The Rain Transformed: An Argument for a Trans Reading of Raiden from MGS
This essay will be a discussion of material mentioned in the Metal Gear series of games. This could also be titled my personal connection to Raiden, or why I find myself so enamored by a character from a series of games that never really held my interest when they were new. As such, this essay will discuss Transphobia, Sexual Assault, and various other outward branching topics as well as spoilers for the games Metal Gear Solid 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. To be sure, I understand much of my reading of Raiden is through a biased, projecting lens – but I feel my experiences may also be interesting both to fans of the game, fans of the character, and other trans people who like to find characters to resonate with.
METAL GEAR SOLID 2
According to twitter user @MetalGear_OOC, the concept artist for Raiden, Yoji Shinkawa, designed him to be unisex: “from the very beginning, Raiden was to be a ‘unisexual’ character… this was so both male and female gamers can relate to this character.”
He is given longer hair than Snake, makeup (eyeliner, more emphasized eyelashes), and a feminine body shape versus Snake (thin and curvy). His outfit and model also bear a strong resemblance to Fortune’s, another character, which is even more emphasized by this Mod which gives him an almost identical outfit highlighting his thighs.
His outfit, as much of his outfits will be as the series continues, is reminiscent of a skeleton. Moreso, it greatly highlights a ribcage, something that becomes all the more eyebrow raising when Raiden mentions early one that his outfit has “a lot of pressure on my torso.” Although Snake complains about his outfit in other games and in other missions, the specificity of the chest seems to imply that Raiden either has a fairly large chest area, or, perhaps, a certain sensitivity that makes this suit uncomfortable. Of course, when we later see Raiden naked in the game, there are no scars present across his body…though, as a child soldier, this feels especially strange – the Nanomachines likely have something to do with his lack of scars, or perhaps more simply, the graphics fidelity of the PS2.
From there, we see small bits of conversation between him and Rose. Over codec, Rose pleads to know his past, which he never talks about, and even takes a guess at what his past might be: “That you used to be a woman?” Although his actual past canonically does not mention him being trans, this is an odd choice for Rose to guess, of all the other things she could have said….though, provided his physical appearance, perhaps it isn’t so strange at all? In addition, Rose reveals toward the end of the game that she is pregnant, something that could seemingly burn a hole right through the Raiden-is-trans theory; however in a series where Nanomachines can do everything from healing to suppressing fear, and we have Mechs of mass destruction that can be manned or unmanned, I don’t find it unbelievable in the slightest that said Nanomachines could produce sperm for a transman.
In an infamous scene later in MGS2, the (fictional) president of the United States grabs at Raiden’s crotch, perhaps at an attempt at humor that I don’t quite understand. The president is flabbergasted that Raiden is, in fact, a man, and Raiden is just as taken back by this assault. Played for laughs or not, it’s hard not to see this as the literal US Government policing trans bodies and deciding who is a “real” woman or man – by inspecting their genitalia, no less. Again, Raiden is gender non-conforming, as we’ve seen, he blurs the lines, and in doing so becomes something that rebels against the Order of things, the status quo. This rebellion, this crossing of lines, is key to his character growth and arc throughout the series.
But what of the plot of MGS2 and Raiden’s canon history? As @MetalGear_OOC states, there are definite feminine qualities to flashback child Raiden’s art, but what I take issue with is the idea that the Patriots would simply “respect” Raiden’s pronouns. The key to MGS2, and MGS4 for that matter, is the idea that the Patriots have planned for everything, and every betrayal, every heel turn, is expected. The plot is a mass of snakes, each attacking one another, and yet the Patriots can sit back and say its all according to plan – what would they, great overseers, care about one child soldier’s pronouns? It is everything – for Raiden to be another Snake, he has to not only want it, not only be a good soldier, but also have something to prove, something to keep him going. By selecting a child they know is trans, or will be trans, the Patriots know Raiden will push himself harder than any cisman. He has something to prove, he has more scrutiny over every single thing he does, everyone will judge him harshly simply because he isn’t cis, and this drive is what makes him the perfect puppet. He idolizes the masculinity of Snake, wishes to make it his own – Snake is his model of masculinity, for better or for worse, and it takes Snake himself to break him out of this way of thinking.
Snake: “Life isn’t just about passing on your genes. We can leave behind much more than just DNA. Through speech, music, literature, and movies… what we’ve seen, heard, felt… anger, joy, and sorrow… these are the things I will pass on. That’s what I live for. We need to pass the torch, and let our children read our messy and sad history by its light. We have all the magic of the digital age to do that with. The human race will probably come to an end some time, and new species may rule over this planet. Earth may not be forever, but we still have the responsibility to leave what traces of life we can. Building the future and keeping the past alive are one and the same thing.”
At the end of MGS2, when all the shit hits the fan, Solidus reveals Raiden’s past in full, claiming that not only was he a child soldier chosen for this fate, but also that Solidus hand picked him, killed him family, and named him. In this way, we don’t know Raiden’s birthname – instead, we have a given name, Jack. A simple, ambiguous name that can be short for any number of masculine or feminine names? We don’t know. We only know that this name is what Raiden has used for the vast majority of his life, and that, coupled with what we see in MGR and Snake’s speech, it seems the name ‘Jack’ carries a lot of baggage. Is it him? Is it a deadname? This loss of identity at the end of an otherwise optimistic MGS2 ending paves the way for the angst of Metal Gear Solid 4.
METAL GEAR SOLID 4
Metal Gear Solid 4, as it focuses on Snake over Raiden, makes Raiden’s arc more internal. Most of the game, Raiden is spent somewhere between repaying Snake, a father figure he looks up to, and a deathwish, as he’s lost everything he was living for at the end of MGS2. Raiden pushes this turmoil down by protecting and aiding Snake, the only unchanged (ironically) part of his life. In this way, despite all of Snake’s efforts at the end of MGS2, Raiden still looks up to him as a pillar to be emulated. MGS4’s various themes and plot elements overlap one another into a confusing mess, but throughout the game we see grappling with gender roles. Neither Snake or Otacon seemingly, somehow, know how to cook, and bumble their way through being good parents to Sunny. It is only when a female influence, Naomi, is added, that Sunny is able to perform the inherently feminine task of frying eggs. Naomi goes so far as to say that “women have to work hard to keep appearances up to impress men,” which sits wrong in my stomach considering Sunny’s day-to-day life at this point consists of her two dads (Snake and Otacon) and her brother (Raiden). Notably, Naomi and Raiden join Snake and Otacon around the same time, influencing Sunny in different ways. Sunny learns from Naomi but protects Raiden, shielding him both from the destructive path he and Snake lead, but also she learns a more subtle truth: Raiden’s act of gender defiance puts him at risk.
Raiden’s body in MGS4 has been transformed and is inhuman; he’s gone through yet another physical transition. If MGS2 ended with a rebirth of Raiden, giving him a path to retread in life, it seems he still has to re-face the same difficulties he had in his first transition. His cyborg body, despite its desexualized appearance at first, is still feminizing. MGS4 introduces four cyborg bosses, bookmarking parts of the story as Snake progresses. These are the only named cyborg characters, other than Raiden, and all four are female.
Furthermore, all of these cyborg characters possess another trait, white blood, a visual shorthand for semen in the fanservice shots of the boss fights. But Raiden, as male, still possesses this blood. He isn’t seen in quite the same compromising condition as the women, but he is bedridden for much of his screentime, in agony and unmoving. Both the women and Raiden are likened to nature, with each of the women being named after animals, while Raiden is given attributes of a storm. Notably, all of the women are also victims of war, forced to fight and abandon their humanity in ways not unlike Raiden was, and in fact, by some of the same people as who controlled Raiden.
Furthermore, MGS4 plays with the duality of Beauty and the Beast, in a not so subtle way – by making the women out to be beasts, the metaphor becomes obvious: “Word on the street says that beneath those ugly-ass suits the B&Bs [Beauty and the Beast corps] are real babes. Drop dead gorgeous. They also say each one of thems been traumatized by war. They weren’t even soldiers to begin with…more like victims of war. They suffer shell-shock on the battlefield, Post-traumatic. It damaged their minds pretty much beyond repair, so the only way they could cope with the reality of battle was to become war machines themselves. The remnants of their human side are buried deep within. The beast: that’s what you see on the outside. War transforms us…into beasts…but deep within that shell, something human survives, a fragile, scarred heart. Without a shell to protect it, it’s like a yolk of an egg. Word going ‘round is, they’re natural flesh-and-blood bodies can’t survive in the open for more than a few minutes… ”. The blatant sexism aside, we also see this applied to Raiden (and to a lesser degree, Snake). Change the pronouns, and this paragraph could describe Raiden.
Later, Snake tells Raiden, “your body may be a machine, but your heart is human,” thus emphasizing Raiden’s humanity even if his outside (and most of his inside) is literally no longer human. For the women, their beastliness is a suit, able to be cast off as they return to themselves in a fetal baby-like (innocent) position, but Raiden is incapable of this. When he casts off his coat, it only reveals his cyborg body – was this an attempt at hiding the body he is ashamed of, and perhaps, a nod toward the feelings of dysphoria? Surely, Raiden is made depressed by his body, his second transformation forced upon him. We as the audience get to see his transition onscreen, no longer is it an off screen past event: we are seeing Raiden transition in real time. We see the effects of dysphoria on the psyche, as Raiden’s constant brushes with death argue he could be suicidal, in part, because of his body.
Even the fetal position the women assume upon their death is seen in Raiden when reunited with Rose in a bittersweet and not-well executed wrap up. But it is in this scene that we see the greatest nod to Raiden’s transness. Of course his body has changed, but it is only when meeting Rose that we see him outwardly belittle himself: “Like a scene from Beauty and the Beast”. He compares himself to a Beast, continuing this running theme. It is through Rose showing him love (though notably not giving us the Shrek-esque moment of a kiss) and telling him he isn’t a beast – taking his focus away from their reflection in a mirror – that we end his appearance in MGS4.
METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGENCE
In MGR we see a more confident Raiden once he is introduced with his new battle suit, no longer a clunky mess but an athletic and sleek approach meant for combat. This, plus his ability to rip out enemy’s spines to heal, adds a kink to Raiden’s emotional arc, however: while MGS4 ends with him being encouraged to accept his humanity and embrace that he is still human (in contrast to Snake – notedly MGS4 ties humanity to the ability to reproduce) MGR instead encourages the idea that Raiden can never fit into society, he is only his past and only a killer, a robot. While in MGS4 he ends with saying he won’t leave to Rose, MGR she is notably absent, in New Zealand, while Raiden travels the globe hopping to various countries. Although MGR has a literal physical plot, it feels like a metaphorical journey for Raiden, as well, something like his own personal hell he has to accept and learn and grow from.
Thematically, all of the bosses in MGR are named after Winds (Mistral, Monsoon, Sundowner, and Jetstream), and Raiden’s name derives from Japanese meaning Thunder or Lightning (In MGS4 Snake calls him “the storm transformed”). In this way, the winds of destruction are trying to direct Raiden, the storm – each trying to pull him into their ideology (which is, to be sure, very anti-trans considering the amount of Rules of Nature themes). Raiden stands against them and cuts them down, not letting himself be carried through their storm – at a cost however. The Winds all only refer to Raiden by what amounts to his Dead Name – Jack – and while his dead name is especially complicated, he has discomfort with hearing it. He embraces the name, eventually, and while not all trans people will embrace, accept, or even mention their dead name, it is something that is grappled with. Coming to terms with your past, seeing your past through pictures, memories, or just people from your past recounting stories, a trans person is always fighting against an image of themselves that may no longer exist but persists to those around them. Raiden is pushed into accepting his deadname through pain, it is a survival response (through his pain inhibitors being turned off) that triggers it. Jack, being a suitably unisex name (though perhaps Jackie is more common), ultimately becomes a part of him. He accepts it, and all of its baggage, to be a part of him. Note, also, that only the villains of the game call him Jack – a far cry from MGS2 and 4 where Rose calls him Jack, and in MGS4 where he is only referred to as Raiden. All of his allies call him Raiden, and even Raiden himself seems to fall into a despair that he ever was human. But I think, ultimately, by the end of the game, Raiden is far more complete and self-actualized, coming to terms with his past and who he is and who he has become: it isn’t pretty, not at all, but he knows that no one else should go through what he did, and the humanity he demonstrates in saving children from his fate is far more human than any words of encouragement could define.