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Zelda fans debate Sheik's gender, but here's Nintendo's final word

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Shiek's gender identity is a surprisingly hot debate among Nintendo fans. But now the definitive word has come from the company behind Zelda.

Is Sheik — the mysterious character first introduced in The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time — a man or a woman? The debate has begun again after Nintendo's reveal that Sheik will be a playable character in the upcoming Hyrule Warriors.

This is easy stuff, right? Sheik is Princess Zelda wearing traditionally male clothing. Zelda considers herself a woman. Sheik is a woman. Case closed. For reference, and so we get this right, the GLAAD media reference guide defines cross-dressing like so: "To occasionally wear clothes traditionally associated with people of the other sex. Cross-dressers are usually comfortable with the sex they were assigned at birth and do not wish to change it."

Ocarina of Time speed runner Cosmo Wright has played thousands of hours of the game. He summed up the situation: "[Sheik's gender] is indeed a debate, although most people who know the plot of the game refer to Sheik as 'she' because they know it is Zelda in disguise," he told me in an email.

It's not as simple for other fans.

Cosplayer Takerucoh sees things very differently. "Personally, I choose to believe that the original Ocarina of Time Sheik (as opposed to the female Brawl Sheik) is Zelda transformed into a male," he said.

"It is already established that Zelda uses magic... so in my mind, it's really not a big leap to believe that she really just turned into a different person," he continued. It's a matter of personal taste, to a degree. "Ultimately, I choose to believe Sheik is a guy because it just sounds more magical to me," he said.

Fluidity in practice

The Zelda games take place in a fantasy universe... physical transformations are the norm

There are two major camps — those that stick to the apparent narrative of Ocarina, and those that contend that a magical transformation has taken place. The Zelda games take place in a fantasy universe after all, full of ghosts and monsters. Physical transformations are the norm in this reality, where putting on a mask transforms Link into another kind of creature at will. And imagining gender fluidity in a magical universe could be a powerful thing for people who are themselves non-binary, gender fluid, or otherwise gender non-conforming. That could be powerful for anyone who enjoys fantasy, and the freedoms associated.

No matter their own identity, it's clear that Zelda fans love to talk about Sheik. The debate is out there, on YouTube, on forums and fan sites, with scores of fans trying to find clues as to Sheik's gender identity.

In this video, for example, YouTube user Microraptorgui reasons that because the voice sample used for a Gerudo warrior (all of whom are women) is the same as the sample used for Sheik, Sheik must be a woman.

Nintendo's stance

We asked Nintendo if there was an official word on this, and they answered the call. Nintendo's official line, quoted from Nintendo senior product marketing manager Bill Trinen, is this: "The definitive answer is that Sheik is a woman — simply Zelda in a different outfit."