By Hervé St-Louis
Jul 11, 2008 - 23:40
A few years ago, one could not go a message boards without reading about gay comic book readers asking for comic book publishers to provide them with more representation in their comic books. The process was quite similar to the process of affirmation of blacks and women in comic books and other sectors of life. A few years back, specialized comic book publishers importing and translating material from Japanese mangas seem to have come to the rescue of gay comic book readers. But are yaoi mangas really what gay North American comic book readers have been asking for?
Join the discussion:
As for being the answer to what gay fans have always wanted, I have mixed reactions about Yaoi. On the one hand, it's great for a lot of homosexual material to be published. On the other hand, just how real are the gay relationships being represented in these mangas? Yaoi is primarily read by women for a reason, because it's about the romantic qualities rather than the realistic qualities. In most Yaoi, the male characters take on either a female (uke), or a male (seme) role. These are all stories from a straight female's perspective, not a gay man's.
As it turns out, yaoi - like manga in general - can't all be painted with the same brush. Much of it does consist of unrealistic Harlequin romances with the genders reassigned, but some of it really is - in this gay man's opinion - good "gay comics". Try doing a little research.
Also, this article was not about the literary structure of yaois. It was about how they relate to North American gay comics and readers.
Having said that, both you and Oliver bring up some valuable first person experiences which are interesting because although both of you are gay, your opinions are different.
I think it's important for publishers to realize that the prevalence of yaoi manga shouldn't mean the niche is being filled, but rather there's a lot of room for different sexualities in graphic novels and money to be made from it. The more the merrier. :)
Yaoi men are female fantasies and as such have no need to behave realistically, though of course some do. But there are a lot of prose MxM readers out there (female and male) that I talk to who want realistic gay manga and wouldn't touch yaoi if they were paid to.
Gay men (in Japan and otherwise) tend not to go for yaoi because of the femininity of the uke. It's just not sexy. That's a gross generalization of course, but if you look at the icons of gay desire, they tend born out of exaggerated masculinity (Tom of Finland). Ukes tend to be so feminine that it's hard for a gay man to identify with them--it's actually much easier to identify with a woman.
I do love to read yaoi. It's a fascinating genre, and I think that it will have a significant influence on the romance genre in general. But most of it does not turn me on, and I don't go to it for that. (There are exceptions, such as Under Grand Hotel and some Akira Honma titles...)
As for looking for gay characters in comics, I'll continue to read between the lines in superhero comics and hope we'll get a male version of Ariel Schrag or Alison Bechdel. Or I'll just go jerk off to Tom of Finland.
I wonder if there are any gay women comic books?
You should check out bubblegum.gayleaguebubblegum - they got an extensive list of all lesbian and gay comicbook characters.
Once a creator creates a piece of fiction, like a comic book, it's up to the readers who pick the book to make the call as to whether the book is suitable for their needs.
Once it's released, the piece of fiction is out there - it's free to be read or not by anyone, gay, or straight, female or male.
Sure, from a marketing angle, comics are often made for specific audiences, but I find this attitude about "by women for women" reclusive.
By the same token, the fact that I have never read a yaoi comic book, doesn't mean I can't talk about them. My question to all who keep bringing up the point that I haven't read any yaois is - how many do I need to read, before I have the "right" to write about them?
-I have read in several places that a separate genre of manga exists that is targeted at gay men. I have never seen such "gay manga" myself, but I would not be surprised if its imagery was more similar to that of Western gay comics and illustration - more Tom of Finland-ish, in short.
-My experience, like that of the above poster, has been that gay men make up a very small minority of the Western yaoi readers I encounter at conventions and other events and on the Internet. Those who do profess interest in yaoi often seem to be guys who are either femme, like guys who are femme, or both. This is consistent with the portrayal of men in yaoi, which is often so femme that unfamiliar readers will mistake male characters as being female.
One further comment:
The use of homosexuality as a romantic comfort mechanism, and fag-haggery towards androgynous gay men and men who regardless of their orientation "read" as gay, is very common in Japanese culture, especially among younger women and girls. Many male pop idols - Gackt is the most prominent example - are quite androgynous, and project self-images that flirt with homosexuality (regardless, again, of their actual orientation). Witness the visual kei genre of Japanese rock, for example, in which androgynous band members wear elaborate, dark, femme costumes which draw on goth, heavy metal, traditional Japanese and Christian mythology, anime and manga, and grotesquery in general. The band members are idolized in much the same way as pop idols or yaoi characters, have their own fandoms, and just like yaoi characters are sometimes mistaken for women. Sometimes, indeed, they dress exactly like women - Toshiya and Shinya from Dir en grey and Mana from Moi dix Mois (ex Malice Mizer) for example - but they are almost invariably male.
None of this is to say that yaoi is or is not "good comics;" like any genre, it contains examples ranging from the sublime to the hideously cliched. One of my favorite comics artists, the fabulous Takaya Miou, elevates her mix of yaoi, general androgyny, mythology, eroticism, circus freaks and flower petals to the level of poetry. It quite simply has to be seen to be believed.
My experience as a transgender/genderqueer woman and androgynous individual has been that yaoi reading produces young fans who are highly sympathetic to, but not necessarily well-informed about, androgyny, gender deviancy, homosexuality and kinkiness. At conventions, I have often encountered young female yaoi fans who adore me for being tall, dramatically dressed, fluttery and gender-ambiguous, but make assumptions about how I would like to be regarded that would be downright offensive if I thought they knew better.
the problem is...lets face it, a lot of yaoi, well, most yaoi...is WEAK! i dont know what it is, just because the story involves gay men it's -okay- for the art/story to be weak?! I mean, come on, COME ON!
Infact, i was reading some yaoi tonight, and i said to myself, 'this sucks!'
the key is...to make the characters(and the story) badass. then that way even straight guys wont notice the characters gayness. i know this, ofcourse because, i live with my brothers. they watch an anime, exclaiming how 'awesome' the main character is...totally oblivious to the fact that he's impartial towards women(or will look but never persue), but instead has a best friend or 'fighting' partner who's a man or even their enemy. i always ask them, 'you know he's gay right?'...they get upset...heh.
buuut anyway...i cant tell if this is even on the subject precisely(to tell you the truth, i dont really care)..i think i strayed, due to the beer-ness. i guess what i really want to know is...are any of you artists at all. if you were, you could better grasp the situation. i'll repeat myself, as an artist...most yaoi sucks big...well you know...but i'm workin on it.
One thing that I have noticed repeatedly of late is the prevalence of critical comments towards the way yaoi presents gays and gay lifestyle in general. Often times the plots involve men who profess to be straight but just can't resist the charms of one male in particular. Or, in other cases, the characters are relatively open about their sexuality yet the gay community is portrayed in a very superficial, sexually promiscuous light that tends to support rather than dispel homophobic stereotypes. These are criticisms that I have mostly read in academic articles, and I was wondering what others might think about these claims about yaoi portrayal of gays?
For myself, I have mixed views. I have only read a handful of yaoi at this point but I have found instances both to support the above criticisms and to counter them. This is obviously a complicated topic without any one answer, but what do you think?
Bara manga is much more interesting to gay men, and fortunately some of these have been translated into English. Though, Bara tend to be quite sexual, so I think there is still plenty of space for comics like Stuck Rubber Baby, that deal with real life situations of gay men in a more realistic way. In fact, I kind of work in that area myself, with my comics over at bubblegum:bubblegumqueertalesbubblegum
That said, the variety of Manga available is very great, and you can find gay characters in places you wouldn't expect. For instance, one of my favorite comics, M.W., by the grandfather of Japanese Manga, Osamu Tezuka, has both a cross-dresser and a homosexual (even though they happen to be the bad guys...sigh).
Completely relevant in this discussion, but got replaced with bubblegum.