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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Otouto no Otto by Tagame Gengoroh

I’m obviously ripping through a ton of different titles at the moment.  So, apologies for the sort-of spamming of reviews that I’ve been doing these last few days.

This is all in prep for various up-coming MidAmericaCON II/WorldCON panels. I’m on two manga/anime panels.  One about horror anime/manga, and the other about yaoi/yuri.  I stumbled across a reference to Otouto no Otto/My Brother’s Husband while looking for some yuri, believe it or not.  You can find the first three volumes of this on-going series at a number of places, I read it on MangaReader (on my iPad to cut down on the pop-up ads), but it’s also here: http://bato.to/comic/_/comics/otouto-no-otto-r17256.

I HIGHLY recommend this title in general, but to GLBT/Q readers specifically.

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SPOILERS

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You can tell immediately that the  Gengoroh-sensei is mostly known as a ‘bara’ mangaka.   All of his men are barrel-chested, highly muscular, and, in the case of Uncle Mike, hairy as a bear (pun intended).  It took me a little while to get used to this style, but it’s super-worth it to stick with this story, IMHO.  My rec comes with one huge caveat, however.  Keep in mind that seinen slice-of-life is one of my absolute favorite sub-genres.  I would read all the slice-of-life available, but my favorites really are What Did You Eat Yesterday?/Kinou Nani Tabeta? and now this one.

And they’re both ‘kinda gay.’

The set-up for Otouto no Otto/My Brother’s Husband goes like this:

Ten years ago Yaichi’s twin brother moved to Canada and married a man called Mike. A month ago, he died.

Now Mike has arrived in Japan to meet Yaichi and his daughter Kana. Yaichi has to face his own preconceptions and come to terms with who his brother really was.

And, that pretty much sums up the entire story really nicely.  The things I really enjoy about this manga series are that Mike is really very much like a lot of gay men I actually know.  He’s not overly fabulous, but there’s a gentleness and openness to him that feels really queer.  I will say, though, that Mike is my age, clearly.  I have no idea how “real” Mike is going to feel to anyone under the age of, say, thirty-five.  I also suspect that some of Yaichi’s conflicts are probably going to feel very 1980s to younger readers (and by “younger” I mean kind of anyone who isn’t in their late-40s.)

On the other hand, I don’t know anything about how this plays in Japan.  I’ve done only moderate research into the current attitudes towards gay marriage in Japan, etc., but my sense is that this is probably a Very Important manga, if you know what I mean–like, very necessary in terms of educating a more conservative public.  In the version I read, Mike gives little Gay Culture 101 bits at the end of the volumes explaining things that I can only presume are commonplace to American/European/English-speaking audiences, like what is a rainbow flag and why gay people wear pink triangles as a symbol of pride.

But, beyond all this, I found this story utterly adorable. Mike’s explanation to the young daughter, Kana, about “who is the missus?” in their relationship is really quite amazing and wonderful.  (His answer, “We’re both misters.  I was Ryoji’s husband, and Ryoji was my husband.”)  I love this so hard because in a lot of yaoi manga there’s this insistence on the heteronormative sexual/emotional/domestic  roles, which doesn’t reflect the reality of GLBT/Q families at ALL.

I also love the hell out of the fact that after this simple, but profound explanation we spend a lot of time with our straight, cis male hero, Yaichi, as he struggles with his own preconceptions about how gay marriage works and his own worries/fears/etc about his twin brother (and, by reflection, himself.)

Kana, the young daughter, is probably one of my favorites as well because  Gengoroh-sensei really nailed how kids deal with GLBT/Q issues.  When my wife and I were first considering having children we attended a class for lesbians about the how-to’s/what to expects and one of the things we were warned about is how kids do NOT respect “the closet.”  One of the little boys there happily announced to anyone–the clerk at the grocery store, random strangers on the street that “my moms are less-beans.”  I found that both adorable and horrifying.  And that’s a lot how things with Kana play out in this manga.  She does all the cute instant acceptance stuff kids do–with the corresponding part where dad, Yaichi is FREAKING OUT BECAUSE OMG SEX, while Mike is all ‘of course we married because we love each other.’ And then we even hit moments where all the kids are curious/accepting, but the parents of friends of Kana get all weird and restrictive and awkward, like they legit thinks kids can ‘catch the queer.’

Which, sadly, was very much how things were here in the U.S. as little as ten years ago.

So, for me, as an older queer woman this feels SUPER realistic and poignant–because the stupidest stuff made me bawl like a baby.

Therefore my recommendation is several thumbs up with the caveat that milage may vary depending your age.  I can only imagine this whole thing reads as very basic and kind of stupid to ‘the kids these days’ who have (thankfully!) had the luxury of growing up when it wasn’t so scary to come out as gay or lesbian or bi. To those folks reading this manga, I say, “Yes, children, this is what it was like when gramma came out as queer.”