Throughout the history of fiction, queer-coding has been a way to make characters—almost always villains—appear more menacing or mysterious to non-queer viewers. Some classic examples are Ursula from The Little Mermaid, based heavily on the appearance of Divine, one of the most famous American drag queens of all time; Jafar from Aladdin (which combined queer-coding with colorism, as he is much darker-skinned than most Disney characters); and any of the named Replicants fromBlade Runner, with their heavy makeup and statuesque bodies. Queer-coded protagonists, however, are far less common. Typically gay heroes, though still relatively uncommon, are given full treatment; that is to say, their identities are generally acknowledged and concrete. Though still often played as jokes, these heroes are still cited as examples of representation. But what about those even more uncommon examples of heroes who are queer-coded—heroes or their allies who are ambiguously queer?
Luigi, as Mario’s younger brother, has always been placed in an emasculated role. Jokes are made at his expense throughout sports and party games, Mario often shows a cruel streak wherein he mistreats or ignores his brother, and NPCs often confuse Luigi for Mario because they do not even know Luigi exists and assume Mario is just wearing green for a change. The game that makes this most apparent is Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga, where despite being a titular character, Luigi is all but unknown to the residents of the Beanbean Kingdom. It also is one of the more obvious main-series games to demonstrate Luigi’s ambiguous queerness. In order to fool kidnappers at one point, Luigi dresses up as Princess Peach and is imprisoned on an airship. The ‘disguise’ successfully fools everyone, and by using himself as bait, he then escapes and reunites with Mario to take down the enemy. But how is it Luigi is able to pass so convincingly as Peach?
If this was a one-off event, it could be just considered a transmisogynist gag about Luigi in drag. But it’s a consistent theme, not just in games but in non-game materials. In the Super Mario Adventures comic serial, Luigi dresses up as Princess Peach in a plot to rescue Mario from Bowser. In other Mario and Luigi titles, Luigi has dressed up as Princess Peach to fool alien invaders, Bowser, and various other NPCs. On a few sparse occasions, Princess Peach has actually dressed as Luigi as a disguise, as well. Sports titles reveal that Luigi and Princess Peach are incredibly close friends and have good chemistry on and off the field. Luigi is closer in age to Princess Peach than Mario, and they are often seen hanging out together. While this is mostly speculation based on these repeated goofs, I think it’s fair to say that Luigi is trans, and Princess Peach is not only his confidant about the matter but an encourager and anchor in a universe that disrespects his identity.
(Author’s note: when speculating about characters’ genders, I typically still use the pronouns in canonical use for the character unless it is apparent the media they exist in wants me to use those pronouns as an excuse to misgender them. Since this is merely speculative, I think it would be confusing and anachronistic to use she/her for Luigi.)
Luigi’s transness wouldn’t be all that uncommon from many trans stories in our own reality: older brothers constantly picking on and emasculating their younger siblings, making them feel inferior and mocking them for not being as manly as they “should” be. Luigi is consistently more emotional than Mario, and while some of this can be chalked up to Mario being a largely silent protagonist, it can also be seen as Luigi being more in touch with his “feminine” side—emotion is often seen as off-limits to men, or else it will result in their “sissyfication.” Based on Luigi’s in-game commentary in Luigi’s Mansion, he also has an appreciation for art and more ‘refined’ interests than Mario or really any other character in-universe; his scared, timid behavior in the game is also used to mock him, as Mario would supposedly have been much more brave—despite needing Luigi to rescue him from this situation!
Since Luigi is never given a concrete queer identity, I prefer to make the case that he’s very heavily queer-coded for the purpose of mockery. But there’s quite a lot to take away in terms of support for him, despite Nintendo’s persistent attempts to dehumanize him. Princess Peach is a surprisingly good ally to her “boyfriend’s” younger brother, supporting him and providing him a pillar of stability in a community that constantly degrades him for everything he does or says.
Art by Rilo Harris.