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History and Definitions

Contents:

  1. Definition of Fujoshi (腐女子)

  2. Definition of Fudanshi (腐男子)

  3. Definition of Fujin

  4. Definition of Boys Love (ボーイズラブ)

  5. Definition of Yaoi (やおい)

  6. Definition of Danmei (耽美)

  7. Common Misconceptions

    1. Misconception 1: "Fujoshi means rotten woman and Fudanshi is a rotten man who exploits Lesbian pairings!"

    2. Misconception 2: "Cisgender Heterosexual Women Are The Only Producers and Consumers of BL"

    3. Misconception 3: "All Gay Men Hate BL and Yaoi"

    4. Misconception 4: "BL is Bad Representation and inherently Anti-LGBTQ+"

    5. Misconception 5: "Heterosexual Women Are Fetishizing Gay Men and Harming Them In Real Life"

  8. Citations & Resources

 

Definition of Fujoshi (Japan): (腐女子) (For a detailed history of each term see relevant articles listed under 'Resources' or the Database)

  • "The Japanese term ‘fujoshi’ largely refers to women and girls who are considered dedicated fans of BL media (Ishida 2012: 207). In Japanese, the original meaning of the word fujoshi (婦女子) is ‘lady’, ‘respectable woman’ or ‘wife’ (Suzuki 2013). However, changing the character for ‘lady’ [fu, 婦] to the homonymous character for ‘rotten/decayed/corrupt’ (fu, 腐) creates a pun changing the initially harmless meaning of fujoshi from ‘lady’ to ‘rotten girl’ or ‘rotten young woman’ (腐女子) (Hester 2015: 169). Misogynistic Japanese men categorized female BL fans as ‘rotten’ for not having stereotypically feminine interests (Fanasca 2019: 37) and indulging in queer sexual narratives. BL narratives were considered frivolous and unproductive outside of women’s expected roles as wives and mothers (Galbraith 2011; Novitskaya 2019) and were thus deprecated. Fujoshi were framed as antisocial, unattractive misfits (Mizoguchi 2022) and it is suspected that the first instances of ‘fujoshi’ being used in this ‘rotten’ way were around the year 2000 on 2Chan’s2 Japanese forums (Suzuki 2013). By 2004, fujoshi were a mainstream topic in hetero sexual male-dominated discussions about female otaku in Japan (Mizoguchi 2022). Despite female scholars framing BL as a means to subvert dominant patriarchal narratives (Hemmann 2020: 121), women’s consumption of BL media was still treated as abnormal. By the late 2000s, these women eventually reclaimed fujoshi by transforming the term into a food pun with ‘rotten’ taking on the connotation of fermentation (Mizoguchi 2022). In doing so, fujoshi now positioned themselves as more sophisticated than everyday consumers of ‘raw’, original media. Fujoshi instead ‘fermented’ the original (often hetero sexual and male-centric) media by adding deeper and more complex queer ‘flavours’ to these narratives (Mizoguchi 2022). While reclaiming the label of fujoshi allowed these women to ‘craft an identity that sets them apart from others’, Midori Suzuki (2013) notes that it has also given outsiders an excuse to justify their stigmatization. Such surface-level justification can be seen in one of the most common anti-fujoshi arguments among western English speakers on social media: ‘fujoshi literally means rotten woman’ (Figure 1). In these instances, the translation of fujoshi has been stripped of its previously established linguistical history and context. Western-based English speakers take the translation of fujoshi at face value and apply their own interpretations to it. The most common of these inter pretations is the belief that fujoshi label themselves rotten because they relish queer men’s relationships as ‘sinful’, ‘taboo’ or ‘rotten’. The fact that fujoshi were labelled rotten by misogynistic men specifically because of their queer interests and sexual expression is absent. As a result, fujoshi have come to be erroneously perceived as adversaries in direct opposition of the LGBTQ+ community. This perception has further stigmatized fujoshi among western English speakers who see them as privileged heterosexual, cisgender women who exploit gay men in both fiction and real life. However, in Japan, fujoshi as a term does not specify if a female fan is heterosexual or cisgender: fujoshi was simply a disparaging term for any female fan engaging with BL in general. There is a long history of lesbian and bisexual fujoshi and for decades BL has been considered an important creative avenue for many queer women in their formative years (Welker 2006; Mizoguchi 2008). This clarification is necessary since western English-speaking anti-fujoshi frequently re-define fujoshi to explicitly refer to heterosexual women (Anti-fujoshi 2023). Some anti-fujoshi even claim that queer women are incapable of being fujoshi because they believe fujoshi means cisgender heterosexual women who ‘hate’ queer women and ‘don’t care about actual gay men’ (Anti-fujoshi 2023). Due to this insistence to exclusively link BL media to female hetero sexuality, BL began to be considered illegitimate by western English speaking LGBTQ+ fans. How fujoshi came to be so strictly associated with heterosexual women is foundational to this entire discussion. While western English-speaking anti-fujoshi embraced the misogynistic 2Chan roots of the term fujoshi, discourse emanating in gender critical online spaces reclassified fujoshi as ‘degenerate’, ‘hormonal’, mentally unstable heterosexual women."

  • Fujoshi and fudanshi are also singular and plural. Using the terms 'Fujoshis' or 'Fudanshis' is grammatically incorrect, and often how anti-fujoshi discuss these terms.
  • Fujoshi in Mandarin: Funü

  • Fujoshi in Korean: (pronounced) Hujoshi

  • Fujoshi in Thai: Sao-wai ("Yaoi Girls")

  • Japanese Wikipedia Article on Fujoshi

  • Downloadable English PDF of JPN Wikipedia Article

  • "Older fujoshi use various terms to refer to themselves, including as Kifujin (貴腐人, "noble spoiled woman"), a pun on a homophonous word meaning 'fine lady'"

 

Definition of Fudanshi (Japan): (腐男子)

  • Fundanshi in Mandarin: Funan

  • Fudanshi in Thai: Hnum-wai ("Yaoi Boys")

  • "A man who likes comics depicting male homosexual love (usually targeted to [a female audience])"​ (Source).

    • "The word "fudanshi" [is thought to have] originated in 2002 on PINK Channel 's 801 board " (Source)

 

Definition of Fujin: A more recent option for gender-neutral/non-binary fans of BL.

Definition of Boy's Love: (ボーイズラブ) "Abbreviated 'BL' "comics or novels about male homosexuality, targeted at young women" "Boys’ Love (hereafter BL) is one of the most popular terms used to describe male/male romantic fiction technically aimed for female readers. However, the actual audience includes various gender and sexual identities. The word BL was born in 1990s Japan and reached international fans in the 2000s..."

Definition of Yaoi: (やおい)

  • In Japan, people know what the term is and its history but don't use it regularly anymore. The term yaoi was a self-deprecating acronym fan comic artists used to categorize their works as being fanworks made for the purpose of pairing existing male characters sexually. It was not a term used for original works or a category of manga separate from BL specifically. Content that many in English fandom view as yaoi are actually technically BL, and BL includes content with graphic sex, they are not separate genres/categories (that are what the age ratings on BL media are for). (See the video on BL history above as well as many other articles below that elaborate on the history of yaoi as a term)

  • In English fandom: "Yaoi is, simply put, a genre of manga and novels that depicts stories about same-sex relationships between men, usually aimed towards female audiences. It is often used interchangeably with Boys’ Love (BL) nowadays. However, yaoi does have its own history and usage that slightly differs from BL...Nowadays, many people simply take yaoi to refer to a genre of male homosexual stories that heavily focuses only on sex depictions."

Danmei (耽美): "Danmei is one of the terms used to describe male/male romantic fiction written in Chinese for Chinese readers. Non-Chinese fans have regularly used the word for the past few years due to the increasing popularity of danmei fiction outside the Chinese-speaking community... initially adopted from the Japanese word “tanbi,” written with the same character as the Chinese one. Tanbi can be translated as “aesthetic” or “the pursuit of aesthetic.” When used in the context of Japanese BL-related media around the 1980-90s, tanbi can be interpreted as work, according to James Welker, “fusing beauty, romance, and eroticism along with at least a dash of decadence.”... the background, time setting, description, character’s relationship, or well, the whole universe of the work must be beautiful."

  • Danmei in Vietnamese: đam mỹ

See more articles on Danmei specifically by Chinese authors in 'Resources' below:

  • Cathy Yue Wang. 2020. "Officially Sanctioned Adaptation and Affective Fan Resistance: The Transmedia Convergence of the Online Drama Guardian in China". Series. International Journal of Tv Serial Narratives. 2: 45-58.

 

 

Suggested Immediate Viewing:

 

MISCONCEPTIONS

The following misconceptions are being perpetuated in Anglophone fan spaces

See 'Geikomi/Bara' page for further discussion

  • Things to consider:

    • What frequently occurs when critical discussions of BL surface is making unequal comparisons to justify certain criticisms.

    • Most people who criticize BL media compare the most extreme, dark BL to the most 'wholesome' SFW Western examples. They do not compare media specifically made for teens to other teen media, or pieces meant to be biographical and realistic to other biographical pieces set in realism.

      • Example: In reverse terms, it would be like comparing Sasaki and Miyano to Hannibal, or Interview with a Vampire to argue about and disparage the morality of Queer-coded Western content

    • Many critics making these comparisons treat such content intended for very different age groups and audiences as if they are intending to be the same thing and thus directly comparable. For instance BL critics do not compare pornographic (18+) BL to pornographic (18+) Western media; they compare pornographic (18+) BL to non-pornographic (13+) Western depictions. Ironically such critics frequently avoid and do not engage with NSFW (18+) Western media to a significant enough degree to make any legitimate comparisons.

    • The handful of BL media that are frequently praised are all PG-13 depictions appropriate for teen audiences (GIVEN, Sasaki & Miyano, Doukyuusei, The Stranger by the Shore, etc.)

      • Source: (From Site Author)

  • Below excerpt via @asideoftrashpl1:

    • "Honestly, I'm uncomfortable when westerners try to have takes about how East Asian media "feminises gay men" because they often take western masculine ideals as the standard for what "real men" are like, which often ends up in unintended insinuations that Asian men aren't "real men". When people question "why are the men all pale and hairless and slender" it ignores the fact that men in straight Chinese shows are ALSO pale, hairless, and slender because that's what beauty standards for men are like in the country that the show was produced in. In a fandom server, I was once talking fashion headcanons with another Chinese person, and someone interjected to call us out on "feminising gay men because REAL men don't dress like THAT" — THAT meaning pastel colours and oversized sweaters. I had to inform them that men DO dress like "THAT" in East Asia. It's part of the East Asian fashion trend. Look at K-pop and C-pop idols. Look how they dress. Look at their builds, their faces, and the way they present, because they represent dominant male beauty ideals in Asia. And those beauty ideals trickle down into the way REAL men in East Asia, everyday non-celebrity men, dress and style themselves. So when westerners take these traits that are incongruent with western ideals of hypermasculinity and say "REAL men don't look like that", they end up insinuating that East Asian men aren't real men, which is all kinds of uncomfortable. Does that mean that there isn't A SINGLE PIECE OF EAST ASIAN MEDIA that presents a hyperfeminized bottom? That's definitely not the case, but my point is that westerners should exercise some caution before wading into the matter. That goes not just for insinuating that CREATORS of East Asian media are feminising gay men. It also goes for insinuating that FANDOMS surrounding East Asian media are feminizing gay men."

Misconception 1: "Fujoshi means rotten woman and Fudanshi is a rotten man who exploits Lesbian pairings!"

  • Can be thought of similarly to fans of Slash Fiction. Fujoshi were coined as such by men for their "rotten" interests, i.e. queer relationships. It was the fact that women were interested in queer relationships and sexual topics that they were seen as abnormal and unfit for marriage by traditionalists. “Fujoshi is probably better translated as ‘fermentation girl’ and the reason it was termed as such has more to do with the fact that…these women would ‘ferment’ and change the ‘product to be consumed’ (anime series), so that it would be unpalatable for the (cisgender heterosexual) male viewer” (Mizoguchi, 2022). Fujoshi were seen as women ruining the sanctity of heterosexual men's interests. The term was eventually reclaimed and is now used by female fans of BL. While not all may refer to themselves as fujoshi, female fans of BL are by definition fujoshi given their interest in male/male relationships

  • "In a country where patriarchal family values persist, fujoshi are criticized for pursuing yaoi and are described as rotten because they are attracted to fantasies of sex that is not productive of children" (Galbraith, 2011)

  • "Kirsty Kawano notes that “....by labeling themselves “fujoshi,” BL fans prevent others from sticking a different label on them. With this subversive term, they voluntarily cut themselves off from the demands of the world of men, with “rotten” making it clear that they are no longer fit for male consumption” (Kawano). By establishing themselves as abject, they take away the authority from others to label them. Furthermore, through BL they are able to claim autonomy in a male-dominated society through their consumption and enjoyment of the genre." (Tatang)

  • Fudanshi are male fans of BL but anti-fujoshi/fudanshi most times don't even understand the labels they're criticizing. Many anti-fudanshi believe them to be the exact opposite of fujoshi "men who fetishize relationships between women" when in reality they are simply male fans of BL.

  • "One of the earliest approaches taken by researchers was to focus on the idiosyncrasies and deviance of women who like male-male romance works, rather than to consider a connection with the participating fans' own sexuality. One is probably that although establishing themselves as deviant beings called fujoshi allows fans to craft an identity that sets them apart from others, it also affords outsiders a means of justifying their repression." (Suzuki)

Misconception 2: "Cisgender Heterosexual Women Are The Only Producers and Consumers of BL"

  • BL authors and fans come in all different shapes and sizes. Trans men and cisgender men both read and produce BL media. Based on multiple surveys of queer BL fans the majority of fans, male or female, fall on the bisexual spectrum.

  • In relation to Trans Men:

    • "Some readers have told me they enjoy the stories because they present an idealized masculine world. Some speak of despising femininity, and even of wishing they had been born male, rather than female. For most such women, yaoi and boys' love allow them to indulge in the fantasy of loving a man as a man, or, to rephrase it, as an equal, free of predefined gender expectations. In [his] book Yaoi Genron (1998) [title: やおい 幻論 : 〈やおい〉 から 見えた もの], Sakakibara Shihomi, [him]self a popular yaoi-style novelist, describes [him]self as a gay man in a woman's body (a "female-to-male gay" transsexual). [He] suggests that this condition may be quite common among fans of this genre and may in fact be the reason for its existence." (Thorn, 2003)

    • (Excerpt From a Japanese trans man) "Even though more than twenty years have passed, I still like yaoi (there was a time when I seriously worried that I had begun to think that I was a man because I had been reading too much yaoi-ha ha)" (McLelland, 2007 'Queer Voices From Japan')

  • "Yaoi has an extensive readership among girls questioning their sexuality and among lesbian women in Japan. Feminist commentators such as Ueno Chizuko have noted that ‘These beautiful boys are “the idealized self-image” of girls, and they are neither male nor female. They belong to a “third sex”’. Hence Mizoguchi concludes that the characters are ‘meant to act as agents for the readers of these stories’; in other words, they are ‘the alter egos of young women’. It is the indeterminate nature of these fantasy characters that makes them amenable to diverse appropriations by women with a range of sexual orientations. To this extent, then, yaoi characters cannot be understood as ‘children’ nor should they necessarily be read as ‘male’ or even ‘homosexual’; they represent instead a third gender that has little to do with the activities of actual male homosexuals or depictions of real children. Nagaike stresses the ‘multiple, shifting, and synchronic process of identification experienced by female readers during the act of reading yaoi manga’. The process of identification involved in the production and consumption of yaoi is thus obviously very complex, differs according to the sexual orientation of the reader, and different factors" (McLelland, 2006)

  • 睦巳夏生 Mutsumi Natsuo: "It took me a really long time to realize that I am butch, non-binary, and that I love butch. I actually realized this when I was 5 years old, but I sealed this myself. I didn't see anyone else around me who was like me, and I didn't see anyone else in comics or anime. Yuri (GL) has been around for a long time, but I never felt it was about me when I read it. So to tell the truth, I still rarely read it. I do read them for study. Rather, I felt that BL and gay comics were closer to me." (https://twitter.com/720gou/status/1593063077947543552)

  • "What we actually found out was… depending on what volume was in question, fully up to 50% of our reader engagement was male. On average, it’s about 15 to 20%, and that to me was really startling, because I would not have anticipated that at all." (TCAF 2015)

  • (2015) Interview with Gengoroh Tagame (prominent gay author in Japan):

    • "When I look at gay art in comics as a critic, I get really anxious about that division precisely because the simplistic way of dividing it is that BL represents more romance, narratives, thinner body types, more effeminate characters. And then so-called “gay manga” would be just more diesel, big guys and more hardcore sex, etc.

    • But what happens when the creator is a woman doing more hardcore work? Is that considered gay? Is it BL just because she’s female? Is it about the audience, or is it about the creators? So those are definitely things I think about a lot as a critic. Furthermore, going back to the gender of creators, that’s problematic as well because sometimes BL creators– and I’m speaking just from personal acquaintance with some of these creators– may be biologically female or identify on the page as heterosexual women, but sometimes they’re actually lesbian or transgender.

    • And then sometimes it’s the case that a woman will draw sort of muscle-y characters and then take on male pen names for publication in gay media. Which is also very… not problematic, but just raises questions, just how do we start to categorize? There are anecdotes from the editors of gay magazines who see these submissions, see a male pen name and assume that they’re men, write to (the artist), want to meet, when they meet, it’s a shock! (laughs)."

    • "Anne Ishii: Tagame-sensei is not specifying whether that’s like a bad shock or a good shock but of course, the fact that there’s that schism between what people are expecting and what the reality is, is really interesting…"

  • (2014) Interview with Gengoroh Tagame (prominent gay author in Japan):

    • "Since the time when the word “Boys Love” started to be used — and just as shōjo manga itself started to evolve and grow — it seems to me, looking back from my distanced position,[iii] that the discriminatory atmosphere of the past has begun to disappear as the love between two men is beginning to be written more sympathetically [by contemporary BL authors].

    • Supporters of the former yaoi culture seemed to possess a guilty conscious, thinking to themselves “why is that whilst I am a woman, I like yaoi?” They always seemed to have prepared desperate excuses for their preferences, such as “it’s beautiful, so it’s okay” or “it’s forbidden, so it’s okay.” However, as times have changed, the number of people who say “I like BL and there’s nothing wrong with that” has greatly increased.[iv] Personally, I think it’s fine if we think of “liking BL (BL-zuki)” as just another form of sexuality.[v]

    • By the way, “self-reception (jiko jūyō)”[vi] is one of the big themes to be found within my work, basically speaking, I write happy endings for those characters who have accepted their personal sexuality and bad endings for those characters who don’t (he laughs). The more the number of people who perceive their sexuality to be “liking BL” increases, the more open BL culture will become and that can only be a positive development to my mind.

Misconception 3: "All Gay Men Hate BL and Yaoi"

  • There are gay male authors of BL, and some even publish their works under female pen names. Many male fans of BL in Japan and abroad have cited BL as providing them with alternative positive depictions of masculinity, helping them to accept themselves.

  • "BL can be seen as more of a feminist phenomenon than an expression of real world gay male identity but that's not to discount the genres importance to gay men." (Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It (2015))

  • “Fudanshi (“Rotten Boys”) in Asia: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Male Readings of BL and Concepts of Masculinity” Interviews with Fudanshi in Asia (Nagaike): "BL enables fudanshi to sublimate the inherent psychological conflicts created by socially enforced masculine ideals through their identification with narratives and characters originally produced by and for women." (Nagaike)

    • The following are quotes from interviews with gay Asian men:

      • “BL was salvation for me. And I think that it would work out this way for a lot of men in contemporary Japan.”

      • “BL/yaoi was a tool that my generation (I was born in 1970) could use to liberate ourselves from the tough life of living as men.”

      • “A competitive principle such as ‘men have to win’ affects men’s psyches quite effectively. I felt so burdened by such ideas. I was really saved by June and yaoi, which offered me a new perspective on accepting passive men.”

      • “I started getting the idea that men can enjoy specific texts, like yaoi, that were originally constructed by and for women, in order to live with less stress and psychological pressure.”

      • “I should say that, in contemporary Japan, BL is the only manga medium which provides the reader with genuine love stories. BL makes me feel most romantically excited.”

      • “I love reading BL because the stories are pure and show that romantic love between men is possible” (B.).

      • “I read BL stories because their plots are really interesting. Besides the quality of the art, the plots are actually understandable and interesting, regardless of the genre. Compared to yuri (female-female eroticism), there is a stronger emotional bond portrayed in these BL stories”

      • “I like BL because it gives me a sense of romance and porn simultaneously”

      • “My favorite BL works are ones which combine romance and action”

      • “The main reason that I read BL is that BL provides me with inspiration for my fantasies about myself and the boy I used to like. (He usually plays the seme role). I don’t think that, by reading BL, I aim at denying the very idea of masculinity or want to escape from acting according to that idea. All I want is to acknowledge my unrealized childhood love.”

      • “When I was in the first year of junior high school, a female friend introduced me to BL. I was astonished and thought: ‘I never dreamed that such a beautiful world exists!’”

      • “I feel a bit hesitant to say this, but I became a crazy fan of BL. I can simply say that I love BL. However, having read BL for a while, I’ve begun to wonder what my sexual orientation is. Before reading BL, I was never attracted to both women and men”

      • (Shojo comics:) "Sato even claims that by reading well-written "girls" comics" that depicted homosexual male characters, he had overcome the sense of guilt for being a homosexual that many gay men seemed to internalize. He writes, "To me, the misfortune does not lie in the fact that I can only love men. Rather, my misfortune lies in the fact that being a man loving a man is not accepted by the society. In other words, it is the sense of being 'excluded' that brings me the sense of misfortune. My despair about this sense is deep, but still, I never came to hate my desire itself. This is all thanks to the 'girls' comics. "' (Mizoguchi)

  • (2022) Queer Transfigurations: (On the Psychology, Physicality, and Communication Strategies of Male Fans of BL in East Asia A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Men’s Desires to “Become” Fudanshi - Kazumi Nagaike):

    • "One of my South Korean fudanshi interview subjects lamented South Koreans’ homophobia:

    • “South Korea is surely super-conservative in terms of the acceptance of homosexuality, compared with other countries. I’m sad to say that South Koreans’ views of sexuality are quite narrow-minded.”

    • The following comment made by a South Korean fujoshi can be taken as a good basis for further exploration of fudanshi in South Korea:

    • The reason that male fans of BL in South Korea are basically invisible is that machismo and patriarchy are so influential in this society. Machismo and patriarchy in Korea will never accept male homosexuality, and many Korean males are still very homophobic. Even though there are lots of male fans of various subcultures (e.g., anime and manga), I don’t think these men could ever accept male homosexuality. (“Hyunwoo”)

    • The following comments made by South Korean fudanshi clearly throw light on the existence of a queer mindset within a South Korean culture otherwise characterized by hegemonic masculinity and homophobia. BL manga foreground the ways in which South Korean fudanshi question the value and validity of heteronormativity:

    • —When I was in the first year of junior high school, a female friend introduced me to BL. I was astonished and thought: “I never dreamed that such a beautiful world could exist.” (“Jiwon”)

    • —I feel a bit hesitant to say this, but I became a crazy fan of BL. I can simply say that I love BL. However, having read BL for a while, I’ve begun to wonder what my sexual orientation is. Before reading BL, I was never attracted to both women and men. (“Youngchul”)

    • —When my friend found out that I read BL, he asked if I was gay. I wonder why it’s OK for women to read GL, while men who read BL get picked on. (“Jungho”)" (pp. 251-252).

Misconception 4: "BL is Bad Representation and inherently Anti-LGBTQ+"

  • An Excerpt of an Interview from Masaki C. Matsumoto's Blog (Link):

    • "Many countries have begun to become involved in the representation of queer relationships through the BL (Boy Love) industry. Do you believe this brings more of a positive representation to queer relationships?"

      • The genre has evolved so much in the last two decades. When I started consuming BL back in late 1990’s, BL was only starting to gain popularity or even recognition from the public. There was not much critical discourse around BL and, as far as I recall, many BL mangas were just a bunch of sexual imagery. I loved BL novels, though. Now, critical discourses have since shaped the current state of the genre, where discussions are very active on issues like (mis)representation, romanticization, and who get’s to write about whom. I think BL is the most vigorously contested genre among all, perhaps because of misogynous ideas about women writing about men, and now is the forefront of debates over representation. With the development of BL as a literary genre, we now have a huge number of good BL mangas, novels, and animes, and I do think that the more BL the world is exposed to, the better people will understand nuanced complexities of what it means to be in a same-sex male-male relationship

    • "Do you think the BL industry has enabled for consumers to romanticise toxic and abusive queer relationships?

      • Representation does not happen in a vacuum. I think we, the general public, had different, quite outdated notions of what counts as toxic or abusive relationships, say, 10, 20, 30 years ago. As social awareness grew after the Internet, especially in the past social media era, we have very quickly updated our ideas about power dynamics of relationships. Representation always falls behind but keeps following people’s ideas. And BL, I think, is the most responsive to such social and cultural updates. Heterosexual pornography (including manga, anime, etc.), I think, is the least responsive.

    • "Do you think romanticising queer relationships are harmful towards LGBTQIA+ individuals?"

      • LGBTQA+ individuals do romanticize queer relationships, so I guess I have nothing against romanticizing haha. But on a more serious note, I think the word “romanticize” needs to be firmly defined in order for romanticization to be problematized. And while that’s a very important discussion to have, I do think that any of the problems associated with representation such as romanticization, eroticization, under-sexualization, etc. etc. will become completely harmless when we eradicate real-life dangers and life difficulties of queer individuals and their communities, because, then, we can just laugh about misrepresentation and “weird” ways of consumption.

    • "In your own opinion, do you think those who romanticise queer relationships are feeding into the harmful representation of the LGBTQIA+ community?"

      • Again, I think it’s important that we define terms like “romanticize” and “harmful.” For example, gay and bisexual men, alongside straight men, lesbian women, etc., grow up in this homophobic society just the same. They grow up internalizing homophobic ideas. And we all know that sometimes, we desire what we ought not to desire, or at least we can say that our desires are constantly informed by society and cultures that surround us. So, for instance, if we someday successfully eradicate homophobia and the taboo associated with it, gay and bisexual men and their desires will never be the same. Some gay and bisexual men, I’d say, might not find gay sex as attractive or sexy as they do today because for them, their desires were the result of romanticization of prohibition. So, singling out BL consumers, for example, to blame for romanticizing male-male relationships and thus creating harms, in my opinion, is very, very off. We as existences are all creation of society and creators of society, no matter our genders or sexualities. Of course, however, critiquing a specific TV series, movie, manga, anime, etc. is important work.

    • "What do you think can be done to bring more positive representations of healthy queer relationships in the media?"

      • I think that it is when people see not only “healthy” queer relationships but also “unhealthy” queer relationships and do not feel the urge to attribute whatever they find bad, disgusting, atrocious, etc. to queerness, that we can finally say that queer relationships have fully entered the general public’s cultural consciousness as part of human diversity. I don’t think that white-washing queer representation to make it look good and respectable is the only path we must take. It is precisely for that reason that I see hope in BL where the nuances and complexities of male-male relationships are most depicted. And I hope there will be more creators producing content in similar ways about lesbian relationships, trans-cis relationships, trans-trans relationships, queerplatonic relationships, aromantic relationships, queer friendships, and queer communities. ((Interview End))

  • Many anti-BL and anti-fujoshi critics share the opinion that only cisgender gay men should be writing about gay male characters. The problem with this is that the gay male experience is not universal. Gei Komi or "Bara" (The outdated term still used by Anglo fans) comics made "by gay men for gay men" largely focus on a hyper-masculine perspective and contain more overt sexual elements. Fumi Miyabi, a Gei Komi mangaka even states, “the manga has to be erotic, and it can’t not include sexuality… they’re just not meant for more vanilla content” (Massive - 189).

  • "Throughout interviews, Junho, Yoichi, Haruma, and Shōtaro argued that the depictions of masculinity in geikomi were "extreme" (kageki) and further understood this extremeness as highly desirable. This was an opinion shared by other young gay men I met during fieldwork: they viewed geikomi positively (even if they did not necessarily consume it) because it conformed to their preconceived notion that desirable gay masculinity is both "hard" and "violent," (Baudinette).

Many gay men who do dislike BL do so due to it's association with women and effeminate men:

  • "It is unsurprising that a number of the young gay men with whom I conversed in Ni-chōme's bars possessed a particularly negative attitude toward BL since they saw it as an example of the young women's popular culture that had cursed contemporary Japan with soft masculinity. Whereas regular BL consumers, such as fans like Haruma and Shōtarō, were willing to accept BL as a form of gay media because of their affective attachment to the genre, young gay men who admitted during interviews that they did not engage with BL tended to dismiss it as inauthentic given its status as young women's media. Of particular concern to these men was their belief that BL reinforced Japanese society's tendency to view same-sex attracted men as effeminate. One young man explained to me that "BL is a nonsense created from prejudice read by silly school girls." (Regimes of Desire - Baudinette).

  • "young gay men seemed to be unconsciously drawing upon a common sentiment that emerged in Japan after the collapse of the bubble economy and the subsequent neo-liberalization of society that criticizes the supposed feminization of contemporary Japanese culture." (Regimes of Desire - Baudinette).

  • "For many of the men with whom I spoke, Japanese masculinity was becoming soft; they saw an increasing focus away from hard masculinity since such gendered performances were supposedly no longer popular among young women. That is... viewed as a curse that was somehow weakening or diluting contemporary Japanese masculinity. Most of my interlocutors viewed the bishōnen's rise in Japan negatively and positioned Ni-chōme as an important space of resistance where hard masculinity remained prominent and respected." (Regimes of Desire - Baudinette)

  • Many gay men's comics focus on erotic fantasies and improbable situations, containing graphic content and "harmful" tropes critics disparage BL for sometimes harboring despite it being the tamer and romantically associated genre. BL is an entire category of literature and has every kind of narrative imaginable, including domestic couples, found family, and overcoming struggles with anti-LGBTQ+ prejudice.

 

  • “The characters in BL are an object of affection by both the author and the readers. One part of being a BL author is imagining ‘how would a same-sex couple deal with not being able to have children? Would they come out to the people around them?’, and so on. The author must imagine how they could live happily within Japanese society by imagining themselves in the character’s situation. The result of this are works that depict the characters in a world without discrimination and where gay people can live happily.” (Harada)

  • “Some women also linked readership of BL comics and novels with their generation’s more or less liberal attitudes toward male homosexuality, either citing BL as a catalyst for the liberalization of their thinking or, vice versa, citing generational change as the reason they are relatively receptive to homosexual-themed materials in the first place.” (Martin)

  • “In the yaoi ronsō women who depicted and looked at men having sex with men were criticised for discriminating against gay men. However, compared to gay manga drawn by gay men for gay men, BL manga cannot be said to be more abusive. In both gay and BL manga, the men depicted are not necessarily gay as in having a gay identity. Thus, the reason why BL manga were criticised by a gay man cannot only lie in their depictions of gay men since, in that case, gay manga should equally have been the focus of critique. Satō feels uneasy about women watching what he regards as depictions of gay men—he wants such depictions to have limited access. He wants depictions of homosexuality to remain in a closet, viewed only by an inner circle of gay men. However, limiting the audience to those who regard themselves as gay men inevitably limits the opportunities for young and possibly isolated gay men to find gay characters with whom to identify, which is a reason why it can be seen as fortunate that BL manga are popular and easily available.” (Lunsing)

  • "BL is political. He noted that BL was initially not meant to be used politically; it has been created as a means of liberating women from the confines of restrictive patriarchal norms by allowing them some control over their gender and sexuality. Regardless of the intention in its creation, there have been several BL-inspired political movements. Professor Welker quoted prominent BL scholar Akiko Mizoguchi, who argues that “BL is a progressive force for good.” (Welker)

  • "Further, many LGBTQ+ Filipinos turned to BL comics from Japan and BL series from Thailand due to a broader dissatisfaction with representations of queer sexuality within Philippine domestic media. One bisexual female fan in their 20s who was an avid consumer of Japanese BL comics suggested during an interview in July 2019 that they were “radical” in the Philippine context. This woman, who worked as an advocate for a women’s rights NGO, highlighted that Philippine popular culture rarely depicted sexual minorities and, when it did, it was often in discriminatory and homophobic ways. As media theorist Reuben Cañete argues through a critical reading of mainstream Philippine cinema, the specter of the effeminate gay man is often evoked in filmic texts as either a source of humor or a threat to the status quo as part of a broader ideological apparatus designed to uphold heteronormative and avowedly Catholic conceptualizations of “cor-
    rect” masculinity in the Philippines (2014: 17–18). All our participants believed, on the other hand, that Japanese BL comics contained positive depictions of male homosexuality which proved that same sex romance was not only possible but was also normal, thus challenging the ideological apparatus identified by Cañete (2014) as central to Philippine mainstream media. A common narrative that many of our interlocutors raised during interviews was BL’s transformative power as a resource to learn more about queer sexuality and romance. Several fans spoke passionately about how encountering Japanese BL comics had awakened them to their own same sex desires. For example, a 19-year-old bisexual woman particularly highlighted during a conversation in 2019 how her discovery of BL during
    high school led her to appreciate that “love was possible between the same gender." (Kristine Michelle L. Santos & Thomas Baudinette 2024)

 

Misconception 5: "Heterosexual Women Are Fetishizing Gay Men and Harming Them In Real Life"

  • One of the most common arguments against BL is that it harms gay men in real life. The argument is that BL itself causes women to view gay men as fantasy objects and not as real people. This argument however, also largely relies on the narrative that only straight cisgender women like BL, and therefore any queer fans who participate in its creation or consumption are part of that damaging system. Arguments get messy because some anti-BL fans think all BL and Yaoi are bad, but some anti-fujoshi claim to be fine with BL but hate fujoshi which they instead assign as a label for female fans with behaviors they don't like, similar to the term "rabid fangirls" used to be employed but with a more sinister and sexualized meaning. Often times their complaints apply to teen girls who tend to be more enthuseastic about their interests and overstep personal boundaries. Most female BL fans however, do not act this way. Additionally, lack of societal LGBTQIA+ education and resources is a prime factor for such misteppings of boundaries. Anyone can be guilty of behaving invasively or asking invasive questions about demographics they don't fully understand, not just BL fans. As shown previously, BL has been invaluable to many queer men's development as well as enjoyment.

    • “Above all, it’s a matter of whether they have consideration or not. The insensitive type... worship the idea of “lofty, pure love” and try to force this ideal upon real gay men. The second are the considerate type who care about not harming real gay people with their fantasies." (Harada -interview with gay Japanese men-)

    • “Among older generations, there are many who react negatively to BL, calling it “feminine” and going so far as to deem it abnormal. On the other hand, there are readers of the younger generation called ‘fudanshi gei’ (lit. gay rotten men)...“Now, there are a lot of high quality works.” (Harada -interview with gay Japanese men-)

    • “I like manga, so I read BL regularly… The stories were heart-wrenching and I could sympathize with them. Now, there are a lot of high quality manga, and the differences between BL and young adult manga seem to be disappearing... In order for these characters (whom the author and readers identify with) to live happily, there is a desire for the characters to be depicted in a way that overcomes the hate and prejudice towards homosexuality (that exists in real life). So even though BL is just romantic entertainment, the signs of society’s evolving attitude towards homosexuality is being reflected in the stories." (Harada -interview with gay Japanese men-)

    • "journalist Sugiura Yumiko repeatedly assures her readers that fujoshi , the “rotten girls” who create and consume BL manga, are not poorly groomed antisocial misfits. “The majority of fujoshi ,” Sugiura writes, “are adult women. They live in the real world, where things like ‘true love’ don’t exist. These women fall in love and get married in the real world, where society necessitates compromise. When they get tired, they take a break in a fantasy world, and then they go back to reality.” According to Sugiura, although fujoshi occasionally immerse themselves in fantasy, or delusion (mōsō), they are far from delusional (mōsōteki); for them, the world of BL is a break from reality (genjitsu), not the sort of separate reality (riariti) that attractive shōjo characters provide for male fans of the anime and manga media mix." (Hemmann)

RESOURCES

(most up-to-date list https://www.fujoshi.info/database)

BOOKS

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  6. Ishii, Anne, Chip Kidd, and Graham Kolbeins. 2014. Massive: gay erotic manga and the men who make it.

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  12. McLelland, Mark, Kazumi Nagaike, Katsuhiko Suganuma, and James Welker, eds. 2015. Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

  13. McLelland, Mark J. 2006. Genders, transgenders, and sexualities in Japan. London: Routledge.

  14. ed. Shawna Tang, Hendri Yulius Wijaya. 2022. Queer Southeast Asia.

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  18. Zhao, Jing Jamie, Ling Yang, and Maud Lavin. 2017. Boys' love, cosplay, and androgynous idols: queer fan cultures in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Baltimore, Maryland: Project Muse. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/j.ctt1rfzz65.

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AVAILABLE ONLINE

*(Need Help Accessing Articles? Google 'Sci-Hub'!)

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  6. Baudinette, T. "Lovesick, The Series: adapting Japanese ‘Boys Love’ to Thailand and the creation of a new genre of queer media". South East Asia Research

  7. (2022) ''Is this Fetishization?' With Special Guest: Dr. Thomas Baudinette' - The Yaoi Shelf Season 3, Ep.12

  8. Bellamy-Walker, Tat, "Not Manly Enough: Femmephobia’s Stinging Impact on the Transmasculine Community" (2019). CUNY Academic Works.

  9. Benecchi, E. & Wang, E. (2021). "Fandom: Historicized Fandom and the Conversation between East and West Perspectives." 10.1515/9783110740202-016.

    • Sections: 'Fandom From a Chinese Perspective: From Fans to Fensi and Beyond,' 'Debunking the Novelty of Digital Fan Productivity West to East'

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    • https://chaoyang.substack.com/p/jokerfied-fandom?s=r

      • "Slash, fan-fic, ships and danmei erotica aren’t marginal phenomena on the Chinese web. They’re the frontlines of how we live with algorithmic censors, bend platforms to our will, and build worlds within worlds online:"

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