(Anti)Homophobia, Capitalism and Yaoi Politics

July 20, 2012
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In 1992 Japan, Satō Masaki, a gay activist, attacked yaoi as being exploitative of gay men. He complained that yaoi often misrepresents gay men and commodifies them as masturbatory objects (Lunsing 2006, para. 14). His concern was that the yaoi fandom has no accompanying antihomophobic politics and often makes use of homophobic, stereotyping tropes.

In the face of the genre and its fandom as it manifests today, Satō’s concerns can seem dated. Outside Japan, the genre is enjoyed and produced by a notable percentage of gay males and lesbians (see Pagliassotti 2008). Many if not most yaoi fans are supportive of gay politics. Akiko Mizoguchi writes about how, even in Japan where the fandom remains almost entirely female, the subcultural space was never a heteronormative social vacuum. It functions as a “feminist and lesbian” space due to the fans freed desires (2008, 384). The extent to which the genre has developed accompanying feminist and antihomophobic politics over the years has been due to the power of the storytelling as opposed to overt political maneuvering. As an example of yaoi activism, Mizoguchi writes about recent yaoi texts that are a few steps ahead of reality in contemporary Japanese society, in the direction of equal rights for homosexual individuals (2010, 161).

The last few decades have seen a gradual normalization of homosexuality in the industrialized world. Today, yaoi and gay subcultures influence each other, both in real life and in yaoi texts. The concern now is less that yaoi fans might be homophobic or exploitative, but more, as Neal Akatsuka writes, that they might “easily consume [yaoi’s] queerness without being antihomophobic” (2010, 172). This concern is rooted in the fact that sexuality is not just an inherently transformative cultural practice, but is also, as Rosemary Hennessy writes, “a regulatory apparatus thatworks in concert with other social totalities capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism” (1994, 70).

To some extent, modern-day patriarchal capitalism has assimilated homosexuality into its logic. When the subversive is sanctioned, it loses its transformative power. What does the normalization of homosexuality mean for the continued production and consumption of yaoi? Is it enough for the genre to titillate, to ebb and flow with the market? Or does the heart of yaoi beat to subversion? If the latter, what new tropes might emerge to keep yaoi transformative without being overtly political?

Citations:

Akatsuka, Neal. (2010). “Uttering the Absurd, Revaluing the Abject: Femininity and the Disavowal of Homosexuality in Transnational Boys’ Love Manga.” In Levi, Antonia; McHarry, Mark; and Pagliassotti, Dru (Eds.) Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre (pp. 159-176). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Hennessy, Rosemary (1994). “Queer Visibility in Commodity Culture,” Cultural Critique 29 (Winter 94-95), 31-76.

Lunsing, Wim (January 2006). Yaoi Ronsō: Discussing depictions of male homosexuality in Japanese girl’s comics, gay comics and gay pornography. Intersections: Gender, history and culture in the Asian context. 12.

Mizoguchi, Akiko (2008). Reading and Living Yaoi: Male-Male Fantasy Narratives as Women’s Sexual Subculture in Japan. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Rochester.

——. (2010). “Theorizing comics/manga genre as a productive forum: yaoi and beyond”. In Berndt, Jaqueline. Comics Worlds and the World of Comics: Towards Scholarship on a Global Scale (pp. 145–170). Kyoto, Japan: International Manga Research Center, Kyoto Seika University.

Pagliassotti, Dru. (2008). Reading Boys’ Love in the West. Participations 5(2).