Yaoi: Equalizing Gender – An Analysis of Gay Anime/Manga by a Gay™ (Marlon Robertson)

In all of the papers I’ve read on yaoi, I find three prevailing theories: Yaoi is simply a tool for women to experience sexual pleasure in the same vein of just watching gay pornography, yaoi is a way for women to subvert homoerotic (lesbian) desires by making the boys androgynous, and that yaoi is a way for women to explore new facets of gender and sexuality. Each has its merits and I don’t particularly believe that any should be ignored, I would like to posit my own theory. Yaoi functions as a way for women to be able to bring men down to the level that they themselves are perceived in society, namely as objects. Women in Japan (and indeed many areas of the world) are often seen as nothing more than eye candy or baby-making machines. Men feel entitled to have a wife someday and that that wife will be the perfect, submissive “good wife, wise mother” of their dreams. Women find that it is not so easy to elevate themselves out of this position; indeed, how does one change the entire mindset of a country in a relatively short span of time? However, what if men could be brought down to the level that women are perceived to be on?

Yaoi began as subversive subculture. Doujinshi drew men from anime and manga in sexual relationships and sold those comics at fan markets. Eventually, this evolved into the yaoi we know today. Yaoi serves as a function for women to feel empowered in the way that men are in society. Japan has hostess clubs, “massage” parlors, and maid cafes, all of which objectify women. The opposite (host clubs and butler cafes) are far less common even today and were practically nonexistent in the era of the advent of yaoi. Yaoi allows women to have a man perform sexually in any way they desire; they could be drawn as butlers, hosts, doctors, anything the woman desires. And indeed, yaoi cannot be chalked down to fanfiction; many fanfictions have sprawling narratives and complex plot structures. Yaoi is a shortened form of a Japanese phrase that essentially means “no climax, no point, no meaning.” It serves completely as a way for women to feel empowered by objectifying these characters. They become in control. They are the voyeur watching in on a man bathing. They are the goshujinsama. Indeed, yaoi can serve as a way for women to reclaim their sex drives; they are people with desires and passions, and that includes sex drives.

Another point I’d like to touch on is why yaoi is incredibly unpopular with gay men. The gay man’s equivalent of yaoi is bara (rose), which features “realistic” men (i.e. Body hair, overweight, muscled, etc). I’ve heard many a comment that gay men do not like yaoi because it is completely unrealistic. And while this may be true, I don’t believe that many people watch anime or read manga for its stark realism. (Dripping sarcasm intended). What, then, makes yaoi so unappealing to gay men? I assert that there are two reasons: the men in yaoi remind gay men too much of the stereotypical thin, white, “twink” boy that is prevalent in gay culture and that because yaoi has two (essentially) straight men fall in love, they are reminded of failed crushes of straight men in their past. The stereotype of the thin, white, twink boy often makes many gay men feel inadequate with their bodies (“I’m not thin enough,” “I can’t be a part of this culture because I’m not white,” “I’m not built that way,” etc). It’s a real issue in the LGBT+ community of gay culture being saturated with overly fit culture and whiteness. Yaoi makes many think of this (due to their beauty and perceived whiteness [they are actually Japanese]). In terms of the other point, nearly every gay man you will talk to has had a crush on a straight man at some point in his life. This is not a simple feeling of “Oh there’s basically no chance he’ll like me,” it is “There is literally zero chance he’ll like me.” Speaking from experience, it is often very soul crushing. To see two “straight” men in yaoi fall in love makes them feel jealous, as if they were robbed or punished by fate. And I believe the love aspect is important here. “Straight boy turns gay” (etc.) is an incredibly popular subgenre of gay pornography, so the sex aspect cannot be accounted here. I say the that the romance, the fact that the two men love each other and want to have a life together, that is so soul crushing. Anyone can experiment sexually, but very few experiment romantically.

One thought on “Yaoi: Equalizing Gender – An Analysis of Gay Anime/Manga by a Gay™ (Marlon Robertson)

  1. Hi Marlon,

    This is a very interesting post, particularly the final paragraph. I think that the standard of fit whiteness as “ideal” is important to analyze–it would be interesting to discuss why this ideal manifests in Japanese media (i.e., a new form of colonial masculinities?). What does it mean that Japanese women are consuming images of (mostly) white men?

    I think your first point–that women subvert the hierarchy by “turning the tables,” so to speak, on male power is also interesting. How does that actually play into and reinforce the prevailing structure of power? And is that the only way we might interpret that “inversion”? Can yaoi characters have multiple meanings, or different meanings, for their female audiences?

    And what of a show like “Yuri in Love”–would this be popular among both yaoi fans and gay men, and if so, what does this suggest about audiences and how they read texts?

    Cheers,
    Amanda

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