By Marigold K.
Hey, readers, Marigold here. Just gonna put this right up front: This article--due to the subject matter hitting very close to home for me personally--will talk about parts of my (which may or may not reflect the circumstances of other trans people) day-to-day life. It's oftentimes not very easy or joyous to live while being trans in this day and age, so it's gonna be a little more down and sad than what readers may be used to reading on this site, but, nevertheless, this is still Game-Positive, and I'm here to talk about why Pokémon helps make my life just a little easier.
I was the fourth child born into my family. The first "son," actually - a 'fact' that would set my life in a direction I didn't ask for it to go in. From then on, I would be eagerly encouraged by every member of my family to be extra-boy-y, to fill some 'male-deficiency' in the family, presumably. No feminine-coded TV shows, no feminine-coded toys (frankly the only thing 'for girls' I was allowed were Disney Princess films, which I am very grateful for having gotten the opportunity to watch), and along with that I was allowed exclusive-access to certain 'masculine' things that my four other sisters were excluded from. It had all been decided for us and we were all stuck with it.
Pokémon, on the other hand (from Crystal to this very day), puts your name & pronouns (tied to gender identity--no they/them/theirs, non-conventional pronouns for gender identity, etc. deeply sorry to say - crossing my fingers hoping we get that fixed one of these days!) entirely in your hands. While I, in my pre-tween years, never ventured to take advantage of this, it has struck me now that I'm pushing eighteen years-old how significant this is. This game from my childhood, that I owned for years prior, had touched me in an entirely new and profound way.
Naturally this part of the Pokémon franchise was derided by the predominantly-cis video games community media. "How come Professor Oak can't tell the difference between a boy and a girl?" they would snark, ignorantly, finding the very idea of not immediately knowing someone's gender simply at a glance completely ridiculous. While it can be reasonably assumed that Nintendo was not intentionally featuring an impressively-progressive (for its time) take on gender, art (especially video games) is a complex realm, and works of art can have more than its original meaning and intentions by way of the observer. Therefore, the act of applying a cissexist lens to this feature is very much shameful in and of itself, I believe.
(... And my life is made much harder no-thanks to people who would react increduously to the question posed by the Professor of the game to the player. One of those personal things.)
Gender is a social construct, but, as people with squishy pink meat in our heads with individual feelings and thoughts and stuff, it can mean next-to-nothing to one person, a little to another, and everything to another--especially one who may not have had the privilege of having their identity reaffirmed countless times a day. Thus, it is imperative to recognize the simple fact that things like name, pronouns, gender cannot be taken for granted anymore, and the method used by Pokémon professors is very much preferable to the way the world handles it today.
Taking a step away from my own personal experiences and such, I'd like to tell you all of a very close friend I have, one who will remain anonymous for this post. She had not yet discovered that she was a woman, but she knew she liked having a woman as an avatar in online spaces. With Pokémon, she had not yet tried out playing as a girl yet, but that changed with Pokémon HeartGold, when she chose to play as Lyra.
Needless to say, the new pronouns were a change from simply being seen as a girl with her profile picture, and ultimately it helped her on her way to self-discovery only a few months afterward. It's stories like this that really puts into perspective how powerful a simple question can be for an individual such as my good friend.
That very same friend of mine had a social studies teacher who, one day, asked her and her fellow classmates for their pronouns. This strikes me as a very close real-life parallel to Pokémon's way of asking. Sure, he could see them all well enough, he could have guessed, but instead he asked. For all he knew, some students might've not had the means to present the way they wished to, or maybe there could've been some students who simply had never thought about it, and that would get them to really think about themselves and their identity - all good things. So, next time someone tries to make a joke about asking, don't be fooled - there is real-life application to this. It's not just for characters in video games.
I think I've said my piece, now. Please, feel free to leave a comment if you like. We'd love to hear what you may have thought of the article, the way Pokémon handles gender, or maybe even your own feelings about your identity, whatever you'd like. Whatever you do, always try and remember - it's never too late to ask others or yourself these questions.