Every one has already linked to this story by Eliza Strickland, which is the best written and researched piece we’ve yet seen on just why girls like comics about 12-year-old Japanese boys shagging one another. Strickland goes to Yaoi-Con for a first hand look and examines the psychology and history of the genre as well as looking at the potential dangers of censorship:
Meanwhile, in the United States, women were playing with slash fiction — that is, stories in which male pop culture characters hooked up (for example, Star Trek’s Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock). Yet yaoi and slash involve little casual sex. When couples couple, it’s an emotional maelstrom; even after a rape scene, the two men lie tenderly in each other’s arms and profess their love. It’s a visual treat with an emotional payoff, a dynamite combination for the ladies.
Untranslated Japanese comics began to arrive in the U.S. in the 1980s and ’90s. With the arrival of the Internet came a new labor of love — the “scanlation,” for which die-hard fans scanned each page of a comic and painstakingly added translations. To avoid such toil, Americans began writing English-language slash based on their favorite characters from anime (Japan’s animated TV shows and films) and manga.
“Then Gundam Wing happened,” explains Eliza Cameron, whose manuscript on the history of yaoi is being considered by a Berkeley publisher. In 2000, the sci-fi anime series about a team of teenage fighter pilots began airing on the Cartoon Network, and thousands of new fans ventured online to look for pictures of the cute heroes. What they often found instead was a slash universe that dedicated yaoi fans had already created around the Gundam Wing characters. “It was the ‘gateway yaoi’ of my generation,” Cameron says.
All interested observers really need to read this article. Even some of the yaoi publishers we’ve spoken to have only vague notions of the genre’s appeal, and we’re still not entirely clear on it ourselves.
Personally speaking, we always get a laugh out of a mild bit of slash that shows Kirk mooning for Spock or Legolas and Aragorn revealing how they really feel because in the original source material, there was so much boys-own-adventure posturing (a world few women were allowed into) that highlighting the absurdity of the world via making it a gay love story seemed highly appropriate. For The Beat it was a way of introducing some kind of feminine principle — that we could relate to — into a fairly male-dominated structure.
Strickland say yaoi has some of the same function, allowing female readers to break out of the often submissive and ninnyish roles played by the girls in traditional shojo manga. Psychologists also have their say:
If one does feel the need to psychoanalyze the phenomenon, however, academics have arrived at a standard interpretation. “It’s a way for young women and girls to explore sexuality without it being too intimately connected to them,” says Susan Napier, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Without a female character in the book, readers can choose which male character to identify with, instead of feeling forced into one role. “They can enjoy seeing sexual situations with handsome young men, and can play out different sexual scenarios without having to put themselves into it, so it’s less intimidating or threatening,” Napier says.
Somehow we doubt the religious right will have the same open-minded attitude when they finally get hold of yaoi — although they seem to be having their own gay problems today.