Sure, and thanks for dropping an ask and a follow! :3 (If you just wanted to be sure to catch my answer, then it’s cool if you unfollow right after.)
Sheik being physically female is probably 100% canon in Super Smash Brothers, at least from what I heard. This is where a lot of the confusion comes from. I think a SSB game refers to Sheik as a “she” or something in a character biography of him? I don’t know, that’s just what I’ve heard. I’m not a huge fighting game fan myself so I haven’t investigated to see exactly the wording.
We should be suspect of whatever SSB says for two reasons:
- I highly suspect that this is a translation error. Japanese does not use gendered pronouns. I think it’s extremely likely that in the course of translating that text, the localization team was unsure or mistaken as to Sheik’s sex, just like the rest of us. Maybe to avoid having a transexual princess in a game rated E, they went with “she.” What they didn’t realize is that they were implicitly retconning an essential part of Sheik’s character - his androgyny - at least within the canon of the Smash Brothers games.
- Smash Brothers Melee/Brawl were made long after the original game. It is not a Zelda game. It was not made by the people who wrote the story to Ocarina of Time. Whatever it has to say about Sheik is not canon. Period. I’ll bet there are other incorrect pieces of information about other characters in that game, and people would readily admit that stuff is wrong and not canonical, and yet the same doesn’t happen with Sheik.
But as far as the actual canon of the game goes, there’s no evidence whatsoever in the original game that Sheik is female except for the basic fact that Zelda is Sheik, and Zelda is female. I encourage you and my followers to bring any other pieces of dialogue or what have you to my attention, but otherwise I am pretty certain that is it.
On the other side of the scale is a much larger set of evidence supporting the idea that Sheik is probably male.
Let’s do a run-down!
- Appearance. Sheik looks like a male. It’s true that in the game, his model is significantly skinnier than how he appears in his official art. But in either, he has narrow hips and a chest that widens into broad shoulders. In his official art in particular, you can see that he has a male body (they do this weird thing where his shawl is skin tight for some reason, I don’t get it either but that’s what we got). If you don’t look at that and see a man, I just don’t know what to say to you. At that point it’s like Freudian denial.
- Dialogue. Ruto calls Sheik a man. This is not definitive, but it does lend weight. Ruto from within the story is probably in a better position to look at and listen to him and perceive what his sex is than we are. It’s also possible evidence of intent by the game’s creators that Sheik really is male, even if they did a bad job making that clear to us visually. Also, the fact that this line is perfectly preserved in the recent OoT3D re-release tells me that it’s not a mistake.
- Visible physical inconsistencies with Princess Zelda. Sheik has dark skin and red eyes. As soon as he transforms back into Princess Zelda, she instantly has blue eyes and skin so pale I had a hard time telling where her white dress started and stopped when I was replaying OoT3D recently. The argument is that this is indisputable evidence that Zelda does have some kind of magical physical change between herself and Sheik. Breast-binding doesn’t change your eye and skin color. Moreover, Zelda apparently does not retain the physical abilities of Sheik when he transforms back into Zelda. She does not jump over the fire wall to help Link, she does not do any ninja stuff while they are escaping the collapsing castle. Her powers instantly switch completely to magic, even for the simplest of things like opening doors.
- It makes sense for her to do this in the story. Zelda was probably not safe from Ganondorf and his followers anywhere in Hyrule. Anywhere she could have stayed, she would’ve been in danger of being caught in some way. Over seven years, the likelihood of someone catching her with her disguise off, of her needing medical attention, etc, at least one time, is extremely high. With nowhere to hide and so much at stake, it makes perfect sense that she would have to undergo a more waterproof disguise than merely breast-binding or wearing a big cloak or something. I would argue that it doesn’t just make sense, but that it actually follows logically that she would have to do something more substantial.
And while your “training from Impa” bit is interesting head canon, that’s not in the game either. Are you getting that from the manga? The manga is pretty awesome; it does have its questionable parts but it’s gorgeously drawn and I love its Sheik subplot in the desert. But the manga isn’t canon either.
I think the modern day perception that Sheik must be female comes from either of two things, or maybe both: confusion between canon and Smash Brothers/the manga, and people’s desire to retcon the transexual status of Sheik out of the games for whatever purpose. Whether that’s from fanboys not wanting to feel gay when they turn Sheik into just another hentai jerk-off object, or just due to straight-up transphobia (either conscious or subconscious), I don’t know. Both of those reasons are extremely worrying, but it’s unfortunately not surprising that this is happening to Sheik’s character.
If you think about it, Sheik is probably the first positive transexual character in gaming that’s actually treated with respect. There have been others before 1998, but they’re always treated like either a) a fetishistic sex object, or b) some kind of punchline for the other characters to ridicule and be grossed-out by. Poison from Final Fight/Street Fighter comes to mind specifically as falling into both these categories.
Sheik, on the other hand, is just an important character in the story. While his transexual status is not that progressive - Zelda does it as a disguise, not as an expression of her gender identity - it’s still not played up in the way I described above, even after Zelda reveals herself as Sheik. Not even Ganondorf makes a snide comment. It’s just there - Sheik is an important character and the fact that he’s a woman in a man’s body is part of his character. Just like being a Sheikah is, or being blond, or being able to play the harp. It’s not there for the sake of making a shameless transphobic joke.
(I want to remind you though, thedafttruthseeker, that I’m not personally calling you a sexist transphobic basement-dwelling hentai addict or something by saying all this xD to be honest I’ve promised my followers a similar discussion and I’m taking advantage of your ask to finally get it done already.)
This is a very insightful summary. And frankly, I agree about Sheik’s gender. =D I’m glad someone could summarize it better than I ever could.