Wednesday, March 30, 2011


ETA: Just saw Arlyn's post, and she goes deeper into Brody's argument about queer readings rewriting the text.

Riffing off the last paragraph of Rhiannon's post, as well as an off-the-cuff promise I made during Sunday's field trip, I'm going to write about slash. :D Except I'll be expanding the topic a bit to incorporate yaoi fandom as well, despite the obvious differences in cultural context. This post will be a bit quote heavy, as I'm mostly interested in throwing out some thoughts rather than making a totalizing statement about slash/yaoi. (See what I did there?) My approach is almost diametrically opposed to Moylan's, as I found myself agreeing with Michael's assessment of the flaws in Absent Paradigms. Instead of looking at critical texts, I sought out the views of fans and writers--what they wanted to say in a text and what they wanted to read out of a text.

First of all, I dove into the depths of, just for you guys. Well, not the depths, but I wanted to survey the available options for reading slash fic. I didn't check that every fic was explicitly slash, I just used the Char A/Char B search, but here are some numbers. These numbers refer to the 3027 fics available under the "Star Trek: Original Series" header. I also refer to the ratings of fics, where T refers to age 13+, and M to age 16+. Explicit, adult-rated fics are not allowed on (so they say).

Out of 834 fics featuring Kirk/Spock, 271 are rated T, and 114 are rated M. Out of 389 Spock/McCoy fics, 121 are rated T, and 52 are rated M. Out of 130 Kirk/McCoy fics, 32 are rated T, and 9 are rated M. The other pairings I looked at had few enough fics that I separated out the explicitly slash and rated-M pairings from other pairings. Of these, there were 2 Scotty/McCoy, 1 Spock/Chekov, 1 Kirk/Scotty, and 3 Kirk/Chekov. I did not look at sites aimed at fandoms, which would likely have more stories. In terms of a cursory look at the general availability of slash pairings, I think this is fine, with the caveat about the whole character search thing not necessarily yielding explicit slash fics.

From here, I move into Yaoi fandom and writership. Yaoi, in contrast to Bara, tends to be aimed at and written by women. Rhiannon's post interrogates this kind of phenomenon happening in the world of fanfic, with the conclusion that perhaps a lack of accessible and well-written female characters leads readers to have more interest in the romances between the well-developed male characters.

In her piece on Cleopatra Jones, Brody makes an interesting point regarding queer readings that I think applies very well to the whole slash/yaoi concept. She asserts that "borrowing and recontextualizing images from the past is part of the pleasure of queer reading" (101), but that queer readings do not necessarily accompany a greater visibility of queerness in the works to be read or their readership. Slash offers a possibility of inserting queer readings into and pulling them out of texts with little explicit mention of queerness as identity. Said more simplistically, slash lets readers pull scenes from a work (text or film or even game--there are a few) that do not necessarily signify a certain kind of relationship, but allows the reader-writers to construct a narrative around these scenes in which these relationships are made blatant.

It's interesting how yaoi functions along similar lines, as the overwhelming majority of works involving yaoi are doujinshi, or fan-made works that are essentially fanfic but for manga and anime. Additionally, a fair amount of published yaoi mangaka started by writing their own fanfics or djs. During a panel on yaoi and yuri manga and an LGBTQ audience, Erika Friedman writes,
Fan-fiction is the breeding ground. I wrote what I wanted to read. If you're doing any kind of fan work, fanart, fan-fiction or cosplay — you're queering that you've done. You fantasized it and did something different with it. That's human nature. I don't think it has anything to do with yaoi or yuri.

This quote aligns with Brody's use of "queer" as a verb, as something done to a text and not something that is represented within the text. Also, it's interesting to see Friedman associate fan-made work with "queering", especially when such a significant portion of fan-made work is explicitly queered.

In an earlier moment from the same panel, Leyla Aker discusses yaoi's huge female fanbase, something that seems paradoxical about works depicting sexual relationships between gay or bisexual men. (Note: this paradox also applies to slash fic.) She resolves this paradox by once again raising the banner of queerness,
To go back to what Chris said about (yaoi) being fundamentally queer, I think one of the reasons why yaoi appeals to people is its dislocation. You're talking about stories women for women about the opposite gender relationships.

Here, the queering that goes on within the work enables the reader to enact and question their own queerness. But I think this explanation, while intriguing, fails to address the often exploitative relationship of yaoi manga and slash fic to actual queerness. Just as Brody points out, the consumption of yaoi manga and slash fic permits an erasure of LGBTQ identities that do not conform to the stylized images in the works.

One gay activist in Japan wrote against yaoi manga(ka) in 1992, quoted from a discussion on the debates surrounding yaoi here,
He felt that his human rights as a gay man were harmed by women drawing and enjoying yaoi manga. He compared them to the 'dirty old men' [hentai jijii] who watch pornography including women engaging in sexual activities with each other. In addition, he accused yaoi of creating and having a skewed image of gay men as beautiful and handsome and regarding gay men who do not fit that image and tend to 'hide in the dark' as 'garbage' [gomi]. In addition, he attacked them for creating the 'gay boom', a media wave of interest in gay issues sparked by women's magazine Crea, which, according to him, did nothing for gay men at large.

To what extent does the (often-)female readership of yaoi and slash-fic render GBTQ men abstracted but invisible? Doesn't casting the situation like this erase the experiences of GBTQ men who read yaoi manga and slash-fic? And isn't there something fundamentally anti-feminist about the fact that this huge industry that caters to female sexuality has no women in it, except as one-dimensional villains? (I remember a post I came across quite some time ago discussing the issue of female sexuality coming out in male-male(-male?) relationships, but I couldn't find it for today.)

And if anyone wants my recommendations for yaoi manga, check out Future Lovers, which also comes recommended from the panel that produced the first two blockquotes. It avoids the common pitfalls of "evil women", "rapey seme", and actually represents a loving relationship that navigates surrounding pressures from the family and the workplace. Though there is a bit of explicit sex...


Peter Jin said...

I see what you did there.

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