Someone was talking gender interpretation with me and gave me the ok to post this:
When it comes to characters in fiction being interpreted as trans or cis, I think people need to recalibrate how they look at the issue as a whole.
While this is probably simplifying things, I feel it may be best to look at this stuff in five categories.
First is canon trans characters. Examples would be Grell, Ruka, Birdette, Poison, and so on. Characters who are stated by the author to be trans and the story doesn’t contradict this or characters who are made explicitly 100% clear to be trans.
Second is ambiguously trans characters. Examples here would be Naoto or Chihiro. These are characters where the evidence is not solid, but in the balance leans towards the characters being trans (and before anyone says anything, don’t even try to argue against this if you’re cis. I and many other trans people I know agree there’s a lot of subtle evidence here, stuff cis people would be prone to missing due to not having life experience with it. Again, don’t even try) Characters stated by the author to be cis but where the story contradicts this would fit in here, too.
Third is totally ambiguous characters. Examples here would be Mario, Kirby, characters like that. Where there’s little evidence of a demonstrated gender identity to base anything off or little evidence to see that a character’s gender identity might match OR contradict assigned gender. People are probably going to jump about how Mario’s here, but if it were to be revealed Mario is a trans man tomorrow, I can’t think of any evidence from the games that would be contradicted at all (if there is, well, maybe he’s not on this spot but it’s still here and fairly populated)
Fourth is ambiguously cis characters. This is where most characters in fiction actually lie. It’s very common for characters in fiction to have and express a gender identity and also common for this to match up, circumstantially, with what one would presume to be their assigned birth gender. If a character here would be revealed to be trans, this might contradict a lot of implications or circumstantial evidence, but it would not require an explicit retcon. And no, just because most people are cis or cis is often (harmfully) presumed to be the default does not make this level of evidence a solid 100% clear answer. Remember also that many trans people come into their identity late in life and this would hold for fictional characters.
Fifth is canon cis characters. I can’t think of examples off the top of my head but they definitely exist. Here we have characters outright confirmed to be cis. Where the author actually bothered to confirm it and the story matches. Where you see a character as a newborn and already gendered and this matches, or things happen in the story that would be impossible if the character were trans such as a woman reproducing sexually with someone who has a penis in a setting without magic or fancy supertech.
Currently it seems like the usual debate has people putting 3s and 4s in category 5, 2s in category 4 or even 5, and 1s often get put in category 2 but really can end up anywhere on the list. This sort of setup probably seems absurd to people who are used to that kind of analysis, but if you remove the bias of assuming cis until proven otherwise, this is really what you are left with.
Bolded for emphasis. Cis until proven otherwise isn’t just a fandom thing, it affects trans ppl in our day to day lives and it needs to stop being a thing.
I think it’s a better way of looking at things, rather than a binary of definitely cis or definitely trans. The only thing I can think of to add is that it wouldn’t be a go-ahead to be an ass to a trans person for headcanoning, say, a category 4/5 character as trans. This is fandom, we have every pairing under the sun and AUs and alt timelines and crossovers and a million other ways of making canon our own. Besides, it’s not like we have that many 1s or 2s to play with to begin with, yeah?
EDIT: reminder that a character who displays traits commonly associated with being trans stating that they are “really [designated sex at birth]” or deciding to be who they “truly” are is not definitive proof of cisness, as demonstrated by myself and a ton of other trans folk who’ve said that stuff because we needed to be closeted, because we were under pressure to say it or just because being trans and being perceived as trans can be really scary and dangerous. Again, please remember that this stuff does not go down in a vacuum and “well you said you were happy being a boy/girl before so you can’t be trans” is a real problem we have to contend with when dealing with family and medical stuff and a hundred other things.
…actually lets just add a rule of “if it would be a shitty invalidating thing to say about a real trans person then it probably shouldn’t be in your I’m Not Transphobic But Character X Is Not Trans!!! argument”