Why Gender-Swapped Dream Daddy Art Bothers Me as a Trans Person

By Laura Kate Dale on at

Since its release last month, Dream Daddy has received widespread praise from critics and players alike for its overwhelmingly positive portrayals of homosexuality in a light-hearted setting. The game presents a wide variety of well-developed gay men to date, a robust series of casually-introduced options to flesh out background sexuality, and a set of character customisation options that allow a pretty wide range of gay gamers to accurately represent themselves in game.

One of the biggest positive surprises about Dream Daddy was how casually and tastefully it handled its depictions of transgender men. Dream Daddy's character creator allows you to play as a transgender dad who wears a binder on his upper chest (a fabric garment meant to compress and reduce the appearance of breast tissue). Dream Daddy doesn't use that decision to force "woe is me, being trans is difficult" subplots into the dating narrative. Your playable trans dad can be trans, and that's all there is to it. He's still a dad, just cruising the gay dating scene, like any other dream dad.

On top of that, another dateable dad is also canonically transgender. Mild spoilers for one dating route in Dream Daddy lie ahead.

Damien — who we'll call Vampire Dad due to his fangtastic fashion sense — is a trans man. In-game the only reference to this is his mentioning that, as part of his morning routine, he has to put on a binder. While some initially tried to argue that this interpretation of the character was incorrect, Dream Daddy co-creator Leighton Gray confirmed on Twitter that the intention was for the character to be read as canonically trans.

And that was it. No stereotyped storylines, Dream Daddy's trans characters are hot dads just like the non-trans hot dads, and that nonchalant attitude is refreshing to see.

Unfortunately, a little after the release of Dream Daddy, tensions began to become heated between transgender fans of the title, and a particularly notable (and talented) fan artist named OhNips.

Here's the short version; OhNips created a full set of gender-swapped fan art of the datable dads from Dream Daddy. In a tweet titled Dream MILF, the intention of the artwork was clearly to take the designs and archetypes of the Dream Daddy cast and imagine a mirror world dating sim about dating hot mums. It's not uncommon for this kind of art to crop up shortly after the launch of a dating sim, but the fact that the art included a gender-swapped version of Damien rubbed many transgender people, myself included, the wrong way.

The responses that OhNips received after posting the artwork, unfortunately, very quickly became toxic. I condemn such harassment, and anyone whose response to art is attack or death threats needs to step away from their browser. Now that the immediate heat has passed, however, I still find the art bothers me, and perhaps my thinking illuminates why it received such a backlash.

Transgender people in real life still have to fight hard to have their gender identity taken seriously or respected. Our rights to access essential services are routinely put up for debate, we are often deliberately targeted by attempts to discredit our legally or socially recognised lives, and all-too-often we're treated as the gender we were assigned at birth. Trans rights today are still a civil rights battleground, and for most of us casual dismissal of our gender is commonplace.

This is why the fan art touched a nerve. The intent was innocent, a desire to gender-swap a full cast rather than targeting one particular character, but it hit home for many precisely because it was so casual. A trans person's gender is something they have to fight for in the real world, and so gender-swapped fan art of a trans character's hard-won identity brings that lack of respect into the virtual world.

It's something that clearly didn't occur to the artist but, shortly after the furore, OhNips did issue an apology. I can only respect their willingness to take on broader criticisms of the artwork.

Artists can create whatever they want, but those works never exist in a vacuum. The context of trans people having to fight for their gender to be recognised means that, naturally, many will find gender-swapped art of a trans character offensive because of what it implies. It's great that, on this occasion at least, the artist was open to the views of others. And hopefully now we can all get back to playing: after all, those dads won't date themselves.