Detail from the Japanese BL fan comic Birthday Animal by Akou Susugu (Scanlated into English by Vices and Devices) In this story Tiger has a dildo-like tail (a birthday present from Bunny) which gives him sexual energy but also seems to have a life of its own.
I produced a zine for the Parasite Exhibition Ten Million Rooms of Yearning: Sex in Hong Kong which takes place in five venues in Hong Kong and will be open until August 10, 2014. My zine comments on a collection of Boy’s Love fan zines and slash fiction about tow anime characters, Tiger & Bunny, and focuses on a reappraisal of the middle-aged male character as “bottom” (In Japanese Oyaji Uke)
Boys’ Love refers to female-authored comics and micro-fictions about homosexual love affairs that involve emotional hardship and hard-core sex affairs. This genre of “emotive pornography” was invented in Japan and is currently roaring in Hong Kong and Mainland China. Large groups of young women in their twenties are writing and trading Boys’ Love commercial products and d.i.y. zines (also called dojinshi). They have labeled themselves with the ironical self-description of “rotten girls” (the Japanese term fujoshi or Funu 腐女 in Chinese) or “rotten families” to distinguish themselves from well-behaved moral mainstream society. The stories comprise of many different genres but all depict heightened love affairs and sex scenes between a male “dominant” (攻 seme) character and a male “bottom”（受 uke).
Within the greater Chinese region, for decades Hong Kong and Taiwan have been important sites for the importation of Japanese animation and its surrounding fujoshi activities. Hong Kong has been a major distributor of commercial products and has also both have been, for the most part, tolerant towards the edgy, sex-themed genres. Boys’ Love materials are allowed to circulate as commodities, but there is still a bias and lack of encouragement from within the mass media, or from the arts and higher education.Hong Kong fans buy commercial comics in regular bookstores, but they are also heavy downloaders of dubbed Chinese-language “scanlated” (scanned and translated) versions of comics produced in Japan. They access BL materials on portals and popular social networks such as Facebook, where they navigate sexually explicit materials despite stringent censorship regulations. One of the Hong Kong fans explains that the themes of gay love and explicit sex have indeed become part and parcel of Hong Kong youth netizen culture.
In the People’s Republic of China the influx of Japanese manga happened in the 1990s and has been more tightly controlled by the government and publishers who are instructed to reduce the Japanese influence and produce censored “Chinese-style” comics and animation. Mainland Chinese fans have to be very careful in posting their gay-themed erotica and use various strategies to circumvent censorship. Most fans express their fantasies as literary micro-fictions, rather than sexually explicit manga, and they use code words or symbols to denote sexual organs or sex acts.
The BL New Wave and Sexual Failure
Even though BL fans want to depict sexual conquest and climax in great detail, these fantasies go along with tropes of mental and physical imperfections. Kazumi Nagaike explains that the tendency to focus on these imperfections is part of a larger trend towards diversifying the male lead characters. In her recent talk “For Liberation or Moe: The decline of bishonen and the emergence of new types of protagonists in contemporary BL,” she argues that that the subculture has been moving away from its obsession with bishonen characters or love between two idealized beautiful and effeminate males. The BL new wave in Japan is one concerned with non good-looking characters (busaiku), such as older males (oyaji) who are average looking and cast in the submissive position. In Fantasies of Cross-dressing: Japanese Women Write Male-Male Erotica, Nagaike argues that Boy’s love is a counterpornography precisely because it makes efforts to depict less attractive characters who fail to perform well in sex acts. This is indeed a deviation from the genre “pornography,” which is mostly focused on climactic sexual performance and which tries to suppress a visualizing of obstacles that would interrupt this mission.
I searched for the New Wave amongst Chinese BL micro-fictions, and found that some genres in sexually explicit fiction have emerged which have in common that the protagonists all have imperfections; for instance, they are physically handicapped, sexually impotent, or simply social outcasts and losers. On Sina Weibo, a user posts a collection of “high quality BL” fictions that are divided by “illness”: HIV, leukemia, problems with the brain, other diseases, disabled hands or legs, weaknesses, diseases of the five internal organs, mental problems, sexual disorders, and disabled facial features. In almost all cases, these disabilities are not profound nor permanent, and they can be fixed. If a person has a permanent disability, the story unfolds around a person taking care of his lover and even find erotic pleasure in nurturing the deformed body or mind .
But most commonly their failure points to social status, an economic disparity or class difference that cannot be crossed easily but indeed it leads to love. As far as sexual impotence goes, about fifty percent of stories are “classical stories” set within Chinese imperial history. Indeed Chinese BL fiction has spawned a unique sub-genre centering on the love affair between the emperor and his beloved eunuch. For instance, there is a story by Chen Shanguan, Time﹣travel to be a eunuch, which cast a submissive character Xie Dongjun as uke who serves the emperor Xuanqiu Puyang as seme. It is a typical “ancient background” fiction involving the hero to witness an epoch that he is not familiar with. This journey also evokes trauma and physical pain.
After a long time in the darkness, he wakes up with great pain, only finding his penis removed. It seems that he traveled from modern times to ancient China, and became a person who has been sent to a palace to be a eunuch! He is very angry, telling himself that this is a dream and tries to “wake up”, but it doesn’t work, life always gives him the opposite of what he wants, he has to accept the facts: now he is a 9-year-old boy named Xie, waiting to serve as eunuch. (Other little boys died in operation because of the great pain, but he was the only one who survived.)
After several years go by, the two men develop a very close relationship and then they fall in love and have sex occasionally. Xie is very shy at first and doesn’t want Xuanqiu to look at the scar on his penis, but Xuanqiu thinks it is beautiful and kisses it. As the story goes:
His underwear has been taken off, and Xie’s twists his legs trying to hide his body, while he covers his hands covering his red face. He feels just like an ostrich, and doesn’t dare to look into Xuanqiu’s eyes. Because there is a pink scar between his legs, not the penis that should be there. It is covered by flabby skin, and there is an orifice or a little hole. Around the hole, a scar blossoms like a rose. The color of it is not so much deep red, but light pink. In Xuanqiu’s eyes, it is so attractive. The reddening on Xie’ face spreads towards his neck. This is the most shameful moment that he has experienced in years. Even Xie himself didn’t have the courage to look at it carefully, but now Xuanqiu does.
“How could I… You’ll never know how beautiful it is…” Xuanqiu says, “I can’t help to kiss it.
The eunuch’s penis removal does nor only produce a scar, but becomes eroticized as a specific type of genital or “erogenous zone.” The area causes psychological distress but is also recuperated because it is an attractive kind of deformity, a body part that is different and can be adored—as a matter of fact it is described as a beautiful flower. These fantasies show that failure can be turned around and have a happy ending as the “bottom” gains power through his specific style of submission and sex appeal. There is a transfer of power as the dominant character becomes aware of his limitations, or is suddenly smitten by unspeakable love. In each case, failure is used to shake up social divisions and to assert the power of eroticism.
Halberstam, Jack, The Queer Art of Failure, Durham: Duke University Press,
Nagaike, Kazumi, Fantasies of Cross-dressing: Japanese Women Write Male-
Male Erotica. Leiden, Brill, 2012.
Nagaike, Kazumi, “For Liberation or Moe: The decline of bishonen and the
emergence of new types of protagonists in contemporary BL, Lecture delivered
at Modern Women and Their Manga conference, Comix Home Base,
hong Kong, March 24, 2014