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Yaoi! Boys’ Love Hits the Comic Stores

Laurie and Debbie say:

It’s not like the Japanese phenomenon of yaoi invented the idea of women reading, writing, and getting off on “boys’ love.” Joanna Russ first publicized the phenomenon of women writing hot sexy fiction based on male characters from stories and TV shows (at that time it was mostly James Kirk and Spock from Star Trek in the 1980s). In the intervening decades, “slash” fiction (from the slash in the phrase Kirk/Spock) has grown phenomenally, and the Internet has fueled that growth to the point where hundreds of slash sites publish thousands upon thousands of stories, mostly (but not all) sexual, some (but not most) homosexual, most (but not all) written by women, featuring every fictional character you can imagine (and some real-life characters as well). In the contemporary slash scene, you may well find President Bartlett from The West Wing having graphically described sex with Snape from Harry Potter, and one or both of them could be impregnated as a result. On a nearby site, you might find a pastoral story with no sex at all, featuring Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Puck from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here’s one of many sites as an example.

Because many television producers and authors don’t like the idea of their characters being reused at all without oversight, and also because the explicit sex in a lot of slash is something the authors would rather keep private, slash is generally written about either in general sociological terms, and virtually all slash is self-published on the Internet (previously in hand-mimeographed zines sold only in certain contexts), yaoi is among the first slash-like fictional forms to be found in bookstores, and discussed in respectable media like Publishers Weekly , (the leading trade journal for the publishing industry).

Tina Anderson, interviewed at the link above, has a clear understanding of what yaoi, which she writes, means to her:

Get the books, read the books. And if you still don’t get what it’s all about, then ask me.

The brain is the sexual organ here. … When I see a woman in a sexual way in straight media, I do too much self-examination. If I don’t, then I feel guilty. With yaoi, there’s no woman in there at all. When I look at it, it’s something hot, sexy, fun, and I don’t have to feel guilty about it. … Yaoi allows for that kind of enjoyment—for visual [sexual] recreation without the self-examination. That’s what’s so beautiful about it. Women don’t have to think about being the ones used and abused and played with.

We see yaoi and slash both as avenues which allow people (again mostly women) to explore themselves on their own terms. So it’s very satisfying to see yaoi coming into its own in the comic stores and the bookstores, and garnering the attention of the U.S. publishing industry.

Thanks to Literaticat for the link.

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3 Responses to “Yaoi! Boys’ Love Hits the Comic Stores”

  1. Journalista » Blog Archive » Dec. 5, 2006: Somnambulance Says:

    [...] Your When Fangirls Attack link of the day: Laurie Toby Edison and Debbie Notkin discuss yaoi and its appeal to women. One minor quibble: Edison begins: [...]

  2. Laurie Says:

    Somnambulance,

    Thanks very much for the comments.

    I asked Pat Diggs, who is a long time slash publisher and a major person in that universe about her take on Slash and Yaoi history.

    She said in part: “…The tradition of samarai same sex love goes back centuries and is an acceptable part of their culture. Using movie and television characters instead is a logical progression. “Boys Love” manga was commercially produced in the 60s and is often confused with yaoi but it is a different genre. Yaoi began as dojinshi (fan produced), not commercially produced. The term “yaoi” was coined in 1979 by a group of fans (amateurs). It is an acronym for Yama-nashi, Ochi-nashi, Imi-nashi (no climax, no point, no meaning). ..

    She is correct about the approximate date of the first published slash 1973 or 1974) but the genre was around from about 1969 in stories which were circulated among the people who wrote them and their trusted friends. It was not an acceptable genre here as it was in Japan. Diane Marchant, Jerry Downes, and Leslie Fish are the earliest published writers. The biggest difference in the originators is the age. Yaoi was at first a very young genre, slash was created by grown women (mostly married, and several even grandmothers). There was nothing amateurish about the early stories. Several of the women were professional writers or became so, using fan writing as a springboard. Yaoi was known primarily on the two US coasts and spread inward. It was not until the mid-80′s that the fandom was large enough to make an impact at conventions (and, not by any accident, on the web ).

    The are just now beginning to do academic studies and papers on yaoi. They’ve been doing them on slash for 30 years. ”

    I thought I’d add Pat’s thoughts to the conversation.

  3. jen Says:

    Well, it’s worth noting that the Japanese as a culture don’t really discuss or analyze their pornographic or sexual habits publicly, making such academic studies and papers rather difficult. I doubt that how long it’s been researched is an accurate measure of which came first.

    It’s also worth keeping in mind that the Japanese don’t actually use the word “yaoi” to mean BL these days (or rather, it’s just coming back into use– as “801″).

    So this differentiation between yaoi and Boys Love rather confuses me. Many American fans say that “yaoi is hardcore, BL is softcore/just romance,” but I don’t think that’s the differentiation Diggs is trying to make…

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