BL, Yuri, and (lack of) Deviance

{insert awesome intro line here}

Ok, so you’re all well-aware of my recent degeneracy, so no need to really go into that. I suppose the only comment I feel any need to make is that my enjoyment of BL is hardly new, although if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, that should be readily apparent. Ditto for yuri – in fact, if you look at the tag cloud, I have more stuff written about yuri than I do about yaoi or BL. Woo, open-mindedness (or perversion)!

…er, or not, I can only think of one heterosexual romance series that I’ve touched in… well, I don’t even know how long. I think only one since Clannad~After Story~ (which I still haven’t finished since I haven’t really been in the mood for crying my face off) and Toradora (guess who slashed Ami and Minori at the end?). I will now defend myself by saying that I just don’t think a lot of romance stuff out there these days is particularly good. But, hey, if someone wants to do a Little Busters anime…

But I digress.

As I was reading all this BL over the past week, it occurred to me that many of the stories could be read as fairy tales (of the Disney-style variety) for gay guys – I mean, you’ve got a prince-type figure in all of them, for one, and most of the time no one ever worries about the fact that the object of their affection is male. Or, rather, that they don’t get all weirded out because they have a crush on a guy; they often will think about how the guy’ll never be interested in another guy, but this itself is always proven to be a misguided worry since the other guy invariably likes the lead back and doesn’t care that they’re both guys. And in very few of the stories does anyone else care that two guys have gotten together. No one seems to find it particularly of note.

Of course, they actually do also follow the original style of fairy tales in many ways, too, given the preponderance of rape and coerced sex.

On one level, this is all very deviant from societal norms – homosexuals have in many cultures traditionally been considered to be contrary to social standards and expectations. So watching these characters go through the motions of very typical romance storylines is fairly shocking, in a sense – they’re acting just like the characters in a straight romance manga or anime would! Which itself implies that there really isn’t anything remarkable about a homosexual relationship or gay people in general.

On the other hand, we have to remember that BL isn’t made for gay guys. For that matter yuri isn’t made for lesbians, either, and it follows a similar tendency – that is, to only truly deviate from mainstream heterosexual romance titles in that both protagonists are of the same gender. And in that sense, then, there isn’t really much of a difference between a BL or yuri title and a straight one, something which is painfully obvious in works by authors such as Lily Yoshino, where the guys either look exactly like girls or act exactly like the girl in any regressive shoujo story.

When one looks at it that way, the crassness of it all becomes very stark – these titles are marketed as being shocking and forbidden, the fact of homosexuality trivialized and exoticized explicitly for the entertainment of readers who are not themselves gay (yes, there are gay readers of both yuri and BL, however they are not the intended audience). However, even as the deviance from social norms is being highlighted to the potential reader, the same scripts from shoujo, shounen, seinen, and josei are being followed almost to a T. And in this sense, the true sense, there is absolutely nothing radical or revolutionary about these stories.

Fact: reading BL/yaoi or yuri does not automatically make on un-bigoted or open-minded. The reader is merely seeking titillation, which is hardly a sign of acceptance. The characters are acting entirely for the benefit of the audience – note the complaints that tend to appear when they do not act in an expected fashion, when they actually behave like a homosexual man or woman would. Aoi Hana has raised some ire over this, as has Milk Morinaga’s Girl Friends, the general complaint being, “Why haven’t they had sex yet?” That both give fairly realistic portraits of young women who are coming of age and realizing that they are gay is of really no interest to the average reader – they don’t really want characters, they just want to see some sex and kissing.

The further we get from the ‘norm’, the less we move, it would seem. Which isn’t really terribly surprising – big companies don’t really want to waste money on products that aren’t going to make much money, so of course BL and yuri would place more importance on satisfying the larger audience shares rather than the sliver that happens to be gay. Which isn’t to say there aren’t any that find more of a following amongst gay readers (the aforementioned Girl Friends and Aoi Hana, for instance, along with titles such as Octave, Constellations in the Sky, and After the Child Sleeps) as opposed to straight ones; they do exist, and there are even ones written to specifically appeal to a homosexual audience (although these generally are identified by the publishers as being something other than yuri or BL, since those terms denote the homosexual material meant for heterosexual audiences). But they do remain a very small percentage of those titles.

Anyway, so the yuri fans don’t get all mad that I only gave the BL fans something to look at:

What? It’s not like the BL fans got something explicit to look at, either. (Credit for picture, as always, goes to Empty Movement, and can be found in their outstanding gallery.

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12 Responses to BL, Yuri, and (lack of) Deviance

  1. kluxorious says:

    Nice post. This comes from an avid BL fan. You represent!

  2. Baka-Raptor says:

    Wait, the opening pic wasn’t lesbians?

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Y’know, you’re right – that picture wasn’t nearly explicit enough about the gender involved. Fixed =D

  3. Sorrow-kun says:

    Fact: reading BL/yaoi or yuri does not automatically make on un-bigoted or open-minded.

    Touche. This is an utter myth that some BL and yuri fans like to embrace in an attempt to give their fandom unwarranted social cred. Kudos for pointing it out.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Thank you. I’ve met some shockingly homophobic BL and yuri fans before. I’d also point out, too, that there are definitely elements within those fandoms as well who start screaming, “EWW!” a lot if you mention the opposite scenario at all, e.g. mentioning yuri to a BL fan or vice versa (although I will say that I’ve noticed more yuri fans finding BL repellent than the other way around).

  4. Aile says:

    “Fact: reading BL/yaoi or yuri does not automatically make on un-bigoted or open-minded.”

    “Touche. This is an utter myth that some BL and yuri fans like to embrace in an attempt to give their fandom unwarranted social cred. Kudos for pointing it out.”


    Truth. I sometimes use a comparison for that; watching blackface minstrel-shows doesn’t mean you’re automatically not racist etc.

    I probably don’t have much knowledge to contribute in the actual topic at hand (yaoi/yuri, or “serious” gay manga, or even the divide between those things) because it’s not a genre (is it a genre?) I actively seek out – oh, I’ve read some, liked some – but my general approach would be this: I wouldn’t say “I like yuri” (or yaoi, or hetero, or whatever) or “I’m a fan of..”, I like to read stories with engaging plots and characters that make me care about them.. If they happen to be of the same sex, and you want to call that yuri/yaoi, then so be it.
    Conversely, if the story isn’t interesting or the characters are boring, then the mere fact that they’re both women/men doesn’t salvage any points. That would, for me, feel like I’ve fetishized the gays/lesbians and their relationship itself, and that alone isn’t enough to keep me interested. Like you’ve said, titillation for a straight audience, doesn’t do it for me.

    For example, you’ve mentioned Octave, I like that manga very much, because (in short) I like seeing that washed-up idol getting her dreams crushed. Don’t really care about the yuri-angle in it, other than that I appreciate it’s handled more mature than as inane fluff/fantasy.

    Getting back into your post:

    “they’re acting just like the characters in a straight romance manga or anime would!”

    well, is -romance- fundamentally different for gay people ? Of course we don’t live in a vacuum-world and there are pressures at work that make their situation different, but on what level are you arguing here ? Is it that on “manga world”-level the yuri/yaoi is as cliched/stereotyped/uncreative as straight romance and uses the same mechanics (and we can argue about wether or not the same mechanics apply) , or do you conflate to “real world”-level and argue that the gay portrayal is unrealistic ? To the latter, yah of course it is, like many manga romances in general: the shoujo manga with its dashing knights is as unreal as the shounen romance with harems for losers – which is exactly the point, it’s about something different than realistic portrayal or whatever (or even such noble ideas like being “revolutionary”/”radical”), it’s about titillation of a particular audience with particular hangups/fetishes..

    “Which itself implies that there really isn’t anything remarkable about a homosexual relationship or gay people in general.”

    That made me laugh, because I believe that is the sentiment we -should- arrive at, shouldn’t we ? I know, in the context of the paragraph it’s meant differently.

    “I’ve met some shockingly homophobic BL and yuri fans before.”

    Haven’t met those, what’s the thoughtprocess behind that ? I can’t really comprehend that, but then again, I’ve met some racist rap fans, who “like” rap because they’re racist (“It’s like watching monkeys in the zoo”), yah that has sent my head for a spin or two, too.

    “I’d also point out, too, that there are definitely elements within those fandoms as well who start screaming, “EWW!” a lot if you mention the opposite scenario at all, e.g. mentioning yuri to a BL fan or vice versa (although I will say that I’ve noticed more yuri fans finding BL repellent than the other way around).”

    tread carefully here: -just- “EWW” wouldn’t constitute homophobia in my book. Hey, I’m the first one to admit that on an aesthetic level I can’t appreciate reallife sweaty fat old man-on-man sex too (hell, I don’t want to see uglypeoplesex in general). Does that make me homophobic ? The difference is, I make a simple aesthetic judgement, not a value judgement; “eww” isn’t a reason for me to want to take anybodys rights away or deny them rights everybody rationally deserves, etc..

    Is a yuri fan who dislikes yaoi a hypocrisy/doublestandart ? Yes and No. Yes if you assume that simply because one likes on particular subset of homosexuals, it reasonably extends to all. No, because (as you’ve said yourself) it’s rather about titillation of a straight audience, let’s assume it’s a male reader here, he reads yuri because he wants cute girls getting it on. The additional likelihood of that scenario may also be increased because those male readers internalized (like straight males in general) more (gay) homophobia than (female) yaoi-readers in regard to (lesbian) homophobia.

    cheers!

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Oh man, now that was a massive comment.

      Well, as for the manner in which homosexual relationships are portrayed in manga, I would say that it is both unrealistic in that the straight relationships in manga, which are often so similar to the homosexual ones, themselves aren’t realistic generally. This isn’t necessarily problematic – I was more interested in pointing out that there isn’t really all that much different in a BL manga versus a straight manga. And since the original form, which it apes off of (e.g. heterosexual manga romances) is itself unrealistic, doesn’t that make the matter of whether it is realistic vis-a-vis homosexual relationships a bit moot?

      Anyway, the realism or lack thereof isn’t exactly the salient matter; I just wanted to demonstrate that BL and yuri itself isn’t really all that deviant despite often positioning itself as such.

      Yeah, I’m not sure I really understand the whole enjoying BL or yuri but being homophobic thing. Yes, there are some who, for instance, enjoy yuri but hate gay males, which I suppose makes a tiny amount of sense, but I’ve also met those who are disgusted by the notion of real-life gay people. The whole thing just makes my head hurt.

      Anyway, I used the “EWW!” scenario as shorthand.

      I find the whole thing of being cool with one form of homosexuality but not cool with another to be extremely hypocritical. Essentially, these people are saying, “Well, its ok for these folks to be gay and getting it on, because it is for my entertainment.” Yeah, I know that they are watching fictitious characters, but I just see too much bleed-over into real life to not get annoyed. I suppose I don’t take issue if someone expresses a distaste for one or the other, despite liking one of them, in a constructive manner, its the folks who will start ranting about the ‘genre’ they dislike and use offensive terms like ‘disgusting’ or ‘wrong’.

  5. odorunara says:

    Fact: reading BL/yaoi or yuri does not automatically make on un-bigoted or open-minded. The reader is merely seeking titillation, which is hardly a sign of acceptance.

    This is so true. I mean, how many conservatives do you think watch lesbian porn but are anti-same-sex rights?

    Have I mentioned Marc McLelland’s and James Welker’s academic works on BL to you before? (I tell everyone about them, so no need to rehash if I’ve sent you links.)

    But you’re 100% right on this. The stories and characters, in doujinshi as well, seem like they’re just playing into heteronormative roles a lot of time (the aggressor and the passive one, the uke and the seme, the neko and the tachi). On one hand, there are couples like that and there is sex like that, but on the other, it just plays to the gender roles stereotypes (read: you can either be the “man” or the “woman”).

    Also, one of my friends addressed some of this in a great series on doujinshi that starts here:
    http://japaneseliterature.wordpress.com/2010/02/20/dojinshi-part-one/

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Ugh, don’t even get me started on folks who watch lesbian porn but are totally anti-LGBT rights.

      I feel as though maybe you have mentioned McLelland and Welker before to me, although I must confess I haven’t read them, or, if I have, I don’t recall it. I feel as though I’ve read something of McLelland’s before for a class, though, the name rings a bell. I would be interested in links, however; I graduated recently and am currently in a bit of a holding pattern with quite a bit free time, so I could definitely get around to actually reading them.

      I will grant BL and yuri a teeny bit of credit though – they do play as really enchanting, Disney-esque fairy tales for gay people, huh? I mean, totally unrealistic, not really meant for gay people to read anyway, but that magical world that so many of them portray in which gender doesn’t matter in relationships, and the couple gets to be happy? Or where the adversity is overcome and the couple is happy? Its kind of… beautiful. Which I hate to say, since it gives them more credit than I’d like to, even as I consume the media form on a massive scale myself.

      Thanks for the link; I clicked on it and am going to read it.

      • odorunara says:

        McLelland:http://tiny.cc/x2nfd
        (I recommend Queer Voices from Japan, Queer Japan, and Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan.)

        Welker: http://ubc.academia.edu/JamesWelker/Papers

        (“Beautiful, Borrowed, and Bent” might interest you–it’s about BL doujinshi.)

        If you have access to a library with academic texts or one that can order from the uni library, definitely check these out.

        Regarding fairy tales, you’ve got a good point–everyone a handsome prince/ss and a happy ending sometimes. I’m totally down with happy couples, and I think it’s nice to have all sorts of stories for all kinds of people, not just hetero couples of the majority ethnicity. Especially in light of the early lesbian pulp fiction (pre-1950s or so), it’s refreshing to have stories for the queer audience not end in suffering.

        Hell, I wish that there were more stories in which gender didn’t matter, period! (Like BeruBara and Ouran.) (Unless you meant sex and not gender here; in which case I’ll say that I wish there were more stories in which the romance was not limited by sex OR gender.)

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