A young man in profile with long, silvery-blond hair and a black jacket and pants. He's looking up, and off into the distance.

In Sexuality and Homophobia in Persona 4 from Gamasutra, Samantha Xu examines the tension between Persona 4's "rough-and-tumble teen" Kanji Tatsumi and his flamboyant alter-ego:

Kanji is feared by the locals and maintains a confrontational machismo toward the other characters throughout the game. He is a loyal son and employee at his family's textile shop, and it's not until the debut of his alter-ego Shadow Kanji that we are made aware of his inner sexual turmoil.

Xu looks at how homosexuality is viewed in Japanese culture and interviews people at Atlus USA who worked on Persona 4, game journalists and Sex in Video Games author Brenda Brathwaite. Brenda likes many things about Kanji's portrayal, but one thing she dislikes is "the game's juvenile nature in dealing with his sexuality."

Though I haven't been able to play Persona 4 yet (damn you, Atlus rarity!), I wonder: is this "juvenile nature" really the game's, or is it the teenage characters'…especially Kanji's? At that age, he might only just be realizing that he's attracted to men. Not only that, but Kanji's grown up in a culture where straightness is seen as the default. What he knows of openly gay men is what his heteronormative society has told him over the years. Is it any wonder that his personal version of a gay man—the fey, girl-hating, most of all dangerous Shadow Kanji—is these ideas personified?:

Like Kanji, I too spent my teenage years thinking about how the person I was fit in with my environment—and I don't think we are at all unusual.  I'd known I had a disability for years, but it was only during adolescence that I started to work out what it means to be a disabled person in this world. I read lots of books by other disabled people and was interested in self-advocacy; I also thought a lot of stupid, ableist things. Over the years, I've been able to tear apart a bunch of my own prejudices and cultural baggage. When Kanji defeats his alter-ego in battle, it's not his sexuality that he crushes; it's the culturally-sanctioned idea that his sexuality is bad.

Yes, Kanji's journey toward accepting his sexuality is messy. It's bogged down in the lies society tells him. But from what I can see, it is an honest one. And by battling his own fears and prejudices in such a literal way, Kanji makes his struggle to accept his sexuality a story best told by a video game.


Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk grew up in a small Nebraska town called Papillion. Although she has a nonverbal learning disability that affects her visual-spatial skills (among other things), she's always loved video games. Her first game system was a Commodore Vic-20, which her mom bought at a garage sale for $20. With this little computer Tera learned to write Mad Libs in BASIC, to play chess and to steal gold from Fort Knox.

But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).

Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.
Tera Kirk

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3 Comments on "Man vs. Man: Kanji Tatsumi’s sexuality in Persona 4"

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Synesthesia
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Synesthesia
7 years 2 months ago
He’s so sweet and badass and shy and cool. I think they did a good job with him. It’s not easy to deal with teh gay at that age, especially with so many kids right here in America being bullied on a daily basis even if they are not gay. It’s a great game and it’s awesome how he learns, eventually to accept himself and Naoto who is also a cool character learns a similar lesson. If he wasn’t gay, or at least bi him and Naoto would be a good pair because they are both so badass. Japanese culture… Read more »
Gene P.
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Gene P.
7 years 5 months ago

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/89016-Is-Persona-4s-Kanji-Gay-or-Not

Great piece btw Tera. I thought Gamasutra’s criticism of it was well intentioned, but missed the mark. Turns out the game is deeper than the critics.

Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
7 years 6 months ago
Hey Tera, good post and thanks for the link to the article… it was a pretty well-written one that I agreed with, for the most part. Playing Persona 4, I did find that Kanji’s character was one of my favorites, and that his particular storyline was one of the most interesting. Although on the one hand I did have some misgivings about the fact that they don’t really blatantly say that he is gay, I do think that it’s a pretty accurate reflection of life in general; there is very rarely ever a black or white answer to any question,… Read more »
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