Oh no! The Angry Transgendereds have come to take away another of your favorite game characters (i.e., the ones you don’t actually care about at all)! Who is it this time? The femme fatale of several well-known fighting franchises: Poison. Though she first appeared in Final Fight, I’ve known Poison more from her appearances in several Street Fighter titles, where she’s always been a favorite character of mine because of her storied history. In the earlier days of fighting games being shipped to the States, developer Capcom feared that American audiences would balk at the idea of fighting cis women, so they designed Poison as a trans woman, since history had already proven Americans had no trouble beating up trans women in any environment. But since her inception, Poison has undergone a variety of different canons, with different interviews with Capcom employees offering different explanations for her current state. Some state that she is a post-op trans woman, others that she merely tucks very well, and still others that she isn’t a trans woman at all. But Capcom’s official pronouncements on her have been ambiguous at best, so design choice takes precedence in crowning her as yet another of gaming’s earliest trans women.
Of course, her controversy-riddled history never examines the tropes that make up her character, since all the men in charge of her were too busy deciding if it was or wasn’t okay to beat the shit out of women. Her character design plays on the trope of trans women as sex workers, or specifically as street-based escorts, with her unbuttoned cutoff shorts and clingy tank top exposing all the parts of her she’d need to work the streets after fighting in them. It also isn’t surprising, then, that it’s morally acceptable to developers for players to beat her up, as she’s not only a filthy tr*nny, but a whore, too. Whorephobia in gaming is almost as dated as transmisogyny in gaming, but often represents itself more passively. Typically, games with characters that are sex workers portray them as disgustingly as possible. Poison is not canonically a sex worker, but her outfit shows a clear intent leveled against sex workers, and particularly some of the most vulnerable sex workers. Trans women are the fastest growing population of HIV-positive people in America, due to jailing practices, oftentimes themselves a product of arrests for sex work. So Poison’s combination of sex worker attire and police hat and whip unintentionally represent this dichotomy. If I believed that anyone at Capcom intended for this to be a criticism of transgender prison policies, I would applaud them, but I doubt the thought ever crossed the mind of anyone involved in her creation.
Poison’s promiscuous design also exemplifies the kind of oversexualized, fetishized trans woman that makes up half of all media presentations of trans women (opposite the brooding, sexless older trans woman). Aside from the previously mentioned callbacks to sex work attire, her outfit and mannerisms suggest that she’s trying to lure men into sleeping with her, ensnaring them in the trap of her “female body” (I put this in quotes only because it is the way she’s meant to be interpreted. All women have female bodies—trans, cis, or otherwise), only to reveal that she has the dastardly girldick they’ve been secretly hiding in their browser history. I don’t think I even need to explain why this is such a fucked up portrayal. Trans women, amazingly enough, are not trying to ensnare people into thinking we’re women. It’s not part of some big plot. WE are women, and we just want to be respected and acknowledged. WE don’t want to seduce your husband with our scary penises (well, I can’t speak for all of us, some of us might).
Despite all her failings (and she’s fictional, so you can’t really fault her for casual transmisogyny), Poison kicks ass just as well as any of her peers. When she’s not fighting herself, she manages Hugo (also from Final Fight), a massive pro wrestler from Germany. Her most recent appearance was in Street Fighter X Tekken, but hopefully we’ll see her in Street Fighter 5 (which just dropped today) as DLC or an unlockable character!
Art by Jun Joestar.