Jig-Jig Street is, in many ways, the centre of Cyberpunk 2077. Essentially the game’s red light district, it features sex workers, pole dancers, dildo shops, neon lights, sultry cigarette smoke, and bloodstains on the concrete. It’s Night City distilled into a cluster of back alleys. And much like the rest of Cyberpunk 2077, it’s completely devoid of trans people.
I know that Cyberpunk 2077 allows you to create a trans character. Or at the very least, it allows you to create a female character with a penis or a male character with a vagina. There are still a few issues around the character creator that I’ll dive into below, but credit where it’s due, it does allow you to create a character whose genitals do not match up with their gender presentation, and is the first game of its size to do so.
The problem is that the world itself is incredibly binary. It features clearly defined gender norms, with clothing, hairstyles, makeup, and plenty more still fixed and gendered. Lizzie’s and Clouds both include glowing neon signs in the shape of the traditional male and female gender symbols. At Clouds, when V’s mind is scanned to find her sexual preferences, the computer clearly sorts the options into male and female, with V’s apparent bisexuality treated as something mildly scandalous.
Like many trans women before me, I find myself looking at V’s penis and wondering what the point of it is. It’s certainly not for the sex scenes, which are aggressively cisgendered regardless of what V is packing.
We see examples of body modification all throughout Night City. Not only is there Johnny Silverhand’s silver hand, there’s dozens of other people (or at least the same few NPCs copied and pasted around town) with metallic arms. River and others have eye implants. Circuit infused skin seems to be in vogue in the summer of 2077. None of this body modification extends to gender nonconformity though. People can do whatever they like to their bodies, as long as men remain men and women remain women.
This is where Jig-Jig Street comes in. I always knew that, despite the character creator’s detachable penis, Cyberpunk 2077 would always be a few steps forward, a few steps back. I assumed that the game’s trans representation would be highly fetishized, that you’d find us walking around Jig-Jig Street in leather bondage gear, bulge on display a la the Mix It Up poster. And you can’t! We’re not there at all! I can’t quite decide if I’d rather have this complete absence of representation in a game which has directly relied on trans imagery for marketing, or if my feelings would be improved had we been more present but constantly fetishized.
Instead of fetishized sex workers, the sole piece of trans representation is Claire, a bartender at Afterlife who gives you a series of racing quests. She’s the game’s biggest bright spot in this regard; she’s voiced by a trans woman, you learn about her transition in a realistic way, and her story is separate from her transness. But Claire feels like the exception which proves the rule: she’s a trans person as we know transness in 2021, and feels dropped into the world rather than being a part of it. I’m glad Claire’s there, but it doesn’t change the fact that transness as a concept is non-existent in Night City.
It’s easy to say that in the future, gender transition has advanced to such a point that everyone passes instantly, which is why there are no visibly trans people in the world. While that’s true, it’s too simple an argument with too many flaws. For starters, this doesn’t explain the binary gendered signs around the world, the lack of a trans presence in Clouds, or the heavily gendered world. Added to that, not every trans person’s goal is to ‘pass’ anyway. In a world with body modification—and especially in a game with ‘punk’ in its title—there would undoubtedly be some people willing to push the boundaries.
Unfortunately, CDPR doesn’t appear to be one of them.
Finally, we come to the character creator. I’ve been referring to V as ‘they’ throughout this piece, but that’s impossible in the game itself. For all the hype of a trans character creator, you can’t be non-binary in the game (to be specific, you can’t use they/them pronouns). The latest Call Of Duty will allow you to be non-binary while you do Ronald Reagan’s bidding, but Cyberpunk will not. It also genders voice, so to be called she/her, you need to choose the female voice; another odd choice in a self professed trans character creator, since many trans people do not have a voice which matches their gender presentation.
Even on a more basic level, features like hairstyles, makeup, and facial hair are gendered—along with clothing—making it far more restrictive than other games which keep their junk tucked away. This is a large part of why the idea of a ‘trans character creator’ annoys me so much. Trans people are much more than their genitals; who’s to say the feminine elf I made in Dragon Age isn’t trans? It’s vaguely progressive that you can give a woman a penis in Cyberpunk, but the way we seem to be celebrating that as the apex and sole embodiment of transness in gaming is misguided, to say the least.
Ultimately, Cyberpunk 2077 is a game which features a prominent transgender character who explicitly yet realistically talks about her transition, and flaws of the character creator aside, it degenders genitals. There are more than a few steps backwards into the bargain, but I’d like to see other games in the future pick up where it falls short. In order for them to do that though, we need to be clear about exactly how and why Cyberpunk 2077’s trans representation fails. It takes a lot more than letting me have tits and a penis to make the world feel welcoming: that alone makes it much worse.