Don't Stop Fetishizing Gay Men
I’ve seen a discussion going on amongst young book reviewers that makes me want to roll my eyes so hard that they fall out of my head. That is, people complaining about gay male relationships being fetishized by straight women. This concept is probably quite alien to anyone that isn’t a geek, Japanese, or a reader of romance e-books. There’s a long history of manga and anime, by women for women about gay relationships sometimes called ‘Boys Love’ sometimes called ‘Yaoi’. They range from cute and romantic to the most extreme x-rated content you've seen in your life. My personal favourite is one called Gravitation about Schuichi Shindou a neurotic lead singer who falls for a brooding romance novelist called Eiri Yuki. I think this genre also influenced some fan-girls’ love of pairing up male fictional characters and members of boybands. Such as Larry Stylinson – the romantic pairing of Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson of One Direction, as pictured below.
There are also erotic Mills and Boon type books about gay relationships, written by women for women, with covers depicting hunks in various states of undress. All the above seem like a slightly more cerebral version of straight men watching lesbian porn. Women watching cute guys interacting without having to compare themselves to a woman within the dynamic. Women enjoying a romantic relationship without having to think about sexism. As a feminist and a gay, I fully support it.
I don’t see this cultural phenomenon having any real negative effects, but it’s been taken up by some identity politics puritans as problematic. Now, I don’t want my blog to feed into this right-wing diatribe that identity politics has gone crazy and insane. I think a lot of positive things are happening within identity politics; people becoming more aware of systemic racism and trans rights. But I think some of its more extreme acolytes do excessively police their own allies, rather than dealing with people who are actually against them. Cut to a picture of a fan-girl reading a gay manga, then cut to a picture of gay people being tortured in Chechnya. Their message sometimes even seems to be counter-diversity. Suggesting that it’s wrong to have a preference for sexual or romantic media that is outside the bounds of your own identity.
I think the word fetishization has also become quite vague. It seems to cover everything from ‘something you need to be sexually aroused,’ to ‘a moderate preference for something.' I can see how preferences for another race or type of body can make people feel objectified. But I think these preferences are on a scale from someone who is slightly more attracted to a certain race to someone who is obsessed with another race. I would also say male/male romance is not even a real parallel to racial fetishization in the sense that women who like it generally aren’t looking to get gay guys into bed. They simply enjoy reading about gay relationships.
One problem people have with these mangas and novels is that they don’t present realistic gay relationships. This is totally true. There is a beloved trope of characters not realising they’re gay until they meet the love interest of the novel. They also seem to contain much less internal and external homophobia than in the real world. This lack of realism might stop these novels from being highbrow, but I don’t think it is particularly problematic. I think they can even help the gay community. There is a cult series of novels about a made-up sport called exy which contain gay relationships. These novels seem to be particularly popular with young women in countries that have problems with homophobia like Russia and the Ukraine. I don’t see how this could be anything but a good thing for gay rights.
I’d be kind of obtuse if I didn’t mention a hefty sub-section of these novels and mangas have content that at best could be described as rapey. Also pairings that have significant size and age differences. When I was browsing gay manga on torrent websites as a teen, I felt awkward if something like this cropped up. But I never felt like it was a commentary or stereo-type of actual gay people. I was aware that this was something by women for women and was a window into their sexuality not mine. KD Ryan who writes MM (male-male) romance explained it to me like this: "It seems to be much more about the caretaking aspect of it, the older, more 'together' man coming in and solving whatever problems the younger man has ... I feel like Male-Female age gap is very much centered around the older man having a lot of power over the younger female counterpart. I find that far less appealing. I have enough real men in my life trying to tell me what to do without reading about it in my fantasy/relaxation time. So maybe it’s just easier to suspend that when the gender construct piece of that is removed."
There are also more mainstream novels about gay men by women. Two of my four favourite gay novels: The Song of Achilles and The Binding are by female authors. I would even say that statistically women seem to write gay novels better than gay men do. I think this is partly due to them concentrating on the story line over the experience of that identity. There is a debate about ‘own voices’ in fiction, that people should read black novels by black writers, and gay novels by gay writers. My preference is for gay novels written by gay men. But I’d sooner read a novel that is actually original and interesting than the solipsism that comes out of a lot of gay authors. But I actually think m/m romance by women is creating a larger market for ‘own voices’ gay literature. I know I’ve sold a number of copies of my own novel Two Million through this community.
Women have generally always been the friends, allies, and supporters of gay men. In fact, I think we, the gays, owe them a bit of hot male/male action. I would not feel at all uncomfortable to find a female friend had a library of gay erotica or gay manga – I’d think it was cool. I wouldn’t care if an avid Yaoi reader watched me and my boyfriend making out – she can even take photos. This probably has a lot to do with the power dynamic: a straight woman ‘perving’ on a gay male couple is a lot less threatening than a straight man perving on a lesbian couple. But it’s this kind of nuance that is being ignored by some people searching for new identity politics issues to preach about. Trying to ascribe the morals of modern identity politics to people’s sexualities in a way that is naïve and almost Christian. Sending out their edicts, like saint Paul sending his poison pen letters to the Corinthians telling them not to have gay sex.
You can get a copy of my indie gay novel 'Two Million' by clicking on this link. (Below is a picture of the opening scene by @Kurrr_a who normally draws fanart for Nora Sakavic's All For The Game books.)