“Would you like to sign our flag?” asked a band of colorful 20 somethings at a local anime convention. “What would you like me to sign?” The rainbow flag had various Japanese names paired together in black sharpie text. “It’s the Yaoi Flag. Write down your favorite yaoi pairing!” I was not quite sure how to react. “”I like shoujo-ai. Can I add Utena and Anthy on there?” They kindly walked away and dismissed the request. As someone who lived in San Francisco and attended Pride Week, the rainbow flag has always been synonymous with the alphabet soup – gay, lesbian, bisexual, inter-sexual, pan, omni, etc. The scenario described illustrates ignorance in the yaoi fandom – particularly among younger fangirls.
For the sake of this editorial, I define “yaoi” as boy-on-boy pornography aimed at a female audience. “Shounen-ai” is defined as anime / manga for females that depicts male / male relationships. Oftentimes, yaoi and shounen-ai are blurred and lumped together. It is important to understand the difference between the two.
The main issue I have with the shounen-ai / yaoi genre is the perpetuation of stereotypes and fangirl behavior and reaction. This is particularly true with the two archetypes common in the yaoi fandom. The “uke” is often an effeminate, youthful, and energetic boy. There are variations of this type, but the “uke” always the bottom. The “seme” is typically stoic and has much more maturity than the “uke.” It seems that yaoi only has these two archetypes. For the sake of storytelling, these cliches get redundant and boring.
Now, I am aware in Western pornography, there is little to be said about characters in girl / girl porn. Western porn is more likely understood to be a fantasy; situations are unrealistic and far fetched, but are meant to be enjoyed as a form entertainment. The problem I have with the uke / seme dichotomy is that young girls assume this is how gay couples work. There is no separation between pornographic fantasy and reality to these fangirls. My issue lies on fangirls who cannot differentiate the fantasy. Pornography explores the wilder side of our id.
I am sure there are mature yaoi connoisseurs who know the difference between porn and real life, but sadly, there are fangirls who assume that what happens in yaoi, happens between two men in consensual relations. Time after time, I have had to explain that there are more male on male pleasure practices other than anal sex. Shouting “BUTTSEX!” or dry humping at gatherings perpetuate this notion. Time after time, I have had to explain that the anus does not lubricate. Yaoi fanfiction writers are huge offenders of this. While it makes for comedy gold, one can wonder if fangirls actually believe this is how the male anatomy works.
While I do applaud the diversity in the anime fandom, I really do feel that young people have much to learn about how queer relations work. I understand that yaoi is a fantasy, but the problem lies within blurring fantasy and reality. I have attended Yaoi Con for a few years. The vibe is very much a party convention – regardless of orientation or anime preference. The real action happens in the later hours. The con is comprised of 20something girls bent up for excitement. The bishie auction is a main staple wherein the convention raises money for the following year’s convention. Panel topics include canon vs. non-canon pairings, fanfic writing, and yaoi in <insert series here>, etc.
Though most of the attendees identify as LGBTQ (mostly L’s and B’s), I hardly see any programming highlighting other aspects in the alphabet soup or discussion forums for deeper issues. Considering that Yaoi Con is held in gay positive cities (ie: San Francisco), there is nothing educational to take back. What about safe sex practices, laws that effect the target audience, how attendees can get involved in supporting the gay community, what’s wrong with heteronormativty, etc. Instead of taking the opportunity to educate and stimulate what fans can do, Yaoi Con exists to fulfill fangirl fantasies.
In contrast, Bent Con, a new convention in the Los Angeles area aimed towards LGBTQ comics, had a variety of gay relationships represented. I enjoy seeing diversity in male couples – bears, gym bunnies, queens, gaymers, etc – not just the same old uke / seme dichotomy. It was refreshing to explore and experience a different type of queer fandom. Though there were the pairing themed panels and presentations, there were intellectual discussions on the It Gets Better myth and what gaymers have to experience in a heteronormative geek community. Bent Con exists to celebrate and educate.
I would encourage these young yaoi fangirls to educate themselves. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying two men being intimate, but there’s more to gay men than buttsex and pretty boys. There are plenty of sex positive resources out there to catch up with (ie: Good Vibrations, Sex is Fun, etc). I commend yaoi fans for supporting equality and gay marriage, but there are also deeper issues in the geek community such as heteronormativity and the politics behind certain racist slurs (yes, gay bashing is racist). Fight the ignorance that is going on your community and check yourself if you are guilty of ignorant behaviors. More importantly, learn to separate the fantasy and the reality; do not promote, propagate, or associate behaviors that are synonymous to yaoi fandom already.difference between tolerance and acceptance.
As I was visiting a friend, she showed me her collection of Edward and Alphonse (Full Metal Alchemist) fan art of things you would not expect two brothers would do to each other. “They’re so cute together! It’s like they were meant to be!” she gushed. “You have a younger sister, right?” She nods. “So, you and your sister are like into doing THAT?” She quickly closed her browser and then proceeded to the shower for the next half hour.