Today is August 1st, or in manga otaku terms yaoi day, and the manga blogosphere is all a-Tweet with contests, more contests, and quite a bit of general squee. Last week, during the CLAMP MMF, I somewhat passively self-identified as “fujoshi.” But the real truth of that is a pretty complicated and, as such, prevents me from participating in the day’s festivities with unfettered glee.
At Otaku Champloo Khursten Santos (previously spotted at Manga Bookshelf as part of the epic roundtable Breaking Down Banana Fish) speaks frankly about her own identification as a fujoshi, and what that means for her. It’s an interesting read for me on a number of levels, particularly as Khursten and I live in very different cultures—and I’m not even necessarily speaking in purely geographic terms. I suspect the online community that has been vital in forming my own views around fandom has been different in some ways as well. In both the physical and virtual communities in which I live, the issues confronting me regarding identifying myself as “fujoshi” are quite different than those Khursten describes, though they may yield some similar results.
Every community, of course, inevitably develops a sense of shared values—even if these values are not held by some members of that community—and as it happens, living where I live and doing the work I do, there is nothing about my community’s values that would require or even encourage me to hide an interest in books about gay or lesbian romance. I live in a socially progressive area and I work in the theater. Many people I work and interact with daily are openly gay, and for most people, this is a non-issue. Though there are surely those in my community who do not share these values, they have little (if any) presence in my daily life. Nobody I remotely care about gives a hoot if I read romance comics about gay men. My collection of BL manga is plainly visible in my living room. I’ve shared slash (and femslash) fanfiction with family, coworkers, and friends. Overall, the “comics” and “fanfiction” aspects of those things have required much more explanation than the sexuality of their protagonists.
But if I can reasonably go about my life without fear of being called a “pervert,” there is another label I must consider daily:
I am a able-bodied, caucasian, cisgendered woman married to a caucasian, cisgendered man. Though my background is not wealthy, both my parents are forward-thinking arts educators—a lucky circumstance that has benefitted me greatly in more ways than I can count. I have a degree from an expensive private college and a supportive, loving family I can rely on in tough times. I don’t have children. I do have an iPad. And while I have experienced certain inequities as a woman in my society, given my background, place of residence, and field of work, they have had minimal impact on my overall quality of life. There’s absolutely no denying that I possess a hefty amount of privilege, and when I consider my interest in BL manga, that’s the biggest worry on my mind.
Now, the concept of privilege and how it relates to sexual or romantic fantasy is pretty freaking tricky. Fantasy is a private and personal thing, and there is no denying that in our society, even now, it is women who are most encouraged to feel shame for their fantasies. I don’t want to be a part of reinforcing that. EVER. I have absolutely no rightful place from which to judge any other woman on her reading habits or her fantasies, nor do I have a desire to do so. But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about or analyze mine.
I enjoy many BL manga. My tastes are pretty specific—similar to my tastes in other romance manga (shoujo, josei, yuri, whatever), and pretty much fiction in general. I review BL manga regularly. I’ve edited some, too. But what does that really mean in terms of how I may be exercising my privilege?
I feel uncomfortable when men lasciviously objectify women (real or fictional) and even more so when that objectification moves into fetishization of lesbianism filtered through a male gaze. When I see movies, television, comics, or real-life situations that embrace and glorify this type of objectification, it makes me feel dehumanized and humiliated. The fact that this portrayal of women is so pervasive in our society as to be popularly viewed as normal is evidence of straight male privilege, and I’m always appreciative of straight men who take the time to acknowledge and be thoughtful about that.
So, if I enjoy stories in which two male characters fall in love with each other, am I objectifying and fetishizing gay men? Is there a difference if the characters have sex? Is there a difference if the sex is explicitly portrayed? If the characters in the story identify as gay, is that different than if they don’t? Does it matter if the author is male or female? Gay or straight? If the author is writing from/for a different culture than my own, should I be judging the work by my own cultural standards? Am I fetishizing that culture as well?
Some of these questions may seem pedantic, but I can’t help but feel that they’re important to consider when coming from a place of privilege, which I undoubtedly am. This feeling is only enhanced by reading things like my former Manga Recon colleague Issac Hale’s experiences at Yaoi Con, or Micheal Arthur’s (sadly removed) essay at The Hooded Utilitarian. Even if I think that women (including me!) have the right to enjoy and share their fantasies freely, I think that gay men should be listened to on the subject of how the BL manga and fujoshi culture they encounter makes them feel, especially in the context of our shared western otaku community. After all, I’d like straight men to listen to me. Wouldn’t I?
So, how do I reconcile all those feelings and questions (and even more feelings) with the fact that I still enjoy BL manga? Because, y’know, I do. How do I reconcile my dislike of some male-aimed fanservice in manga with the female-aimed fanservice I genuinely enjoy?
I don’t know what the answers to these questions are—and I certainly don’t expect anyone else to. But that leaves me, of course, with at least one more…
With all this hand-wringing… am I fujoshi? Are you?