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While the tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons has been around for several decades now, it’s only in the last few years that it has really managed to find mainstream popularity outside its previously niche audience. While some of that is undoubtedly due to the release of its Fifth Edition, which considerably simplified the role of combat and increased the narrative pace by which campaigns could take place, perhaps an even bigger part of that increased popularity has been the rise of “podcast D&D.”
When played firmly by the rules in the book, D&D can sometimes be a little slow and by the numbers, but a number of campaigns designed for podcasts as well as live-streamed play sessions have tweaked the rules, allowed for rule-bending when it serves the story, and put the focus of the game more onto collaborative storytelling with a pace that’s palatable for those not taking part in the action themselves.
In terms of the D&D shows that have managed to break into mainstream success with this formula, perhaps the most successful is The Adventure Zone. Initially started as a one-off adventure and eventually spun out into a huge sprawling narrative, the Fifth Edition D&D podcast’s focus on over-the-top characters, intricately-woven plotlines and emotional consequences managed to capture an audience that in many cases had previously not cared much about D&D as a game.As someone who was a big fan of The Adventure Zone from its earliest episodes, I was initially a little cautious when I heard through social media that the show’s hosts, Clint, Travis, Justin, and Griffin McElroy, were planning on introducing a transgender character to the cast of their adventure. None of the players were transgender, and the series had occasionally run into trope territory with queer characters in its early arcs, but they did seem to be going out of their way to ask trans people for consultation advice on the character.
I was excited about the prospect of a trans character being added to a really popular roleplay podcast that I loved, even if I was a bit worried about what the execution might end up like. What I did not expect was for The Adventure Zone’s Lup to quickly become one of my favorite trans characters in media, despite being written and performed by a group of non-trans creators.
In order to explain why I love The Adventure Zone’s Lup so much, it’s important to first go back a little and talk about Taako, one of the primary player characters in The Adventure Zone: Balance. Taako is a male high elf wizard, and one of the series' more flamboyant and fabulous characters. He’s a little vain and cares a lot about his own appearance, and he loves the spotlight. Taako is a character who always wants to be the center of attention, wants to be loved, and wants to be stylish to the extreme. He's by no means presented as a stereotype of masculinity.
Lup is a trans woman and Taako’s twin sister. Considering Taako is in many ways played as a character who bucks a lot of traditionally expected aspects of masculinity while still identifying as male, it feels fairly fitting that Lup, in contrast, subverts several aspects of expected femininity.
Next to Taako, Lup is the more direct, forceful, angry, rude, and impassioned twin. While none of these aspects of a person are inherently gendered, many of them are stereotyped as making someone less valid as a woman, and it was really refreshing to see them explored in the character. Just because Lup exhibits fewer stereotyped female presentations and more masculine stereotyped presentations than her twin brother doesn’t change her validity as female.
Being trans isn’t about a checklist of stereotypes being met; it’s about an inherent feeling of discomfort that exists in relation to gender. If feminism is going to fight for cisgender women’s rights to cut their hair short and get excited about vehicle repair for example, while still being seen as a valid woman, the same level of female acceptance should be offered to gender stereotype non-conforming trans women as well. The Adventure Zone showcases this brilliantly by depicting Lup in contrast to her brother.
Additionally, the hosts of the podcast did a great job of making her trans status very matter-of-fact. They bring it up once, simply stating that she transitioned at a very young age, and get on with telling her story. It’s not a story about her being trans; she just gets to be trans and be a part of the story.
Lup gets to help one of our protagonists before they even know she exists, gets to help save the world, gets to find love, and is never discredited as a woman. She just gets to be a cool undead magical badass who holds a petty grudge and is always the coolest person in the room. Lup gets to be powerful, present, isn’t forced to be more feminine than her twin brother to be valid as female, and gets to have a story that’s not focused on her trans status. More genre narratives could learn a thing or two about casual trans representation from my favorite D&D wizard.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.