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Content notes: Some frank language and abstracted discussions of rape; thorny passive verbs.

If you have strong feelings about yaoi objectifying or fetishizing actual gay people... this may read as a defense of that objectification from a position of privilege. I'll admit that I'm hugely wishy-washy on this point.

When Fujimoto talks about "shounen ai," she's talking very specifically about a genre of manga, mostly from the 70s, that is things like Hagio Moto's "Thomas's Heart" and Takemiya Keiko's "Song of the Wind and Trees," these really ethereal and otherworldly manga of intense tragic love. "Shounen ai" is often used in the US to mean something like "G-rated slash based on anime and manga," but it's not used that way in Japanese fandom.

"Shounen-ai" and women's sexuality

However, the greatest achievement of shoujo manga must be in the realm of homosexuality – that is to say, "shounen-ai." Even after the glorious boom when Hagio Moto's "Tomas's Heart" (from 1974), Takemiya Keiko's "Song of the Wind and Trees" (from 1976), Yamagishi Ryoko's "Emperor of the Land of the Rising Sun" (from 1980) and other monumental works made intellectuals take a second look at shoujo manga, homosexuality has become part of the everyday background – part of the very essence of shoujo manga. So much so that new genres like "Yaoi doujinshi" have been created.

But why shounen-ai? While the tone and main themes of these works are all different, the one thing they all have in common is a fundamental misogyny. This is explained time and time again through the words of the main characters. Take Prince Umayadono in "Emperor of the Land of the Rising Sun."

"I hate women! In all the world there is nothing I hate more than women, who wear a mask of weakness to curry favor with men!"

"Women are ghastly! They'll take any man, whether a king or a servant."

In "Song of the Wind and Trees," Gilbert says, after responding to the flirtations of a gypsy girl,

"I hate touching women. Get out! … Women are just looking for anything at all to fill up the emptiness inside them!"

In one of Takemiya Keiko's previous works, "Himekuzushi," the main character, Himekawa Motoki, is the illegitimate child of a geisha and a financial tycoon who ends up dressing as a woman and working as a hostess while still a high school student. After a scene where he experiences sexual pleasure while taking a shower, he voices his opinions to a group of girls who are talking about their own theories of desire while pretending to be more experienced than they are.

"Women are insensible because they have no outward physical change that comes from desire. Women don't understand anything until they get fucked. There's a huge difference between a girl and a woman."

Can you understand his warped reasoning? Don't think, "But it's girls whose bodies undergo greater physical changes during puberty!" When Motoki says "outward physical change," he's talking about an erection. This is not the abstract level of understanding that only means, "Now you have a body that can give birth to a baby. Congratulations!" Rather, it's concretely becoming aware of one's own body as "a body that can have sexual intercourse," or to go further, "a body that can desire sexual intercourse." But as I stated previously in the section on cross-dressing women, sex appears to girls first not as "desire" but as "fear." And if her circuits do turn in the direction of "desire," that's seen as vulgar, unladylike, and repressed by society. The result is that, indeed, "there's a huge difference between a girl and a woman," and sexual maturity comes with fear. And this is connected to misogyny.

All of these shounen-ai works are created from an atmosphere of internalized misogyny that all women share. The dissonance of hearing these misogynistic words from the mouths of these beautiful fictional boys forces readers to turn their eyes to the positions that women are forced into within society. The misogyny is actually turned on its head to expose the ways in which women are forced into self-hatred, and thus start to echo as expressions of the greatest understanding of womanhood. There is an extremely important key here to understanding the masterpieces of shounen ai manga, in particular Yamagishi Ryoko's "The Emperor of the Land of the Rising Sun." The misogyny in this work is depicted as having its origins in a reversed Oedipus complex; but when you read from the viewpoint of Tojiko, who becomes pregnant as a result of a gang rape, has an abortion, and finally becomes a pawn in a political marriage, you can see this misogyny as an expression of deeply held resentment against women's position in society.

Shounen ai also made it possible for shoujo manga to tread into that deeply taboo territory of "sexuality." Across the whole series, "Song of the Wind and Trees" has the kind of daring bed scenes (between men, of course) that had never before been seen in shoujo manga (and because of that, it took seven years for it to start being published). Its entire theme is human sexual desire, and it's not something you can write off with the pretense of sexual love as just a kind of communication – it's overwhelming sexual desire. Over and over again, the boys in the story are overcome by sexual urges.

"Of course I understood that desire is a very human thing. But – for me to lose control of myself like this!"

"Dad... was your own youth ever like this? … Were you ever overcome with the kind of urges that pressed at you until it hurt to breathe?"

[This is not as skeevy as it sounds, though SotWaT can get pretty skeevy; if I'm remembering correctly, this is Serge's internal monologue talking to his dead father.]

Now, were these manga written in order to show girls the intensity of male desire? Of course not! The main subject here is not desire. One of the protagonists, Gilbert, has been sexually abused by his biological father Auguste for so long that he's become unable to live without sexual love, and aggression arouses him. Auguste himself was sexually abused by his stepbrother, and the pain of passivity is clearly carved into the story.

The pain of passivity, the realities of living as someone who can arouse desire in others – isn't that the reality of womanhood? By imposing this on the body of a male character, and setting the story in a world that's completely cut off from reality, Takemiya was able to depict this in a blunted way that wouldn't cause her readers the raw pain of reality. To borrow the words of Ueno Chizuko, male homosexuality becomes "a safety device to separate the danger of sex from one's own body, and to give girls wings to fly." (From "Love Experiments in a Genderless World.")

This becomes even clearer when you look at so called "yaoi" books. The word "yaoi" refers to fan-made doujinshi that use pre-existing manga characters and play around with making them gay, and comes from the words "yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi." [no climax, no resolution, no meaning.] Accordingly, there's also the theory that it comes from "yamete, oshiri ga itai" [stop, my ass hurts]. The works that are turned into doujinshi are things like Captain Tsubasa, Saint Seiya, Legend of Heavenly Sphere Shurato, Samurai Troopers – things that depict a "man's world."

These became extremely popular with girls, and for a long time have made up the majority of all doujinshi. They've permeated the culture to such an extent that some doujinshi have been reprinted and commercially published in anthologies. If you look at doujinshi and at the continuing popularity of the shounen ai magazine JUNE (started in 1981, and followed up with JUNE Novel in 1982), you can see that it's not just that girls accept homosexuality; rather, they actively take it up as a form of personal self-expression.

Now, these yaoi doujinshi overflow with sex in a way that you never before saw with shoujo manga. Girls are able to detatch sexuality from their own bodies and transplant it to the bodies of boys, which allows them to play around more freely with sexuality. Shounen ai made it possible for girls to play around with sex. The bitter pain of the masterpieces of shounen ai manga disappears, and you're left with the "dangerous" and "forbidden" relationships that make fangirls squee.

Lately, actual gay men have begun to voice criticisms about these depictions. But you have to remember that the boys depicted in these works are not real boys, but rather, a combination of a boy's body and a girl's heart – fundamentally, a girl's "other self," and the dialogue and scenarios are those that could only spring from a girl's mind. Lines like "It would be okay – if it was with you, Shiryuu..." or "That was the first night Shiryuu and I spent together. Oddly enough, I didn't feel embarrassed, and I didn't cry..." come up all the time. To pick a rather explicit example, depictions of masturbation, especially, are absolutely nothing like a man would write.

So even when girls are drawing rape and SM, there's no need for them to take that pain upon themselves. Rape scenes, or gang-rape scenes (and actually, there are rather a lot of these!), no matter how much they resemble ones between men and women, can't actually get anyone pregnant, or break anyone's hymen, or make it impossible to get married. These scenes would be far too raw and painful if they happened to a woman, but you can comfortably draw them if they happen to a man. More than anything, this means that the woman is released from the position where sex is something that unilaterally happens to her. She can take the viewpoint of the person who screws, not just the person who gets screwed – or she can take the viewpoint of a voyeur. This is an enormous change. Right now yaoi books haven't emerged from the place where they function as a safe simulation of the most extreme relationships between men and women, but they do open up the possibility of a side product that depicts women dominating men. (And in actuality, this trend has started to become stronger in ladies' comics since the 1990s).

Rejected Love: What Shounen Ai Has Achieved

However, shounen ai's greatest achievement is not the change in the depictions of sex. It's that they first introduced to shoujo manga the motif of "rejected love."

As you know, happy endings are a fundamental part of love stories in shoujo manga. Occasionally, the heroine may get her heart broken, but there's always a premonition of a new love waiting in the wings. That's the way things are. This is because women have been forced to base their entire identities on the affirmation of a man.

However, shounen ai threw a stone into the preestablished harmony of these worlds. By now there are happy gay couples all over the place in manga (such as in Motohashi Keiko's "Violence de shinina!"), but you must remember that when shounen ai first appeared, it was always doomed to be rejected by the object of desire. And the wish for requited love must be intense. Juli in "Tomas's Heart" looks like he has closed up his heart tightly, but it's clear that he needs someone to reach out a hand to him most of all. Gilbert in "Song of the Wind and Trees" pathologically seeks out other people's affection, and is cruelly hurt when his biological father Auguste starves him of affection. In "Emperor of the Land of the Rising Sun," the main character wants nothing more than to be truly accepted by his mother and his family. When he searches out the Emishi [an ethnic group of people who lived in northeastern Japan, possibly related to the Ainu], who accept him despite knowing of his supernatural powers, he asks himself, "Humans are perfect all on their own, so why is it that I have to need other people so much? Was I born with some important part missing from me?" Yamagishi Ryoko had previously written the manga "Green Carnation" (from 1972), whose main character was Michel, a young gay man, and in this the sexual affection he shows to his half-brother Rupert has its basis in the fact that until then, Rupert has been the only relative Michel could depend on.

These themes of a need for connection, or a search for self-acceptance that's rooted in the acceptance of other people, are deeply rooted themes in shoujo manga. In fact, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that these themes are the soil from which all of shoujo and josei manga have grown and flowered. And shoujo manga have always woven their stories on the basis of those desires being fulfilled. But because those desires are not fulfilled in shounen ai, it becomes possible to look at the desire itself on its own terms – to ask questions like, What does it mean for one person to be connected to another? What is an ultimate connection?

In the course of my reading of shounen ai manga, when occasionally a woman shows up, her existence seems somehow too easy. "What, you think you're entitled to be loved by a man just because you're a woman?" Think of the "woman-hating" words we've seen from these protagonists. They are a form of resistance to the pattern of easily pairing up people only because they're a man and a woman.

This is why the couples in shounen ai are ultimate couples. They're destined. Gilbert and Serge, Umayadono and Sogano Emishi... and the male couples in shoujo manga who are bound by a strong tie even if it isn't a sexual one. Takatou Mari and Innami Shingo in Kihara Toshie's "Mari and Shingo," Okumura Eiji and Ash Lynx in Yoshida Akimi's "Banana Fish," Jack and Elena in Shimizu Reiko's "Planet of Sleeping Dragons," Kagetsuya and Chihaya in Kouga Yun's "Earthian," Fillanzea and Mikael in Amagi Sayuri's "Matendou Sonata"... et cetera, and I have to say et cetera because there are such a huge number of popular manga like this.

In yaoi manga, it's remarkable how often you see lines like, "If I can be with you it doesn't matter if my whole soul is ripped apart" or "Believe me. I'm always going to be by your side" or "And still, we loved each other. With an intensity that is close to hate." Shounen ai is not merely a devise to play with ideas of sexuality; it's also a device used to dethrone the cheapness of opposite sex relationships and pull out of them a pure and intense love. Pioneers of shounen ai like Takemiya Keiko and Kihara Toshie have told Nakajima Azusa in interviews that they chose to write about male couples in order to avoid world of male-female relationships where things are supposed to resolve and settle down, so that they could keep up the tension and conflict. (Nakajima Azusa, "Introductory Bishounen-ology.")

So, I would like to draw a clear line between depicting homosexuality as a sexual orientation, and the way that shounen ai manga use homosexuality as a framework for this kind of ultimate destined love.

(no subject)

12/4/11 02:57 (UTC)
tani: Ohno's 'I'm awesome' face with a bright yellow jacket (ohno)
Posted by [personal profile] tani
Can I just say, I think it's totally awesome that you're translating this. I've found the first two posts hugely interesting, and I'm looking forward to the last 3.

I do kind of feel like it's a weak defense for the fetishization of gay people though. I do see the point, in that part of the appeal of yaoi (for me, at least) is at least a partial removal of the male/female stereotypes. I mean, even though it's not great for a gay male to be acting effeminate, as far as stereotypes go, at least it's not a girl acting like that? Even though it's not particularly admirable, I do have that thought sometimes. Still, just because it's partially a device to get rid of heteronormative gender stereotypes and create some kind of destined love doesn't mean that's not offensive. It's complicated! (And apparently this is an issue that I'm quite confused on.)

Anyway, I really enjoyed reading this. It's made me think some interesting thoughts. Thanks so much for translating it!

(no subject)

12/4/11 22:58 (UTC)
tani: Ohno's 'I'm awesome' face with a bright yellow jacket (ohno)
Posted by [personal profile] tani
Yup, that's pretty much exactly how I feel about it, except more eloquently worded. Although, I also haven't read any of the shounen ai that Fujimoto talks about, which probably doesn't help the confusion.
pseudo_tsuga: ([Azumanga Daioh] it's okay kaorin really)
Posted by [personal profile] pseudo_tsuga
Thank you for the translation! What surprised me is how similar it is to meta from Western fandom about why slash is so popular even though yaoi is commonly said to be inferior in the same meta.
Posted by (Anonymous)
Thanks...this looks really interesting. I am looking forward to having my says!


owlectomy: A squashed panda sewing a squashed panda (Default)

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