Birdo : Gaming’s First Transgender Character A Series on LGBTQIA representation in gaming

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Maximum sass

As time goes on we’re seeing more and more transgender and LGBTQIA game characters introduced to the world. When LGBTQIA people are included in some sort of media people are often quick to pick it apart and figure out whether the representation is positive, realistic, and helpful or whether it has harmful implications, misinformation, or hate. However, it’s not often that we look at the representation of characters from our past.  What better place to start than at the beginning?  Birdo may not be the first LGBTQIA character, but she is the first transgender character in gaming. Looks like Nintendo has more firsts under their belt than we thought.

Who is Birdo?

Birdo is a character that has been around in the Mario franchise almost as long as our marvelous mustachioed friend. Remember the pink dinosaur with the bow who keeps spitting eggs at you in Super Mario Bros 2? Yep that’s her. Since her short lived rivalry with Peach, Mario, Luigi, and Toad she has moved on to become a regular in the Mario series. Appearing in games such as Mario Tennis, Mario Kart, and the Mario Party series to name just a few.

In the manual (pressed sheets of trees that used to come with games) included with Super Mario 2 Birdo was shown with the description “Ostro, he thinks he is a girl. He’d rather be called Birdetta”. This was 1988, so most people at this time weren’t all that aware of transgender people. They didn’t know misgendering was a thing or that it’s an inappropriate thing to do. Because of the wording and misgendering in her origin she is the subject of heated debate to this day.

Oh Nintendo

What’s the debate?

The Birdo debate surrounds her origin and how her representation is handled.  Because of the misgendering in her origin, Birdo is often referred to as male. But let’s be clear, Birdo is without question a female. 

There are those that believe Birdo was retroactively declared, or retconned, female, ignoring her origin story and making her a cisgender woman. Her being retconned female doesn’t necessarily mean that those who believe this believe she is a man. This is probably what is happening with Birdo, as Nintendo is not the best when it comes to LGBTQIA related politics.

There is a theory about her going through gender reassignment surgery (GRS).  This one is highly unlikely, it gives Nintendo too much credit. If any kind of transitioning was done it was a social transition or maybe hormonal, which would ideally mean everyone uses she/her pronouns. This also suggests that she wasn’t treated as female until after GRS, which is possible in this case as it does happen a lot in real life; but it’s wrong. Identifying as female makes you female, you don’t need surgery for that, end of story.

My thought is that Nintendo just started using her pronouns. The only way for this to be settled is for Nintendo to flat out say so. There is a lot of evidence for all the arguments, but about half can be interpreted as bias or ignorance on gender issues depending on who is delivering it.

Portrayal

By Smash Bros they start referring to her by the correct pronouns

The first game misgenders her but in future games they do use the correct pronouns for her. In Super Smash Bros a trophy describes her as “gender indeterminate” and that her eggs are fake. Further cementing her not being a cis woman. In fact, she was voice acted by Japanese trans people (referred to as Okama by various sources) but with masculine voices or flamboyant masculine voices. Disturbingly enough, Okama is a slur that suggests trans women and gay men are highly promiscuous. The appropriate term for transgender Japanese people is “trans kei.” Thanks @ToyCapsule for this nugget of knowledge.

If Nintendo does really portray Birdo as being a trans woman then the fact that she never comes out means she is stealth. Which is being trans without being out.

What’s It Mean?

LGBTQIA representation in media is supposed to dispel misconceptions, to make characters relatable, and maybe make people rethink about how they treat marginalized groups. So while it may seem silly to argue the identity of a transgender dinosaur it is very important that we have all the positive representation we can get.

Is Birdo an example of positive representation? If you believe she is a trans woman then I’d say yes. Though, the constant attempts to bury her identity by Nintendo and the community does make it harder to say yes. While it’s rarely said she is trans explicitly, that it was said once at all is enough for Birdo to be considered trans. Personally, I can’t wait for her to be in more games; and who knows, maybe Nintendo will be more open about her identity in the future.

What do you think about the article and Birdo’s representation? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.


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Nichole Johnson

Hello, I'm Nichole and I'm a 26 year old transgender woman. I've been gaming since I was 8 years old and currently have every major platform. You can find me on Xbox One, PS4, and the Nintendo Switch. I love co-op, souls style, roguelikes, action, western and eastern rpg games. I play a large variety of games though and I'm playing something different every week, it'd be easier to list the genres I don't like. Despite my experience and work I consider myself more of a casual gamer because I feel the definition of hardcore gamer has changed over the past couple of years. You can find my writing here on New Normative as well as my blog. If you want to watch me play stuff live you can find me on Twitch as QueenHellcat.

  • 💖Nichole💖

    Hello, I’m the writer. A friend mentioned to me after posting something about her appearance in Captain Rainbow. She was imprisoned by a robot guard for using the women’s restroom. The robot doesn’t believe her to be female and to prove it the lead retrieves a private item from her home to prove it. The item is blurred and people speculate it is a VERY personal item. If it is the item that people suggest it is, it doesn’t prove anything. It does add to the post op theory but honestly the object suggested can be used by anyone. But it does add to the confusion in the community. I was aware of this but excluded it intentionally because the article already had way more focus than necessary on her genitals.

    • 💖Nichole💖

      I really dont see why it matters so much. So what if she is trans or i think she is. You said yourself they assigned her a gender to make her more relatable. Maybe her being a trans woman makes her more relatable for me. Is it ok for you to try and take that away? Also you only count translated releases, those get censored all the time. That goes against the developers artistry and design. It sounds like you are excluding things you dont agree with rather than respecting original work.

  • KasuRuiza

    he was only labeled she after Nintendo got cold feet about a transvestite being in a kids game… Nothing transgender about a fictional character.

    • 💖Nichole💖

      They got cold feet about adding a transgender character, then included another trans character in Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door (Vivian)? Weird.

      • KasuRuiza

        Hmm, if you look up the game in question you’ll realize there’s no mention what so ever about her being anything else besides female… We are talking about translated releases. Even if so… Clearly it’s a being that has no gender equivalent to human so they assign it a human one so we can identify with it. It’s still not what you say. It was never any other gender besides the one “she” is called. If you want to find first (in actually reality) transgenders in any field, go for it..(there’s probably many people aren’t aware of).. But don’t reach with fictional characters that aren’t human to begin with and are only marketing tactics to sell you on a product.

        • 💖Nichole💖

          I really dont see why it matters so much. So what if she is trans or i think she is. You said yourself they assigned her a gender to make her more relatable. Maybe her being a trans woman makes her more relatable for me. Is it ok for you to try and take that away? Also you only count translated releases, those get censored all the time. That goes against the developers artistry and design. It sounds like you are excluding things you dont agree with rather than respecting the devs original work.