Celeste Reminds Me Of How Mean I Was Before I Transitioned

Celeste has always been a tough game for me, and not just because of its difficulty spike. I played Celeste around its release in 2018, and that was back before I worked in games. I still loved video games, but I wasn’t involved in all of the daily cut-and-thrust of video game discourse, I didn’t know too much about the stories within the industry, and since I mostly play offline games, I was only tangentially involved in the communities around gaming. You might think that was bliss, and I’m sure it might have been, if it weren’t for other things going on in my life. In 2018, around the time I played Celeste, I was in therapy for depression and dysphoria, and was on the precipice of gender transition. That’s why Celeste has always been a bit of a tough one for me.

I played Celeste and read it as a trans game. Like I said earlier, I had no idea of the games industry chatter, so had no idea this was such a hot button issue, with debates around exactly how trans Madeline (the game’s protagonist) was, what she meant for representation, whether it went far enough, and a million other topics swirling at the time. I’m glad I missed all that, to be honest. I can see the reading of Celeste as a game about mental health holding water, and I’m aware that as someone just about to begin transition, I was in the headspace to project transness onto stories that didn’t necessarily include it, but nevertheless, Celeste has always felt like a game about being trans to me.

The game’s creator has since confirmed that I was correct… sort of. Maddy Thorson came out as non-binary in the aftermath of Celeste’s release, and credits Celeste with playing a role in their self discovery, while also writing that Madeline is “of course” transgender. However, Thorson also says they didn’t write Celeste intentionally as a trans game, but (probably in part because of what they were personally processing at the time), Thorson acknowledges that that’s what many people – myself included – took away from it. There’s an interesting discussion to be had about an artist’s identity, finding yourself through storytelling, who media belongs to, and the often quite narrow way we discuss on-screen representation – but I don’t want to have those discussions today.

Instead, I want to delve into Madeline; or more precisely, Badeline. This is Madeline’s kinda-sorta evil twin who lives in the mirror and tells Madeline horrible things to make her feel bad about herself, as well as occasionally lashing out at others. The thing in the mirror that makes you feel shitty is very obviously a simple trans metaphor, and while it’s certainly one I can relate to, that’s not why Badeline is so fascinating to me.

I like to think I’m a pretty nice person. I’m not great at small talk, so most people think I’m quiet, although I’m very outspoken and confident when I have something to say. I’m pleasant without being friendly, basically, and I’ll respond politely, but don’t expect me to walk up to strangers to chat about the weather. But I wasn’t always this way. I used to be a little bit nasty – I used to be Badeline. I didn’t bully kids at school with wedgies or swirlies, and the weirdo in me has always had an affinity with the outsider, but I could be mean when I wanted to be, which I frequently did. I had a quick wit and I got laughs if I said something funny about somebody else, even if it was punching down, which again, it frequently was. I was a bitch. I had the interests, the friends, and the body of a boy, but I was a mean girl – Regina George and Janis Ian rolled into one. I was Badeline, and everyone else in my life was a Madeline.

I didn’t really like myself, for reasons that are now incredibly obvious, and Badeline was the way I coped with it. I never read Badeline as a version of the ugly reflection Madeline saw literally in the mirror, but as a much deeper ugliness inside. The part of you you don’t want but you also think you need. Badeline was that to me, and it’s strange revisiting Celeste to see how horrible Badeline actually is at times. This was a character I met at the perfect time, because I was exorcising my own Badeline as Madeline was confronting hers. Any earlier and I wouldn’t have recognised my own toxicity, and any later and I would have already expunged it. The games that affect us most are often the ones that affect us for personal, subjective reasons, and Celeste is my best example of that.

Most other people who relate to Badeline also relate to Madeline, but I don’t – I’m nothing like Madeline. I wasn’t like her then and I’m not like her now. Madeline is shy and lacks self confidence – I can be quiet but I’m neither of these things – and most importantly, she’s kind. Even without my Badeline side anymore, I’m not sure anyone would go that far about me. Madeline is more like my younger sister, and that’s another reason Celeste is difficult to revisit. We’re still close, but we grew up five years apart and both had our own stuff going on that made things… not great, despite a supportive family. When I was Badeline, the world was Madeline, but I think she was my Madeline most often.

It’s kind of nice that Celeste has been confirmed as a ‘trans game’ now, if only because it makes me feel like Thorson was probably working through the same stuff that I was when I played it. And we could always use more trans characters in gaming, so it’s nice for Madeline to canonically join the party, but I never needed it confirmed. There are other games I played around that time, other movies that I watched, other TV shows that I binged, and I think of a lot of them as being ‘trans’ too, despite having no justification for it whatsoever. Celeste isn’t trans to me because Madeline is, but because I am, and because Badeline is more like the old me than any other character I’ve ever met.

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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey

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