Have you ever known someone who was very overtly open and casual about their kinks? For example, someone who has no problem discussing at length why their fetish is the best and how much they get off from it at the school cafeteria. If you recognize this, you’re not alone. My best friend from high school filled that role in perfectly and she, as you might have guessed, had a major fascination and fetish for gay men.
She was a self proclaimed fujoshi, which is a term given to female fans who enjoy romantic relations between men for their own pleasure. She actively consumed only gay erotica in the form of mangas as well as manwhas and seemed obsessed with the concept of two men pleasing each other. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I mean, there’s a whole industry surrounded and based on mlm for women’s consumption so it’s not like she was the only one like this. It is a known fact that yaoi, also known as ‘Boy Love’ (BL), is a booming industry with a large consumer base. However, just because something is normalized and has a large following doesn’t mean it’s right.
While we can go on and on about the negative effects and ramifications sexualizing and, by default, dehumanizing gay relationships has in general, it is also important to see where this phenomenon even comes from and how other more mainstream medias are picking up on it as a marketing strategy.
First off, it is worth noting that there is a clear distinction between reading a story of a gay man and a gay couple. A gay man can have endless struggles that do not involve him being in a relationship or his sexuality. Nonetheless, following a gay man’s life without any sexual satisfaction defeats the purpose of yaoi and fujoshi consumerism. That’s why it’s mostly gay relationships that end up being sensationalized rather than gay men themselves. It’s hard for the female viewership to self-insert themselves through the male protagonist if there aren’t any stereotypical top/bottom or dominant and submissive dynamics in the story that allow it.
In fact, many of the protagonists in BL media are feminized for this exact reason. It is vital for the women and young girls consuming this content to be able to project themselves onto the protagonist, even in a physical sense. The big sparkly doe-eyes and petite stature help lessen this gap between reader and character as well as his default submissive sexual nature. One thing I noticed in a lot of yaoi and BL is that the protagonist is almost always a bottom or on the receiving end. Women in the media are usually portrayed as subservient beings (especially in bed), so this is a large contribution as to why submissiveness is associated with femininity and womanhood, which makes this element of the protagonist all the more relatable.
Now, moving aside the protagonist, the most important parts of fujoshi consumption can be analyzed: the eye-candy male love interest and the sex scenes. It should come as no surprise that a normal, usually cute-looking male protagonist will be paired with his exact opposite, that being a handsome, dominant man with a typically cool persona. His purpose is to fulfill the female fantasy of an ideal man. He is the true object of their desire. BL was never about the protagonist, but about getting the hot guy. That is why there is so much emphasis on their relationship rather than them as individuals, as it’s sexier to focus on them as an item than as independent people.
Speaking of sexy, when the two main male characters have intercourse, the waves of viewers are brought in. Fujoshi primarily consist of women sexually attracted to men and people with penises so the more of it there is, the hotter. This aspect of BL is so glorified that there is even lingo used in the fujoshi community that designates gay characters to their sex positions. Seme, which means the one who is on top, and Uke, the one who is on the bottom, illustrate how important these character’s sexual lives are to them as characters in the viewer’s perspective. It’s very telling that despite people in the LGBTQ+ community facing discrimination around the world, the sexualization of these folks as an industry continues to thrives internationally.
Given how much demand there is for this type of product, it really puts into perspective whether any of these elements can make its way to more mainstream media. Since it’s so sexual in nature, surely companies wouldn’t be able to market it, right?
Wrong. Because where there is a means to make profit, there is a way.
Queerbaiting has actually become a common theme in many anime, especially in sports anime such as Haikyuu!! and Free!, for this exact reason. They use fanservice that lures and keeps female viewership high by presenting a will-they-won’t-they scenario between two male characters. The answer is usually that they won’t, but it doesn’t matter because the fanservice and tension is enough to fuel the fantasy that the viewers want. Of course, shipping two characters together because of their aesthetics and chemistry isn’t the problem. The problem is when companies market and use the fetishization of gay relationships in their productions without actually delivering on it. The queerbaiting in this context is very intentional and does not have LGBTQ+ representation in mind, as it only serves as a tactic to attract fujoshi in order to get a better chance at getting higher ratings.
While it is important to acknowledge that there are LGBTQ+ stories in manga, manwha, and anime that respectfully depict gay relationships and queer people, yaoi and BL is not that. These genres are not a representation of gay relationships, it is the sexualization and commercialization of them. The reality is that these products aren’t created for a gay audience in mind, but rather for women who fetishize them. It places straight expectations and gender norms (like who is the man and who is the woman in the relationship) onto gay relationships in order for them to be more digestible and heteronormative to a wider audience. It is time to become more aware of what we consume and consider who, in the long run, is really benefiting from all of this.