Why gay erotic manga is so popular among straight women in HK


Arthur Tam explores the world of gay erotic manga and why it's become so popular among straight women in Hong Kong

There’s a growing fascination among Hong Kong women in watching and drawing yaoi – Japanese gay manga. Most of us have probably heard of hentai, which is Japanese comic pornography. Yaoi or Boys’ Love (BL) is its homosexual counterpart, and it may come as a surprise, but many of the artists and consumers of yaoi are actually straight women. Yaoi first reached Hong Kong from Japan back in the 1970s and it rose in popularity in the 90s among high school girls, according to research from student June Yu of Hong Kong Baptist University. Since then, the birth of the ironic term ‘fujoshi’ – literally meaning ‘rotten women’ – emerged to characterise women fascinated by homosexual displays in media and in art. 

Recently, associate professor Katrien Jacobs at the Chinese University of Hong Kong participated in a sex-themed exhibition called Ten Million Rooms of Yearning. Sex in Hong Kong, at the Para Site Gallery in Sheung Wan, with her collection of yaoi zines and a talk called ‘Chinese Women in Love with Gay Sex Scenes’. “Yaoi in Hong Kong is at its crucial peak,” says Jacobs. “It is very big and influential, and plays a part for female sexuality in this city. You couldn’t have a sex-themed exhibition without it.” According to Jacobs, there are two main reasons why women love watching and recreating their own stories of yaoi. The first reason is the escape and removal of sexual identity, which Jacobs calls ‘cross gender identification’. Women are looking at these man-on-man relationships from a safe and comfortable distance, creating a guilt-free comfort zone. Yu agrees. “Women feel guilty about identifying with female characters in pornography, who exhibit sexual satisfaction by means of male penetration,” she says. “To escape the complicity in this sexual dilemma, women created the world of yaoi, where female readers are not required to consider the disadvantages of exposing their eroticism.”

As result, many BL artists like Hong Kong’s own Kings’ Indigo have been able to portray an idealised form of the male body and of homosexual male relationships to reflect the tastes of the female sexual palate. There is usually a sweet and caring nature between the boy-next-door types of characters that shifts into extremely graphic sexual scenes. Though in recent years, according to Jacobs, there has been a diversification because ‘female sexuality is fluid in nature, and the varied tastes have led to different yaoi genres’ featuring a broader spectrum of male body types and relationships.

 There are a few specific trends to Chinese yaoi readers, such as when one character is sick, disabled or mentally impotent and the other has to take care of him. “It’s a juxtaposition of sex and taking care of people, which has a sweet element to it,” says Jacobs. Another trend is of imperial Chinese themes, where an emperor has fallen in love with a eunuch and finds the genital scarring area to be an attractive erogenous zone. It’s odd, we know, but these storylines have become a hit.

Another reason for women’s interest in yaoi is because it provides a sense of social freedom in a stifling society. “That’s especially so now in China and in Hong Kong where censorship is an issue of the highest concern,” says Jacobs. Just last April, 20 women from Anhui province in China were arrested for writing and uploading yaoi. And in August 2013 at Comic World 36, held in Hong Kong, police officers entered the event and seized yaoi content, charging the artists and distributors with violations of obscenity laws.

“Yaoi represents a sense of rebellion,” says Jacobs. “It is a way for women to have their own erotica, which they didn’t have before, and then share it with the wider international community. It’s an escape from the type of local culture that usually dictates women to be obedient.” 

What may be obscene and debased for some is a sexually and socially liberating experience for others. And for Hong Kong women, yaoi is a form of art that satisfies more than some cheap sexual thrill, it satisfies a guilt-free sexual thrill.

For more on professor Jacobs and her work, go to libidot.org. Check out June Yu’s Study at www.bit.ly/yaoicuhk.

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