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Comments run long: a response to the trans Zarya theory.


(Pop culture critic Mia Violet wrote an intriguing thinkpiece on the fan theory that Zarya from Overwatch is transgender. Read that first or this won't make much sense. I started writing out a comment there which turned into this long ramble which I felt was more fitting being copied & pasted into its own blog post here, rather than hogging all the space on Laura K Buzz's site. My inability to condense my thoughts on any given subject into an appropriate comment-size paragraph strikes again.)

Putting aside the more factual contradictions to the theory (e.g. age relating to the seemingly male figure in the old team photo, who many assume to be Liao, among other reasons), I really hope that Zarya is the one character in Overwatch who isn't queer in any way, simply because of how totally predictable that would be. If she's trans, gay, non-binary, or anything else, then that just makes her the easiest, laziest stereotype that Blizzard could have possibly made.
"Maybe we should put in a queer character."
"Hmm, good point. How about a burly, humourless, militant woman with a crew cut?"

The idea of Zarya being queer—whether that's trans or anything else—doesn't sit right with me for the inverse of the reason why Symmetra being autistic totally does work. I think Blizzard did something amazing by taking this brilliant, incredibly capable, incredibly intelligent woman with all these sassy put-downs, who top international tech companies are head-hunting to lead their most important projects, and then they quietly threw in "oh and btw she's PDD, no biggie" on top. I've never seen that done before in any modern media. (If you have, let me know; I'd love to see more of it.) Symmetra is divine—perhaps literally, with some skins—and placing her somewhere on the austism spectrum the way that Blizzard have reinforces her accomplishments without defining her, being bluntly obvious, or generally casting a shadow over a single thing she does. It's just one small extra part of who she is.

Conversely, if they take the butch, powerlifting, somber, crew cut lady, and say "oh yeah, she's trans"... we've seen that a million times before. Or whether it's trans, gay, or any other flavour of queer. She's even Russian, fully completing the 'Brawn Hilda' trope, which dates back to the mid 1800s. To quote Symmetra, "such a lack of imagination." It combines with her design in a way which can't be ignored. It raises questions about her past atheletic career. It compounds her entire being as a very base stereotype.

Which is not to say that Overwatch should not have trans or other queer characters. I really like the fan theory that Genji is trans. There's the obvious analogue with his body having been rebuilt, and that although he is an all-round more capable, more badass character now, he also expresses a constant feeling of being shunned as a direct result of his change in appearance; he's a complete outcast to the right-wing humans and it seems he himself is not entirely at ease in the cities where humans and omnics coexist, hinting at feeling some degree of dysmorphia still. This also reenforces the fan theory that the human-omnic divide parallels human gender and sexuality divides from the 1930s through to the 1970s, such as the Stonewall riots.

I also really love—love—all the major gay fan pairings. There is so much good to work with there. While Zarya being queer in any way feels far too obvious, people are putting Pharah and Mercy together a lot and it's really sweet; 'Swiss angelic doctor' is hardly a queer stereotype, and when was the last time anybody saw a gay Arabic character in a video game? And now you've got the added dynamic of Pharah's 'old world' mother returning, who seemingly didn't get on too well with Mercy in the first place; there's a lot to be explored there. (The fans are already doing an excellent job of fleshing out the relationship and conflicts between Ana, Pharah, and Mercy, and even Geoff Goodman, one of the lead designers on Overwatchhas weighed in on it.)
Lúcio, Soldier:76, and Hanzo are also popular ones to portray as queer, though not often together, and they're equally brilliant. They're not queer stereotypes in any way, at least as far as I've ever seen, and they're all very high up on the super-cool-badass-that-everybody-loves scale. (Conversely, Zarya seems to be quite middling in terms of fan following.) Everything which works about Genji, Pharah, and Mercy, can be equally applied to them, and they're far from the only ones.

So, of all the available options... I really hope Zarya's the one who actually turns out to be straight as a ruler. Cis, hetereo Zarya. Looks like she's going to be a total stereotype; surprisingly isn't. Have Genji be trans. Have Pharah and Mercy be gay. Have Mei be non-binary. Have McCree and Tracer be totally asexual. Have Bastion be... whatever it is a glorified fax machine can be. Anything you like. There are (currently) 21 characters who would all be great with that little bit of added depth and background that could come from revealing they are [insert queer variation here].

But not the one, biggest, most obvious stereotype. Not the least imaginative one. Not the one with no depth to gain from it. Not the one who could not possibly be a more 'token' queer representation if they tried. With all the variety in Overwatch's cast, Zarya being queer would be a gargantuan mark against the rest of the imagination on display.

(Though I will admit that the idea of a trans character being basically the superhero of Russia, of all places, would be pretty cool. The fact that she actually has become a gay icon in Russia is brilliant.)

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About AceFlibbleone of us since 6:27 PM on 04.10.2009

I'm very cross, but what a guy!

I first heard of Destructoid in late 2006 and I've been lurking on Dtoid since mid 2007, though I only got around to actually signing up in early 2009.
Due to my unfortunate habit of talking and writing far, far too much and losing track of why I started in the first place, I tend to stay clear of the C-blogs for fear of finding myself up at 4am writing a three-page essay on Legend Of Dragoon, but I'll probably write the occasional rant, to everyone's dismay.

Quick shout out and mention for Love 146, a fantastic charity dealing with a very tough subject. Give them a click, listen to their story and please support them if you can.
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