Op-ed: Xion's story in Kingdom Hearts is a transgender narrative
[Contains major spoilers for Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days]
Xion is not transgender.
Kingdom Hearts isn't anywhere close to being that socially progressive. They barely give their female characters any screentime and they won't touch sexuality with a ten-foot keyblade. So do I expect them to actually have a confirmed transgender protagonist? Nope.
But all media, video games included, are open to consumer interpretation. You can take Sora's feelings for Riku and Kairi as evidence of pansexuality. You can head-canon Saix's jealousy as the by-product of scorned romantic feelings for Axel. And yes, you can believe Xion is transgender. And no one can tell you that you're wrong.
How is Xion transgender?
Realistically, she isn't. Kingdom Hearts is a fantasy series. Xion's experiences are obviously not the same as an actual trans* person's. We're not equating the two here. We're comparing them.
Xion is a memory-based replica. Upon creation, she had no identity. No face. No sex. No gender. As she taps into Sora's memories, particularly those of Kairi, she begins to take on a sense of self, eventually identifying as female.
Not everyone sees her the way she sees herself, however. Xigbar sees her as Ventus. Xemnas sees her as Sora. Saix only sees a hooded doll.
Because of this, Saix purposefully refers to her as an "it," despite being corrected by Roxas, Axel, and Xion herself on multiple occasions. Transgender people face misgendering on a daily basis. While this is sometimes accidental, misgendering is often intentional and malicious. Saix isn't just ignoring Xion's pronouns, however. He's intentionally dehumanizing her, reducing her down to an object that he can label and reject.
Even when Xion's body physically transforms into Sora's at the game's climax, she still retains her pronouns, stating that "this puppet will have to play her part." Her body takes on a male form, but she is still female. Her sex is not her gender. She identifies as a woman, therefore she is a woman. It's that simple.
Her very existence as a replica can be seen as transgender symbolism. Xemnas designed her as a mirrored form of Sora, whose female presentation is merely a copy of Kairi's appearance. To him, every "feminine" aspect of Xion is fake. But the game is very clear that, despite being regarded as a sham, Xion is a person in her own right. Her story may be different than Kairi's, but her identity is just as legitimate. Trans women are often accused of "copying" cis-women. This is wrong. They are all real women, regardless of how anyone perceives them.
Why does any of this matter anyway?
LGBT+ people already face abysmal representation in the media. Yes, it's gotten better over the years. No, that doesn't mean we've achieved equality. The stories we're given predominantly feature white, straight, cis-gender men. They get to be the heroes. Their white, straight, cis-gender girlfriends are the love interests. Minorities don't have the privilege of flipping through TV channels and immediately finding a protagonist that looks, loves, and identities like they do. They have to actively seek out representation.
Within entertainment, the video game is one of the least queer-inclusive mediums. Within the LGBT+ community, transgender is one of the least recognized identities. Now you do the math on the quality and frequency of transgender characters within video games. It (typically) ain't pretty.
When transgender characters do manage to make it into a game, they're usually the villain, a damaging precedent set by Super Mario Bros. 2 back in 1988. While Birdo has since reformed to enjoy rousing games of tennis with her former adversaries, she was originally introduced as a male "that thinks he is a girl," who also happens to enjoy shooting Mario in the face with giant eggs.
On the rare occassion that transgender characters aren't antagonists, they're often played for laughs, usually under the twisted belief that a non-cis-female person wearing a dress is "comedic."
So yeah. If people want to read the Kingdom Hearts canon a little differently, let them. The world needs more transgender protagonists.
Okay, but do people actually care about this stuff?
Um, yes. They do.
Being able to identify with game protagonists is a privilege that not everyone possesses. Very few series feature relatable queer characters. Even fewer have transgender heroes.
And I'm not the first to recognize Xion's experiences as similar to those within a transgender narrative. One blogger in particular has spoken out about this connection on multiple occasions, championing its importance.
Am I saying you have to view Xion as transgender? No, of course not. This is just one interpretation. Whether or not you agree with it, however, does not determine its validity.
Xion is a girl, even if she wasn't designated as one at birth. If someone can relate to her experiences with identity, then why would you tell them Xion isn't transgender?