Almost a year ago, 2DT, whom we all know and love, wrote a thought-provoking post over at Yi’s Listless Ink, titled Learning the Art of Love: Yuri versus BL. I gave my two cents in the comment section and got the thumps up. And since it’s not often you get credit from the most-respected figure in the anisphere, I think I should treasure these ideas here in our diaries, while I revisit them, elaborate on and add to the discussion. 2DT made the following point back then:
It helps to think of BL and yuri are two sides of a coin, not merely in a physiological sense but romantically as well. In fact, as someone who’s read their fair share of both, I believe that BL stories at the core tend to be about infatuation, mystery and power, while yuri is more often about vulnerability.
He got motivated to write on the topic after coming across @Aquagaze’s tweet:
Remarkable how in a lot of yuri doujins the hookup isn’t the climax and goal of the story, but revealing the relationship to the public.
We know that when someone writes a story, (s)he uses bases his/her work on his/her experiences, be it from real life or from other fictional texts. The author usually writes having in mind a specific audience that (s)he has to please. It is also true that the audience of this story has his/her own experiences and wishes, and during the act of reading and comprehending the story these experiences and wishes contribute to the formation of an interpretation, which is unique to each of the readers. Thus, I want to approach the nature of love in Yuri and Boy’s Love from two different points of view, the society’s POV and the reader’s POV.
|Cigarette in the mouth sideways, provocative gaze, possessive embrace and naked bodies- the world of yaoi is glaringly sexual and has an aura of defiance.|
Society establishes certain stereotypes for each gender while at the same time sets specific expectations. Women and girls are expected to be docile, meek, show tenderness and express a wide range of emotions. They are also thought to mature faster than boys and take on progressively more responsibilities, because their biology supposedely dictates their future as mothers. On the other hand, men and boys are supposed to be aggressive and build relationships through acts rather than words. They are allowed a great deal of things and among these is a life free of obligations. They can remain single their whole life and even in societies like the japanese where family is a central value, adultery gives an escape route and isn’t very much frowned upon, if it’s kept secret and doesn’t lead to divorce.
Since yuri is love between girls, it seems logical to see the vulnerability and feminity and passivity that a slowly developing love story hides. Coming out in yuri has to do both with the need of women to be able to express their love and be honest with themselves. It also has to do with the role they play in reproduction; they need to make clear they won’t follow the role they were assigned. Respectively, yaoi is love between men who are ‘hunters’ and fearless at that, too. As a result, coming out for yaoi isn’t important: they are men, they need sex, they get it and that’s where it ends. They don’t need to come out. Society has taught them to chase what they want, obtain it but also hide it, if exposure isn’t necessary.
And I think a very tiny part of reality is also reflected in yaoi and yuri: from a discussion I had with a gay friend I understood that in the LGBT scene gay men are in general more interested in affairs rather than in long term relationships like lesbians.
|Flowing hair, gentle caresses, hesitant lips and soft gazes- the world of yuri is one of tenderness and delicateness with a tinge of ethereality.|
More often than not the reason someone reads a story coincides with the reason the author writes the story and its characters the way (s)he does. So, why do people read yaoi and yuri? This question will help us understand the nature of the relationships in these categories of anime/manga.
Let’s begin with yaoi. Its readership in its majority is women and very few gay men. This has its roots in the apolitical aspect of the romance, namely the fictional men there rarely identify as gay; it’s just two men who happen to fall for each other. Besides, it’s related to the idealized romantic world where everything takes place in yaoi.
When fujoshi are asked about their preferences, the reasons vary, but they are all very intriguing. One of the easiest to comprehend reasons is voyerism: two men are better than one. There’s also no female competition. It’s almost the same reason why many men love lesbian porn. Then, there is the claim that love between men is superior from that between a man and a woman, probably because it’s taboo and it doesn’t involve mating. Another explanation of the yaoi phenomenon is that women project their experiences of abuse onto the characters (see the rape=love trope) and even some edgy answers have been reported that go along the lines of taking pleasure in seeing men suffer . But what’s really interesting is that “the yaoi territory of the dojinshi subculture provides a site where females are free to experiment with the possibilities and the prospects for their own identities, to construct new notions of gender for themselves, and to rehearse potential romantic and sexual relationships.”
So, it’s no wonder the seme/uke dichotomy is so prominent. This display of power, mixed with strong emotions, is what the female readership desires, and yaoi are their wish-fulfilling realm. The lust or gender identity they suppress in real life, finds a way into an open space just for them.
What about yuri? Oh wait, what works are considered yuri? Is the vulnerability displayed in yuri the wish of a male readership? Does this wish have queer undertones like yaoi? Are things even simple like this?
Variety and evolution of Girls’ Love and Boys’ Love
|from left to right: Maria-sama ga Miteru, Kannazuki no Miko, Indigo Blue, No.6, Ai no Kusabi, The Man of Tango|
That’s what Erica Friedman says about yuri:
Yuri is drawn by and for men and women. If I ask you to name your top three Yuri artists, you’re just as likely to come up with male or female names.
But this isn’t the end of this story, it’s really just the beginning. Shoujo, Shounen, Josei and Seinen each have specific tropes associated with them. And, as Yuri moved into each of these demographic/genres, it took on some of those tropes. The boyish hottie from Shoujo, the sexy femme fatale from Shounen, the young professional woman from Josei, the badass from Seinen and the hyper cute girl from all of them…Yuri now includes all these things side by side.
People write and read yuri for multiple reasons and thus it’s very hard to pinpoint what’s the quintessential ‘yuriness’. Yuri can be tender and very slow-progressing, letting on just hints, like Maria-sama ga Miteru, or it can be more violent and gratuitious in the sexual department, like Kannazuki no Miko. It can be fluff, sex and/or psychological support like any other piece of literature, since lesbian mangaka are out there as well.
The same can be said for yaoi nowadays even though to a lesser degree. Yaoi are still written mainly by and for heterosexual women, and men’s love for gays is called bara and has its own tropes. Yet with artists like est em and the surge of reversible couples, the audience has expanded to both genders and without the seme/uke contrast, the readers surely don’t seek (only) power relations to enjoy. Then, we shouldn’t forget shounen-ai where everything is and more or less remains platonic, and has existed for a long time.
Oh, reality is complex and really delicious. What kinds of romances do you read/watch? And why?
 Information from Matt Thorn’s paper “Girls and Women Getting Out of Hand: The Pleasure and Politics of Japan’s Amateur Comics Community”
 Taken from Brent Wilson’s and Masami Toku’s paper “Boys’ Love, Yaoi, and Art Education: Issues of Power and Pedagogy”