Sometimes you see a take online that just really grabs you and elicits all sorts of emotions such as “amusement,” “offense,” and “fascination” and just, in the words of a friend, simple “hootin and hollering.” Anyways, even though nobody asked for it I really do feel the need to try and analyze my thoughts on this particular tweet, my own reaction to it, and the various reactions to it I’ve been seeing since I feel like it does land very squarely in the middle of various subjects and discussions I and others have been having for a while, about “good” vs. “bad” representation and the whole didactic vs. indulgent media thing.
First of all, just visually analyzing the format of the tweet, like a poem or work of art, is a very fascinating exercise. the DN of “ilovereigen3.” The handle of “yaoiconvention.” The fact that I encountered this tweet not in the wild, but as a screenshot posted five months after its initial posting.
The all lower case signifies casualness and fleeting thought. In true posting style, this is a thought that, true or not, feels like it is coming directly and unfiltered out of someone’s brain, without any caveats or explanations. This is a tweet expressing something batshit, but also something incredibly honest, whose meanings are built out of associations and impulses rather than a dissertation (which is what I myself am writing.). The fact that the user who reposted the screenshot deleted it.
Then, we must look at the text itself:
can we just leave writing queer stories to the fujoshis because when queer people make queer stories we get steven universetwitter user yaoiconvention
The Interpretations of this Post I’ve seen in the quote retweets consist of 1) Queer People taking the text at very literal, serious face value and being offended by it, and 2) Queer people absolutely doubled over in pain, but also in laughter at the implications. While I am very much in the latter camp, I do have some understanding and sympathy for the first. After all, isn’t Good LGBTQ representation in mainstream media what we want? Isn’t supporting queer creators making queer stories like, the backbone of what we should be gunning for, especially after decades of offensive, stereotyped media made by cishets? This flippant tweet reverses all of that, daring to suggest that obsessive m/m romance-erotica fangirls would be better creators than LGBT people who have been working hard on creating good, honest stories reflecting their lives and experiences. It shakes something at the very core of desire for representation in art. And personally…I think there’s a good point to be made there.
When it comes to fujoshi, or BL/yaoi in general, it is very much a genre built upon a foundation of creative, fantastical indulgence, of both the erotic and the emotional kind. The worlds reflected in BL can be more naturalistic, but they are just as often stylized and “unrealistic,” not always necessarily reflecting the reality of queer people in real life. BL mangaka Chika Hongo, mused in an interview with Futekiya that “BL has been consumed as a way to forget about oneself (including one’s gender). It looks at love from a bird’s eye view.” This distant approach allows for creators and fans to focus less on trying to create a reflection of their own life, and allows for the exploration of all kinds of extreme or exaggerated themes, no matter how “taboo” or “problematic” they might be. This approach is not without its drawbacks of course–in the same interview, Hongo talks about how she was worried that including a more prominent woman character in a BL story might break that sense of fantasy for readers. It’s also unfortunately true that there do exist BL fans and fujoshi who enjoy the fantasy and drama of the fictional stories, but who disdain gay and queer people in real life.
However, there is a point to be made that in a lot of ways, creations made specifically for pleasure, indulgence, and personal reflection and desire will resonate in a way that purely didactic works simply will not.There is already immense pressure for creators, especially queer creators, to represent ourselves and our identities in the “right” way, especially with the knowledge of how stereotyped portrayals of queer identities in mainstream media have caused so much harm. Time and time again on the internet, we have seen examples of how this has lead not to more liberation, but to the policing and scrutinizing of queer creators’ identities on whether or not they have the right to write about this or that identity or subject matter, no matter how “wholesome” or simple the subject matter might be. It’s a process that traumatizes and re-closets queer creators and makes it difficult to create or engage in art in a sincere way without simply measuring its value on the “is this a good enough representation” scale.
I find this interesting because while people are (understandably) cautious about the multiple examples of Bad Representation by cishets, I’ve anecdotally observed that the things people tend to dislike about such media is either that it’s actively hateful and mean-spirited, or that it tries to be sympathetic but in a patronizing, pitying way devoid of sincerity or emotion. In contrast, media that goes all out in being batshit weird and indulgent and fun while including queer vibes, even if it is made by cishets, tends to be much fondly remembered and received even if imperfect. I mean, Interview With A Vampire is an influential classic with many people for good reason despite its wild messiness.
In order for queer creators to have the freedom to be and sincere and expressive in their work (and in order for there to be good work) there would have to be a massive decoupling of “permissions” and ability to make subversive and indulgent work based solely on identity. Work would have to be less focused on representation (or self validation) and more on evoking a variety of responses, including uncomfortable ones. There would have to be less entitlement over other people’s work and other people’s expressions.
To return to the fujoshi thing, one thing that is notable to me about manga (and especially BL manga) creators is how there is definitely a lot of anonymity involved. While there may be assumptions that creators are women creating for women, a lot of time creators keep public information about themselves and their identities to a minimum. Part of this may be for practical reasons to protect against unfortunate conservative cultural biases, but it definitely appeals somewhat to me in contrast to various recent internet creator culture in english-language creator and fandom spaces that necessitates oversharing of deeply personal information on one’s identity and traumas, information that can and will be used for scrutinization and abuse. In my impressions of many fujoshi spaces and BL creators, the genre is already dismissed and discussed with revulsion, by both cishet readers and lgbt creators, as a space of “fetishizers and weirdos” and because of that is already decoupled from specific pressure to be “perfect representation.” When twitter user yaoiconvention proclaims “we need LESS (sic) queer people in charge!!! Return to our roots!!” I read that as an expression of frustration at having to tie queer identity–something incredibly variable and personal– to creation in a way that binds you to the work and invites scrutiny and abuse from people supposedly in your community.
Especially since what was described above–the identity scrutinization, the revulsion and disgust, and debate about “permissions” of depiction was a discourse that thrived and continues to thrive in certain corners of the internet about Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar themselves. It intrigues me that from what I see of pro-transgressive fiction folks, “Steven Universe” is used as shorthand to connote “uwu facile didactic media for children” when from the anti-fan side, it’s apparently a terrible, unforgivably flawed work that promotes genocide, abuse apologism, fascism, and unhealthy codependent relationships. Go figure. Honestly… it’s just a show, and an incredibly sincere and indulgent one at that. But it is that very indulgence in itself that I believe caused such revulsion in fans, who felt the need to scrutinize specific aspects of Sugar’s identity as a Jewish, bisexual nonbinary person and measure it up against whether they or their staff was “allowed” to tell a complex, emotional story the way they wanted to (especially as someone who has, in the past, doodled various “problematic” cartoon erotica). All this, over a kid’s cartoon!
I feel like OP falls into the camp of using Steven Universe as shorthand for “uwu unchallenging,” which is interesting in a meta way to me because of the context behind SU and its creation and scrutinization. If even something so specifically age appropriate and bending over backwards to emphasize kindness and courage, worked on by multiple queer people absolutely drawing from their own experiences and desires, could face such absolute bullshit nonsense, what hope is there for other queer people whose works aren’t nearly as palatable?
So indeed, the statement of “when queer people make queer stories we get steven universe” is very true. You get the work itself, which is decent and good, but you also get the complicated and frustrating legacy of toxicity and abuse in the name of purity and representation. It’s exhausting for one’s identity to get caught up in that mess, and understandable to want to be done with it all, shelve the burden of “representing” yourself in the best, respectable way to other people, and devote your time to figuring out what individual and specific things that keep you creatively, intellectually, and spiritually fulfilled.
And for all the gripes about fujoshi, you can’t deny that they are a group of people who are absolute masters in passionately and shamelessly pursuing what they like, no matter how weird or niche it might be.
FURTHER NOTES so as to not get it twisted:
- Obviously it’s good to read widely and this is not a knock on more naturalistic queer portrayals and art . This discussion is interesting to me because personally, if I want to read Actual Real Realistic portrayals of queer life I prefer to well, read people’s blog posts and listen to real people online discuss about our different experiences. Fiction is definitely good for increasing awareness and empathy, but I was able to learn about myself and other people much less through fiction, but more through gradually getting to know Actual People on social media just casually talking about their day and their life, or through autobiographical comics or videos. I definitely want to read and learn more, since I know there’s a lot of really good work out there in that vein! It’s just inherently and obviously going to be different in goal and intention than what yaoi inherently is, so I feel like it’s a bit silly to compare such works.
- I know yaoi is an outdated term but I admire that the origin of the word itself has its emphasis on erotic indulgence embedded into its meaning. It feels very thematically appropriate. I’m also very intrigued, if disagree slightly, with Ikuhara and Kotani’s definition of “yaoi” from their interview, which seems to define yaoi less as being about gender, or about queerness at all, and more a story built upon heavy stylization and relationship subversion, in which gender and queerness are simply ingredients to that. Which…gives me a lot of thoughts. I’m sure a lot of that is my own reading into things, but it is definitely all very huh! I doubt Ikuni can just reinvent meanings for words like that, but the shape of what he and Kotani was describing is definitely interesting to me.
- The best QRT to the original tweet was someone saying “fujoshi should bring that energy to yuri” I agree. Also that’s kind of what SU did in a way, since there were so many interesting problematic but very emotionally indulgent f/f dynamics alongside the wholesome ones (and partially the reason for the revulsion)
- Aside from fujoshi, I also feel like spaces built by furry artists and also artists and creators centered more specifically around kink/fetish spaces do tend to be spaces that are demographically and inherently very queer, but also the point of the spaces is less the queerness themselves and more the self-expression and pursuit of desirable art. Of course, no spaces are truly utopian and there’s always gonna be a lot of frustrating systemic and interpersonal conflict brought in I’m sure, but thinking about spaces that are just very separate from the corporate ideal of having to “be good representation” that is pervasive in literally every other space. It also is what amuses me when hearing “fetishization” only in a negative connotation from certain internet corners.
- The whole debacle of course reminds me of the discourse around Gengoroh Tagame and “My Brother’s Husband,” which was praised and lauded by some people as “finally, a good wholesome gay comic by and about gay people and not made by those disgusting fetishizing women” only for people to learn that Tagame made the manga more for straight people’s education–a didactic work–while the majority of his body of work is, in fact, indulgent fetish erotica.
- My personal issue I guess with a lot of BL is that I definitely can be alienated by its conventions and structures, even while I do enjoy the benefit of “love from a bird’s eye view.” There’s something very conventional about its beauty and designs of bodies that I find appealing in some ways but also dull in others, due to its focus on capturing an ideal or being a vehicle of projection. As mentioned in the first note, this is vastly different than a lot of work that is focused on sharing experiences with more specificity. I know that not ALL BL follows such conventions and that there is a lot of variety that isn’t always visible, but just something that stands out to me. When it comes to “indulgence” is that there must be variety and diversity, and focusing on just what is “marketable” whether that is corporate sanitized content or narrow concepts of desirability.
- In the end though so much of this is just driven by marketability and power and money so in Carl Sagan fashion etc etc if we want to make a sandwich [have space for better more indulgent art without fear] we first must invent the universe [abolish capitalism]
further reading that I think is interesting or tangential to the subject