I am Here Because of Her: Trinity and Me
On The Matrix, womxnhood, and the tomboy trope
Call me a romantic, but I think stories are magical. It’s an aspect that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom — learning through fiction. By projecting onto characters in made-up scenarios, we learn about ourselves. So naturally, we find characters that we cling to. It’s a stronger bond than simply finding enjoyment in watching their story unfold over the course of a runtime. There’s something about their journey or essence that makes your brain go, “This one’s special.” For some characters, that quality is apparent. But for others, it’s a mystery. Those characters, the alien yet familiar entities that act as splinters in your young brain, are usually the important ones.
Generally speaking, The Matrix changed cinema forever. The film, written and directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski, tackles themes of identity, systems of oppression, and control within the science-fiction genre. We follow Neo (Keanu Reeves), who discovers he’s living in a computer simulation and embarks on a journey of self-discovery while also saving the world. The film, by all critical analysis, is a masterpiece. It’s composed of exquisite world-building, mind-bending action set pieces, virtuoso direction, and above all else, characters that the audience treasures by the time the credits roll.
However, the character who broke away from the film and established their own legacy is not our protagonist; it is Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), the ally and lover who, ironically, was one of those extraordinary characters I knew was special but could never explain why.
I saw The Matrix somewhere between the ages of ten and twelve through my dad who raised my brother and I on science fiction, admittedly a problematic genre for women who are easily sexualized and stereotyped as damsels in distress. Yet somehow, it also serves as the home to the most influential heroines in modern cinema. My brother and I grew up playing with lightsabers roleplaying as Luke and Leia. When I was eight, I saw The Terminator and declared Sarah Connor my favorite character. Later, I met Ellen Ripley, the heroine of all heroines. Most of the time, women in science fiction are sexy young ingenues in skin-tight unitards that are saved by the male hero. But once a decade, they change the world.
I knew Trinity was going to join the ‘Mount Rushmore of Women in Science Fiction’ from the first shot, but I wouldn’t fully understand her impact on me for another decade as I gained the experience and vocabulary to express these feelings. Or until I revisited the trilogy in my twenties in preparation for the fourth installment, The Matrix Resurrections. Where, to my surprise, it was apparent that director/writer Lana Wachowski was aware of Trinity’s influence. Resurrections revolves around Neo and a new cast attempting to liberate Trinity from a new Matrix, but Wachowski makes Trinity’s legacy apparent when crew member Lexy (Eréndira Ibarra) tells Neo, “I am here because of her,” referring to Trinity, before the rescue mission. That line hit me like a sledgehammer. My heart jumped into my throat. A uncontrollable sound escaped my mouth on an impulsive inhalation. Suddenly, it all made sense.
When I first encountered The Matrix, at late elementary school age, I was becoming aware that the way I expressed myself externally, which was more masculine in comparison to my female peers, was not going to be a phase. I hated dresses and loathed the color pink. I preferred to wear a black jumpsuit or romper to formal events which made shopping an anxiety-ridden experience. I favored combat boots, wore basketball shorts in the summer, and was overall a little rougher around the edges. I was what people called a “tomboy” and knew that wasn’t going to change. I was never going to be fully comfortable in a pink dress with high heels. Which made me nervous about my future. How would I be perceived as a teenager, and then adult, who didn’t fully fit the “feminine mold?” It was a scary thought.
Then I met Trinity. She’s the second voice the audience hears and the first full face we see within the film. The opening scene of The Matrix has been analyzed over and over again, but it’s important to note that for the first five minutes, Trinity is the star and it’s Trinity who the Wachowskis use to introduce us to their world. The scene doesn’t give its audience any answers, just a lot of questions. We see police officers barge in on a woman in a vacant building. She beats them up, escapes, and manages to even stop time and alter reality to her advantage (what would later be termed ‘bullet time’). Like everyone else, the sequence blew my mind, but maybe for a different reason. By the end of the scene, where Trinity disappears into a phone booth, most people were asking “Who is Neo?” and “What is going on?” I, on the other hand, was wondering, Who is Trinity? How did she do that? and When will I see her again?
I didn’t have the words then to describe what I experienced in watching Trinity. It was different from the sheer awe of watching Leia save the galaxy or Sarah blow up Terminators. I knew she was cool, but there was something else and I could never explain what “it” was. Now, the emotion is obvious.
The Matrix is composed of a multitude of ideas, but most of them are rooted in identity. And frankly enough, this was the first time I engaged with a character like Trinity. In the Matrix, she’s dressed in head-to-toe PVC with her black pixie cut slicked back. While in the real world, opts for pants and an oversized sweater, minimal make-up, and tucks her short hair behind her ears. Her fierce blue eyes are attentive and constantly analyzing her surroundings. There is an equal amount of sharpness and softness to her. Neither one overpowers the other. Trinity is androgynous and, most importantly, is completely confident in said androgyny.
I am here because of her.
Throughout the saga, Trinity knows where she stands on the gender spectrum, where her masculine and feminine selves are balanced. She is completely comfortable with her gender expression in both the Matrix and the real world, and it is never a point of contention. If at all, it’s mentioned once that Neo thought Trinity was a man where she replies, “Most guys do.” But Trinity’s expression is never a plot point. Whereas with most tomboys in cinema, their gender expression is their dominant character trait and an integral part of their journey. Like Allison in The Breakfast Club and Gracie in Miss Congeniality, who only get to be happy (and therefore attract a man) after they undergo a transformative makeover. Or Jo in Little Women who, after stating she doesn’t want to be married for her entire story, ends up married. This states that even though the tomboy is outwardly strong, she’s an anomaly. It presents her at the fundamental level as different or wrong where ultimately her story ends with her being “fixed,” reverting to heteronormative ideas of what a girl or woman should be. Which was a jarring message for young girls like myself. These characters were admired for their independence but then ridiculed for “being unladylike.” They were simultaneously celebrated and criticized for the same characteristics. These mixed messages, for a ten-year-old, were confusing.
This isn’t the case with Trinity. First off, she’s in her thirties which allows her to escape the trope that her expression is a phase that she’ll grow out of (She’s the Man’s Viola, My Girl’s Vada, The Bad News Bears’ Amanda). But most notably: Trinity’s gender expression never changes. It’s not her defining characteristic, it’s just one aspect of her character. No one states that she looks weird, wrong, or “not like a girl.” Which to me, was everything. This absent conversation speaks volumes, and her actions speak louder: Trinity maintains her sexuality, is never sexualized, and has her own journey of self-discovery; embracing her vulnerability, her love for Neo. A groundbreaking lesson in its own right since most “tough girls” in cinema are usually stripped of all their femininity. They’re only allowed to be strong, threatening, and powerful. All stereotypical “masculine” traits as the “feminine” ones are erased. It’s as if those filmmakers were stating that a “strong woman” couldn’t be feminine and feminine women weren’t capable. It’s an enormous fault within the tomboy trope, dividing women into two categories: those who embrace the stereotypical female attributes and those who reject them (and claiming one to be superior over the other, further reinforcing misogynistic sentiments).
Growing up surrounded by this concept was…interesting. The 1990s and 2000s were the height of gender constrictions. Then, female characters were divided into two categories: the tomboy and the girlie girl, where you were either one or the other. The sporty one or the glitzy one. The troublemaker or the honor student. One of the boys, or the one obsessed with boys. Basically, Mary-Kate or Ashely. And while I identified as a Mary-Kate, I was truthfully somewhere in the middle. I played with dolls and loved theater, but never understood make-up, thought dirt bikes were cool, and wanted to play the drums. I never wanted to be a boy but thought I was massively failing girlhood. I strongly rejected the idea of what I was being told a woman was because I didn’t identify with that image. But most importantly, I hated the pressure of permanently picking a side.
What makes Trinity stand out is the fact that she’s portrayed with equal amounts of strength and vulnerability, balancing her masculine and feminine halves. This is apparent even within the opening sequence. Midway through her escape, she leaps into the air, breaking through a window and landing on her back with a gun in each hand ready to fire. She remains still and stares at the shattered window. Nothing happens. She’s got more of a lead than she thought. Still staring, she bites her lip and mumbles, “Get up Trinity. Just get up,” The body refuses. The mind tries again, but with more power. “Get. Up.” She does.
Trinity’s frozen. She’s scared. She’s vulnerable. But Trinity gets up. She’s strong. At the same moment, she is both vulnerable and strong, both traits working together to create a full human. She isn’t either-or. She is both.
I am here because of her.
Unlike most tomboys in cinema, Trinity doesn’t reject her femininity, she embraces it, which is something I never saw a tomboy or tough girl in cinema do. Additionally, no outside societal force or gaze has any hold on her. The Wachowskis already knew that gender was fluid and not two isolated, unconnected categories, but forces that are meant to work together. Trinity wears pants, but also wears a dress. She’s aloof and matter-of-fact but also displays her emotions. Most importantly, she doesn’t have to choose a category. She is just Trinity and is never punished for being Trinity. And that rocked my world.
The success of a character always stems from its creators, in this case, the Wachowskis, but it’s also equally due to Carrie-Anne Moss’s portrayal. Her innate fierceness and openness allow Trinity to escape the binary that so many tough girls get put into. Often, Moss credits the character’s success solely to her directors, demoting herself to a “hired gun” and admits to not being able to see Trinity’s impact. Which must be daunting, acknowledging that you had a positive impact on how your gender was portrayed in cinema forever (which can result in a rejection of a hero-like title). But it’s the combination of the Wachowskis and Moss that created Trinity. Moss’s stoic strength, stealth physicality, and assertive sincerity are some of the numerous aspects that make Trinity Trinity. She is just as strong as she is afraid — an aggressive warrior who realizes her ability to love is her superpower. She gets knocked down, but her faith and will to get back up is what makes her a hero.
Of course, it’s important to state that The Matrix is a trans-allegory and means a great deal to the transgender and non-binary communities. Both Neo and Trinity confide in the same area on the gender scale and are two parts of a whole. Therefore, what these characters mean to transgender and non-binary individuals is much more profound than what Trinity means to me. I never felt that I was in the wrong body, but there were aspects of girlhood that made me extremely uncomfortable, and the idea of being either a tomboy or a girly girl was confusing. My mom would beg me to get my nails done with no success, and I always felt horrible about not living up to her expectations of what a daughter should be. In my teens, I became painfully aware of the tight societal link between gender expression and sexuality, which just made people more confused. Not to mention the times when I would wear something overtly feminine and receive a thunderous wave of acclaim, which always left a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. Why did I have to undergo a Breakfast Club type transformation in order to be taken seriously and seen as beautiful? Why was one presentation valued over the other? Why did I feel like I had to maintain a level of femininity to be accepted?
But I never conformed. I eventually found my own edgy style (as my mom would describe it) and didn’t let those comments dictate how I presented myself. In all that noise, which was, subconsciously, pressuring me to be more feminine, I stayed true to myself. I knew who I was and who I wasn’t, and was comfortable in the former. I found my balance; I found trinity.
I am here because of her.
Looking back, watching Trinity be comfortable in her own skin, save the world, and get the guy without changing anything about herself allowed little me to exhale. It was the right character in the right story at the right time. As soon as I was starting to worry about my gender expression, Trinity came into my life providing proof that nothing was wrong with me. It was as if Lana, Lilly, and Carrie-Anne, through Trinity, were telling me that it was okay. It was okay to not want to wear the dress and get the combat boots instead. It was okay to tell my mom I didn’t like nail polish. It was all okay and I wasn’t any less of a girl or woman because of this. Why? Because Trinity was doing it and she was more than okay — she was the hero. It’s only natural that her name is Trinity, a word that embodies balance and alignment in order to achieve the Divine Being. It’s expected to think of the Christian notion of the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” but it’s also the equilibrium of the mind, body, and soul. The concept of one’s inside matching their outside and the freedom that comes with that achievement. That is when we are at our most powerful: when all parts of our entity are in harmony with each other. That is Trinity (it’s also ironic that three women are the creators of Trinity).
Some days, I still find myself questioning my place in the world as a woman who has more masculine energy than feminine. Recently, I recolored my hair which results in blowing out my natural curls. It was the first time in months my hair had passed my shoulders and I immediately received compliments about how beautiful I looked with long hair — a physical characteristic I used to stress about not having. I have vivid memories crying to my mother about how much I hated my hair because it was short, curly, and made me “look like a boy.” Which is comical because now, I resent having long hair. There’s too much of it, it’s in the way and I don’t recognize myself. Suddenly, I’m having a similar thought Trinity has in Resurrections where she’s unsure as to why she had children.
“I remember wanting a family, but was that because that’s what women are supposed to want? How do you know if you want something yourself or if your upbringing programmed you to want it?”
It’s an obvious critique of society’s pressure on women to have children in order to be deemed “successful women of society.” As well as its patriarchal tendency to be overpopulated with regulations pertaining to what women should and should not do. And here I am fighting a strong urge to cut my hair (despite being fully aware that it’ll shrink back to its natural state once I wash it) and distracting myself with questions. Did I want long hair because I actively wanted it, or was it what society told me I should want? Did I want long hair to be more accepted as a girl?
Enough stalling, ask the real question, Did I ever have the opportunity to form an opinion about this aspect of my body? Was there ever a spoon? Suddenly, I’m just as lost as Neo, looking to Trinity for guidance once again.
“The Matrix cannot tell you who you are.”
Not only did Trinity move the needle when it came to female heroines in cinema — a monumental reason we had characters like Lara Croft, Black Widow, and more helm their own films and female-centric stories like Kill Bill, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Everything Everywhere All at Once– she also opened the conversation to the different types of womxn that exist in the world. Today, the tomboy character is fizzling out in favor of gender nonconforming characters who express themselves outside of strictly boy or girl. As for individuals who do identify as female, we’re starting to see a wide range of female expression in character. Why? Because women aren’t either the girly girl or the tough girl, we’re also in-between. We’re also both and we’re also neither. And we’re all just as much of a woman as the next. Everyone’s sense of self is at different points on the gender spectrum, but it’s when we find our individual point of balance that we become the most powerful, which is exactly what Trinity embodies. It’s no coincidence that Resurrections begins with Bugs (Jessica Henwick) watching a reenactment of the original opening scene. It’s no mistake that most of the physical callbacks in the fourth installment stem from Trinity. In addition, both Bugs and Neo run along a wall like Trinity, Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) incorporates Trinity’s cartwheel flip from The Matrix Revolutions, the way Smith (Jonathan Groff) shoots The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) mimics Trinity in the iconic lobby scene, and Trinity herself does her scorpion-kick. Of course, the climactic scene centers around Trinity’s awakening and of course she’s the one that flies. It all has to do with Trinity because, as Lexy said, Trinity is the reason why a lot of us are here. Of course she’s The One. She was always The One.
I am here because of her.
The Matrix has a lot of ideas and meanings that people can take, which is one of the many positive aspects of the films. But to me, The Matrix Resurrections, in particular, is both a celebration of and love letter to Trinity. She taught us that when you embrace every part of yourself, you will literally fly (just ask Neo). Now, Neo and the crew are returning the favor. Similar to them, Trinity is the reason why I am the way that I am today. She showed me that what I was feeling was valid, which gave me one less thing to worry about in adolescence. Which has to be the greatest magic trick of all: two women writing a character that another woman embodied, who showed me that I wasn’t an anomaly. Pretty magical.
The Matrix saga is currently available on HBO Max.
You can reach Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on twitter here.