M is for Molestation, Male on Male: Thoughts on Non-Consensuality in BL

Why, yes, you may be one of the only people who masturbates during the evening news.

My post output’s been kinda low lately… I blame the weather. Very humid, lot of thunderstorms… makes me lazy. All I practically do is sit around and read BL manga. That and risk getting struck by lightning by insisting that I still run and bike about forty miles per week. I get cranky otherwise! And not even the best BL porn can solve that issue.

Now, I’m far from being a newcomer to the BL scene – I’ve been merrily reading through this stuff since FAKE first hit American shores (which was in 2003 according to the first volume’s copyright; just pulled it from my shelf! gotta love the early nineties cheesiness of that one…). I’ll freely admit that most of what I read for manga now is BL, although I do read a pretty decent amount of yuri. In fact, the only stuff right now that I’m following that isn’t BL or yuri are Spiral – The Bonds of Reasoning and xxxHolic (although that’s CLAMP, so the waters there are kind of muddied from time to time).

I say all of this because the matter I’m going to raise is one wherein someone would surely accuse me of being too prim and proper if I was a recent fan of the genre.

I’m disturbed by the level of nonconsensuality in BL manga, from unwanted groping to outright rape to the not-exactly-consensual sex. I can’t make any claims supported by exact figures or anything concrete, but from all the stuff I’ve read over the years, the occurrence of such things is on the uptick. But I don’t really want to get into the reasons for why this is disturbing; I’m more curious at the moment as to why it is that there is so much of this content in BL in the first place.

First off, there’s the obvious answer – it sells. Duh. But why does it sell? I’d like to propose three answers, which I would further suggest act in tandem with one another, not in isolation.

Perhaps the most unsettling of these is the idea that this is how people, in general, are acculturated – that is, that the larger culture teaches that sexual harassment and coerced sex are romantic and constitute displays of true love. In this, the idea that a person cannot control themselves (in fact, the phrase ‘I can’t stop myself’, ‘I can’t control myself’, and ‘I won’t be able to control myself’ are incredibly common in BL) and prevent themselves from forcing themselves on the object of their affection means that they just are that in love with them; essentially, their love is too strong to be contained. So rape becomes equated with love.

That’s scary. While rape fantasies in and of themselves aren’t inherently harmful, the sheer mass of them in BL is unnerving because of what they suggest in this regard about the wider culture. And there is also the fact that rape is about power, ultimately – it has nothing to do with love, and rarely does it have to do with sex. Its about having power over another human being.

This does, though, lead into another possible reason for all that nonconsensuality in BL – the rape fantasy. Its culturally taboo, so what safer way to explore it than via BL, a genre in which a female reader necessarily has a degree of remove from the main characters simply because she is female?

Perhaps the one I find most intriguing, though, of my suggested reasons would be one wherein a kind of schadenfreude is at work. But to call it simply ‘schadenfreude’ doesn’t exactly get at it – its a particular kind, a kind where female readers get to see a partial reversal of the usual script. Here, instead of the female being a recipient of unwanted attention and actions, it is a male character. For once it is a guy being groped, being coerced, getting raped. Its a, “How do you like it?” feeling.

Of course, then, why not simply have it be a heterosexual situation instead, with a woman harassing the guy?

Well, for one thing, this is often culturally read as being desirable – think B Gata H Kei or Kanokon. Look at that lucky bastard! So on that count, it would fall short of fulfilling that desire for schadenfreude-esque pleasure. Further, it wouldn’t be as much of an equivalency in a sense; the only way to see a guy see what its like to be a female on the end of unwanted actions from a guy is for there to be a guy on the receiving end of unwanted actions from a guy.

Actually, let me tack on a fourth option: the forbidden generally tends to be titillating. As a species we tend to desire that which we cannot have, so there’s something thrilling in watching someone forcibly seize that which they would normally be denied. They’re breaking cultural mores and moral codes because they are that determined to gain what they wish for. Particularly for a female readership there is an allure in this, as women and girls are discouraged even more than their male brethren from breaking out of their proscribed social roles.

Anyway, I personally strongly dislike all of the rapey-ness one can find in BL and will most often drop what I’m reading if it includes that and then tries to use that a vehicle for the characters falling in love, or as proof of how dedicated one of the characters is to the other. Yuck. If you’re gonna have rape or sexual harassment in your BL, at least use it constructively and not as a romance device. And if the victim is going to fall in love (hellooo Stockholm Syndrome), then don’t be tossing sparkles and roses all over the place about it, you’re story should be kind of gritty and unidealistic, not cutesy.

You’ll notice that I assumed a female audience for BL throughout. I know that the audience isn’t entirely female, but it is heavily tipped in favor of us ladyfolk, and is certainly aimed at a female audience. Remember, folks: BL isn’t meant for gay guys. If you want to see what is meant for gay guys, your best bet is to pick up Media Blasters’ release of Legend of the Blue Wolves. I honestly can’t think of any better ones off the top of my head.

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13 Responses to M is for Molestation, Male on Male: Thoughts on Non-Consensuality in BL

  1. Heinsia says:

    Reverse rape doesn’t work in Kanokon and B gata-something is because the female characters are pretty, switch them with some old,ugly women and it’s totally perfect. No one would be jealous of those guys and those guys wouldn’t dare to brag either.

    Rape love is also popular in smut and I also don’t (want to) understand why.

    Btw I’m totally expecting a 3some relationship in XXXHolic lol

    • adaywithoutme says:

      If xxxHolic doesn’t go OT3 for me, I’m going to be extremely pissed off. But I think its entirely possible it’ll go OT3 since it is CLAMP. I mean, come on – they had a teacher-student romantic pairing in it which involved a freaking 4th grader and a guy who was, at the very youngest, twenty-something… surely a threesome is nothing after that!

  2. Baka-Raptor says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen the rape = love plot device. Does this only exist in girly manga?

    • adaywithoutme says:

      I’ll admit that I’m not exactly sure from first-hand evidence, because I don’t read much shoujo or josei. I’ve heard that abuse in romantic relationships isn’t at all uncommon in josei, and isn’t played very consistently as a sign that the guy in the pair sucks; what little I’ve read of josei seems to bear this out.

      But, surely you’ve seen this in other stuff? Its pretty common in yuri – Kannadzuki no Miko uses it, Mai-HiME uses it, Strawberry Panic, Mai-Otome, even in more blatantly shounen efforts like Bleach… these don’t all use rape = love, but they certainly utilize sexual harassment = love, which really doesn’t leave any better of an aftertaste.

  3. Crusader says:

    Judging by the continuous anti-rape reminders and annual training that we get perhaps it is due to the perception that males think ‘no’ means ‘yes’ and hence the lack of consent is then seen as an invitation due to a male’s misconceptions that the protestations of ‘no’ are due feminine modesty. That might still hold for BL though I confess that I have avoided that genre.

    Though that idea might be as flawed as the obvious douchebag rapist in the training aids.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Well, I definitely think that traditional idea(l)s of femininity contribute to the problem of rape both in fiction and in reality. Girls are often taught, either directly or implicitly, that only ‘dirty’ girls or ‘sluts’ actively pursue sex, and that it is the girl’s role to be passive. So they aren’t supposed to actually desire sex… even if they do.

      But, at the same time, because they are supposed to be passive, that makes it difficult to actually say no when they don’t feel like having sex. And if they aren’t supposed to actually emphatically say, “Yes, I want to have sex with you!”, then guys are supposed to assume that passivity means yes, so…

      It’s a pretty complicated matter, and I’ll freely admit I am far from covering it in this comment alone.

  4. Caddy C says:

    Ahh, FAKE, how tame and 90’s you seem now 🙂

    I’m also disturbed by the amount of non-consensual sex in BL, and I’m glad that I’m not the only one! Unfortunately, it’s not a new trend and doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. I’m thinking of Ai no Kusabi, which is hella old and the main pairing is predicated on the inherent inferiority and hence, powerlessness of the uke character.

    Another thing that disturbs me is the idea that through “initiating” the uke into homosexual sex via rape, the rapist is somehow “revealing” the uke’s dormant homosexual feelings.

    I’d never considered the “schadenfreude” aspect of it before, honestly. I’m not sure an entire industry would grow up around a latent revenge fantasy on the part of women, but hey, stranger things have happened!

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Oh, FAKE – I remember secretly tearing off the plastic on volume seven in the bathroom of a bookstore so that I could buy it at the register without presenting ID… since I didn’t possess any at age sixteen or so =)

      Wasn’t one of the nice things about FAKE that when the emotionally shattered Ryo tells Dee he can do anything with him, Dee’s like, “No way, you’re not yourself right now.” and that when they later do have sex its fully consensual and after Ryo’s worked out his issues? SO NICE! I’d probably drop dead of shock to see that now!

      The rape aspect of BL isn’t new at all, but it does seem to be on the rise – I find myself more often tossing aside newer publications in frustration over rape and sexual harassment than I do with older ones. But maybe this is a matter of there being more publications than ever…

      I don’t think schadenfreude could explain the whole industry, hence the multiple ideas in the post.

      The initiation factor of BL bothers me since in a way it falls in line with the arguments of homosexuality as being contagious somehow.

      • Caddy C says:

        I remember seeing FAKE in the Barnes & Noble and flipping through it with a friend. It went like this:

        Me: Hmm, these guys are pretty…holy crap, did they just make out?
        Friend: They totally made out!


        Me + Friend: That’s totally hot, but we will not talk about it in public for many years and instead retreat to the interwebs!

        ^_^

        Ahh, youth. And yeah, the thing about FAKE is the emotional development between the two – though the story isn’t deep and the characters are silly, there’s still a real progression. It isn’t just, “Hi, I’m gay and you’re not. Oh, I think I might be gay, you can have sex with me. Kthx!”

        I watched all of Junjou Romantica and the sequel series, but couldn’t get over the fact that the start of Misaki/Usagi’s relationship is blatent sexual harrassment. Even though it deepens, it still starts with this very flawed premise that Misaki “gives in” to Usagi’s advances against his will. Creeeeeepy.

      • adaywithoutme says:

        Yeah, I was always kind of disappointed that Junjou Romantica didn’t spend more time on its other two pairs. Egoist was AWESOME in the sense that it was two adults! Being consensual! HOLY SHIT WHAT A WEIRD THING! And Terrorist just amused me a lot from how it started.

        I loved FAKE’s America. It was just so… awesome. I was really amused that the bad cop that J.J. knew was from the L.A. police department, haha.

        I also loved the sweet 90’s outfits.

  5. Jay says:

    “I’m disturbed by the level of nonconsensuality in BL manga, from unwanted groping to outright rape to the not-exactly-consensual sex. I can’t make any claims supported by exact figures or anything concrete, but from all the stuff I’ve read over the years, the occurrence of such things is on the uptick.”

    I don’t think it’s getting more common, from the point of view of the Japanese publishers; rape was *always* common over there. I do think US yaoi publishers are more willing to license stories with a strong non-con element than they were in the past, as part of an overall willingness to publish more explicit/darker/potentially offensive works as general nervousness around the potential for public backlash subsides. DMP is bringing out some quite disturbing (but very popular) series this year; Maiden Rose, Finder, Under Grand Hotel. It’s a far change from the adorable but squeaky clean fluff of their first title, Only The Ring Finger Knows.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      The problem with saying that its a matter of what US publishers are willing to touch is that, of what I read, probably only about a third of it is licensed. While I’ll agree that US publishers are showing more of a willingness to publish more explicit and more problematic material, there is still a difference in terms of material content from, say, the 1980’s (when BL really first started popping up in the market thanks to the influence of Kaze to Ki no Uta) to now.

  6. Soniasonia says:

    I am a sodomasochist and I like to see my favourite literary characters suffer, either emotionally or physically (I”m a perv). I enjoy rape stories, if the rape is a plot device to screw up with the character’s personality and I like reading how s/he deals with it (like in “Kaze to Ki no Uta” or “Kannazuki no Miko”). It doesn’t need to be exacly rape, any kind of trauma will go (Like the ensing of Aeris/Claude relationship in Final Fantasy 7 or shocking ending of Tokyo Babylon). Howewver, what I really hate is Shtockholm Syndrome, or characters falling in love with the ones bulling them. Bleh!
    In spite of it, reverse semi- rape is one of my favourite motifs in hentai mangas ^^’

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