How To Deal With Transphobic Characters In Otherwise Delightful Anime Video Games

Though I often see a lot of protestation to the contrary, it’s actually not that difficult to address how certain characters in Persona and Dangan Ronpa are transphobic when neither of them are explicitly coded as trans. That’s not to say that either are trans; that would be missing the point, and furthermore implying that the authors of either work had any sort of knowledge or understanding of trans experience.

It is important that anyone who is either defending or criticizing either game keep a very simple point in mind: none of these characters are real. That’s not meant to be sarcastic. Rather, the point is that these characters are not humans, with direct agency, motivations, or organic human behavior. They are fictional constructs—and while (if well written) they will convincingly simulate agency, motivation, and humanity, they are in fact constructed by a human being that (like all humans) has prejudices, agendas, and a limited and incomplete understanding of the world.

Why is this important? Because these characters—Naoto in Persona 4 and Chihiro in Dangan Ronpa—do not represent the honest and legitimate experience of character’s gender in the world, but the prejudices, agendas, and incomplete understandings of the authors of those characters. That is: characters mean something. They represent, directly or indirectly, claims made by the author. They aren’t someone’s lived experience, though they will be constructed based on that author’s experience.

This is all a very cerebral way of saying that the people who wrote Naota and Chihiro didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about.

More politely: these characters represent what their authors think about gender. Take Chihiro for instance—this character supposedly dresses as a girl because of a feeling of personal weakness and a desire to avoid conflict and competition. That’s not a trans narrative at all—thus evidence for why Chihiro shouldn’t be considered trans. That’s missing the point by a mile though, because this  chain of logic is massively misogynistic, predicated on the Men’s Right Activism assumption that because women get doors opened and drinks bought that they have it easy, compared to men. It further endorses, without complication, the notion that femininity is weak, and inferior, as Chihiro’s arc as a character is based around overcoming this feminine weakness and becoming a “real” man. There is massive transphobia and misogyny here, and none of it requires Chihiro to be trans in any implicit or explicit way. Humoring a debate over whether or not this character is trans privileges a respect for a fictional character’s identity (which being fictional, Chihiro does not have) over the claims the author of Dangan Ronpa is making about gender through the fictional construct of this character.

I understand this approach is very cold, but please, it is not meant to chill your feelings for any of these characters, or to imagine them in different circumstance or to reclaim them or to identify with them. I’m condemning a message of the original work, but that shouldn’t ever stop you from still finding value and joy in it, even in the characters I’ve especially called out. Fandom is a really important and beautiful way of transforming and reforming oppressive bullshit in pop culture. But when we get really wrapped up with empathizing with fictional characters, it’s important to step back and remember they are fictional, created by people flawed just like us, embodying ideas and agendas that are prejudiced, and not representative of honest human experiences.

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Aevee Bee

Aevee Bee is a flannel vaporwave queer and the editor of ZEAL, an online micro zine with cool art and games coverage of overlooked games from exciting new writers and artists. She runs an extremely self-indulgent twitter account and tumblr, contributes regularly to Paste magazine, and freelances in the odd corners of the web. Mammon Machine is her horrifying aesthetic.