Mapledrift takes a look at Nightheart through a transgender lens.
In the newest arc of warriors, Nightheart is likely the protagonist that people have the most mixed opinions on, with some loving him but many more finding him annoying and generally an insufferable protagonist. For this article, I intend to take a look at him in a different way. From the perspective of a trans person (as I am transgender and genderfluid), a lot of Nightheart’s story and dynamics tend to read as similar to my own experiences. This isn’t a unique view- many youtubers have picked up that Nightheart can be easily understood as transgender, and in this article I’m going to delve into why. I have also only read the first 2 books of this arc- with minimal knowledge of the third, so please bear this in mind when reading!!
A few points to begin with. Firstly, in case you aren’t aware, transgender means that you identify as a gender that is different to the one that you were assigned at birth. In the case of Nightheart, I believe that he most closely fits with the experience of a trans woman, someone who is assigned male at birth but later realises that being a woman better describes them. Secondly, throughout this article I will refer to Nightheart with that name, and he/him pronouns regardless of my views on what he would identify as if warrior cats featured more LGBT characters. This is just for ease of understanding throughout the article, even though I think he would use she/her pronouns! A warning for this article,I may bring in my own experiences as a trans person at times, so trigger warning for mentions of real life transphobia if this is something uncomfortable for you. Finally, I will make one note on the debate on whether warrior cats could be trans. Many people say that there’s no way these characters could be trans, however medical transition is not at all necessary for trans people, and social transitioning (changing name, pronouns, etc) would be entirely possible in the world of warrior cats. In a world where cats have complex religion, family structures, mental illnesses and even experience some gender based biases (she-cats with kits becoming leaders), there is no reason why cats could not experience gender dysphoria or question their identity.
Now that is out of the way, let’s get into why Nightheart reads as a trans character to many!
Names are an important part of trans experience, many of you may know me as Ezra on the Blog, and this is actually my chosen name in real life as well! Nightheart has a similar experience with names to many trans people, he believed that his original name Flamepaw didn’t at all represent him as a person. We’ll talk more later about what the legacy of Firestar represents for Nightheart, however the very action of changing his name to be more comfortable in his own existence is relatable to a lot of trans people already.
Not only this, Nightheart’s name holds even greater meaning in relation to his gender identity. A key scene in relation to his name is when he sees Nightcloud from WindClan and laments about how much her name fits her- later gaining the same prefix as her. Whilst the Night prefix is clearly not gendered at all in warrior cats, desiring a similar name to a she-cat because of how well it represents her mirrors the experiences of trans people who want to change their name to one that better represents their gender. Nightheart’s idolisation of how well Nightcloud’s name fits her, and his general respect and admiration towards her can easily be interpreted as his subconscious envy of her living her life as a she-cat. I don’t believe that Nightheart is aware at all that these feelings are related to gender- however that doesn’t change that there could be feelings there. From my own experience, I used to be jealous of the way that nonbinary people would look, and how cool their names were, without even realising that this feeling was because I was unhappy with my own gender identity and name.
Whilst I’ll go more into the reactions of other cats to Nightheart’s name change later, the very fact that he struggled to change his name, and was still forced into a suffix that he really didn’t want is again something that trans people can relate to. Often you are forced to maintain ties to your old name through legal documents or family members who are unaware, so this inability to have complete control over his name feels again very much of a trans experience.
On top of all of this, there is clear discomfort every time he is referred to as his old name- with Sunbeam being confused when he corrects her after she calls him Flamepaw. He treats Flamepaw/Flameheart very similarly to how trans people would respond to a deadname, with discomfort and occasional anger. There is one point in the books where Nightheart has to insist that his “real name” is Nightheart, rather than Flameheart, after Myrtlebloom pushes the fact that he should request his “real name” back.
The name change also comes at a pivotal moment in Nightheart’s life, and for myself and many other trans people this is similar to our own stories. I changed my name as I moved from secondary school to college, and Nightheart changed his as he grew up to become a warrior. Big life shifts often motivate or push forward a change in your identity that you might’ve otherwise hidden, and this is seen in Nightheart’s request to change his name at his warriors ceremony.
Firestar’s legacy is a huge part of Nightheart’s discomfort in River, he despises being compared to Firestar and wishes to be seen as his own person. When viewing Nightheart as a trans allegory, the use of Firestar as a male figure who is pushed upon him as a role model is representative of how trans people often feel guilt over not fulfilling a gendered role such as a father, brother or son.
To Nightheart, Firestar represents being trapped with expectations he knows he will never be able to meet- everyone sees Firestar in him but he can’t see it no matter how hard he tries. He desperately wants to be seen as his own person separate from Firestar, and to me this feels as if he wants to escape the gendered ideas that are pushed onto him by this legacy.
The name Flamepaw doesn’t only represent someone who he isn’t, but it is a tie to a masculine figure who everyone wants him to be. A name that isn’t typically gendered has become gendered for Nightheart because of these associations with Firestar, and I believe that’s one of the reasons why he is so adamant that he wants his name to be changed.
Everyone’s insistence that Nightheart should be acting more like Firestar feels similar to how trans people are told to act like their assigned gender at birth. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been told to dress or present more feminine for the comfort of others- and Nightheart is constantly pestered to be less like himself and more like Firestar. Shedding the name and legacy of Firestar is a chance for Nightheart to finally be his own person.
Whilst this is a less of a major point, many trans people find themselves engaging with politics because it so directly impacts their rights and livelihoods especially in the modern climate. In the first book of ASC especially, Nightheart is seen to engage in a lot of political discussion or inner monologues, critiquing the system of leadership in the clans, and bringing up the concept of a democracy rather than a leader that the whole clan has no say over.
He is engaged with discussion of cats moving from clan to clan, and generally takes a lot more interest in clan politics than many other characters we have seen as of yet in the series. He is less comfortable with the status quo of society than most warrior cats characters, which is relatable to me as a trans person.
Many trans people will find themselves frustrated with elements of society that others seem to overlook, and Nightheart clearly does the same in the world of warrior cats- whilst not specific to the oppression of trans people a clear notable characteristic of him is his questioning of authority.
I can’t comment too much on this area as I’m not fully up to date with the books! However, to make a very brief comment on Nightheart moving clans, it can very easily be interpreted as Nightheart trying to find a community who doesn’t know him by his previous name, and trying to find some sort of found family.
From my own experience, recently moving to uni and not being known by my deadname anymore has been an incredibly freeing experience, and I imagine Nightheart moving to ShadowClan holds similar feelings of relief- having escaped a clan who clearly didn’t want him to change his name.
Even though Sparkpelt does eventually accept his name change, I find it a very realistic reaction that Nightheart is not entirely able to forgive his clan for their gut reaction to his shift in name being widespread rejection. Regardless of the progress that has been made, the hurt is still there, and I know I have dealt with this in my own life being trans, sometimes the progress comes too late, and removing yourself from the situation is the only option.
Reactions from the Clan
The reactions from ThunderClan to Nightheart changing his name are one of the main parts of the books where I find him relatable to the trans experience. The responses he receives are so incredibly close to how real life transphobia plays out, that it hit close to home and was hard to read at times as a trans person with an unaccepting family. Biggest trigger warning for mentions of transphobia in this section.
One way that people tend to react negatively to trans people changing their name is by turning the focus onto them and away from the trans person. There’s a general insistence that they as the family are struggling more than the trans person who has gone through dysphoria and difficulties to change their name- even though in most cases this is entirely untrue. This happens to Nightheart, when his mother Sparkpelt insists that his name change is “disrespectful”, and that it “breaks [her] heart” to hear him change his name. Some of these things are almost word for word things that I and other trans people I know have been told by family members around changing names, so this is definitely relatable to the trans experience.
There are multiple moments throughout the books where Nightheart thinks to himself about how much he wishes the clans could just accept him for the way he is, again a sentiment that is shared with trans people in real life- a desperate want for acceptance above all else. Whilst he eventually does get acceptance from Sparkpelt, with her saying “I see you, Nightheart”, the stress of his name change and struggling to be accepted is incredibly clear.
This whole scene of Sparkpelt accepting him is touching to read as a trans person myself. It represents the feeling of relief when someone finally accepts you, and the struggle that trans people often have to go through before getting any sort of acknowledgement from the people closest to them. I related heavily to Nightheart’s struggles with his mother accepting him, and I have heard other trans people say similar things as well.
Myrtlebloom’s request that Nightheart ask Bramblestar to change his name back to his “real name” is another example of how trans people are often treated as if their chosen names aren’t their real names. It’s a common question that trans people may be asked- “what is your real name?”, so this inclusion in the books yet again makes Nightheart read as a transgender character. He directly follows up this comment from Myrtlebloom with the statement that “No cat gets to decide what kind of warrior I am”- so much of Nightheart’s story in the first two books focuses on his efforts to live his life as who he wants to be, and be true to himself. These themes are relatable to many trans people who have to fight to be themselves, just like Nightheart does throughout River and Sky.
Struggles as a warrior
Nightheart’s struggles as a warrior and consequent lashing out at cats close to him can also be interpreted as representing a trans person’s story. Many trans people may find it difficult to fit in with school environments, and as a result of this their mental health can suffer, and this seems to be what Nightheart is experiencing. He’s constantly angry at those around him for reasons he can’t entirely place, and struggles to focus on his studies. He tries to fit the box that he thinks his clan wants him to fill, for example trying more technically difficult hunting techniques in his warriors assessment, but fails over and over again because it just isn’t right for him. Personally, I found myself becoming more irritable and struggling with school as gender issues occupied my mind so this was incredibly close to home for me.
He is frustrated through his apprenticeship and is one of the latest warrior ceremonies that we are aware of- with his ceremony being specifically delayed multiple times due to his failures. Whilst not a trans exclusive experience I do think it is something to note about Nightheart’s character in general. He falls behind his peers which leads to him feeling further out of place in his clan. He doesn’t feel comfortable calling ThunderClan home for a variety of reasons, and this discomfort in the place that should be your home, and the role you’re expected to fill is something that many trans people experience in their lives.
Overall, I believe that Nightheart’s story is incredibly relatable to trans people, and appears to be somewhat of a trans allegory. I don’t think he is trans-coded as a character, as it is definitely not purposeful on the part of the Erin Hunter team (unless we are later given confirmation otherwise) however this doesn’t mean that the unintentional subtext is not present. Many people, trans and not, agree that Nightheart’s story is in line with the experiences of trans people in real life and whilst he is not necessarily the most likeable character- being somewhat of an unreliable narrator and general impulsive and brash- he is clearly a source of comfort and relatable for trans people who see themselves in his struggles. From my own perspective a lot of what he went to hit close to home for me, and I found certain parts of Sky a difficult read for this very reason. Nightheart is a character close to my heart because of this, and I think it’s incredibly fascinating to look into how many elements of his character can be interpreted as a trans narrative, even when the authors didn’t intend it.