Manga, a form of comic originating from Japan, has taken its place alongside its Western visual narrative counterparts as a stable sub-culture within modern media. One subgenre, that of boys’ love manga- or BL manga for short- is a one of a kind experience, existing as a tenuous dichotomy of Othering and being Othered.
Boys’ love manga, as the name might suggest, is a genre of manga which features homosexual relationships between two males, produced by straight women for straight women. The varying levels of sexually explicit content within the genre make it its own special kind of hodgepodge culture, blending romance novels and their escapist literature tendencies, pornography and its overt objectification for aesthetic and erotic pleasure for the viewer, and fandom culture and its tight-knit community that collectively receives emotional gratification and catharsis from the romantic stories they obsess over.
The community of readers for BL manga are especially self aware, calling themselves “fujoshi,” a self-deprecating term that makes a homonym of the phrase “proper girl,” turning it into “rotten girl.” The fans of the genre openly acknowledge that finding emotional fulfillment in the sex lives of fictional gay men is not part of mainstream culture, and wear the Othering phrase like a badge of pride. Their self-chosen identifier simultaneously recognizes the ostracization society imposes on them while poking fun at themselves for their immoral or indecent hobby.
BL manga and its even more overtly pornographic cousin yaoi (a play on the words yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi, “no climax, no point, no meaning”) exist as one of the most fringe of fringe subcultures. Modern society sees nerds, geeks, and fandom culture as an already unsavory collection of people too weird and Other to fit in anywhere else, but even among these outcasts, fujoshi are seen as too Other for their should-be peers.
Causes of Othering the Fujoshi
One reason fujoshi might experience such Othering because they are extremely forthcoming with their sexual desires. Hearing girls gush about how hot they find gay sex to be might be offputting for a society that still expects women to by and largely be sexless creatures, with no erotic desires of their own but rather behaving in a reactionary way to the men in their life.
It might also be because the straight, white men who make up the majority of American and European fandom culture feel uncomfortable at being objectified. To see girls reblogging uncensored, highly NSFW works of a homoerotic nature and commenting on the aesthetic pleasure they receive from it puts men in the uncomfortable place of objectification women have been for years. Being faced with an idealized version of their bodies being put on display in an erotic manner for the public at large gives men a taste of their own medicine they don’t want to swallow.
However, while already subjected to Othering because of their warping of society’s expected sexual and gender norms, fujoshi make no effort to integrate with society. Where society is shocked and scandalized by porn and what they see as porn, these women treat it as any other romance novel or TV show, lacking the shame and secrecy given to other types of sexually explicit materials. They gleefully joke about friends they’ve “infected” or “turned to the dark side,” acknowledging that this is seen as a disease or a societal ill. By simultaneously accepting and taking ownership of these negative stereotypes, they let themselves be pushed away from society, and even cheerfully help build some of the walls between themselves and others. Fujoshi choose to allow the ostracization to happen, helping it along rather than fighting it, in what may be a one-of-a-kind situation where the Other is all right, and maybe even amused or happy, to be Othered.