I saw a meme this week mocking the American debate on public washrooms access for transgender people. The meme suggested that transgender persons use the Transformers washroom as opposed to the male or female one. This made me think about transgender identities and whether Transformers are transgender.
Transgender identities, to my knowledge, are based on individuals not identifying with their birth gender. A person born a boy will not identify with the male gender. A person born a girl will not identify with the female gender. The transgender individual seeks to correct the representation of their gender to themselves and the public. The transgender person seeks to embody the gender that they feel they belong to.
Transformers seem to be different. Transformers have two modes of representation. They have what fans call the ALT mode. The engine, apparatus or device that they mimic and their robot form, which often takes the shape of a humanoid or another animal form. Transformers can switch to one mode to another at will, unless their transformation mechanism is damaged. Transformers can even have multiple ALT forms like the triple changing Decepticon Octane.
Transgender folks often feel like they are living in the wrong body and deceiving the others or that they are miscast by them. They do not identify with the gender their bodies lead people to think that they are. But is this the same for Transformers? The Transformers’ motto is robot in disguise. This presupposes that they are really robots and that their ALT mode is a deception. Could it be that just like transgender people, we think that they are something but they really feel that they are not?
I disagree with this notion. Although Transformers ‘disguise’ themselves, they do not seem to have conflicting identities between their robot modes and their ALT modes. Jazz, the Autobots’ special operations officer, never commiserated about being a Porsche. The ALT mode is not a disguise but another state of being that the Transformer has. Transformers can change from one mode to another without any personal harm or disadvantage. Transformers transform from one mode to another as convenient for them.
The journey of transgender folks seems different. The transgender individual is disaffected with one “mode” seemingly permanently and allegedly does not want to switch back and forth from male to female or female to male. In some cases, transgender persons may have permanent body reassignments performed on them, preventing them from ‘going’ back to their previous ‘mode’.
For the Transformer, transformation is a play and a practice without major consequences. Their entire civilization is based on being able to move from one identity to another while still preserving the same sense of self. In many Transformers stories, the act of transformation is seen as a benefit. Those who can transform into multiple modes have even more benefits.
What is a real transgression for Transformers are individuals who switch back and forth from the Decepticons to the Autobots. Doubledealer, a Transformer who has allegiance with both sides and plays them for his benefit is seen as treacherous. Punch (Counterpunch) who is an Autobot spy masquerading as a Decepticon suffers from paranoia because of his deep conflicting mission. Sideways masquerades as both an Autobot and a Decepticon but his loyalties and allegiance is with Unicron. Transgression in the Transformers’ universe is not based on their mode of transformation but on an ideological divide between the Autobots and the Decepticons.
The reaction transgressing Transformers have is closer to the hardship felt by transgender folks in our society. What is interesting is that it reveals part of the conflict that society has with transgender people. It is almost an ideological war between genders that is transgressed by transgender persons and for which they reap scorn. Society’s problem is not with how transgender individuals identify. They do not seem to care much. What is society’s problem and fear is the switch from one side to another. Just like the transgressing Transformers, it can be construed as a perception of betrayal that is ideological and ignores representations of self of the transgender individual.