Born in the Aichi Prefecture of the Chūbu region of Japan, Kayo Satoh originally began her career as a model and TV personality in Japan. However, Satoh came into international prominence in 2010 when she came out on her blog as a transgender woman. Today, she is known as one of the few open trans women models and public personalities working in Japan.
Coming out as a trans woman is difficult in Japan. According to a Human Rights Watch report published earlier this year, entitled “The Nail That Sticks Out Gets Hammered Down: LGBT Bullying and Exclusion in Japanese Schools,” transgender students are regularly told that they are “being selfish and should expect not to succeed in school” if they reveal their gender identity. Both trans and gay students are traditionally bullied into submission, with little support from their teachers. For a nation with a mixed track record on supporting transgender men and women, Satoh’s presence is powerful in Japanese media.
Granted, six years after Satoh’s coming out, most of the original news reports on her gender identity have died down. But there’s one part of Satoh’s life that has always fascinated gamers. After Satoh came out, the Western fighting game community (or “FGC,” for short) slowly began to learn of her incredible skills as a competitive Street Fighter player.
Better known as “Kayo Police” within the FGC, Satoh first dazzled the Western community when she attended the Evolution Championship Series (or EVO) in 2011. Cosplaying as Street Fighter character C. Viper, Satoh went head-to-head against such competitive players as Killer Kai, Jon Layton, and Daigo Umehara in Super Street Fighter IV. She became a fan favorite fast, celebrated for both her skills as a player, as well as her cosplay as a fan.
In an interview with Versus Fighting TV at EVO 2011, Satoh revealed a little bit more about her background as a player and Street Fighter competitor: “Everybody call[s] me Kayo-chan,” she said. “I didn’t have a nickname in particular, but people told me that I need one when I play. I thought about that a lot and then I was invited to a cosplay party. I was disguise[d] as a police officer, and they called me Kayo Police!”
When Satoh was growing up in the ‘90s, fighting games were already on the rise. However, she largely wasn’t interested in the genre as a kid. It wasn’t until Street Fighter IV’s release in 2008 that she began seriously considering fighting games as a hobby and competitive interest.
“I played SF4 because around me a lot of people played the game and they [taught] me how to play,” she explained. “I think it’s the game that has the most contact with the whole world, like in [the] USA, Italy, Europe…”
That sense of international community is important to Satoh. After all, it makes sense that an event like EVO would appeal to her. What better way to celebrate the FGC than at an international competitive championship?
Of course, when Satoh first began learning Street Fighter, she wasn’t sure if she could become a competitive player. But she understood that if she continued playing, she would be able to reach the higher skill levels necessary to fight against the community’s experts.”I really like to reach high stages,” she told Versus Fighting TV. “My goal is to beat strong players, one day I’ll be able to do it.”
Five years later, she clearly has done just that.
Ian Walker is a freelance writer and FGC journalist. He currently writes about the competitive fighting community for Red Bull eSports and the official Pokémon website. When I reached out to Walker over email for a bit of insight into Kayo Police’s playstyle and presence in the FGC, he was able to explain to me what makes her so unique as both a competitor and a player.
“I’m pretty sure I first found out about Kayo Police on Kotaku,” he wrote. “Back then, she was a host on one of those random Japanese variety shows, and she spent a segment showing off her fighting game skills in online Street Fighter IV matches.”
Walker was impressed right away by Satoh’s ability to simultaneously go head-to-head with some of Street Fighter IV’s greatest players while working as a career model and host in Japanese media. After analyzing her performance at EVO 2011, he explained how Satoh’s playstyle demonstrated a strong understanding of Super Street Fighter IV’s competitive mechanics.
“From what I’ve seen of her C. Viper play in Street Fighter IV, she definitely knows what she’s doing, especially in that famous match against Eliver ‘Killer Kai’ Ling at EVO 2011,” Walker explained. “She quickly understands how he plays Ryu, keeps up the pressure even with a life deficit, and does really smart stuff like backdashing to bait his uppercuts.”
Granted, Walker felt that Kayo Police’s Street Fighter V Chun-Li performance at Animation-Comic-Game Hong Kong 2015 (or ACGHK) was not as strong. But he felt this was largely because of the limited time Satoh had playing the game, as well as her playstyle as an offensive fighter.
“While it’s entirely likely that she hadn’t had much time with the game (Street Fighter V hadn’t been officially released at the time), you can see that a defensive character like Chun-Li doesn’t really fit her personal playstyle,” he said.
“This is supported by the footage of her playing on Yuko ‘Chocoblanka’ Kusachi’s stream, where a more offensive character like Cammy gives her the opportunity to pressure her opponents, much like she did with C. Viper in Street Fighter IV.”
Of course, it’s not simply Satoh’s dedication to Street Fighter that makes her a standout competitor at fighting game tournaments. It’s also her backstory. As an open trans woman working as a model and TV host in Japan, Kayo Police represents a competitive player with a background that is vastly different from many of her opponents. This, one can assume, is particularly important for trans men and women interested in competing within the community.
“People like to see someone who doesn’t fit the cliched idea of a competitive gamer succeed,” Walker explained. “I think everyone would love to see her attend tournaments in the United States again.”
That said, Satoh isn’t the only trans woman in the FGC. In fact, one of the most prominent Street Fighter competitive players in the United States is Ricki Ortiz, a transgender woman and a member of eSports team Evil Geniuses. Today, she is one of the most beloved fighters in the entire fighting game community.
But according to a Playboy article on her career and transitioning, negativity from harassers and transphobic bigots remained a huge problem when she appeared on Twitch streams after she began transitioning. Viewers regularly misgendered her, spat transphobic insults at her, and made extremely crude jokes about her. Even today, jokes about Ortiz’s gender identity linger on.
When Playboy writer Michael Martin interviewed Ortiz, she revealed how her gender identity became a major flashpoint from transphobic viewers throughout her transitioning.
“I feel the brunt of it now, presenting as female. My skill takes a backseat,” she explained to Martin. “People question my gender identity versus me playing the game.”
The bigotry that Ortiz had to deal with was, sadly, part of a long history of problems in the community. Satoh certainly experienced it. When Kotaku first reported on Satoh in 2010, the site’s reveal misgendered her in both the title and body of the article. A wave of transphobic comments resulted in both the comments section, discussions off the site, and on YouTube videos featuring Satoh. As pioneers for the FGC, Satoh and Ortiz constantly had to deal with harassing comments from bigots across the Internet.
But Ortiz and Satoh persevered. As Ortiz put it, she was not just driven to be her true self, but to enjoy the game she worked so hard to learn and play.
“I don’t waste my time on negativity,” she said. “As a person going through what I’m going through, you have to be unapologetic about your authenticity.”
Satoh and Ortiz both remain important role models in the community. True, both women have experienced vile comments about their gender online. But their sheer presence and positivity has inspired trans players in the FGC to push on as open, visible, and proud members. They inspire trans players to put their best foot forward, because they very well could be just as successful as Ortiz or Satoh. For trans women interested in the FGC, but concerned about competing, these women are literally fighting for the community’s future players.
While transphobic bigots are loud online, Satoh has been received with open arms by the rest of the FGC community. It certainly doesn’t take much research to figure out why so many people love and support her, either. There’s something charming about Kayo Satoh. It’s not simply her passion for fighting games or her excellent cosplay outfits. It’s her friendliness on stage, her cheery attitude on streams, and her good manners in competition. In both her live appearances as well as her online streams, she presents herself as a good-natured player who enjoys her victories, but also makes sure to treat her opponents with dignity and respect. In other words, she’s not just a good player. She’s a good sport, and a good example for the eSports community.
When I asked Walker about the fighting game community’s relationship with trans women, he felt he didn’t have the perspective to comment on trans representation in the competitive scene. However, he was hopeful that the FGC will give more support to trans women over time.
“Unfortunately, actual inclusivity is still a bit of a problem,” he said. “Ongoing incidents keep our tournaments from being a perfect space for women in general, but I do think things are getting better as more folks call out these issues and work towards correcting them.”
Walker is right. Six years later, after Kayo Satoh’s coming out, the FGC exists in a different world. Bigoted comments are dying down, transphobic members are being called out, and fans across the world are cheering on Kayo Police, praising her skills as a fighter. As she continues to compete against her fellow Street Fighter players, her presence will hopefully help speed along inclusivity and diversity of all sorts in the fighting game community.
Ana Valens is a freelance contributor.