A Note on Boys’ Love & “Straight” Readership

A Note on Boys’ Love & “Straight” Readership

YaoiYesterday, as I was (re)defining boys’ love, I spent a few moments wondering if I wanted to add the word “heterosexual” to my definition: a narrative about the romantic or erotic relationship between two or more male characters that has been created with the intention of appealing to a female audience.

I quickly decided not to, yet this morning as I was reading Benjamin Nugent’s American Nerd: The Story of my People over breakfast, I ran into a two-page description of yaoi nerds — provided as one of the few examples of a largely female nerdish subculture — that provides the standard definition of yaoi: “comic-book stories about male homosexual love written by and for straight women” (p. 139, emphasis mine).

I avoided the word “heterosexual” in my definition because although both my 2005 online survey of 478 respondents and my Italian colleagues’ 2006-7 online survey of 315 respondents showed that although many BL readers self-reported as heterosexual — a little less than half in the English-language version and a little more than half in the Italian-language version — that still left a great number of readers who self-reported as belonging elsewhere on the spectrum of sexuality. (These results and others from the two surveys are currently scheduled to be reported in the November issue of Particip@tions).

This last Wednesday I had lunch with a TokyoPop editor who commented that she’d been interested to learn that a number of BL mangaka are lesbian, which then prompted us to discuss lesbians we knew who read BL. I’m hoping this editor will write a paper on the subject for our upcoming anthology, Girls Doing Boys Doing Boys: Japanese Boys’ Love Anime and Manga in a Globalized World.

BL already calls into question certain assumptions about sexuality, with many outsiders unable to comprehend why women might enjoy reading about romance and sex between two men (fans often point out that  nobody wonders why men might like to read about, well, at least sex between two women, though I don’t suppose many men read lesbian romances). If we add the fact that lesbians are among the women creating and reading BL, the issue becomes even more complex. There are a variety of explanations for this, but I won’t offer them here, because I’m hoping Girls Doing Boys will include some well-written articles that  touch on the subject. The point is, boys’ love fans are not all straight women, and defining it that way excludes a large contingent of the BL readership.

I read, write, roleplay, travel, teach, and occasionally do research. I am a lizard, a warrior, a minimalist, and a scholar.
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