The world of yaoi pairings – where androgynous male persons float around in a sea of angst (and questionable fluids) – has for much of the latter part of its roughly 40 year history, been dominated by the discourse of seme (aggressive pursuer, “top”) and uke (passive, pursued, “bottom”). As much as almost any series coming out of the mixed media industry of anime/manga operates on the logic of type casting, this binary fits the presumed power dynamics, gender coding, and even sexual/social positions that correspond to them less perfectly than one would expect. What’s more, the vectors of reader identification are also wildly complicated by each individual’s subjective engagement and the nuanced possibilities of the terms themselves.
This particular fan has decided to gather, in the spirit of recent correspondence and collaboration with some fabulous queer and queer-leaning persons, a collection of images and narratives under the title badass beautiful boys. I proffer this as a category of analysis which strives not to assume necessary overlap between gender presentation, gender identification, sexual practice, sexual orientation, sexual position, and sex acts. For those for whom I’ve been long absent in my present, embodied, thinking and writing self, this also summarizes some of my goings on in those realms (i.e. like a blog in semi-academese).
What do I mean by badass, beautiful, boy?
While what we consider badass must certainly be subjective, I venture here to define badass as being able to walk to your own beat and hold fort for the people and things that most matter to you. Because this usually implies that your beat is unconventional, marginalized, or irreverent towards the norm, I have used badass here to gather mainly couples and pairings tied to underground society, such as the yakuza (as well as other nationally inflected mobs), juvenile delinquency, and revolutionary activity. In social terms, it can be traced to familial rejection, psychological damage, structural inequality, and a hope for a different type of space. In political terms, it is an unwillingness to compromise one’s humanity, even in a world that is maintained in deeply dehumanizing and brutal ways. As far as relationships go, it is about how a high-stakes life finds one’s dearest home and one’s greatest challenge in spaces with others.
But if badassedness is about internal strength and power, it certainly is also at least in part a measure of how one wears it. Yakuza, delinquents, and rebels inspire an irresistible exploitation of style and attitude on the level of character design. Beautiful no doubt credits the manga artists’ aesthetic sense and imagination, but also their capacity, in narrative, to convincingly and compellingly portray strength and weakness in the junctures between the socio-political and the interpersonal where we find ourselves most vulnerable, most at stake.
Finally, boys are not men. Boy sits in that oft-demonized and oft-glorified category, youth: a being who barely has rights as a human, but who also can shirk, in equal proportion (?), responsibility as social (and sexual) beings. Therefore, I explore (and, hopefully not exploit to an unforgivable degree) the way it provides access to gender-bending and gender-performative forms of self-preservation, aesthetic engagement, interpersonal relation, and self-invention.
This category is always exploding in my face, this writing is still in process, but inasmuch as we share love for striking stories and pretty 2D smut pictures, I hope you’ll enjoy your stay.
Note: All works hail from Japan and Korea.