Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Last of Us Part 2 is An Allegory for the Transgender Bathroom Debate

The discourse around The Last Of Us Part 2 has and still continues to be exhausting. We’ve sat through take after take after take, some nuanced, some hateful, and some overly fawning. No matter how innocuous a take might be, when it comes to The Last Of Us, any and all opinions seem to be fuse wires on a huge pile of unrelenting dynamite, ready to explode again and again and then, when it seems like the explosions have stopped, again.

This has been going on non-stop since the game released on June 19th, but for many, the discourse started a week previously with the release of the first reviews. Even then, there was a lot to digest.

However, thanks to a few rounds of substantial leaks, for many people, the discussion around the game started much, much earlier. Thanks to some substantial muting and conquering my own curiosity, I went into the game with only the prologue having been spoiled. Once I’d beaten it, however, I looked around at the conversations people were having when just the leaks were in play, and that’s when I realised: the game is an allegory for the transgender bathroom debate.

This isn’t one of those tongue in cheek fan theories like Fight Club really being a retelling of Calvin and Hobbes, or Saw being a sequel to Home Alone. There are genuine, rather sad parallels. Perhaps it would be clearer to say that the discussions around The Last Of Us are allegorical to the transgender bathroom debate.

last of us transgender

There were many leaks for the game, but here I’d like to focus on two in particular. Leak number one: there is a muscular woman (Abby) in the game. Leak number two: there is a trans character in the game. The problem is that gamers put two and two together and got cisnormative transphobia. Abby, in fact, is not the trans character, but is a cisgender woman who just happens to be ripped, and was based on professional CrossFit athlete Colleen Fotsch.

I get that it’s funny for gamers to be mad about the wrong thing. And I’m glad that the response to claims Abby’s body type is unrealistic has been not only to point to Fotsch, but for several other buff women in the gaming industry to show off their body with confidence. But it’s funny in the same way JK Rowling’s or Graham Linehan’s often ridiculous gender hypocrisies are; it’s easy to laugh at, but it reveals unsettling truths about how trans people are viewed in society.

The trans character, by the way, is actually Lev: a trans man. Prior to release, no one had even raised the possibility that the trans character might be a man rather than a woman.

This is where the bathroom debate comes into focus. After years of extensive forensic research, scientists have recently discovered that, contrary to apparent popular belief, trans men use the loo as well. However, this fact – and indeed the very existence of trans men – has been completely ignored during the hysteria over trans women using female toilets. Several studies indicate that trans women pose no threat in female bathrooms, but the fact the debate rages about ‘men in the ladies room’ in the first place is especially ridiculous when forcing trans women out means forcing trans men in. Trans men are often sidelined when being transgender is discussed in the public eye. Both in the speculation around the trans character in The Last Of Us and in the discussion around bathrooms, it happened again.

Abby's arms

As mentioned above, Abby is based on a cis woman in Colleen Fotsch; her figure  in the game has actually been slightly toned down from Fotsch’s. As a post apocalyptic soldier who lives in a gym and appears to have isolated herself following her father’s death, it’s fairly natural that she would work out intensively too. This disbelief around how Abby could possibly be a cis woman when she has bulging biceps brings another aspect of the bathroom debate into play: the way trans hysteria places borders around the definition of a woman.

In the real world, this often manifests through incidents like JK Rowling’s claim that women are ‘people who menstruate’, a definition which suggests cis women who do not menstruate, due to factors like age or health conditions, no longer qualify as women. It’s this way of thinking, combined with rising transphobia and paranoia, that leads to cis but gender non-conforming women being discriminated against too, even being thrown out of bathrooms.

Much like the bathroom debate, the leaks of The Last Of Us placed trans women at the centre, as figures to be both mocked and reviled in equal measure. This process is designed to harm trans women, but not only does the exclusion harm trans men, the way it sets borders on what it means to be female also actively harms many cis women; the very people transphobes claim to be protecting. The fact that they were wrong about Abby being transgender does not change the fact that much of the early hate for Abby was deeply transphobic in nature, nor does it cover up the dangerous thinking caused by years of poisonous, one side media coverage on transgender issues.

Abby isn’t trans, but some of us still are, and we just want to be able to pee in peace.

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