Trans The Last of Us II actor addresses his character’s in-game deadnaming, and other controversies

Ed Nightingale June 29, 2021
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The Last of Us Part II

The Last of Us Part II. (Sony)

While the award-winning The Last of Us Part II has been praised for its LGBT+ representation, controversy remains around the portrayal of one trans character.

Lev is a young trans teen escaping from a religious cult after he refused to become the wife of an ‘Elder’. He shaved his head, an act reserved for men only. This brazen act of defiance causes outrage among the community, forcing Lev to flee for his life.

Since its release, the game has been criticised for depicting Lev’s experience through a cisgender lens and for frequently deadnaming him.

However, in a new interview with Lev’s voice actor Ian Alexander in Wired, Alexander addresses this controversy directly. 

“I completely understand a lot of people’s frustrations,” said Alexander. “Obviously, the writers have the best intentions and wanted to bring authentic representation, and they might have missed the mark a little bit with that.”

Following the deadnaming, there’s also a scene where Lev invites questions on his gender from player character Abby.

“I felt like it was really important, not only for myself as a trans person to see that scene but also for cis allies to see that scene and realise this is the way that a discussion surrounding someone’s gender should be,” said Alexander. 

“It should always be their decision. They make the first move. They have agency over talking about it, because it is something that’s really deeply personal and can be very triggering to talk about.”

The interview also explores the authentic depiction of Lev in The Last of Us Part II and how it mirrors Alexander’s own experience of being raised by strict Mormon parents. 

“I grew up in a very sheltered and religious environment, so I didn’t really meet other LGBTQ people that I could see myself in,” he said, mirroring the xenophobia experienced by Lev.

Ian Alexander
Ian Alexander. (Tracy Nguyen)

It was gaming that helped Alexander discover his identity, specifically playing Minecraft

“It was a lot easier for me, I think, to type out, ‘My name is Ian. Please use he/him pronouns’ than to say it out loud to somebody to their face,” he said. “It gave me a bit of a safe space to cultivate that confidence, and just advocating for myself and coming out.”

It’s been a year since the release of The Last Of Us Part II, but for Alexander looking back is bittersweet as the past can trigger dysphoria.

Towards the end of his work on the game he began hormone treatment, with support from his fellow actors.

“I could see the light in everyone’s eyes when I told them about it, because everyone was really just rooting for me and just really wanted me to be happy,” he said. “Just knowing that I would have a future where I would be happy—that’s what drove me forward—knowing I was going to start on testosterone kind of kept me going.”

What’s more, working on the game has given him confidence in his trans identity.

“With every role I have, with every interview I do, with every fan I speak with, all of those things do help me heal my self-confidence,” he said. “I can be a successful trans person, and I can have a happy, beautiful life, and I do deserve this, and I don’t have to doubt myself.”

The Last of Us Part II is available on PlayStation 5 with a 60fps patch, plus a sequel is already in the works that may include Lev.

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Related topics: gaming, LGBT gaming

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