Let’s Talk About Names: Mattie

Mattie Brice is a game critic, designer, social justice activist, and masters student at San Francisco State University. She focuses her writing on diversity initiatives in the video game community, often bringing in the perspective of marginalized voices like transgender and multi-racial women. Her studies have led her to explore narrative design and plans to push the borders of how we think of the medium.

Some context for this piece: This is a reflection on Naoto, a genderqueer character in the role-playing game Persona 4. Naoto initially presents as a man in order to join the police force. In the course of gameplay Naoto’s assigned gender is revealed as female, and a Shadow version of himself wants to force him into sex reassignment surgery to be an “ideal man.” The game allows players to force Naoto into stereotypically feminine roles – to change his voice to be higher, make him wear a skirt, e.g. – and to romance him as a woman, despite the fact that Naoto’s comments about his own identity indicate that he’s not a woman.


Pursuing My True Self
Originally published at Nightmare Mode.

Mattie Brice

Mattie Brice. Image used with permission of the author.

“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 whys and hows 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.

Science Playground, Sugar Sand Park, Boca Raton, Florida.

Science Playground at Sugar Sand Park, Boca Raton, FL. Image by Theory, CC license.

“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.


You can find more of Mattie’s writing at publications like Paste, Kotaku, The Border House, and Pop Matters. Mattie also consults and speaks at gaming related conferences like the Game Developers Conference and IndieCade.


This post is part of an on-going roundtable on naming that AWH is doing in conjunction with Flyover Feminism Each essay will include an image of a place that holds personal meaning for the author.

Let’s Talk About Names: Tawny is the previous post in the series.
Let’s Talk About Names: Kristin is the next post in the series.