How should we talk about Final Fantasy VII's crossdressing sequence?


#1

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#2

I was nodding along the whole time!

I think it’s OK that Cloud is uncomfortable, not happy with what he is asked to do (this is a character for whom image is really important - he’s mimicking the powerful men in his life, and this is a scene where he needs to stop doing that for a minute to get what he wants), but the characterization of the Bros is campy and predatory, and that can be changed with a few dialogue changes. Maybe make it clear that the crossdressers he’s interacting with would be happy to welcome him into their club of buff dudes who like to feel pretty and who may work at brothels, but Cloud is too uptight to just enjoy himself.

I wonder if they’ll just write that scene out of the re-make, though…certainly would be the “easy” option, to just have the Don choose Aeris or Tifa and to have Cloud come in and save the day rather than be the bait.


#3

The joke, in the case of VII, was Cloud’s (and, by extension, the player’s) sense of discomfort despite there not being any real reason to be uncomfortable in the first place.

If you don’t project yourself onto Cloud, it makes perfect sense that he would be uncomfortable, and there seems to be a very good reason he would be. Cloud is never established as a person who crossdresses or self-identifies as a woman, so he would likely be uncomfortable with trying to assume an identity that isn’t his.

Shouldn’t he be uncomfortable with this? Shouldn’t we want him to be uncomfortable with this?


#4

I seem to recall it felt entirely on-par with the plots of a great many episodes of various anime series. Seeking out the appropriate TVTropes page is left as an exercise to the reader.

I didn’t quite get the bit with the voice in Cloud’s head, though. I thought it was generally somehow regarded as foreshadowing for later events in the plot.


#5

It seems more likely to me that “cross dressing” is actually not a thing. That is to say, it is based upon false premises.

There are no clothes which are specific to men or women, we only have fickle fashions which change with time and place. I mentioned this in a recent post about sexed bathrooms. Rather than focus upon actual physical differences, most “universal” signs refer to clothes (dress or trousers). Don’t most people choose which bathroom they use by which clothes they happened to leave the house with? The problem is that the clothes are used as a stereotype. Saying that dress = female can be just as offensive as saying that “exaggerated traits” = “your ethnicity”. In contemporary society, there seems to be some popular understanding that racial and ethnic stereotypes aren’t cool. That they are lazy shorthand which depersonalize and often cause offense for their distortions. Yet many people simply forget this when sex is involved instead of race, despite working in quite the same way.

Now, if you were to steal somebody else’s clothes, you could be wearing “a woman’s dress” or “a man’s trousers”. But if they are your own clothes, then they are whatever sex you are, they are your clothes.


#6

I would hope not. Sensitivity in new games should be encouraged, but white-washing an old game’s remake to conform to modern sensibilities feels like a missed opportunity to talk about how things have changed, why the world is different now (and how it’s not) and what we would do differently if it were made today.


#7

In an ideal world, you’re right, clothes are clothes. But this isn’t an ideal world, and how you present yourself affects how people respond to you.

While it’s true that anybody can wear a dress whenever they want, a person who looks like a man wearing a dress is going to experience more societal friction (anything from looks to assault) depending on context. It’s that barrier that makes cross-dressing taboo, and therefore, contrary to your assertion, “a thing.”

Some day, hopefully, the choice of clothing or to wear makeup or not be as inconsequential a choice as which pair of sneakers to wear out of the house. But that day isn’t now.


#8

I never expect anything I do to be inconsequential, that seems like an odd perspective to me.

Of course everything depends upon context, yet many people are not sufficiently informed about different contexts they themselves are reacting to. Those who react with “social friction” are doing so as a personal choice, which does not by my estimation make a “real” underlying social dynamic. It is no more innate to people’s sex than attacking people for other clothing choices which may seem ostentatiously out of fashion. If I argued that this is an unfair world because kids could not wear a zoot suit to school unnoticed would be the same logic. Fashion is fickle, and most of what people classify as “sex” really is only fashion.


#9

This might be a dumb question, but what, then, DOES make up a social dynamic in your opinion?


#10

Something with a more formal basis. The fickleness of changing fashion styles are about as informal as it gets.

For example, if “being a man” in a French court means lounging about in stockings and high heels, and “being a man” in the rural US means specifically not doing that, then it seems reasonable to assume that what is at issue is a localized fashion difference, rather than anything specifically about the male sex, or the clothes themselves. While detractors would probably claim to be dealing in codified absolutes, when they cannot cite any. YMMV of course.


#11

You make a great point (re: mimicking others), I mean that’s more or less the entire character arc of Cloud and I wonder if Cloud’s entire arc (not just the scene) might appeal to folks who are in the closet - whether gay or trans.


#12

One of the neatest things I did in my undergrad was to take a class called Gender and Colonization in Latin America. It was quite enlightening to see how fluid sexuality and gender identity have been over time. In Europe back some hundreds of years ago there were even these festivals where everyone in town would crossdress and act out stereotypical gender roles.

On a smaller time-scale, pink was once considered a man’s color as it was associated with red/passion and too intense for women.

Also, I think it’s interesting that America has changed to the point where all fashion is essentially women’s fashion, but not the reverse. In other words, women can wear anything that men can. Including fashion companies helping out with the “boyfriend t-shirt” and “boy shorts”. But other than earings you don’t see the same for men.

Finally, the only time I ever cross-dressed was for Rocky Horror Picture Show and I have to say it was eye-opening to see how different clothes make you feel different levels of vulnerability.


#13

By the same token, certain physical traits that denote an Asian heritage puts one in the majority in some nations and in a marginalized minority in other nations. I’d agree it’s a localized difference rather than anything inherent in racial attributes, but I wouldn’t say that makes racial marginalization ‘not a thing’.

Cross dressing is the breaking of local gender based fashion trends. I don’t think it’s as simple as boys wanting to wear dresses: gender self identification, personal opinions on gender norms, life experiences: were the particular fashion trend switched, an individual cross dresser might be pleased by the clothing available to them, or in that alternative world it might be trousers that the boy wants to wear. It’s not simply the clothing, it’s also the interaction with the larger culture and expectations around them.

I agree with your point that fashions are ephemeral and absent culture have very little meaning. I agree it’s a good lesson for attacking gender norming, to point out what an individual views as “common sense” is often a very brief cultural oddity. But I think calling what for many many people is a very defining personal trait, a very important realization that shaped them as an individual “not a thing” is unnecessarily dismissive. Things can be transient in space and time, but still a thing.


#14

In fact, “things” are almost always transient in space and time. You might even be able to use that as a definition, or at least call it a tautology. I can’t think of a single exception.


#15

For example, pink used to be a masculine color, and blue a feminine color. Dresses were standard for infants of either gender.

Thus, I have an ancient photo of my great grandfather wearing a pink dress as a child. Try posting that photo to Instagram today.


#16

Acknowledging the reality that something (like, say, gender norms) is a cultural construct is not the same as discovering that it doesn’t exist (that it “is not actually a thing,” as you put it). Gender norms are culturally concocted bullshit that vary by time, culture, and context and have no innate relation to one’s biological sex, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. As long as culture in general asserts a rule that dictates that some attire is appropriate only for women and some is only appropriate for men, electing to flout that rule, i.e. cross-dressing or drag, will “actually” be “a thing.”

I’m looking forward to the day none of that bullshit exists, but that day is not today.


#17

“They’re not women’s clothes. They’re my clothes. I bought them.” ― Eddie Izzard


#18

It sounds like you disagree with something stated in the article, but I’m not entirely sure what it is. Could you elaborate?

In any case, you seem to be missing the forest for the trees by focusing on individual, transitory fashions. The culturally-enforced boundaries of gender identity are not “men must wear blue jeans and women must wear pink frilly dresses,” they are “men must partake only of clothes and behaviors from Box M, women only from Box F.” The contents of the boxes may change with time and place, but the pressure to conform to your assigned identity does not. If a person is born with a penis but also with the strong urge to partake of Box F–whether simply as a crossdresser or more fully as a transwoman, or as any other flavor of genderqueer–then how they express femininity may vary depending on their culture, but their urge to express femininity does not change.


#19

The reference to a hot tub is close. He’s gone into a bathhouse, as the invitation to “wash off our sweat and dirt together” implies. Not necessarily the kind that one might refer to where gay men might go, but a public bath that is found in Japan. What is too hot is most likely the bath they’re soaking in after washing off.

It’s lost in the cultural differences between Japan and the west, but it is a bit of a trope in Japanese games, manga, anime, etc. If the bath water is too hot for someone, they’re told to count up/down to/from a number, then get out. Stay in a hot bath for too long, and they start feeling dizzy and may possibly pass out.

Cloud not feeling well and being told to count down from ten points to him being in a hot bath. This is probably easily understood by players in Japan without further explanation. It is in the west where this might be confused for something sexual.


#20

I agree with this. It seems odd as well that the writer would not have the perspective that anyone forced out of their comfort zone would be uncomfortable.