Are Women Who Draw/Read Yaoi Girlfags?

YaoiOne of the great things about co-editing the collection of BL-related essays Girls Doing Boys Doing Boys is that many scholars interested in the subject are emailing me to say hello and tell me about their own work. I never fail to learn something new from the exchanges!

This morning I received an email from Uli Meyer, who wrote “‘Almost Homosexual’ — Schwule Frauen/Schwule Transgender (GirlFags/Trans*Fags)” for the journal Liminalis and who conducts research that encompasses yaoi, yuri, slash, and transgender identities and cultures. Since I had never heard the terms “girlfag” and “transfag” before, and I don’t read German, I had to do some hasty remedial research in English.

The FAQ at GirlFags.Com defines a “girlfag” as “a woman who is very attracted to gay/bi men. She may (or may not) also feel she is (fully or partly) a ‘gay man in a woman’s body’. Girlfags may identify primarily as bi or straight or lesbian, and are often attracted to more types of people than just gay/bi men.” According to an essay by Julz in Bi Men: Coming Out Every Which Way, “Girlfags are women who identify with queer men, somewhat feel that we are queer men ourselves, and often are attracted to queer men. We are not faghags. Faghags are usually straight women who enjoy the company of gay men” (p. 216).  Although “girlfag” has a German Wikipedia entry, there’s nothing in the English Wikipedia, although the term gets a mention under the entry for “boi.”

The English Wikipedia does, however, have a redirect for “transfag” to “transmen attracted to men,” which describes female-to-male transgendered individuals who are sexually attracted to men. Some of the social problems associated with this orientation are described in Joshua Bastian Cole’s online article “Tarheels and Transfags.

As a BL scholar, I find the term “girlfag” particularly thought-provoking.

It’s primarily women who draw and read the M/M homoerotic storylines and images of boys’ love fiction and yaoi. As many BL scholars have noted, this tends to raise all sorts of questions about sexuality and identity. Are the stylistically feminine bishonen in yaoi just female stand-ins? Are the characters in yaoi really “gay”? What does it mean to be “really gay”? Are the women who draw and enjoy yaoi exploiting gay male bodies? Are they confused about their own gender identity/sexual orientation? What does the existence of yaoi suggest about the power of the “female gaze”? What does it mean when lesbians say they enjoy yaoi?  (You can replace “yaoi” with “slash” for many of these questions, by the way, since I consider both genres to be subcategories of boys’ love.)

Many of the women I’ve surveyed who enjoy yaoi tell me that at least part of their attraction to the genre is the turn-on of looking at pictures of naked men.* Does that make them heterosexual women enjoying men’s bodies in a thoroughly heterosexual way, or does that make them girlfags whose attraction to the images is specifically related to the fact that these men are having sex with other men? Or maybe some readers fall into one category and some into the other. Would identifying with one or the other of the characters in the manga make a female reader a girlfag? Or is the stereotypical semeXuke relationship in yaoi so heterosexually valenced that the characters aren’t “really gay” at all?

BL is a very queer thing, in all senses of the statement.

I’m very grateful to Uli Meyer for introducing me to the term “girlfags” and all the fascinating questions it opens up. I definitely want to learn more about the work being done in this area!

* The pleasure of yaoi isn’t solely “naked men,” however — many women I surveyed who buy yaoi do not buy gay porn. The difference between yaoi and gay porn has been discussed/debated by other scholars, though, so I won’t address it here. 

3 Responses to Are Women Who Draw/Read Yaoi Girlfags?

  1. sistercoyote

    There’s much to think about here, but I also believe the argument you’re making supports my thesis that slash and yaoi are two very different phenomena.

  2. Hi there –

    I’m taking a gay & lesbian cultures class, and we have a project coming up on subcultures. I’d love to be able to do mine on “girlfags” but I can’t seem to find any online sources on it in English! Unfortunately my school’s library doesn’t have your book and the project is due too soon for me to order it. Do you a) know of any online sources besides GirlFags.com, or b) know where I can find Uli Meyer’s article in English?

    Thanks!
    Linlin

  3. Uli writes a bit about this in our book Boys’ Love Manga, if you can get ahold of a copy, but otherwise I don’t believe Uli’s published anything else in English yet. I’m hoping for more, however, myself!