Way back in the summer of 2020, cisgender people were very excited at the idea of being a trans person in a video game. This, bizarrely, had become a major selling point for Cyberpunk 2077, with its character creator having the option of giving your femme avatar a penis seeing huge praise from critics as a positive step for representation. Trans people, as is often the case, knew better. Red flags included the highly fetishised Mix It Up poster featuring a female supermodel with a huge veiny bulge, the mocking tone of its marketing, and the occasional desperation of these cisgender observers to use transgender characters as a way to score points rather than something inclusive. Cyberpunk 2077 launched, left a string of broken promises behind it, and the trans character creator was a bit naff. As I and many other trans people pointed out at the time, Saints Row was already doing it, and better. Now that a new Saints Row is here, it has continued to reign supreme.
The overriding emotion when I think of Cyberpunk 2077's character creator is annoyance. Sure, you could add a penis to a femme character, and could even change the size of it. But once that happened, it did not exist. V had the smoothest tuck in existence, and even when naked in the game, she retained a strange Barbie-like flat purple crotch panel. Sex scenes in the game heavily implied you had a vagina, while any vagina-sporting trans men romancing Panam had scenes that suggested the presence of a penis. It just wasn't good, but marketing is everything in video games, and any critique of it at launch was drowned out by the primal screams of the bugs, so many people seem to think it is gaming's trans peak. It is not. It never was. It never could be. It is, and always has been, Saints Row.
Games like Tell Me Why and The Last of Us Part 2 have given us beloved transgender characters, but in terms of creating our own with any sense of physicality, Saints Row is where its at. Before launch, I played the demo character creator, and wrote that I felt it was one of gaming's best. While the game itself proved to be a bit of a letdown, the character creator proved to be even better once I got to take the boss out for a spin.
This is the first full Saints Row game since I came out as transgender. It's been nine years, and a lot can change in that time. I always played as female characters anyway, but giving them a crotch bulge in Saints Row 3 and 4 seemed salacious. I was still balancing a lot of thoughts, deciphering my own synapses. Though I obviously didn't have Cyberpunk as a reference point back then, did my unease come from the same feelings the Mix It Up poster gave me; was I instigating, encouraging, revelling in fetishisation? I wanted to be a woman, that much I knew even without the lexicon to express it, but why the bulge? Was it an albatross slightly south of my neck, there to remind me that I was a man and always would be? Or was it to act as a conduit between myself and my avatar, a thing we could share? I didn't have her eyes, her voice, her lips, her hips, her feet, her chest, but that… that we could share. In the end, I opted against it. When the remaster came out, I opted for a male voice, but stuck to my original form, making it something of a game to try to recreate her perfectly from memory.
Saints Row 5, confusingly going by the moniker 'Saints Row', greets a new me like an old friend. I no longer 'want' to be a woman. I am a trans woman. My fears over whether or not to create a bulge for my avatar, what it says about my own deviance, my own cowardice, my own shame, my own longing, means nothing. Like the maleness that still bound me nine years ago, those feelings have been shed. They have sloughed off my body to decompose and grow anew. The maleness is gone, but the manhood remains.
The overriding emotion when I think of my penis is annoyance. It doesn't create in me the intense dysphoria it does for some other trans people, but still, given the option, I'd rather not have it. Passing is an oddly binary phrase in the trans world. It is presented as a yes or no question, but we know that going stealth is easier in certain situations than in others, and there are countless examples of cisgender people being hounded out of bathrooms by overzealous transphobes who ‘can always tell’. Passing is not a yes or no. For many people, it is a constant maybe. The right lighting, the right angle, the right clothes, the right friends, the right confidence, the right place, the right time. It's not a thing I think about too much. I don't voice train, for reasons too long to get into here, so any passing would start failing the second I speak anyway.
The bulge does not give the game away. There is no game to be given. I'm not playing. Trans women don't get to participate in sports, remember? This is why it feels mostly like a cause of annoyance. It's not that without it I might be confused for Ana de Armas, it's that without it my damn clothes might fit. It's not so much that it outs me as trans as it is that it looks ridiculous. I might feel the same if I had a third breast or elbow talons. In Saints Row, I have learned to love the bulge. My avatar is gorgeous, stylish, and smuggling a salami. She's having an affair with the Eisenhower tunnel. She's only four inches, but some people like it that wide. She's packing. And still, she is gorgeous.
I've had her wearing hot pants, skirts, suits, capri pants, leggings, dresses, palazzos, and latex fetish wear. The bulge was eternal. The beauty was eternal. All hail the bulge. Saints Row does not treat it as an annoyance or obstacle, but instead something closer to an accessory. The bulge is there to complement your outfit, not sabotage it. Let's mix it up. Let's love the bulge.
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