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Space the Nation: Jaime King on Transformers, gender and the beauty of D&D

Contributed by
May 15, 2018

Jaime King voices Solus Prime — the only female Prime — for the third and final chapter of the Transformers: Prime Wars trilogy, which started streaming this month on go90. King is a long-time fan of the franchise; she remembers taping it VHS to rewatch as a child in Omaha, Nebraska. We talked about her science fiction heroes, what it means to raise her sons in a gender neutral environment, an especially intense Dungeons and Dragons session, and why is it that Transformers have genders, anyway?

Did you have any sci-fi characters that you identified with growing up? Who are some of the strong female characters that you looked up to or inspired you?

Sigourney Weaver. She was one of the first female characters I ever saw in sci-fi that just kicked ass. She made a deep impression on me—you didn't have to look a certain way, you could be strong and be beautiful and you could be smart. 

In the series, you play Solus Prime. Apparently, she's the only female Prime Transformer. Is that the case? You’re the only strong female character in this series?

Yes.

So I have to ask you, have you ever stopped to think about why Transformers have a gender at all?

I thought to wonder why anybody has a gender at all.

[laughs] It is kind of weird.

Between just you and I? I feel like gender is dead. I mean, gender is not dead. But I think that kids growing up now are way more tapped in and [flexible] than we were. Just way more tapped in. The Transformers have genders because [the franchise] has been around for a really long time, and that was how they told the story. And my personal beliefs about gender have nothing to do with great storytelling.

Transformers are actually a pretty good example of how random gender is — it's thing you perform and not a thing that you are. I know you think this because you're raising your children in a gender-neutral environment, right?

Right. They identify as boys, but I'm raising them according to their lead. So if one of them wants to wear a princess dress or hot pink or not want to be called handsome or be called pretty, I will always follow the lead of that person. Because for me growing up, it was really hard identifying with one gender. I didn't fit in. I just didn't feel like I fit into the category of what a little girl should be like. I felt like I was failing that category a lot of the time. I was pretty but I wasn't in to the pretty girl things, i.e. cheerleading, like hanging out at malls. I wanted to learn about psychology and read like Socrates and, you know, watch Transformers, legitimately, and Star Wars.

The first two sci-fi worlds that I ever remember were Transformers and Star Wars [King also voices two characters for The Clone Wars]. Transformers, I would watch it every single day. I remember watching it every single day after school, even if I had to record it. Once, I accidentally recorded Xanadu over the Transformers and I got really pissed.

Why do you think you were so drawn to it? One thought I’ve had about Transformers and feminism specifically is that Transformers have power over their own body, right? And I know you’re a big supporter of Planned Parenthood.

That's it. That's what I'm talking about. That's what I'm saying. Transformers have the control. It's not someone hitting a button like beep beep beep beep beep beep, "You're awake now."

I think there’s maybe something about being a feminist and being drawn to sci-fi in general. They both take a lot of imagination—you have to be able to suspend disbelief to imagine the world can change in dramatic ways.

Hell, yes. Needing to have that imagination, that reminds me of something. You're gonna — you're gonna make me cry because [ahem] Alright, so — let me take you to the scene. [A few months ago, my husband and I] open up a new Dungeons and Dragons game. New players. Very excited about it. I had decided that I was going to be a high elven wizard. And the little twist was going to be that I thought I came from one background, but discovered that I really came from another. I was told that essentially I was going to be like Jesus but that it was all a lie — my whole life, it was a burden put upon me. And as I'm making this character, they're like, “Well, what do you want to be called? Are you male or female?” And I said, “I’m everything. I'm they. Their. Them.” And as I started playing this — I can't tell you…I just start getting so emotional. So emotional. Because I was playing out my life. Here, in this group of people that I love so much and trust so much. I was playing out my own suppressed unconscious thing. 

Because they way I grew up, I did feel like I was told a lie. I did feel like I was told I was supposed to be one thing, this amazing beautiful glorious blah blah blah. But then in reality, who knows what's true, right? I’m just ordinary. We're all just ordinary. And the only thing that makes us extraordinary is our love, our compassion, our understanding and our ability and willingness to fight for ourselves and for other people. And that's why some kids love sci fi. Kids that love sci-fi are always the ones that are pushed aside. We were always the ones that were told that we were weird or something was wrong with us. But isn't it interesting how the kids that love sci-fi are the ones that are now changing things? And what's so great about Transformers? Honestly, what I love about Transformers is that all anyone really wants is the ability to transform from one thing to another. 

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