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American "Yaoi"
May 20, 2012 3:24 AM   Subscribe

Yaoi, man-on-man relationship comics aimed at female readers and typically produced by female authors. And now the phenomenon is moving West. An article from Comics Alliance discusses three webcomics that have gained considerable popularity despite what some would call their niche appeal.

Webcomics discussed:

The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal

Artifice

Teahouse

Another webcomic not mentioned in the article is the popular Starfighter, a sci-fi themed narrative that inspired the creation of Teahouse.

**Comics contain varying degrees of NSFW material.

Note: Debate continues over whether "Yaoi" is the appropriate term for comics in the U.S., and others like it, instead of terms like "boy's love" or simply erotica/porn, contingent on the amount of focus on sex and sexual situations in the story.
posted by The ____ of Justice (75 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here in 'Murrica, you have to be dang careful about the presumed age of your various yaoi/yuri characters and the explicitness of their relationship. Remember this case?
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 4:44 AM on May 20, 2012


I don't understand why man-on-man relationships in comic books need their own genre or classification.
posted by crossoverman at 4:59 AM on May 20, 2012


Why does anything need classification? So those who want it can find it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:37 AM on May 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


"Yaoi" (or what the Japanese call BL) isn't about "man-on-man relationships." One of the earliest works in the genre, Heart of Thomas, says more about Japanese women in the 1970s than it does about real boys in a German boarding school. In the movie version, the characters were all played by girls.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:49 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Yaoi" (or what the Japanese call BL) isn't about "man-on-man relationships."

That there is a love interest between two male characters is pretty much what makes yaoi what it is, even if there's other stuff going on in the plot. "BL" means "boy's love".

Also, yaoi is most definitely taking hold in the West, if the various and sundry Avengers OTPs I've been seeing on Tumblr are any indication.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:07 AM on May 20, 2012


There isn't agreement among fans of this kind of thing, but one argument for it being its own genre is that, well, it is - it's not simply the man-on-man that distinguishes it, but the unique style of storytelling that comes with it. It has its own tropes, tricks, and even its own specialized vocabulary.

Japanese yaoi has almost always had very little to do with realistic man-on-man relationships, as well.

In fandom, there are debates over whether considering "slash" its own genre is othering, or if it's legitimately its own genre. I don't know where I fall on that debate. On one hand, I can usually tell if something has grown up out of fandom, which has its own narrative and stylistic trends. On the other hand, this may be a fandom-wide, and not really just a slash-fandom-wide similarity.

As far as whether this stuff should be called yaoi ... I haven't read it, but given the "yaoi" moniker, I was expecting a far more manga-like art style. And I wasn't expecting the art to be that good. You know, like those Tokyopop comics that used to be advertised in the back of volumes--the ones done by American (usually) artists who weren't very good because that whole side of Tokyopop's business model was based on getting inexperienced artists to sign shit contracts?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:07 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why is Yaoi popular?

You may as well ask why is Yuri popular. (Yuri being the lesbian equivilant.) You can talk it up all you want, but frankly, two men means more man-flesh for straight girls to look at.
posted by Braeburn at 6:08 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


There isn't agreement among fans of this kind of thing, but one argument for it being its own genre is that, well, it is - it's not simply the man-on-man that distinguishes it, but the unique style of storytelling that comes with it. It has its own tropes, tricks, and even its own specialized vocabulary.

Yes, this is also true. I didn't mean to seem like I was oversimplifying matters; just that some sort of romantic interest between two guys is a core defining trait of yaoi. What I've been seeing lately as well is a lot of fan arguments over whether or not something is yaoi if "nothing happens" between the two more than lingering eye contact and feelings of confusion about said other guy. But to me, that's most certainly yaoi.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:12 AM on May 20, 2012


Japanese yaoi has almost always had very little to do with realistic man-on-man relationships, as well.

This is perhaps a bad way to phrase it.

Most romance, erotica, porn, whatever has very little to do with realistic relationships. What makes yaoi different than gay erotica as a whole that the idealized man-on-man relationship is not one that's been idealized by actual man-on-man relationship having people; it's written largely by and for women (though there are some male fans, just to be clear). It has a lot more in common with the man-on-woman or woman-on-woman relationships in shoujo comics than anything else, probably.

But to me, that's most certainly yaoi.

I wouldn't call that yaoi, because when I first entered fandom, "yaoi" was reserved for sexually explicit works and non-explicit was "shounen-ai". That distinction became watered down over time, and now we have "BL", which I think is due to the explosion in availability/popularity of the comics in English-speaking fandom.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:17 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think is due to the explosion in availability/popularity of the comics in English-speaking fandom.

Perhaps, although I think the mainstreaming of certain genres is due in large part to just greater exposure; to this type of material being more openly referenced in mainstream culture and being led out of the shadows of the doujin world.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:27 AM on May 20, 2012


As someone who doesn't read either genre, the description of this reminds me a lot of slash fiction in that it is produced by and for women, and foregrounding gay relationships. As the article says, the key difference is in the sophistication, or perhaps more accurately commercialization, of the product.

From the outside the appeal isn't so easy to see, much like the odd semi-androgynous appeal of boy bands isn't apparent, either. But it is clearly working for the people who write and read these, perhaps as a way to talk about important things elliptically?
posted by Forktine at 6:29 AM on May 20, 2012


In the old, pre-amazon days I used to buy BL magazines and manga for people teaching in inaka towns who were too embarrassed to buy them from their local stores. The magazine a series runs in not only determines the genre, but also the content, plot, characters, amount of sex, etc.

I never understood bookstore shame until I started reading LaLa. For some reason, buying porn for others is fine, but I can't bring myself to pick up something called LaLa and carry it over to the counter. So happy there's amazon, even if they do sometimes send LaLa DX by mistake.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:33 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Japanese yaoi has almost always had very little to do with realistic man-on-man relationships, as well.

Unlike all that realistic Naruto hentai I've been reading.
posted by Fizz at 6:38 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]



You may as well ask why is Yuri popular. (Yuri being the lesbian equivilant.) You can talk it up all you want, but frankly, two men means more man-flesh for straight girls to look at.


Point of information - actually, yaoi and slash (and regular ol' gay porn) have always had a significant lesbian fanbase. Joanna Russ writes about this. And not, like, "lesbians until graduation", regular serious ol' lesbians like Russ herself with zero interest in sleeping with men. (Russ wrote Kirk/Spock, which I personally would kill to read as I am desperate with curiousity, but it's languishing in an archive somewhere).

Why? I don't know. Russ's essay on the topic speculated that, basically, women were socially positioned such that it was emotionally and erotically easier for some women to have these narrative sexual fantasies about men, because that meant that the various feelings of inadequacy and shame attached to their own sexuality could be circumvented. (This would thus be different from the type of sexual fantasy about things you actually want to yourself do.)

I also surmise that yaoi and slash (and any really narrative porn) are partly about the social desire for, you know, non-asshole men. I say this because as a queer, fat, butch woman I get a certain kind of attention from straight guys - not sexual attention, but really intense friendship attention, which I think is about a desire for there to exist women with whom there isn't the whole mess of heterosexual relations under capitalism and patriarchy. It's not that these dudes want to sleep with me (and I assume that any lesbian fantasies they may have involve, like, hotter women) but there's definitely this wish for ways to relate outside of the usual fucked up gender norms. Like, it's soothing to imagine a world wherein the unpleasant Jersey Shore/bridezilla/NYC-hook-up-culture style of heterosexual relations doesn't totally govern men and women.

And I think that women are socialized (partly via Dan Savage-esque gay men sex writers) to believe that male sexuality is better - simpler, more enjoyable, more erotic, more authentic - and that it's very different from women's, and that there really is a unified "male" sexuality. So yaoi and slash are, in some ways, fantasies about sex itself, about sexuality itself.
posted by Frowner at 6:41 AM on May 20, 2012 [43 favorites]


As I understand it, "yaoi" developed in Japan specifically as a term for sexually explicit doujinshi (fan comics based on existing media properties), while "shounen ai" was the term for the "wistful longing glances" manga or the 70s-80s like "Song of the Wind and Trees." And as the magazines specifically for this sort of thing sprung up, there needed to be a name for the genre -- these things that were clearly related to shounen ai, and to yaoi, but didn't fit comfortably under either umbrella. Which is why "Boys Love" and "BL" are the names that are usually used even within Japan.

I think that Frowner is very on point here. And I think it's no coincidence that slash and BL started to surface around the same time in both the US and Japan, at times when you had feminism, you had the sexual revolution, and yet for that increased freedom women also had to contend with a kind of double-edged sword of expectations -- to be sexual but not too sexual, to be sexual in ways that accord with what straight men want. So to build a fantasy world divorced all that can be, I think, very powerful.
posted by Jeanne at 6:54 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


. . . Russ's essay on the topic speculated that, basically, women were socially positioned such that it was emotionally and erotically easier for some women to have these narrative sexual fantasies about men, because that meant that the various feelings of inadequacy and shame attached to their own sexuality could be circumvented.

This. Also, when reading about an m/f romance, there is often an extra step of belief, an extra stretch, that many women cannot instinctively make -- the idea that the man actually sees the woman, actually considers her an equal and a whole person, neither a belt-notch or a precious pearl of a bride but as human as he is.

To paraphrase Conan Doyle (?), I can believe the impossible, but not the improbable. A lot of us came up in situations in which we learned to expect that men's feelings towards women, if not openly rapacious, might be completely unreadable, even to the man himself. What does he feel? How long will he feel it? What does he see when he sees your body? You, or the breasts, or the vagina?

With slash couples, the female reader doesn't have to feel that kind of deep unease. Men take each other seriously. In some fandoms, you have het ships that truly have that kind of vibe -- Mulder/Scully, for one -- but mainly it's the men.

Personally, I'd actually like to read more het romance, but I don't want to read romance novels, simply because the characters are ginned up for the express purpose of having sex. With all the wisecracks and interesting settings that might be used in a romance novel -- and I personally am friends with some very talented writers/fans -- I don't find ships interesting unless there's something else going on with them and around them, just as there is in life.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:24 AM on May 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


. So yaoi and slash are, in some ways, fantasies about sex itself, about sexuality itself. that's how it was always describes/gut feeling I get about the stuff, gay make relationships allowing for the freedom to explore ideals and romantic possibilities that carnet being served by the larger world, or "Society can't deal with female sexuality so Sonic got Luigi pregnant."
posted by The Whelk at 7:50 AM on May 20, 2012


"These are my cool new friends. We're heading back to their room to check out some yaoi."

"Do you know what that is?"

"Fuck if I know. It's anime, right? Robots and nurses and shit."

"I think you're really going to like it."
posted by RakDaddy at 8:08 AM on May 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


romantic possibilities that carnet being served by the larger world, or "Society can't deal with female sexuality so Sonic got Luigi pregnant."

If I were evil, which I am not, I would be all about the linking to Fan Fiction Friday here.
posted by Mezentian at 8:08 AM on May 20, 2012


Carnet? What the hell tablet?
posted by The Whelk at 8:11 AM on May 20, 2012


Personally, I'd actually like to read more het romance

I have a friend (an actual, in the flesh friend) who wrote a bazillian-chapter Snarry pron, and who included a bit where Harry went to a female hooker for some M/F inter-action.
The vitriol that was poured upon her for that bit o' nookie was...

I wouldn't touch fanfic with a barge-pole otherwise, but my gods.... consenting sex with a woman? The fanficcers were nasty.
posted by Mezentian at 8:14 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fanfiction invites its own set of problems, a lot of them attached to what makes fanfiction fun to write. You don't really need to go into developing the backstories and inner workings of your characters all that much - your audience already knows them - and fans of those characters, if they like your work, are really, really going to enjoy what you've done. On the flip side, fans of those characters - if they really, really hate what you've written - will launch invectives and bile at you for what you have done to their precious fictional characters. Even self-inserts get more leeway.

Yaoi and yuri alike can bring up some pretty strong reactions in people, in particular in doujin works. And especially if your pairing doesn't exist in canon, and especially especially if the characters you've paired haven't really expressed any romantic or sexual feelings in canon. Assuming you've written an H-scene that's well-written and fully consensual, the different reactions you get for your pairings can say a lot about the fans. I've seen some folks on some forums react to yuri pairings with disgust, talking a lot about how it breaks suspension of disbelief to defy canon that much, with a lot of cites and so forth ... who then in off-topic discussions on the same forum show some pretty homophobic attitudes about flesh-and-blood same sex pairings. Other times the pairing is hated because a particular fan likes their favorite character pure and unsoiled by carnal desire. But pairings that are enjoyed aren't just because the fan harbors sexual fantasies about a particular character - they might simply enjoy the writing, or the unusualness of your pairing, or the comedic value thereof, and so forth.

And this of course is just the tip of the iceberg. Why yaoi and yuri are loved and hated is a pretty complicated topic, I think.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:38 AM on May 20, 2012


I say this because as a queer, fat, butch woman I get a certain kind of attention from straight guys - not sexual attention, but really intense friendship attention,

I suppose it's a variant on the relationships some straight women have with femmy gay guys. I believe the term is 'dyke tyke.' I have a bemohawked butch lesbian co-worker who I got to be buds with just based on the usual bullshit. I do remember running into her and her also butchy girlfreind on the street and thinking "cute couple," which I hadn't ever remembered thinking about two butch women before, which I guess reflects something.
posted by jonmc at 8:42 AM on May 20, 2012


As a feminist, I feel obliged to point out that there's a lot of pontificating in this world about why straight women have a preference for male/male gay porn, but very little analysis of the straight male preference for lesbian porn.

Typical attempt at explaining the straight woman's preference for male/male slashfic:
^ women were socially positioned such that it was emotionally and erotically easier for some women to have these narrative sexual fantasies about men, because that meant that the various feelings of inadequacy and shame attached to their own sexuality could be circumvented.
Typical attempt at explaining the straight man's preference for lesbian porn:
Dude, it's TWO CHICKS!
posted by ErikaB at 9:08 AM on May 20, 2012 [22 favorites]


Yeah, that's really annoying. I don't see why it doesn't work both ways for romantic idealization/the allowment of dynamics that would be difficult with your own gender getting in the way.

On the other hand the girl tumbles I follow will regularly post gay porn Gifs, not related to story or fandom, just straight up gay porn. With appreciative commentary.
posted by The Whelk at 9:12 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I were evil, which I am not, I would be all about the linking to Fan Fiction Friday here.

Holy damn. I can't stop reading the archive -- I can't bear clicking on any of the jumpcuts, mind you, but the summaries are about all the information you can handle.

Let me be clear: This is not just an erotic fan fic starring Thomas the Tank Engine. It's a 3,681-word erotic fan fic starring Thomas the Tank Engine -- who I should remind you is a fictional train, with a face on the front and no gender characteristics, who happens to be the star of a show aimed almost exclusively for children in pre-school. It's also written by a gentleman who calls himself TrainMaster64 -- a bad sign by itself -- who happens to have written 18 other fan fics in the Thomas the Tank Engine world, many of which are also erotic, but then many of which aren't. One of the "erotic" ones is over 40,000 words.

. . . Lovecraft knew nothing of madness. NOTHING.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:34 AM on May 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Carnet? What the hell tablet?
posted by The Whelk


It's all about border crossings.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:56 AM on May 20, 2012


I wouldn't touch fanfic with a barge-pole otherwise, but my gods.... consenting sex with a woman? The fanficcers were nasty.

Fandom contains multitudes. I mean, I can think of dozens of slash stories which contain het and/or in which the characters are bisexual rather than gay.

The thing is, if you haven't read much fan fiction - especially if you've just popped in to, like, fanfiction.net to find a Terrible Example (of which there are legion), it's pretty easy to say "yeah, that fanfic, it's so terrible and badly written and sloppy".

However, there are a number of writers (Ellen Kushner and Rebecca Ore come immediately to mind) who are respected and important fantasy/SF writers who got their start writing slash and whose "real" respectable work contains slash tropes. Rebecca Ore in particular (I'm thinking of Centuries Ago And Very Fast and its sequel) has written some work that's gotten a lot of praise from...wait for it....gay men.

And thus, there's some quite good, accomplished, serious fan work out there. You just have to look.

Why do I find fan fiction interesting as a genre?
1. I approve 100% of the training-wheels writing aspect. It allows skilled writers to practice. It allows people who otherwise would not write at all to write and improve. It's like with singing - everyone should be able to sing and enjoy singing, because singing is fun. Sure, just because you go to karaoke once a month doesn't mean you're ready for Carnegie Hall, but no one should put you down on that basis. There are a lot of skills, from cooking to writing to music to drawing, that people used to do on a skilled amateur level and there was no shame in it, but now if you're not making a "career" you're supposed to knock it off lest you embarrass yourself by being ordinary.

2. It's mostly women writing for women and not for money. It's a internal, self-creating, self-regulating market. It's not some publisher deciding what women want.

3. It's interesting to see what women write about sex when they are writing about sex for a female audience and with no expectation that they be "good" "pure" "moral" or "family-oriented". Most sex books for women are underlyingly about being very good and pure and being rewarded with a family and money. Fanfic? It's about going to another galaxy and fighting aliens and the relationships that stem therefrom. (Or whatever your fandom is about).

4. As I said, some of it is really good and perceptive about people and relationships. I have, yes, learned things from reading amateur stories about science fiction characters.

Historically, genres written by women for women have been despised genres, even when they were good. Fiction itself has often been dismissed as frivolous and time-wasting and womanly - it was a women's style of writing before it was taken up by men and made Serious And Nation-building. Fanfic is no exception - no matter if you're Rebecca Ore, no matter how good you are, or how interesting your ideas, if you're working in a genre that is by women for women and commits the sin of making no money, someone will bring in little sneers based in their misreading of some little intentionally-comic porn snippet or whatever.

Also, vis-a-vis the "why do men like porn with 'lesbians' in it?" question:*

Men and women are not best described as different-but-socially-equal. Men relate differently (and I'd argue less complexly) to porn than women do, because of how we think about male sexuality as "authentic" instead of sissy and fussy and dumb like we figure women's sexuality. (Consider hook-up culture: it's awesome to be able to have no-feelings, no strings-sex; women should totes learn to stop being so clingy and asking if some guy wants to be their "boyfriend", etc etc. Hook-up culture is figured as the "real" of "authentic" sexuality; feelings are not real, wanting an emotional connection is frivolous and denies the "real" nature of sex. What women often want is figured as stupid and inferior and frivolous; what men want is real rather than culturally constructed.)

But anyway, I once had a conversation with a guy I was seeing (back when I dated guys) and he said that "lesbian" porn was also about reducing anxiety - watching two women have sex meant 1. that you didn't have to worry about "accidentally" getting turned on by looking at the guy, which would make you gay, which was bad; and 2. you didn't have to compare yourself to the man in straight porn or wonder if the women would want you, since as "lesbians" they would never want you anyway so it wasn't about any deficiencies you might have.

Honestly, you have to wonder if people couldn't somehow figure out how to be nicer to each other and less judgey and scared all the time. We might conceivably have more and better real-life sex, for one thing, and there's something to be said for reducing net psychic pain.

*There also exist men who like actual lesbian porn; I know for I have met them.
posted by Frowner at 10:14 AM on May 20, 2012 [14 favorites]


Also, I think embarrassment about fanfic is

1. Shame about amateurism, which is dumb.
2. Shame about sex. As John Barth observes in The Floating Opera (to cite a high-culture misogynist male writer, just so that you know that I am serious and what I say is legitimate, because when women say things about sex they are obviously full of wrong and wishful thinking)....anyway, as Barth observed, sex is pretty ridiculous. It's other things too, but it's a silly activity during which you're going to look silly.

Now, some fanfic (Twilight, A Million Shades of Purple or whatever) is about denying this - sex is Serious and Important and Capitalized In Various Ways and deep and meaningful and no one ever looks ridiculous or falls off the bed. But IME, a lot of fandom sex writing really takes the silliness and vulnerability of sex into account, either in being silly with the premise itself (video game characters from the eighties!) or writing comic porn. I think that's great. I think it's one of the very few healthy modalities available to us under capitalism to think about sex.

(Also, I just want to speak up for gen - not all, or even nearly all fanfic is porn or slash. I've read some simply staggeringly good gen stories, and it's incredibly easy to find gen fic that is tons better than the generic ruthless-space-heroes-and-sexy-space-babes novels that get published. I read gen because I like science fiction, just as I read Strange Horizons or that thing that Aqueduct Press is doing now.)
posted by Frowner at 10:27 AM on May 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Speaking as someone who loves writing but never published anything (beyond a short story about my pet hamster at age twelve), fanfiction is awesome. The fact that a great deal of it is crap is actually one of the better things about it, since it reduces performance anxiety when you're just starting out. We're all amateurs here, we can just have fun.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:47 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's mostly women writing for women

Is it? To be honest I hadn't noticed any particular demographic comprising the bulk of fan fiction writers or the intended audience. Everything else you're describing rings totally true to me. Most of the fanfiction I've written have been short comedy pieces about the characters in the Touhou video game universe, although there've been a couple more "serious" pieces and one yuri pairing. It's a pretty wide a varied world, and I agree with AdamCSnider that part of what makes it so much fun is that the emphasis is on fun itself. Although hey, if you want to write a serious sidearc for the Mists of Avalon, knock yourself out. I know I'd read it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:56 AM on May 20, 2012


I can't help but wonder about the influence something like yaoi might have in establishing someones view of what a homosexual male couple is.

Often, yaoi contains a very cookie-cutter premise: insert 1 male character who is often younger, short, more feminine in characteristics, more 'innocent', inexperienced and shy (or alternatively, 'bratty')--this is your 'uke'---the 'bottom' in the yaoi relationship. Next, add in the other male character who is often tall, square-shouldered, clearly more masculine (and usually older) in appearance. This other male character is often more experienced, mature, and even slightly predatory (or alternatively, a 'stalker'/protector)--this is your 'seme'--the 'top' in the yaoi relationship.

Yaoi relationships are usually (but not always) based on the above pattern. The more feminine and smaller character is 'bratty' but always in a submissive role in the relationship, whereas the cool, collected character diffuses situations, initiates the true 'boy love' aspect and is generally the aggressor. Sex, if it occurs, is often censored (either plainly, or via strategic placement of limbs) and presented as though the 'uke' is the 'female' (often times the uke even ceases to have a visible penis--strategically censored or simply excluded). This is understandable given that most yaoi is written by or illustrated by women.

But the yaoi coupling is a poor representation of most gay relationships--the pattern is too concrete, the roles are linear and restrictive, while the sex is completely unrealistic. We see it with yuri--the perception of what a lesbian couple is has been unfairly influenced by the genre. Yes, it is simply entertainment, fantasy, ect., yet the real-world implications seem to be that gay and lesbian couples are increasingly stereotyped into the same linear roles by those familiar with anime.
posted by stubbehtail at 10:57 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


But the yaoi coupling is a poor representation of most gay relationships--the pattern is too concrete, the roles are linear and restrictive, while the sex is completely unrealistic. We see it with yuri--the perception of what a lesbian couple is has been unfairly influenced by the genre. Yes, it is simply entertainment, fantasy, ect., yet the real-world implications seem to be that gay and lesbian couples are increasingly stereotyped into the same linear roles by those familiar with anime.

I would be really interested to see real-world examples of perceptions of gay couples being altered by yaoi.

I think there is definitely a problem in yaoi and slash fiction when that yaoi model purports to be realistic (although weirdly I do know a couple who could have stepped straight out of yaoi - older serious fellow, younger frivolous fellow; older one blue collar with a manly job, younger one in a very affective field...it always surprises me because I tend to reverse-assume that no one is like yaoi couples.)

Honestly, I don't know what to do about that. What is the writerly responsibility there? Should the whole yaoi model be dropped because it's politically problematic that women write same-sex-male couples in ways that are intensely unrealistic and that at least some gay guys find kind of squicky? Should the yaoi model be revised (like all those "neo-Westerns" that revisit and rework problematic tropes of the genre)? How much of a free pass does one get, politically, when writing porn and romance?

Maybe stepping back a little and trying to talk about what yaoi is interested in might help? I mean, talking directly about gender, women's sexuality and so on rather than filtering it through the yaoi prism?

Honestly, heterosexuality is so difficult. I sometimes feel like I got a magical get-out-of-jail-free card by not being straight. (Not that it's all wine and roses, but I often think of things that straight women have to do or figure out or negotiate and feel really happy that I do not need to.)
posted by Frowner at 11:09 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Also, I have encountered very little fanfiction by men - I'd like to read more and would take recs in pretty much any fandom. I've been told many times that fanfiction is overwhelmingly written by women and most of the writers I read are women, so I'd assumed to to be true...)
posted by Frowner at 11:12 AM on May 20, 2012


Stubbehtail, if you're interested in seeing the exact opposite of yaoi while still remaining within the class of Japanese drawn art, search for "bara" (which is an entirely western-invented name, but the distinction exists.) Where yaoi is fundamentally a stereotyped, coded heterosexual relationship from the female perspective, geicomi/bara are usually written by actual Japanese gay men, and so the relationships are portrayed from that angle. The difference could not be more obvious.
posted by Suddenly, elf ass at 11:13 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I have encountered very little fanfiction by men - I'd like to read more and would take recs in pretty much any fandom. I've been told many times that fanfiction is overwhelmingly written by women and most of the writers I read are women, so I'd assumed to to be true...

Oh, I don't know the actual demographic breakdown, either - I thought you were privy to information I didn't have. The fanfic board of this video game site I go to is dominated by men ... by then so is the site as a whole, so who knows? I wouldn't be surprised if most yaoi was written by and for women, though.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:16 AM on May 20, 2012


As far as I know there's a fair bit of criticism of yaoi from gay activists within Japan, and I think it's fair to ask these kinds of questions about what kind of relationships are being represented, and how they're being represented, and how that differs from reality.

On the other hand, when I was a high school manga fan, I was pro-gay rights and everything, and I watched Will and Grace, but it was through reading a shounen-ai manga about a demon in love with an angel that I really started to get, on a fundamental level, what it means for everybody to have a fair shot at being in love and having a happy relationship.
posted by Jeanne at 11:20 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"This is kind of gross, can we get a 'socially just' reason to dislike it?"
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:53 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"This is kind of gross, can we get a 'socially just' reason to dislike it?"

Yes and no. Terrible representations of women by men fill me with rage. (Although I admit that terrible representations of women by men in porn don't bug me as much as, say, mainstream movies.) I hate stupid, patriarchal representations of women and I wish they would stop. Now, part of that is because those representations have a lot of power - and I feel like in the US at least, slash and yaoi don't actually have that much social power; Will and Grace, Dan Savage and christian fundies have a lot more in their respective ways. Inaccurate ideas with no social power don't worry me too much. But I would hate to think that women in fandom were making gay guys feel like I feel when I watch some dumb sixties-asshole movie or read Normal Mailer or whatever.

I do think it's a bit more complex than that, because gay men and straight women do not stand in the same social relation that straight men and straight women do. But I also don't think "it's a bit more complex than that" is a justification for writing someone's identity in a way that makes them feel angry and hurt.

So I don't know. I'm not into yaoi, so I don't have any personal investment in this, but it's really something to think about.
posted by Frowner at 12:09 PM on May 20, 2012


also, are there men who like yaoi

i mean, i personally can't imagine that

all i'm saying is maybe we should establish some kind of legal moratorium on production of this content/artwork until it's determined that it's socially responsible
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:17 PM on May 20, 2012


Part of my bad reaction to yaoi probably comes unfairly from a particular flavor of polyamory hell: partners who were ridiculously positive about my same-sex relationships as long as they ultimately could get off on it. Because of that, I've been mildly suspicious of people who claim consumption of yaoi/slash as a personal badge of not being heterosexist.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:41 PM on May 20, 2012


I'm really enjoying this discussion and while I have little to contribute to it, I do want to recommend that everyone here reads The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal.

It's fantastic, honest, funny, sexy and may well make you look at the world differently. Really worth it.
posted by litleozy at 12:42 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


litleozy, I'd definitely agree TJ and Amal is the to read if you're not an actual fan of yaoi or disinterested in the genre. It's worth reading if you're a fan of slice-of-life type graphic novels.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:53 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


whoops,

TJ and Amal is the to read

TJ and Amal is the one to read
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:54 PM on May 20, 2012


I would be really interested to see real-world examples of perceptions of gay couples being altered by yaoi.

I don't have links because I try not to hang out on forums that enrage me, but in yaoi fandom, there are fans who are just Not Clear On The Concept - the type of people who get all creepily fetishistic about real gay couples, speculate about who's the 'uke', and things like that.

They tend to be young and use a lot of smiley faces.

There is also just a skewed emphasis in sex scenes on things that parallel romance-genre het sex, like dominant-submissive paradigms and implicit ass hymens (i.e. the whole bleeding the first time trope).

This is not all fans of yaoi or slash, by far. There are many who are very aware of boundaries, of reality - many who are gay themselves. It's also much easier to find stories that don't use these tropes than it was ten years ago.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:32 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


implicit ass hymens

A good name for a band.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:41 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've got a friend who's claimed Ass Hymens as her band name. I suggested her stage name be Bloody Slasher, so she could be Bloody Slasher & The Ass Hymens. (Bonus: Her favorite genre is metal.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:32 PM on May 20, 2012


There is also just a skewed emphasis in sex scenes on things that parallel romance-genre het sex, like dominant-submissive paradigms and implicit ass hymens (i.e. the whole bleeding the first time trope).

Wow. The world is full of surprises. (Also, squick!!! "Bleeding the first time"?)
posted by Frowner at 3:56 PM on May 20, 2012


I keep reading "TJ and Anal". Does this make me a bad person?
posted by Night_owl at 4:00 PM on May 20, 2012


Frowner, I don't pretend to understand it myself - but I've been around the fandom long enough to see a lot of it. I honestly think it's something that came from het romance, where tearing the hymen was something concrete onto which authors pinned a lot of dramatic and sexual import. The spilling blood became de rigeur, and it got copied in yaoi/slash without much thought.

But I really do want to emphasize that this isn't all slash/yaoi fans who do this. The corners of fandom that I hang out in are actually quite self-aware, and engage in more intelligent criticism/discussion of what they're doing than I can even keep up with. Among those folks, this kind of trope is associated with bad writers.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:07 PM on May 20, 2012


I would be really interested to see real-world examples of perceptions of gay couples being altered by yaoi.

Here's one.
posted by Snyder at 5:08 PM on May 20, 2012


For real life effects, the ex of my BF came to her in a panic when his new girlfriend invited him to sleep over, and promptly put him in bed with her gay housemate. And went and sat in a chair. Apparently it was excruciatingly uncomfortable for everyone but the yaoi fan who was terribly disappointed that not only did her gay housemate not want to fuck straight guys, her mildly effeminate boyfriend wasn't actualy bi, gay or up for sex with other guys.

I've been pondering a Phd (or something) looking at not only how women in fandom identify so strongly with male characters but police male behaviour. it isn't only the sex - in general the male characters have stronger character development and are easier to match to self than undeveloped, one-dimensiional female characters and it becomes a habit so even when characterisation is made up out of nothing [see Blaise Zabini] it is still the male character being made up. And when any homosocial or affectionate behaviour between men is associated with homosexuality, and used to support sexual fantasy and desire (aka RPF) it's not helpful for anyone. A friend recently linked an interview with Downey Jnr and Hiddleston from Avengers with a comment aout RPF. I watched and waited and was a little bewildered until I realised any affectionate behaviour, any male on male touching, any homosocial leanings, are coded homosexual. And that's not only foreign to my experience with men, it's dangerous. Ascribing sexual intention to platonic affection isn't just an issue simply because there is still so much discrimination and danger for same sex attracted people in general, but because it is a huge part of being an empathic and emotionally connected person. If every time you touch a friend on the back, or pat their arm, or hug them, there is a sexual aspect attached by well-meaning fetishists, how comfortable will you be?

The dude from my anecdote above, started acting a lot more masculine after that. Same with my brother-in-law, after yaoi loving friends of mine gushed about his general bishi-ness and how pretty he is. They'd mentioned to me how lovely he and his brother were together too, which was it's own level of ick. Fortunately they hadn't mentioned it to him, because would you hug your brother after someone told you how sexy it was?
posted by geek anachronism at 5:37 PM on May 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Snyder, that is the most horrible thing ever, even exceeding my least-favorite nightmare fanfic with the scary bugs which shall go here unnamed because I don't like to think of it.

Although it does seem to me to be about projection - I think some of what is going on with certain kinds of yaoi and slash is straight women who are frustrated with the sexual roles assigned to them, feel that they have no other choices of how to be and who react (unconsciously) by projecting a lot of awful shit onto gay folks. That whole disturbing post you linked sounded to me like "here is how I wish I could be and dress, and how I wish I could be desired and engage in sex, but since I can't I will live by proxy".

How depressing. Also how unpleasant and gross and dismaying and screwed up about gender identity - I mean, I 100% believe that people should be able to be as femme as they want to and that there's an awful lot of hatred of femme-ness and a lot of misogyny in queer cultures, but straight women having this sort of barbie-stripper feminized idea of gay men is not the answer. (I shudder to think what the question would be.)
posted by Frowner at 5:37 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, this just gets ickier and ickier! I will never understand how some straight women, who themselves have to contend with so much fetishization and creepiness, can think it's okay to pass it on.

Here are some other thoughts:

1. There's some pre-existing toxic narratives about masculinity here - that men are always sexual, can't control themselves, and that the truth of [queer] male sexuality is the willingness to get it on with practically any available dude who isn't 100% disgusting. That's a narrative, though, that men are complicit in perpetrating - it's used to talk about how demanding and fussy and annoying women are with their limits on sexuality, reluctance to put out, etc. And there are gay guys like Dan Savage who use that narrative as a stick to beat straight women with.

I once had a conversation with a friend of mine about his relationship and how appalled he'd been when his boyfriend had cheated on him. Now, we didn't really talk about sex a lot so we hadn't really talked about that side of his relationship before, but when I was thinking it over later I realized that in the back of my mind I assumed that gay men were never monogamous and that "cheating" really could never be a big deal because monogamy was just some hang-up that women had. (Luckily, I had the mother wit to listen and sympathize with my friend rather than share my thoughts). But anyway, the various toxic stories about male sexuality are, to my mind, strongly reinforced by men themselves.

2. I think RPF is a terrible idea. I think it's insulting to a person and sort of like ill-wishing them to spend a lot of emotional and writerly energy on describing the failure of their actual sexuality/relationship and its replacement by a fetishy one. I have gone off several writers after realizing that they produced RPF.

3. That said, I much prefer to think of relationships generally as being along a non-sexual>>>>sexual axis rather than being sharply separate. I don't think that what we need is to reassure dudes that manly hugging is totally straight and they can engage in it without fear of catching the gays; I think folks need to grasp that emotions and relationships are complicated and various, and that you hug people because you care about them. A lot of friendly relationships do have a very slight sexual element - at least in my experience - and it doesn't mean that you're going to (or even want to) have it off with that person; it's just there, it's not scary, it's not a big deal. Although people who are fetishistically observing others for the slightest least hint of sex or romance in order to gossip about it or write it into a fic are being giant creeps and need to knock it the hell off.

I also think that folks need to grasp that other people's friendships and relationships are not theirs to gossip or fantasize over.

Yucko. I am so repulsed by the idea of women acting that way.
posted by Frowner at 5:52 PM on May 20, 2012


I 100% believe that people should be able to be as femme as they want to

What's funny is that ascribing Femininity to formerly masculine things is a one-way irreversible process as far as I can tell. Formerly male only names become used for girls, but predominately girl names don't get used for guys. Formerly "male" cars become women's cars, like the new Mustang, etc etc.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:03 PM on May 20, 2012


That said, I much prefer to think of relationships generally as being along a non-sexual>>>>sexual axis rather than being sharply separate. I don't think that what we need is to reassure dudes that manly hugging is totally straight and they can engage in it without fear of catching the gays; I think folks need to grasp that emotions and relationships are complicated and various, and that you hug people because you care about them. A lot of friendly relationships do have a very slight sexual element - at least in my experience - and it doesn't mean that you're going to (or even want to) have it off with that person; it's just there, it's not scary, it's not a big deal.

In my experience, talking with people, it is sometimes sharply separate, and it isn't just manly straight dudes who make the delineation.

But it is a complication. Gay is not bad! But someone externally invoking an uneccesary and unwanted level of sexualness to your previously innocent friendship can range from uncomfortable to hilarious to injoke to devastating. And I guess that'd the issue I'm getting at - it isn't just policing men's behaviour to support an active fantasy life, it's supporting a really sexist intrusion into public behaviour. It's claiming x = gay and therefore dude is gay and therefore fair game for fantasy pairing.

My best friend and I often joke about just how much of a couple we look like together (finish each others sentences, share food, casual touching etc) but it's uncomfortable when some jokey dudebro says "pics or gtfo". And we're both not entirely straight. As much as I love women writing for women, and owning their sexuality, I am highly disapproving of that turning into straight dudebro levels of dickwolvery. Because it doesn't make any inroads into discrimination it simply supports mainstream misogyny and sexist rules of behaviour.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:09 PM on May 20, 2012


I was about to ask how MeFi missed this ten-fifteen years ago, but there's this post back from 2006.
posted by Auguris at 6:12 PM on May 20, 2012


I'm not going to touch the RPF debate, but I do want to point out that using something as evidence of a relationship in a story (RPF or slash) doesn't mean that you believe that the relationship actually exists. Most RPF writers believe that what they write is fantasy and should be kept away from the actors.

It does seem RPF attracts people who have no sense of the line between fantasy and reality, though, and so you occasionally hear awful stories about some fan who has no idea how unwelcome their fantasies are. Most RPF writers/readers react to stories like with outrage.

(This is true for fictional characters, too - writing a story where Kirk and Spock have an epic love affair behind the scenes doesn't mean you believe that the writers actually intended them to be a gay couple. Slash writers have often been accused of not being able to believe male friendships and affection are non-sexual. This is really off the mark.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:33 PM on May 20, 2012


Wow Auguris. Is it just me or did Metafilter seem...a lot more....freewheelin' back then?
posted by The ____ of Justice at 6:35 PM on May 20, 2012


Vis-a-vis the sex/friendship thing: I tend to take a slightly psychoanalytic stance (though neurochemistry is the usual mefi approach) and say that I don't believe that there are sexual and non-sexual relationships, because sex is pervasive in how people experience the world. I think that we often repress, sublimate or deny sexual aspects to our relationships precisely because there are so many dumb ideas about sexuality out there. Conversely, I think there are a lot of "family" feelings in sexual relationships - most visibly in some relationships with large age differences where a slight parent/child dynamic is present. (And I say this knowing someone dear to me who dates only substantially older, maternal butch women - I mean, it's a real thing.) Sexuality can be present in a lot of ways - competition, mirroring, homosocial stuff, other more complex or subtle variants. And I think all that is absolutely normal, okay, so trivial as to be inconsequential. I think that observing that there is a sexual element in a friendship is on a par with observing that we breathe oxygen.

But I think it's incredibly stupid and childish to equate the various faint traces of sexuality in friendships with some kind of sublimated "we would totally hop into bed if the opportunity presented itself" thing. An element of sexuality in a friendship is not the same as sexual attraction, any more than a slight parent/child dynamic in a romantic relationship is the same as incest.

I don't like it when people feel that there are "sexual" versus "innocent" friendships, more because that suggests that friendships exist to be judged and evaluated by observers - although I totally get what you're saying about the creepy wrongness of gossip and innuendo, and I'm 100% with you there. I think the whole mentality of 'we are watching you in the hopes of "catching" a "non-innocent" gesture or remark for our own gratification' is vile and repulsive, and I hope that when you encounter it you are able to call people out.

I also think it's homophobic since it suggests that queer folks are purely/perversely sexual beings, and public beings. It plays into the whole set of assumptions where "normal [straight thin able white male]" bodies are presumed to be non-sexual and not for public comment but everyone else [women, queers, disabled folks,POC, fat folks] are freaky-deaky and it's totally okay to comment about and speculate on their relationships and sexuality.
posted by Frowner at 6:36 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, TJ and Amal for the win. Absolutely.
posted by Frowner at 7:01 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


@snyder that pic seems pretty legit and totally like something someone said seriously
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:51 PM on May 20, 2012


Frowner, you are doing a significantly better job than me of articulating this. And yes, I have called people out, and stopped being friends with them etc. but there is always this moment where I am just too astonished to even say something because who the fuck does that? What the hell? I mean, I'm happy to talk attractiveness, but it's just such bad behaviour on so many levels. I think I disagree with you on the sex thing, just simply due to enough people on the either end of the Kinsey scale adjusting my viewpoint, and my own reluctance to do psychoanalytic stuff. In other words, there's a bit of "lalalala I can't hear you" going on and I'll probably address it and read up more at some point but just don't have the energy right now.

And to clear something up - the people I am referring to aren't RPFers. They're 'just' yaoi fans. And I am aware that most RPFers are not delusional. But they do spend enough time acting within a mental/emotional framework where normal social boundaries do not exist that it leaks through. It's like that moment you forget your uptight and proper relative is in the room and tell a dirty joke. Except that it isn't a joke and it's part of a wider social problem where gay=sexallthetime and sex is something people are owed. And that you can tell someone is gay by how strictly they perform gender.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:06 PM on May 20, 2012


Previously.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:44 PM on May 20, 2012


I'm a slash writer (Snarry is my current favorite) and I used to be very into yaoi. I was quite homophobic before a friend of mine started showing comics depicting two men in love, so yaoi definitely caused a social change in me. I've been to yaoi con, and I've spent some time in the culture for over a decade. I don't know if it is still like this, but yaoi con used to be one of the most interesting social situations I have ever seen. Hundreds of women (and some gay men) gathered to discuss porn and ogle men. Handsome men, known as 'bishis' sold themselves for a nonsexual (in theory) night with a fan. Sometimes the men would dress as characters, sometimes they would show off their bodies, often there would be fanservice, with straight males kissing and simulating sex with other straight males in order to turn on women. To me, it is no different than straight women kissing for male sexual pleasure, and many of the men I talked to loved being treated as sexual objects. A lot of straight men started going to the con in order to have sex or be surrounded by women.

Because there hasn't been such a history of violence associated with female sexual treatment of males, some young, overly zealous fans occasionally overstep social bounds, which is where you get situations where gay men are fetishized, but the slash/yaoi crowd has historically been one of older, well-educated, married women who kept their desires hidden, even from their husbands. Even now, I have some friends who are amazed that my husband knows what I write. It has been only in the last decade or so that younger girls have had access to slash/yaoi through the internet and, being teenagers, they act in ways that leave us older fans reluctant to label ourselves as yaoi/slash fans. Within any fandom, there are those that go overboard.

I, personally, am not so much into yaoi anymore because so many of the relationships depicted involve an overly feminine bottom with an overly masculine top. I see this in the slash community to, although not as sharply defined. I've received a lot of compliments for writing my characters as men instead of women, but I can see why fellow enthusiasts would would prefer more 'heterosexual' relationships. For one, through a long period of American gay history and in many parts of the world, that 'heterosexual' ideal is still in place. The male or female who defies gender norms is considered homosexual, but not their 'straight acting' partner. That's why researchers in some communities use 'men who have sex with men' rather than labels, because a masculine acting male isn't considered gay no matter how many men he sleeps with. In most historical accounts of societies that encouraged or tolerated same-sex love, the relationships were not more egalitarian than heterosexual relationships. I have seen a clear evolution of yaoi/slash with more egalitarian relationships being depicted, but it still holds to older values.

I know more than a few lesbian, transsexuals, and straight men into yaoi/slash, and they have many different reasons for writing it. For the straight males, they often view male/male relationships as no different than other types of relationships, so see no reason why they shouldn't write fascinating characters in love. For transsexuals and lesbians, the community tends to be very queer friendly and, again, I think a lot of the attachment comes to certain characters rather than their genders/sexes. A lesbian friend of mine who I met through slash/yaoi summed up why she likes gay porn as "It's not fake." While I have seen some gay porn where one of the individuals wasn't as into it (gay for pay), the vast majority is of two individuals clearly enjoying each other. They usually both orgasm, and are typically portrayed in an egalitarian fashion. There is some domination and submission, but those are typically labeled under 'kink'. It isn't like straight porn, where a normal-sounding flick can end up with degradation of the female actress. You don't wonder if an orgasm was faked, or roll your eyes at a woman's overly enthusiastic portrayal of sucking cock. For those who love men, both men tend to be very fit and aesthetically pleasing.

So how does this translate to fiction? When I read or write sex involving women, I often find myself sort of 'stuck' in the role of the woman. I like slash because I can be either character and imagine myself sleeping with both of them at the same time. I also love, love, love male bodies and find it much easier to write about wanting to fuck a man than wanting to fuck a woman. I once read a scientific analysis of slash which argued that romance is the primary component of slash relationships, and it was the female fantasy of two men expressing love and falling for each other completely. It may be that way for some women, but for me, it is mostly a sexual fantasy come to life. It really boils down to: What's better than one hot guy in bed? Two hot guys!

Another aspect that probably influences a lot of slash/yaoi fans is that male characters can be treated roughly without feminist guilt. A great deal of slash involves non-consensual or BDSM/rough sex. Fantasies that many women have, but probably have a lot of guilt surrounding. Reading about a woman being raped would hit too close to home and, in some cases, remind them of abuses they had suffered. By making the victim male, they are free to dip in and out of his head at will and even identify with his abuser. It's a safe way to explore potentially troublesome fantasies. Then again, it may just be popular because those kinks are popular and two men are better than one.

I find it very troublesome that this very female produced and consumed form of sexual desire is seen as a way to overcome feelings of "inadequacy and shame". While I can see this argument used to explain rape stories, they are the minority. I don't view male sexuality as superior to female sexuality and neither do most of my friends from the community. I quite like being female and I appreciate multiple orgasms and all that good stuff. I just really, really like men, and I find males bodies to be aesthetically pleasing, and our culture and the traditional heterosexual narrative treats women as the consumable sex object while men are the consumers. I enjoy being the consumer.
posted by avagoyle at 8:45 PM on May 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Thanks for your thoughts avagoyle. It's interesting to hear from somebody who actually has been in the scene (and not just slash, but yaoi.)

The men as "consumable sex object" angle I think, is an important one.

I think from the minute we're born, our society throws a lot of images and narratives at us that eroticize women's bodies. (I'm going to say "eroticize" and not "objectify", because I'd like to stay away from that loaded word for right now.) Nearly every big film, a multitude of TV shows, commercials, magazines, books, etc., eroticizes women's bodies while the guy is some kind of blank canvas/average joe who is normally 1) clothed and/or 2) is shown as in a completely nonerotic way.

If yaoi is pretty much "men mostly eroticized by women", there are obviously going to be some things that are unrealistic and fantastical in some of the content. But I'd like to assert that basically what we see in popular media, or should I just say "the media" is "women mostly eroticized by men." It's just done on such a grand scale that it starts to feel as invisible as the air we breathe. I would even suggest many women don't realize how much they COULD find pleasure in the aesthetics of a man's body, for this very reason.

Obviously, I really don't think there is wrong with this kind of eroticization at all--and aside from the unfortunate fact that only ONE type of eroticization is OVERWHELMINGLY depicted in our media, I think it's a wonderful thing about being human that it happens. The problems yaoi might cause are what I believe to be similar to the problems porn causes: some people thinking this is how one gender/group of people actually act in real life. One further complication with yaoi is because of its cultural origins, yaoi in the U.S. may seem far stranger or "weirder" to anybody who takes a look. For example, that uke/seme stuff? I completely do not understand as someone who grew up in the States, and seems completely unnecessary. But that's just speaking as someone far outside Japanese yaoi culture.

I guess what I'm saying is that yaoi is a way for women to experience pleasure in eroticizing men through a visual medium. Why not just turn to gay male porn? Well, many women often do. But I think the reason yaoi exists is also probably the reason why romance novels are predominantly the domain of women--for whatever reason many women like stories mixed with their erotica.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 9:38 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh yes, and I forgot to add my other point...that I'm hypothesizing here that yaoi is popular to many BECAUSE it doesn't include women, who are already hyper-eroticized in mass culture.

If you are taught at an early age to look at women's bodies sexually, they become awfully distracting when you want to focus on men. After a while, it just becomes annoying. It's as if you ask yourself, "really, have we seen enough of this already?" And yes, of course we have...every time you turn on the TV or watch a movie, there it is, AGAIN. A women's body sexually idealized for men. Again, not a bad thing, just really...ubiquitous.

So, um yeah. Two hot guys.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 9:55 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"The series updates every Wednesday."

Ai! There goes a week of my life!
posted by Twang at 10:47 PM on May 20, 2012


I also wanted to add that the second installment of the Downey Jr Sherlock movies had a lot of fanservice for slash/yaoi fans. The male characters engage in a lot of romantically and sexually charged situations together, in addition to the gratuitous nudity. After seeing so many tv shows and movies where only women are sexualized, it is a welcome change. We still have a long way to go, as the sexualization of males is still seen as unnecessary or uncomfortable. After the Watchmen movie came out, many people expressed discomfort with how Dr Manhattan remained naked and on display for many scenes.

The seme/uke stuff is an outgrowth of patriarchy, which is why it comes from Japan and is much more prevalent there. The social roles for males and females are divided on such a strict line, even the 'gay' characters fit into the heterosexual domain. It is not seen in all of yaoi and, as women's rights improve, characters become more egalitarian. The vast majority of fans understand that yaoi characters do not represent real gay men, just as the vast majority of straight male consumers of 'lesbian' porn understand that it doesn't represent real lesbian women. Yes, there are those who take it seriously, and yes, a lot of 'lesbian' porn inaccurately depicts lebsian relationships, but it is ultimately a male sexual fantasy, just as yaoi/slash is ultimately a female sexual fantasy.
posted by avagoyle at 7:07 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


But what troubles me about all this slash/yaoi business is that there are actual gay men in the world, and a substantial number of those actual gay men do not care for the depictions of homosexuality in those genres. Analogies may be odious, but I would never accept that white folks get a pass on writing creepy racialized porn in the face of criticism from POC because "it's just hot" or whatever. I also want to watch out for the "but some gay men like it" argument, because that steers close to the "but I have gay friends" line of reasoning.

Thoughts:

1. How much of a pass does someone get if they're writing romance/porn? Honestly, the subject of other people's porn always reminds me of a paraphrase of Sappho: "If you're squeamish, don't poke the rubble on the beach". It's reasonable to grant a kind of "Ia la I can't hear you" waiver up to a certain point even for things that squick you, particularly for written and drawn genres where no real people are involved in production at all. But where is that certain point? Honestly, I have no idea. I do want to be cautious of slipping into "I like it and I don't personally observe it hurting anyone and it feels good, so it must be okay!"

2. I dislike fanservice, myself - it feels creepy and manipulative and ultra-capitalist. (Either do a whole movie/TV show where, you know, Sherlock and Watson are actually gay, etc, or leave it out altogether; don't create this sort of little corner of "wink-wink nudge nudge this isn't in the real story but I still want the ticket sales so here is a bath scene". I do not personally care what sloppinesses of narrative and fanservice and ick are routinely provided for straight men, because I don't especially want my sexuality to be reconfigured on the straight dude model. But I recognize that I am virtually alone in this.

3. I am only partially sympathetic to the "I like slash because it's hot and for no other reason" logic. To my mind, nothing in the human character is ever that uncomplicated, and it would astonish me to find a realm of total innocent freedom in women's sexuality, entirely sequestered from the pressures of capitalist patriarchy, where "because it's hot and for no other reason" could actually be true. But it's really interesting to me that many lesbians read and write slash, women who have no interest in sleeping with men and who are not typically interested in male bodies. That's something besides "men! they are so hot!" What is it? Dunno.

Honestly, I think a central component of porn is about managing fear and shame in such a way that sexual enjoyment can be attained - displacement, disavowal, forgetting, distraction, covering-up-via-fetish, whatever. I don't think this is disturbing or a sign of character weakness or whatever; anxiety and all that are part of how subjects are constituted. You can't be yourself without ceasing to be not-yourself, so to speak, and that's an anxious business.

My point is that talking about why all this happens isn't the same as saying "there are secret bad psychoanalytic reasons why you do this thing and you should stop".

The concern with slash and yaoi is whether it materially/socially causes harm by eroding social boundaries, reinforcing stereotypes and using identities as props for enjoyment. And then the question is, do yaoi and slash have to work that way? What steps in writing, consumption and distribution, plus what steps in the larger political world, would change that?

It's just that I personally get pretty uneasy when someone says "hey, you are writing about my racial/cultural/sexual identity in a way that is creepy and gross solely for your own jollification". I think that's a pretty serious concern, and there's lots of historical evidence showing that people really do write creepy fetishizing junk over the objections of the fetishized.
posted by Frowner at 9:13 AM on May 21, 2012


The more feminine and smaller character is 'bratty' but always in a submissive role in the relationship, whereas the cool, collected character diffuses situations, initiates the true 'boy love' aspect and is generally the aggressor.

And you get a crap ton of M/f in standard romance novels, so much so that they get the derisive name bodice rippers. It's actually sort of delightful that female sexuality gets to be as lurid and unrealistic as male sexuality. Makes you really recall the equality of the sexes in all senses of the term.


there's lots of historical evidence showing that people really do write creepy fetishizing junk over the objections of the fetishized.


Eh, but people object to each other's sexuality all the time- I'm personally not into the dynamics typical of a lot of the boylove comics I've read (lady boner report, sorry) but I am into a lot of vile shit that if it were perpetuated onto the culture at large would make me miserable- but I can't give up my sexuality because some people are unable to distinguish reality from fantasy.

Basically it's the same issue that came up with Fifty Shades of Grey, some people deciding that what your masturbate to is who you are, and trying to make it a Big Blow to Feminism.

Plus we have enough bean plating to suggest that some of the clearly-not-the-thing-it-is-proposing-it-depicts issue is based on other sorts of repression, for example that as something made for often (ostensibly het) women that the weird things like 'uke' are a self insert and that be rejecting it you're crushing a wee little thread of queer self identification- the desire to be simultaneously female and male under your own terms. So not only is the female gaze/desire so non-consensually pissed on that we, as a culture, label male nudity as homoerotic, but closing down that avenue by labelling it as immoral is doing women as broad a disservice as telling them erotic desire is sinful.

You ask, regarding social boundaries:
What steps in writing, consumption and distribution, plus what steps in the larger political world, would change that?
I'm going to say that I take a negative view that we're going to get away from stereotypes of some kind, we're just going to off shift them into something else. So even if we lived in a post gender, post scarcity, diversity free, genetic monoculture, differences in personality of even geo-spatial location would create new stuff to flap over: nearly identical high schools ans universities court rivalries just fine on things that are so profoundly arbitrary as one season's athletics performance in one sport.

So if you can't take the weird and possibly misrepresentational out of the human, I feel you need to treat it the way we treat all the other dangerous stuff humans may get up to, from farm machinery, to bungee jumping, which is to say, education an guard rails. But you can't police idiots past a certain point- some people will do the dumb things, and when it's indie or fan created content, basically all you can do is social commentary, what we're doing right now- exercise your freedom of self expression to point out where things may be a problem and engage in respectful dialogue.
posted by Phalene at 11:58 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The concern with slash and yaoi is whether it materially/socially causes harm by eroding social boundaries, reinforcing stereotypes and using identities as props for enjoyment. And then the question is, do yaoi and slash have to work that way? What steps in writing, consumption and distribution, plus what steps in the larger political world, would change that?


I think one thing that would help is if you actually reviewed and critiqued specific yaois and slash instead of putting all of it under a single umbrella, which I think unfairly categorizes a whole bunch of different creators together, who have different sensibilities.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:13 PM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Just to add to the many reasons others have listed for the appeal of slash/yaoi, I think the primary appeal (aside from the 'two men are better than one' part) stems from the fact that male/male pairings allow for certain social scenarios in the narrative that would be difficult or unrealistic to portray through a heterosexual dynamic:

- I can't really speak much for yaoi, since I've never been much of a fan, but in slash fiction it's a very, very common plot scenario where the two male love interests are best friends and are secretly in love but hesitate from confessing to each other because of the taboo nature of their love. I think this dynamic of intense friendship tinged with ambiguity is very appealing for many women. In a heterosexual romance storyline, this kind of sexual tension is hard to build because it's sort of taken for granted that if a straight man and woman have a close friendship, then it will obviously lead to sex. You can't have a storyline where, say, a man and a woman who are close friends go camping and share a sleeping bag and slowly build sexual tension until it they are driven wild with lust and everything boils over.

Heterosexual romance as portrayed pretty much everywhere tends to ignore the notion of friendship - it's either lovey-dovey idealized LOVE or sex-sex-sex, but very little 'hey, I just really like you as a human being'. The romance in slash fiction is often between best friends, comrades-in-arms, accomplices of some sort.

- Another appealing aspect of slash fiction, I would argue, is that male/male romance is less overburdened with cultural scripts of how romance/sex must play out. Sure, there are cultural depictions of gay romance out there, especially as it becomes more mainstream, but it doesn't come anywhere near how semantically overloaded heterosexual romance can be. There's Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, Gone with the Wind, Pride and Prejudice, etc. (and these are just archaic examples...I won't even bother starting with the pop culture examples) that have so broadly shaped what comes to mind when we think of what romance means, that it can in some sense be liberating to get away from that. There are far fewer "prototypes" out there of what a male/male romance should look like, and I think that is a relief for many women who read/write slash fiction.

- Regarding dominant/submissive interactions, there's more to it than just "oh, they're just transposing heterosexual power dynamics onto homosexual relationships". That assumption takes for granted that the women are identifying with the submissive male role and thus fantasize being dominated, but it seems that often it is the submissive male who is the greater object of sexual objectification. In other words, the focus of the sexual fantasy is being able to sexually dominate a man by proxy of another man. Some women just are genuinely turned on by the thought of a man being penetrated, and it's probably easier to imagine a male character doing the job than a female one.

- Finally, it's just easier to be able to read erotic fiction where you're not constantly struggling to relate or compare yourself to the female protagonist.

Sure, a lot of this stuff is utopian and unrealistic, but then again pretty much all sexual fantasies are. I don't think this is cause for derision or moral panics over false representations of gay men. Because in the end, it's not about gay men. As far as the more problematic fetishistic aspects of slash/yaoi go, I think that mainly stems from the fact that much of the fanbase is young - like, really young. You can't expect a 13 or 15 year old girl to have a mature understanding of sex in general, let alone gay sex. That said, there is some very well-written, (intellectually as well as sexually) mature slash fiction out there.
posted by adso at 7:08 PM on May 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


But what troubles me about all this slash/yaoi business is that there are actual gay men in the world, and a substantial number of those actual gay men do not care for the depictions of homosexuality in those genres.

This has not been my experience. There are gay male fans of my work and there have been gay males at yaoi con. There are some yaoi pieces that gay men will roll their eyes at, and they tend to be the same pieces that I, and most of my friends, also see as silly. There are also plenty of straight pieces that both men and women will roll their eyes at, such as Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, but I wouldn't brush off all straight romance novels as damaging to depictions of straight people because of works like that.

But it's really interesting to me that many lesbians read and write slash, women who have no interest in sleeping with men and who are not typically interested in male bodies. That's something besides "men! they are so hot!" What is it? Dunno.

For them, it's usually the characters or the dynamic of the relationship. Sadly, male characters tend to be more fascinating than female characters (although this is changing). Also, a lesbian can identify strongly with the 'I really like this person, but I'm not sure if my feelings are reciprocated' trope that is so common in slash fiction. It's often about individuals coming to terms with their sexuality, or previously platonic friendships developing into more. I'm actually bisexual myself, and when I was in high school, I was madly in love with a female friend. I completely identify with the stories where two individuals are friends, but one wants something more. As asdo notes, a lot of straight fiction and romances are centered more around external complications that prevent the two heterosexuals from getting together. In slash (and presumably lesbian fiction), there is no automatic social force that assumes that these two have the potential for a sexual relationship, so there's a lot more potential for angst and unresolved sexual tension.

One of the biggest fans of one of my stories is a lesbian woman who loves all the passion, the confusion, and forbiddenness of a same sex relationship conducted between two people who thought they were straight. She really likes Snape's character, and will read any good story involving him, but especially likes the slash ones because they contain those elements that she can understand as a gay woman.
posted by avagoyle at 8:59 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


OK, coming back to this thread pretty late, but I wanted to share something with you all.

On another forum I frequent, I opened up a small informal poll about yaoi and yuri. This is a forum populated mostly by high school and college-aged males who enjoy videos games, anime and manga. Here's a general overview of what I found:

1. Yuri was a lot more popular than yaoi. This may give some credence to the notion that yaoi is written for a female audience. However, even among those who did not self-identify as fans of yaoi, most of their feelings about it ranged from "indifferent" to "OK if done right".

2. The most important elements the respondents looked for in yaoi and yuri - assuming the work was written and/or drawn well - was a solid story that avoided being too graphic. Respondents also said the strongest appeal was the "emotional" aspect. Most respondents found overt pornography devoid of story to be boring.

3. Of those who disliked yaoi and yuri, the main reason given boiled down to oversaturation of fan works of certain popular characters, i.e., being "burned out" of seeing the same pairings over and over.

4. None of the respondents had any issues with IRL same sex pairings. A few self-identified as homosexual or bisexual, most as heterosexual. None expressed gushing enthusiasm for IRL same sex pairings; all rather took an "so long as you're not hurting anyone, go for it" attitude.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:38 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


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