badass, beautiful, boys

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.

~~~

Rabbit Man & Tiger Man

Akihito, Asami, Feilong

Shinonome & Yukimura

coming soon…

Totally Captivated

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Note: All works hail from Japan and Korea.

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2 thoughts on “badass, beautiful, boys

  1. I really love your writing. It makes me laugh and it makes me think (about things I love to think about and things I have never considered).

    There is so much manga I would love you to talk about (at the moment, particularly Henshin Dekinai but we will just have to see how that story turns out – Someya, she steals the show, always). But I will wait patiently for it (as one learns to do after discovering online manga updates). Am particularly excited about the “I want to be naughty” series ❤ (also, the fact that you list Korea as an origin for the works to be posted makes me start to hope for Totally Captivated and U Don't Know Me… delinquents and yakuza and rebels ne…).

    Delinquents, yakuza and rebels ❤ the best kind of yaoi.

    I also hope that you might talk more about reader identification which is something I always wonder about being a queer girl who only likes girls… and yet who also likes boys who like boys lol… but i suppose that might be too broad and varied and full of those "nuanced possibilities"…

    It is just, refreshing somehow to read this kind of writing about yaoi, and somehow vindicating as well…

    Also, what about the men? Do you mean that in yaoi, the characters that are adult men may look like men but they are still given the same responsibilities(or lack thereof) and the same roles to perform and the same ability to to bend and subvert and reinvent as the boys/youths are?
    Or were you merely explaining your title…

    Also, any unforgivable degree of exploitation will be lovingly cherished…

    • I can’t tell you how much your words motivate me. It’s not even like I’m writing fan fiction or something, so knowing someone appreciates the writing makes me super happy. So, perhaps quite obviously, I wrote myself into a wall with the Sakuraga Mei (academic + fan sometimes equals hot mess)…but it’s almost there, really. And I’ve decided it’s gotta go on, in any case. Thanks for your patience! (I will likely keep trying it.)

      I would love to check out the titles you mentioned…and the two manhwa titles you mentioned are totally in the mix…look forward to it please! (but not too much…as I will be slow…:))

      Thanks so much for sharing where you’re coming from as a yaoi fan. I’ve been thinking about this issue of m/m slash fandom amongst queer female bodied folks…and I consider myself one, too…. I’ve touched on it super briefly in a post (see Ginzura b-day post from March), and am definitely interested in pursuing this issue. If you have any insights or thoughts, anecdotes, whatevers, I’m all ears!

      Yeah…in terms of explaining the title, I think when I say boys, I’m not really thinking about male-bodied people who are in a certain age bracket…but a more general way of designating the fictional (and, yes, male-bodied) characters and character types who appear in yaoi. Maybe it’s a nod to terms like “bishonen” (beautiful boy) or even “biseinen” (beautiful youth). I think it is important to me in contrast to man/woman because I think there is a degree of flexibility and amorphousness in it that often there isn’t in discourses about “adults.” Incidentally, the different gender signifiers across different languages would be an interesting way to study how this works in manga/anime…

      I admit it’s a tricky category to play with (there shall be exploitation!) as I’ve spoken to people who feel pretty strongly about the fact that it’s MEN occupying these pages. I don’t know…I think certainly that happens, too…but lately, I’ve been watching GTO (great teacher onizuka) and being reminded of what straightness REALLY looks like…at least in comparison to those types of (*cough*annoying*cough*) conversations about “what it means to be a man” or “what it means to be a woman”…there’s definitely more room for negotiation and imagination in most yaoi/BL (even when characters openly insist otherwise…).

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