Persona 4 and the benefits of imperfect representation

In recent years, proper representation for LGBT characters has become an increasingly hot topic amongst gamers. There's a dearth of gay characters in gaming, which has naturally led to a lot of demand for more representation. While that's admirable, I feel the fervor for gay representation can sometimes be reductive to the nuances in sexuality. Case in point: Kanji Tatsumi, a gay character who's been denounced recently by certain parts of the Persona fandom for being noncommittal in his role as a gay representative for the series.

Persona 4 is about helping people deal with their repressed emotions. Each dungeon is a physical manifestation of somebody's psyche, and the boss will be their Shadow, a distorted version of how they view the parts of themselves they can’t accept. Kanji’s dungeon is a men’s bathhouse; his Shadow is a lispy, flirtatious man running around in a towel. The message seems fairly obvious: Kanji is a closeted homosexual. But things aren’t as cut and dry as that.

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I think this is where a lot of people’s issues with Kanji’s story come from. It feels a little like queerbaiting—teasing a queer character early on to get the attention of fans desperate for LGBT representation, only to backpedal later and say “Don’t worry guys, he’s not really gay!” I understand the frustration at that, but I think dismissing Kanji as a bad LGBT character simply because of it does a massive disservice to the story he tells about the complexity of sexuality.

Kanji’s family owns a textile shop, which leads to Kanji developing a knack for knitting and sewing at a young age. He gets mocked for being too girly and becomes isolated from the world, as both sexes mock a man with such feminine interests. Partially to reaffirm his masculinity and partially to solidify the wedge between him and the world that rejected him, Kanji adopts an overly tough and brutish persona, replacing people’s contempt for him with fear. But that insecurity over his lack of masculinity stays embedded, and possibly manifests as his confused sexuality.

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We first see Kanji’s attraction to men when he meets Naoto Shirogane, a woman who’s presenting as a man at the time. (Whether or not Naoto is another example of queerbaiting is a whole other can of worms I won’t get into.) After discovering she’s a woman, he continues being attracted to her. Of course, the root of his attraction to Naoto is that she’s one of the few people to accept him and make him feel valued or safe. But it leaves the question of his orientation murkier, leading to cries of noncommittal representation being lobbied against the game.

It’s important to note, however, that just because Kanji’s only love interest is female, that doesn’t stop him from being a queer character. Nothing definitive is ever stated about Kanji’s sexuality, and more crucially, Kanji seems just as fervent for answers as his fans. For example, when the prospect of Naoto entering a beauty pageant comes up, putting her in a position where she would dress more traditionally feminine than she does otherwise, Kanji begs her to do so as his ”doubts will finally be cleared."

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The idea of not understanding your own sexuality may seem alien to some people—whether you’re straight or gay or anywhere in between, you just like what you like, right?—but the complexity and range of feelings present can be hard to navigate as a teenager, especially for those who have had self-doubt instilled in them from isolating experiences as a youth. Your natural instinct is to cling to labels, these safe harbors of identity that define the people around you, who seem so much more secure than you. As helpful as labels are as shorthands for communicating, they're not always the most robust at nailing down one's feelings.

Personally speaking, I consider myself mostly straight, as I’m attracted to women but have always had a slight attraction to men since I hit puberty. As silly as it sounds now, the underwhelming nature of that attraction drove me crazy as a kid, as it left me without a comfortable label and identity. Girls caught my attention everywhere I went, yet I couldn’t help but notice—and appreciate—men with some degree of regularity. I didn’t think I was gay, but those pesky thoughts reminded me I wasn’t totally straight either. My conception of bisexuality at the time was that it was a purely equal, balanced attraction to either sex, so I couldn’t find any sense of identity there either. I would try to force thoughts into my head, to cut out the unwelcome ones and force myself to be either gay or straight. I didn’t care which one; I just wanted to know where I belonged.

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This led to panic and rumination over my sexuality. I’d heard stories of men who wouldn’t come out of the closet until middle age, sometimes having a wife and kids, so I worried that I was gay and would waste much of my life in the closet. Maybe I was gay and I was just trying to suppress my feelings after growing up in a household with four older brothers who were constantly hurling gay jokes, usually at me. Or maybe I was straight and the vague attraction to men was implanted in me from internalizing those jokes. Maybe I was straight and was simply so desperate for acceptance and love that I’d be willing to settle for a man. I realize these ideas are ridiculous, but without any grounding sense of identity back then, I was floundering to simply understand who I was. After all, I’d never seen anyone going through what I was going through, so I must have been the only one. It must just be a problem with my screwy head.

I wish there was a more narratively satisfying conclusion to this story, but after a few years of this, more pressing concerns came up and I simply decided that I was happy to call myself straight and live that way, but to keep my mind open if the opportunity to explore those feelings ever arose. I’d be lying if I said I still didn’t have some lingering frustration at the lack of consistency in my sexuality, but I’m still taking things one day at a time.

I can’t help but wonder, however, if seeing a story like Kanji’s would have helped me back then. Some simple reassurance that things aren’t as easy for everyone as they seem sometimes. Something to let me know it’s okay to not understand yourself, as long as you can accept the answers you find in your own time. I realize there's another side to this coin, that there are gay gamers out there who needed to see someone like Kanji fully embrace his homosexuality and be out and proud, and I empathize with how hard it would be to see him heel turn and, conveniently, unknowingly be attracted to a woman the entire time. Regardless, I think the backlash to his story is a bit overblown, and even reductive to the case for LGBT representation. Sure, I'd love to see a fully out Persona character someday, but to pretend that Kanji doesn't represent the LGBT community is to ignore the huge, complex spectrum of sexuality that’s out there.
 

gnmmarechal

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European here.
To me it looks a lot (from what we perceive from america) like that a big part of the discussion about rapresentation in western media is made by people trying to one up eachover in who is the most vocal supporter, missing completely the point of the rapresentation in the first place.

Is pretty much accepted that sexuality is a spectre and that a lot of people are somewhere in between, even if most will still be heavily leaning on one of the side.
but what we see is that instead of accepting it as it is there are very vocal people who try to categorize and put labels on every single person, forcing them in premade categories and stereotypes, with really bad results (like the countless tumblr gender)

For this reason Kanji can appear as a 'bad' rapresentation, while I think is quiet a good.
The reality is not black or white, is a shade of gray, and a huge number of teenagers (the demographic of the characters) doubts their own sexuality in multiple ways, and this is well expressed in the game.

We do not need a clear cut answer if a character is gay or not, because the sexuality itself of a person should not define it, but that how is lived helps define it.

In western media we need less "YES I'M GAY, SUPER GAY, ULTRA GAY, LOOK AT HOW GAY I AM" characters, that are often just token to pander to specific demographic, and more "This is my story, that also happens to include me being gay" kind of characters.

Heterosexual characters do not have their heterosexuality as their main point of the personality, I do not see why homosexual ones should have it.

Point in case, Kenji.
We know what he likes, we know how people reacted to it and how he changed in reaction to them. We know his internal troubles and his need to be accepted. We do not need a label that say "yes, he is gay" because it will add anything to the character, would be just pointless pandering.
Sorry, that just reminded me of
 

BitMasterPlus

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Persona 4 and 5 represent Japan's views on LGBTQ issues: ignorance. They stereotype gay people as a joke.

(I am a bisexual myself)

Western games have a better representation of LGBTQ characters, however, representation of bisexual men seem minority. This is why I love Mass Effect so much, because there is something for everyone. Dragon Age Inquisition was okay, kinda disappointed they removed Cullen's bisexuality and he ended as a straight guy. There's a mod to enable the gay romance scene but that's hilariously awkward.

1. Who cares? Other than people who don't even play the games, or who do but are most likely miserable people looking to force their views on a specific media type.

2. Most of the western media that does inject this fails. I can't speak for Dragon Age Inquisition since I'm not sure how that did, I think it wasn't good, need to look it up, but Mass Effect Andromeda and The Last of Us Part 2 failed big time because "inclusion" was a big part of it.
 

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Judging by the replies I got I don't think so lmao.


"Look at me being all ironic, I think I'll validate that irony on Twitter later"
Jessica, Maam, just say you're homophobic and move on, its not that hard :rolleyes:

P.S I think your post was the ranty one but i guess I'm wrong about that one too in your eyes :gba:
 

GamerzHell9137

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I have no fear of homos, or spiders, don't worry, move on.
Cool then! LGBT representation is gonna come even more in the future so the sooner you stop ranting for no reason the sooner you'll be fine about it. Here i thought you were homophobic. Time will fix your bothering issue but until then i guess we need to deal with it.
 

ZeroFX

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Cool then! LGBT representation is gonna come even more in the future so the sooner you stop ranting for no reason the sooner you'll be fine about it. Here i thought you were homophobic. Time will fix your bothering issue but until then i guess we need to deal with it.
"I rant, so ofc he ranted as well, im bothered and so he is"
 

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They just recognize when someone is attractive. If that was the case then every single women is gay. Which I don't believe. It's more acceptable for a woman to coment the same sex attraction but for a male it isn't, I noticed.
I would tend to disagree. While I do believe men aren't complimenting each other as much as women do, I tend to think they still would compliment each other even tho it's still kinda repressed. What I mean is that it's better than before imho.

That's what I see in my circle of friends sometimes and some other, even online with strangers on Twitter for example. Well, compliments aren't necessarily the first thing that is thrown, sure, but it can happen, and I see people making ironic gay jokes pretty easily.
It also makes me think about JoJo's Bizarre Adventure which has a « gay » style according to some, because of the massive muscular men and the poses, and heterosexual men still like this and don't feel shame in reproducing poses even tho this is gay as fuck, because in some sense it's just beauty (well, even if I'm not sure this is a good thing to idolize such standards but that's another topic)

Online, there are some people who make gay jokes pretty easily, it's very ironic because usually it's a tweet joke, then instant response with « sorry got hacked » and it has more likes and people tend to like this kind of joke, some do get along and get even further with it.

There are way more people than before who are willing to take the thing not seriously at all and just ... get ironic with it. Like « yeah Henry Cavill is super hot he could f my ass, sorry got hacked » « I would tho »

In sports, like fitness and musculation, I also kinda see the opposite, people tend to support each other and they really just want their pals to be handsome and again they could make gay jokes about that.

Tl;dr : it's definitely way more accepted than ever before for men


They made the claim about persona 4 and 5 they have to prove it

You do understand that it's impossible to prove that something does not exist, right ?
Unless you really want him to list every piece of japanese media ever and explain how they fit into his argument, while if you really wanted to destroy his argument, you would only have to bring one or two ?
I know the burden of proof stuff but it can't really apply here
 
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diggeloid

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Really well written.

When playing the game, I also thought that Naoto being revealed as a woman was a cheap cop out to avoid a controversial topic, but this post actually helped me see it differently.

... things aren’t as easy for everyone as they seem sometimes.

I always dismissed Kanji as a boring/failed character after that reveal (like the writers just gave up on him), but if I consider that maybe he isn't just a simple closeted homosexual character who finally comes out thanks to the support of his friends, he becomes a lot more interesting. As a straight dude, I've rarely ever considered that gray area between gay and straight, so seeing Kanji as falling right in the middle of that gives me a lot more to think about if I ever decide to replay this.


Also, props for having the balls to post something of this nature on a forum like this. I wouldn't want to be your inbox right now.
 

Ritsuki

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I think we tend to mix a lot of feelings in this kind of debate... Representation is important because you need visibility to make a point. For a long time, LGBT+ people had a very negative image (sinners, drug addicts, HIV, etc...) and to show that actually, they're just like any people is important and the best way to do it is to use popular things. It's really just exposure. I was born in Switzerland but my parents are not from here, and in my country of origin, being gay is illegal, so most gay people are still in the closet for obvious reasons, meaning that they're repressing part of their identity, and as we know it's rarely a good thing. People would ostracise them, ignore them, just like if they were ghosts. But recently, they added a few LGBT+ characters in local shows, and giving more exposure to LGBT celebrities, and it really made a difference because now at least, they're not just invisible people that nobody wants, they're slowly but surely showing people that who you're having sex with is not going to define your whole life or makes you a bad person, a criminal.

But I must say that I'm always amazed by how people are interested in other's sexuality/gender. I feel like as a society we put way too much emphasis on it. Don't get me wrong, it's important, but I really think that it is not the main characteristic of humans, let alone the most important, and yet we let it define a ton of aspects of our life. Nowadays I feel that this is all we are. We are complex being and imho we try too hard to simplify things by labeling or using logic, instead of just feelings. It's a very intimate and personal journey, and people should take the time to do it, and we should respect that, because in the end, it is so personal that I don't really understand what does it change to the grand scheme of things if we have 2 or 99+ genders/orientations? We don't even have to understand or accept it, but the bare minimum is to let people live their lives as they want as long as they're hurting no one.
 

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iirc the person who made Kanji confirmed that Kanji wasn't gay but straight.
I think what Persona tried to convey is that feminine activities or traits do not make you gay.
Femininity is just a social construct in the end made to categorize people (maybe even to manipulate people's behavior and for humans its easier to get categorized than having a lot of different views. I think that's a big topic to talk about with a lot of variables).

Woman are supposed to behave X way and Man are supposed to behave Y way is what is taught right now and i personally think that's really toxic. Gender in general is not something that should be categorized imho since its different from person to person. Mostly it shouldn't matter but that identity is a bit different with people who are transsexual with gender dysphoria etc. All about gender right now is really muddied so its hard to know what's right and what's wrong and the thing can be interpenetrated in different ways. Psychology and Sociology's definition of Gender is different which is making even more confusion.

I do believe that Kanji is straight and loves conventionally not masculine activities to partake in but IS representing himself masculine, now if that's forced or not idk. He's attracted to Naoto because of the person she is, out factors like boobs or *monkey noises* being wamen, is not something that he was attracted in the first place but her activity as a detective and maybe just something else that we don't *see* (You know how you get in love with somebody for no reason? That's what i mean! [Tho there's always reasons why you get in love with somebody *cough* ] )

Ohh and relauby talked about bisexuality. Bisexuality is a range too, you might be more or less attracted to your own sex or more or less to your opposite sex. Some people do feel "half half" but in general that's not the case. You can be bisexual and still be only with woman, doesn't make you more or less bi or more or less straight OR more or less gay, you're still bi. And if we threw sexual orientation and romantic orientation into this then woooo, that would be a mess! There's so much that we don't know about attraction.
Ohh and i think if you played Persona 4 before it would make you even more confused so i think its better that you didn't play it when you were young lool.

TLDR; Kanji is straight judging by the maker of the character it seems? Seen it in a interview, have no source but belib mi. (Maybe if you google you'll find something)

Gender,sexuality and sex ed right now is being repressed to be taught in schools right now which i find terrible for everyone's psyche and tbh everyone should learn more about it so the mess we're in right now gets fixed already. It would help the LGBT community AND Straight people since we all are going trough the same things more or less.
 
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The Catboy

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(Advance warning: I took this post through moderation before posting it to make sure it's alright. It does not break rules, but I realize some people WILL be emotionally hurt by this. I am sorry if it does.)



I may only be speaking for myself, but I've never had an issue with tastefully written LGBTQs. The problem is that, and I mean this to no offense, that the 'representation' crowd often expect unreasonable representation volume to my knowledge. And often the very contradictory approaches to 'representation' of a minority of any sort.

-----

Case in point: Using my favorite series, the "Legend of Heroes: Trails[...]" series, we got:

Olivier - a bisexual who leans hetero, although it might just be he enjoys using his openness to tease his male friends.
Michel - now I may describe this wrong as I'm not too good with the spectrum of LGBTQ+, but he is a muscular man who identifies somewhat feminine ('maternal' instincts is a term he seems to use according to the Geofront translation).
Angelica - Blatantly Homosexual.

I personally love all three characters in a character fashion. They're all interesting and well written. They all live in different nations in the world, too. They don't come off as there for the sake of representation.

------

Now let's compare to https://turtlepedia.fandom.com/wiki/April_O'Neil_(Rise_of_the_TMNT)

April O'Neil of one of the latest TMNT series. If they made an entirely new African American character, I'd be fine. But they took an Established white character, and made her African America.

This was praised for it's "inclusivity". But I view it in a different light: why would we care about "whitewashing" but not about "blackwashing"? How about any other 'washing' that exists out there? This is wherein the representation gets 'unreasonable' to me. It becomes less about 'representation' and more about 'negation' to push for 'inclusivity'.

-----

This is where we aren't being 'inclusive', but rather attempting a full blown 'takeover'. Inclusivity is about all cultures, all sexualities, all skin colors, etc, being treated fairly.

This loops back to this whole thing: they're right that there's 'forced diversity' simply to be inclusive recently. Likewise, it's resulting to an actual presence of people convincing their children, or their friends, that they're LGBTQ+. People mix up 'fair' with 'being equally represented in media' for example. But that isn't how it works.

There's people out there convincing people that an LGBTQ+ has to be involved in every piece of media, because 'there doesn't need to be heterosexuals either'. But the stark reality is that LGBTQ+ as of 2017 gallup poles represented not even 5% of Americans. That's a rather low number, and in a local community, considering how people tend to gather and interact, it's likely that you'd not actually run into anyone outside of school or work who's LGBTQ+ or interact with them in a capacity you'd realize they're LGBTQ+.

But when you show a large # of LGBTQ+s in one area within say modern Earth, and make a focus on them, it does come off as 'forced inclusivity'. Because unless there's some geo-psychological or genetic reasoning for it happening (similar to, for example, Geo-religious habits of Indians being Hindus), there'd be unlikely to be a large foundation for it.

-----

Of course, I realize this WILL step on some toes. Some will want to believe that because they exist, they should be included. But I flip that script: do you need a Chinese man like Jackie chan in a Wild-Western Texan movie unless it's meant to be a sort of comedy about a Chinese man out of his depth? But reality and truth true 'inclusivity' 'fairness' does not care about one's desires, but about honest statistics, as humans often argue over about subjective values to begin with.

I'm all for LGBTQ+ and African Americans and Asian Americans and Middle Eastern Americans so on and so forth getting their fair share. But it's just that: Fair. Some will argue this as me being a 'fragile white man'. I disagree. they're welcome to your presence as much as I am to mine. I think the reality stands more that, being a minority, they all dread the idea of not being shown in equal volume to the White people because they think that is 'inclusivity'.

And as a minority white man in a part of a section of a state that's predominantly NOT White (that's as far as anyone here will learn about me), who has been treated in a racist fashion in his life for being white, and not understanding the local language because it isn't predominantly English, being raised in a predominantly female household, I understand a LITTLE more than most here amongst the White-CIS Male audiance. But that isn't inclusivity, that's a cultural warfare. Earn your places by merit, not by your sexuality or your skin color.
I kind of chewed up what I would say to this post before deciding to just say that my post was more or less two things; the first being the comment of "if you want representation, then make your own media." I hear a lot by people who often then turn around and get mad when said media is made. It's not uncommon for someone to add an LGBT+ character and get "Why is everything suddenly political?!" or "Why is everything suddenly gay?!" when it can literally be as simple as a single openly LGBT+ character or even LGBT+ couple. So there's this disconnect when people talk about representation, regardless of the context. There is a personal note that I do like to see different representations in media. I don't think it always needs to play a bigger role as some people might. But, I do enjoy it when there's just a casual LGBT+ character in like a slice of life anime or media focused closer slice of life, like games with life simulators being part of them. There are some forms of media where representation is a mess, ironically a lot of LGBT+ centric media suffers from terrible LGBT+ representation.
My second point was that I've always been on the fence about characters like Kanji, but do actually like the fact that they left his story ambitious and that he's still trying to figure himself throughout the game. This spoke to me on a personal level because I've always been in conflict with my own gender and sexuality. So there was something I took out of the game, which is this acknowledgment that these things aren't always so easily answered and that sometimes there's just no clearcut answer.
 
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I'll try and over-simplify as representation is a dense and nuanced conversation. but think of it like this.


You know how it's still illegal to be gay in a lot of the world? like, you can be sentenced to death by the state just for being gay? okay, that's just gay, and the western world has gotten...better? about "gay". and that's only after decades and decades for bloody fighting for every ounce of representation and fighting for every inch to get to cultural normality.

and we're still not there! imagine all the other sexualities, and everything not normalized that should be, imagine how careful you must be to not put a target on your back by people who will literally, physically harm you for it.

and now imagine how some people will treat you like a different, lesser, person when you're simply living this normal part of your life openly.


Even if you're "okay" with it, are you comfortable with it? why? why not?


representation helps unexposed/uncomfortable folks realize this perfectly normal thing is, in fact, normal and should be accepted.

But it's not just about normalizing and educating the uneducated. Those who feel alone can understand they are not alone. Those who have been told it's ethically wrong and hate themselves can know they're not monsters. those who hide it can know the difficulties in expressing it, to help navigate the hellish landscape.

It can allow a platform for expressing how a normal, mundane part of themselves is taken as an excuse to abuse and torment. this is why folks are loud and proud. It's telling all the aholes, "you wanna hurt me because of this terribly mundane and normal part of me? Bring it, *****."


oh, and "good representation" helps the above, "bad representation" makes it worse. and it's a whole conversation on its own.


tbh I've never played a persona game. but I can definitely see the appeal.
It's got me thinking. Gays in many cultures are universally hated. Is there predisposition roots to why humans hate gays? In small hunter gatherer societies when human population was very Low. To make sure all humans reproduce and create babies for the survival of the species and group.

Since humans needed to create big families and small groups which increase survival since many kids died before reaching adulthood. And humans work better in groups building off knowledge of the past. Being gay means less kids. I wonder if there's a human survival reason for outcasting gays in the past.
 
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... Actually, Trans People have historically played a big role in Ancient Civilizations.

People only remember what's convenient, and convenience brings them only as far back as that asinine tale of the cities Sodom and Gomorrah, where apparently the whole Population were lusting for Angel Anus. That is why Gays have been hated in every Culture touched by said Religions, which would affect how people perceive the Past as opposed to the whole of History.

There is nothing new in being ambiguous in Gender and Sexuality and I'd wish more people would actually read up on History and understand that.
But Life is Cyclical, alongside History, so eh.

Back to the point, the biggest difference in those Historical roles than their Modern counterparts is the definition of Trans.
To them and most of Modern Asia still, being Transgender means surpassing any Gender Roles, Male and Female; they are a Role of their own and do not overlap with existing Societal Roles and Rights.

To the Modern West, Transgender seems to be the greedy-be-all Role that forces both Genders to accept them, which I believe also causes the most pushback.
That's why the Transgender Social Rights issues in the United States don't reflect those in most of Asia.
 
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Justinde75

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I personally never saw Kanji as gay. His story arc was about him accepting that he is not the tough rebel guy that he acts like. Kanji shows interest in women many times. P4A shows him get a nosebleed from Yukiko and Chie's bathing suits so if anything he is bi. Dude just likes masculine girls and cute stuff.

So to me he is accepting his feminine side and throwing away tough guy norms that he doesnt feel right in, which I think is a much more interesting topic than him just outright being gay. He is the only child in the family and his father died at a young age. He even told him to be a strong man so that is why he acts that way. Many men fight with expectations of others who tell them that they can't like cute things, cry or feel for others. Its a huge issue in our current world and I personally suffered from it as well.

I am very emotional, like cute things and care a ton about feelings. Most older people would call me a girl just because I care about those things.
 
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I really liked your write up OP! As a bisexual I always really enjoyed Kanji's arc because it seemed refreshingly realistic. I think a lot of people forget that Kanji is only 15 and hasn't explored his sexuality yet; IME a lot of bisexuals or just bi-curious people don't/can't explore their same sex attraction and thus label themselves until college or later, especially men. As much as I would love to see a modern Persona with an explicitly queer party member (or romance options... plz Atlus), I'm personally satisfied with how Kanji was handled.
 
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I was wondering about something: Is a transgender male to female transphobic if that person is not attracted to any transgender female to male people who have already transitioned?
 

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It's got me thinking. Gays in many cultures are universally hated. Is there predisposition roots to why humans hate gays? In small hunter gatherer societies when human population was very Low. To make sure all humans reproduce and create babies for the survival of the species and group.

Since humans needed to create big families and small groups which increase survival since many kids died before reaching adulthood. And humans work better in groups building off knowledge of the past. Being gay means less kids. I wonder if there's a human survival reason for outcasting gays in the past.
nah, a great many cultures in the past had no problem with it. definitely more of a post-abrahamic religion thing. it's not a nature thing. definitely a "not like me or what I expect, so therefore bad and immoral. and i make the rules.".
 
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    kenenthk @ kenenthk: It's not horrible just feels like they're trying to please crowds too hard