In media, portrayals of trans people are few and far between. Even rarer are trans characters who are actually portrayed positively. Granted, it is not the easiest thing to write a trans character, mainly because a lot of people who try to write them have never met a trans person in real life before (well, not to their best knowledge, anyway). While the frequency of trans representation is still somewhat low, it has become considerably better in recent years across a variety of media. Television, video games, books, film, even comic books.
For many, the most common examples of trans characters in media are in film and television. What comes immediately to mind is Transparent, a show that in some way was great, but in others, a little disappointing. The casting of Jeffrey Tambor was a sore spot for many, and even sorer once allegations of sexual assault came out against him by trans cast and crew members. In the film industry, we have Dallas Buyer’s Club, a film that attempts to feature a nuanced depiction of a trans woman, but indeed, the character is portrayed by Jared Leto, a cis actor. The problem not being that a cis person was cast, but rather that trans women so rarely get a chance to play trans people. Leto’s character also fell into the unfortunate trope of trans characters being in peril. Valuable stories (such as the based-on-a-true-story Boys Don’t Cry) to be sure, but not the only stories.
Trans Representation in the Games
Trans representation in video games is a bit of a weird case. It is more difficult to do this in games, mainly because video games are less often narrative-centric. Games like Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Mass Effect: Andromeda feature some NPCs that are trans. You can also find a number of indie games that touch upon trans characters and sometimes even feature them as playable characters, including Undertale, Crypt of the NecroDancer, and 2064: Read Only Memories (which has tons of trans characters).
The big problem of trans representation in media comes however when the creator(s) stumble in how the character is represented. For example, let’s take a couple video games: Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Super Mario Bros. 2 (particularly because games are so consistently bad at it). In Andromeda’s case, the writers had the character deadname herself, which, I mean, there are trans people who may, but it’s not common. Super Mario Bros. 2 features Birdo, a character thought to be gaming’s first trans character (even though it started as a joke). A lot of official text is fairly transphobic to her, calling her a man and “Yoshi’s boyfriend.”
There is a bit of a debate between supporters of trans-friendly media as to whether “no support” is better or worse than “bad support.” ie, is it worse for the Andromeda character to not exist, or for her to exist and be taken as representative of trans people? I feel, personally, that if people operate on an idea of “if I can’t do it 100%, I should not try,” it’s just going to make it harder for trans people to be visible. Sure, it sucks when they fail, but if they don’t try, then they will never be able to do better, right? Of course, if they don’t care about doing better, it’s a bit of a crap shoot!