The Legend of Zelda’s beloved and iconic protagonist, Link, is tagged in more than 17,000 pieces of fanfiction on Archive of Our Own. Among those stories, more than 300 are tagged with “Trans Link,” and nearly 2,000 feature Link in a romantic relationship with Prince Sidon (or Ganondorf, for the enemies-to-lovers fans). AO3 may not be the only metric for how many Zelda fans interpret Link as gay and/or transgender, but it’s one of the biggest. This is no surprise, as fans have been speculating on Link’s gender and sexuality since at least 2009, though realistically he’s been on the minds of queer players since The Legend of Zelda was first released in Japan in 1986.
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Nintendo hasn’t outright denied rumors that Link is queer, leaving the door open for further fan interpretation. For decades, heteronormativity has forced queer people to exist on the fringes of society, including within the media we consume.
In art, it’s common to see queer-coded monsters and especially queer-coded villains, particularly because of how the Hays Code prohibited depictions of homosexuality on screen. Queerness has historically been labeled a form of depravity, and queer rights continue to be under threat today, as anti-LGBTQ legislation skyrocketed in 2022. Given this history and political climate, as well as the propensity for fans to hold fast to their theories regardless of confirmed canon, Zelda fans have come up with countless queer interpretations of the iconic character. This became especially apparent during the lead-up to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Prior to the game’s release in 2017, there were rumors that players would have the option to choose between “girl” or “boy” Link. In a 2016 interview with Time, Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma addressed these rumors after it was confirmed that Breath of the Wild would again feature a masculine Link. His responses point to seemingly intentional ambiguity around Link’s identity markers.
“Back during the Ocarina of Time days, I wanted Link to be gender neutral. I wanted the player to think ‘Maybe Link is a boy or a girl.’ If you saw Link as a guy, he’d have more of a feminine touch. Or vice versa, if you related to Link as a girl, it was with more of a masculine aspect,” Aonuma told Time. “I really wanted the designer to encompass more of a gender-neutral figure.”
“During the development of Twilight Princess, I went a different route and created a version of Link that was more masculine. But after Twilight Princess I went back to the drawing board and decided Link should be a more gender-neutral character,” Aonuma continued. “Hence I created the version of Link that you see in Breath of the Wild. As far as gender goes, Link is definitely a male, but I wanted to create a character where anybody would be able to relate to the character.”
But Link’s gender-neutral, or androgynous, design in Breath of the Wild is complicated. For example, there is a quest in which Link has to dress in drag in order to enter the desert city of Gerudo Town. Only women are allowed within the town’s walls, so to speak to its leader and get what Link needs to fight Thunderblight Ganon, Link has to present as a woman. To get the right clothes, Link has to track down “a man who snuck into Gerudo Town.” The person he meets is wearing traditional Gerudo dress, but after he confirms her identity and then literally squints at her face and body, the dialogue prompt either allows him to compliment her beauty or declare that she’s actually a man. Essentially, the quest forces Link to “clock” a trans woman, which is often what precedes anti-trans violence.
This quest fails trans Zelda fans in major ways, but much like Aonuma’s denial that Link is gay, it also presents players with an opportunity. They can choose to queer the game after completing this quest by adding more femme clothes to Link’s wardrobe, which unlock in multiple colors once you enter the town, and donning them as often as they like. Other costumes are less intentionally feminine, but there’s also a distinct absence of hyper-masculine imagery like you might see in Red Dead Redemption or even Metroid, wherein male heroes are either super muscular or tall and wiry, and their costumes emphasize their bodies.
Of course, Link’s androgyny also follows a very specific and limited interpretation of the term. In the fashion world, androgyny is often used as a label for thin, white, able-bodied, AFAB people who wear masculine clothing. However, androgyny is practiced by people of every size, race, and body type. Many people who present as androgynous, especially if they identify as nonbinary or genderqueer, argue for fashion to be ungendered. To that end, a video game character wearing a bra and trousers with a sparkly veil should be able to claim androgyny as easily as a fat model wearing a flannel shirt and short-shorts, but neither presentation should be the only definition of the term. Throughout Zelda history, Link is most often portrayed in a tunic and tights, which is apparently how Nintendo defines androgynous fashion. Breath of the Wild offers a more robust but still nebulously gendered wardrobe.
Link dressing in drag is also just one example of queerness in Breath of the Wild. Another is his very flirtatious banter with Prince Sidon, who’s widely considered to be a queer-coded character on his own. Although Link has to rescue Sidon’s sister from the Divine Beast Vah Ruta, it’s clear that there’s an emotional connection between these two men as well. Sidon calls Link his best friend and repeatedly talks about how much he believes in Link. He even carries Link to Vah Ruta on his own back, which makes it feel as if the characters are handling the first part of the boss fight together, with mutual trust and physical intimacy — even if it’s not canonically romantic.
The relationship between Sidon and Link has been explored in all kinds of fan works since the game was released, including fanfiction ranging from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of words per story, as well as mature comics and plenty of spicy fan art.
For now, the ambiguity of Link’s gender and relationships allows players to make what they will of his characterization and story. Nintendo’s androgynous designs leave room for players to choose how they identify with Link — or other potentially queer characters in the franchise, like Sheik from Ocarina of Time — and produce fan content that aligns with their views. Though Nintendo insists Link is both straight and cisgender, fans have expanded the Zelda universe with LGBTQIA+ characters and queer readings of Zelda games.
Happy Pride Month! Here is a list of indisputably queer characters in the Legend of Zelda series pic.twitter.com/xeRvLwMC6P— adam (@adamjmoussa) June 17, 2018
On May 12, Nintendo will release The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, which picks up directly after the events of Breath of the Wild. So far, footage indicates the same artistic style and open-world concept, meaning the latest version of Link gets to continue his journey… during which he’s seemingly becoming even more identifiably queer. His hair is different and almost resembles a mullet, which is a style that has become synonymous with queerness.
Even if Link is never canonically identified as gay or trans, fan content for The Legend of Zelda is everywhere, and queer fans especially seem to produce content in droves. From the thousands of fanfiction stories on AO3 to academic articles exploring queer themes in the franchise to fan art depicting Link and Prince Sidon in both wholesome and horny but decidedly romantic contexts, it’s clear that Nintendo’s opinion on the matter doesn’t much matter. For many, Link is gay or trans or both, and that’s a powerful thing that can’t be taken away.
Correction (May 22): A previous version of this story incorrectly contextualized a quote from a 2015 interview with Kotaku, in which Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma said Tingle is “not gay. He’s just an odd person.” The quote has been removed from the story.