In light of lots of different articles and blog posts that I’ve been reading recently, I took a minute to sit down and write down some of my thoughts on boys’ love. I realize the more I write, the more I seem to find I have to say, so it seems safe to say this definitely won’t be the last boys’ love breakdown post of mine you’ll see (lucky you, hmm?).
My editorial-of-sorts post today is a focus on some thoughts of the sexual side of yaois and what I feel draws its readers to it, as well as notes on rape as an erotic story device.
Obligatory disclaimer: Some of the following is of a sexual manner and may not be appropriate for younger readers! Also keep in mind that these are my opinions, based on thoughts of my own and expressed by others. It in no way reflects all fans all the time, nor do I claim, via this disclaimer, that they do.
When I sit down to round up some my thoughts on the boys’ love phenomenon, in particular why it’s so popular with its teenage girl demographic, a quote from Lianne over at Sleep is For the Weak always comes to mind since I read it.
“Don’t believe everything the media tells you – some teenage girls have sex, but lots are just interested in sex in theory. They want boys, and they want sex, but not actually.”
This was said in relevance to the series, Vampire Knight (a wonderfully written and entertaining review, btw), but I think it resonates soundly with the reason teenage girls like a lot of things. With yaoi, they gets boys, they often get sex (but of course not always)… but not actually. The fact that it’s a guy with another guy gives it an almost safe feeling, a feeling of disassociation.
I’ve often some across on yaoi fan-communities, when discussing reasons why they enjoy yaois, that many readers find hentais and heterosexual porn too intimidating or sleazy. It makes them feel like they’re actually reading something meant to be porn: flat-out, do-what-you-want-with-yourself-while reading-it, usually-directed-at-men, porn, and that’s not what many of them are looking for. Yaoi isn’t really meant to have this same direct effect. Readers read it, enjoy it, and, yeah, obviously in a sexual sense in some cases, but it’s more like tease sort of story than it is any real masturbatory tool. Much like erotic romance novels are written for women, you’ll find women reading them all the time and for the most part like any other book at any other time or place. There’s sex, it’s graphically detailed but it’s still not the same as sitting down with something meant to be explicitly porn.
As for why it’s two guys that makes it so entertaining, there’s different ways you could explain it. I could point out the obvious argument: that society completely accepts a guys’ enjoyment of two girls being all over each other, yet finds the idea of a girl enjoying the same with two men being odd, or I could try to break it down a few different ways.
Much like I assume many guys would be while reading a yaoi, when I read a hentai, I’m distracted by the portrayal of my gender; distracted by thoughts of ‘what the heck is that?,’ ‘those breasts are going to suffocate her in her sleep,’ or ‘that doesn’t look nearly as comfortable as they’re making it seem for her.’ These kinds of erotic stories aren’t trying to be realistic portrayals, they’re fantasy ones, so attributes their target readers find appealing are emphasized. Hentais are generally for men so the male characters tend to have little focus and are pretty average in appearance (minus the occasional two-by-four between their legs), while the girls are heavily focused on with features like tiny waists, giant boobs and a whole lot of mess. In turn, in a boys’ love story that aims itself at women, men are generally drawn clean-cut, attractive and sometimes extra pretty. Of course it’s not an accurate portrayal of the average guys, that’s why it’s fiction.
When reading a yaoi, I think females are able to enjoy the emotion and passion behind the characters without having the gender-associative thoughts. The characters still have thoughts and feelings expressed, both emotional and physical, and readers able to connect to this without making the physical comparisons to themselves. A girl won’t know what it’s like to get a blowjob but that doesn’t mean they don’t pick up on the portrayed pleasure of it. A reader may also feel bad when something emotionally upsetting occurs in the story without being as likely to compare the hurt party to themselves (how would I have reacted? Would/could a real girl have responded like that?), when it’s a male in the situation. Though at the sametime, on the flipside, are also able to see emotions dealt with in a way more compariable to themselves than what they associate with the average man. This allows for an enjoyment of the story from a comfortable, and complete, third person perspective.
This is also relevant to something quite common that I’ve seen many question: women who in real life aren’t attracted to males, but still find enjoyment in reading boys’ love stories. I’ve also spoken to guys who find girl/girl love stories much more romantic than a story with a heterosexual focus, even if both are just nice fluff stories. Not only is there the disassociation, but also of course just because someone finds something alluring in a fictional sense, doesn’t mean they’d want it in real life. Conveniently, this brings me to another issue.
Rape. There’s been a lot of talk about it recently, with a particular focus on yaois. Non-consensual scenes are used everywhere in erotic material and yaoi is in no way the key offender. What it is, however, is a growing mainstream genre, so this brings the issues of rape to the forefront as more and more readers enjoy stories containing it with growing levels of acceptance for such a negative act. Rape is used in erotic novels, porn, hentais, yaois, yuris: it’s everywhere, aimed at both men and women. But why is it that rape is such a commonly used factor in erotic stories when the act itself is so horrendous?
While I of course can only concretely speak for myself, I think it’s fair to say that the majority of those enjoying stories involving rape aren’t doing so out of pleasure towards the pain and suffering of another. What a person picks up on is the rough, abrupt passion of it, plus writers are able to use it as a sudden-sex-without-romantic-build-up plot point to leap a story to what their readers are waiting for. Many stories also play-down the negative effects of rape so it’s not portrayed as something as negative either, be it through an unnervingly accepting victim (who may or may not decide they enjoy it halfway through), or by forgiveness that occurs when assaulter and victim make amends later on.
Like any element of fantasy, an acceptance or enjoyment of something in media does not mean it’s accepted in real life. Rape in erotic fiction is glorified and meant to be viewed as such. Much the same could be said for a lot of elements of fiction, such as violence and death. People love watching movies, reading books, comics and stories, and playing video games that portray gruesome murders, torture and violence as the key points of entertainment. This goes for games like Grand Theft Auto to more children-oriented Naruto and Dragonball Z. Does it mean they all want to experience this kind of pain in real life? Will everyone who enjoys something with a violent element, go out to commit it? No, they don’t. It’s something that’s entertaining because it’s fiction, something dangerous or taboo that can be experienced from a safe third-person perspective with no repercussion.
But is this all there is to the enjoyment of boys’ love stories? Definitely not! Boys’ love stories are addictive to its fans for the emotion, the diversity, the taboo and the community who supports it so exuberantly, not to mention their uncanny (though not completely inexplicable) ability to find boy’s love in everything. No doubts I have something to say on it all, but that’ll be saved for another day!
Written by Lissa Pattillo on August 14, 2008.