Gender, sexuality, and dank yaoi.

cw: sexual abuse


Shane showed me a movie trailer for the JT Leroy movie with Kirsten Stewart, and we were both very confused cuz we were unfamiliar with the real life story. So as millennials, we just HAD to do a wikipedia to do us some learnin'!


After reading summaries of the JT Leroy stories, both me and Shane found that these stories felt incredibly familiar because they mirrored many of the so-called problematic stories that we associate with Boy's Love manga (for the unfamiliar, a genre of gay comics that's usually associated with being by women, for women, which I will hereafter refer to as "BL" or the colloqialism "yaoi"). The book Sarah, about a young male prostitute with themes of gender fluidity and mommy issues, particularly reminded us of a typical edgy BL manga. It was practically like a DeviantArt yaoi OC!


I found the author's reasoning for ~posing~ as a man more interesting than the drama over the ruse.

I found that these highlights mirrored the anxieties of current internet artists and attacks on identity, especially surrounding women writing stories centered on gay men (AKA fujoshi discourse). So I ended up writing a long-winded twitter thread with my thoughts on how gender feeds into BL and feeds back into gender.


BIG DISCLAIMER: This post is NOT about JT Leroy or the author controversy. It's more about BL and the American community surrounding it that I grew up with. I'm merely thinking out loud about the factors that would lead to a female-aligned person to write stories about gay men and identify as one.


Re: "She found counselors to be sympathetic when she called as a male"


A lot of artists/writers write under gender neutral pseudonyms because neutral is often assumed to be male, and for some reason stories are taken more seriously if people assume a dude wrote it.


Re: "Having struggled with issues of gender fluidity when there was no language for it"


The JT Leroy books were written in the 2000's, before social justice language entered public knowledge and gender stuff was more underground. So it was easier to blend in (aka "pass" in trans terminology) as a male writer. This is the same thing that people used to do on 2007 DeviantArt, neutralize their gender when drawing/writing (particularly in the BL genre) so that people would take them more seriously as artists.


I've found that many of the people I knew who were in the BL fandom of 2007 deviantart were not "straight girls pretending to be boys because they read too much yaoi". They were transmasculine, GNC, bisexual, or lesbians in a youth community were there was no understanding yet.




Back in the days of my earlier 2007 fandoms, including TF2, there were many channers complaining about all the yaoi fangirls drawing gay fanart (whether it was just kissing or full out porn), way before "fujoshi" was a more well known insult. Many of those channers were straight, presumably cis men who were complaining that the gay art of sexy men was drowning out their preferred consumption of sexualized women.


Now, in a post-tumblr 2017-2019 internet art community, it's often other LGBTQ people parroting this channer way of thinking. The outright misogyny and homophobia is now couched in seemingly progressive social justice language. We point fingers at "fujoshi" as "gross straight cis women" who harm "real gay men" by "fetishizing" gay men and "romanticizing" "gross abusive stories". There are lots of scare quotes up there, because those are the exact terms that are constantly repeated among those who loudly attack fujoshi.


For the uninitiated, "fujoshi" is Japanese term that means "rotten woman". It was originally coined by homophobic 2channers to deride women who were interested in gay characters and media as being too "rotten" to be marriage material for a heterosexual man. It has been pretty much reclaimed by BL fans as an ironic badge of honor. For whatever reason, many westerners have misappropriated "fujoshi" to mean a very specific type of homophobic fangirl who harasses real gay men over fake cartoon ships. That type of fangirl certainly exists, particularly in spaces for pre-teens and teenagers who have been indoctrined in homophobic Christian rhetoric, but is not the actual definition of fujoshi.


I hate this inanity because:

  1. I despise when people attack women for simply existing as women.

  2. Many of the "gross abusive stories" reflect the experiences of the STAGGERINGLY high percentage of sexually abused girls.

  3. Transgender and non-binary artists are constantly misgendered and ignored.


RE: "I despise when people attack women for simply existing as women."


I shouldn't have to explain why attacking women for being women and having girly interests is shitty. Growing up as a girl and living as a woman is kinda really overbearingly HARD in our society, whether the woman is cis or trans or simply a being who is perceived as feminine.


RE: "Many of the "gross abusive stories" reflect the experiences of the STAGGERINGLY high percentage of sexually abused girls."


90% of rape victims are women, 1 out of every 6 women has been sexually assaulted. Is it a surprise when girls reflect their reality in their art?


Whether that art is well-executed and tasteful is a matter of individual artist skill level, and many artists are young hobbyists who put their art out for free. I do not believe a 14 year old girl's Naruto fanart should be subject to the same level of vehement criticism as a billion-dollar Marvel movie should receive. If the art is distasteful or full of misunderstandings, and the author means no intentional harm, I believe it would be much more helpful to educate or ignore the artist instead of immediately putting them out for a public hanging.


Addressing the "fetishizing" accusations, I assume that when people use the term "fetishizing" they mean to say the very act of a presumably heterosexual cis woman looking at sexual gay media (and god forbid MASTURBATING to gay media) is morally objectionable.


Let's look back at the JT Leroy thing, where the author felt more comfortable expressing her sexual trauma through a male avatar. Why would a girl use male characters and a male avatar, rather than her assigned gender? Because most characters in media (ones girls commonly use in fanart and fic) are men. Because society trains us to perceive men as "better" characters and women as weak. Because some girls are attracted to men and enjoy looking at or reading art about men! And because other people (critics, readers, therapists!!!) take girls more seriously when they perceived them as male!


More poignantly, A LOT of the time when a girl projects onto a male character, and prefers to be perceived as neutral or male... well, that's often a sign that they're not actually a girl! Maybe they're an egg that hasn't hatched and realized that they're a dude or otherwise!


So back to "fetishizing" and problematic kinks, art about sex often involves fetishes because many people have fetishes and kinks! Contrary to the modern perception of BL by women being gross and gay art by REAL MEN being pure and wholesome, BL had the reputation of being too soft back in the 2000's, while it was geicomi by REAL men for REAL men that was hardcore and kinky.


I repeat this "REAL MEN" term, because this term has persisted from 2007 chan drama to modern twitter lingo. Back in the 2007 days, "REAL MEN" meant cis men, which has unfortunate implications when applied to modern rhetoric


In a typical channer's view, girl's gay comics weren't about REAL MEN, they had too much girly feelings and kissing and not enough rough hard machismo. Cis men's gay comics were REAL. They were macho and full of hardcore sweaty and meat and actual sex, rather than the melodramatic unrequited wimpy handholding one would find in BL.


Let us not forget that one of the biggest chan memes in the 2000's was the yaranaika face from Kuso Miso Technique, a geicomi where a student pees inside a random older man's asshole and the dude shits out the piss shit soup. Let us not forget that one of the greatest gay mangaka, Tagame sensei, made a name for himself with geicomi where a student is forcibly submitted in a sadomasochistic sex relationship with his professor, or men have their limbs non-consensually cut off to be made into human toilets. Let us not forget that panels from geicomi are often posted out of context in chan culture, for the shock value of how humorous and extreme the sex acts are seen by heterosexual cis men.


The problematic "fetishizing" content that people currently associate with feminine BL/yaoi (abuse, age gap, incest, dominance and submission, noncon, gore and death) is apparent across porn genres whether they're made by women or men. It's a societal thing, not a woman thing. But for some reason women drawing art based on their own lived experiences are easier targets for having problematic fetishes, than the typical male PornHub user who goes through "teen step-sister barely legal gets hole DESTROYED" videos on the reg.


I don't know why people specifically target women for fetishistic content. I just know I don't like when people target women simply for being women.


RE: Transgender and non-binary artists are constantly misgendered and ignored.


When people paint every consumer/creator of gay art they dislike as "gross straight cis women", they ignore the LARGE population of queer and marginalized identities who enjoy BL.


Men like yaoi. Men create yaoi too. Both trans and cis men. One of the most infamous problematic BL, Okane Ga Nai, was written by a man. Some geicomi authors branch out into BL to try a different audience and type of storytelling. BL is just a different genre of gay manga. And perhaps it's just my circle of artist friends, but most of us including my friends who enjoy BL are LGBTQ!!! I've seen trans men who enjoy BL called "brainwashed" or even worse for simply stating they enjoy BL.


I understand the issue of homophobia among some people who consume gay porn yet hate real gay men. That's a homophobia issue, not a fujoshi or fudanshi issue. Please address homophobes directly instead of misusing a Japanese loanword.



I also feel the need to address the fact that many Asian artists are attacked under the silly yaoi discourse, especially because the denigrating terms used like "fujoshi" , "yaoi", and "BL" are specifically Japanese in origin.


I am not Japanese. I am Chinese. But I'm sure many other Asians know how cross-cultural the manga phenomenon is. When I was growing up as a widdle Asian-American kid, all the Asian kids hung out together and shared media with each other, whether they were Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Indian, Viet, Cambodian, and so on. We identified with any Asian media regardless of country, cuz we were all lumped as Asian in America.


This extended to anime/manga, and so that extended to yaoi/BL. There were SO many asian kids INCLUDING MYSELF who learned we were LGBTQ because of our interest in gay comics featuring copyrighted characters!


I was a closet case. I didn't want anyone to think I was wimpy or gay for liking yaoi, so I called other people cringy fangirls for liking yaoi to displace suspicions on myself. Even though I read tons of gay doujin, and wrote tons gay stories in my own head about my own chars, it was simply uncool to be into feminine or gay interests. That's socialized & internalized misogyny and homophobia folks! I can call myself out for that for when I was a dumbass 12 year old! I can see these patterns repeat with kids in the modern internet era! We've all internalized some dumb 4chon rhetoric and repackaged it.


I didn't re-examine my own negative attitude towards "fujoshi" and yaoi until Shane showed me some of his childhood interests. One of the anime he showed me was Ai No Kusabi, and that reshaped my perception of what BL/Yaoi was. Ai No Kusabi falls into SO many yaoi tropes that I make fun of, including the classic abusive seme/uke dynamic that I criticize so often, but it's so well made I LOVED it as both a great piece of art, animation, and as something that my best friend loved and wanted to show me.



I drew this after watching Ai no Kusabi with Shane!


So that lead to me talking more with Shane seriously about yaoi DYNAMIX and how we grew up on both sides of the yaoi coin. He was immersed in stereotypically feminine manga/anime like Maiden Rose and Gravitation and Loveless, while I shunned that stuff for being too girly.


We both kinda thought that stuff at our post-teenage age was "cringy". But why? Just because it reminded us of our embarrassing youth? Or was it just because they were girly weeby interests, when we live in America where being girly or into Asian stuff is uncool?


I recognized that my interests align VERY much with fujoshi and fudanshi interests! I like gay stories with melodramatic emotions and psychological drama and dark themes! So I realized I shouldn't attack other people, especially when I consume similar things!


The Phantom of the Opera musical is a widely celebrated hetero romance. Hell, it's one of my favorite movies. It's about an ugly old man who pretends to be a 16 year old girl's dad to teach her opera singing, then he later kills a bunch of people and kidnaps her because of his sexual/romantic interest in her.


Most BL/yaoi that people deem GROSS AND PROBLEMATIC is no more offensive than the themes of Phantom of the Opera. I want women and LGBT folks to have the same freedom of expression and range of fluff-to-darkness in their romance stories, as any old rich dude would have on a billion dollar budget.


TL;DR: I got really angry reading about JT Leroy because I hate to live in a world where women aren't given the same respect as men in regard to their stories and trauma, and where queer people are afraid to explore their gender/sexuality in a constantly hostile art community.