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:
- 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.
- The interior self-identity is amorphous; it can adapt to accommodate a variety of situations.
- 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:
- I’ve overcomplicated what might be a fairly simple mechanism of reading, i.e. the ability to relate to characters and situations.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.