Tag Archives: transgender characters

‘A Normal Lost Phone’ Does More Harm Than Good For Trans Women

A Normal Lost Phone tries to be a groundbreaking adventure game about transgender identity. Does it succeed, or is it just a voyeuristic invasion of privacy catering to cisgender people?

On the surface, A Normal Lost Phone seems like an incredible, experimental game layered with puzzles and intrigue. As a player, you find a forgotten phone. It’s your responsibility to unlock the phone in order to find its rightful owner and return it.

Record scratch.

Not quite.

Instead of returning the phone, you decide to meddle with it.

This is fine at the beginning of the game, when you’re cracking puzzles in order to unlock innocent information like Wi-Fi passwords and hidden apps. But as the game progresses, the story takes a dark turn. Soon you figure out who the phone belongs to and why they shouldn’t have left it in your greedy little hands.

The problems start when you find a dating app that has two profiles, one male and one female, for a person called Sam. You soon figure out that Sam is a closeted transgender woman who’s not sure whether she should come out to her family and friends.

Her female dating profile is one of the few places where she can be herself. In fact, she has connected with an attractive young man on her dating app. The man wants Sam to send a picture. Seeing that Sam hasn’t sent him a picture yet, you decide to go ahead and send one for her.

Um, excuse me?

The secret to that puzzle is tracking down enough personal information to log into a transgender web forum, find a photo of her on the forum, and send the photo to the stranger. Without Sam’s consent. Why does the game have you do this? Purely because you can.

The game won’t let you continue until you send a photo. However, you don’t have to send a photo of Sam as a woman. You can send a photo of Sam presenting as male, which will reveal to the man on the dating app that Sam is transgender – even if the man already knows, should you be the one snooping through a stranger’s phone and revealing all of this information?

Where is Sam through all of this? While you are running her life and outing her to her entire contact list, Sam is conspicuously absent, unable to have a hand in her own destiny. The player, who statistically is likely to be cisgender, has all control over this transgender woman’s life. A Normal Lost Phone claims to “build empathy with characters, allowing them to explore difficult topics,” but renders its main character “absent, unable to consent or comment on your personal invasion. She is an object to be analyzed. She is also a damsel to save and protect.”

Does playing this game make cisgender people more empathetic toward the struggles of transgender people? Maybe. But there’s a fine line between empathy and pity, and teaching cisgender players that they are improving trans lives by invading their privacy and outing them is a step backwards.

You can decide for yourself. Is this game an invasion of privacy or an important political tool?

Queer+Trans Characters Take Center Stage In ‘Street Children’

Hollywood often casts cisgender actors to play transgender roles. For every LaVerne Cox (Orange is the New Black) and Jamie Clayton (Sense8), there’s a Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry) and Jaye Davidson (The Crying Game) and even Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent).

Street Children, a new play to open in New York City, actually casts transgender characters to play transgender roles. That shouldn’t be a radical, transgressive act, but sadly it is.

The play is set in the West Village during the 1980s at the height of the AIDS crisis. After the death of their “house mother,” several queer and transgender people fight to maintain their chosen family. Between scenes, cast members vogue – an underground dance that originated in Harlem and is driven by queer and transgender people of color (QTPOC).

Street Children isn’t perfect. The writer and the director are both cisgender white women attempting to tell a QTPOC story. In many hands, that has been a recipe for disaster. However, the writer invited the queer actors and actresses to rewrite the script’s language and plot points. The story feels authentic as a result.

Street Children has partnered with local activist organizations to empower LGBTQ populations. For example, youth from the Ali Forney Center’s LEAP work readiness program received jobs as interns during the production. The play also partnered with the Trevor Project and the Stonewall Community Foundation.

Street Children also did the impossible: It attracted non-theatregoers to the theatre. Theatre is an expensive endeavor, with tickets to amateur shows running upwards of $20 or $30 (professional shows can run north of $100). Street Children is no exception. Student tickets are $18 and general admission tickets are $28. Despite the steep prices, the director noticed many members of the “vogue and ballroom scenes” in attendance – this means queer and/or transgender people of color, a generally marginalized community.

Will Street Children pave the way for more transgender stories? One can only hope. Perhaps the next show will be pioneered by transgender writers instead of cisgender ones.