“It makes me pretty uncomfortable when people act like they’re improving something by re-assigning character genders in their fanfics or headcanons. Since they’re all giant robots without human genders anyway, shouldn’t their personal identification choices be good enough?”
If we were talking about real people in the real world having their real gender identities challenged, then yes, I could totally see where this secret is coming from. I know it makes me uncomfortable to have to deal with gender policing or the “But what is hir genderreally, like, actually, like, y’know, what was s/he born as…?” runaround. If there was someone out there regendering the people I love and insisting things had been improved, I’d be pretty pissed!
But see, here’s the thing. Transformers is a fictitious franchise that has some serious and sometimes gross problems with the way they deal with gender representation. To this day the franchise is fundamentally misogynist, and I don’t think we can honestly expect that to change any time soon.
So you know what that means? That means pretty much the only way for fans like me, to whom progressive gender representation is really important, the only way I can address and challenge the misogyny inherit in the franchise I love is to do in through fandom. And one of the ways to do that is to choose to present some of the overwhelmingly male characters in the franchise as female.
It goes without saying that I wouldn’t arbitrarily regender real people. Hell, I’d probably hesitate to do it in any fandom but Transformers. But the thing about Transformers is, as the secret says, that “they’re all giant robots without real genders”. We don’t know how or why any individual Cybertronian chooses to identify as one gender or another on Earth. Hell, have we had any TF canon acknowledge that the human gender binary construct as fluid and arbitrary when applied to giant transforming space robots? AFAIK, no.
What I’m getting at is that because we don’t see canon acknowledge the issue of human sex/gender identification and how that applies to the characters, we have no way of knowing that their gender identification on Earth means anything to them personally. Framing the regendering of TF characters as going against their personal choices is disingenuous, because as far as we know, there is no personal choice involved. If anything, canon, when it makes a commitment at all, is more likely to fall out on the side of sex/gender being intrinsic like it is in humans— IDW comes to mind, if only because of Furman’s horrific misogyny regarding Arcee and her origin story. Writing in a canon like IDW, I would personally be a lot more hesitant to arbitrarily regender characters.
But for canons like TFP, where we have no idea how or why most of the Cybertronians identify as male but a few of them identify as female, I see no reason not to use the way the TFs identify as a way to challenge some of the misogyny so rampant in this fandom. Regendering some of these predominantly male characters into females does have the potential to improve something— maybe not a given fanwork or a specific character or Transformers as a whole, no. I don’t think I could be so egotistical as to think my portrayal of any given character is an improvement on the original.
But if I write a fic presenting a traditionally male character as female and it makes a reader stop and really think about gender identity or gender performance in a way that they haven’t before? Then yeah, I’m damn well going to count that as “improving something”, and I’m not going to feel shamed for regendering characters to make that happen.