“Let’s Talk About That Crossdressing Scene in Final Fantasy VII”- Me, A Trans Woman
As of publication, we are less than a week away from one of the most anticipated video game releases of the year. On April 10th, the first chapter of the Final Fantasy VII Remake is due out. Up until this point, fans’ only glimpse at Midgar has been through the beautifully animated trailer recreations of classic scenes and locations…including the Honey Bee Inn.
In my mind, the Honey Bee Inn has always read as the specific kind of sleaze you would see in a club far off of the Las Vegas strip still trying to emulate the city’s signature glitz in its own garish way. Maybe places like the Honey Bee Inn were always the flavor I favor, or maybe my tastes have been molded by those original PlayStation pre-rendered graphics. In either case, this section of Final Fantasy VII holds a very special place in my heart. For those unfamiliar with the game (how’d you end up here?), let me catch you up to speed really quick.
In the opening minutes of Final Fantasy VII, you are thrust into the futuristic city of Midgar as Cloud and his allies in the eco-terrorist group, Avalanche, commit multiple bombings against the ruling class who are killing the planet. On a mission, Cloud falls during an explosion that would have killed him had a church roof and flower bed not broken his fall. This is where he formally meets Aeris (or Aerith), a flower seller he briefly met earlier and is the first character we see as the game opens. (She is very important but not really to the story I am telling here today) He protects her from getting abducted only to immediately learn that his childhood best friend and fellow Avalanche member, Tifa, has infiltrated a mob organization under the guise of marrying the slimy sex pest, Don Corneo.
With all of the heavy themes and high stakes swirling around for the opening hours of FFVII, it only makes sense for Aeris to feminize Cloud by dressing him in a wig and dress to sneak into the Don’s mansion.
This existing as a plot point is some Grade-A 90s anime logic at it’s finest and I will gobble that shit up every time it’s presented. Wild tonal shifts and joking aside, I loved this section of the game, even if at the time I first played this (probably around 4th grade), I didn’t have the language or understanding of my own identity as a transwoman to figure out why I liked this scene so much.
The bare minimum Cloud needs in order to finagle his way into the Don’s mansion is a wig and a dress, which drastically undersells the effort that goes into being passable in a way that would make this stealth mission (see what I did there?) successful in the first place. But, you know what? I’ll give the low resolution Lego people a pass.
First things first, Cloud and Aeris need to talk to the alcoholic dress shop owner and tell him that Cloud has always dreamed of, “just once”, dressing as a woman to convince him to make a dress for Cloud. (“Just once” is the lie that everyone with this dream has told themselves at some point) Then, you have to go to a gym run by someone who presents like a lady but is referred to as “Big Bro” by all the buff boys there, where you have to win a squat contest to earn a blond wig that that looks just like Cloud’s normal hair but with braided pigtails. Really, it might be more fair to call them extensions more than an actual wig. And that’s it. That is all you need to do to get Cloud in touch with his feminine side and enter Don Corneo’s mansion.
But what if you wanna take this time to be extra pretty, you sweet, overachieving lovelies?
Luckily for you, it’s possible to obtain additional items like sexy perfume from a man with severe diarrhea after giving him digestive medicine, a diamond tiara from a store clerk after you get him a vending machine condom, (Or at least I assume it is a condom, they don’t specify) and lingerie from the local bathhouse after Cloud gets presumably fondled off camera by half a dozen oiled up daddies with 70s pornstaches in banana hammocks. No, seriously.
When the time comes for Don Corneo to pick his future wife, he has to choose between Tifa, Aeris, and the girl version of Cloud. If you’re fortunate, you’ll be chosen as his “lucky” girl and your ability to pass and please this man works in your favor. Yes, this context sounds really disgusting, but it’s complicated and there are multiple channels to process this through.
On the surface, this is a quest centered around dressing a straight man in drag to be paraded around for the approval of a horny, middle aged man, thereby fulfilling the classic stereotype of men dressing as women to “trap” men, a slur that has been directed at transwomen for decades (and one that I humorously try to reclaim for myself). Calling this quest “problematic” isn’t inaccurate, but it isn’t a wholly apt description either.
“Female Cloud/Girl Cloud” has been an extremely popular subject of cosplay and fanart for more than 20 years and shows no signs of going away with the impending new HD iteration. There are predictably those who simply find the whole scene humorous and produce comics and art that innocently reflect that, but there are also those that fetishize the situation by seeing it as an instance of sissification and femdom.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t also had such fetishes in my life both pre and post transition. Gender and sex are fun and complicated.
While this presentation of Cloud isn’t explicitly sexual or kinky in its intent, those that view the scene as sissification are providing a valid read and any judgement on that interpretation is skating the line of kinkshaming. Hell, there’s even an option to have the girls at the Honey Bee Inn do Cloud’s makeup for him, and having them do it will increase your chances of being chosen by Don Corneo than if Cloud did his own blush and mascara. For those with even the smallest understanding of sissification, these moments are impossible to ignore.
Unlike the countless optional side quests throughout Final Fantasy VII, crossdressing Cloud is mandatory in order to get to the next part of the game even though it has little to actually do with the overarching plot, save for introducing Don. However, for people who have zero interest in this section, they have the option to speed through it. After all, you only need the wig and the dress to make it through to the next objective on your adventure. You are not given any experience points, useful items to help you in future battles, or any additional important side lore. In this particular part of the main story, you get what you, the specific player, want to get out of it.
When mainstream (ie: straight, cis) audiences are forced to address queer topics, there’s a wide range of interpretations of it. There are those that view something tinged with queerness as sexual, and therefore “threatening” or there are those that express a lazier form of homophobia/transphobia by dismissing it as comedy, which is what this was clearly written as.
When I first played the game as a fourth grader, I had yet developed an understanding of my gender identity or sexual feelings. I was, for all intents and purposes, part of the straight, cis audience this game (and most games) was intended for, but gained my own unique sentiments from playing it. I replayed the first disc of Final Fantasy VII over and over, and Midgar left an apocalyptic meteor sized impression on me.
Granted, I played the first disc so many times as a kid because my brother sold the second disc of the game to a friend of his (thinking I had three copies of the game rather than it being a game big enough it needed three discs) because he was a FUCKING MORON, but I digress.
Even without the terminology to understand or describe why this scene influenced me so heavily, I grew pretty attached to this scene. I hear a lot from other trans women about how “they always knew they were a girl” or have stories about crying when having to wear “boy’s clothes,” and these are experiences I sort of had but didn’t know why I felt weird about them. What I definitely did have though was a weird sense of comfort being able to dress our hero in women’s clothing.
Cloud being able to wear a dress to feel pretty “just once” was more significant for me than I’m sure it was ever meant to be. If I could, I’d tell that kid the “feeling pretty just once” is going to become a daily occurrence and the word you will wish you’d known at the time is “transgender.”
In its own way, Cloud putting on a dress has become so normalized within the Final Fantasy fandom (and gaming as a whole), that it isn’t shocking or even exploited for homophobic japes at this point.
To quote one of the remake’s trailers that showcase this scene; “Welcome to the Honey Bee Inn. True beauty is an expression of the heart, a thing without shame to which notions of gender don’t apply.”
It is not 1997 anymore and video games and media in general are reflecting that. Final Fantasy VII Remake seems set on reimagining this and transforming what could once be seen as “problematic” into something far more transgressive. This new HD world is one where a sleazy bathhouse in a video game reflects the pro-sex, pro-gender, proactive ideology that is worth getting stabbed through the torso by Sephiroth to protect.