Welcome to the another edition of Fanny Fridays (shamelessly inspired by Grant Morrison’s Lord Fanny character from The Invisibles). These weekly posts examine the mirror of gender and sex that occurs between our culture and videogames. This time continuing the Chrono Trigger trend. N.B. I will be using the gender neutral pronoun zie because I’m still not sure how I’d classify Flea, as zie leaves it rather open.
This quotation happens to be when one first encounters one the above three: “Male… female… what’s the difference? Power is beautiful, and I’ve got the power!” Flea is a magician, so it’s quite easy to say zie has power. However, upon first encountering zir, the party calls zir a female and it is revealed that Flea is in actuality a male dressed as a female. Suddenly, the fact that power is beautiful can also be reflected to mean beauty is powerful. Or can it?
In my post on Ayla, Scott Juster of the Experience Points blog had this comment to make: “I always looked at her attacks as Ayla’s way of consciously using her sexuality as a tool. Who would guess the same person that could “charm” an enemy could also heave a boulder on their head?” Ayla is already a powerful character, and physically stronger than any other character in the party. She attacks using her bare hands, and charms with her feminine wiles and kisses. Beauty does seem to hold itself up to be a form of power.
Do we see this in male characters, however? While there are many who would point the finger at jRPGs and call them on their pretty boys, this game seems far from that canon. Magus is elfin and pale, but beset with a constantly unhappy or grim face. Frog is… again, a frog. Robo is a male, as I covered, but still a bucket of bolts, so to speak. This would then mean that Crono could be the pretty boy, but watching the movie sequences this time around, he is muscular, determined, and would be far from a feminized male character in any fashion.
So, if power is beautiful, and beautiful is not necessarily male, Flea seems to have translated zir own power into the feminine. Because there are strong males, who can be considered handsome, this means that Flea, at some point, decided that handsome was not attainable in zir quest for power and settled for another option.
This other option is laden with luggage, though, so I’m going to attempt to unpack some of it.
Flea is already othered: zie is part of the monsters, or fiends. The fiends are attempting to take over human land, and this act is seen as evil. They wish to rid themselves of humans. One narrative by which the game seems to stick in every age is the struggle between two groups, and one always trying to be rid of the humans. Humans and fiends, humans and reptites, earthbound (humans) and enlightened ones, robots and humans, and the one age which seems fairly clear of any such conflict is that in which we start: 1000 AD. Flea just so happens to fall into the group of fiends, which automatically places zir on the side that is destined to lose.
Given this, it makes it easier to put forward such a character as nonthreatening. Even if zie defeats us in battle, the narrative of the game only progresses once we defeat zir. At no point is Flea a ‘real’ threat to an established order, as that order will remain in place.
Which is also why zie is sexualized. It seems to be fairly standard to believe that the impetus for wanting to switch genders is sexual (he’s more feminine because he wishes to be passive or homosexual), so this fits into an established cultural narrative. On the second encounter with Flea, zie makes comments about needing to give the protagonists a firm spanking (with a wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Flirtation is a weapon used by females in many games, as we see with Ayla, and considering Flea believes power to be beautiful, there is no reason not to make this display of power also wrapped in some manner of decoration.
However, when one uses Ayla’s ‘Charm’ ability to pilfer items from Slash, Flea, and Ozzie in the final battle with them, we see something curious (though thankfully not too much, in the case of Ozzie). From Slash we receive Slasher II, a sword. Ozzie has his pants charmed off him, which has some curious connotations considering a female purloining them. Flea leaves behind the Flea Bustier. Slash’s item is one with which we act, Ozzie’s confuses a player upon wearing (which speaks to his ineffectual leadership and constant cowardice), and Flea’s is to make one prettier–more beatiful.
It appears that Flea’s assertion of power being beautiful meant that zie also took on the role of the feminine to appear rather than act, thereby allowing that appearance to act in the stead of power. The item gives one magic defense, and an ample amount of it, but is that power? Flea’s notion of power seems based in appearance, which is amusing because zie uses some level of obfuscation to make the player have a good head scratch upon the first encounter.
Oh, Chrono Trigger, how could I forget how riddling you can be? Lord Fanny would be proud.
P.S. I’m glad to be able to name another transgendered character in videogames. Now to find a non-villainous one.