How Video Games Helped Me Go From Boy to Girl

Morgan McCormick, a transgender gamer, talks about how video games were an essential part of her ability to accept herself and her identity as a woman.

 I was born a redheaded boy, but not by choice. Okay, the red hair part was cool because it looked like I was on fire all the time, and things on fire are cool. But boying was no es bueno. I’d felt like a girl ever since I was three, and yet all around me there were boys happy being boys, and girls happy being girls. Everyone seemed to belong in their skin, and that’s a huge thing to take for granted, believe me. Feeling isolated, I squirreled myself away in fiction, and lived as much of my life there as possible, with badasses being my favorite characters. X-Men’s Wolverine, Act Raiser’s The Master, Metal Gear Solid’s Revolver Ocelot, Blood Omen’s Kain, all of which were men, so clearly if I wanted to be cool, strong and confident, I had to ride the guy train for life.

That changed when N64’s Perfect Dark came out, where I played James Bond’s distaff counterpart, a redhead named Joanna. Whenever I hated my body, I could step into hers and boom headshot my problems away. But still, she was just an exception that proved the rule. In the land of the X chromosomes, the Y was still king. Enter Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, and its blonde, heat packing heroine Alexandra Roivas. Did she ever complain, or whine, or live life like she was a second class citizen? No, she bound the power of ancient gods to the slug rounds in her shotgun and proceeded to wholesale maim the hell hoardes living beneath her home. She Quantum Leap-style took over the bodies of men throughout history to accomplish her mission, because that’s how she do.

God, I just wanted to be cool. Doesn’t everyone? But when I took to the internet and learned about transgendered females, and their medical cocktail of testosterone blockers and estrogen supplements, I thought there was no way I’ll turn out as pretty as these gals. I was short, chubby, and genetics had seen fit to dump a big bucket of hairy on me. I’ll look like some weird hybrid person, not quite male, not quite female. But willful women like Guilty Gear X2’s Baiken, who’d had her eye gouged out and her arm ripped off as a child, shrugged off their body difference, and Baiken did it while spinning a katana like helicopter propellers. Which, if you didn’t know, makes you just plain better than everybody.

The coup de grace, the real freedom was when Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was released. And it would have to be Star Wars, wouldn’t it? I was raised in a geek household that had probably seen Dad press Mom’s pregnant belly against the TV while the trilogy was playing, all while I was in there still trying to grow a face or something. SW:KotOR basically let you be as badassly benevolent or foaming-at-the-mouth Sithy as you pleased, and, thanks to the character creation system, you could be a chick while you did it. One who you got to design head-to-toe. I real, live lady, with girl parts and everything. I would swing my double bladed lightsaber, go VWUM, WUM, WUM, and I’d do it as a girl. I could go between singeing my nails with force lightning or the more manicure-friendly force choke. And that’s how everyone in the game treated me, like a strong woman. I looked how I felt.

I make it sound like the pasta pot of my life was about ready to boil over, but I still wanted to be dead, I still felt like a freak. But now I had places I could be a girl in, now I had games to look forward to. Even when I couldn’t play the girl, video games were beginning to tell stories about three-dimensional women I could appreciate or look up to. The gal cast of Drakengard and Metal Gear Solid featured a lot of women who everyone thought was evil or insane, but who were always confident what they were doing was right, no matter what anyone else thought. Killer7’s Kaede took the serious out of suicide by playing it for laughs: she used her wrist slitting to open hidden passageways. Games let me believe in a world so crazy that a guy could even become a girl, and that that would be the least nutty thing that could happen.

It’s years later, and last week I celebrated 16 months on estrogen and, if you can forgive my ego a moment, I turned out to be a hot B. And if that wasn’t completely effing choice enough, last week my girlfriend and I celebrated two years of love, and five years of friendship, by curling up next to each other on the couch and playing through Shadow of Destiny, Katamari Damacy, Dead Space and Saints Row 2.

So, thank you, video games. For keeping me company and seeing me through that 22 year storm. For making my girlfriend a gamer 13 years ago with Final Fantasy Tactics. And for making life significantly less lousy for a whole lotta people.

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