It’s Time to Talk About it: Atlus, Naoto, and Transphobia

(Trigger Warning: Transphobia, Passing Anxiety)

(Spoiler Warning: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, Shin Megami Tensi: Persona 4, Catherine)

A young, androgynous boy tipping his violet cabbie hat in a black school uniform. Reminiscent of a character in a high-school anime.

A young, androgynous boy tipping his violet cabbie hat in a black school uniform. Reminiscent of a character in a high-school anime.

Earlier this year, I wrote a research paper on representations of gender and sexuality in video games where I chose Bayonetta from her eponymous game and Naoto in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. The wealth of critical discussion on Bayonetta speaks for itself; I had no trouble supporting my own argument about her because of the importance the gaming community attributed to shaming or empowering her (and, of course, options other than these). However, my research on Naoto resulted in pretty much nothing; from what I could tell, the gaming community felt he (it is debatable which pronoun to use, so I am using he as it is my interpretation from my playthrough) was a cross-dresser and would be referred to as a woman. There are mentions of Naoto in articles related to Kanji’s (a fellow party member) questions about sexuality, but nothing at all about the complicated politics the game design promotes in concern to transgender topics. So let this be an ode to Naoto, as he deserves a critical analysis, but also my questioning of and challenge to Atlus about their representation of transgender characters. While Persona 4 makes the player interact with the issues surrounding someone who is transgender, the games before and after featured transgender characters more in the background. It shows a deliberate move by the development team to include transgender characters in their games, and therefore make a statement about them; it is extremely rare for a transgender character to appear in a game, much less three in a row. I investigate Altus’ position on transgender topics (as shown in their games) while informed through their depiction of Naoto in the context of these other characters.

 

In Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, your party gets a small reprieve on an island, where the boys eventually go to the beach to pick up women. They are unsuccessful until they meet one that seems especially receptive to them, who will “show them a thing or two” and is otherwise outlandishly suggestive. Before she can take anyone back to her room, a party member notices she has hair on her chin, outing her as transgender; she admits her plan in tricking the boys and keeps the offer of sex open before departing. To say the least, this is an atrocious depiction of trans-women that relies on the sexual anxieties and (perceived) deviances of heterosexual men. Many took it as a comical and lighthearted scene from the rest of the morbid and dreary storyline, however, this is one of the very few ways trans-women are characterized in media overall, which is extremely unrealistic and damaging. Persona 3 carries on transphobia by failing to offer a character different from conventional imagining of trans-women as sexual deviants deceiving hapless heterosexual men. It also relegates them strictly to the sexual realm, as if that is the only place transgender women appear, and those are the only qualities unique to this group of people.

Three boys talking to a girl at the beach. The dialogue text reads "Beautiful Lady?: If you decide you want to try something a little spicier, then you know where to find me. Tee-hee."

Three boys talking to a girl at the beach. The dialogue text reads "Beautiful Lady?: If you decide you want to try something a little spicier, then you know where to find me. Tee-hee."

 

Based on that experience alone, seeing Naoto in Persona 4 would seem to be a cause for celebration, as he is an extremely well written character and overall engaging and respectable. However, the extremely problematic character Erica in Catherine throws the intentions behind Naoto into question. There is little information during gameplay to let the player know Erica is transgender, however in hindsight, these hints are rather malicious. Throughout Vincent’s time in the game’s bar, he and his friends are amicable to Erica but also say rather disparaging things about her femininity. The group of men seems to put up with Erica rather than appreciate her friendship, and is vaguely trying to steer away the youngest member, naïve Toby, from pursuing his attraction for her. The second hint comes when Erica shares that she is starting to have nightmares, which only men are supposed to be having, however it is easy to overlook this, as it appears everyone who goes to the bar has these dreams. The player finds out directly only if they achieve the True Lover’s Ending, when it is implied the guys told Toby Erica is transgender and expresses regret losing his virginity to her. It might be tempting to say that because the only real overt transphobia comes from the main villain, who happens to be her employer, and that Atlus is taking a favorable position on transgender representation in Catherine. However, like the character in Persona 3, she is the deviant, sexual trickster who seduces unsuspecting men to their sexuality questioning doom. Her friends don’t show any support and have extremely little respect for her identity as a woman; as well, her boss is constantly hitting on her, despite that he was punishing her for transitioning into a woman and seeking romance as a trans-woman. Erica herself is a great character with relatable dialogue for the most part, but the politics surrounding her doesn’t provide any optimism for trans-folk and their allies.

A woman with red hair in a waitress outfit winking as she playfully throws her arm around the neck of a young, blonde man with a beanie. Her dialogue text reads: "Sorry, but once that hold is punched, there's no refund!"

A woman with red hair in a waitress outfit winking as she playfully throws her arm around the neck of a young, blonde man with a beanie. Her dialogue text reads: "Sorry, but once that hold is punched, there's no refund!"

Transgender topics were blips in these games, which is why they more so provide the context of how Naoto is interpreted rather than stand on their own to inform the player how Atlus, or gaming overall, is treating transgender characters. A brief synopsis of Naoto’s presence in Persona 4: Naoto is a 16-year-old detective prodigy that appears at first as a mysterious character with clues surrounding the murder cases. His appearance is noteworthy as Kanji starts feeling attracted to him, and this is a tense topic as he is apparently struggling with his sexuality (that’s a whole other topic). Naoto’s relationship with the group is tense at first as he realizes they harbor secrets relating to the case, but they all see him as respectable, intelligent, and capable (it is also worth mentioning that he has a resemblance to male protagonists in other Shin Megami Tensei games). He eventually uses his fan following, who calls him the ‘Detective Prince,’ to his advantage to gain a lead in the case. In the Jungian-like TV world where Naoto confronts his ‘Shadow,’ the player finds out that Naoto is female and the Shadow wants to perform sexual reassignment surgery on him. As this scene depicts, Naoto presents himself as a man because of the environment of the police force; no one would take him seriously if he were a woman. After defeating his Shadow, Naoto decides he doesn’t need to become a male to succeed as a detective, and joins the party.

The previously pictured boy talking to a sinister version of himself wearing a labcoat. The dialogue text reads: "Shadow Naoto: How could you become an ideal man when you were never male to begin with...?"

The previously pictured boy talking to a sinister version of himself wearing a labcoat. The dialogue text reads: "Shadow Naoto: How could you become an ideal man when you were never male to begin with...?"

This is when Atlus promptly fails Gender 101. The game text begins to refer to Naoto as she and her, and makes no distinction between sex and gender. Whenever there is a need to divide the characters along the lines of gender, Naoto appears with the women instead of the men. In general, they keep his personality the same and make more references to androgyny to keep in line with the character they have built up. The game continues to depict Naoto as an awesome personality through the main storyline, and receives a generally warm acceptance by everyone even though there is a question about his true sex. However, the essentialist attitude similar to the antagonist’s in Catherine exposes a lack of understanding about transgender issues and tucks in an almost sinister transphobia in what seems to be overwhelming support and popularity for Naoto as a character. Most (if not all) people who are transgender face an internal struggle with sexual reassignment. There is a heavy amount of reinforcement from society to have it in order to achieve (some amount of) social acceptance. This is a source of tremendous anxiety, especially for those cannot attain resources that allow them to transition. More importantly, not everyone wants to change their sex, or better yet, don’t feel that changing their sex should be a requirement to being treated as the gender they identify as. I saw that scene with Naoto at first as a brave proclamation to continue as a man without aiming to become male, only to be confused and devastated when the game started to turn him into a woman. This happens in attention to the assumed romantic and sexual intentions of the player by making Naoto accessible as to not threaten the assumed player’s (a heterosexual man) gender and sexuality. Because all of the females are open for romance (don’t get me started on just that thought), the logic of the game decides Naoto should be as well, and he becomes the antithesis of what he wants during his Social Link with the protagonist. There is a clear disconnect between the Naoto in the main story and the Naoto in the Social Link. While you are able to become intimate with Naoto while encouraging him to still be a man, there are options for you to persuade him to act and dress as a woman. What makes this disturbing is Naoto’s identity hinges on the player’s choices, and the gameplay mechanics encourage the player to nudge Naoto towards becoming a woman. For instance, the first trigger that can initiate romance with Naoto when choosing “I’m glad you’re a girl” when he is having a moment wishing he was born male. The second romance flag comes when you choose to protect Naoto from harm, for which the protagonist frustrates him by making him feel weak when treated as a woman.

 

A close up of the boy with dialogue choices. The choices read: "I'm glad you're a girl."; "Your gender doesn't matter."; "Nothing you can do." The first option is selected.

A close up of the boy with dialogue choices. The choices read: "I'm glad you're a girl."; "Your gender doesn't matter."; "Nothing you can do." The first option is selected.

All of this is after he expresses little interest in wanting a relationship, and that he makes no indication of his sexual orientation; the game allows the player to force him into the romantic fantasies of a heterosexual man. If this wasn’t enough, there is a scene after you confess your love for Naoto when he asks the player if they want him to start talking with a higher pitch to his voice to sound more feminine, and if they choose to have a higher pitch, he will dress up in a girl’s school uniform during the Christmas event. This event is more poignant in the Japanese version of this scene; instead of the pitch of his voice, he asks the protagonist if he minded Naoto’s use of ‘boku,’ which is the ‘I’ that men use. Telling him that you want him to stop prompts the above scene, but you also can opt for Naoto to stay the same. The scene when Naoto dresses up in a girl’s uniform completely transforms his personality; he’s now always blushing, stammering, quiet, scrunched up as much as he can into himself. Very typical Japanese schoolgirl as this is just before an implied sexual scene. This scene trivializes the pressure transgender people feel to perform their gender well enough not to violate their partner’s sense of sexuality, and the incredible burden to make sure they are always passing as the desired gender. Naoto’s Social Link was an extreme waste of an opportunity to explore the intricacies of a relationship when at least one partner is transgender, something I don’t think I’ve ever been able to witness in the media.

A close-up of the boy now in a girl's school uniform, blushing. There is a dialogue choice in response to "I know this what all the girls wear, but, um... Isn't the skirt too short...?": "You look cute." "I prefer your other clothes." The first option is selected.

A close-up of the boy now in a girl's school uniform, blushing. There is a dialogue choice in response to "I know this what all the girls wear, but, um... Isn't the skirt too short...?": "You look cute." "I prefer your other clothes." The first option is selected.

I do find value in Atlus including transgender characters in their games, but in order for these instances to be progressive, they have to be positive and enlightening depictions. Each one of these characters appeared in the game and interacted with the player in a way that is specific to heterosexual men, and uses said culture to define their character arcs. Despite the flaws Atlus implanted into Naoto, I enjoyed his character and explored my feelings of being romantically attracted to a trans-man (which wasn’t something I considered at the time), and find this type of game to be a powerful avenue to promote diversity and understanding of those underrepresented in the media. It also shows how much other characters in games revolve around how they relate to heterosexual men, which prompts said group to inform game developers of their interest in more diverse viewpoints.

61 thoughts on “It’s Time to Talk About it: Atlus, Naoto, and Transphobia”

  1. I never pursued a relationship with Naoto in the game (or with any of the characters – I wanted to have my protagonist partner with Kanji and was disappointed to find that you can’t), so I didn’t know about that dialogue. Wow.

    To be honest, the way the game handles Naoto, I wasn’t sure if he was meant to be a trans man, or a cis woman who crossdressed, or something different that got lost in translation to English.

    1. I loved the idea of Kanji and Naoto together, however the game really chickens out on that, mostly to leave room for the protagonist. From how I read the game, I don’t think Atlus really knew how to handle Naoto, especially seeing that their outlook on gender identity is very essentialist. It seems like they might be aware of being a transsexual, since that’s the more known word and identity people know, and a general idea of what a cross-dresser is. My thought it that they had cross-dressing in mind and ended up making someone who is transgender; I agree that something is ‘lost’ in translation, or at least, a lot of Japanese culture knowledge is probably required to understand their intent. However, the intent of the developers and the experience of the players are two separate types of interpretations.

  2. My read on Naoto and Kanji is that they are straight, & cisgendered, respectively, and the shadows’ claims to the contrary were sensationalism rooted in their culturally ingrained stereotypes.

    There’s a pattern to what the Shadows say: They tell a damaging lie on television, and when confronted in the other world they connect that lie to a concealed truth. Yukiko doesn’t really want a prince, & Rise doesn’t really want to strip. Yosuke and Chie’s shadows also mix secrets with slander, albeit the relative compression of their scenes makes the distinction harder to draw.

    It’s part of the shadows’ trick: The slander prompts those thrown into the television to double-down on their denial of the secret, thereby triggering the shadows’ ascension.

    This narrative situates homosexuality and transness (and sexuality, in Rise’s case) as slanderous, in addition to relying on stereotypes. I feel like there’s some kind of appropriation involved as well.

    1. I believe the game repetitively states that what the Shadows say is true, because every character ends up admitting all of things it says. I know in watching the videos in Naoto’s Shadow encounter, he eventually agrees with all that was said about him. Everything was pretty literal, though how we were judging them might be up for questioning; Persona 4 was playing off the idea that you are watching as well, through a TV, looking at their secrets. The game was trying to summon an awareness of society constantly watching and how these characters reacted to the pressures to be ‘in line’ in the public eye.

      In remembering the game, there isn’t any evidence of either Naoto’s nor Kanji’s sexuality, except that you can assume Naoto at least likes male men since he is a romantic option. Kanji seems to be intrigued and attracted to Naoto before and after he is aware of Naoto’s sex, which doesn’t amount to much evidence to being heterosexual exclusively. I think the point of his TV stint was that you were supposed to be judging him and doing what society usually does, which is take superficial evidence to determine someone’s identity without their input. Same with Naoto; in one of his Social Links, he gets a love note from a girl, and when dismissing it, he says he doesn’t care about notes from either gender. In hindsight, I felt guilty getting into a relationship because he was genuinely not interested in relationships, and it was like the game forced him into one with me.

      1. Naoto is simply not interested in relationships, so I don’t think one could say either way about that character’s sexuality.

        I played the game watching VERY closely to Kanji’s dialog, and I’ve concluded he’s bisexual. At the start, he has issues with women and questions if he’s gay. After fighting his shadow, he concludes that he “doesn’t have a problem with girls any more” but he never denies his attraction to men.

        When Yosuke (that homophobe) keeps razzing Kanji about being gay, Kanji doesn’t outright deny it, insisting instead the he can “prove he likes girls” (which, of course, doesn’t disprove that he likes guys) In the scene where protagonist and Yosuke get pushed into the water, Kanji gets a nosebleed (sign of arousal) when looking at the men instead of women.

        He clearly likes women. His liking for men is subtle because he’s forced to cover, but it’s there. I think Kanji’s bi, and that’s part of why he likes Naoto no matter what.

        1. I didn’t think it was that clear that he was decidedly attracted to women, but rather that the player was being baited to look for clues and draw their conclusion. It reminds me of a scene when you overhear two women gossiping, and a character laments about how society is always watching and judging you. It’s possible Kanji doesn’t feel sexually or amorously toward anyone; a lot of our gender is informed by who we’re attracted to, so it is natural that Kanji tries to play the part (plus, they are in high school, how concrete of an identity do you have then?) when constantly challenged by the group. Kanji never made any statements or moves to show who he’s romantically and sexually attracted to, so it’s really just for our own enjoyment to try and figure it out.

      2. Yosuke’s shadow claims that he hates Inaba & everyone in it because it’s a boring, rural town, and further that Yosuke has no concern for justice, but is interested in the case only because it’s not dull. Yosuke denies everything, shadow fight. Afterwards, Yosuke admits that Inaba bores him, but not to hating it and everyone in it, he admits to being motivated by excitement, but not to indifference toward justice (for murder victims. Later on it becomes clear that he’s totally indifferent to justice for women & homosexuals). It’s easy to forget that he doesn’t admit to the full extent of the awful that his shadow claims because he’s a jerk and we hate him.

        Chie’s shadow claims that she hates & envies Yukiko for the romantic attention that her superior performance of femininity brings. Post-shadow fight, Chie admits to the envy but not to hatred & insincere friendship. Only Yosuke and MC witness it, & Yosuke doesn’t care about girls and their girly friendships so he never brings it up.

        On the midnight channel, Yukiko’s shadow claims that she wants to marry a prince. When confronted, Yukiko’s shadow elaborates that she wants that prince to carry her away, because she’s an entirely passive personality and doesn’t truly wish to inherit the family business as everyone assumes. Afterwards Yukiko admits to leaning on Chie’s assertiveness & to feeling trapped by the universal assumption that she’s going to inherit the inn, but not to the prince & princess fantasy (which is dropped almost instantly).

        On the midnight channel, Rise’s shadow claims that she is GONNA GET NAKED. When confronted, she elaborates that she is worried that the “real Rise” is concealed by her fame, so better GET NAKED. Afterwards, Rise admits to authenticity anxiety but she does not get naked or express any interest in exhibitionism. Yosuke gets shut up once on the scene and the matter is dropped.

        On the midnight channel, Kanji’s shadow claims that he is totally gay. When confronted, the shadow elaborates that women rejected Kanji for his interest in activities coded as feminine & his brash punk behavior is just compensatory posturing, so better to just be totally gay. Afterwards, Kanji admits to posturing in response to being rejected for his nack for the feminine crafts but not to being gay. Yosuke gives him shit for the rest of the goddamn game, what a douche.

        On the midnight channel, Naoto’s shadow promises, through sensationalizing euphemisms, gender reassignment surgery. When confronted, the shadow elaborates that Naoto is a girl, but detectives aren’t girls & the police certainly wouldn’t take a girl detective at all seriously, much less offer co-operation. Afterwards, Naoto admits to emulating the masculine mannerisms of the male detectives (both fictional & family) she took as role models, and deliberately passing as male both to obtain police co-operation. When the party replaces the police as her partners, she drops the act, entering classes at the school as a girl. Neither Naoto nor any other character again questions that she is a girl, least of all Yosuke, who proceeds to subject her to the same patronization and lechery as every other girl in the party. Naoto treats being a detective as essential to her identity, and performing masculinity or femininity as instrumental.

        What shadows always lie on the midnight channel is always misleading, a key hint to the moral crisis in Nagatame’s hospital room.

        We’re all familiar with the way prescriptive masculinity, heterosexism, and cissexism are connected; men judged insufficiently masculine are accused by heterosexists of homosexuality or transsexuality, which are cast as part of a continuum of pathology between “feminization” of men & pedophilia. (c.f. http://01d55.tumblr.com/post/6549914987/conservative-dads-reaction-to-his-son-liking-the-new). There’s a similar, but asymmetrical, connection between prescriptive femininity, heterosexism, and cissexism.

        One of Persona 4s themes is the varying level of performative femininity & masculinity of a group of young cissexual heterosexuals, & the injustice that befalls those who don’t fit narrow performative gender roles. In Naoto & Kanji’s cases, Transexuality & homosexuality are invoked & thrown under the bus in the service of cissexual & heterosexual characters’ stories, without so much as a “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” That’s wedging, and it’s not right.

  3. I’m glad P3P made it possible to play the game with a female protagonist. I never saw that scene you described. Of course, that choice also meant I couldn’t attain more than friendship with the other girls in the game, and had to be careful not to become too friendly with the boys to keep those relationships platonic.

    I feel sad for Naoto. The game makers forced him to become someone he is not :(

    1. Agreed, almost as it Naoto is some kind of fetish fuel, the “putting a woman in her place” kind when they “want to be men”. The simple fact that Naoto forces himself into a skirt (that IS too short, but that’s another rant about Japanes and uniforms.) and then forces himself to “act like a girl”. >_<

      Naoto isn't the only character, there's lots of characters like him in anime and manga, where the whole "it's a GIRL" is the punchline and the character then starts wearing skimpy clothes and the camera tends to pan to the breasts.

      1. It’s definitely an exercise in observing how male gaze affects transgender people. I personally was definitely intrigued by Naoto and wanted to know more, and do as much to become involved with him. While my choices were respectful to what I thought his gender identity was, I wonder if I romantically fetish-ized him :( If anything, I was able to learn that from the game.

    2. The complicated part is trying to understand who Naoto is when Naoto himself barely comments on it; it’s mostly other people and the player making the interpretations and decisions for him. Without a Gender Studies perspective, it is easy to read that Naoto was just doing what he could in his situation and is experimenting with gender. If you don’t know what transgender is, it is easy to make a character like that and not see them as such, and see things only in a cross-dressing/transsexual stereotyping.

  4. I agree that Naoto’s relationship was more skeevy than I would have liked; I thought Naoto was a really badass investigator and I wanted to have a partnership based on mutual respect and make-outs. Instead it felt as though Naoto’s social link involves trying to push this person into becoming a traditional Japanese woman. Did we really need that? Wasn’t Yukiko there, for the sort of person who wanted a traditional Japanese woman?

    That said, I didn’t think that Naoto was trans-gendered. I read it as a feminist issue: she was someone who didn’t resonate with traditionally “girly” things and wanted to pursue a very male-dominated career path. She presents herself as male to give herself access to this career that a young girl might have been scoffed out of, and feels anxiety that as her body continues to mature the only way to keep up the ruse would be to physically become male. So, I supported her being a lady because I felt like she just needed some friendly support to be the confident lady detective she wanted to be.

    1. I considered that as well, but the doubts and frustrations he exhibited were much akin to what you would hear from someone transgender. I also took the que that his Personas were male, and everyone’s Persona matched their gender. I felt if there was a clear Feminist message, they would have chosen a Persona that reflected a woman defying patriarchy. Also, there were too many indications of identity rather than equality; as I mentioned in the article, Naoto still used and wants to continue to use the male version of “I” despite beating his shadow.

      Transgender doesn’t necessarily mean the opposite gender, it only means not the gender ascribed to you by society based on your sex. I say ‘he’ for ease and because of the evidence in the game, but it is most likely that Naoto doesn’t feel an extreme amount of affinity for either genders, and is something else. I think Naoto more so wants people to stop judging his gender and take him for who he is, which is intelligent, thorough, and capable. As I mentioned in another comment, this game positioned us as viewers of the TV, judging our characters and trying to determine who they are, when, in fact, they are just people. Naoto is Naoto, and whatever his gender may actually be doesn’t matter except to society. To us.

    2. I agree, Shy. That’s how I saw Naoto’s story as well: It’s about a girl reacting to the limitations of sexism. She thought she had to be a man in order to be taken seriously as a detective. The scene in which she wears a school uniform is slightly creepy and sexist – apparently the main character can’t find her attractive as a woman unless she wears stereotypical clothing?

  5. Nice article. Really some food for thought there!

    I simply didn’t go for a relationship with Naoto, so I didn’t see a lot of this dialogue either. I guess it would be necessary in a 100% playthrough to at least do all the social events, thus, you’d have to see this and make some of these choices.

    I personally just like Kanji and Naoto as a couple. They both seem somewhat attracted to one another and have at least compatible sexual identities (which they may sort out differently depending on which social links you handle and how, apparently.) As a love relationship, I wouldn’t put Naoto with the protagonist character even if it remains an option.

    1. I didn’t really see the attraction on Naoto’s part, though I definitely would ship them without the bat of an eye :P But the game made Naoto particularly oblivious to peoples’ emotions and feelings, and since Kanji never did anything to broach the topic, I doubt Naoto ever knew. I don’t think Naoto even felt anything for the protagonist until he made the first move. An unfortunate side effect of the dating-sim aspect of the game is that the player is prompted to see romance everywhere, and pair everyone up. Putting Kanji and Naoto and Kanji together makes them the ‘alternative’ couple that solve each other’s fluid situations of sexuality and gender, so the other characters don’t have to think too much about it. Seeing the odd number of human characters in your party, Naoto is the most likely to be someone not interested in a relationship at all.

  6. Very interesting.

    Another trans relationship in the media that disappointed me is Douglas Reynholm’s brief relationship with the journalist April. It built up my hopes a lot – when she tells him up front that “I used to be a man” he replies “doesn’t matter to me”. Sadly, it later transpires that he misheard that she was “from Iran”, after which they break up and eventually have a fist-fight. On a positive note, April continues to be a well-realized character for the rest of the episode, although she never returns.

    1. Yeah, transgender characters tend to only appear as comic relief at the expense of heterosexual men’s anxieties. It’s extremely rare to see one anywhere else, except in this case where you could interpret a heterosexual man making a woman out of a female who thought they could be a man, which is a subtle trope reminiscent of interactions between heterosexual men and homosexual women.

    2. I love The IT Crowd (though I’m not sure it’s the most enlightened show on British television), but as a trans woman, that whole sequence was heartbreaking for me. I’m so used to ‘She’s a MAN, baby!’ being the punchline for every trans woman character on every comedy ever that I was thrilled when Douglas — boorish, creepy, misogynistic Douglas — actually showed what seemed to be complete acceptance. They raised my hopes only to dash them down again. It makes me wonder if I can ever expect to see ANYTHING better in my lifetime.

  7. Forcing Naoto into a relationship (and a beauty pageant, and a dress) is complete crap. I completely agree that the most disturbing aspect is how Naoto’s identity and behavior can be changed by decisions of the protagonist.

    But for the earlier handling of Naoto’s character in general, I think it’s unfair to say that she’s a transgender character done poorly when we never know exactly what Naoto’s intentions are. IS she transgender? Might she prefer to self-identify as androgyne or genderqueer?

    As a genderqueer myself, I balk at the idea that there’s one “right” way to express alternative gender. In fact, I prefer to call myself genderqueer instead of TG simply because I don’t want people to attach a bunch of stereotyped expectations on me, including that I would prefer a male pronoun.

    Not every genderqueer who acts and dresses in a male fashion necessarily prefers the male pronoun. With this in mind, I was very careful to watch pronoun uses in Naoto’s social link scenes. Naoto seems to have fond feelings towards her family and servants–it struck me her family was a good support structure. Through the social link scenes, we learn that Naoto is “she” at home–a place I felt she would feel safe requesting the most comfortable pronoun.

    We know Naoto felt most comfortable presenting as male when she transferred to the new high school because everyone knows her as “he”. But that was before she defeated her shadow, when she felt she had to be read as male to be respected and taken seriously as an investigator. After that, she seems less insecure about being read as female. She never complains about the characters using the female pronoun and we later learn that her family uses the female pronoun at home.

    Besides the garbage about forcing Naoto into a relationship, I was desperately excited about this character /because/ she wasn’t necessarily cis or trans. She wasn’t 100% male or 100% female, but a wonderful blend of the two. She was someone like me who was genderqueer or androgyne. She’s a character who struggles through claiming an identity in the shades of gray –someone who is comfortable responding to either pronoun, who prefers to dress as and be treated as male, but doesn’t mind sitting on the girl’s side of the table. I’m a living example that such people exist, and I appreciated the ambiguity that Naoto presented in the story. In Naoto’s relaxed attitude towards pronouns, she becomes a character that transmen, tomboys, crossdressers, androgynes, and genderqueers can all relate to in some fashion.

    1. Is it very possible that in a narrative future, Naoto might identify as genderqueer? Definitely! However, at this point in his life that the game records, he’s intentionally using gender, is focused on gender, and displays the typical angst of someone who transgender. Being transgender doesn’t rule out being genderqueer, as the only prerequisite is not being the gender ascribed to your sex; it doesn’t mean being the opposite gender. If you must dichotomize, Queer Theory sees it more as Cis/Queer than Cis/Trans/Queer. You’re either what is part of hegemony or Queer, and being trans is a Queer identity. Naoto’s personality is classically masculine in a Japanese culture, and I would say in our’s as well, but we get wrapped up in his androgynous physical presentation. Transgender people deal with different groups of people calling them different pronouns, picking and choosing what times feel comfortable for them to go along with or violate gender expectations put on them (from both what is ascribed and realized) and other decisions that force them into a liminal space despite what they identify. That is why I included the other characters in this analysis to show how Atlus’ essentialist attitude and attention to the assumed player’s male heterosexuality and how that affects Naoto’s identity and presentation in the game.

      1. The two problematic portrayals of transsexuals in P3 and Catherine aren’t the only genderqueer Atlus characters, however. In the Digital Devil Saga games there was a well-written intersex character (the only one I can think of in any video game) and an androgyne character who is a male and female character fused into one being. I wrote an article on them here: http://borderhouseblog.com/?p=1784 I don’t think one can close the book on Atlus’s essentialist attitudes when we see some characters done well, others done poorly. It’s a mixed bag. Same thing with portrayal of [cis]women in Atlus games: some are progressive, some are truly eye-rolling.

        The player CAN be an asshole and make Naoto dress like a girl, but the player also has the choice to say, “Gender doesn’t matter,” and support who Naoto choose to be. Giving the option to let players be a jerk doesn’t mean that Atlus is shepherding them towards that choice. (You get the choice to be a jerk in a lot of scenes, telling a crying character to shut up instead of consoling them for instance, or neglecting Nanako.)

        It’s possible to play Persona 4 with the protagonist being gay, bi, or uninterested in relationships (though it never gives the option of pursuing a same-sex romance.) The player always has the option to turn down romantic advances from the girl characters. In the dating cafe scene at the cultural festival, the protagonist can choose to sit on the girl’s side of the table and flirt with Kanji. The protagonist gets the option to be enthusiastic instead of reluctant about his participation in the drag beauty pageant. These options to act queer or support the queerness of other characters is a fitting counterbalance to the player’s options to be a jerk or a homophobe.

        There are a few obnoxious scenes where the protagonist is forced along with Yosuke’s homophobic/misogynist schemes no matter how you protest, but generally, the game is what the player makes of it. For a game that focuses on the moral interpersonal choices people make, it only makes sense that the player is given the option to do the wrong thing (make Naoto miserable) since the player is given the choice to make other morally questionable choices throughout the game.

        1. I specifically focused on these three games because they were made by the same team, and as far as I’m aware, they haven’t made any other Atlus games (except for the upcoming Persona 5). I noticed a trend from these games and made the comparison, it wasn’t meant to be damning of Atlus and closing any books, but questioning and challenging. If someone is unaware of the problems they are making, they most likely will keep doing it, and my article was made to be convincing that there’s a problem.

          I also pointed out those dialogue choices only because the game rewarded you for choosing certain ones over others. Yes, you had the choice to tell Naoto that his gender doesn’t matter, but telling him that you prefer him as a girl earns you progress towards his affections. Yes, you can make Naoto feel competent by not rushing to his rescue, but again, you are rewarded more influence when you protect him and make him feel more like a helpless woman (these are his words). The game obviously leads you down one path, rewards you by having the hegemonic attitude towards changing him into a blushing Japanese schoolgirl.

          Yes, you can “choose” to play as a character with any identity as long as you’re a man, but that’s only in your imagination and rarely allowed in the gameplay. I have a lot to say that Quinnae’s recent article does, which is not blaming the developers for actively oppressing and hating on any groups, but being oblivious and relatively uninterested in the portrayal of transgender individuals. Though, I seem to combat that but presenting a series of games made in succession that all involve a trans character, which is probably the only instance in all of gaming.

  8. I loved Naoto and Persona 4 is one of my favorite games! When playing it, I originally thought that Naoto was meant to be read as androgynous. But as I went through his dungeon I started to look at Naoto as a transgendered character (mainly because of the surgery comments). So my biggest disappointment came toward the end of the S-link when you can ask Naoto to dress in a feminine style. I did not do that to him in my game. I felt it would be cruel to the character to ask that but the fact that it was even possible made me sad. To me it read as Naoto offering to do something for the main character’s pleasure even though it made him feel uncomfortable/untrue to self to do so. Naoto was known by male pronouns, was the “Detective Prince”, and I felt that asking him to put on a skirt to conform to gender norms would be going against how Naoto’s character was described.

    1. Sometimes game really surprise you; I know when I encountered any decisions with Kanji and Naoto, I was able to see my thinking and my quick run to defend their opportunity to be themselves. Especially Naoto; I realized during this article I might have exotified (word? >.>) him like how anyone not part of hegemony is – I wanted to explore his social link because he was an experience I’ve never had in a game.

  9. When I played, I payed very close attention to how Naoto and Kanji were handled, and I gave them a more or less passing grade. I think the big thing for me is that this game takes place in high school. Both Kanji and Naoto have shaky identities at best (as do all the other characters) because they’re still trying to figure out who they are. I also concluded that Kanji is bisexual, and I didn’t exactly see Naoto as being a transman, but moreso genderqueer, or that maybe he would come to identify himself in that way when he was older. Maybe Atlus was trying to explore too many things at once and it came off a bit messy, and I think the translation and localization has a lot to do with things feeling a little off (especially with the pronouns… Japanese doesn’t really have pronouns the way English does). That said, I think many of the things that seemed like red flags, like Yosuke’s homophobia, were almost necessary and important… how unrealistic would it be if every kid in the group was completely and totally okay with gay or trans* characters? It added conflict and room for character growth.

    I never followed a romance with Naoto though… I’ll have to try that in another playthrough to see what happens there. I’m kind of uncomfortable with the fact that you have the option to make him more feminine and get him to put on women’s clothes.

    1. You’re definitely right about their identities being especially malleable being so young, I know I didn’t mean anything definitive by my conclusions other than what was represented in the game. Do you ever notice how easy it is to forget that characters are so young? I know I do, especially in JRPGs; it must be their dialogue or just the intense situation they are in, but they seem older than high-school!

  10. Does no one ever pay attention to Social Links or do they just cherry pick the bits they like the most? People who think that she is trans, or continue to refer to her as “he” don’t understand her character development. Just like how Kanji revealed it was never about sexuality, he just wanted to be accepted for what he was, thug-punching and doll-knitting alike, Naoto revealed it was never about gender-confusion. It was about being taken seriously as the genius she is.

    Are there issues with Kanji’s sexuality and Naoto’s gender? Yes, but these are things they deal with on the side and are NOT at the core of their main problems. If you say that they are, you’re also saying that Yukiko’s problem was being a shallow whore and that Rise’s problem was her desire to be a stripper. People seem to forget that the Shadows are distortions, they’re caricatures of the real issue at hand. Yukiko wanted to break away from her family and find her own identity, Kanji wanted people to accept him, Rise wanted to stop hiding behind the mask of Risette, and Naoto wanted to be taken seriously without having to hide.

    That’s the beauty of Persona 4 and its Social Links. This whole group is nothing but these lost, confused teenagers who overcome these deep-rooted issues. Their problems aren’t completely solved by accepting their Shadow, they have to go and put what they’ve learned into motion. By the end of the game (If you’ve done it right, people who don’t finish their S. Links) you end up with a team of people who finally know who they are. Yukiko is going to take over the inn because it’s her decision to do so. Kanji has accepted both sides of his personality and is working to make sure people understand him. Rise has learned that every role she’s ever played is part of her, and none of them can be left out. Naoto has decided to continue being a detective, regardless of her gender, because it doesn’t matter to her and it shouldn’t matter to anyone else.

    You’ll notice throughout the game she has no issues with being referred to as “her” or “she”, and she states that the only reason she continues to wear a boy’s uniform is for the ease of it. She identifies as female, yet wears male clothing because she doesn’t personally care, and if it’s easier on everyone else, who have come to identify her with that uniform, then what the hell.

    1. Taking things so literally is definitely one perception, but I think you get a lot of value from the Shadows if you look at them metaphorically rather than as lies. I find that the Shadows represent an amalgamation of the character’s anxieties, how they perceive society is judging them, and their true wishes. Nothing the Shadows say are blatant lies, though definitely hyperbole. Naoto’s Shadow reveals that Naoto is constantly feeling like he’s not being taken seriously because he’s perceived as a child, not a female. He feels like he is intelligent and competent but his age gets in the way. So he models detectives from fiction, but the one thing they have over him is the male body; he already is comfortable with his male gender. It can be read that he wants to be himself without having to physically become male, which is a requirement of being a man (conventionally, that is). As I said, I looked at Naoto’s character in the context of the other transgender characters appearing with this development team, and seeing the essentialist position they take, and how they service the heterosexual male, it isn’t hard to see Naoto as transgender, especially someone unaware of options for identity outside of cisgender. The only times Naoto references becoming a woman is with regret when the protagonist tries to protect him in his Social Link, and when the player chooses to have him try harder to appear more like a man or woman. Otherwise, Naoto makes no attempt at identifying as a woman. And let’s make sure we’re separating female and woman here; he definitely seems to have come to terms with being female, and I in no way doubt that, it’s with being a man this is about.

      1. I see the Shadows as not flat out truth but rather an internalized version of self-hatred. That self-hatred may be more accurate in some cases than in others. The best example I think is Kanji’s shadow – a mincing, lisping stereotype, when Kanji himself is very masculine in his personality, regardless of his interests or sexuality. The only way it makes sense to me is to see Kanji’s Shadow as his own internalization of a society’s anti-queer bigotry.

    2. What you’re neglecting to consider here is cissexism. If someone denies that trans people’s professed genders are valid, then of course they’re not going to present a trans character as trans because to them, there are no trans people. A cissexist essentialist would in fact write Naoto just that way because invalidating a trans person’s identity is the obvious way to go. That’s why there’s always a backstory that comes up with a cis reason for the character to transition, because tote essentialist, cis reasons are the only reasons.

  11. I am still rereading this in order to comment on it with the intelligence it deserves (very well written, by the way), but I would like to add that while there were undoubtedly problems with Kanji and Naoto’s portrayals, Atlus seems to be getting more and more ambitious with what it addresses in each game, and their apparent willingness to explore trans issues gives me great hope for the future of the Persona series.

    1. I would like to add, however, that I am slightly uncomfortable with your use of masculine pronouns to refer to Naoto. Since she evidently refers to herself with feminine ones at home and amongst her friends, I feel more comfortable following her example.

      1. Thanks for reading! :) If I can get people to at least think for a bit about the topic, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do!

        From memory, and what I looked up, Naoto didn’t really refer to himself by any gender explicitly (in the English version), but allowed others to choose what they felt most comfortable with. I pegged this as something a transgender person would do to not make things too complicated, and to make things easier. This is mostly through my personal experience and what I know of others’, which is to allow family members and certain groups of people to use one pronoun even if that’s not how they identify. I also had knowledge of the Japanese version because of my research, where he uses ‘boku’ throughout the game instead of ‘atashi’ or ‘watashi.’ The first is designated for men to use, the second for women, and the third is a polite, gender neutral pronoun. This is why I brought it up in the article, because the player can choose whether Naoto continues using ‘boku’ or not.

        I definitely recognize that using ‘he’ is a little risky and rambunctious, but I think the evidence is there. I don’t think my interpretation is the only one there; I see there are cases for Naoto being genderqueer and how we should avoid using any pronoun. I also am looking at how Naoto’s character changes in the game in relation to a heterosexual man’s gaze and fantasy (this is specifically my angle); this is what my claim rests on, and why I use the other characters as context. If this team only uses transgender characters in relation to heterosexual men’s anxieties and fantasies, then Naoto is an example of a transgender character warped into just a girl with a cross-dressing phase that was brought to her sense by a romantic involvement with a boy. This is nothing against those who go down that path, but the transgender community has been lacking proper representation in games, and it’s time to call out companies for these portrayals so far.

        1. Thanks for your thoughtful reply! My writing on Naoto there is based on memory from when I played the game, and (as is the case with many people, I expect) I never saw all of her scenes – her social link is only accessible relatively late in the game, and even then it’s a tricky bastard to start, isn’t it?

          What I personally remember (and I say this with no knowledge of the Japanese release) is that after confronting her shadow Naoto begins responding to feminine forms of address but, interestingly, keeps calling herself “Naoto”, a masculine name. I took it to mean she was some form of genderqueer, but I can see how another interpretation is possible. :)

        2. My understanding of the use of “boku” by women in Japanese media was that it isn’t necessarily about gender identification as much as about personality. TV Tropes has a good-sized list of female characters who use “boku,” which gives some context for most of them. A significant amount of the characters listed seem to simply be tomboys, and even the real-life examples suggest that using “boku” is something that a girl might choose to do while still identifying as female. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t seem to be quite as telling about one’s gender identity as English pronouns would be.

          Naoto is clearly more complicated than just a tomboy, but I’m not sure the “boku” use gives conclusive evidence one way or another about which English pronoun Naoto would prefer.

          1. Literally using ‘boku’ wasn’t the center of my argument, it was more of the choice to allow Naoto to use it or not. Look at what the designers chose to replace it with: how the voice sounds. One huge hurdle in passing is the voice, and this is a main source of anxiety for heterosexual men. I remember being in a Sociology class, and my teacher was making a point about relationships, and he asked “What is the last thing a guy wants to hear from a woman he’s just jumped into bed with?” and there was a quick response saying “a man’s voice.” It’s a common and well known gag, and goes with the examples from other games. I’m not looking for all these little details to stand on their own to prove anything, but build upon the thesis of Naoto’s identity and reception being molded by heterosexual men’s relationships with transgender individuals.

  12. I think the problem is that you can’t know intent for sure with these things. For all we know you’re meant to feel BAD about homogenizing Naoto – from what I gather it certainly seems like it’s implied. It reminds me of how people were offended over “Don’t Take it Personally Babe” because they thought it was endorsing a rather unhealthy relationship with a 15 year old, when it wasn’t the intent.

    It’s a difficult line to tow. I think a lot of people here would err on the side of too Preachy, which would annoy me a little. I think it’s nice from time to time to present something and let people make their minds up, because if you do a flattering depiction of a trans person, it’s likely it’ll change a few minds on it’s own. There was just a little too much ambiguity here, coupled with Atlus’s less than stellar treatment of trans people in PE3 and Catherine. But maybe they were actually trying this time…

    1. Looking to an author’s intent is one out of many perspectives, and is often discounted when doing any sort of analysis. It’s often argued that what the creator intended isn’t always what the piece communicates to the audience. Do you get interesting insight when you know an author’s intent? Sure, definitely, but if no one gets your intent without you there, then it doesn’t really matter. It’s one lesson that comes up in every writing workshop I’ve been in; you have to write a piece that communicates what you want without you having to be there to tell the reader what it all “really means.” Otherwise, you’ve failed in your mission. What you’re talking about here would most likely be called an intentional fallacy, and you’ll find that deciding something as inconclusive because we are unaware of intent is a shaky claim at best.

      1. I don’t agree when people say Author’s Intent counts for nothing, no work is perfect and games are more complicated than paintings, as are stories in general. When you get Forewords and Footnotes in a book, it’s largely the same thing. You don’t get those in video games, so it can be hard to set the context. The writer is never “speaking” to you like in a Book.

        1. As I said, definitely one perspective out of many; the fallacy would be to assume the intent of the author outweighs everything else, and some schools of thought discount the author all together. I wrote this article assuming Atlus was most likely trying to do something on the positive side of neutral, and only want to challenge the ideas they hold to make better non-cisgender characters.

          While we’re on the topic though, voice in novels and games are different, but intent on the game’s side is really difficult to ascertain since AAA games, at least, are made by a whole bunch of people with different ideas that are corralled into on project. If everyone had an equal say on every thing that happened in a game, then something tells me games would be much different.

          As well, novels aren’t really the author speaking to you in a manner that reveals intent. Interact with the narrator in Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” and you’ll find the face value defies what the author intended, while Salman Rushdie’s Shame has the author as the narrator, but still shows how he’s not really the actual author.

          So, as you can see, going by what Atlus says, if you can even get an answer, wouldn’t bear more importance that any other way of interpreting Persona 4 in the face of evidence.

    2. I was going to say something similar. The character/plot isn’t necessarily presented in a poor way (haven’t played the game myself, but I’ve read about it and watched some gameplay videos), but the whole idea of “defaulting to your assigned sex/gender” inherent in forcing Naoto into a schoolgirl outfit is problematic in the context of a cissexist society, where binary-identified trans people have a hard time being taken seriously as “real” or “true” men or women by society… in other words, it wouldn’t be a problem showing a character who is confused about their gender identity if it wasn’t a commonly held idea that *ALL* trans people are really just “confused”.

  13. I think that when you see a poor depiction of a trans person in a story, it can be easy to get upset. Is that what they really think of trans people? In a sense, yet. But at the same time I don’t think the idea of them exploring it on a deeper level beyond them, a lot of “Trans” characters in things aren’t created as transgendered people, they have an idea and it just so happens a trans person fits into it. It’s like when you get some ridiculous set-up involving a blind or deaf person – they’re not writing it about the issues they face, they just fit the part – which is a little bit frustrating.

    It should be noted too that some “trans” people are “confused”, in the sense that they are finding themselves and may not end up plotting themselves on a traditional male female spectrum(sometimes even if they transition). I’ve thought about putting a “genderqueer” character in one of my stories, someone who mostly identifies as male but is a bit closer to in between. It’s not something I can relate to that much, but it has been an area of interest to me, so it’s certainly something I’ll investigate. The problem with people that aren’t us is that they seem to skip this step…

    1. It IS easy to get upset; I spent hours playing P3 and getting attached to the characters, only to have them meet someone like me and react with open disgust. It made me feel my time was wasted on something that just HAD to remind me “the majority of society finds you repugnant” for the sake of a joke. It reminded me that even playing a game isn’t a safe escape. I was excited about Catherine until I read about Erica. And I think getting upset is the right response to that.

  14. I always felt like these characters were correctly fleshed out.

    One important thing about the characters from p4 is that they are teenagers first of all, sexual humans in second. None of them is sure of what they are and how to deal with it.

    I would have liked the option of dating Kanji as the male protagonist (Maybe in the upcoming p4: The Golden) , but p2 innocent sin went there already, giving the player the choice of being homosexual or not.

    Team Persona may not deserve a diploma in teenage sexuality, but for video game developers, they are at the forefront of dealing with such touchy subject with class, and maturity, with maybe a bit of naivety.

    I have not finished Catherine yet, but as for p4, it is also important to remember that it’s main theme is : “How society sees you ends up shaping you”. That’s the whole point of the midnight channel. In that regard, I think that both Naoto and Kanji’s storylines within the context of the game are well done. Especially since this is a video game.

  15. I respect Kanji & Naoto, but honestly, I’m sick of people saying that ATLUS “chickened out” or was “scared out of” making more of Kanji and Naoto. They added the characters, they made them engaging. What more do people want? It stops becoming progressive and just turns into bratty selfishness.
    In P4 you could max out both as Social Links and they faced their demons for all to see just like everyone else. What extra is needed for them? Should they get special treatment JUST because they’re different than the typical character, I say most definitely not.
    Also even though I was surprised when I found out Erica was transgender. She’s a cool character and I never thought “What a monster she is! ” when she admitted to playing Toby. Over-sensitivity is truly a hold back for gaming these days.
    You can make stupid, manipulative, stereotypical heterosexual figures as much as you want, but as soon as it’s done with a transsexual (done most for Persona 4), all of a sudden the joke is off. Also people keep making noise over Kanji not getting 70+ more hours about him just because he is homosexual.
    ATLUS is doing what many JRPGs most likely won’t do at such face value ever. Can people just be grateful for this and stop begging for the game to take away all of the central and sideline perspective only to focus on homosexual/transexual/transgendered character(s)? Probably not, but I’m not going to let it stop allowing me to enjoy these titles no matter how much or little exposure these groups get.

    1. Way to go, Captain Privilege Denial! You’ve rescued cis heteros from persecution by oversensitive queers and angry trannies once again!

    2. … but where are the non-manipulative Transgendered characters? Do you not see how it’s a problem when Transgendered people are more often than not depicted as being manipulative or mentally ill?

  16. I must say I find the comments here a little distressing. People seem to be missing the context you provided with the P3 beach lady and Erica. The team that brought us two “trap” characters did not suddenly turn 180 degrees with Naoto and provide a gender-sensitive portrayal of a genderqueer boy working through his identity. He’s just the flipside of Erica and Beach Lady.

    I get that people are attached to Naoto and want him to have a better story than he does, but the team that created this story does not deserve the benefit of the doubt that many seem willing to give them. One of the most basic transphobic tropes is “you’re not really your professed gender, you just want to escape sexism”. This is a trope that has been played for decades in anime, manga, and games, and Naoto’s story is nothing new. The trans character almost always has a backstory that explains why they’re trans (dead opposite-sex twin/twisted parents that forced them into it/wants to pursue a career that’s coded as the opposite sex/etc), and they usually accept their birth assignment by the end. It’s a not groundbreaking, and it’s not a sign that they’re exploring the issue deeper; they’re exploring the issue at the exact most shallow level they can. They deserve to be called out on this, not have it rationalized away.

    1. I will point out, not trying to go too far down the “Dead Island” route but it’s very possible the writing staff is made up of multiple individuals(someone more familiar with Atlus may confirm this) and a lot of these decisions are “design by committee”. This is a particular problem with most modern video games(especially larger budget ones). The degree to which member has influence on the script could change from game to game. It’s not like an individual Conservative type suddenly changing his mind. A lot of these things just aren’t under much scrutiny, which is in of itself speaks unfortunate volumes as to how trans people figure in the priorities of most people.

      I’d also like to point out that some people do have “gender issues” and sometimes people box themselves off one way or another – sometimes there are self identified “tomboys” that occasionally like to wear makeup or dresses(actually I know a few who do so regularly, I think most of us do). I don’t like the idea of trying to quell traditional or semi-traditional “femininity” completely as I am attracted to femme women and identify as one.

      The issue is that these portrayals almost consistently only show one side of the coin. Dealing with “gender issues” is something positive to portray to wider society because like the good reliable cartoon that returns to the status quo at the end of each episode, it doesn’t rock the boat.

      It is possible that this was a point brought up at some stage as a way to create an original/engaging story line and Naoto’s backstory was meant to be honest, and you were meant to feel bad about making him/her(depending on who’s side you take here) being pushed into being feminine. As far as I can tell there’s no acceptance of femininity here

      1. All these “possibles” are pointless, because regardless of what they could have done, what Team Persona did was put out three characters who, as written and published, undermine trans identities. Two are side characters treated as obviously repulsive, and one for whom the undermining of his identity has an in-game reward. Trying to reinterpret it as an exploration of genderqueer is desperate grasping at straws, and has no bearing on the actual published content than it did when I gave my P3 male character a feminine name and pretended he was actually a girl.

        Positive portrayals of genderqueer characters would be great, but simply pretending the transphobic treatment of a binary identity is actually a pro-genderqueer statement is not going to help any of us. More cynically, giving Team Persona the benefit of the doubt for Naoto’s story when they clearly present trans women as repulsive fakes comes across as yet another case of trans masculine people being prized ahead of trans feminine ones.

        1. I think you ignored what I was saying a little. It’s not necessarily the same people we’re even giving “Benefit of the Doubt”. Someone who knows a little more about Atlus and the development of these games may be able to comment who was responsible for what.

          1. I didnt ignore it, I dismissed it as irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if Its one or two people on the writing team responsible for the transphobia, because the rest of the team let it pass. Unlike the Dead Island problem, this wasnt a single hidden line of code, these were open story elements that were greenlit three times. Also, Dead Island’s devs and company apologized; no one on Team Persona or Atlus has stepped forward to apologize as far as I’ve heard. No writer has come out and said “Sorry, I intended for Naoto to be a positive trans man and the rest of the writing team changed it”. So theorizing on that hypothetical is just distracting from the very real problem they have with trans people.

            1. Again, everyone only has a limited say and it’s possible they had an entirely new writer for P4 who didn’t share the views of the former writers. In the case of Dead Island, it was obvious there would be a shitfest if it got out. Japan isn’t great with LGBT advocacy so it probably didn’t seem to anyone who may have been supportive of LGBT recognition that they would have a real case against it.

              All I’m saying is it’s possible whoever wrote/designed Naoto to have intentions different from the intentions behind other “Trans” characters in other Atlus titles. At the very least, the fact that a character like Naoto was given so much time/attention and treated as a serious character, for the most part, and not a joke, is a marked change from their previous writing, regardless, and this has to be acknowledged. From what I gather there is no typcial “I’m really a girly girl” at the end, and she is portrayed as being markedly uncomfortable when you try to make her wear girls clothes.

  17. Just thought I’ll throw it out there that the trap characters are MTF and Naoto could either be FTM or genderqueer. Assuming that Atlus is indeed taking an essentialist stance, is it possible that the difference of their potrayals boils down to an attiude of “guys thinking they are girls is gross, girls thinking they are guys are being cute but should wear a dress now that the jig is up”?

    1. It could be that, or it could even be that the games had different head writers, or different team members had different levels of say in suggesting ideas.

      With games it’s not like with books, it’s very complicated and it’s hard to blame an individual.

      It still shouldn’t have happened though.

  18. I disagree with the contention that Naoto is actually transgender. In the context of the game, it seems apparent that her transgender aspect was merely a facade she used to overcome her life’s hardships.

    Kanji’s and Naoto’s stories are very similar in this respect. Both had interests (Kanji in various unmasculine activities, Naoto specifically in police work) which did not fit the gender role society had assigned to them. Each took differing routes of escaping society’s views of their gender role. Kanji did so by hiding his activities through the facade of being a tough guy, and Naoto did so by hiding her gender. Their Shadows presented their worst fears of why they might be out-of-touch with their gender role; Kanji most feared that he was gay, and Naoto most feared that she was transgender.

    By defeating their Shadows, they accepted that they didn’t have to follow society’s gender roles; that they were free to express themselves as they saw fit. Insisting that Naoto is truly transsexual and shouldn’t change after defeating her Shadow would be akin to insisting that Kanji is truly a thug: demanding that they make accommodations in their personality to fit society’s gender roles. I disagree with that.

  19. nice article, except

    Naoto doesn’t cross-dress because she wants to be male
    i don’t even necessarily think she cross-dresses because she wants to be seen as male
    to me it seems she cross-dresses because she DOESN’T want to be seen as female, which i think is an important distinction.
    Naoto is afraid to expose her femininity because she’s afraid it will be seen as weakness, and she wont be taken as seriously, so she hides behind a mask of “cool, stoic detective” to protect herself. and even after she accepts her shadow, and her fears maybe aren’t directly controlling it ,she is still clearly very uncomfortable with her femininity, or at least exposing it to other people, which i think gets transposed to another thing; she doesn’t want to be sexualized. this is why she straps down her chest (which may be the biggest of the female main characters, depending on how you interpret a certain scene), this is why she’s so uncomfortable wearing the girls uniform (schoolgirl outfits are often seen as a fetish-y thing) this is why even if she enters the beauty pageant she refuses to go out in a swimsuit. and ultimately i think the fact that she won the beauty pageant without having to expose herself like that is really good for her.

    now some of you may disagree because you want her to be trans for some reason, but if she can live happy and comfortable with herself as a female, i don’t really understand why you’re trying so hard to take that away from her.

    also, i think the problem with the depiction of trans people in the media is that they aren’t being written by trans people, or at least with more fundamental motivations for being so. because normal Joe schmo off the street (like me, and i’m willing to bet most writers of trans characters) doesn’t understand trans people, that’s why they have to explain it away in T.V and Movies with some bizarre explanation about how they had a twin of the opposite sex or they’re afraid of not being taken seriously, or what have you. which is probably really bad for real trans people in the long run.

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