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Yaoi Homoerotic Women Pornography

Text by Áurea Xaydé Esquivel Flores

On the cover are two cowboys. One, a naked young man, is standing closer to us, and the other man, standing behind him, is making eye contact with him. If the viewer is gay, he will instantly get a sense of physical attraction basic to the construction of the picture.

– Gengoroh Tagame

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You don´t need to be a gay man to perceive and even desire the attraction between two attractive people, one can be a heterosexual woman and enjoy multiple homoerotic expressions without any problems.

That was one of my proposals on the first Coloquio de Letras Diversas (Divergent Literature Colloquium) in the Philosophy and Literature Department of UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) organized by the Lesbian and Gay Literature Seminar. Despite the little amount of time available, the organizers were very interested in the concept of heterosexual women who are not only openly consuming homosexual pornography, but also produce it. Most of those attending my presentation were very enthusiastic young girls screaming with delight to listen and see familiar images. It was not a coincidence.

Among the critical and feminist circles, the questions of how is pornography produced by women? Or how can it be? And what would be its implications both social and culturally? are regularly raised. So, the trench from which I spoke at the symposium was the Manga and Anime, extended narrative genres of Japanese pop culture: YAOI.

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Broadly speaking, this is a subgenre of Manga (Japanese comic), 1—also identified with the initials BL (Boy’s love)—whose meaning can be broken down in the following structural terms: “climaxless, aimless, meaningless” (Yama nashi , ochi nashi, imi nashi); or thematic terms: “Stop, it my ass hurts!” (Yamete, oshiri ga itai!). In any case, it is the explicit representation of a sexual act between two (or more) men. That’s all.

Now comes the interesting part: Talking about YAOI is talking about an exclusively female editorial phenomenon both aesthetic and (why not?) sexual. It dates back to the 70s and 80s, when the bulk of the Manga market was destined for boys and men, its issues revolved around themes, which are fundamental in the formation of masculine identity: courage, strength, loyalty, friendship, effort, maturity… At that time, in view of the lack of a market for girls and women in sexual matters, some artists decided to play with those stories and characters “for men”—on their own terms. The readers should now think (or remember, you do, don’t deny it) the burning images of the romances between characters like Goku and Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z; Camus and Saga, or better yet, Camus and Milo, the Golden Knights of Saint Seiya; Oliver and Benji of Captain Tsubasa; or any other typical “boy’s series” full of strong, muscular, attractive, beautiful men, some of whom were very honest about their emotions.

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Therefore the first incursions representing two men having sex started as doujinshi (derivative Manga created by fans), which are the parameters of older genres like shoujo and Josei (romantic stories for teens and young adult women), in which elongated, thin, soft curved lines predominate, where the bishounen image (handsome young men, almost feminine) and the emotional conflicts regarding their own image in function of a partner are exploited. Therefore, when the story does not include sex, and shows only a romantic relationship it is known as shounenai (“love between boys”).

Like any product that has been molded into a specific market, YAOI has developed thematic peculiarities: 1) the main characters are two: the seme (that “attacks”) and uke (who “receives”). In general, the personalities are opposite, so that the seme is usually taller, quiet, sensual and dominant, while the uke is smaller, scandalous, irritable and shy. Thus, 2) the rape is a quasi-mandatory practice; because one refuses to reciprocate the feelings of the other, he is “forced” to show their love in a more obvious way. 3) At the end of the story the relationship is acknowledged, either in harmonic or conflicting terms, but the funny thing is that 4) the concept word “gay” is rarely present, that is, the gender of the beloved does not determine in any way the identity, it just happens that the ideal partner of a man turned out to be another man.

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However, the supply of YAOI is immense. Outside Japan, the readers can have a limited amount of material due to licensing and the language barrier, but the obstacles can be surrounded and the rules subjected to interpretation. The phenomena of amateur editing and translation or online reading are nothing new in the world of pop culture, and much less in pornography. However, they are excellent indicators of the scope of the product and the relationship it´s consumers established with it.

If we restrict ourselves to the medium of Manga and visit some of the most popular free online reading sites, we would see that the stories of homoerotic sexual content are much more demanded than pure romance worldwide. Mangafox, for example, by March 2015 had 1,848 YAOI titles and 740 shounen-ai titles translated into English; Mangabb, 463 YAOI and 209 shounen-ai; Manga animea, 1,919 YAOI and 644 shounen-ai; Mangareader, 50 YAOI and 35 shounen-ai; Tumangaonline, 90 YAOI and shounen-ai 30 translated into Spanish. Among specialized sites, as Yaoiotaku, there are 162 manga titles, 113 anime videos and 150 videogames, while Placer-YAOI offers 722 manga titles. Those are approximate numbers, growing slowly but steadily each month.

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Since its birth as massive phenomenon in the 80s until now, the “rules” on the irrelevance of narrative climax, objectives or sense, have been broken regularly. Of course, the high light remains the pleasure of witnessing the sexual relationship between two men, but many of the most popular cases have developed complex and profound stories. So, how does this subgenre works in a narrative level? There’re is plenty to choose from… If we want a tragic tone, we could talk about SAKURA GARI, written by Yuu Watase (2007), where physical abuse, abandonment, loneliness, guilt, murder and cross-dressing, are some elements that lead the readers to understand how sex can start as a mere sin and end up as a form of forgiveness to others and for oneself. Or, if we walk with an adventurous spirit, we could dive into the slow and varied ways to stimulate the male body (dryly, with direct contact between members, fellatio, and dilatation toys…) of TEN COUNT, written by Rihito Takarai (2013 ). If we’re in the mood for something more bestial, we could talk about the KURONEKO KARESHI series by Sakyo Aya (2012-2013), and would play with cat men and manly jaguar men, both vulnerable. Or maybe we’d bow for a more fantastic tone… Then we could enjoy SPELL CRIMSON by Ayano Yamane (2004), where a sorcerer, despite being the penetrator, actually serves as terrible sheath power of a demon prince. But there’s also room for the most tender and regular fairy-tale tastes; like Kazusa Takashima’s WILD ROCK (2002), which is about two tribal princes belonging to antagonistic peoples, that, by a twist of fate, fall in love and manage to bring peace to their love. Even the notion of giving the opportunity of free love to the newer generations is presented. If we want stories that look back at old clichés, we might think of the work of Kazuhiko Mishima, whose semes are young men and ukes are mature men, and who revolves around the issue of discrimination against homosexuals.

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If we choose to play with motion pictures, sound and performances, anime series (which origins are also in the Manga) provide excellent examples: JUNJOU ROMANTICA, written by Shungiku Nakamura and directed by Chiaki Kon (2011), depicts a prototypical catalog of YAOI couples in a humorous way, presenting opposition between ages, personalities and even status. By its degree of representativeness, the thematic essence of this whole sub-genre can be summarized in the last verses of this series presentation, played by Pigstar band: “If it is not watered, it will wither / with such small thorns, it is impossible to protect oneself, / the flower only appears to be strong . / Please do not be hurt by those thorns, do not cry. / I will not let go that hand, I won’t let it go. / If we feel most alone when we are together, / let´s just hold until there’s no loneliness, / even if my hand is wounded by small thorns.” If we want to see parodies on homophobia, there’s Koisuru BOUKUN!, written by Hinako Tanaga and directed by Keiji Kuwakubo (2010), where the most despicable tyrant falls after being raped! Of course, no journey is completed without at least one classic, and that’s AI NO KUSABI, written by Rieko Yoshihara, illustrated by Katsumi Michihara and adapted by Naoko Hasegawa (1992-1994): one of the many projects that cemented the current parameters of YAOI aesthetics, where two alpha males of different social classes unwittingly fall in love and, just like in soft porn, what stimulates are insinuations: games of sounds, voices, shadows, and some key movements and body gestures during orgasms.

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Anyways, due to homosexual intercourse, rape, the assertion of twisted relationships as an ideal and the fantastic “insignificance” of sexual orientation, YAOI, its authors and its readers have been strongly criticized.2 In 1992 there was a resounding clash called Yaoi rounsou: “The YAOI debate” (Wim Lunsing has one of the most complete coverage that can be found in English). Satou Masaki, the gay activist supported by the feminist publication Choisir, expressed his absolute rejection against this subgenre that outraged the rights of homosexuals and pronounced himself against those “depraved” women that behave like “dirty old men.” According to Satou, the representation of characters was discriminatory, because they were all slim and beautiful.It was only encouraging the media gay boom in non-critical terms, as many have tragic ends, it was understood that gays could not be happy, so that YAOI was a homophobic product; and finally, it did not matter if the product was consumed on a small scale, the danger was if it became massive. Those were valid critics, but, if we take into account the places of its enunciation and some of the implications within the process of enunciation itself, they are so, only to some extent.

The “depraved girls,” avid readers and producers of YAOI, responded immediately.

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Hisako Takamatsu, look at the accusation of being like “dirty old men”, responded that to read homoerotic stories is liberating for the act between lovers openly contemplating their bodies. Based on the titles presented above, we see that the exploration of the male body in YAOI is not a forbidden or shameful ground (as it usually is in Shoujo or Josei pornography), because it happens between individuals who share the same condition.

Akiko Yanagita, another fujoshi, defended the stylized stroke as a characteristic of this medium and considered YAOI as an escape from the traditional stories between men and women. Searching amongst actual products, it is clear that heterosexual Manga authors as Minami Kanan, Mayu Shinjo or Mashin Okasabe always show girls as weak, foolish and the with the shamemoter at 100% every minute of the day. Feminine seduction and sex are not desirable nor decent, sex is not a creative, diverse and playful act, but a proof of love that surrounds itself with fear, doubt and total submission. On the other hand, it is true that the uke has a constitution and performance rather “feminine,” considering culturally assigned roles; therefore, it is easy to think that the fact of raping an uke is a way to externalize the hatred of women by their peers, but since both characters are men, there are no rules of univocal and unchangeable identification: one can assume both the passive role as the active role depending on the characters and mood; the degree of desire can turn the reader into a fierce, rough and huge lover. The rape of a man, as depicted in Manga, is an exercise of power, not sex; it’s a vicarious experience through which a very different reality is tasted. Delicate, feminine features and prototypical characters’ personalities, and the voyeuristic approach to sex, offer to the reader a kind of control, a sense of security, as would Nodelman Perry say, not achievable with real men, because she has been raised to hide or sublimate her desires to run wild. Do you see, now, why the idea of characters like Milo and Camus kissing, caressing and having sexual relationships is so compelling? As in the first fujoshi, today they desecrate ideal figures based on historical representations; the division between what is for “boys” and what’s for “girls” in pop culture is openly mocked with a mischievous lip bite. Critical approaches like the ones of Akiko Hori and Glaucio Aranha, on the liberating aspect of YAOI, delve into this desire for equality within a system that favors one gender’s sexual expression and condemns the other. Why is it OK for a man to enjoy looking at two women having sex, but a woman is disgusting when excited at the sight of two men in bed together (or in an office or in the park or in the laundry…)? Unlike the first case, objectification is not inherent in the voyeuristic act of YAOI, because woman readers tend to establish emotional and identifying relationships with the characters.

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Tamae Taniwaga suffers the attack from Satou and wonders why his comments dictate how she should represent a homoerotic relationship, as if he, for belonging to a marginalized community, has moral authority to dictate the activities and modes of another group under similar conditions; she (they) do not hinder the image that homosexuals seek to project of themselves, it’s just fantasy, fiction, another expression of resistance against an imposed order that dictates certain modes of thought and action. Although women are part of heteronormativity, does that place them in a privileged position over gay men?

As a personal fantasy, there is no obligation to accurately represent a specific group or ascribed to a collective cause. However, these “idle” fantasies offer interesting alternatives at a cultural level: lovers (whatever genders they have) should not worry about how they will be seen and treated in society; they should not be marked, counted, attacked or pitied by making public their relationship; they should be able to explore their bodies without the burden of shame or fear. That women should enjoy more agentive positions in their own sexual relationships and have the confidence to be in the same condition as her lovers… wouldn’t it be desirable? YAOI is pornography, but the meaning of its existence and its different readings offer a highly subversive panorama. Mark McLelland, an Australian researcher, published in 2006 an article entitled “Why are Japanese girls’ comics full of boys bonking?” In which, after a long critical path, he replied himself: “Why not?”

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Now, back to the beginning.

Why were there mostly girls at my talk? Why did they leaned forward and screamed with excitement with each new image presented? Why did I get a place in a discussion of LGBT issues if I’m straight? Why was I allowed to talk about a “vulgar” subject in the university? Mexico is full of stigmas and prohibitions on female sexuality and gay society; intolerance and hatred always have a place in conversations of those who think of themselves as “normal” in comparison with the others. In Mexico, the YAOI is still an underground issue and its readers are viewed with judgmental eyes even by other fans of Anime and Manga.

Why?

As McLelland said: “Why not?” We’re taking too long to discuss all this issues openly.

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1. Also shown in the Anime (cartoons), visual novels, videogames, drama-CDs (prerecorded hearing programs), soap operas and fanfics (stories written by fans based on their own desires).
2. To the extent that the term set for them in Japanese is fujoshi ("bad girl"), with a markedly pejorative sense.

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