On turning female and gay

Well, no, I can’t do that, I guess. I am and shall remain male and straight; sorry if I got your hopes up.

I have this proposition, though. I don’t claim that it’s true; I don’t even claim it’s plausible, or that it has any foundation in logic or data; all I claim is that it’s something I’ve been thinking about, and it may seem relevant to you or it may not. Accept, reject, or modify it at your discretion.

I propose that:

  1. The “sufficiently advanced” anime/manga fan, immersed in a culture whose underground art scene holds nothing back when it comes to exploring nonstandard sexuality, has both a practical sexual self-identity (i.e. who s/he sleeps with in “real life,” which gender roles s/he enacts, etc.) and an interior sexual self-identity.
  2. The interior self-identity is amorphous; it can adapt to accommodate a variety of situations.
  3. Both self-identities influence the enjoyment of art, but do not necessarily or even commonly influence one another.

Now that I’ve given you more context than you asked for, here’s the real point of this post: I’ve decided to become a yuri fan. Which is not to say I haven’t always had a healthy respect for fictional antics involving two biologically female homo sapiens. I’ve simply decided to make a conscious effort to read more yuri/shoujo-ai manga than I have thus far (and to watch more yuri anime, I guess, though my anime consumption has dwindled lately; Marimite is on the agenda, at least).

No, it isn’t because I have a sudden craving for girl-on-girl action. In fact, I haven’t even been especially impressed with shoujo-ai franchises, traditionally. I tend to rate them in the 6-7 range on the MAL, which isn’t fabulous, but at least I usually finish them; the only exception I can think of right now is Strawberry Panic, whose characters I loathed almost unequivocally.

Then why delve into a genre whose products I largely deem high-mediocre/low-good? Honestly, because, while it may not regularly excite my critical tendencies or my eye for structural complexity, shoujo-ai makes me feel good — and that’s the important thing.

But why does it make me feel good? Sans that question, there isn’t much point in blogging, is there?

Today’s manga exemplar is Girl Friends, the discovery of which I blame on Smithy’s post. True to form, I find it enjoyable albeit not so impressive, which renders it somewhat generalizable as an example.

What do I like? Well, let’s see:

  • Women are allowed (by society, manga artists, or what have you) to express emotion more overtly than men. When this applies to both parties, I find the romantic situation more satisfying.
  • While the social deviance of the lesbian relationship is not usually ignored, the relationship creates a sub-space in which gender is relatively homogeneous — i.e. no pointless misunderstandings or awkwardness as a result of man vs. woman. Complications within this sub-space result from more neutral (and thus more universally relatable) character traits.
  • Quite simply, I find women more aesthetically appealing than men.

You may infer from this that I fall under a certain purview:

It is not inaccurate to state that an otaku would both like to become one of the characters in these shows as well as bone one of them, or be boned by one of them. I would make the case that with Strike Witches, it is true that many male otaku want to be a young girl, but still like girls. It appeals to a man’s desire to be more pure, open, and emotional. A lot of guys feel that they cannot be that way as a man, but are totally comfortable with their heterosexuality – hence the desire to become a lesbian woman. [Digitalboy, "Strike Witches and Sengoku Basara - the Nudity of Concept - Don't F This Up (2)"]

Digiboy brings up the notion that it’s possible to respond to a (female, gay) character in terms of both sexual arousal and identification, and I’d agree. But I contend that I don’t want to be a gay woman, that I don’t need to want to be a gay woman, that the amorphous internal self-identity I mentioned earlier takes on the gay woman persona when it needs to.

Of course I don’t “become” a gay woman in any practically meaningful way, which would entail the acquisition of life experience I do not and cannot have. But, given sufficient textual prompting, I can relate to the yuri relationship on the level of yuri relationship. While my identification with the characters in a shoujo-ai scenario is probably of the usual kind — I relate to characters because that’s just what people do when they read — my identification with the scenario itself is mediated by a pseudo-me, a feminine, homosexual, usually younger construct (perhaps a byproduct of my relating to the characters in the first place).

Ergo: I can get a raging stiffy at things in fiction that probably wouldn’t, for various logistical reasons, faze me in reality. No, I won’t make you a list.

I foresee at least three objections:

  1. I’ve overcomplicated what might be a fairly simple mechanism of reading, i.e. the ability to relate to characters and situations.
  2. I’ve been dishonest: either I’m lying about my disinterest in real-life teenage lesbians, or I’m trying to cover my ass by demonstrating that I can enjoy all sorts of strange things (my model would apply to things much stranger than yuri, which really isn’t that strange) with my normative sexuality intact.
  3. I’ve simply misjudged myself, and I really am in it for whatever appeal physical girl-on-girl action has for a straight man.

Well, fine; I also have doubts. But allow me to rebut:

  1. Fair enough, but all I’m really doing is proposing a mechanism for something plenty of people have observed already: a fan’s porn consumption doesn’t necessarily influence his sexual practices. In other words, someone aroused by loli porn isn’t destined to become a pedophile, and so on.
  2. At the very least, I’m not knowingly dishonest here, though I suppose it’d be difficult for me to know all my subconscious motives.
  3. If I’ve made a mistake, it’s probably my confounding common straight male inclinations with some magical process by which people relate to alternate scenarios. But I submit that both can operate at the same time.

(In retrospect, this post may include a few too many lists.)

This isn’t the last you’ll hear of me on the topic of yuri; I managed to avoid talking about Girl Friends, for the most part, and there are certainly a few things to be said about Aoi Hana. Think of this post as a glimpse at my early assumptions — rough, untested assumptions that will inevitably change.

Leave a comment

15 Comments

  1. This is my favorite post of the month, agreed on all fronts, nothing to add. Also, for some reason, this post gave me a literal boner.

    The fact that you haven’t given any shoujo ai anime above a 7/10 only means that you haven’t seen Marimite and Simoun. If you told me you gave one of those shows an average rating, I’d have to, like, discredit you as a blogger or something :p

    Reply
  2. Now that I checked, you DID give Simoun a 7/10. What the fuck, pontifus?

    Reply
    • Pontifus

       /  8 April 2010

      I am, after all, in the business of giving people boners with nothing but the power of my keyboard.

      Consider that a tentative 7/10 until I get a chance to watch it again. I was disoriented by it at the time, insofar as I expected mostly pointless lesbian antics, and it delivered lesbian antics with lots of points — er, there was a huge discrepancy between my expectations and what was delivered, in other words, in terms of both content and relative quality. For me, 7/10 is kind of a catchall for anything generically good, or anything I haven’t been able to convince myself to rate higher in a coherent way, but upward mobility is possible.

      Reply
      • Well, hurry up and re-watch it. Giving Simoun less than a 9-10 is unforgivable :p

  3. I am pretty sure you can enjoy genderbending and/or non-traditional gender relationships and not fall into the LGBTQI spectrum. I mean, I don’t feel terribly not-straight, and I enjoy things that mess with the standard concept of gender.

    Also watch Onii-sama e… / Brother, Dear Brother.

    Reply
    • Pontifus

       /  9 April 2010

      Yeah, my interest in gender-bending and such isn’t limited to yuri — if it was, I wouldn’t really feel the need for some crazy identity model, I suppose. I’ll have to remember to delve into things “stranger” than yuri when I’m ready to write coherently about them. Perhaps yuri is just the beginning, the foot in the door…which, er, frightens me a little.

      Thanks for the recommendation, too.

      Reply
  4. I really found your points under “What do I like?” interesting, so I’ll respond to those:

    1) Twice the drama sounds like twice the fun. You’re selling me on this shoujo-ai proposition already. Though the downside is that there’s certain dramatic elements in the… let’s say… commonly portrayed male personality type’s perspective that might be lost in the trade off… though not that you couldn’t have a female take up those traits and bring them out with more emotion… so yeah, sounds great!

    2) Yes, if only to escape the usual gender misunderstandings / trappings of your usual anime / manga. I mean it’s a great point on its own, but that is certainly magnified to more significance here due to medium’s prevalent sad excuse for romance (I’m speaking more in general here, obviously there are exemplary couples, but more often than not…).

    3) Yup! Now if we could find one of these shoujo-ai manga with cutting edge fashionable woman (or maybe “daring” or a more “divergent” fashion sense). I’m basically saying that I want an anime visually based on the K-ON! EDs.

    Reply
    • Pontifus

       /  9 April 2010

      I’ve gathered that some yuri shows just compensate for the lack of male presence by rendering one or two of the female characters quite masculine, but I’m not sure I’ve seen that in action myself. At any rate I’m sure it’s possible to give a female character a few commonly masculine traits, but not so many that she may as well be a dude.

      I don’t know how cynical I am about the present state of romance in anime, generally speaking, but the usual “big misunderstanding” tricks have become old and tired for me, and they’re doubly frustrating in that they generally involve a failure to communicate, and triply frustrating because the characters are so quick to attribute failures in communication to gender differences without much thought. Situations that minimize all that ridiculous business are refreshing.

      The first thing that comes to my mind when you mention that K-ON! ED sort of style is Persona 3. Which definitely needed more yuri, yeah.

      Reply
  5. “I’ve decided to become a yuri fan.”
    Kekekekeke… another one converted to the righteous cause. XD

    “Girl Friends” is peculiar, it doesn’t start off as yuri really but becomes that as you see how the characters evolve and have these frighteningly familiar emotional experiences (everyone remembers there first love and insecurities as a teen) and kind of surreptitiously sweeps you along with it. Besides, Akko and Mari are such cute girls and a lovely pair.

    “Strawberry Panic” is a silly comedy only for the advanced yuri fan looking for a guilty pleasure, I enjoyed it but it came short on numerous spots.
    I’d agree with Digitalboy that you might want to watch “Simoun” again, while it features yuri it also delivered on so many levels in terms of plot and character and brings it forth in a rather unique alternate world. A very compelling series actually.

    As to the psychology behind liking yuri I haven’t a clue. I just find a large part of the manga/anime characters and stories compelling and adorable, an attraction that does not transcend into real life which holds little resemblance to the manga/anime idealization and cuteness .

    Reply
    • Pontifus

       /  9 April 2010

      I’m willing to admit that maybe I wasn’t “ready” for Strawberry Panic. It’s certainly the case that I didn’t get what it was going for — it could’ve been meta on all sorts of levels, for all I knew at the time. But maybe I’ll consider it again when I have more shoujo-ai experience.

      I’m not sure a “psychology” of yuri is really what I’m going for. It’s more like a map, really. If we draw lines between our collective instances of enjoying yuri, maybe we’ll end up with a rough idea of how yuri might work, practically speaking — but then we could draw lines forever and never finish, so I figure we ought to just enjoy the process.

      Reply
  6. I enjoy concept of this opinion, as well as the rationalization behind it. I don’t necessarily think too much about why I like shoujo-ai as much as I do, but I do think that the expressiveness (or that people in these tend to be more “open” than usual?) that the characters have could a big reason behind it. I also find interesting the idea of two separate “sexualities”, though one could say that the internal sexuality could just be a justification of one’s individual “fetishes/’perversions'” as well, if you want to be more mean about it. I do know that it makes me feel better if I subscribe to this suggestion you bring up though. :)

    Reply
    • And as a random note, wondering if you’ve checked out the Hourou Musuko and Octave mangas yet. :3

      Reply
      • Pontifus

         /  9 April 2010

        Haven’t come across those, but recommendations are always appreciated.

        I’m basically using shoujo-ai as an excuse to throw some of this identity stuff on the table — if asked why I like it on the average day, my answer probably wouldn’t meander as much as this post does, either. I’m not really sure to what degree I’m making excuses — that’s something I hope to figure out. Er, actually, maybe I don’t hope to figure that out…

  7. Yuri: It’s awesome.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 369 other followers

%d bloggers like this: