Final Fantasy XIII is among the media which changed my life, offering me a way to articulate parts of myself that I haven’t been able to before. More so, the more I think about it and the more I play, I’ve come to the realization that FFXIII is queer as hell. We can argue author intent vs ‘Death of the Author’ all we want, but even if it wasn’t Square-Enix’s attempt to produce a story that is one big queer metaphor they succeeded in doing so regardless. I think it’s worth discussing because this game draws some pretty striking parallels between what its characters experience, and what LGB and T persons do. To the point where I’ve come to view being l’Cie as an excellent example of what it is like to be Trans (tra’Ni?). There are eight clear parallels between being l’Cie and being trans that I’ll be covering today. So here’s part one of why Final Fantasy XIII is queer as hell, and why that’s fucking awesome.
An Unjust Fate…
To become l’Cie is to have your entire world change in an instant. Chosen by fal’Cie (Godlike being) to fulfill a ‘Focus’ (mission), anyone in the proximity of a fal’Cie may be made l’Cie. When this happens, your life as you know it is over. Your priorities are forced to shift, you are given tasks you must fulfill, and any future you were certain of vanishes. While people are not born l’Cie, when branded as one there is no turning back. The moment you cross that threshold, you are entering into an uncertain world. The moment a trans person faces who they are, nothing will be the same again.
To come out as Trans (or even admit it to yourself) is to accept that your life is about to change. When I was young, my path was laid out before me. Grade school, to high school, to university, to a career and marriage and a family. That was the expectation, and there was some comfort in knowing that. I remember the moment that changed. I was depressed, had been drinking, laying on my back on a bed on a summer afternoon and realized that I could no longer live as a man. I needed to come out. In that moment, the known progression of my life vanished. Now I was looking at changing my name, clothing, biology, taking pills and having surgeries, living with social stigma, and as a woman within that society on top of it all. I was in high school at the time, and instead of a student that most knew but didn’t pay much attention to, I became the centre of attention when I came out. I’ve had to deal with circumstances that no cissexual (non-trans) person will ever have to deal with, and often overcome the psychological and biological fallout they brought.
To be l’Cie or Trans is to be set on a path you never asked for, and one radically different from what you were expecting. While people are made l’Cie, and Trans people are born, the outcome of the day you are forced to face it is the same. I say ‘Unjust Fate’ because many believe being Trans to be so. I’ve had to put up with a lot of shit no cis person will ever even be aware of. To be born female bodied from the get-go, would have been a blessing. I wasn’t, I was born to be a transsexual, and that is something I have had to accept. Much like becoming l’Cie is to be forced to accept an unjust fate. Because being l’Cie or Trans (or both…) is a really shitty thing to have happen. More on that later, but by and large if given the option to be born cissexual, I’d have gladly taken it.
… That Can Happen to Anyone
When making l’Cie, fal’Cie chose whoever they want. It doesn’t matter your age, socioeconomic status, orientation, living in Cocoon or on Gran Pulse means that should a fal’Cie choose you, you will be made l’Cie. Likewise, Trans people exist in every part of society. More and more, we are having people come out and transition. Children have come out, so have high ranking members of the military. Trans people have existed as long as humans have, and Trans animals exist as well (nevermind that some animals eschew gender as we know it altogether). To be born into this world is to roll the dice and your number may come up. It doesn’t matter when you face it, or where you are when you do, it’s a reality many of us face and many more will have to.
“I probably should have covered that.” – The l’Cie Brand and ‘Passing’
When you are made l’Cie, you are given a brand somewhere on your body. It looks like a tattoo and is very small, at first. Where it is placed seems to be random. Though I have to wonder why a fal’Cie chose to brand one of the youngest of FFXIII’s leads on her upper thigh. Lightning (another female lead) gets branded on her upper left breast. Both of these placements seem to be of interest to Fang (the third female lead), but we’ll get into that in a later post. The point is that it’s random. As time goes on a l’Cie brand develops; first you get more arrows, and then an eye, and if that eye opens completely “you’re done”. These brands also get more difficult to hide at every stage, growing to the point where it can nearly cover your forearm.
This wouldn’t be a problem, if it weren’t for society’s fear of l’Cie (particularly Pulse l’Cie, which our protagonists become). When someone sees that brand, their entire view of you changes. Most people are suspicious of l’Cie, or perceive them as a threat. Most will not engage one in conversation, or even risk associating with them at all. Violence against l’Cie can happen if there are enough people around and mob mentality takes over. However, let’s say your brand is on your chest. What do you do? You put on a jacket, zip it up, and now you can walk through a crowd completely unhindered. You can engage people in conversation. People judge you based on what kind of person you are, not by your status as a l’Cie. Hell, if you were to forsake your focus, you could live a normal life. Until someone sees it. Maybe as time goes on the arrows start to show, or they catch a glimpse of red on your chest. At first it’s easy to blend in and ‘pass’ as Human, but eventually you’re going to wander more and more into l’Cie territory. What then?
I used the phrase “pass as a Human” in place of “pass for female/ male” to emphasize how hiding your l’Cie status and your status as a Trans person is nearly identical. Trans people are not branded but our appearance does change, and some are able to ‘pass’ better than others. Fang’s brand is on her right deltoid for example, which is much more difficult to conceal than Vanille’s brand (on her upper thigh). Vanille’s status as l’Cie would only be revealed if you looked up her skirt, and doesn’t that sound familiar… Through the genetic lottery, some Trans people can ‘pass’ better than others. If I were l’Cie, I would have been blessed with a brand on my legs or thigh, someplace easily hidden. I have a feminine bone structure, did not develop much facial hair, and my Adam’s apple is quite small. Those attributes make ‘passing’ very easy, especially since my body responded well to female hormones. Other people are not as lucky, through the same lottery we all draw from. Some people have very masculine frames, or a large amount of facial hair, very pronounced Adam’s apples, or maybe their voice dropped really low. You get the idea. These are people who if were branded l’Cie, would have it on their neck. Imagine blending in if you were marked so clearly.
An aside, I hate the word ‘passing’. It sounds so deceptive. I use it because it’s useful shorthand, but I prefer to think of it as ‘blending in’. I’m using ‘pass’ for simplicity’s sake as it’s the more common term. It’s why I’m putting ‘pass’ in quotations though.
Regardless of our genetic lot, none of us can escape a period of transition/ change. I deliberately made note of how a l’Cie brand grows over time. When Trans people begin, we have the safety of being able to conceal our status. When I first began, if I ever needed to, I could ‘pass’ as a man because I was not very far along. This brought me a lot of security. It wasn’t something I wanted, but as you’re taking your first steps into transition, it may be a temporary shield. Then the hormones started taking effect, and I started dressing ‘as a woman’ (because I am one). The arrows began to grow, exposing me. Most people still ignored me, but I began to experience others going, “Is that a man or woman?”. Then I had to take a leap forward because I never wanted to live as a man again, and suddenly that bright red eye opened, and I had nowhere to hide. Caught somewhere between being male and female bodied. I could ‘pass’ sometimes, but it was years before everyone I would see me as the woman I am. I’m lucky, I live in a rather accepting (indifferent might be a better word) city so the violence I experienced was mostly threats (putting aside a few experiences). During transition you become vulnerable, and you start to worry about the little telltale signs that might have people ‘clock’ you as Trans. For me, it’s my voice. I’ve worked to change it, but it’s definitely on the low-side for women. It’s my brand, effectively. If I need to call for help, I can’t scream. I can only yell, and the louder I yell the deeper my voice gets. For others it’s different, but we all are forced out of our comfort zone, into a world where ‘passing’ becomes increasingly important and difficult.
The good news is that after a period of transition, you can blend in as who you are. While I cannot scream, I haven’t been mistaken for a man in a very long time. I haven’t had people whispering and debating what I am for quite some time. In this respect, Trans people are given some freedom in that we can eventually make it through the vulnerable ‘in-between’ stage and build a life for ourselves. There is hope.
The Cie’th, Transphobia, and Trans Mortality Rates
Google ‘Transgender Mortality Rates’, and read through the mix of peer reviewed studies and personal experiences. While definitive numbers are hard to come by, the odds of a Trans person being murdered, committing suicide, or suffering physical and/ or psychological ailments, is exponentially higher than the general population. Wikipedia’s entry on ‘Transphobia’ says that at one point our unemployment rate was 70% (I believe it’s now 45% in most places). November 20th is the Trans Day of Remembrance, where we reflect on and mourn the loss of Trans people who were driven to suicide, or killed simply because they were Trans. I have nearly lost friends, because the hormone treatments they needed had side-effects which nearly killed them. I have watched footage of Trans people being brutalized in public. I have heard many members of the public even say it was justified. That they deserved it.
Lightning shares these sympathies before becoming a l’Cie herself. Upon learning that her sister (Serah) is a l’Cie, Lightning throws Serah out of her house. Lightning even threatens to turn Serah in, as Lightning is required to hunt l’Cie as part of Cocoon’s Guardian Corps (police force). Keep in mind that Serah is Lightning’s entire reason for being, to the point where Serah is the reason she took the name Lightning. She violently disowns the one person she promised to protect above all else, for being a l’Cie. Lightning will eventually try to rescue Serah (the story begins when Light hijacks a train to do so), but understand the impact that being a l’Cie has on one’s life.
Now swap ‘l’Cie’ for ‘transsexual’ and re-read the above paragraph. How many Trans people were brought up in loving homes, only to be abandoned when their Trans status became known? How many even faced violence from family members because of it? What becomes of the Trans people who are unable to transition?
The Cie’th in Final Fantasy XIII are what become of l’Cie who fail their focus. If one denies their Focus for too long, or fails to succeed in time, they become a Cie’th; monstrous beings cursed to walk the earth until they are destroyed/ turn to crystal. To be clear, I am not calling Trans people who transition late, or try to deny it monsters. What I am saying is that for a Trans person to ignore who they are, often results in a very pained existence. The longer you go without transitioning, the harder it becomes. Even many of those who actively try to transition are denied the hormone treatments they need; forced to live in a body which solidifies into something foreign and threatening. To many in the public, Trans people (especially those who cannot ‘pass’) are seen as monstrous, or objects of pity. Just as people on Cocoon would see a Cie’th and avoid it, while being grateful that’s not them. To a l’Cie, the Cie’th are not monsters (even if you have to engage them in combat), but people like them who met a fate they are struggling to avoid themselves.
Gran Pulse is littered with Cie’th Stones, the final stage of a l’Cie who has failed their focus. A crystal epitaph, and constant reminder of what current l’Cie face. When the six protagonists come across one, they express a mixture of sadness, anger, and dread. Much like the Trans Day of Remembrance, the Cie’th stones bring out a number of feelings in Trans people/ l’Cie. Sadness in the fate someone like them has met. Anger at the unjust fate they faced, and the society which feared them because of it. Dread, in that it’s a reminder of what could befall themselves. Often in both cases, a wish that they personally could have done more to help. Many Trans people try to change the world we live in to make it better for other Trans people, while the l’Cie are given a chance to fulfill the deceased l’Cie’s focus. Doing so doesn’t restore the fallen l’Cie, but respects and helps to rest their spirit. What I loved about the Cie’th, is that the l’Cie were always aware that these monsters were like them. Even if Cie’th are a recurring enemy, it doesn’t change the fact that each of the six protagonists/ l’Cie are far less willing to dispatch them than any other enemy (including other Humans). Trans people obviously don’t have to kill each other, but the emotions which run through us when we are confronted with the fate of many of our kind are eerily similar to a l’Cie’s.
“You turn Cie’th and there’s no going back! I’m not letting it end that way!” – Eidolons, Suicide, and Mastering Grief
The above is what Fang yells to the others when she can’t go any further. Terrified of being unable to fulfill her Focus, or watching Vanille become a Cie’th, she turns on the group knowing they’ll likely have to kill her. At one point in the story, each of the l’Cie loses faith, and the will to press on. The stress of being a l’Cie, the stress of losing loved ones, or even the high chance that they will lose someone they love… At some point, each one wants to give up. For most of them, this involves some form of suicide.
Sazh nearly shoots himself in the head, Fang decides they are all better off dead than Cie’th, Lightning succumbs to uncertainty, and Vanille at one point begs for death. The attempted suicide rate of Trans people in Ontario has been pegged at 43 percent.
Many more have considered it. At one point I was up on my 18th story balcony ready to throw myself onto the pavement. Caught between a binary choice again to live or die. I know others who have pervasive suicidal thoughts. This is something we all deal with in some way or another at one point.
The moment when a l’Cie considers giving up (and usually committing suicide), a mythical creature called an Eidolon comes forth from their band. Eidolons represent that binary choice, either the l’Cie gains the will to fight back against their grief/ Eidolon or it will kill them. While Trans people never face a physical manifestation of their suicidal tendencies, we are acutely aware of the strength needed to press on. I (obviously) found the strength to continue, but it truly was a fight against myself. The l’Cie just happen to experience that inner-conflict made manifest in their physical world. What’s interesting is that should a l’Cie fight back and beat back their grief, not only does their path become more clear (”I guess I want to live… So I press on.”) but they become masters of their Eidolon. Again, Trans people are never given this physical manifestation, but I find it interesting in a sense that in order to continue on you must first master your grief. In essence, you must learn to take control of your life after feeling so disempowered. The experience of stepping down from my balcony railing, even if I didn’t feel it in that moment, was a step towards recognizing that grief but not letting it consume me. Sitting here now, I really wish I could punch my grief in the face.
For a website aiming to be so upbeat, I found the last section difficult to write. However, the parallel was too strong to ignore and I wanted to share. I also want to say that so many Trans people are isolated, often alone (especially when contemplating suicide). The fact that I took to Final Fantasy XIII in a way that in a small way helps me feel less alone is very positive. Seeing Lightning (of all people) buckle under the pressure, only to overcome it, was wonderful. A reminder of something someone once told me: “You can’t be strong all the time, and you don’t have to be. It’s okay to be afraid.”
Sanctum l’Cie, Pulse l’Cie (Enemies of Cocoon), and the Conditional Acceptance of Trans People
The world in Final Fantasy XIII is split into two parts. The wild and untamed world of Gran Pulse, and the floating ‘human paradise’ of Cocoon (run by an authoritarian government called the Sanctum). There are Sanctum fal’Cie and Pulse fal’Cie, each one able to make Sanctum l’Cie and Pulse l’Cie respectively. Five-hundred years before the story takes place, there was a war between these two sides. While things have been quiet since, each side teaches its people to fear and hate the other. Obviously the Trans parallel doesn’t run along this vein, but instead in how how the Sanctum treats its l’Cie. When a Sanctum l’Cie is discovered, PSICOM (a military branch of the Sanctum) steps in to guide the newly minted l’Cie in fulfilling their Focus. Obviously, the discovery of a Pulse l’Cie brings about the exact opposite response; one including the order to shoot on sight. This is because it is assumed that Sanctum l’Cie have a Focus which will benefit the Sanctum, while any Pulse l’Cie has one to destroy it.
Two things. One, PSICOM won’t let that Sanctum l’Cie free. They take control. They guide that l’Cie along their path, through their methods, and gods help the Sanctum l’Cie who ever wants to be free again. Any Trans person who has gone through Toronto’s Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) knows what this is like. You might not be held there, but transition is regimented, and often you don’t get a say. You are also expected to adhere to certain behavioural standards (read: stereotypes) or be denied care. Because…
… Two, transitioning any other way is seen as disruptive. As a society we expect Trans people to transition a certain way to be accepted. Often expecting them to go through the entire process including a sex change. I did this, and others do, because it is what we need. However, very few Trans people ever actually have a sex change (2-4% at last estimate). Many are happy to exist physically and/ or psychologically along a spectrum between the binary male and female. For me, I’m clearly in the binary choice of female, but for others that’s not the case. Most of us don’t adhere to stereotypes, in that I don’t dress like a 1950’s housewife and have done mixed martial arts. But I also love to be feminine, and embrace it. In CAMH’s eyes, you’re not a Trans Woman (MtF, like me) if you don’t want to wear a skirt all the time and act like a stereotype of femininity. In order to have your sex change covered under OHIP (Ontario’s Health Insurance Plan), you must go through a program at CAMH. Otherwise, you’re on your own.
So which one is it? Sanctum or Pulse? Sanctioned or Deviant? Do you happen to fit into society’s view of what a Trans person is? Will you be given the support you need, or do you need to fight for it? There’s no right or wrong answer, and in reality it’s not even a choice. You are who you are. The only difference is in how society perceives you. A Sanctum l’Cie is considered good, while a Pulse l’Cie is not. The judgment is not on the Trans person or l’Cie, they were made as they were going to be made, but on the arbitrary acceptance of one type over the other.
The irony being that both types of Trans people/ l’Cie are the same. Trans people want to transition to a point where they are happy, and live a good life. In Final Fantasy XIII, both Sanctum and Pulse l’Cie are given Focuses that compliment each other. At a point in the story, the distinction between the two types of l’Cie becomes meaningless. You learn that there is a fal’Cie plot to destroy Cocoon, and each type of fal’Cie will use their l’Cie to do it. Dajh (Sazh’s young son) and Cid Reins (working for the Sanctum) are both made Sanctum l’Cie, but their Focus is to help unite the Pulse l’Cie (our six protagonists) in order for them to destroy a fal’Cie (who cannot destroy themselves) and cause Cocoon to fall out of the sky as part of a way to bring the gods back; this part isn’t as relevant. The point is that in a funny twist, both sides want the same thing. Now, our heroes don’t want to destroy Cocoon, but it doesn’t change that’s the Focus they’re given. It’s only the society in which they live in which condones one type of l’Cie (proudly displaying the crystals of successful Sanctum l’Cie), while fearing the other. Even when the l’Cie at just wanted to live their lives and ultimately were alike in their Focus. Trans people vary in how well they are accepted, but in the end we just want to transition and live our lives. We’re very different people, with one common goal. PSICOM’s control over Sanctum l’Cie and vilification of Pulse l’Cie, combined with the l’Cie’s common Focus, has an interesting parallel with our current medical establishment and society as a whole.
You are Never Free…
Once you are l’Cie, you will always be l’Cie. A l’Cie who fails becomes a Cie’th, but a l’Cie who succeeds is not set free. Upon the completion of their Focus, a l’Cie turns into a crystal statue. They are believed to exist in this peaceful, slumbering state for eternity as a “reward”. Throughout Final Fantasy XIII’s story, you learn that eventually (even if it takes hundreds of years), a l’Cie is freed from crystal stasis and given a new Focus. Failure to fulfill it ends in death or becoming a Cie’th, success means you go back into crystal stasis until called upon again. The point is that once you are a l’Cie, you are always a l’Cie. Even if you succeed in your Focus, and go into a nice crystal slumber, at any point you may be wrested out of it and forced to confront being a
Trann l’Cie again.
Even if a Trans person lives ‘stealth’, in which they eradicate traces of their past and deny that they transitioned, they can’t change history. Somewhere, there is documentation of your name change. Somewhere, there is a record of your sex change. A photo held by an estranged relative, even. What happens if/ when any of that is brought to light? People have used knowledge of someone’s transition to blackmail them. It’s unfair, unjust and wrong, but the reality is that being Trans is a part of your life. Embrace it or don’t, but it happened, and it’s a part of you. It is your absolute right to live as if it never happened, but the past can always come back to haunt you.
An unjust fate, and one that you can never truly escape from.
… But Fate is Never Crystal Clear
The story of Final Fantasy XIII is one where six people who either don’t know each other, or don’t particularly like each other are branded l’Cie and forced to survive together. More than that, it’s how they come to support and (arguably) love each other, and eventually end things on their terms. Fighting back against the Sanctum, their fal’Cie, and the Pulse fal’Cie; embracing being l’Cie, but doing so in a way that makes themselves stronger; no slave to any other. The story ends where they find their own way to complete their Focus, and through divine intervention their brands are removed, while two are locked in crystal stasis after sacrificing themselves to save Cocoon. The experience still changed them, and will always be a part of them, but the story ends on an uplifting note as they rebuild their lives. One with new potential, and filled with new friends.
I think, to an extent, every Trans person will have to find their own way of accepting what happened. We cannot change the fact that we are Trans, and we cannot change what we must do/ have done in order to survive, but we can do it on our terms and live the lives we deserve. While I have faced many trials in my life because I am a transsexual, I have also had people come into my life who would never have otherwise. People who have become close and cherished friends. I’ve had experiences I never would have had, including what it’s like to live as both a man and a woman. In watching the ending to Final Fantasy XIII, I am reminded that although being Trans is part of my history and part of me… I have made many gains, even if I have suffered many losses. The life I had laid out before me is gone, and is never coming back. I mourned it; while turning my attention to the dawn, stronger now because of my experiences. Realizing that just because I’m Trans, it doesn’t mean I can’t be happy. I’ll find my way, and maybe even gain more than I could have before.
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” – Douglas Adams.