This is a topic both near-and-dear to my heart, and one that I think deserves a close inspection, so I shall be treating it in great detail. Yaoi, an acronym of the Japanese phrase ヤマなし、オチなし、意味なし, or yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi, meaning “no climax, no punchline, no meaning”, is a genre of manga/anime involving male/male relationships. They can range from the sweet and romantic (boy’s love [BL] or shounen-ai) to the downright pornographic. The fact that makes yaoi so interesting to anthropologists and sociologists is that this genre is largely made by, marketed for, and enjoyed by heterosexual women (though, of course, exceptions do apply). The North American anime/manga industry is just beginning to realize the potential in this market, with companies like Be Beautiful Manga, Kitty Media, and Digital Manga Publishing arising with specific yaoi product lines.
So just what is it about male/male relationships that females find so appealing?
This is the question I would like to address over the next few posts, and I know that there are many fans out there with much to say regarding it.
To begin with, an interesting question: Are slash characters homosexual, or heterosexual?
The answer seems obvious at first, but upon deeper thought, it can be argued either way. In the first chapter of Theorizing Fandom (Hampton Press, 1998), many interviewees were disgusted by the suggestion that their favourite characters were gay, and insisted that, “They’re not gay, they just happen to have sex with men” (a cliche well known to any yaoi/slash fan). According to Mirna Cicioni from Monash University in Melbourne, slash is not about homosexuality, but “fantasies that articulate women’s desires” (ibid, p. 154). As it is a fantasy, can it even by evaluated by pre-existing notions of political/social norms? The large majority of fanfiction that I myself have read over the course of nearly four years demonstrates a serious lack of attention to problems facing gays in contemporary society, such as AIDS, STDs, fear of being “outed”, and societal/familial disapproval. Rarely are condoms used or even mentioned.
Other interviewees quite strongly disagreed, saying that a refusal to deal with these issues is unrealistic, naive, and the mark of an immature writer. One writer/reader was drawn to slash because she enjoyed the thought of characters being gay: “The vibrant fantasy here for me is that the flaming hets I see on TV come out of the closet and turn out actually to be GAY!!!!” (p. 24, emphasis in original).
Due to the small percentage of fanfiction/filks that deal with the latter, I am inclined to see the former argument as the prevailing one in fandom. However, most of these interviewees are fans of slash relating to British and American television of the nineteen-seventies and -eighties (ie: The Professionals, Star Trek, and Blake’s 7), and not modern anime/manga. Is there a difference between the two on this matter? Should those fans have to worry more about this problem than anime fangirls?
Then again, even those shows in which the canon portrays the characters as gay (ie: Fake, Level C, Descendants of Darkness, and the epic X/1999) practical problems about sexuality never seem to arise. Characters never seem to fear coming out of the closet to the object of their affection (lust?), even if they do not know that their beloved is homosexual or not.
Can/should this entire argument be dismissed because “it’s just a fantasy”?