Thursday, December 11, 2008

In the mood for love- I mean essaaaay~

This is mainly intended for the newcomers to social-political aspects of slash fiction/BL; but to those who are already aware, it also presents some new ways of looking at the issues behind slash fiction as well...

Gossip Girls, perfume ads, fashion spreads, reality shows... with whatever the media is trying to target us these days, they all spell out the word "straight". That's basically how you sum up heteronormativity and heterosexism in a nutshell. It's not quite as offensive as blatant homophobia, but pretending queer people doesn't exist in the media is just as nasty as wrist-flicking gay jokes.

In the past decades, the media has successfully imposed its own delusions of grandeur onto the average consumer. In plain English, it means that people think any given character from The O.C. is an accurate representation of the average young North American. Therefore, it's easy to see why people expect you to be white, straight, and slim (only if you’re female, of course.)

If you happen to fit the profile of white, slim, and -please- female (only female), you may proceed with the "adventurous" path of bicuriousity. Of course, this will only be a phase. After you have made out with that other white, slim, female hottie, you will be able to throw a tantrum and go back to the arms of your white boyfriend. If, heavens forbid, that you genuinely like other women (again, only if you're white and slim), please exit the stage as soon as you're done with putting up a good show for the boys. If you happen to be of the rare, verboten species of gay men, the media welcomes you with the awkward end of a shit stick and predictable laugh tracks.

The above paragraphs sum up, verbally, my general cynicism of the media's heteronormativity. Subconsciously, I think this concept developed long before my still limited knowledge of feminist theories.

Growing up watching anime brought an eclectic mix of emotions to my childhood. Back at my grandparents’ house, when my male cousins returned to my uncles and aunts, and grampa and gramma were resting in the streets, on their beds made of bamboo, I would sneak into the lounge-room to watch reruns of Knights of the Zodiac. I felt ashamed of it because I knew Knights was a show for boys. But despite my fighting my older male cousins to watch Sailor Moon instead of this wretched sausage fest, I was actually beyond curious to see something other than tits in miniskirts. So, cautiously, I curled my toes and tuned in whenever I had the chance.

I recollect that I was mesmerized by an androgynous young man who wore a form-fitted suit of pink armour. His name is Shun. Not only is he physically gorgeous, he is also of amiable character. But not surprisingly, at the tender age of eight, I didn’t know Shun is a boy. So, I looked up to Shun instead of Malibu Barbie.

On a meteorologically-forgettable afternoon, I watched, entranced, as Shun almost touched lips with a male companion of his. This wasn’t a romantic gesture, but rather, it was an act of unselfishness to save a friend by giving him physical warmth. At the time, these characters’ gender didn’t matter to me, nor was I able to distinguish among romance, friendship, and lust. Maybe my cousins thought Shun’s embracing another boy is indecent. Maybe they didn’t know Shun is a boy, either.

After years of exhausting the tedious vault of magical girls, talking stuffed animals, and of course, watching shows made for boys in secrecy, I finally resorted openly to stories of robots fighting intergalactic wars and battles of feudal samurai lords. From these “boys’ shows”, I discovered the anti-heteronorm.

On the Internet, among female fans of T.V., films, video games, literature, and just about any other format of fictional entertainment, there is a particularly strong dislike towards female characters. We argue that, compared to the robust, heroic, and brilliant boys and men, the girls and women are one-sided, flat, uninteresting, and solely there to support their superior, male counterparts. Unlike the male fans, we fail to find them sexually attractive, and therefore we dismiss the heroines. As a result, it makes sense as to why so many girls and young women turn to shows, books, and video games stereotypically targeted at the other gender and dominated by bold, male characters. For this certain niche of girls, both lesbian and straight, the boys and men of fiction became desirable in a way that would tickle us giddy like a group of Go-Go boys would to the drunken, after happy-hour crowd of martini consuming office-women.

Now I’d hate to stereotype against my own gender, but the female’s adoration for romance is generally regarded as universal. You can expect to entertain an average gal with a chick-flick, while her presumed-male beau either will contemptuously sulk in a corner, or he will sit through the garbage in hopes of obtaining some sexual favour after the Mandy Moore-cued credits. But this niche -this cynical, jaded niche of girls and women who are piss tired of predictably klutzy damsels in distress and their equally predictable douchebags of boyfriends- refuse to fall for the works of Stephanie Meyer and Meg Cabot. Instead of being depraved of romantic entertainment and becoming generally unhappy, we pair up the boys. With each other.

Now let me assure you, that this isn’t a new, hedonist fad that you’re so indecently exposed to just now. At the risk of dating my then nonexistent self, I will express my ambiguous knowledge of the fan-imagined funny business between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock from Star Trek. See, way back in the sixties and seventies, girls and women already had the hots for moderately attractive men appearing on television in tight pants. Though Kirk and Spock do not interact romantically or sexually on the small screen, their fans’ imagination certainly was able to run wild. Instead of female fans wishing they could have Mr. Spock’s baby, they now wished that medicinal technology was advanced enough so Mr. Spock could have Captain Kirk’s baby. Kirk/Spock. Call it refreshing, grotesque, erotic, unspeakable, this is how slash fiction began.

Psychologists find this phenomenon odd, and you may find it even odder that legit, prestigious researchers get paid to study how women get their hots on by watching men getting their hots on with each other. Some scholars argue that many young women are attracted to the sexual allure of a male-exclusive relationship because of a lack of presence of female biology. Apparently, we are unable to respond maturely and seriously to our own sexuality without linking it with lesbianism, the same way that any boys in this room will think that a male who is not wearing a shirt will be automatically come on to him. It doesn’t help that in mainstream media, the woman is always the object of sexual desire or beauty, and therefore, this conundrum does not affect boys in the same way. In theory, it summarizes the arbitrary psychology that if you openly appear naked and without shame in front of the same sex, you are a homosexual. In fact, if you happen to be a naked woman that’s not particularly attractive according to societal standards, even if you’re flaunting it off in front of the guys, you are somehow a lesbian. But this argument is flawed in at least one way. There are lesbian women who enjoying reading about, writing about, and drawing about gay male relationships, even the explicitly sexual aspects of it. While I will not speak on behalf of them to present an explanation, I would like to think that this is an evidence of the fluidity of human sexuality.

While slash is wholly fiction, the one realistic upside of a gay male relationship, from a straight woman’s point of view, is its egalitarian properties. It’s no surprise that readers find escape from the suppression of any one partner in a relationship in slash fiction. And, you can’t deny that once in a while, it’s nice to pretend that there is a perfect balance in which no one particular person is confined to cook, scrub, vacuum, and pop out babies once every nine months. But do you remember Shun? Or Mr. Spock? Or even Legolas ala Orlando Bloom? The stereotypically feminine or even slightly physically androgynous men become the new “wifey’s”. In the average slash fiction, these typically younger, softer men are more than willing to cook a nice meal or put on sexy lingerie’s. Believe me, I ‘m not exaggerating, especially on the second part. I don’t think slash fans possess ill-intents when they replace, both physically and socially, the traditional femmes with pretty boys, but rather, the concept of inequality in relationships is so ingrained into our culture and minds that we are subconsciously confining ourselves in these sexist restrictions. These gender dynamics are like herpes, and the heterosexist media is the sociopathic rapist that’s giving it to everyone.

In addition, you should not expect all slash fictions to be gay-friendly. No, in fact, it would be equally preposterous to assume all porn are women-friendly. Slash fiction is a creative, escape medium for women, predominantly the heterosexual variety. There is a good reason why only an insignificant fraction of slash fans are gay men, and why even one gay activist in Japan spoke up so negatively about Boy’s Love, or BL as slash is known in Japan. He argues that men are degraded sexually and objectified in BL fiction, just as women are in mainstream pornography. As a matter of fact, sometimes slash fiction reiterates rape fantasy with the no means yes mentality, similar to the worst offender of its kind in mainstream pornography. This is where the slash fans have to draw the line between fantasy and reality. Right now, slash fiction has an incredible cult status; on Google, a search for YAOI, one specific subgenre of gay fiction exclusive to popular Japanese culture, alone turns up over 11 million results. Then again, a search for porn turns up 220. What many young men don’t realize is that distinct and sacred line between fantasy and misogyny. To the best of my knowledge and personal experience, the girls are doing a much better job. Furthermore, once again not to generalize, but I would like to comment that it is physically more difficult for women to sexually assault men. Many slash fans are feminists and supporters of the gay community, me included. The majority of us realize that the men of our fantasies are very much, well, fantasies. We don’t have that same expectation for the men in our reality. On the other hand, it’s not surprising when a young man expects attractive young women to perform fellatio on him after they exchange pleasant eye contacts on the street. Now I’m not making a negative assumption of all or even the majority of male mankind, but this is a reasonable statement to get across of what the porn and rape culture is teaching young men today.

That’s all very nice, you say, but isn’t there something terribly weird about two dudes getting it own in a perfectly heteronormative world? Yea, you’re right, and we as slash writers and artists ignore that fact. I can literally count, with the fingers on one hand, of how many times I’ve read about social issues such as homophobia or AIDS dealt with seriously and with great lengths in slash fiction. Quite frank, it’s fiction, and unless it dolls up the drama, we really don’t care. To make an impudent comparison, do you watch porn or chick-flicks so you can find out if the protagonist went ahead with that abortion? Yea, I thought not. Let’s leave the serious business for the social activists.

All in all, the close-knit slash community depends on the insatiable, female sexual appetite; it is just as proud and flamboyant as their male counterpart, yet it’s almost always ignored in the mainstream media. Of course, there is also fem-slash that is not explored in this essay. But given the media’s welcoming acceptance of lesbianism as a selling point, female homosexuality is less ostracized. Slash writers and artists are girls and women who are tired of being told to buy crap produced by companies who tell us we’ll never be good enough, fronted by airbrushed models which we will never become. Some of us are more aware of that fact than others. As females, we are taught by the media to automatically accept overt promiscuity from other women, who are stereotypically more attractive than us. Yet men do not suffer the same fate. Selling male sex appeal to other men is condemned homoeroticism, while selling female sex appeal to other women is a foolproof money-making scheme. Is it any wonder on why we have self-esteem issues when almost all of the average 3,000 ads we see per day tell us there is something disgustingly wrong with us? Well, we are no fools. We are creating our own alternative space of sexuality. Do we expect mainstream acceptance? Of course not, at least not anytime soon. Do I expect, that as a slash artist that you, the passerby, will suddenly understand that I draw pictures of beautiful, sometimes androgynous men, homoerotically charged or otherwise, for the sole purpose of artistically appreciating the beauty of men, and not for your twisted, snickering pleasures to question, “hey, is that a dude or what?” No. At that point, all I can do is take a breath, smile, and bear with your misogynist, heterosexist insensitivity.

No comments: