|Oh, Erioca With Love, I love you for your Bowie-esque-ed-ness|
Yaoi, also known as boys love, shonen-ai, BL or whatever, here in the States, is a genre of story telling, specifically manga and anime, that focuses on male to male pairings involved in romantic and sexual relationships (though those two need not be mutually exclusive). Stories sometime only nod to romantic possibility and some get down right and dirty.
Yoai is written primarily for women by women. I've tried to share yaoi with gay men friends of mine, and they were just not interested. That's not to say there aren't men out there who love this stuff.
I'm just generalizing here.
|Jazz's Doc and Naoki are desperately in love, but it takes them a long time to figure that out.|
Why would a woman make a comic about two men getting it on for other women to read? Why would a fangirl get all squee seeing two boys kissing? I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm all that hetronormative, but I would like to, one day, marry a man and hold hands and have a stork bring us a baby. Reading stories about sloppy sex between two guys is not scoring me many points in that department, but I'm not about to put the manga down, at least not until I finish this next scene:
|Fake's Dee and Ryo share a private kiss in their patrol car.|
There's some speculation and research into why yaoi has become so popular. Some folks think it has to do with women gaining more power in society. Others think it has to do with sexuality. Some apply feminist or other theories to the phenomenon. It's all really interesting.
Because I'm always thinking about stories and how they're told, I think the reason I like yaoi is because if feel like it essentially sucks gender politics right out of the narrative and the characters' relationship with the reader.
What the heck does that mean? I'll tell you! To me, it means all of the characters in a story are on equal footing. The story may be full of sex, but free of sexual politics. There's no, this is how a woman should be in relationship to a man and this is how a man should be in relationship to a woman.
The reader isn't obligated to identify with the character of her sex/gender just because that's who it's natural to identify with. She can identify with any number of characters, and in the context of stories about sex and relationships, it becomes a safe space for her (the lady reader) to explore different roles and dynamics. The reader doesn't have to ally herself with female characters who might be weak or coy or strong even, or who fall into acceptable societal roles and have the same parts that she does. Nor does she need to feel uncomfortable in forsaking female characters (and thereby rejecting a part of herself) because she embraces and relates to qualities present in the male characters.
As a younger reader/consumer of media, I often identified more with male characters. Frankly, a lot of them were more active, fun, adventurous and stoic than the female characters I encountered. We don't have to go into the psychology of this right now, but as a little girl, I spent endless hours fantasizing about growing up to be GI Joe's Storm Shadow or Snake Eyes. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were way more capable and engaged than Leia in my mind and Indiana Jones was such a bad ass compared to any of his weaker female companions. Even my real life heroes, Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi (look, I was a weird little kid) were men, and the smart people, too, Einstein, Jung, Freud (Yes, weird, weird little kid.).
|What would Storm Shadow vs Snake Eyes slash look like?|
That's not to say I didn't encounter strong female characters who I absolutely loved. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Menolly from the Harper Hall stories (Oh yeah, that's one for the deep geeks out there) are a couple. It was their fortitude I admired, less than their "masculine" strength.
I'm in my mid-thirties and I'm sure the young women who were born after me had subtly different experiences. I was raised by a parent who grew up in the fifties and sixties and though she was a wild child, I'm sure she had a lot of values about male/female relationships present in her psyche. I observed that a lot growing up, and felt very resistant to it. I was always
uncomfortable with being "a girl" or "girly" because I didn't feel it represented me or who I was inside. I do love being a woman, but sometimes, especially when I was younger, I found society's definition/shaping of that gender identity very chafing.
I found a lot of relief in identifying with the male characters I saw on the big screen and television and read about in my books, but I also felt uncomfortable. I wasn't a man, nor did I ever want to be a man, and I felt a slight self-disgust, like, am I a hater of women? All of these female characters aren't like me. Am I rejecting them because they are women or because I don't identify with them? Do other people ask these questions when they read? I really hope so.
|Preach it, Fumi Yoshinaga!|
In Yaoi, all of the couples are "male" and in some sense genderless. This gender-less-ness creates a space free of preconceptions about what a man or woman is or should be or what-have-you. There is an equality between the characters not present in a man/woman pairing, where each member of the couple comes already imbued with a preset notion of gender identity.
When she reads yaoi, a skinny teen girl can be the brawny, strong and silent type, the pushy type, the shy, quiet type; she can be any type. She can explore whether and from which side she likes unrequited love or if she believes in love at all. She can be the top or the bottom. She can think about sex outside of a the context of gender politics. She can, and so can any other woman: housewives, day traders, grocery baggers. There's something revolutionary in that, a freedom, albeit a little strange, but healthy and fun.
|A sweet, public kiss between the two main characters of "Only the Ring Finger Knows"|
For our yaoi readers, I'd be interested to hear about why you like the genre?