Choose Your Character: I’m Peach, Not Mario

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Like many children of the ‘80s and ‘90s who had the “privilege” of being born male, I was, am, and will always be a gamer. From my early days, I loved peeking into the worlds of Mario, Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog. Video games were my escape from the reality that I was just a fat, socially-awkward little boy doomed to be ridiculed constantly by my brother at home and my classmates at school.

Other people perceived me as different. I knew that something was different about me too, but couldn’t entirely pinpoint what it was. The real world shunned me for some reason, which was why I needed a controller in my hand to feel anywhere near normal. The usual assumption of my classmates was that I must be gay. In their minds, if I wasn’t exactly like them, that must have meant that I was attracted to men. For a little while, I just assumed that they were right. Those secret fantasies I had about being just like one of the girls at school must have been proof. Girls are attracted to boys, right?

Having these fantasies – reaching out into another world, much like I would in a video game – must have proved my desire for boys, right? When I was a child, not many video games allowed options to play as female characters. Super Mario Bros. 2 (at least the U.S. version) was one of the few exceptions. I gave every selectable character a chance, but my favorite was always Princess Peach. Was it weird for a little boy to enjoy being a princess? Maybe. But it hardly stopped there.

monica

I wanted to look like this… But I looked like this

Of course I had friends — I wasn’t an outcast in every social circle. They too liked video games, but I was so much more excited that Pokémon Crystal Version would allow the ability to play as a female character than they were. I couldn’t process why my other male friends didn’t particularly care. Why did I think that it was so cool that Samus Aran from Metroid was female?

I was intent on creating a female character when I started playing Ragnarok Online. I just had so much more fun playing as a girl than as a guy. I could be a guy any time I wanted, but in a virtual world I was free to be someone else. I could act differently and see everything from a different perspective — a perspective that seemed much clearer to me. In Ragnarok in particular – since it was a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) – I was able to take on the role of a sassy girl and interact with others in a way that felt more natural.

Others questioned why I was so intent on playing a female. I was a man, after all, so shouldn’t I have preferred to be a man in a game? Perhaps a manly hero? Unable (or rather afraid) to give the real answer, I simply told them that I preferred looking at a girl on screen for hours on end instead of guy. Now, herein lies a discrepancy. Other people assumed that I was gay, and for a while I did as well. If I really liked men though, my excuse for playing as a woman would have been an obvious lie. A gay male in a similar position would presumably play as a female to better interact with men in game.

Except I wasn’t lying. I did genuinely prefer having a pretty girl on my screen. But that meant that I was straight, right? So was I really “normal”? Most of the rumors that I was gay occurred in middle school. By high school, they mostly stopped – as did my own belief that I was a gay man. The thought of being gay felt like so much of a given that I was actually bored of it. The truth was that women simply interested me so much more.

The idea of playing as a man in any game that allowed me to create my own character bored me. As time went on, the idea of being a man in real life began to bore me as well. In fact, the idea of myself becoming a middle-aged man disgusted me. Yet, I was attracted to women, not men, and only an extremely gay man would ever become a woman, right? That was what I and everyone else believed.

I had to know the truth, but my parents weren’t crazy about the idea of dating in high school, so I had to wait a while. My first date didn’t occur until my senior prom and any possibility of it going normally was destroyed when I found out that she had a boyfriend.

I spent my college years pining for a girlfriend to the point that many women found me a bit creepy. It didn’t help that I was chubby and hairy. I figured that it was normal for any man to be disgusted by the fact that he was covered in thick hair and a perpetual five o’clock shadow that still remained fully visible even after shaving. I didn’t realize that I was the exception. I had some female friends, but they would often go on their girls’ nights out, which would mean that I was left behind.

I was a geek and I didn’t like the idea of hitting on random women in bars and nightclubs. I preferred a series of Super Smash Bros. Brawl matches over going out and getting drunk (as always, playing as Princess Peach). Perhaps that was why I was lumped in with all the beta males who simply wanted sex but had nothing going for them that the average straight girl wanted. I was different from them, though. Sure, I desired sex, but I also had something that I needed to figure out. I spent seven years wanting to find the truth but only ending up with disappointment. Of course, I did extremely well in any video games with dating elements, like Persona 4, but virtual dating and real dating are two very different things. I could master playing as someone else, but as the old cliché of dating advice often goes, I needed to be myself.

Yukiko, I really hope you’re bi

Yukiko, I really hope you’re bi

After growing my hair out and giving up all attempts to be like other men, it finally happened. I had my master’s degree by this point and was now teaching my first college-level class. My salvation came from a cute, quiet bisexual junior (not, I should mention, one enrolled in my class) who admitted that she had a thing for me. Finally, I had my chance to figure out who I was.

My time with her was great, but something was off. Did I wish that she was a man? Not in the slightest. I was fine with having her as my girlfriend, but I didn’t feel right as her boyfriend. Secretly, I knew why, but I just couldn’t believe that someone who was transgender could also be a lesbian. It went against everything that I thought I knew. I decided to stick it out in the relationship, hoping that my transgender feelings would go away. They didn’t. She questioned whether we were really a good match for each other and whether she rushed into the relationship too quickly and eventually, she broke up with me.

I had to do something, lest I continued aging into someone I clearly wasn’t. I did some research, and found a number of resources – including articles by Autostraddle’s own Annika – that confirmed what I suspected all along. I did more digging and over the course of months located a therapist, followed by a laser hair removal service, a fertility clinic to cryopreserve possible future children, and an inexpensive clinic that had no problem prescribing hormones. On February 12, 2013, my 26th birthday, I finally had it, that pill bottle with 30 low doses of estradiol, in my hand.

I’ve told a good number of my friends, including my roommates, my parents and my ex. Nearly everyone has been completely cool with it. My mother insists that she sees nothing feminine about me, saying that she can only think of me as her little boy. However, she also says that she will support me no matter what path I take in life. Coming out wasn’t easy, but I’m so glad that even in a southern state like Florida I can be surrounded by such great people who will support me no matter what my gender identity or sexuality may be. I’m not out to everyone yet, though, so I’d prefer not to post any pictures of myself quite yet, but the least I can do is show that as a gamer and a geek, I have some serious style as a woman.

Soon, my pretties, soon.

Soon, my pretties, soon.

With time, Matthew, who always was a mere avatar genetics forced me to play as, will be in the past and Monica will fully replace him. It took me so long to discover her inside of me because heteronormativity and all the accompanying assumptions about gender and sexuality kept her hidden. Once the beard is finally gone and the hormones take full effect, I’ll finally be able to live as the lesbian I always was to begin with. Video games are still a nice escape, but now it’s time to start living.


Monica is a self-proclaimed “trans lesbian princess” living in Jacksonville, Florida who is still early in her transition. She teaches English to college freshmen and is the self-published author of her action comedy vampire novel, Blood on Fire, which is the result of her hate of all things related to Twilight. She is also a fiend for video games, owning a multitude of systems from classic to modern.

Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.

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27 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    *high-fives* Yay, gamers! I’m so glad you mentioned Pokemon Crystal, it was such a huge deal for me growing up, too. I used to vehemently insist Pikachu (or at least MY Pikachu) was a girl, much to the dismay of all the boys in my class. “Trans lesbian princess” sounds so rockin’! I loved hearing your story, and I’m so so happy that a lot of people you care about are supportive. Keep fighting the good fight, love.

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      Unfortunately, Ash’s pikachu is a male, as evidenced by the heart-shaped tails for female pikachus introduced in Diamond and Pearl.

      As for the princess persona, we’ll see if I can pull it off soon, and thanks for the kind words!

  2. Thumb up 0

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    Wow, this article resonates with me so much in terms of video games as an escape, and to be honest video games really helped me come to terms with my sexuality, some of my first crushes as a kid were on girls from Dead Or Alive, and the female gym leaders in pokemon silver :L

    It was great to hear your story, you sound amazing! Keep it up, and by the way I LOVE your zelda case and pokemon tee <3

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        I’ve only recently looked into playing Final Fantasy (always been a Nintendo junkie, so Zelda’s my main game series) but the girls I’ve seen so far, like Lightning, are just awesome :D And yeah, I’ve always been obsessed wi the Dragon gym leader, Clare, from Pokemon Silver, and Misty of course :p

        I was annoyed to see some of the comments further down here about women in video games, although I agree that they can be portrayed unrealistically, I’ve personally always found playing as women to be, as you say in your article, empowering, They kick ass, Lara Croft beating Indiana Jones anyday, and in fighting games the girls are just as capable of winning a match as the boys. To me, that shows equality and feminine positivity far earlier than in a lot of other forms of media…

        Sorry, I’ve gone on a miniature rant there D: I think I’m basically just trying to say, I love this article, and was annoyed to see criticisms of women in games in the comments, it wasn’t neccessary in relation to this particular piece….ah well…

  3. Thumb up 2

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    Wow you sound a lot like me that it is slightly scary. I am also a transwoman who spent a lot of her childhood playing videogames and escaping as female characters while using excuses. My excuse was always that female characters were faster and more agile. I spent a fair amount of time assuming I was just a gay male to.

    It’s crazy how we both went through the same problems and had the same assumptions about orientation and identity. I have been on hormones about as long as you also.

    It’s just so weird to me but I love it. Good luck with everything!

  4. Thumb up 0

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    This is so touching. I’m glad you figured out what was going on, and I wish our society made that discovery easier. Maybe mention it in schools? I’d never even heard of the trans* until Autostraddle, which is seriously messed up and can’t be helping trans* youth on their journey of self discovery.

  5. Thumb up 1

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    Ok so.
    Mind you, I am not a “gamer.” My parents kept electronics to a minimum when I was growing up; I think I played Zelda a couple of times when at friends’ houses. Sometimes I play Plants vs. Zombies on my phone?
    So with that disclaimer in place, I’ve been a tad annoyed at the last three posts about gaming, two from the trans series and one among the usual array of articles. If you’re going to go on about how gaming saved you, made you a feminist, allowed you to play with your gender, etc, and not mention how gaming portrays women in horribly sexist, objectified, over sexualized ways, that’s kind of a problem. I mean, media in general does a really fucking bad job at representing women; the Geena Davis Institute has some good data on it. But gaming is particularly bad about it. I’m sure if you made a to-scale model of some of the female characters in video games, they’d be worse than the to-scale models of Barbie that’ve been all over the internet lately.
    If I WAS into gaming, I would NOT want to be playing as an oversexualized, almost grotesque caricature of what a woman is, and it certainly wouldn’t make me a feminist or in touch with my inner gender. Maybe it’s because I think the whole princess thing is extremely problematic and I don’t plan on letting little girls I’m in charge of near that shit—not the kids I nanny, not my little sisters, not my future daughters—but I think Princess Peach falls into this category, as well.
    I don’t know. I don’t think everything should come with a disclaimer, that gets really annoying, and you can totally enjoy problematic things SOMETIMES, but several articles in, somebody’s missing something…
    (And I’m sure there are SOME video games that have not-so-gross female characters, but they’re certainly not in the mainstream)
    /endrant

    • Thumb up 7

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      I don’t often play “an oversexualized, almost grotesque caricature of what a woman is” either. That’s a gross simplification of video game characters, and personally, I find some of the old standbys of gamer culture rather problematic as well (hence why I typically don’t play on Xbox Live).

      Research about the unrealistic portrayals of women in games have their place, and, in fact, are absolutely needed. However, this negativity that tends to dominate the discussion on many sites (most notoriously Kotaku) tosses aside the counterargument that interactive media can be, and has been, used to properly express female characterization. Take, for instance, Persona 4’s Chie Satonaka. While the game’s art style is hardly realistic (anime never is), her figure strays far away from the supposed norm and the game portrays her as an athletic powerhouse struggling to come to terms with her peers’ expectations of femininity–no easy task for someone who doesn’t fit the generic definition of beauty. While Persona 4 may not have the notoriety of Call of Duty, it does have a very strong fan following.

      Regarding more popular games, sales and fan interest have proven over several years that T and A only go so far. Lara Croft, for instance, used to be the poster girl of oversexualized game characters, yet her recent redesign gives her much more realistic–and, dare I say, much more humanized–proportions, and, as far as sales are concerned, fans approve (though I have yet to play the game myself). Another example is the replacement of the character Taki with the character Natsu in Soul Calibur V. History has even proven that sex alone simply does not sell games, such as in the case of BMX XXX (look it up; it’s bad).

      As for the whole princess thing, I know it has problems, but I can’t help what I like. Princesses can also be interpreted in many ways, some of which are quite positive and empowered, but that’s a matter fit for its own article.

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        I would encourage you to do some research into the extremely detrimental effects of poor representation of women in media (including video games) on young girls. I’m glad they helped you; that’s not the case overall.
        And again, I said that I’m not for disclaimers all the time, but to have several pieces in a row and not bring it up even a little bit? That’s a problem.
        I’m not saying video games are the problem (although I’m very much against excessive use of electronics for kids, or in general, really), I’m saying that you can’t go on about how it helped you and NOT mention how it’s problematic, ESPECIALLY when you’re bringing the subject of gender into it.
        As for your defense of princesses, they have their place, but if that’s the only representation of women in a game or show, that’s a problem.
        I just think it’s important. Statistics agree with me. To gloss over it continuously and/or defend it isn’t really the best course of action.

        • Thumb up 4

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          I don’t think that it’s necessary because that’s not what the article is about. It’s about the effects that video game had on this trans woman. Personally I would love to see this site tackle video games(because seriously Anita is kind of crappy at this can we get someone better please? I’ll defend her against any guy who attacks her but still, I have some issues.), because sexism is becoming more of an issue in a lot of ways, especially when recently it’s come to light just how ingrained misogyny is within the industry, with Bioshock Infinite not having the most important character on the cover because she’s a girl(ALSO WOW WHY WAS THERE A QUICKTIME EVENT OF TIGHTEN HER CORSET AFTER SHE WAS BEING TORTURED WHAT THE FUCK), the same thing happening with The Last of Us, and another developer recently talked about his struggles simply trying to get funding for a game about a woman.

          However I do also believe that video games also offer some of the best female characters in all of media, my personal favorite being Heather Mason from the Silent Hill series. Perhaps I do have my bias but I think that while I do think that for sure sexism is an issue within gaming, as is racism(like seriously how many good black main characters have we had recently outside of The Walking Dead?), writing every game off as being horribly sexist doesn’t sit well with me. Of course in general I have issues with anyone writing off any medium as being horrible.

          But back to my main point, this article is about the experiences of a woman who was able to get to be who she really was, to a degree, for the first time within a simulated space. Obviously for her this was a really liberating thing, and the writer of the article said that she tends not to play as overspecialized characters, and I’ll take her word for it, meaning that these negative portrayals of women didn’t effect her much, and therefore are not important to the story.

          P.S. Anyone wanna write about the feminist implications of Lollipop Chainsaw because seriously I feel like that has a lot of deeper stuff going on beyond what most people get out of it.

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            I get that the point of this (and the other video game avatar trans*scribe) is that video games gave them the opportunity to safely explore their female identity. However, I would claim that it would be easier for girls (cis and trans) to identify with female characters if there were more well-rounded interesting female characters out there.
            I’m not saying the author *should* have said these things in the article. I’m just saying it’s relevant and could have maybe fit in the article.

            Also, while I’m all for princesses being a way to express and connect to your femininity, I think we need more princesses who are feminine but aren’t helplessly waiting for their prince to come and save them (like the mahou shoujo’s in the anime article). I’m worried that it’s hard for girls to separate the positive from the negative when idolizing princesses (especially when the negatives are reinforced outside the princess genre).

  6. Thumb up 1

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    I think video games more were a sign of my lesbianism then anything. When Mele came out I was only like 6 and I always played as Sheik/Zelda, because I thought Sheik was badass and hot. I didn’t know sheik was suppose to be a guy I just knew they were Zelda kicking ass and taking names and throwing needles at people.

    Oddly, I used a lot of male avatars as a kid, mainly because I was very “go with the flow” with my gender until I was 10 or so, and I started using more female avatars. It’s kind of funny though, in TF2 my class has always been the spy, and as soon as I came out I immediately installed the mod that made the spy a woman.(It’s a really really awesome mod. She’s not oversexualized, and they got a nice voice actress for her voice pack.)

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    I would say now that I’m more of a casual gamer compared to back then. I used to love fighting games, and it would feel SO empowering to beat my brother or any boy using female fighters. The same ones who would talk about how much the female characters “sucked”, which I never got because if you’re good, then you can pretty much win using any character.

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    I was so scared that enjoying video games meant I was gay, or of a masculine gender.

    Then I thought it was just for those who buy into the stereotypical concept of butch lady gamers.

    Until now!

    Now I am sure that is the case.

  9. Thumb up 4

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    i remember making all my sims lesbians in the sims 2. my high school boyfriend never got it. well, it all sort of makes sense now. sorry friend! i had no idea what it was about

    • Thumb up 2

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      Oh my god. I DID THIS TOO. I remember my little sister got on the game once when I was in high school and kept asking me why all the households were just women. I wasn’t really sure how to answer at the time, but BLAM-OH now it’s hilarious.

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    I always play as male characters in video games, and my brother has always made fun of me for it. I think my bridge to realizing I’m “a girl who likes girls” was thinking “you know, if I were a boy, I’d be so into girls.” So that’s my warped lens!

    Really enjoyed reading this one.

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    Thanks for writing this article. I got really excited seeing a post about video games here and I’m so glad to have read this. I’m glad that you’re figuring out who you are, especially having a history with video games as an integral part of your life.

    Video games gave me some of my best growing up memories, but the thing that you rightfully said — that for children of the 80s and 90s — gaming was a very male space. I had to sit in the back of the room while older male cousins and their friends spent all afternoon playing Mario, only getting a turn if I begged or if they felt “sorry” enough to “give the kid a turn”.

    But video games offered something interactive and experiential. As I got older and games got more personal, they become overwhelming, grand narratives that I longed to delve into. I figure it’s much the same for those who get wrapped up in a fantasy novel. Hyrule is and was a magical, fantastic, beautiful place. Mushroom Kingdom is tons of fun. Liberty City was just grimy and likes its name, free.

    And then there’s the thing about being a lesbian and liking video games. It’s very complicated. I absolutely hate that when I tell guys in particular that I like video games, they look at me like a prized gem. Then tell them I’m gay, then it’s like, “Oh…” as though suddenly I’m just a lump of coal. I have to criticise this value system, where they automatically weigh masculinity, sexuality and attractiveness against one’s gender identity, sex, and sexual orientation as well. And then you’re validated through that.

    And then because video games are associated with masculinity and men, it casts unfair judgement on someone’s identity. A girl is automatically a “tomboy”. Is she a lesbian? Makes sense, after all she likes video games. It’s like being a woman and liking and playing sports and the judgements than made about you based on that.

    I love your Fionna and Cake tee-shirt btw.

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      What you mention about your experiences and the way men perceive you intrigues me a bit and might make an interesting examination. I haven’t had much experience in that regard yet since the only people who perceive me as female at present time are those who know I’m trans (in the process of killing the beard). Sadly, this rush among the collective of straight male gamers to get in the pants of female gamers often scares women away from game spaces/forums or even away from the medium entirely, regardless of whether they’re gay or straight.

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