And that in turn makes me happy. I was no longer really playing with Transformers by about the time Hot Rod became Rodimus Prime, and I gave up completely on even keeping track of the complex continuity of the franchise when Beast Wars was the new name of the game. But if things come full circle and my son ends up playing out his own Optimus Prime led adventures, I’d be pretty down with that.
It seemed like things were getting off to a rocky start, though, when my son kept insisting that Optimus Prime was a girl. I’ll straightaway dispense with the fact that yes, I know, it does not really matter whether or not my offspring correctly identifies the canonical gender identity of a fictional asexual machine. But of course once we get past that, all sorts of questions come up. My kids have never seen the Transformers in any media, or heard Optimus Prime’s unmistakable voice, so the little guy has only the toy itself to go on. What about it would evoke the feminine association? Is it the fact that he transforms from truck to robot, and trucks are vehicles, and vehicles (our family cars certainly included) usually get referred to as “she”? Is it the updated design of Optimus Prime’s body, which is less boxy and, to be perfectly frank, has a tiny little waist and a prominent chest?
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with female characters as playthings for boys, or even role models for boys, not in my book. I know it’s objectively inaccurate to refer to Optimus Prime as a girl, but I didn’t think it was inherently terrible for the little guy to think that. I just had to know why.
So finally I asked him point blank. And he answered with absolutely no hesitation: “Because ‘Miss’ is what you call a girl. Her name is Opta … MISS … Prime.” Well, all right then. I made a bit of a stab at really emphasizing the pronunciation of that final U and informing the little guy that Optimus is all one word that means “the best” but there’s only so many times you can say “Opti-moose” before it starts to sound exceedingly silly. So we may very well end up with a toy box full of Transgendered Transformers in our house at some point, but as long as everyone’s happy with the state of play, I can’t complain too much.