When It Comes To Representation, Trans People Don’t Need Your Excuses

There’s a lot of discourse today – so, you know, it’s just another Tuesday in the gaming industry.

However, this particular discourse is even spicier than usual. It’s a breaking point, of sorts – the logical conclusion to Cyberpunk 2077‘s exhaustive (and exhausting) marketing campaign. Regardless of where you fall on the game, I think we can all agree that the advertising was… terrible, right? From “DiD yOu JuSt AsSuMe My GeNdEr” bits on Twitter to, uh, everything else, CD Projekt Red’s marketing team seemed hellbent on ensuring most people (myself included) had an opinion of the game before we got our hands on it.

That opinion? “Gee, uh, this sure seems rough.”

Now, some might say that judging a game by its marketing is jumping the gun a bit, and in certain cases I’m liable to agree. However, in most cases, I feel like that’s just smidge akin to gaslighting.

If a trailer for the new Call of Duty featured the protagonist uttering a racial epithet, would you say, “there’s a reason they used that word, we need to reserve judgment”?

If David Cage’s latest game prominently featured a woman getting sexually assaulted, would you say, “I know this seems rough, but I promise it’s for a good reason”?

I sure hope not. If people of color and rape survivors, respectively, criticized those things, they shouldn’t be met with a, “mmm, you’re actually being kind of judgemental.” It’s not your place to tell anyone how to feel about anything. And if you’re not marginalized yourself, you especially need to learn when to shut up and stop trying to make excuses.

As an example: David Lynch is my favorite filmmaker. Some of my best friends can’t stand his movies, and point to his leering depictions of women being abused. Guess what? I can acknowledge their issues, then simply stop talking. I don’t have to explain why his misogynistic violence is presented in a critical way. I don’t have to tell them that Lynch is woke, actually. I can just listen, say, “ah, I see what you’re saying, I understand,” then move on with my life. I won’t lose any sleep over it.

In that same vein, trans people have criticized Cyberpunk 2077 in the lead-up to its release, which we’re justified in doing. This doesn’t mean you can’t still be excited for it – that’s the beauty of opinions, eh? However, as we look at the marketing of a game that seems to think of trans women as jokes and fetishes, we’re also allowed to have an opinion. And, crazy as it may seem, we’re allowed to think this game looks like a festering crock of vehemently harmful ideologies.

And, as tempting as it may be, the best thing to do if these critiques don’t affect you is nothing. No, really. You don’t have to engage. If a trans person says something is bad for their existence, you, as a cis person, don’t have to tell them that it’s good, actually. You don’t have to convince them to play the game. You don’t have to defend and cape for a multi-billion-dollar corporation as if they’re some scrappy indie team. Every DM on every social media platform insisting that I give a company that crunches their employees’ bones into dust a chance just feels like the most desperate plea for attention.

I mean, I hope they see this, bro, but Keanu Reeves isn’t going to come pat you on the back for being a good customer. At least, I don’t think that’s a preorder bonus.

Point being, trans people don’t actually need their representation explained to them by cis people. Much like I have literally no place deciding whether or not a black character is represented well (although, y’know, I have some thoughts on CP2077’s gangs,) cis people have no right telling me whether or not to be critical of something. You’re not the arbiter of my experience. You’re not an authority on good or bad representation, which is something trans people can’t even decide on most of the time.

Unfortunately, even the game’s embargo lifting doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop this policing of opinion. As fellow trans critics like Jade King and Carolyn Petit and Riley MacLeod both praise and criticize the game, cis people still can’t seem to stop telling us how to feel. Petit’s article is being derided in less savory circles for focusing “too much” on the trans aspect of the game, while King’s and MacLeod’s more positive takes have been shared as a triumphant, “see, this trans person likes the game, stop being so triggered.” Even when we have the game in our hands, and have our own opinions, cis people aren’t content to just let us have them. If we like it, we’re suddenly your go-to source to discredit and push back against criticism from other trans people. If we don’t, you explain to us why we’re wrong.

Why? Because, apparently, we have to like this game. We have to think CDPR was acting in good faith when it includes a scene ripped straight out a JK Rowling book. If we don’t, we’re not being considerate enough to Europe’s 2nd largest video game company. If we do, we’re cudgels used to silence other trans voices for speaking up. Our voices are only ever useful to you if you can use them to convince other trans people that they’re wrong. Otherwise, they’re a nagging inconvenience that threaten to make you think critically about the things you like.

And I think, truly, that’s at the heart of it: comfort. Comfort to enjoy something, and to not have to apply an ounce of critical thought to it. People don’t want to think about how certain elements of a thing contribute to continued violent persecution of my community – they want to drive around a cool future car, and to save sex workers from being brutalized while also calling them “whores.” So they cling to anything, whether it’s the presence of in-game trans flags (which Petit points to in her review) or the fact that there are some trans characters, as a quick defense so they can go right back to enjoying it.

But it’s harder to be uncomfortable. It’s harder to enjoy something, hear criticism, and not immediately push back. It’s harder to disagree, then move on with your day and let some random game critic you’re DMing on Twitter live her life. Do you know how many industry peers I disagree with on a daily basis? Most of them. You know what I don’t try to do? Slide into their DMs and say, “hey, um, just to play devil’s advocate…” I don’t make callout posts shaming them for enjoying something I don’t, or vice versa.

Why? Well, to quote a wiser person than I, “that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

This particular case, however, does go a bit beyond opinion. In the case of Cyberpunk 2077, this is a community who is systemically persecuted, forced into poverty, and murdered to the indifference of most. This is not “being offended” – this is being worried that people will take the wrong things away from something, then manifest that in some violent way that steals the life of one of our trans sisters. As somebody who’s been harassed, assaulted and abused for simply being trans in public (the nerve of me!) numerous times, I have real and tangible concerns about how this big, popular game will affect my wellbeing.

While our own Kirk McKeand has definitely said things that make me feel a little more positive about giving this thing a shot (mainly him comparing it to Dredd, if we’re being honest – and I trust his British opinion on all things 2000 AD) those concerns aren’t going to melt away. They won’t melt away if trans peers and friends I love and trust and respect like it. Hell, they still won’t melt away even if I like the game. Because I have to live my life like this. I have to live in a constant state of discomfort and discontent so that I can maybe, hopefully, help make the world a better place for the trans girls that come after me. Much like the brilliant work of Dia Lacina helped me to be less of an ignoramus and feel more ready to exist as a trans woman in this industry, I want to turn my vigilance into pieces that can hopefully inspire real, actionable change.

So, if I have to read a million of your DMs telling me to kill myself, or listen to a million of your justifications for why I shouldn’t be “triggered,” or why I should be nicer to the millionaires who will inevitably make bank from Cyberpunk 2077? I mean, that sounds exhausting, but I guess I’ll do it. I’ll do it because I refuse to let cis people tell me what’s good or bad for me. I’ll do it because my representation doesn’t need to be explained to me. I’ll do it because I’m going to continue calling out harmful things when I see them, because if I don’t, nothing changes.

And if that makes you uncomfortable?

Join the fucking club.

Anyway, Cyberpunk 2077 releases next week on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. You can read Kirk’s five-star review here, and check out this handy sponsored post about the game’s multiple editions here.

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Bella Blondeau is a lovable miscreant with a heart of gold… or so she says.

She likes long walks in dingy arcades, loves horror good and bad, and has a passion for anime girls of any and all varieties. Her favorite game is Nier: Automata, because she loves both robots and being sad.

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