I mean, they tried. How many games include transgender characters, anyway? And if they do, would we even know? It’s not like most transgender people are telling you about it the first time you meet them, because that’s how transgender people get murdered. So why, in Mass Effect: Andromeda, does Hainly Abrams not only tell you that she’s transgender, but also tells you her pre-transition name, like it’s no big deal? Because that’s a big deal for a lot of actual real transgender people, and they’re super not impressed.
Hainly, a colony scientist, explains that even in the future, discrimination against transgender people was very much a thing – a not implausible scenario, I guess, because in 2017, we’re stuck on toilets – and she joined the Andromeda Initiative to leave that behind. I dunno what exactly she expected, since everybody on the arks was snoozing in cryo for 600 years and not critically examining their stupid prejudices, but that’s another matter entirely. And then, suddenly, this.
“Back home, I was filling test tubes in some dead-end lab. People knew me as Stephan,” she tells Ryder. “But that was never who I was. I knew what I could do and I knew who I wanted to do it as. ‘Hainly Abrams, Andromeda Explorer’. That’s me. Feels good. Feels right.”
Both Eurogamer’s Sam Greer and Laura Dale at Polygon describe the problems with this much better than I ever could, but basically, a transgender person’s pre-transition name – or so-called “dead name” – is usually a no-go subject because, simply, it’s not something they want to think about.
“Most egregious of all is that Hainly willingly offers the name she was given before her transition. This is often referred to as a trans person’s ‘dead-name’ and the severity of that title should give anyone a fair idea of what it means. It is intimately tied to a period of their life filled with great distress and can be a painful reminder of that. Their dead-name is often used by those who wish to undermine their gender identity. Most trans people would not offer this former name to anyone, let alone a stranger,” says Sam.
“Hearing my pre-transition name is an emotional gut punch that reminds me of how bad I felt during that part of my life. It’s often used as a way for people to try and hurt me, to make me feel like I am a liar or deceiver by transitioning. Whatever the reason, it usually hurts to hear,” Laura writes.
“For that reason I, and a great deal of other trans people, don’t tell anyone my dead name. If people don’t know it, they can’t accidentally use it to refer to me. If they don’t use it, I don’t have to be hurt by it.”
Now, BioWare has owned up to its mistake, “an unfortunate byproduct of the iterative process of game design”, and promised to fix it.
Regarding Hainly Abrams: pic.twitter.com/nFpUKihqOj
— BioWare (@bioware) April 5, 2017
Inevitably, the Anti-PC Battalion – KEEPING THE WORLD SAFE FROM DIVERSITY, ONE TWEET AT A TIME! – has responded with predictable disdain, claiming it’s “just a game”, and “so what” and “something something SJW” because, obviously, including characters that aren’t heterosexual white males, or designed to appeal exclusively to heterosexual white males is totally selling out. But, you know, whatever.