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Boys’ Love : The curious case of queer romance and representation

BL Series KInnPorche market

Boy Love dramas have become a wide occurrence — it has shifted from a sexually liberating, revolutionary narrowed Manga (Japanese comics) genre in Japan to a globally appreciated art form across various artistic platforms. 

Boys’ Love (further referred to as BL)  is a term used for “Japanese and Japanese-influenced male-male romance [both] for and by women” (Madill et al., 2018, p. 418). It is largely a homoerotic manga and novel genre geared toward female readers. In late 1970s Japan, female manga and anime fans began constructing romantic and/or sexual storylines involving two male characters from their favorite media texts. This fan behavior was soon formally adopted by publishing houses. It has recently paved its way into the domains of anime, TV dramas, and video games, among other things.

Boys love Boys

The term, Boys’ Love,  was coined by two female manga artists, Yasuko Sakata and Akiko Hatsu, who are known for their investigation of radical issues like sexuality and gender. The controversial genre was introduced in the 1980s, primarily for a fan base of teenage girls, but the phrase has since progressed to refer to any fictional media that portrays a romantic narrative amongst men. The gay media boom of the 1990s aided the emergence and manifestation of BL culture in Japanese society (McLelland, 2001). In the mid-2000s, the “fujoshi” — a Japanese term for female fans of manga, anime, and novelsbegan to capture the attention of the mainstream media, displacing the wilting “otaku”, a male-oriented fandom. Thailand and Taiwan are the lead producers of media revolving around this genre. 

boy love series
BL Series Screengrabs

“Boys’ Love” has become Thailand’s new significant source of entertainment. With the release of “2gether – The Series” and “Tharntype – The Series”, Thai BL dramas gained popularity. ‘2gether’ is a love tale about two male university students, and has a worldwide following, with a spot at the top of Twitter’s global trends list.

Popularity, acceptance, and appreciation

The wide acceptance and viewership of Thai “Boys’ Love” is due in large part to Thailand’s gender equality.  However, the main question still remains, is the LGBTQIA+ community gaining from the rise in popularity of “Boys’ Love” books and series?

BL culture, according to a group of local queer organizations, does not reflect the genuine realities of queer people and even promotes a misleading image of the community.

Noppanat, a renowned producer and director, who has also been researching Boys Love for more than five years, believes the shows aren’t “very fanciful” and don’t depict the LGBT community appropriately. He recognizes that this is a topic on which one may spend days debating. As an LGBTQ+ ally, he strives to include a theme regarding gender acceptance in every “Boys’ Love” series he creates. He’s also the brains behind multiple famous LGBTQ shows, including Gay OK Bangkok, which has been hailed for its sophisticated and thought-provoking themes.

NL Series Sotus
Sotus The Series

According to Fujimoto Yukari, a scholar of girls’ comics and gender issues, the first true BL drama was aired in Thailand in 2013. A series named Sotus was a major sensation in 2016. A varied spectrum of BL programs has now been produced, allowing female BL fans and LGBTQIA+  individuals to connect. 

The curse of Fetishization

An adverse effect of the BL’s popularity is the projection of desires and aesthetic fantasies of female authors on gay leads. This makes the entire genre a fetishization of gay relationships, to appease the young female fantasies – the “Fujoshi” syndrome. Thai BL director Aam Anusorn,  whose works include — 2moons and Present Perfect — is of the view that: the fanbase for BL is majorly cis-gendered- heterosexual women, who indulge in the dramas because they witness a “sensitive” side of men that is not more often than not, lacking in their everyday lives.

Bridging the gap

BL Series Dark Blue Kiss

The drama Dark Blue Kiss dealt with topics such as discrimination and coming out to parents, but it also featured romantic scenes that appealed to its fans. It was written in such a way that the viewers would instinctively root for the protagonists. There are considerable steps being taken in the country to officially recognize gay couples. The Thai cabinet adopted a civil partnership bill in July 2020, allowing same-sex partners to adopt kids and pass on their inheritance. It will be a huge step toward realizing same-sex marriage if it is passed by parliament.

Though various BL dramas provide apt gravitas and a storyline for queer audiences to feel represented, the crew and directors have reported instances of homophobia on sets and otherwise. One can see bridges being built between a discriminatory present and an all-inclusive future through art, but it’s a distant phenomenon. However, Thailand’s entertainment industry is thriving predominantly by the virtue of BL dramas, and BL series holds the potential to become soft power of sorts, in the way that K-pop is for South Korea. By sensitively depicting the multiplicity of human interactions, Fujimoto feels BL works are currently challenging societal constraints, preconceived notions, and stereotypes. Realistic BL has acted as a bridge between fiction and reality, and as the world around us evolves, BL reflecting everyday life may inadvertently permeate into people’s awareness, ushering in a new era.

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