The Legend of Gender: How Link Was My First Gender Icon
Ocarina of Time was probably my first egg crack moment (before we were calling them eggs).
When I was growing up, I was obsessed with The Legend of Zelda. I mean, obsessed. As a very small child, one of the few words I would use was “Korkamoo”, which was inexplicably what I called The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I would demand my siblings would play it so I could watch, sometimes making desperate grabs at the controller to try and play it myself. I think it was possibly one of my first special interests. I still really love the franchise now, around twenty years on.
I really overly identified with Link. This is pretty weird when you consider the fact the guy doesn’t talk, like, ever. But, I knew a couple things about him. For starters, he was small, blond, and kind of androgynous looking: just like me! I also knew he liked running around the woods and farms and having big adventures. It sounded like a pretty good ride to me. I found myself projecting onto this voiceless hero big-style, more so than I did any of the girl characters in the series (or in much else, for that matter).
A few years went by, and when I was an older kid, I got my own N64 system after my siblings moved out (and my brother took his, if memory serves). It was, of course, the amazing Pikachu Edition Console with the cute little light up cheeks. I got it in a bundle with a few games off eBay, including Pokémon Stadium, Super Mario 64, and a few others that I genuinely can’t remember now. As soon as I set it up, though, the first game I jammed in was Ocarina of Time. This would be my first time playing that particular LoZ game on my own, without the help of my siblings.
For those unfamiliar, when you start up a LoZ game, you have the option of inputting your own name, so that all of the NPCs refer to Link with your name instead. So, I put a derivative of my deadname (given name, pre-transition) in. Suddenly, everyone - Saria, Zelda, random Kokiris - was calling “the boy without a fairy” by my name. I still remember this moment absolutely as clear as day. It felt good in ways that I didn’t understand yet. Playing OoT essentially became a way of escaping into a funky little fae world where I could be the kind of boy I actually was.
I think I remember speculating on Link and Saria’s gender more than anyone else’s at that point in time. I could never quite tell if they were in love, or gay, or boys, or girls. They both looked so ambiguous to me, and that just seemed so… Cool. It was exactly who I wanted to be, and who I saw myself as. We’ll ignore the obvious allusions to hero complexes here, and just focus on the fact that I seemed to end up borrowing at least half of my gender presentation from a fictional elf who I started to project onto aged five; that’s enough to unpack for one day.
Growing up, I felt very othered - as most gay and trans people do, to varying degrees. In my eyes, that’s exactly the same as how Link was othered by the other Kokiris. I was the boy growing up without a fairy. But - look at how Link overcame those odds! Look at how being different, and other, and ostracised by everyone else around him actually helped him to do good in the world eventually! I saw that, and I took it to heart. Maybe transition is the real time travel after all. Maybe I’m just getting closer to gaining my Navi with each day on my gender journey.
Yesterday, I started playing OoT on the Nintendo Switch Subscription Pass. I’ve been putting it off because I have absolutely rinsed the game inside out, and I’m far more keen to start playing Majora’s Mask when it comes to the platform next month, but last night I was completely overtaken by nostalgia. It isn’t the first time I’ve played a LoZ game since I transitioned - I started playing A Link to the Past last year - but being able to put my name down as “Toni” in there, shorthand for my chosen name, was still a real trip. Being able to hop right back in to Link’s treehouse, picking up where I left off, and being able to call him not just a “boy’s name” (if that even exists), but my name? It felt amazing. It was like returning to my digital roots and being able to say “hi” to my inner child in polygon form - and I didn’t even need a magical sword to be able to do it.
Toni Oisin H.C. is the Head of Audio at QSO Media. Read more of his writing here.