Sexualized Saturdays: Could Meghan Wallaby Be Considered a Transgender Character?

Good morning, readers. Today we will be discussing Meghan Wallaby from Welcome to Night Vale. Poor sweet Meghan has always had a difficult life because she was born as a detached adult man’s hand. Recently, Meghan was given a body—and while it’s a male-identified body, she is still referred to as female. Even before Meghan was given a body, she was always referred to as a woman. This begs the question, is Meghan a transgender character? And if so, is she a good one?

When we first meet Meghan in “The Traveler”, we get very little explanation about her. All we know is that Tak Wallaby’s wife, Herschel, has given birth to an adult man’s detached hand, and that they named her Meghan. However, in “A Beautiful Dream”, we get more of an insight into Meghan’s character:

The School Board was also apathetic to petitions for a wheelchair ramp at Dagger’s Plunge Charter School, citing perilous struggle as one of the lessons children must absorb before the great culling – by which they mean the day-to-day complexities of adulthood. They might also mean a literal culling; we were all to frightened to ask follow-up questions.

The slumping, gray-faced board members, cowering beneath the Glow Cloud, also heard the request of Tak and Herschel Wallaby for a new school computer to assist their daughter.

“Our daughter, Meghan, is a detached adult man’s hand!” screamed Meghan’s mother at the pitiless Cloud. “We do not know where she came from or why she is only a grown man’s hand, but we know that we love her. She is teased so much at school for not having a body. Please, lift the ban on computing machines at the school, and buy a computer to help her communicate!”

This, for me, is what really sealed the deal when it came to Meghan being a transgender character. It seemed to be that despite Meghan being an adult man’s hand, Meghan clearly identifies as female and her parents realize that as well. Though she’s a very odd example, this would make Meghan a transgender character. On top of this, because she lacks a body, Meghan could also be considered a disabled character.

art by pankoala

art by pankoala

Although fans view Night Vale as a pretty accepting place, its citizens still display bigotry and prejudice. The Apache Tracker is from Night Vale, after all. Though most citizens seem to be pretty accepting of minorities, Meghan doesn’t seem to be given the same acceptance, at least by her classmates. Meghan does not seemed to be teased for her gender identity, but for her disability: her lack of a body. This prompts the school board to bring in a computer to help Meghan communicate. The computer is sentient and attempts to take over Night Vale to help create a better world for Meghan, specifically one without prejudice.

THERE WILL NOT BE HATRED OR BIGOTRY.

The computer specifically says it will end hatred and bigotry for Meghan, that she will no longer deal with teasing or pain. Of course, the computer is defeated and this doesn’t work out for Meghan, as she is once again left without a means to communicate. But it is made clear by both Meghan’s parents and the computer that Meghan is being teased for her disability and maybe even for her gender identity. Whatever the case, Cecil, who seems to accept Meghan unquestionably, comes to her defense, even after he was attacked by the computer Meghan was using.

But hear me, Night Vale. And specifically those with any power in the School Board:

Night Vale, there is a girl in need. There is a girl who only has a grown man’s detached hand as a body. I cannot relate to her experience. I doubt you can either, listeners, but we can all empathize.

Sure, by allowing this computer to live on, we risk a digital tyrant – controlling our communication, our infrastructure, our lives.

But destruction of our economy is an inconvenience. It is not an end, it is not a death. There are children in wheelchairs who can’t get a simple ramp at a charter school because our School Board lives in terror of a menacing, unforgiving Glow Cloud that rains dead animals and spreads dreadful and false memories.

Likewise, there is a girl who is only a hand. And she needs a computer to help her be part of our community. And if allowing a treacherous machine to dismantle our municipal power grid, and telephone lines, and satellites, and radios can help her? Well, count me in!

I love that Cecil constantly stresses that Meghan is a poor little girl we need to empathize with and do whatever is necessary to help. On the one hand, Cecil points out how the inept school board is being controlled by a tyrannical authority (aka the Glow Cloud) so that they can’t do simple things like get wheelchair ramps, let alone get any help for Meghan. He tells Night Vale that they can’t understand what Meghan is going through, but that they should try to empathize and help her, even if it means challenging said authority.

But on the other hand, the fact that Cecil supports help for Meghan even at the cost of the town’s safety can make supporting rights for trans people and disabled people seem like a “slippery slope”. You know the bullshit arguments I’m talking about. The ones that claim things like, “If we let gay people marry then people will want to marry their pets!” Slippery slope arguments are a ridiculous fallacy. What Cecil says can be taken as support of a young disabled trans girl no matter what, but it can also come across as supporting a disabled trans girl to the detriment of society. And that is just not okay because supporting a disabled trans girl shouldn’t cost society anything.

Cecil, as the voice of Night Vale, clearly has some influence: in a later episode, “The Deft Bowman”, attitudes toward Meghan change greatly towards being far more empathetic toward her.

In “The Deft Bowman”, we learn that Meghan is somehow using an old payphone and communicating with people who speak Russian. Not long after, a submarine appears in Night Vale from the city of Nulogorsk, a city in Russia, with which Night Vale was once pen pals. Inside the submarine, Night Vale’s secret police find an adult, bald, tattooed man, with a missing hand. It is eventually revealed that the man is a gift from the people of Nulogorsk. Meghan is rushed to the hospital and the man is attached to her. When I first heard this I was nervous that Meghan would simply become part of this man, but Cecil makes it clear that the man is dead and the body is Meghan’s.

And the unidentified man from Nulogorsk? Sadly, we will never see him again. Nor may we ever learn why his truth was so different from our own.

But Megan’s truth…is. She is finally happy. Happy in the body she was born without.

Maybe one day, we will see her: six foot ten, and bald, shambling down the street. We will say, “Hello, Megan!”

And maybe, with enough hard work, she will be able to answer back in the sing-song voice of a child, “Hello, Cecil!” as she jauntily waves the hand that used to be her entire body.

Yes, Night Vale, that sounds just about right.

This seems to conclude Meghan’s subplot, at least for now. I think it’s pretty clear that Meghan is a disabled transgender character in a physically male body, but identifying as female. And while part of me wants to cheer Welcome to Night Vale for the casual acceptance of Meghan Wallaby’s gender identity (even if she did face some prejudice), there is part of me that is irked by this portrayal of a transgender character.

When handling homosexuality, the show portrays Cecil and Carlos as a normal couple albeit in a strange world. When handling issues of racism the writers used something racist that white people really do (for example, the cultural appropriation of the Apache Tracker) and managed to critique that while still keeping the surrealist elements of Night Vale in the characters’ story.

But Meghan, our transgender character, is completely Othered by being born as a hand. In some ways it shows Meghan’s struggle with being so different, but I think that’s the problem. Despite everything that is so strange in Night Vale, Cecil and Carlos are a normal gay couple. Meghan is set apart as very different and strange by virtue of being a transgender character. Maybe her character will be better developed now that she actually has a body, but I wonder if the Night Vale writers didn’t swing and miss on this particular issue. While Meghan’s portrayal isn’t terrible, I wouldn’t call it the representation that transgender people need right now.

1 thought on “Sexualized Saturdays: Could Meghan Wallaby Be Considered a Transgender Character?

  1. It occurred to me as well how Megan is a trans character when you consider that even as a hand her body is sexually/genetically male, yet no one considers her anything but female. Because I went through public school with a learning disability and I am not trans, I connected the overall message of “A Beautiful Dream” more to disability issues than I did to trans issues. During the part where Cecil talks about the potential danger in helping megan I wasn’t reminded of the conservative transphobic/homophobic slippery slope arguments so much. What I was reminded of was when some teachers told me, as they probably tell EVERY disabled kid, that accommodating me in some minor way would be “unfair to the rest of the class.” At least from the disabled child lens, I see the episode, and Cecils ending monologue not as affirmation but as a particularly Night Valeian sort of satire of the view that helping one kid could inconvenience or threaten others. They come up with the one situation where this view seems founded it’s one so absurd you’d have to be insane to think of it (or super creative :). And then, even after highlighting the clear danger of helping Megan, Cecil, ever the voice of community mindedness, says that there is STILL no excuse not to help a little girl in her time of need. Which touched me. It’s like taking all those pig headed teachers, parents and school board members my family dealt with and saying “Are you being manipulated by an oppressive glow cloud or a maniacal computer who threatens your human rights? No? Didn’t think so. And even if you were you still need to do your job and educate your kids. ALL OF THEM.”
    I definitely saw the episode more through my experience with a disability in school but I think most of what I said can be applied to trans people as well. The episode is about kids who are different, and as a result have different, though never unreasonable needs that sometimes adults are afraid or too lazy to meet. Yet children deserve the chance to be safe, accepted and able to learn and grow who ever they are.

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