Yaoi and “Representation”

This one is another one of those mixed bags. Yaoi is the word used for Japanese boys’ love genre. However this does not necessarily mean that it’s representation. The genre is largely marketed towards high school girls and has gained a reputation for largely showing incredibly unhealthy relationship dynamics. In some cases, the serialization is little more than “porn with plot.”

But the thing is that for a lot of people, this was their first example of gay couples. It was for me. It was for most of my friends. It was a book passed around to each other under the cafeteria table. It’s hidden away in a drawer, hoping your parents don’t go rummaging around for something in your room. It’s the under your covers with a flashlight reading this story about two men falling in love with each other in a way that we see hetero couples.

The thing was that when I was younger, I thought that the reason we were stealthy about it was because the books that got passed around were basically comics with censored porn every so often. In the end, I was the one who kept the mangas because I was better at hiding the “sinful” books. Most of my friends got in trouble for having them because they depicted gay men. The porn issue was apparently not as important. My poor ace self just skipped through those parts because I wanted to see the love story and the drama of it all, so it never occurred to me that I would have ever gotten in trouble for having books about a love story.

Part of the problem with this mentality is that because it’s aimed at high school girls and young women, the aspect of knowing that you’d get in trouble for having access to porn would be something to worry about. But the mentality of Christian fundamentalists in the US add an extra layer that was prevalent only five years ago.

“Dirty gay ships.” 

Straight women and girls whose only understanding of queer romances being male gay men participating in dehydrating levels of sex (and that being one of the most important things in the relationship) combined with – more often than not – severe power imbalance led to the constant repetition of that phrase.

“Dirty gay ships.”

It’s something that as someone who was part of that culture when I was younger, I look back on and want to beat myself into a pulp. Because I know now that I’m queer. I have that hindsight to tell myself that there shouldn’t be anything intrinsically dirty about being gay. If my first jump into gay stories had been fanfiction, it would have been the same thing at the time.

Gay fanfiction is the most common type for many social reasons. And one of them that we need to think about critically is because of the fetishistic approach to gay men and women within the last two decades.

It’s not okay. It no longer has a place in the queer community. We’ve gotten to the point where we don’t need to pass books under the table when no one’s watching. We can share links to a fic on Archive of Our Own and enjoy well thought out/smutty/ridiculous scenarios that aren’t always centered around sex. We can see characters having actually well written romances and be happy, the way that we tend to not get for the most part.

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