Mild (but still objectionable) cissexist content within this clip from the upcoming DLC Mark of the Assassin. Let’s break it down.
1. Hawke and Tallis meet Seneschal Bran with a transgender date at a party, a character who has only been seen in passing at the Blooming Rose before. They are obviously uncomfortable and make comments to that effect.
2. The comments pass without objection from anyone else.
3. Bran has been used before as the butt of sexual jokes.
4. The above factors make it likely that this is intended as another joke rather than a meaningful commentary on how yet another Earthly oppression also exists in some form in Thedas. (If this turns out to be taken out of context, and in the DLC it’s the start of a serious plot thread in which Serendipity defends herself and shows up the haters, then I’ll take that back, but given the way transpeople are treated in fiction, see below, I’m not holding my breath.)
5. Transfolk are not jokes, despite being consistently treated like them by media of all sorts, fictional and otherwise.
6. The fact that the cissexism is relatively “mild”—the narrative does not seem to imply that Serendipity is engaged in active deceit (a common and damaging lie spread about transgender people) and also does not suggest violence, for example, at least in this dialogue tree—doesn’t excuse it. The Dragon Age games deal with the various manifestations of the kyriarchy as major factors in their plots and settings, and their writers should know better. People should know better, and that’s why it’s important to point it out and ask for improvements.
How It Could Have Been Handled Better
1. The existence of cissexism in Thedas is not necessarily out of the question. While there’s little active heterosexism, several dialogue choices and the overall structure of the setting strongly suggest that there’s a great deal of more passive heterocentric attitudes. In any case, cissexism is a different animal than heterosexism despite the T attached to LGBT (which should surprise no one, given the tendency of mainstream gay rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign to ignore and politically sacrifice trans issues). However, if it exists it should be handled seriously, not first introduced to us as a joke.
2. Serendipity being a prostitute is also not necessarily a failure on the part of the writers, as they seem otherwise aware (a subject for a later post that I’ve been planning…) that marginalized groups are often pushed into sex work without full choice in the matter. “Transgender racial minority member who works as a prostitute but remains unashamed of herself” can be a valid character concept…so long as the background that leads to it is explored and we’re given glimpses, where possible within the constraints of her minor role in the story, into other aspects of her character.
3. This would require her not being treated as a joke. Which is really the main problem. If you’re going to give a member of a marginalized minority that group’s first appearance in your work of fiction, you don’t do it as a joke.
4. Characters who the players are used to accepting as either relatively neutral to racial and sexual minorities (such as Hawke) or who should be aware of the effects of the kyriarchy (an elven assassin) should not be showing cissexist attitudes, at least not without further comment that makes us reexamine those attitudes.
5. One possible alternate version: Hawke and Tallis come across Bran accusing Serendipity of lying to him, at which point the player has the option of choosing who Hawke will support in the argument. Support Serendipity and Hawke snarks off at Bran for making assumptions and then accusing other people of lying when he’s wrong, and Serendipity adds her two cents and thanks Hawke. Support Bran and he thanks you, but Tallis gets uncomfortable and adds a snarky comment of her own (perhaps about upper-class humans choosing stupid things to get upset about? Hard to say when we don’t know her yet), and Serendipity defends herself and walks away.
All these “little” things that keep happening (this, votes on lady Shepard, Liara statue) have almost made it so that I don’t want to buy anymore of their products. ME3-whatever, I’m so unexcited about any Bioware products at this point.