added bonus of being able to “fix your gender label”

      • Sas says

        This would be a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation. As Anders says, all women in games (fighting games in particular) are designed very attractive and pretty, so if they made Poison unattractive it would feel like they were using the “comical ugly fake women” trope.

        I have a pretty chaotic wardrobe and end up dressing very feminine some days and not so much others. It may be cold comfort, but I find that the only difference I get is that when I’m dressed feminine I get cat calls about my tits, and when I’m not, I get called a dyke. The harassment is there either way, my presentation only changes the form it takes.

    • Sour Tomato Sand says

      In Yoshi’s Island, though, he produced eggs by eating enemies, and then hurled them at other enemies. So… I have to assume that the eggs are actually a product of his digestive system, not his reproductive system.

      But then in Super Mario World, he came out of eggs. Not only that, but there are a ton of different Yoshis throughout the games, to where he must actually be a member of a species of Yoshis. And every member of the species produces eggs! So I think the only workable hypothesis is that Yoshis are a species of hermaphroditic reptiles.

      Gender-wise, though, he’s definitely male. I think. I’ve always seen him referred to as “him,” but then there’s the problem that Yoshi is a Japanese creation, and the Japanese language doesn’t generally utilize gendered pronouns. Really, it rarely uses pronouns at all with the exceptions of “I,” and the first-person pronoun usually isn’t gendered. (There are, actually, gendered first-person pronouns: “ore” vs. “atashi,” for example, but their use isn’t necessarily indicative of the gender of the user.)
      Really this seems to be a problem with English translations of Japanese games in general. Another that comes to mind is Sypha from Castlevania.

      • Anders says

        Another scenario – Yoshi is female and she and Mario has a much, much closer relationship than anyone had guessed… hence the eggs.

        • Sour Tomato Sand says

          See, that’s really disturbing because in Yoshi’s Island, Mario is a baby riding on Yoshi’s back (the Yoshis are protecting him from the bad guys).

      • says

        Really, it rarely uses pronouns at all with the exceptions of “I,” and the first-person pronoun usually isn’t gendered. (There are, actually, gendered first-person pronouns: “ore” vs. “atashi,” for example, but their use isn’t necessarily indicative of the gender of the user.)

        Japanese culture doesn’t encourage the use of pronouns on others because it’s considered impolite. This isn’t really any different from the West, honestly: compare “hey, you” to “hey, Sand”, or “hey, Professor Sand”.

        In private or intimate speech between people considered equals, or when one or more the speakers just doesn’t care about the rules of social standing, you will hear the second person pronouns “anata”, “kimi” and “omae” used.

        Also, to be completely clear, the gendering of the first-person pronouns “ore”, “boku”, “watashi”, “atashi”, and “watakushi” isn’t part of the denotation (meaning) but the connotation (implications, context). It was born of historical sexism where women are expected to be more polite than men. Hence, women were socialized into using the more reserved “watashi” and even “watakushi”. (“atashi” appears to be merely a derived or decadent form of watashi, as you would guess.)

        There are other ways that bias comes out in the language at times. Women are taught to be more careful with their pronunciation of words and to say all syllables clearly and completely, for instance. They’re more likely to be conditioned into using the polite conjugations of verbs, even though the meaning is exactly the same as the plain form.

        None of these biases are nearly as strong as they used to be. For example, male politicians using “ore” and plain verbs may likewise be seen as disrespectful and imposing.

  7. Movius says

    I’ve always liked Poison as a character for some reason. Probably because she always came across as someone capable of just doing her own thing regardless of what others say or do. A bit like Bayonetta, except wearing clothes and not 9 feet tall.

    Have to disagree about Nintendo pretending Birdo was never transgender , at least in Japan anyway. They seem quite happy to trade of that in Captain Rainbow

    From Super Mario Bros. 2, Birdo’s reason to come to Mimin Island is to become popular with all the boys, but is arrested by Mappo after walking in the women’s restroom, uncertain of Birdo’s gender. Birdo claims that Nick is his/her boyfriend after Nick “proves” she/he is “female” and releases him/her from prison. Birdo lives in the “Cute House” on a separated part of the Island. The interior consists of mostly pink colored furniture, ribbons, and eggs. The game continues the recurring controversy around Birdo’s gender, where she claims to be female and that Nick is her boyfriend but she has a male voice.

    I wouldn’t say theres a complete lack of trans or intersex characters in games either. Admittedly some of them are just plain terrible or walking stereotypes (eg. Thomas from Deadly Premonition.) But a lot are well-written, nuanced characters.

    And theres definitely a lot of trans people that play and make games with a decent amount of visibility and acceptance. I think the term “Gaming Culture” is woefully inaccurate here, as it comprises of dozens of subcultures and most aren’t as horrible as the stereotype.

  8. Sas says

    The fact is that no genuine, fully-intentional positive portrayals of trans people are forthcoming in the hyper-cis/heteronormative (and hyper-male-dominated) world of gaming.

    This, very much. I’ve come across a handful of intentional, more developed trans characters in RPGs and they’ve all been full of cissexist fail. It seems like the more dialogue they get, the more the fail snowballs until I can’t even mentally lift the character out of the transphobia the way I can with Poison and Birdo.

    • says

      ok lets see if this works this time…

      Here’s a discussion of the problems with atlus’s trans characters. (spoilers if you care about that)

      Even though the game didn’t treat her that well I have to admit I really liked Erica in Catherine. I guess what bugs me is they’ve created a few nice competent characters and then fumbled when they address their sexuality.

    • says

      I’ve just given up linking to it but there’s a good blog post you can find about the portrayal of trans people in Atls’s catherine, persona 3 and specifically persona 4. Spoilers abound but if you want to find it just goggle “Naoto transphobia” it should be near the top.

      What kind of bugs me about this is that persona 3 aside I actually really like the trans characters in P4 and Catherine. Atlas just completely fails at addressing their sexuality in a proper manner. With Catherine she’s more or less used as a punchline towards the end and in persona 4 he actually starts out alright but just ends up a mess. I just hope that if they write another trans character they manage to do it right.

      • Sas says

        I actually hope they never ever write a trans character again; they’ve had three strikes, they’re out. It’s clear someone there has hangups regarding trans people and I’d love it if they’d stop using the games as a gender soapbox.

        • says

          I suppose its part of my biases that I just want things to get better. This issue aside I’ve become a big fan of their games so I’d like to see them get better even if it takes them a few tries.

      • says

        I dunno… maybe we could harness it if we could link the snark together. Just think all the misogynists and republicans could actually be put to work as the fuel for more snark leading to a glorious green energy revolution!

        • Anders says

          I think the people who talk seriously about female energy are the wyman-born-wyman people who are into Mother Goddesses. Finally they could do something useful with their lives!

      • says

        I’m feeling pretty fluffy today so I figure I’m puttin’ out about 75 W presently… I’ll fuel myself up on coffee later and last night’s Chicken Tikka and then I should have a nice 125 W going on.

        </trans*mission lines>

  9. Yellow Thursday says

    I know it’s not technically a game, but I spend a lot of time on Second Life. In SL, you can have almost any avatar you like, humanoid or non. Most avatars are exaggerated forms of either male or female, but I do see some androgynous or unsexed avatars as well.

    I’ve thought about SL (or some similar virtual world) as a place where transgender individuals can parttime as their true gender, perhaps as part of their transition. And this has born out in the few (well, two) openly transgender people I’ve met on SL. Both have said to me, at different times, that the only time they really feel like themselves is on SL.

    Still, cissexism exists in SL. I’ve been chatting with a woman and had someone else IM me, “You know that’s a man, right?” My response is always, “She’s got a female avatar, a feminine name, she uses female pronouns for herself… Why should I care if the person behind the keyboard has a penis?” In one case, I had to add, “Why should I care if the avatar has a penis?”

    The sexism that exists in gaming also exists in SL. Many times, I’ve had a man (well, male avatar, anyway) arrive at an area, and the first thing they say to me is, “You’re hot. Let’s have sex.” Literally. The first thing they say. >< If only you could block someone in real life the way you can in SL.

  10. says

    Natalie, I especially liked the cartoon from, which for UK and Aussie readers has the bonus that until you twig the car is left-hand drive and that there’s supposed to be a curb at the right-hand side (the steering wheel is only detectable by the seventh panel), it appears as though Commander is going to be sitting back for the drive and letting Poison take the wheel; and judging by the rest of the context Commander’s sense of his masculinity and sexuality wouldn’t be troubled in the slightest by being driven around by a fight’n trans grrl.

    • says

      Heh. I like that. Also, totally, one of the things I loooove about this comic is how it shows that masculinity is in no way in conflict with being accepting of a trans person. In fact, his acceptance of Poison’s gender ends up making him seem much MORE masculine, confident, self-possessed and virile than the skinny guy. He knows who he is, he’s comfortable with that, so he doesn’t have to perceive trans women as any kind of threat to his masculinity. He doesn’t need to make a big show of not being interested in her (like those guys on Green Light Show) because he doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody. He’s awesome. 🙂

  11. Matthew Gill says

    For better or for worse, Birdo is still sometimes portrayed as a transgendered woman, such as in the Wii game Captain Rainbow, from a few years ago.

    I don’t know how it is in the game (as I don’t speak Japanese and have never played it!) but the description seems to make it seem like she’s treated as a woman, although her being transgendered is referenced (probably unflatteringly.)

    I like to think that maybe if these franchises exist maybe five or ten years from now (idealistic?) their identities might be more accepted instead of hidden in instruction manuals as a joke.

    • Movius says

      A lot of those elaborate instruction manual tales of yore were written without the involvement of those who made the games, particularly English manuals for Japanese games. I don’t think this was the case with Birdo though (However Ostro and Birdo’s names were swapped in the PAL SMB2 manual for no apparent reason.)

      eg. the Sheng Long myth in Street Fighter 2 persisted due to a combination of a mistranslation of the Shoryu in Shoryuken for the “You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance” post-fight comment and the English SF2 (and Street Fighter the movie the game) manual writer inventing a fictional back story for Ryu and Ken that involved a teacher called Sheng Long, even though the original creator envisioned no such origin story. Covered well here

  12. says

    The fact is that no genuine, fully-intentional positive portrayals of trans people are forthcoming in the hyper-cis/heteronormative (and hyper-male-dominated) world of gaming.

    Does an amateur-made game count as gaming culture? Because, after reading your blog a while, I decided to work on that. Granted, a medieval fantasy isn’t exactly the easiest place for SRS, so I did have to make a few adjustments. The game’s nowhere near complete, unfortunately, but I am planning to publicly release a demo soon.

  13. says

    Birdo was my first exposure to the concept of transgenderism… crap, is that the right word?

    My reaction at the time was, “Huh, really? Okay, then.” It just didn’t matter to me at that age. Still doesn’t.

  14. Anders says

    I never read comments on articles anymore (except here, obviously). I want to retain some shred of respect for my fellow human beings.

    I could play as a beautiful, femme but totally badass trans woman, and spend all day kicking the will to live out of a series of virtual cisgender assholes. Kick back and harmlessly vent my increasingly pent up rage at a non-virtual world where all too often we’re the ones who get hurt.

    Couldn’t the local LGBTQ community arrange a course in queer self-defense? Sure, it won’t help you against five guys, or even one guy with a knife but it might boost self-confidence and give you a feeling of not being helpless victims. Just be sure to get the guy from Karate Kid:

    Kreese: Fear does not exist in this dojo, does it?
    Karate Class: NO, SENSEI!
    Kreese: Pain does not exist in this dojo, does it?
    Karate Class: NO, SENSEI!
    Kreese: Defeat does not exist in this dojo, does it?
    Karate Class: NO, SENSEI!

    Kreese: We do not train to be merciful here. Mercy is for the weak. Here, in the streets, in competition: A man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.

    Kreese: What do we study here?
    Karate Class: THE WAY OF THE FIST SIR.
    Kreese: And what is that way?
    Kreese: I can’t hear you.

    • ischemgeek says

      My karate club puts on self defense seminars for the local GSA (my issues with the GSA leader and his anti-bisexual bigotry notwithsanding – I’m not gonna punish the members because their president is an asshole who makes me sometimes feel like I should re-closet myself and so I refuse to take up membership).

      You need to find a club with a progressive instructor and senior students. Look for a club that advertizes self-defense (NOT MMA, which tends to be macho types; sports, which tends not to be practical; or spirituality, which also tends not to be practical). Look for one with female black belts and senior students. Why? Female black belts are a good litmus for whether the dojo is progressive. If it’s a he-man woman hater’s type of club, chances are women don’t stick around long enough to get black belts. Watch a class and look for one where students are respectful but not fearful of instructors, but one where they train hard. Warmup should be ~15-20 minutes, and they shouldn’t stop moving for more than 2-3 minutes at a time during class.

      Don’t be put off by morbid jokes like “…and that’s when I start spitting out Chicklets.” That’s just how serious martial arts types are in general: we have that sort of humor, kind of like how ER physicians joke about horrendous injuries, chemists joke about fires, poison, and explosions, and army types joke about shooting. Those sorts of jokes are a sign that the club you’re in takes itself – and its studies – seriously: You can’t be grim all the time.

      Do be put off if they trivialize injuries more serious than a blister, slight bloody nose, or bruise. If someone’s nose drips like a faucet and they tease that the person who’s trying to stop the blood is a baby, you don’t want to learn from them. At the same time, there’s a difference between trivializing and not freaking out: A good club will take the injured person off the floor and have a senior student or the instructor apply first aid while the rest of the club gets on with the class.

      Many clubs may ask for compensation for time. If you’re providing space, more than $100/hr is unreasonable since everyone but the head instructor is probably volunteering and the equipment doesn’t cost that much to transport. If they’re providing space, look into how much it costs to rent by the hour, and add ~$75/hr to it to see what’s reasonable. Good clubs will also require you to sign waivers and maybe purchase insurance, which varies club to club. Lack of insurance isn’t a big deal, but lack of waiver (and permission slip for underage participants) is. If they don’t get you to sign waivers, back out.

      As a final note: Seminars only go so far. The best you can hope for is to be given some tips on mindset and a formalized strategy for dealing with conflict. If you actually want to know how to, say, break a grip or stop a punch, that takes regular, formal training if you’re not the type to get in bar fights every week.

      • julian says

        NOT MMA, which tends to be macho types; sports, which tends not to be practical

        Adding to this, be on the lookout for types that are overly into the ‘history’ of the martial art. Muay Thai is awesome but there’s a very good chance you could end up with an instructor who’s so stoked about watching Ong Bak he’ll spend more time talking up the martial art than actually instructing.

        Like ischemgeek said, if you’re looking to learn how to fight or get away from an enemy you want a class that’s as hands on as possible. Best way to learn how you’ll react in put yourself in a controlled environment where you can simulate those stressors and fighting conditions.

  15. theresagarcia says

    I don’t have time to read all the comments so I don’t know how much of this has been said but here it goes:

    Firstly, Excellent post. I enjoyed reading it. Good choice on that picture of Poison at the end there.

    OK. I have read that Poison was always intended to be Trans. It’s largely debated still. I get into a lot of online arguments because of Poison. I’ve written about some of them before.

    Also, Nintendo has not tried to erase the whole trans thing. In fact, in Japan, they are being just as horrible at handling the trans issue as ever. They say she might be Yoshi’s “boyfriend” in the instruction booklet for Double Dash. and most recently in Captain Rainbow she gets arrested for using the Women’s Restroom and it’s up to the character to “prove” she is a woman.

    I have a post in my blog about the history of transgender characters, but it’s not as fantastic as this piece. It’s mostly me complaining about how they handle all the trans video game characters.

  16. yougotransgirl says

    The idea behind Poison was that she was a man dressed as a women. That brings up some unfortunate implications, but I doubt that was intention. She’s a pretty cool character. <3

  17. MDFMK says

    Actually one thing was a little wrong in this article, Poison was ALWAYS a trans character. In the original concept art for Final Fight in 1989 she (not Roxy, just Poison) is listed as “Nyu-Hafu” or New Half, a Japanese word used to describe pre-op transwomen.

  18. Danny White says

    I’m slightly surprised that no one has brought up Bridget from Guilty Gear XX. I remember very clearly being a teenager and my friends and I finding out that she was a trans girl and the very different attitudes we all had about it. Predictably enough, some were horrified, some were neutral, and some(myself included) thought it was a very cool way to add depth to the character(not to cheapen transgenderism as a gimmick, mind you). I only learned just now the reason for her transgender status was consequence of her being born in a village where the birth of twins of the same gender was considered bad luck, and hence his family named and raised him as a girl(according to wikipedia). The reactions of my peers to what I saw as interesting but ultimately innocuous “news” was my first real exposure to transphobia and it was as obviously bigoted and nonsensical to me then as it is to me now.

    • says

      Bridget isn’t a trans girl. Bridget is a cis guy who passes as a girl in terms of societal ideas of what women should look like and dress like. He was raised as a girl, so, the argument could be made that he was assigned female by his family and had gender dysphoria, but he clearly identifies as being male.

  19. davidsimon says

    Bit late to the comments here, but while we’re looking for awesome non-gender-binary women in video games, see also Kainé, an intersexed woman from the PS3 game Nier. Her backstory (which is only accessible on the second playthrough, sadly) is just gripping, and I can’t help but love a character that constantly yet righteously cusses up a storm.

    Unfortunately, the situation is not without problems. Her appearance is problematically over-sexualized, although not that much more than Poison’s. Her ultra-femme appearance meshes well with her story within the narrative of the game, but it’s still annoying from a design perspective that the creators didn’t feel like the character could hold her own without maximum cleavage.


  1. […] Everyone’s favourite transgender video game icon: salvaged into being an image of femme trans woman strength and power from originally being described as trans only due to a weird confluence of misogyny, transphobia and Reagan-era censorship laws, she represents, to me, the amazing power of our community to construct our pride even from reclaimed scraps of our oppression. […]

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