Transgender people make up 1.6 percent of American adults and approximately 5 percent of young adults, while 44 percent of Americans say they know someone trans. That said, there is a dearth of transgender media created by trans people that is widely consumed by the general public (with a few notable exceptions). Given how small the trans community is compared to their broad media presence, it is important to consider how trans representation in media shapes treatment of and sentiments about trans people. As such, because there are more cisgender people in the media industry than trans people, it makes sense to rely on them to create media about transgender people. Cisgender allies are all too aware that the relatively small amount of popular media focusing on the transgender experience can negatively affect the societal perception and treatment of trans people. As such, many cisgender creators have taken steps to increase transgender representation and improve historically problematic portrayals of trans people and issues.
Still, simply encouraging cisgender creators to produce transgender representation may have negative results; much of the historical transgender representation in media has been incredibly harmful to the public perception of trans people as a whole and continues to plague the trans community’s fight for civil rights. Ensuring that cisgender creators understand the trans experience and portray it with the tact and care that such an important issue warrants is paramount to constructing media that positively and accurately represents the experiences of trans people. Bridget from “Guilty Gear -Strive-,” or “-Strive-,” is an excellent example of how creators may choose to adapt and change characters to improve the representation of trans people in media.
Arc System Works (ArcSys) is a Japanese video game developer and publisher known for their 2D fighting games. One of ArcSys’s most widely beloved franchises is “Guilty Gear,” a fighting game characterized by its very in-depth lore with fleshed-out backstories for each character on their roster. Their most recent installment is “Guilty Gear -Strive-,” released for PC, Xbox and PlayStation on Jun. 11, 2021. On Aug. 8, 2022, ArcSys released a DownLoadable Content (DLC) pack that added Bridget to the game.
Bridget is a yo-yo-wielding bounty hunter who fights alongside her teddy bear companion, Roger. She first appeared in “Guilty Gear XX,” released in 2002, and has been in many of the subsequent installments. Bridget was assigned male at birth, alongside a twin brother, in an English village. The village held a superstition that twin brothers brought misfortune upon the citizens, so Bridget’s parents forced her to present in a feminine way despite being born as a male. In previous games, Bridget never expressly identified as a woman, but in “-Strive-,” her character backstory heavily implies that she is transgender, which was corroborated by Daisuke Ishiwatari (the creator of Guilty Gear).
If Bridget’s identity was judged exclusively by her portrayal in “-Strive-,” then one could say that she is a poignant depiction of many transgender people’s journey of self-realization. The sense of confusion she initially feels, expressed in her post-battle voice lines with Goldlewis Dickinson, is born from a fear of abandoning her masculine identity, even though she already presents femininely. Over the journey, she is continuously encouraged to self-actualize and is asked what she truly wants, culminating in her eventual proclamation that she is a woman.
“Ensuring that cisgender creators understand what the trans experience is and portray it with the tact and care that such an important issue warrants is paramount to constructing media that positively and accurately represents the experiences of trans people.”
On the surface, ArcSys’ change to Bridget’s character seems to be a relatively positive representation of a transgender character written by cisgender people. The subject is handled with the respect and dignity it warrants, isn’t brushed over or overly laid in subtext, nor an out-of-character change for Bridget’s narrative. However, the presentation of Bridget’s backstory has caused controversy within the Guilty Gear community and the internet as a whole.
Before “-Strive-,” Bridget’s character was referred to as an 男の娘 (otokonoko), a term literally meaning “male girl” but used to refer to men who present with a feminine identity — analogous to the western term of “femboy,” used to refer to men with a feminine presentation. This alone would cause issues, considering the connotation that a trans woman started out as a man who crossdressed, but the issues of Bridget’s background don’t end there. She was forced into presenting as feminine by her parents and continued well into her adulthood out of a sense of obligation. The concept that someone can be ‘made’ trans is inarguably wrong and a common talking point of transphobic individuals who lambast trans representation in media. Furthermore, the idea that your gender identity is something that can be controlled through will rather than an immutable part of your identity is harmful rhetoric that anti-trans detractors use.
Nevertheless, I would argue that Bridget is an example of positive trans representation. Her parents feel immense guilt for forcing her into a feminine gender presentation, and by the time of “-Strive-,” there is no longer societal pressure for her to present femininely. After attempting to subvert her feminine societal presentation in previous installments (seen through her surreptitious attempts to appear more manly), she realized that her gender identity and her own understanding of it are far more complicated than she initially perceived. In “-Strive-,” though people often perceive her as a woman, no one forces her to declare herself to be one. That change is self-motivated through a gaining sense of agency throughout her story arc and motivated by her own sense of completeness and greater self-understanding. Without parental guilt or societal pressure and expectations, she realizes that she is trans after all, which means that her journey in “-Strive-” occurs without the influence of others.
Her identity is integral to her story progression and resolves the overarching conflict she has been experiencing since her introduction. While some may argue that it’s a mistranslation or that this is simply a change intended to earn brownie points with the queer community, the fact of the matter remains that the creator of the game stated that this was an intentional change for this character. Additionally, it’s a change that makes sense for the character and builds upon the previous narratives in an exciting and fulfilling way. Bridget is a good example of cisgender creators adapting what was a historically harmful representation of gender non-conforming people and turning it into a painfully relatable and engaging portrayal of the trans experience. In the words of “Guilty Gear -Strive-,” “Well? How do you like the new Bridget?”