Conversations with AM Cosmos: Personal Evolutions of Fandom

I often gripe about how I wish my job was just to sit around and talk to interesting people all day, having earnest, in depth conversations about joint interests. Social media isn’t the best place for this because there’s a risk with publicly revealing yourself, unedited, to a live audience. Last GDC, I sat down with my fellow rotten girl AM Cosmos to talk about fandom and what it’s like being a fan of media with oppressive imagery and stories in a time of heightened social awareness. We will eventually start talking about Persona 4 (spoilers for it) and the character Adachi, but first, we start candidly about what got us invested in fandom way back when. AM’s lines are in bold, and enjoy!

Well, let’s just get started talking about fandom itself. For me, fandom started when my best friend introduced me to Gundam Wing

I wonder if that isn’t like, a general first?

Yeah, it’s a probably general thing

Even when that question came up at TCAF (Toronto Comic Arts Festival), during the erotic comics panel, it was Spike Trotman, she edits Smut Peddler, Jess Fink, Katie Skelly, and there was my friend Hamlet Machine, and then there was the guy who translates and edits Massive, which is-

That’s that bara magazine right?

Yeah, it’s awesome

That sounds like an amazing panel

It was such a good panel. But everyone was asked the question, “How did you first realize that comics could be an erotic artform” and Spike would say “I would walk into the comic store one day and see Heavy Metal” or something like that and we were all like woah and Hamlet is just sitting there like “So there’s show called Gundam Wing…

Yessss

And she would say “So I tried to google some of these characters and stuff popped up and I was really into it” and I was like “Oh that makes sense, how you draw hair, all the sci-fi stuff is very Gundam Wing

So what was your first fandom then?

I think I was into Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy VII was like my really big one, ‘cause that’s the first I remember reading fanfiction of.

Yeah, I think they were around at the same time?

They’re both contemporaries

What is your favorite FFVII pairing? Gimme the OTP

I thought it was going to be Zack and Cloud-

Yes that’s mine!

Ha, that’s your jam? But I actually think I’ve come to terms that it’s actually Reno and Cloud

Oh??

I was always really excited when Reno would show up and I would always be like “Ooo, are you going to hassle Cloud?” and that’s how I knew that was my jam. And [the pairing] had a very small subset of fans.

It’s interesting to me that I liked Zack x Cloud because they were rarely seen together in the game. So is like, very figurative

Yeah, so when you say you’re into that, some people don’t really get it, because you don’t get a lot out of those scenes

It’s interesting to me because, for one, fandom tends to create certain archetypes for characters and it was the one I found that Cloud was really different than the rest of the pairings, right? He gets infantilized a lot because this pairing takes place in the past-

And there’s so many times when he’s just like, totally comatose and helpless, so it might have something to do with that

Yeah, and that change really got me. So like, what do you think really grabbed you into fandom?

Well I think it was because, while I was playing Final Fantasy VII I got really into it, and eventually I got to a point where I stopped playing it and I was thirsty for more, I wanted more stories, I liked these characters a lot and wanted to see more of their adventures. And I don’t know how I was exposed to all this- I bet something on Livejournal exposed me to all this probably- I had a Livejournal because I had a friend who became my roommate he was a sysadmin for Livejournal and I was probably like “Oh alright I’ll get a Livejournal” and it turns out that’s how I communicated with Joel back then. Speaking of fandom, I met my boyfriend on a Dragon Ball newsgroup

There you go! My best friend is the person who introduced me to Gundam Wing fandom and that’s how I found fanfiction existed because I didn’t look on the internet for video game stuff when I was younger until, you know, this Gundam Wing and Final Fantasy fanfic

You know, we’re saying ‘fandom’ and I guess I didn’t really count my first two. My first real introduction was a Sailor Moon board, like where you chat about Sailor Moon, but I wasn’t really into the fandom, like reading fanfics. We were more just there to talk about Sailor Moon. It was a board that also had more general stuff but it was a Sailor Moon community. And then, later, when I figured out how to do newsgroups and stuff, I joined the Dragon Ball newsgroup and that’s where I met Joel

It’s interesting that you put it like that because in a way, I guess I’m almost saying fandom to mean fanfiction, but also at the same time I am thinking about fan stuff overall, like, what is that? But, to be fair, we probably started on one weird strain of fandom-

You really need to read Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World, there’s little essays from actual fanfic writers and one of the chapters I’m reading now is about a lady who made Star Trek zines, like she had stapling parties, and that’s how they distributed fic back then, by collating them together and just passing them around and swapping zines. Which is really awesome. I’m also really interested in fandoms that have survived that long, like anime and video game ones are very short-term, but like Sherlock Holmes, it has many different iterations, so there’s the original Sherlock people and then the TV series people, like there are many different things to keep the fandom alive. So it’s like the same but also branching itself out

For me, when I think of fandom overall, what my fandom is centered around is fanfiction and fanart, I don’t really do fanart but it does do work to spur my imagination, right?

So you’re more into transformative works?

Yes! Or at least, that’s what comes to mind when I say ‘fandom.’ I mean, that might just be because that’s what I’m more interested in, I never really went on GameFAQs or any of those forums, thank god. No, for me it started when my best friend and another one of her friends started a fan site-

Oh yeah, I made a lot of those, like, I had my shrines-

Yes, shrines! But they made a site for their own AU (Alternate Universe) of Gundam Wing where they mary sued themselves in. Which is funny because I don’t remember using that term too much back then but I like how it eventually became a real thing I don’t have to explain anymore. But yeah, it was so great and ambitious and I was so jealous that I wrote fanfic that mary sued myself into their mary sue of Gundam Wing

So it was like you wrote fanfiction of their fanfiction

Right, I totally did! And it totally caused a rift in our friendship-

Oh my god yes we had similar rifts. So my friends liked Sailor Moon back in middle school, and we wanted to pick a Sailor that represented us. But there were less Sailors that we knew about at the time than there were friends, and one girl got left out and she was like “No fuck you guys, I’m going to be Sailor Saturn I’m going to design my own thing.” She went on to become a fashion designer so it’s fine, she designed her own Sailor Saturn outfit. It was actually really cool. And then one of our friends got the internet and then we discovered there was a whole new world out there and there was a Sailor Saturn and she was awesome looking. And there were the Sailor Stars and we were like what?? But yeah that original caused a rift since we didn’t know about Sailor Saturn

So yeah when I mary sued myself into my friend’s fanfiction I pretty much just stole the man of the other friend! It was basically my best friend’s friend really loved Trowa Barton-

I didn’t like Trowa

What! I did too!

I liked Duo

Duo was okay, but, oh my god this is going to get even better: so the start of the AU actually starts with my two friends orphans taken cared of by Duo before he left to do, you know, Gundam Wing

Oh my god this is really good I really like it

I know right? So yeah, ‘Big Brother Duo’ became, oh my god you’re laughing so much

No I like it!

I’m admitting so many things right now

It’s so great

So basically he was like an older brother figure and he was dating Heero as he typically is and was relatively absent for the most part, just off doing whatever, and it was like all the rest of them doing whatever. And you know what was interesting? Because of the Trowa pairing, and you know how Trowa and Quatre are typically together, and since that other friend was in charge of that pairing, Quatre was made out to be a really bad character and you know, when you think of Quatre he’s just a very nice, overly polite character but this time around they made this character to be like, not vapid, but emotionally or morally absent-

I like that

It’s so interesting, in order to make room in the obvious pairing, yeah they headcanoned Quatre out. So it was interesting because that was my first introduction to Quatre and I was surprised when the rest of fandom treated Quatre so differently: he was more bubbly and innocent and stuff like that. But when I first encountered him he was just like, really intense

I love it when someone takes a character and puts a twist on them, it makes them infinitely more fascinating. That’s why I think ships are so fascinating. I’ve noticed this more recently with the bicycle show (Yowamushi Pedal), there are characters I’m indifferent to, they’re okay, and they’re popular in other ships and I’m like whatever. But then one scene will happen that will trigger a new ship and fanart will pop up and I’d be like “Oh right, this does make sense” and I start to adopt those characters and I’m really into them now

That makes me think that we’re now in a time where, you know, we see shows that are like ‘ready to ship’ before the anime has even started

Yeah, people also call that fujo-baiting

What’s that called?

Fujoshi, the ‘rotten girls’ that do all the shipping

Ooooh

So they call that fujo-baiting, it’s like slightly subtle pandering, you know it’s done all ways, done for guys, girls, whomever.

But then there’s also like this ad-hoc pairing where, you know, like once everything’s said and done everyone in the show needs to be in a pairing, so you have your own perfect universe where everyone is paired in whatever you way you like.

There are totally people who will be like “No, these two would never pair” and it’s like, calm down. People have all these different perceptions about what feels right.

So how about we look more specifically into Persona 4 fandom? What is the environment of Persona 4 fandom, is it different?

So, I haven’t really been involved in it, Persona 4 fandom is more like, I’m in this weird phase where I’m in games and so are a lot of my friends, and Persona 4 fandom is mostly just my friends who like the game. Oh, have you seen the sweatshirt I just bought?

You bought an Adachi sweatshirt??

I bought a fucking Adachi sweatshirt

Oh my god, (reading the sweatshirt) “The world has gone straight to shit”

I know we were out and Joel was like “There’s some Adachi stuff” and I was like “What? Nooo it’s gotta be fake” but I look over and he was right. I don’t know if it’s like a localized shirt? But it’s like legit merchandise

I think this is an interesting look at fandom though, like, those who were in fandom and moved on, but now we have all these different little ways to keep fandom in our lives. You know, we found friends who like the same sort of thing, and it’s like we have our own culture now

Yeah it’s our own little fandom but we just define things our own particular ways

So, how would you say this particular arm of Persona fandom looks like?

Well, they all pick a favorite that they want to date. A lot of them do accept the headcanon of Yosuke dating the main character and being closeted, it helps make his character feel way more acceptable you know? And hard because other people have very valid points about him so when you go “I like Yosuke” they’d be like, “What’s wrong with you” so you have to be like “No, you have to look at him this way and it works really well”

So basically, Yosuke as closeted is the only thing that’s allowed for Yosuke

Yeah and they definitely pander to that [in the anime] and it’s wonderful. I actually brought another thing. I forgot to mention that Kris Ligman is also a part of the Adachi Swamp-

Wait is it officially called the “Adachi Swamp?”

That’s what Japanese fans call it but I got a friend, she understands Japanese, and she gave me these to show, look- it’s lewd stuff between Adachi, the main character, and Yosuke-

Oh my

There’s a lot of problematic shit here, lots of bad romance in here

Oh my

It’s really good. She has a collection, came over to my house with like a stack of doujin. It was really fun, she left it at my house for a couple of weeks so I went through them and they are so good.

I have one doujinshi that I’ve kept, I got it on eBay when I was like fourteen-years-old or something. It’s Zack x Cloud and I can’t understand anything in it, just like the pictures.

I got rid of so much of my manga. I got rid of my Final Fantasy doujin, I had Gundam Wing, Digimon. I had a lot of Harry Potter doujin, those were interesting. I kept one called Heavy Fucker, that’s a parody doujin but it’s really good.

Let’s say if you had to characterize how you and other people reacted to Persona 4 as opposed to, let’s say video games or other fandoms, like, what is it it you like about this fandom or this game?

You know, it was very interesting watching the Giant Bomb Let’s Play, I don’t know how they got into it but they were just playing thinking they were just going to do a couple episodes. But then they started to get grabbed to the point where they played the entire thing, and it was so interesting watching that. And it was hilarious watching them play, they were so bad at it, I don’t know how they beat some of those bosses. I’m watching like “You don’t even know how weaknesses work! What the fuck are you doing?” I actually should watch through and see reactions to Adachi, I haven’t seen that. Oh, this is another aspect of fandom: When I’m playing a game, I used to go to the thread in Something Awful and I’d partake in a thread depending on the game, so instead of GameFAQs I had a games forum, and it was pretty active. But I had Adachi spoiled for me because of an avatar of his deformed face and I was like “Ooooh nooo, I see what’s going on here.” So I played through, and caught him and he ran off, and I got to the final dungeon but didn’t really play past that. And now I got Golden (an updated release of Persona 4), and it’s really awesome in Golden when you know what he’s up to. So I don’t feel bad getting spoiled because it’s better knowing in this case.

And that’s it for now! We will continue this conversation about Persona 4 and Adachi in particular next time. And you should read AM’s great work on otome games too! Stay tuned~

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Pursuing My True Self

“Call me Mattie.”

It was the first time I had ever said that. I remember being at an old hookah bar when I did, Java D’lights. I was waiting on a glass of wine and my good friend hovered near my shoulder, watching. She knew, and waited.

I decided to change my name- well, a little. It was a point of my life when everyone chose a different gender for me; at work, a customer would address me as “sir,” the next as “hey there, lady” with a sly smile, and the last sputtering out all the pronouns in a scattershot attempt to not fuck it up. It was a point in my life that I discovered how much of my identity was public property, that others made it up for me. To save embarrassment on both ends, I edited my name to something as interpretable as my gender.

I smiled. So did he.

~*~

I remember when I first met him. Well, no, not him, but maybe- he’s a him, to me. I want Naoto to be a him to me as I want my lovers to have me as a her. But we both, quite easily, could be something else. Having the title of woman or man sometimes is a purposeful choice of getting the approximate behavior you want without necessarily subscribing to its rigid borders.

In Persona 4, your party members have their deepest insecurities played out on the Midnight Channel like a scheduled program. Everyone is watching and judging. Everyone is watching when it is revealed Naoto isn’t a cisgender man, his shadow self threatening him with sexual reassignment surgery. At that moment, I realized that I, too, was watching Naoto through a TV. He never called himself a she, the rest of the cast did. He didn’t call himself a him, they all did. I did.

What is Naoto’s identity? It’s possible he doesn’t know yet. And with the absence of genderqueer characters in media, we don’t have a cultural reference point for what to make of him.

There is a concept in postmodernism of a fact versus an event. We see facts as undeniable, objective information that we all can perceive and agree is reality. Events explode the idea of facts into an intersection truths from different perspectives, even if they are, and often so, contradictory. Take the film, Rashomon. Several witnesses to a murder all say different things, and they aren’t lying, just relaying what happened from their own perspective. What has happened to us in life, the philosophies we relate to, change the angle we see information at. When it comes to identity, facts are pretty much useless.

Naoto is an event. To me, he is a product of my experience as a transgender woman exposed to how society treats queer people. I see the anxiety of choosing a label, of having to change my body in order for people to treat me the way I wanted to be treated. Naoto doesn’t actually have a factual identity; he is an apparition of numbers. What we all decide he is, ultimately, isn’t important. Rather, the why’s and how’s reveal our cultural perspective of people who don’t fit into cisgender norms.

The reaction over Naoto and what the community at large dictates as his identity shows this large gap where the queer experience should be. People just don’t know, and possibly can’t fathom, cissexism and how it manifests in a queer person’s life. This is why the game can’t seem transphobic– people are looking at Naoto as a fact, not an event.

~*~

“Hey, pretty.”

It was the first time anyone had ever called me pretty. It was the first day I wore makeup and a skirt. I was twenty-three.

People began to change me. My image changed to something that received the most positive feedback: smiles, opened doors, drinks, longing. I held tight onto the ideology of not modifying my body, but I was fooling myself. The flat-irons, skyscraper heels, thick lashes- a part of me already wasn’t mine anymore. Everyone looks at me with their television eyes.

Around this time, I found a flier snuck between my windshield and its wiper. I remember it because the hot Florida sun baked a corner of it onto the glass, and the remnants pointed up to the sky. The flier was for a nudist event to welcome new people into their community beach parties. What struck me was how slanted towards women it was; it promised a boost in self-esteem and increased comfort with your own body. I could use both those things. One of the guys with words over his crotch was kind of cute.

But being in a nudist community would most likely do neither of those things for me. If I participated in one of their beach parties, no one would treat me like a woman. Clothing became integral to my identity, and without its strategic use, I lose control of what others make of me. I don’t think many people live a life where others decide for you fundamental qualities such as gender and neurology. Because of that, many don’t realize how they participate in telling me who I am.

~*~

I was curious to know all there was to know about him. My character dated Naoto, solving mysteries and making it a point to let him live in relative acceptance. The rest of the party now referred to Naoto as a girl, though nothing changed about him. Despite following a guide on how to romance him, it was a bumpy road. There is a choice you are required to make in order to trigger the romance subplot: treat him like a woman. What is seen as a romantic, a white knight gesture, actually causes Naoto to break down and begin to give up. ‘Is this the only way you’ll have me?’ he seems to ask, with the player eliminating his control over his gender. Come Christmas time, you get to choose- is he a girl, or does he decide?

It reminded me of every relationship, if I can call them that, I’ve had, where it revolved around my partner’s comfort level. Are we to be seen together outside? Am I woman enough? Many times I was denied splitting the check or holding the door open for myself, or god forbid, my date. I became a doll for people to paint their fantasies on, and that’s what happened with Naoto. Where he was forced to show his ‘natural’ femininity, I had to prove mine.

~*~

So who am I really, if I change with every person I meet? Maybe we are all events, shaped by circumstance and those around us. All choose your own adventures for our readers’ liking. There is a facet of reality missing when we assume there is only one truth to find, when there are as many as that can be thought up.

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)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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