The Trials and Tribulations of Queer Otaku

I’m going to go off-script for a moment and make some general commentary prompted by an essay over on Yaoi Playground.  Apparently, there’s some shipping crisis over in the Tokyo Ghoul fandom.  I’m not going to pretend I know anything about what’s happening there. Knowing ship wars from Bleach, I’m sure it’s ugly af. But, Yaoi Playground’s essay implied that gay/queer ship fans are particularly angry.  As soon as I heard that, I have to admit, that my sympathy shifted 180 degrees.

Queer fans get the shaft a lot.  And not in a good way.

There’s a couple of things going on here that I’d like to address specifically from a queer point of view.

I feel like queer fans of shounen have been blind-sighted by sudden canon pairings a LOT.  Naruto and Bleach being the most obvious and most egregious examples of this. Both Bleach and Naruto are shounen manga. What most queer fans read shounen for is the same thing I imagine all shounen fans sign up for: Explosions! Action! BIG-SWORDS! Cool fights! Honor and Justice! Big, obvious, evil bads!  Random, unbelievable, but totally awesome power-ups!

Am I right, fam?

Romance, if it’s present at all, tends to be very much of a subplot.  Both Naruto and Ichigo had straight love interests, but that was not what the story was meant to be ABOUT, at least it didn’t seem that way when the stories started.

Then, all of a sudden, at the end, there were marriages and babies and WTF.

I think straight fans should have been angered by those endings, too, and, from what I can tell, many of them were.  Ending an action story with some kind of unnecessary time skip where there are marriages and babies makes literally no sense, and in fact does great harm to your story. You can tell J.K. Rowling I said so, too.  I get the impulse to tie up all the loose threads, but unless you’re specifically writing romance, what a good writer should focus on is making sure that the PLOT is complete: the bad guy(s) are defeated and the world/characters have changed/learned something.

Queer fans are particularly hurt by this impulse because no one ever thinks of us.  (Exceptions being Yuri on Ice! and Legends of Korra.) But, 99.999999% of the time, no matter how hard you shipped their ‘precious friendship,’ the likelihood that the male hero is going to end up with their best male friend/rival is zilch.

The reason queer fans get angry about this isn’t because we expect everyone to be gay, it’s because there is LITERALLY NO REASON TO END AN ACTION MANGA THIS WAY.  The manga can end without a canon ship tacked on.

You don’t see queer fans being upset when the shoujo couple gets together, do you?  (I mean, there are crazy fans, so probably you do, but…) most people know going into shoujo that they’re going to get a girl falling for a boy! That’s the main point of the genre.  Romance novels, end with a romantic HEA.  That’s the deal.

Similarly, no one expects a yaoi hero to suddenly fall for a woman at the end (though I have seen that happen in yuri, so I guess there are exceptions to every expectation/rule.)

My point is, I think queer fans get particularly bent out of shape when a manga that is not otherwise marketed as romantic feels the need to slap on a straight romance.

Speaking of Harry Potter, this move also often feels punitive. I am pretty sure Rowling knew how hard a lot of her fandom shipped Harry and Draco.  I’m also pretty certain that Kubo-sensei knew that most of his fandom preferred one straight ship over the other (all you have to do is see how the Bleach: The Musical was written to confirm.  Similarly, if Kubo-sensei was ever in the audience when the fans screamed when Renji and Byakuya held hands briefly or when Kyouraku flirted with Ukitake, he also knew that he was purposefully breaking hearts when he broke those fan favorite gay couples apart.)  I felt that, too, when Isayama-sensei tacked in a wholly unnecessary “no homo” comment on Reiner and Bertholdt in some of the later chapters of Attack on Titan. Like, it came so out of the blue, that my only conclusion is that the mangaka was reacting to fandom.

And, that’s the second thing.  We have to put up with a lot of queer-baiting.  When I discussed this before in conjunction to Let’s Take the Train Together, Shall We…? a lot of straight fans got bent out of shape.  But, this is a real phenomenon. There are plenty of examples of queerness being used as a tease or as a joke, so that the straight/cis reader can be titillated and/or have a moment of “Oh, haha! People think they’re a couple! How uncomfortable for them, teehee!” when the author has no intention of ever getting the two same-sex characters together.

Often, this happens in shows/manga that I really enjoy.  An example I brought up on my comment over at Yaoi Playground, is Free! Iwatobi Swim Club/Eternal Summer. I loved that show for its queer subtext, but let’s be honest: no one gets together at the end. No one ever explicitly comes out as queer.  People will argue that’s not what that show was about (it’s about swimming!), but I will argue right back that the writers knew what they were doing and did so intentionally.  There’s a whole episode that’s entirely subtextual where Nagisa has to “come out” to his parents and is kicked out.  I mean, sure, you can read that entirely on its surface, but subtext only works if there’s a there there, if you know what I mean?

Girl’s Monthly Nozaki-kun has a lot of this, too.  I also adored that story, and because it’s a shoujo, I was not mad about the ending of the anime.  But, there are definitely moments where there’s a gay element that gets played up…. remember the dating sim episode?  I loved it, but it was a wink-and-a-nod, not full on ‘baiting,’ per se, but it was queerness played for laughs.

These queer-baiting moments aren’t meant to be hurtful, I don’t think.  I think they’re just as the Wikipedia article defines queer-baiting: what they are is trying to draw in queer-friendly audiences.  But, that being said, they are also done with NO INTENTION of ever making good on the queer ship tease.

Queer fans get double-slapped this way.  We get your straight pairing rammed down our throats, while we’re also expected to laugh along at hilariously awkward it is when straight people get mistaken as a gay couple.

I’m not even going to touch the odd fetishizing of our sex that happens.

My point is, if you run across a queer fan who is angry about a straight ship becoming canon?  Try to consider the source. Some fans are just crazy, we all know that. But, sometimes this hurt we’re feeling comes from all the other places where we were unexpectedly, or even intentionally, jerked around. We love our ships with the same passion you do.  We hate to see ours broken, but was also have this huge history of having to be broken.  It used to be that even gay writers wrote only tragic gay romances, where you could find love, but it had to be torn from you.  Ukitake had to die, that was the only way to have pure queer love.

And we’re sick of it.

Thank goodness for “Yuri on Ice!,” eh, fam?

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