I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, and this week seemed like a golden opportunity because the second Wachowski sibling of the famed Hollywood pair came out as transgender. The Matrix is a movie near and dear to my teen-in-the-90’s heart. It’s the kind of gritty cyberpunk that I adore with deep-layered messages that people are still sorting out nearly fifteen years later, myself included.
I’m not just here to talk about how awesome the Matrix is though, I’m here to talk about one of the secondary characters, and a rumor about the original casting idea for that character that I just became aware of last year. I tried to do my due diligence on confirming this, and while I couldn’t find any place where the writers specifically said this was true, I also couldn’t find any place where it was confirmed to be false. So, with that caveat as to the questionable nature of this tidbit, onward we go. I guess I should also say that there will be spoilers ahead, but honestly if you haven’t seen the Matrix yet you’re probably not going to.
This casting bombshell involves the secondary character named Switch. In the movie, she doesn’t get much screen time or much character development, and I always thought that was a shame, because she was visually one of my favorite parts of the movie, the sole character wearing white in a world dominated by black leather. There has to be an interesting story there just waiting to be told. The rumor goes that originally Switch was to be portrayed as two people: in the real world Switch was to be a man, and in the Matrix Switch was to be a woman. Sometime in production it was decided that Switch should be a woman full-time because otherwise it might be confusing to the audience. For the rest of this post I’m going to use ‘they’ as the pronoun for Switch because I don’t know what the Wachowskis would have done had the character gone on to be what they originally envisioned.
When I first heard this about a year ago, I thought it was interesting, but not much else. And then after I thought about it a while I realized that this one thing, if it had been allowed to happen, might have brought questions about gender identity into our collective consciousness so much earlier. It would have blown minds. What a marvelous thing that might have been for the world. Unfortunately, the Wachowskis allowed someone to change their minds about the character and their vision for their world, so those questions had to wait a few more years. So I guess if I have one message to convey in all of this, don’t let anyone tell you who your characters should be even if they have very good reasons. (And undoubtedly Switch would have been confusing as a man and a woman at the time, but also so important.) Trust your instinct, and your story.
Beyond gender identity, I think there’s an important point about the movie and the world of the Matrix itself that would have been hugely helped by letting this character be as they were intended to be: residual self image. It always bothered me that they made this big deal about residual self image and really all of the characters looked pretty much the same in and out of the Matrix, with the exception of being cleaner and better groomed while in the program. That one point would have been more powerful by allowing this one character to be obviously different in and out of the Matrix. Who you are in the waking world isn’t necessarily who you are in the Matrix, or who you are inside. The worldbuilding of the Matrix would have been so much improved by simply allowing Switch to be who they were always supposed to be. Ah, well. Missed opportunities and all that.
Now, does anyone else have the sudden urge to write some Switch fanfic?
Hearts and puppies,