If you’re an old-school gamer or someone who only knows Samus from Super Smash Bros., you recognize her as a badass broad who can easily arm cannon you in the face—she’ll do it. Later on in her career, we got to see another side to Samus via her zero suit. A form that was more feminine and less clunky metal that Samus was famous for. Gender identity fodder? Wait a minute, not so fast.
Back when I was growing up during the 8bit and 16bit era, we had speculation as kids that the character you played in Metroid was male. Being the culture of the ’90s, we were exposed to certain types of gender role stereotypes. Action games featuring buff dudes with huge biceps was the norm; we just kind of assumed what was obvious to us. Having a female take over that role turned all preconceived notions upside down and birthed what would become a powerful female representative in gaming. Definitely more a fan of Samus’ attitude than Peach and her pink frilly dress—no offense to Peach fans!
People complaining about representation growing up today had no idea how the culture was 20+ years ago. Back then, males were expected to be buff alpha dogs and women were expected to be beach body ready. We didn’t have social media to coddle us like kids growing up have today. True, some of that still exists, but not to the same extent. These days, it feels more like everyone is trying to force some sort of acceptance to meet an end goal. I digress, this is present day. There isn’t a shroud of mystery in what’s under that suit of armor anymore. From a pixel bikini clad end-game sprite to questionable fanart on the Internet, the world recognizes Samus Aran as a woman. Not a tool for points, not a heroine for trans rights, but a strong woman who can hold her own.
So, what is prompting the discussion of Samus being transgendered all of a sudden? An article on The Mary Sue that misinterprets a statement made back in 1994 from an interview featuring Hirofumi Matsuoka, one of the creative forces behind Samus Aran. To further compound this, the statement that confirms Samus as trans—shemale actually—didn’t come from an official source, but a Metroid fan site. Old scans of the interview in question were written in Japanese and translated by site admin Devin Monnes who goes by “CapCom” on the site Metroid-Database. Japanese to English translations aren’t always a 1/1 translation and is subject to being mistranslated or having the translation meaning misinterpreted.
In other words, this was not an official translated statement confirming the gender status of Nintendo’s most famous bounty hunter; it was a fan translation of an old magazine scan. These are factors we must take into consideration before touting something as conclusive proof. Until Nintendo of Japan openly states Samus is transgendered, she isn’t just because some people want it.
Bonus: here is a site dedicated to bad translations of various Asian languages.
Even within context, the term used to describe Samus was “newhalf,” a Japanese term “ニューハーフ” (nyūhāfu, “new half”), from “ハーフ” (hāfu, “half; person of mixed Japanese and other ancestry”). Modern usage is slang for trans people, which is what caused confusion. In this particular instance, it is believed to be used jokingly to describe Samus as she was originally meant to be male, but had her character change mid development. Instead of being the usual hero, players were in for a surprise twist; “Wow! Samus is a girl?!” was spoken by gamers the world over.
Remember, Samus’ reveal as a woman was a shocker at the time because all hints pointed to you playing as a male protagonist. A character’s initial concept design is not canon of the final result; artists make several revisions before the final work is published. Case in point, if we’re going to count non-finalized concepts as canon, Sonic The Hedgehog would be trans-bunny. As you know, this isn’t the case.
Gamers sometimes turn to manuals to learn more about various character biographies. Sticking to the Sonic Universe, there was an English manual mistranslation for Sonic Heroes. Sonic’s arch rival, Dr. Eggman, was described as being a feminist. Kind of hard to imagine all things considered. What may have happened was a localization issue with the translation.
Another famous manual controversy involves Nintendo’s Birdo. “He thinks he is a girl and he spits eggs from his mouth”; this one got some interesting responses. In all fairness, if any game character is trans, I’m more confident in the Birdo being trans claim than this one. Unless the creative team makes an official statement about a character, always take such claims with a Titanic sized grain of salt.
When it comes to any art medium and what’s canon, the final say is from the creator(s)—not wishful thinking. Not a bunch of red MS Paint lines leading to nowhere. Not your own head canon because you have a Fanfiction.net account. The people who poured their heart and soul into something get to call the shots. You may choose to ignore this; no one is going to force you to change your personal opinions. In fact, I still refuse to pronounce “gif” like a certain brand of peanut butter—doesn’t necessarily make either of us right.
If there ever were a definitive answer regarding Samus’ gender, I say someone who worked closely directing these titles would be the authority. From erroneous translation errors to individual interpretation, video game characters unfairly end up in the middle of a controversy. No matter how much the writers over at The Mary Sue want to believe Samus is a trans woman, there just isn’t any real evidence to support this claim beyond an off the cuff comment Hirofumi Matsuoka made over two decades ago. Nothing canonically explicitly says Samus is keeping her gender identity secret from the world.
Ultimately, Pieces like “Metroid’s Samus Aran is a Transgender Woman. Deal With It.” actually hurt people who are trans because it puts them front and center for gender discussion in a “ah-hah gotcha!” way that politicizes them. I understand the lower representation and getting all excited, but who is that even helping? All I can picture is someone in a prayer position shouting “please please please” like a child desperately wanting a wish to come true.
In a sense, this reminds me of an older piece I’ve done in response to Ben Kuchera on why can’t Link be a girl. The world isn’t black and white, binary and non-binary. We’re given this world to explore and sometimes it’s fun to look at something from another perspective. Could trans Samus exist? Absolutely, if you want to believe. I’m not here to play thought police, but I’m also not going to accept something controversial without analyzing it first.
Would I accept Samus Aran as trans if the team behind her creation made an official statement today? Of course I would, it doesn’t suddenly erase all the games she was in. As long as the statement was genuine, Samus was trans from the very beginning and there was zero pressure on the team to say it; I accept with open arms. In that same breath, I’m also open to more trans characters in video games. Characters with real depth and personality, not tokenism to please a specific demographic. People who are trans have it bad enough struggling with identity, they don’t need to be treated like a stepping stone for false celebratory cake.
If you’re a game dev and feel that we need more trans representation in gaming, go for it. But please do so for all the right reasons. That’s all any gamer can ask, trans or not.