BL Roundtable: Conclusions: Ceci n’est pas une tautology by “Kinukitty”

Posted by on June 11th, 2010 at 12:02 AM

Previously: Opening shots by Shaenon Garrity, Noah Berlatsky and Kinukitty; Sidebar by Dirk Deppey; and conclusions by Berlatsky, Garrity and Deppey.

The following is neither a joke nor as blindingly obvious as one might initially think: Yaoi fans love gay men. For what it’s worth. And what is it worth? I have wondered. On the one hand – love. Good! On the other hand, love because of sexual preference. Creepy. It isn’t possible to objectify someone respectfully.

We try, though.

Some women feel that they get a pass re. respect/objectification – we are ruthlessly objectified, and men run the world, so fuck you. This is perhaps an oversimplification – maybe it’s more “hey, no harm, no foul.” That wouldn’t work here, even if one believed it – the world works differently for gay men and straight men, as Dirk’s essay makes clear.

From I Shall Never Return Vol. 4

I’ll table that conundrum for a moment to comment on gay. A lot of us – yaoi fans – are queer ourselves. I don’t know about “the yaoi community” in general, but I do know yaoi fanfic writers (a fairly dedicated subsection), and a lot of us are queer.  We understand the difficulties presented by homosexuality in the real world. We respect it. We are not comfortable with the idea that we are offending or exploiting people we perceive as our comrades.

The most obvious corollary to yaoi is the girl-on-girl porn that many straight men are into. It’s not lesbian porn – these women are not lesbians. Well, some of them are, but that’s not the point. At all. I have never thought this kind of porn was actually about me. It’s about a sexual category that doesn’t exist in the real world: pure fantasy.

For the same reason, I have never especially liked it as porn.  The women in girl-on girl-porn for men are acting out straight men’s fantasies, and they only occasionally intersect with mine. This surprised me, at first – it seemed like it should work. It’s readily available, it’s women, I like women; we should be in business. But not so much. I had initially assumed this was the reaction gay men have to yaoi – all the right parts, but used in service of different fantasies. That isn’t exactly the case, though – a number of gay men like yaoi (and a few also create it).

One reason for that, I think, is that romance is more flexible than visual porn. Yaoi, even the raunchiest, most explicit yaoi, tells a story. There are more points of entry, as it were. If you don’t find the girl-on-girl-for-men porn fantasy hot, there isn’t anything else to it. You’re out of there. Game over. But if there’s a story, there’s some background, there’s something else happening, and therefore there are more ways for you to be drawn in.

From Antique Bakery Vol. 3

This also brings us back to the question of respect. I create man-on-man porn for women – again, the direct corollary of girl-on-girl-porn for men – and I think about the gay men I portray. It isn’t clear to me that all men are even aware that lesbians exist, in the sense that are different from the women in the pornos. On the other hand, yaoi creators and consumers (again, in the West; I still don’t know much about Japan, although what little I do know leads me to believe the dynamic is similar) are acutely aware of actual, real-life gay men. Yaoi fantasies are not accurate representations thereof – we are well aware of that. But most of us do know what we’re fantasizing about. Does that matter, in any larger sense? I don’t know. It feels like it does.

I’ve also thought a lot about Noah’s insistence that if one wants to better understand yaoi, one should read and react to individual yaoi stories. There is a fundamental problem with trying to talk about yaoi as one specific, cohesive thing. He mentioned Let Dai and Antique Bakery, two manga series that are close to my heart. Both of those might be more accurately characterized as Boys Love rather than yaoi (yaoi features explicit sex, and neither of these titles exactly qualifies as explicit; there is sex, though, and for the purposes of this discussion, I’m not sure the distinction matters anyway). But at any rate, these titles couldn’t be much more different, down to the style in which they are drawn. They both feature male characters who love other male characters, and that’s where the similarities end. Scooping them into the same category for anthropological analysis is like equating Rolling Stone magazine and Love in the Time of Cholera. Because, you know, they’re both set in type.

You might think you’d be on firmer ground trying to look at, say, Weiss Kreuz fanfic as a cohesive whole, but even that doesn’t work. Well, it does if the only thing you care about is “girls writing porn about men! how curious/exciting/transgressive/something sexy I can write about for my thesis!” These stories are all about the same obscure-in-the-West anime, but they also run the gamut. Just like yaoi overall, and any area of art, topics, quality, intent and execution vary wildly. There’s really excellent writing, and there’s absolutely excruciating writing. There are professional writers, and there are 12-year-olds who can’t tell “their” from “they’re” from “there.” There are happy little pieces of romantic froth, and there are serious angst-fests. There is mega-plot, and there is almost no plot at all. There are stories that follow the plot of the anime with excruciating exactitude and stories that cast the characters as pirates.

Noah frames this as an issue of respect, and I agree – these people are creating art, and refusing to deal with these creations in artistic terms is insulting, as well as leaving enormous, gaping holes in your analysis. If you actually wanted to understand this curious tribe and its exotic ways, you would probably have to think about the art. I don’t see how you’re going to come up with anything of substance without diving into the damned stories and doing some critical analysis.

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