Transphobic media made coming out a terrifying proposition. 'We Know the Devil' slyly points at a better way forward.
This piece carries a content warning for transphobia.
"Einhorn is a man!"
I am a child, nestled in a sleeping bag on our carpeted computer room floor, staring at a 10-inch television. My parents taped a copy of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, edited by ABC for a network audience. In ABC's mind, Jim Carrey violently vomiting into a toilet after discovering the woman he dated was a former field goal kicker fits right in with his animal noises and obsession with flatulence.
He thinks so little of this woman's humanity that as an answer to the film's whodunit, he strips her in front of her superiors with the help of NFL superstar Dan Marino. In these filmmakers' minds, encountering a trans woman is just another slapstick gag, on par with a well-placed banana peel. Could a banana peel ever be respected or loved?
"Would you fuck me? I'd fuck me."
I am a teenager, watching Buffalo Bill dance in front of a camera in The Silence of the Lambs. She is painted as grotesque, wearing an ill-fitting wig and applying makeup beside (not over) masculine facial features to highlight them. It's why she's sewing a suit made of women's flesh: she's meant to be an invader, a predator who has the gall to think she can fit in with the rest of the girls.
My eyes turn to the ground, unable to stomach the rest of the scene. I yearn to be a woman, but the films and cartoons I've consumed warn me that even suggesting such a thing could ruin my life. Best to keep it bottled up and continue as usual.
"Hire a prostitute! That'll clear things up."
I am a college student, finally letting my doctor in after several lengthy sessions focused on depression. I can hear it in his voice. He thinks I'm delusional, that this will pass, and that any actions taken toward fulfilling my desires will be met with regret. I smile and nod as he offers his take, noting the row of homeopathic medicine displayed near his secretary's desk as I make my exit.
Later that day, Dad can sense that I'm upset, that I've been upset for a long time, and offers to talk with me. I recall Einhorn, Buffalo Bill, and the doctor, then repeatedly insist I'm fine until he leaves me alone. I know he only wants to help, but my mind is full of worst-case scenarios that end in tears for the both of us. No parent should ever know their child is a monster.
"We're a dream. We're becoming people no other people have ever been. A human that humans are not."
We Know the Devil is a visual novel that follows Neptune, Venus, and Jupiter as they attend a religious summer camp in the woods (disclosure: the game was written by Waypoint contributor Aevee Bee). Aside from the zine-esque character portraits and backgrounds stitched from unsettling photos, this game is less involved than the average visual novel, which often has the player more directly putting events into motion.
Your one point of impact is felt through the divide you create in these friends' lives. At set points throughout the game, you must choose a pair who will fix the radio or clear the greenhouse. When separated, the pair will candidly discuss topics both intimate and ludicrous, unintentionally distancing themselves from their lonesome third. At the end of each route, the teenager left out of most pairings will transform into demonic abominations, forcing her abandoned friends to murder her before moving on with their lives.
Out of the trio, Venus immediately stood out to me. Sure, Neptune's tough love and Jupiter's laid-back attitude were endearing, but whenever Venus opened his mouth, the monitor became a mirror. Venus is the skittish worrywart, the person who desperately wants to be on everybody's good side.
He gets drunk from small quantities of alcohol, turns beet-red when teased, and finds a passive-aggressive way to fight back when bullied by other campers. In truth, his skittishness is his form of defense, allowing him to distancing himself from any clear-cut stances that might upset someone (or so Neptune claims after having one too many beers). It just so happens to be the same defense I employed for years, downplaying my high-functioning autism and femininity in the hopes of fitting in.
If Venus is too frequently left behind, the devil shapes him into a being of light, with eyes and feathers covering every bit of skin. In this critical moment, Venus's pronouns change: he becomes she, a terrifying creature that threatens all of mankind. As the stakes become clearer, the narrator switches her to a dehumanizing "it," signaling a loss of humanity while her friends use their radios to end her life. Even after death, Neptune and Jupiter avoid using her true pronouns, bouncing between it and he while joking about retrieving her body from the treehouse.
This scene speaks to the immense pain I felt as a closeted trans woman for over a decade. When the media in your daily life only sees you as a joke or a threat, it becomes tiring, even fruitless to remember you have worth. Every achievement, every friend you make along the way feels hollow when the voice in your head says they'll ditch you at the first sight of your true self. You're the devil, and if you speak too freely or live too openly, the world will almost certainly cast you out. It's a lonely, guarded existence that dines on your will until you feel broken and defeated.
But We Know the Devil slyly points at a better way forward. If you game the system perfectly and give each teen an equal amount of attention, the devil hijacks God's radio signal and speaks to the trio himself. For once, he is the voice of reason. He offers them all a chance to ascend, rejecting the camp's isolationist tendencies for companionship and power.
As the girls accept, they are transformed into the same monsters that appeared in the other endings, but the narration uses loving, simple language to characterize what was once hideous. Through unity, Venus is permanently a she, and the rest of the crew marvel in their own monstrous forms. Their unity results in the destruction of the camp's order, biding their time to remake the world in their own image. The agents of the apocalypse have never been this empowering.
I came into We Know the Devil after I was already dead-set on transitioning. Persona 4's Naoto Shirogane taught me that questioning my own body was fine, while one semester of Virginia Woolf's books taught me more about trans women than my entire pre-college academic experience. More importantly, Twitter introduced me to trans developers and writers, whose daily updates rekindled my own desire to live as a woman.
But We Know the Devil isn't about finding yourself. Instead, it passes out armor for the fights ahead. We're only featured in stories on rare occasions, and the majority of trans-related plots negate our roles as human beings, even painting us as demons. To that, We Know the Devil asks, so what?
Next to friends, family, and the queer community, some hack comedian's perspective means nothing. Our feathers may disgust some third-rate comedian, but we're quite proud of them, thank you very much. Wave your Buffalo Bills, Einhorns, and any number of regressive stereotypes in our faces because we don't care what you think. However, once we're done remaking the world, you'll have to care about what we think.