The Trans Character The Matrix Never Gave Us
Finding the trans allegory in The Matrix is about as difficult as finding a Deadpool at San Diego Comic Con. They’re everywhere, and they’re so hard to ignore unless you’re actively trying to or don’t know what Deadpool looks like. Beyond having a main character who goes by a chosen name, is at odds with the status quo, dresses incredibly, and is awoken to the world and their potential in it by a pill, there was actually supposed to be a (somehow) more overt connection between The Matrix and trans folk. There was supposed to be a trans character in The Matrix.
The Matrix Trans Character We Never Got
Remember Switch? They died in the first movie when Cypher cut the cord on them. Remarkably, the character named Switch was supposed to be trans. The Switch we could have had would have been played by a male actor in the real world and a female actor in The Matrix. Neo makes himself stand up straight and Morpheus gives himself sick glasses. Switch would have taken the opportunity for total appearance control and presented herself as a lady when her real-world body could have been played by a man. Instead, the Switch we got was… not like this.
Image via Warner Bros. Entertainment
You can tell Switch was always intended as a trans character. It’s in her name, and she’s portrayed exactly how movies love to portray their gay characters: she dies. Switch’s transness was cut by the studio, which would be funny if it weren’t so sad. A movie about people being pursued by a homogenous force of suited officials seeking to control The Matrix was edited by a homogenous force of (probably) suited individuals seeking to control The Matrix. The last time a text was subjected to that much irony, it was when Fahrenheit 451 got banned.
What was Lost With a Cis Switch
1999 was a wild time. The pop culture landscape wasn’t exactly rich with gay characters, and any mention of a trans person was either as a punchline or a worse punchline. Friends would still be releasing new episodes for 5 more years, and The Matrix was too cool of a movie not to do well. Look at those coats. Those sunglasses. How could that fail in 1999? We could have had a trans character written by two trans people in 1999. There could have been non-punchline trans rep in an era where it was seen as progressive that Chandler Bing didn’t hate his extremely trans-coded “father.”
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures.
From a narrative standpoint, characters being given the chance to completely customize themselves is an opportunity The Matrix didn’t get to jump on. Switch could have just been one person presenting themselves differently. If characters can control their appearance, abilities, and all that, it’s unrealistic to have the only major changes they make be in their fighting ability and their outfits.
It would have been a cool, subtle way to represent some internal aspects of each character by making subtle changes to their design when they’re in The Matrix. Cypher could have looked a little more like Hugo Weaving to foreshadow he’s working with them. Morpheus could have been taller to show he’s putting deliberate care into seeming commanding. Trinity could have… no changes. She’s perfect. And not one character had a sword for a hand. Not one. We could have had a cast of T-1000s and instead we got Hot Topic’s summer catalogue.
Those changes would have also made the return to reality more jarring, more like a loss. The Matrix we got is like making a friend at a Halloween party and then seeing them again at Starbucks. They’re dressed differently, maybe seem a little less cool, but they’re overall the same. The Matrix we could have had would have been like meeting Hulk from Endgame and then visiting him a few days later and seeing Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. It would have felt like a loss. The contrast between worlds would make the temptation of The Matrix make more sense, and it would have made the state of the world outside it seem genuinely awful. It would have made it a real sacrifice to not take the blue pill.
Instead of having a trans character as the entry point for body customization in The Matrix, we get Neo with better posture and Morpheus with irrational sunglasses. And people say transphobia doesn’t hurt everyone.
Matrix Resurrections Has So Much Potential
It’s been 22 years since The Matrix didn’t give us a trans character. In that time, the Wachowski sisters have both come out as trans, and social acceptance has made a lot of progress. You can find trans characters in shows and movies, and sometimes they aren’t just token representation! That’s growth! It took less than a quarter century to go from trans people as a punchline in virtually every sitcom to having trans characters in Supergirl and The Flash.
Image via CBS
The trailer for Matrix Resurrections is running with the trans allegory, and this time it’s a lot more overt. There’s this whole theme of forced repression that’s starting to break as Neo remembers the life and people he loved. But the mountain of Blue pills is presumably keeping him from remembering and also flying. He encounters people from his old life, and they know something about him that he can’t think about. Overall, the whole thing reads first like a kickass re-entrance into The Matrix. And second, like the very common narrative of trans people being forced back into the closet. Never thought Neil Patrick Harris would be in charge of an allegorical gay conversion camp, but here we are.
Matrix Resurrections has the chance to lean into the allegory and also give us a literal trans character. It may not have the same iconoclastic effect it would have in 1999, but it would feel a little like a correction of an omission the Wachowskis were forced to make. That inclusion would also do a lot for making the universe of the Matrix feel like it has developed in the time since we’ve last seen all these characters.
Image via Warner Bros.
It would make the aware humans seem to have more mastery over the Matrix in comparison to the original trilogy which had a very cuckoo-bananas power spectrum. On one end was a group of people who could jump and fight really well and break handcuffs when it’s narratively appropriate. And then there was Neo, the flying computer god who can restart a heart with his bare hand and command robots with a wave.
There should be a trans character in The Matrix. We should have had that in ‘99, but now we can get it with Resurrections. Also, this movie looks so cool. It just looks so good, and I want to be excited about it for every reason a person can be excited about something. We’ll see how it looks in December.
Matrix Resurrections comes out December 22, 2021 in theaters.
What do you think about having a trans character in The Matrix? Was the world ready for it in 1999, or is 2021 finally the right time. Tell us in the comments below.
Featured image via Warner Bros.
Jessica Kanzler is a freelance writer and editor who lives with her wife and cats. Jessica has bad taste in tv and an MA in Rhetoric, Writing, and Digital Media studies. Talk to her about Frasier on Twitter @Jessicaakanzler