Monday, January 11, 2016

Why There Are No Transgender Characters in the Star Wars Galaxy

You know, Star Trek gets a lot of flack for not featuring LGBT characters. In the 50 years since the original series aired on television, Star Trek has tried to feature a liberal, humanist view where all types of people work together for the common good. Back in the 1960s, it was amazing to think that one day a starship crew might feature African-American women or Russians working right alongside white men. Of course, the white men were still in charge, obviously. Let's not get to crazy here.

But despite what Star Trek tried to show us about equality, there was one big group they left out. LGBT people. Sure, there were a handful of episodes featuring LBGT topics (like the time that one member hermaphrodite race totally got all hot and bothered over Riker's beard or the time that they introduced Vulcan AIDs in Enterprise). For the most part though, LGBT people are no where to be seen in Star Trek.

Then again, Star Wars is also notably missing LGBT characters. Unless you listen to some people on Tumblr who insist that The Force Awakens' Poe Dameron is gay.

What? We were just cuddling. Stop trying to make it into something dirty. 
Now, it makes sense to me that there aren't any gay characters in Star Wars. Heck, there's not even any sex in Star Wars. Han and Leia kiss, what, twice? Three times? That's it. Even Anakin's parents didn't even have sex. If you watch Attack of the Clones, it's not just the Jedi who can't date. Apparently Galactic Senators can't even have boyfriends for some unexplained and inexplicable reason. In all of the original trilogy we see only one actual couple, Luke's aunt and uncle. Despite the number of people in the galaxy, there doesn't appear to be a lot of boning going on. So, really, no one's even straight, much less gay or bisexual.

But, why are there no transgender characters? That has nothing to do with sex after all. Well, I think I've figured out why there are no transgender characters in Star Wars. There's a few reasons:

Terrible Medical Care
The Star Wars galaxy features amazing technology; light sabers, hyperdrive, starships and even droids that are smart enough to whine and complain. Yet, there is one area in which the technology of the Star Wars universe utterly fails and that is medicine. Seriously, if you watch the films, medical care in the galaxy is worse than the United States, and that's saying something. Maybe it's because there are too many alien species and anatomies for doctors to really study. Maybe it's because doctor droids are only programmed to deal with the two most common injuries (people whose limbs are hacked off, and people who fall into bottomless pits). And maybe it's because the only doctors we ever see are droids, the same type of machine we also see constantly falling apart, malfunctioning and, in the case of battle droids, being completely ineffective at their primary task.

She's either losing the will to live, or something. Heck if I know, it's time for my coffee break. 
"Shouldn't we offer some anesthetic or maybe let the burns heal before we-"
"Shut up and keep bolting on robot parts." 
"He had a cut on his face. What's the tank for?"
"That's standard treatment for all Mon Calmari. He's Mon Calmari right? I can never tell with you lifeforms."
So if you were a youngling on Dantooine or Bespin who grew up questioning their assigned gender, would you really trust these medical droids to provide counselling or prescribe you medicine, much less to perform something sensitive like laser hair removal on your face or surgical reconstruction of your genitals? Would you really trust the same droids who couldn't even give Anikan a cream or something for his third degree burns to perform your gender reassignment or facial feminization surgery?

After all you don't want to end up like this guy.
Hang on, this is the only non-droid doctor we ever see in Star Wars.
Definitely not saying much for healthcare in the galaxy.
Extreme Poverty
Unlike life in the United Federation of Planets, life in the Star Wars galaxy is fraught with peril. In the movies we've seen multiple wars, the breakdown of trade and a highly stratified society where the rich live in luxury apartments in the city and can afford all kinds of expensive, fashionable clothes.

Pictured: a Space Republican
Meanwhile the vast, vast majority of galactic citizens live on crappy planets with few resources, where the economy is based on harvesting water from the atmosphere, mining gas from clouds or collecting junk to trade it for green instant bread.

Even sadder than the moisture farmers are the sand merchants. 
You just know Ugnauts don't have a 401K.
Wish I had some blue milk to wash down that green bread.
Between monthly hormone prescriptions, hair removal, both minor and major surgeries, gender transition is not cheap. There's no way that most people in the Star Wars galaxy are going to be able to afford the treatments. Most people appear to have no job security or health plans (assuming they would want the health care). Even the most stable employer, the Empire, clearly doesn't have a functioning HR department, otherwise they'd have dealt with all that workplace violence and the hostile work environments created by upper management. 

In many places, the Empire doesn't even bother to run things, letting petty warlords and gangsters control entire planets. With no law and order, the moisture farmers are the lucky ones. Many people just end up as slaves to the gangsters and criminals. Imagine a world where the most menial jobs are already filled by slaves and droids, where schools and education apparently don't exist, and where the rich create their own rules without government involvement. There's just no good jobs out there.  

Plus no one in the Star Wars galaxy even has any real money. When people do talk about financial transactions, they often mention credits, which implies that there is no hard cash to be had. Everyone is just exchanging credit in some sort of galaxy-wide Ponzi scheme.

Credit and junk; the twin backbones of the galactic economy. 
With poverty, no real job opportunities, no way to better yourself through education and no stable employment to be found, it's not surprising you don't see any transgender people choosing to start their transition. How could they ever hope to afford all the treatments required? Chances are, they're like Luke or Rey, stuck in poverty and pining for a better life that seems forever out of reach.

An Already Too-Complicated Bathroom Situation 
Transgender access to public restrooms is becoming the next major civil rights issue in American society. While transgender people just want to be ensured they have the same rights and protections as any other citizens, some religious extremists have attempted to smear transgender people as deviants or sexual predators based on unfounded fears and ignorance.

With the Star Wars galaxy's dazzling array of different alien species, from the giant slobbering Hutts to the cuddly yet deadly Ewoks, it would make sense that bathrooms are already super complicated.

Artwork by Sergio Aragones. 
It's no wonder then, that transgender rights are a low priority in a galaxy with such a complicated bathroom situation. Do you just have one big bathroom for everyone? Do you segregate it by species? Would segregating by species be perhaps too similar the "separate but equal" approach of the Jim Crow South? Are Wookies offended by having to share a bathroom with Jawas? Would the Gungans, who have historical animosity to the Naboo really want to share restrooms with them?

Adding in the question of which restroom transgender people and aliens should use just adds a whole other layer of chaos to this already sensitive topic. Perhaps the transgender lifeforms of the Star Wars galaxy are fearful about coming out and starting their transition with the restroom situation as confusing and potentially threatening as it already is.

Government & Religion  
We've already touched on how terrible the Empire is as an employer, but now let's focus on how terrible they are as a government. For starters, if you think the Military Industrial Complex has too much of stranglehold on the US budget (18%) imagine what the Empire must spend.

These Star Destroyer's ain't cheap. 
In fact, we never actually see the Empire involved in anything other than military operations. And at one point they clearly did have some other branches of government. But we're told in A New Hope, that the bureaucracy has been dissolved and that regional governors now have direct control over their territories; regional governors like Grand Moff Tarkin and Moff Jerjerod, who we see spending all their time in military facilities, ordering troops around, wearing military uniforms and planning strategies with admirals and generals. In Star Wars there is no non-military sector of government.

There's definitely no Imperial Department of Health and Human Services. We've already seen how badly health care works in this galaxy, how badly the territories are governed, and how poorly the economy is managed. That all makes sense when you consider the fact that the Empire doesn't bother with anything that isn't a TIE fighter, an AT-AT or a Star Destroyer. There's no budget for health or psychiatric counselors, much less social workers or gender specialists. There's no budget for caring doctors who will help people start their transition, there's no budget for counselors for spice-addicted homeless transgender younglings, there's nothing.  

No transgender care, but TWO Death Stars? C'mon!
The First Order is even less well run and has only a fraction of the resources the Empire did. Now, I'm sure the Rebels or the Resistance might be sympathetic to a gender questioning member of their guerrilla organization, but they have no real resources at all and are barely hanging on, in a rather desperate situation. I'm sure if a transgender pilot went up to General Organa and was like "General, any chance we could offer gender care as part of a Resistance health plan," she'd give you a stern but caring look and say "Maybe after the First Order is defeated, we can look into a having a health plan. May the Force be with you." 

Now speaking of the Force, there's another issue that plagued the Republic; the Jedi Council. As ineffective as the Empire was at governing, the Republic was even worse. It was so bad that people happily let the Empire take over. Rather than having an actual military, the Republic relied on a weird cult of un-elected religious zealots to provide both defense and law enforcement. 

Jaywalking? Yep, cut off their arm with a lightsaber. That's all we have.
Sadly, like many organizations run by religious nut jobs, the Jedi Council would have been opposed to LGBT rights. First off, remember that Jedi are, like Republicans, anti-sex. To the Jedi sex is a completely unnecessary distraction. They really hate sex because it creates attachment, which they view as bad. Because they're religious nuts. So when the Republican senator from Corellia stops by the Council and asks if they'd like to maybe support her proposal to legalize gay marriage in the galaxy, the Jedi are gonna say no. Gay marriage is like any marriage. It creates an attachment, which leads to jealousy, which leads to greed, which leads to fear, anger, etc.

Totally sent down the dark path by gay marriage. 
As we said, gender dysphoria has nothing to do with sexual attraction, but the Jedi aren't going to be too crazy about the rights of transgender people either. You see, dysphoria is a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life. For a Jedi that's a path to the dark side because it creates a want, a need for something that if you don't get it, makes you angry. The Jedi way is to ignore desires, push them way down and forget about them. Let it all go.

So when a youngling, who's been taken from her home to be raised in a quasi-military religious order, comes to master Yoda and says "I've never felt comfortable in my gender role. My whole life, I've just felt like I should have been a boy." Do you really think Yoda is going to send her off to the gender clinic to get some testosterone? Or do you think he'd do exactly what he did with Anakin? Tell them to ignore their longing because it's a distraction from the Force and could lead to the dark side.

Compassionate, I am not. 
If you express that you're transgender, the Jedi will tell you to just walk it off and get back to training with your lightsaber. There's people out there with too many arms, we need to be ready to cut them off at a moment's notice.

Then Again Maybe they Do Exist After All
Perhaps we're being a bit too narrow-minded though. While Star Wars doesn't actually feature any transgender characters we're aware of, it is a rather diverse galaxy after all. We've seen that protocol droids can have male or female personalities in the same body.

Remember the girl Threepio from Phanton Menace? It's okay, no one else does either. 
And when it comes to aliens, let's just face it. We humans can be pretty racist. What do we really know about most of the aliens in the Star Wars galaxy?

Guess my birth gender!
Sure, many of the background characters have exhaustive backstories in the Extended Universe, but those stories are no longer cannon. Maybe now they'll write some new stories about all the random background aliens and just maybe they'll include some transgender characters who managed to transition despite the lack of resources available in that galaxy far, far away.

Also, I had one other thought about The Force Awakens if you want to keep reading...


  1. I thought you would enjoy this brilliant analysis of the size and strength of the Empire's economy:

    1. Interesting that scholars have gotten involved. Another friend sent me a recent article from The Economist on the Star Wars galaxy's economy: f

  2. I've never seen Star War's, and its the last century since I saw Stastrek,but this was entertaining. I do remember in 'the next generation' someone being given a female 'host body' having previously being in a male one,there was no hint of gender dysphoria merely there was no male one available, their female lover couldn't accept. Not trying to contradict you,just sharing my memory ☺

    1. You're right, I totally forgot about Dax on Deep Space Nine. But, I must admit I only watched maybe the first three seasons of that show so there's stuff I might have missed.

  3. Thorough analysis.. I'm impressed! :)

    1. Thank you! Though a post like this threatens too very easily upset groups; transgender people and Star Wars fans. That's the sort of internet post that guarantees someone one is pissed off.

  4. Was thinking about this and it occurred to me. How do we know there weren't? Perhaps just not openly identified :) I'm looking forward to the day that a transman or transwoman portrays the role of a cisman or ciswoman and no one notices or cares. That will be progress!

  5. How about this: with the level of technology these societies have, transition is as easy as having a cavity filled is now. Don't think in terms of facial feminization surgery or laser hair removal, as these are artifacts specific to our current level of technology, think a nanotech implant that rewrites your DNA and updates every cell in your body in a couple of days at most. Transgender characters are everywhere, but they think of themselves as regular women/men and don't care to mention it much like you wouldn't care to mention having an appendectomy when you were young - perhaps identifying as transgender itself might be an artifact of a society that makes it necessary for trans people to stick together in self defense and makes it seem like the most significant part of who you are.

  6. How about this: with the level of technology these societies have, transition is as easy as having a cavity filled is now. Don't think in terms of facial feminization surgery or laser hair removal, as these are artifacts specific to our current level of technology, think a nanotech implant that rewrites your DNA and updates every cell in your body in a couple of days at most. Transgender characters are everywhere, but they think of themselves as regular women/men and don't care to mention it much like you wouldn't care to mention having an appendectomy when you were young - perhaps identifying as transgender itself might be an artifact of a society that makes it necessary for trans people to stick together in self defense and makes it seem like the most significant part of who you are.

    1. Yes, that's totally possible (though we don't see that sort of technology up on screen in the movies). That fits into my idea of maybe they are there, but it's just not their part of the story.

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  8. Because I'm a starwars nerd if you where force sensitive you could technically change gender. There is a Dark Side power that allows you to transfer your mind to another body. This is a a hard technique to use in Star Wars lore. You would need a volunteer for a host. You have to be really powerful to do this because darth Vader I think would have gone to a body not all crispy. But you don't need to be the Sith Lord. A Sith Lord could do it for you. So if you where in starwars you could make a clone of you but make it so it was the opposite gender. Then hire a Sith Lord to transfer your mind to the clone. I wouldn't want to see Trans Genders and here is why. I would rather them invent technology to cure it. Because Trans Gender is in the brain. If you look at the brains some parts look more similar to the oposite gender. So if that was so they probably cured it.

  9. Hay, I'm really glad to find this article- i's super fun and informative- I'm actually writing an article myself about Trans representation in the star wars universe and the general unexplored plot threads of LGBT+ characters in sci-fi/ fantasy and I've found what is here helpful!