Into the Yaoi Fold

As someone who’s been into anime since the dawn of times, I am no stranger to the yuri or yaoi genres within anime and manga. Many of our fave anime and manga have yaoi/yuri themes even if that isn’t the main point of the story. As a lifelong CLAMP fan and Cardcaptor Sakura being the first manga I’ve ever read, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that ToyaxYukito was one my first ships ever (after Sakura and Syaoran, of course.)

Still so damn cute!

When Tumblr was the thing (if you know, you know,) I ran two CLAMP fan blogs (Church of CLAMP and CLAMP confessions) and truly dove into my weebdom. I would love writing think pieces about Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, xxxHolic, and Tokyo Babylon. If you’re familiar with CLAMP, you know there are many subtle and overt gay and lesbian relationships. As a lover of CLAMP works, while I had my ships, for me I was more into the stories and plot, rather than the ships, especially with TRC.

One day, I remember posting something about how I did not ship Kurogane and Fai of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles and Domeki and Watanuki of xxxHolic. I don’t remember the specifics of the post, but I do remember emphasizing that friendships are okay too and not every pairing needs to be shipped. I didn’t think anything of it until I logged back into Tumblr a few hours later and learned that I was being dragged (before dragging was a term in the hetero space.) Dozens of reblogs calling me homophobic because I was minimizing the relationships. I was confused because I clearly and publicly had my same-sex couple ships but I made a clarifying post and then just called it quits on trying to explain myself.

I imagine my desktop keyboard looked just like this

After that, I had a bad taste in my mouth of the yaoi fandoms. The community as I knew it on Tumblr was extremely toxic. I saw other bloggers being ripped to shreds for not shipping certain pairings, especially ones that were not “cannon.” And not just in anime, but in other forms in media as well. I’ve later learned that there is a lot of discourse on the fetishization of Yaoi media and the LGBTQ+ community, especially the stuff that was going on back in the day. (Sidenote: This blog post by OtakuAndShit has a great break breakdown of fetishization.)

As a result of that experience and learning about the fetishization of the LGBTQ+ community by fan girls, I intentionally stayed clear of Yaoi media. I was definitely curious, but as someone who considers themselves an ally, I didn’t want to do or say the wrong thing and hurt the community. That’s not to say I didn’t still have my ships, especially in CLAMP works or in anime and other mediums. But I did not dive into the BL and GL genres…..until this year.

A few months ago, I began a full bloom transformation. I began to (publicly) read Josie manga, specifically smutty Josie manga. This was a completely new world for me. I had also recently (prior to this) given into reading what I affectionally call chick-lit: contemporary romance novels with really hot sex scenes. Not to say I didn’t have an interest in these before, but I was a little prudish in admitting it publicly. However, those times are behind me and I have now adopted that interest as part of my personality (see also playing Animal Crossing and my love of pizza.)

As I soon discovered, this Josie obsession came at a cost. I read almost every Josie title on my favorite website and I needed more. I loved the representation of adult couples doing adult things. Of course, not all Josie is made equally so you have some really good ones and some really bad ones. But nevertheless, I craved more and that’s when it hit me. I had an entire filter of Yaoi I hadn’t touched. Having many online friends who are into Yaoi (looking at you Naja,) I decided I needed to join them and see what the hype was about. And boy, was that the best thing that ever happened to me.

In the Yaoi genre I found something that I didn’t know I craved from fictional male characters. Emotional vulnerability. While there are many dreamy male leads in Josie who aren’t scared to admit their feelings, something in the way it is depicted in Yaoi hits different. For the first time, I saw men display love and affection towards each other in a way I seldom see represented in mainstream media. And I love to see it. I also love the variety of stories told, whether its coworkers, high schoolers, childhood friends, there are SO many interesting and unique stories that just pull at your heart strings. I’m sure by now, I’ve cried more at Yaoi manga than any other genre (aside from xxxHolic and Fruits Basket.) There are so many nuances that just don’t happen in “straight” media and the ways there can be miscommunications, confessions, and love triangles. I’m finding myself enjoying tropes in Yaoi that I loathe in straight Josie.

Just like Josie manga, not all Yaoi is created equal and there are many stories that just think being gay is making a male character act like a “stereotypical” female while presenting male. While this may be true for some, being gay is not a monolith and there are many different ways people express their sexuality. The good thing is that there are many great stories with representation of all different type of gay men, where how they present their sexuality is NOT the plot. The focus is on the relationship.

In my new love of Yaoi anime and manga, I’ve been very careful to identify within myself and publicly, what about it I like. Listen, I LOVE LOVE! I love people in love, especially adults or those age appropriate relationships (side-eying you Cutie and the Beast.) But it’s also important that there is a thin line between loving LOVE in straight and LGBTQ+ media, and fetishizing LGBTQ+ for my enjoyment. While it may seem innocent, fetishization can and does cause harm in many ways to members of the community. I also had such a negative view of the “Yaoi fangirl” due to Tumblr, I didn’t really want to be associated with them. However, now I know you can be a “Yaoi fangirl” in a way that is not hurtful or fetishizing.

Now that I’ve been into the genre, the world has opened itself up and I’m discovering so many gems. As you all know I’m still not over There Are Things I Can’t Tell You, and have been discovering a lot of good stories on Futekiya as well (full video on my recommendations from there coming soon.) I’ve also recently started the anime Given and will later venture into Yuri On Ice. I’m grateful for the online community now I’ve built and fostered relationships in where other fans can put me on to what I need to read and watch next.

I’m really glad that I’ve gotten into Yaoi now in my late 20s, where I have a much broader understanding of the LGBTQ+ community and have done a lot of work to support them. I say this because while I’ve always been an ally, even as allies we can fall short and harm the very people we are trying to protect. Had I gotten into it in my teens, I don’t think I would have had the bandwidth to understand how appreciation can turn into fetishization super quick. I’m glad I have friends who can point me in the direction of good stories to consume as well as the access and funds to support creators of such work.

While I was late to the party, I’m still super glad to be here!

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