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Transphobia and Cissexism in Dragon Age


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#1
MsKehoe

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 Dear Bioware,

I'm a twenty year old art student living with my parents. I have anxiety and depression which makes it hard for me to leave the house unless it is for therapy or classes. When I am at home, I'm drawing, I'm surfing the net, and I'm playing video games. Video games have been an outlet for me all my life and roleplaying games especially were helpful in letting me create an alter-ego who can be something more heroic or productive than I can ever be.I'm also queer and trans*. 

The inclusion of bisexual love interests in Origins shocked me and made me still happy. When all the love interests were available to all genders, it made me even happier, because I could play myself without limitations. I could play out people like me in relationships. So, you did good on that one.

But there's one thing I do not like. One thing that is a big part of me that I constantly see treated negatively or as a punch line in media. 

I'm trans*. I was assigned female at birth and I have spent a long time struggling with my identity. There are days of extreme discomfort and dysphoria. There are days when I want to kill myself, because I think I can never be who I want to be. My family is still coming to terms with it and most of my friends at school insist on misgendering me. Every day I have to deal with the prospect of people seeing me as someone I'm not. Every day I have to live with the fear of being hurt for beng who I want to be.

Video games are my outlet as I've said before, but while queer characters are becoming more prominent, trans* characters are still being pushed back into stereotypical and harmful roles. I would kill to have a trans* main character or party member who kicks ass and isn't treated as a joke. However, from playing your Dragon Age series multiple times, the  only trans* characters I see are stuck in brothels and with disgusting harmful portrayals meant to shake a few laughs out of the cisgendered people playing your game.

I'm not laughing.

I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated, because while you are making big steps in being more queer friendly, you are taking giant steps backward when it comes to your trans* audience. I don't want the only representation of people like me in fiction to be prostitutes that are treated disrespectfully and as a joke. You think we don't have enough ridicule in our lives? You think we don't go through each day, having to bite our tongue when someone throws around the word tranny or purposefully misgenders us or hurts us or humiliates us? You think we like the pain, the humiliation, the frustration?

Bottom line is, it's not a joke. I don't care whatever excuses you might have for your behaviors. I'm not hearing it. There is no excuse to treat someone disrespectfully when they face such hardships in their life.

And it isn't just a game. Media is powerful. Fiction is powerful. When people see these negative portrayals, they carry it into their every day vocabulary. It gives them permission to treat other people with that same disrespect you show for your trans* characters.

I don't want to feel unsafe in one of the few things that helps me through the days. 

I hope you actually listen to this. I hope that some changes can be made, but I'm not holding my breath. Why? Because I have learned disappointment from the privileged people in society. The ones who can feel comfortable with the gender and sex they were born with, who don't have to live in fear of being hurt, who have a whole pool of fictional characters to relate to.

That is all.

- B

P.S. If you're wondering where this came from, it has been a problem I've been noticing for a while, but a scene from the Mark of the Assassin DLC just ignited something in me and I had to write this out. Enough is enough. Do something about this.

I'm going to ignore anyone who doesn't have anything productive to say. Thank you.

EDIT: Mary Kirby has come on to apologize and had this to say:

“To the OP and others offended by this scene:I am deeply sorry. It wasn’t my intent to make Serendipity the punchline of that conversation or to depict her in a negative light. But my intent as the writer doesn’t matter. What I was trying to do failed, and ultimately, what came across to you was hurtful, and that does matter. And for that, I cannot apologize enough. Again, I’m very sorry.”

“The scene plays differently if Hawke has slept with Serendipity. In that version, she greets Hawke familiarly, and hints that everyone at the Blooming Rose is looking forward to Hawke’s next visit. That’s what Tallis and Hawke are responding to, because I thoughtlessly did not write an alternate version of the middle or end of the conversation in the event that the player hadn’t slept with Serendiptiy. I just linked around the familiar part of the conversation to the same ending. So yes, in this version, the most reasonable assumption would be that the source of the awkwardness is not a discussion of Hawke’s popularity at the Rose in front of both their dates, it seems to be Serendipty herself, because no conversation has occured in this version of the scene. Tallis’ line doesn’t even make sense in this case, because there’s no topic to change. There’s nothing else for Tallis and Hawke to be reacting to. It’s an absolutely terrible scene, and I can see why it offended.Again, I’m very sorry.”

Edited by MsKehoe, 09 October 2011 - 11:45 PM.


#2
masterthief

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I really, really want to chime in here as someone who has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of positive representation of queer people in the Dragon Age series. It's really, really wonderful that Bioware has made steps forward and set a precedent in many ways that yes, you can have bisexual characters, and yes, people will still buy and enjoy your games. I've also been impressed by fantastic responses by some of the staff re: privilege (Mr. Gaider, I'm looking at you) and made the personal decision to buy every single piece of Dragon Age DLC ever, even if I think it's... awkward, because I want to show my support not only to fantastic games, but to the all-bi party in Dragon Age II. But I won't be buying Mark of the Assassin.

A friend of mine posted a video of a scene involving Serendipity... and both charming!Hawke and Tallis being visibly uncomfortable by her mere presence as soon as she started to speak. I'm sick of seeing trans* people used as punchlines. I'm sick of us being exclusively portrayed in a negative or humorous light. I'm incredibly disappointed in the fact that a company who made strides forward, where someone said that the majority inherently has no right to more options than a minority, not only does not have a transgender character who is not a prostitute, but turned her into a "hilarious" plot device to make the other characters in the scene uncomfortable. Why does the majority in this case get to be portrayed both positively and negatively, while the minority is only portrayed negatively?

LGBT doesn't stop at the B, although a lot of people seem to believe it does. I was looking forward to this DLC from the moment it was announced, not only because I adore Dragon Age II, but because it reminded me a lot of one of my favorite DLCs--only even better. But I'm not paying to put cissexism on my screen. I'm not paying for another round of, "trans* people only exist to give cisgender people Exotic Sexual Experiences," I'm not paying for, "cisgender people get uncomfortable around trans* people because it's natural, even in a fictional society that has already established itself as lacking the majority of the stigma surrounding homosexuality and bisexuality." I have enough of that to deal with in my daily life, in my home, from my friends, my family, and from my employers.

It's just as Mr. Gaider said--many people play video games, including the Dragon Age series, who are neither straight nor male, and it's wonderful that Bioware has been one of the few companies willing to recognize that. But it's not so wonderful that many people who are not cisgender also play Dragon Age, and get to see the only representation of them be... awful. It's hurtful, it's unnecessary, and that scene in itself was not required for anything other than to make people uncomfortable or give them a laugh.

I'm not laughing either, and I'm sick of stomaching it.

#3
rachael.ben

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Replying to show support.

That scene in MoA is beyond unacceptable, and Bioware should be ashamed that is included. I was looking forward to the DLC, maybe it's still a lot of fun otherwise, but I'm not buying it now.

#4
mesmerizedish

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Wait, seriously? Is there a video up anywhere or anything?

Imma be pissed, BioWare.

#5
masterthief

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Here's one.

#6
ademska

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bump because people need to see this. the transphobia in mark of the assassin has left many people, including myself, reluctant to even buy the stupid thing.

and i was really looking forward to it, goddammit.

#7
LordKinoda

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I've always said that nobody has the right to NOT be offended. Be offended all you want, there's nothing wrong with that. But don't ever believe you have the right to NOT be. People should not change their behavior/attitudes/beliefs/ideas to suit your own.

Is poking fun of a transgender character by making them a prostitute or something similar a little stereotypical ? Sure. Doesn't change the fact that stereotypes exist for a reason, because they hold at least a little truth. Hell, there would be A LOT less stand up comedians in the world if this were not the case.

So, by all means, don't buy the game, don't buy the DLC if it offends you so. But don't assume your own lifestyle choice should be immune to scrutiny or comedic relief.

#8
inzesky

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ishmaeltheforsaken wrote...

Wait, seriously? Is there a video up anywhere or anything?

Imma be pissed, BioWare.


I second this. Can someone post a link or something?

edit: Nevermind. Thanks masterthief.

edit 2: Wow. That whole scene was cringeworthy and utterly pointless.

Edited by inzesky, 09 October 2011 - 06:18 PM.


#9
ademska

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LordKinoda wrote...

I've always said that nobody has the right to NOT be offended. Be offended all you want, there's nothing wrong with that. But don't ever believe you have the right to NOT be. People should not change their behavior/attitudes/beliefs/ideas to suit your own.

Is poking fun of a transgender character by making them a prostitute or something similar a little stereotypical ? Sure. Doesn't change the fact that stereotypes exist for a reason, because they hold at least a little truth. Hell, there would be A LOT less stand up comedians in the world if this were not the case.

So, by all means, don't buy the game, don't buy the DLC if it offends you so. But don't assume your own lifestyle choice should be immune to scrutiny or comedic relief.

says the person who's never had to deal with his identity being completely nonexistent in any media ever except as the butt of a joke, the joke usually being "oh my god how gross".

technically, people don't have the legal right to not be offended. but all standards of human decency dictate not being the kind of jackasses bioware has decided, in this DLC, to be.

find another thread, bub.

#10
Shaiapuddi

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MsKehoe wrote...

I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated, because while you are making big steps in being more queer friendly, you are taking giant steps backward when it comes to your trans* audience.

They used to be better? Edwin's unwanted sex change was played for laughs too.

#11
masterthief

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LordKinoda wrote...

So, by all means, don't buy the game, don't buy the DLC if it offends you so. But don't assume your own lifestyle choice should be immune to scrutiny or comedic relief.


I would be a lot less furious if trans* people were treated as anything but "scrutiny and comedic relief". 

If there was any sort of positive representation of trans* people in a game where the lead writer said that the majority has no inherent right to more options than a minority does, I would be frustrated, but I wouldn't be angry and I wouldn't be here.   The truth is, the majority has characters who have an avid role in the story, who do good things and bad things, and trans* characters are treated like an utter joke in unnecessary scenes.  I'm angry because there is nothing else. 

Edited by masterthief, 09 October 2011 - 06:19 PM.


#12
mesmerizedish

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Wow. Really classy, BioWare.

I'm... really, really disappointed.

#13
Guest_liesandpropaganda_*

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ishmaeltheforsaken wrote...

Wow. Really classy, BioWare.

I'm... really, really disappointed.



#14
Fiery Knight

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Does the video contain any serious MotA spoilers? I'd really wanna see that vid but if it contains heavy spoilers, I'm not sure.

#15
LordKinoda

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Heh. EVERYBODY has been ostracized at some point in their lives for any number of things. The music they like, the hobbies they enjoy, and yes their lifestyle choice.

Spare me your self righteousness, because I don't care. Nobody forces you to play the game. By all means, voice your displeasure about it. But don't expect me to feel sorry for somebody who's been made fun of. I've been made fun of for plenty of things in my own life as well. Should I whole heartedly write a letter to my congressman and demand a law be written so I can not feel offended ? It's not going to happen. At least not in the U.S. Not while I can pick up a weapon/pen/keyboard and defend the right of free speech anyway, heh.

#16
inzesky

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Hawke_12 wrote...

Does the video contain any serious MotA spoilers? I'd really wanna see that vid but if it contains heavy spoilers, I'm not sure.


Its not even remotely related to any of the plot. Just a small dialogue scene, the only purpose of which is to use a transgender character for comedic effect. It's bad.

Edited by inzesky, 09 October 2011 - 06:28 PM.


#17
syllogi

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On one hand, after seeing the youtube clip, my first thought was that it wasn't *that* bad...Tallis and Hawke are uncomfortable, but as a joke, it's very mild. Maybe it's a sad thing, though, that I've seen so many horrendous jokes about transsexuals in the media, that this seems relatively harmless.

On the other hand, as mentioned already, there are almost NO positive portrayals of trans individuals in television, movies, and video games. Bioware has already taken a big step with the inclusion and normalization of homosexuality, so I think this would be an issue that could have been handled with more sensitivity, if at all.

#18
Dhiro

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ishmaeltheforsaken wrote...

Wow. Really classy, BioWare.

I'm... really, really disappointed.


Yeah, that was not nice, Bioware. :unsure:

#19
Fiery Knight

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inzesky wrote...
Its not even remotely related to any of the plot. Just a small dialogue scene, the only purpose of which is to use a transgender character for comedic effect. It's bad.


Okay, I watched it, and just like everyone else, I got disappointed.

*sigh*

I just can't believe that some dev would have been like:

Dev 1: "Hey, what ya guys think of this? Quite funny right?"

Dev 2: "Hahaha! Let's add that to the DLC!"

:sick:

#20
masterthief

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LordKinoda wrote...

Heh. EVERYBODY has been ostracized at some point in their lives for any number of things. The music they like, the hobbies they enjoy, and yes their lifestyle choice.

Spare me your self righteousness, because I don't care. Nobody forces you to play the game. By all means, voice your displeasure about it. But don't expect me to feel sorry for somebody who's been made fun of. I've been made fun of for plenty of things in my own life as well. Should I whole heartedly write a letter to my congressman and demand a law be written so I can not feel offended ? It's not going to happen. At least not in the U.S. Not while I can pick up a weapon/pen/keyboard and defend the right of free speech anyway, heh.


Hey, brobi wan kenobi?  Come back to me about oversimplyfing all forms of ostrazation as equal when you get legally fired from your job and lose the ability to support yourself financially because you listen to Metallica and like to knit. 

#21
LordKinoda

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I can see why you are offended. That is not the issue. Always making light of your lifestyle in same fashion has to be extremely annoying to you I'm sure. By the same token, shouldn't you have hardened yourself for this by now ? Or are you just a teenager ? You have to know that your choice isn't a popular one in the eyes of many, so wouldn't you accept that there are just some thick headed people out there and move on ?

That's what I do whenever I'm offended by a certain subject. I'll voice my opposition, and then move on, because you can't change people's minds over such a controversial issue easily. Look how far LGBT has come since the 90's. Look how far racism has been nearly eradicated since the 60's. It is only a matter of time.

You still won't change my mind that you don't have the right to NOT be offended though.

#22
naledgeborn

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Seriously? I'm getting sick of this ****ing community of whiners. When the world is full of real problems hey, let's go on BSN and whine about not being represented in a ****ing videogame.

Should I get offended by Mass Effect because theology has been almost completely replaced by science? Should I whine that I can't role play a Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, ect Shepard?

There you go Bio Ware congratulations on opening this can of fecal worms. Now deal with it.

Edited by naledgeborn, 09 October 2011 - 06:34 PM.


#23
TastesLikeTNT

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LordKinoda wrote...

Heh. EVERYBODY has been ostracized at some point in their lives for any number of things. The music they like, the hobbies they enjoy, and yes their lifestyle choice.

Spare me your self righteousness, because I don't care. Nobody forces you to play the game. By all means, voice your displeasure about it. But don't expect me to feel sorry for somebody who's been made fun of. I've been made fun of for plenty of things in my own life as well. Should I whole heartedly write a letter to my congressman and demand a law be written so I can not feel offended ? It's not going to happen. At least not in the U.S. Not while I can pick up a weapon/pen/keyboard and defend the right of free speech anyway, heh.


It's one thing being made fun of, guy - it's a whole other to be consistently dehumanized and reduced to comedic fodder for "normal" people to have a laugh at rather than being treated as an actual person. You are positively blind with your own privilege if you can't tell the difference.

I'm really sorry, OP.

Edited by TastesLikeTNT, 09 October 2011 - 07:23 PM.


#24
ademska

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masterthief, he said racism's 'nearly been eradicated'. time to hit that mental ignore button.

look, people who are doubting the validity of the complaints, it's not that we seek to have a law written or demand mike laidlaw/david gaider's heads on pikes. it's that we want acknowledgment that this is a gross inclusion. at best, we would hope for the content to be dummied out, but that's not likely.

just show some damn respect is all.

#25
LordKinoda

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It's one thing being made fun of, guy - it's a whole other to be consistently dehumanized and reduced to comedic fodder for "normal" people to have a laugh at rather than being treated as an actual person. You are positively blind with your own privilege if you can't tell the difference.


Never said it was right. Just said you don't have the right to NOT be offended. Plain and simple. I agree that transgender people are treated unfairly and poked fun at a lot. But that's because it's still a minority of the population, and has only recently been made aware to the public at large. It's the same with any other controversial issue. With time comes understanding and acceptance.

You just have to wait. For now, weather the storm. Voice your objections. But don't assume I'm going to help you censor somebody's free speech, no matter how much I disagree with it.