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.
 

Windaga

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I'm in the process of proofing a lengthy VN script for a couple that I'm close with, and it's definitely interesting to see how other people "view" the sexual spectrum (especially when it comes to romance.) I've always loved Kanji, but I never considered him "gay" (though that may be due to my specific views on terminology); I always saw him as the teen trying to find himself, wherever that might land him. Thinking about it, though, I guess it really does tick all of the boxes.

Either way, it was worth the read - thanks for your perspective!
 
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Ottoclav

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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 don't see the ridiculous ideas you are mentioning. Those are all valid concerns. If everyone wasn't concerned over these ideas, then we'd all be basic animals. The idea that labels are bad is silly, since even those that tout that they don't believe in labels use them when it suits them. Which just makes them plain hypocrites. How about you just be you, and be comfortable with that. If you find guys attractive, but females are what really do it for you, then that's cool. I mean, everyone is entitled to their own thoughts, and they don't have shout them from the rooftops to be accepted.
 

WaffleRaccoon

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Just great. Now cancel culture is going to talk about the Persona Games and the Persona Series will get canceled. :glare: I hope my favorite video game series of all time doesn't go away.
 

notrea11y

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It's
If somebody understands sexuality, let me know. I doubt anybody understands sexuality, let alone their own role in it.

At heart, sexual-orientation & drive are just that:
They'll lead you *somewhere* to *someone* (can be more than one)

Here is a -incomplete- rundown:

Hetero/bla:
Should be obvious, else you'd not be able to type that message

Homo/etc:
They will raise the children them heteros created while being drunk/stupid/unreasonable.
Furthermore having a homosexual sibling increases the others siblings reproductive success by heightening their fertility.
Integral to society.

Asexuals:
Are busy getting sh## done.
Might be the only ones you can rely on in certain situations

I will not do an entire list and I won't source anything as this is a vg forum.

Just don't go around thinking your fairytail beliefs that contradict actual biology have any basis in reality.

The Psyche is the problem, just as the ego is.
Humans are troubled, always have been, always will be.
 
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kevin corms

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Anyone giving this story backlash is just a bigot themselves.

--------------------- MERGED ---------------------------

Just great. Now cancel culture is going to talk about the Persona Games and the Persona Series will get canceled. :glare: I hope my favorite video game series of all time doesn't go away.
Lets just ignore the twitter mob for once, almost nobody actually cares about their bs no matter how much media props it up.
 
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Just great. Now cancel culture is going to talk about the Persona Games and the Persona Series will get canceled. :glare: I hope my favorite video game series of all time doesn't go away.
...did you read the article it was complimenting persona
 

tabzer

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At heart, sexual-orientation & drive are just that:
They'll lead you *somewhere* to *someone* (can be more than one)

Here is a -incomplete- rundown:

Hetero/bla:
Should be obvious, else you'd not be able to type that message

Homo/etc:
They will raise the children them heteros created while being drunk/stupid/unreasonable.
Furthermore having a homosexual sibling increases the others siblings reproductive success by heightening their fertility.
Integral to society.

Asexuals:
Are busy getting sh## done.
Might be the only ones you can rely on in certain situations

I will not do an entire list and I won't source anything as this is a vg forum.

Just don't go around thinking your fairytail beliefs that contradict actual biology have any basis in reality.

The Psyche is the problem, just as the ego is.
Humans are troubled, always have been, always will be.

While categorization makes reality appear more manageable I don't recognize the method as complete understanding, but a bypass. If you could point out where P4 is misrepresenting biology, then that could be an interesting point. Otherwise I don't understand the point of that comment.
 

Seliph

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It is pretty normal for a man to admire other man beauty. Most glorious art about beautiful man was made by other man, not woman. The one who write about all the sexy gods and heroes throughout history are also men.
Hmmmm maybe because these men were... gay? Or at the very least bisexual? If you go back about 200 or 300 years you'll find that sexuality was very fluid. It wasn't presented in the rigid terms of straight or gay or anything in between like we have now. It was very common to just... love whoever you want. Homosexuality was very common in Greece, to act like men who admire each other and call each other beautiful/sexy whatever doesn't at the very least suggest some form of homosexuality is laughable and ahistorical.

Just read the works of Sappho or look at greek pottery for long enough, they talk about and represent gay sex a LOT. The term lesbian derives from the Greek island Lesbos (Lesbian literally means from Lesbos or of Lesbos). You wanna know why lesbians are named after a Greek island? Because they had a lot of gay sex on Lesbos!


Anyways, nice article, I hope we can see more pieces like this. Shame that so many snowflakes on here get triggered by a basic opinion essay.
9dk8styt5zs41.jpg
 
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Valwinz

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Just great. Now cancel culture is going to talk about the Persona Games and the Persona Series will get canceled. :glare: I hope my favorite video game series of all time doesn't go away.
Na they tried but failed

only games that they were able to censor was persona 5 because gay people can never be shown like odd people but you can make fun of everyone else
 
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The Catboy

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Na they tried but failed

only games that they were able to censor was persona 5 because gay people can never be shown like odd people but you can make fun of everyone else
That’s a weird way of saying that they presented gay men as extremely predatory with rapey undertones, a harmful stereotype people need to move away from
 
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anhminh

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Hmmmm maybe because these men were... gay? Or at the very least bisexual? If you go back about 200 or 300 years you'll find that sexuality was very fluid. It wasn't presented in the rigid terms of straight or gay or anything in between like we have now. It was very common to just... love whoever you want. Homosexuality was very common in Greece, to act like men who admire each other and call each other beautiful/sexy whatever doesn't at the very least suggest some form of homosexuality is laughable and ahistorical.

Just read the works of Sappho or look at greek pottery for long enough, they talk about and represent gay sex a LOT. The term lesbian derives from the Greek island Lesbos (Lesbian literally means from Lesbos or of Lesbos). You wanna know why lesbians are named after a Greek island? Because they had a lot of gay sex on Lesbos!


Anyways, nice article, I hope we can see more pieces like this. Shame that so many snowflakes on here get triggered by a basic opinion essay.
9dk8styt5zs41.jpg
It not gay if the word "gay" hadn't been invented yet is what you try to say right? Excpet even today, most fanservice for woman was also drawed by straight guy as well. We always have it in us, gay or not.
 

Seliph

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It not gay if the word "gay" hadn't been invented yet is what you try to say right? Excpet even today, most fanservice for woman was also drawed by straight guy as well. We always have it in us, gay or not.
Maybe the lesson we can learn from this is that we are all a little bit gay. Sexuality is always fluid, never rigid. I think we could learn a lot from the Greeks in this regard.
 
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Valwinz

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Maybe the lesson we can learn from this is that we are all a little bit gay. Sexuality is always fluid, never rigid. I think we could learn a lot from the Greeks in this regard.
Sexuality is always fluid,? no is not
 
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