Cranky Post About Sex And Politics

November 4th, 2006 · No Comments
by Kassia Krozser

The Village Voice has a fascinating article about the rise of yaoi — fairly graphic male-on-male manga — and how it resonates with straight American women. This isn’t exactly breaking news by any stretch of the imagination; there is a growing group of women who consider themselves part of the romance genre who write yaoi, and given that there’s an adherence to some of romance’s conventions, this makes sense.

What makes this article so interesting to us is not that there is an appetite for this type of manga in this nation — it is the clear delineation between fantasy and reality that gave us pause. As anyone who has followed romance fiction for any length of time knows, there is a distinct thread of novels that feature rape or near-rape or forced sex in some manner. Many readers are naturally uncomfortable with these scenarios. Rape, no matter how delicately you couch it, no matter how many hearts and flowers are drawn around the scene, is violence. It is ugly. It it unacceptable in our society.

That being said, the fact that women write about rape fantasies — and read them, because even our ardent feminist heart must acknowledge that sales alone indicate that there is a population who is willing to explore the concept from the safety of fiction — says that something about the situation resonates with some. If you look at the breadth and depth of fiction, you will see that many authors write about subjects that are outside the bounds of polite society, and many readers react to these subjects without ever participating in those acts on their own. How else does one explain the deep fascination with reading about serial killers — there must be a visceral thrill that comes from reading about the gruesome violence being perpetuated on innocent victims.

Yet very few of us decide to turn to serial murder as a career. Without actually doing a scientific study, we can only surmise that very few serial killers went that route as a result of reading novels. Rape fantasies are not the same thing as a desire to be raped — no thinking person can ever imagine that any woman or man wishes for such violence. They are an extension of domination and submission fantasies that form a natural part of human sexual behavior.

Publicly, American attitudes toward sexuality remain firmly fixed in the Victorian mindset: we pay lip service to a code of conduct that doesn’t match what happens in our bedrooms. This is disturbing because it leads to political solutions to problems that don’t really exist. It remains unfathomable to the mind of BS that violence in movies is considered socially acceptable while anything that suggests that humans enjoy a wide range of sexual activities can be deemed “pornographic”. We have a national fear of our animal nature — conveniently forgetting that the violence is as much a base reaction as the sex.

Looking at the appeal of yaoi naturally leads to reflecting on its depiction of sexual taboos. These are not gay comics:

Beyond the visual element, [Justin] Hall [who curated a show on queer comics for San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum] says the stories don’t resonate with many gay readers: While many queer comics deal with themes like gay identity and the struggle to come out, yaoi almost always ignores such knotty issues. “It’s more about titillation and fantasy than about cultural context,” says Hall.

Yaoi is read (and is increasingly being written) primarily by women. This means, yes, there is a sub-culture of females in this country who derive pleasure from male-on-male sex. If this comes as a surprise to you, you really need good girls’ night out. But yaoi explores other taboos, as well. If you’ve read beyond the “safe” manga, you know that sex plays a huge role in these books. It is not uncommon to find depictions of bestiality or underage sex.

Somehow, we suspect the latter is far more uncomfortable for uninitiated readers than the former. We reiterate that reading or writing about these topics does not indicate a desire to engage in either act — but we cannot pretend that there aren’t truly sick individuals out there who either take fantasies too far or use these materials to bolster deviant behavior. There are lines that civilized humans should not cross; this makes discussing the fact that fantasies exist very difficult. We cannot seem to separate fiction from reality, and, when it comes to sex, we become so focused on protecting the kids that we deny adult impulses.

You cannot argue that we should not be thinking those thoughts anyway. One cannot look at the recent scandals facing the Catholic Church without grasping one truth: forcing humans into unnatural behaviors will backfire. True, pure celibacy is a natural lifestyle choice for very few. It goes against our inherent natures. The mind is a powerful instrument, but the body is equally strong.

Centuries ago, young children were considered marriageable, sexual beings. Our bodies are ready for procreational and recreational sex long before our modern society deems it appropriate. Marie Antoinette was married at the age of 14 — that her husband didn’t consummate the marriage for some time after was considered more of a scandal than anything. Our “rules” about the proper age for sexual activity have been defined by society, not biology.

Most adults agree to society’s strictures. When we talk about being a nation of laws, it is gratifying to know that so many of us buy into common definitions of decency. But that does not change the fact that fantasies exist and can be used safely. Exploring taboos in the confines of fiction is as much a part of our behavior as paying taxes.

We write this because this election cycle has lead to a rise in accusations about morality based on a person’s fictional works. We write this because we know a lot of women who write romance novels, and some people still think romance fiction is pornography for women. We write this because we know women — normal, you-grocery-shop-with-them, happily married and heterosexual women — who write male-on-male fiction. We write this because the women who were interviewed in the Village Voice article were uncomfortable with their real names being used.

But mostly we write this because protecting children is really important. But when we’re protecting children, we need to use what is known as rational thought. And common sense. We will be seeing increasing battles between adult desire for entertainment geared toward adults and the ability of youth to access this same entertainment. The American desire will be to remove the adult material; the better response might be to force the parents to do their jobs — monitor what your kids read, watch, and browse.

That is all.

Oh wait…one more thing. Let us rant for a moment — if this article had been written about a convention that primarily caters to men, would the description of a “blowzy” (we prefer “blowsy””, but that’s us) woman have been changed to “man with a wraparound comb-over”. Would the “plump” woman be described as “man with belly so large he appears to be giving birth”?

Just asking.

File Under: Square Pegs