In her doctoral thesis: “Reading and Living Yaoi – Male-Male Fantasy Narratives as Women’s Sexual Subculture in Japan” Akiko Mizoguchi posits the radical proposition that Japanese women fans of BL/yaoi are engaging in virtual lesbianism and/or creating a virtual lesbian/ gendered space when they discuss and meet to pursue their hobby of reading, talking about, exchanging and sometimes creating fantasy male-male romance/ sex narratives. (Holy Joanna Russ Batman!)
“Doing yaoi” is seen not only as a real exchange of highly sexualized fantasy material, but a symbolic lbidinal exchange, complete with “preferences”, “roles” and a free-floating sense of agency /command of lore or “law” that can be self- mockingly ascribed a phallic function.
Did Kio Shimoku ever read or consult with Akiko Mizoguchi? An an “out” lesbian manga enthusiast and academic theorist, who also studied in the USA and teaches in Tokyo, she writes in both English and Japanese, and her work is personable and easy to follow even as it is resolutely feminist, pro-yaoi and pro-LGTBQ.
Any random mangaka looking on the net or through the journal stacks for bl/yaoi information from a fan-academic would probably run into her work. Knowing Shimoku’s m.o., her personal (well resolved) contradictions would draw him to her work like a moth to a flame. (1)
Hold that though, but first more on Mizoguchi’s work:
That the precursor to bl, “bishonen” manga helped her navigate her sexuality at a young age makes perfect sense as she relates it, even if “yaoi helped me come out as a lesbian” sounds at first like one big mess. A script that valorized “other” desire valorized and empowered her desires. It even provided her with the language she needed to answer graciously after her first crush rejected her. Even in the absence of scripts better tailored to her desires, this was enough. She found allies when she needed them, and later she realized that while the character mouths that spoke them were nominally male, the hand that wrote them was most likely a woman’s.
She has maintained her interest in BL/yaoi to the point of earning a PhD on it, teaching theory around it, and unlike numerous western lesbians who have “adopted” yuri and shoujo-ai and are trying to raise it to respectable maturity,(2) Mizoguchi, while not condemning it in its entirety declares yuri problematic for her and not really her number one fave thing. She’s sticking with BL/yaoi.
An extreme simplification of the view she puts forward in her thesis is that yuri for her is “tainted” by the mark of the patriarchy. As an occasional Loser Fan Boy (c.f. E.Friedman’s blog’s rating system) I know that the majority of the stuff is mostly written by males, to satisfy my male gaze, my curiosity and my – ahem- prurient interests. Especially when Ken Kurogane writes it – “PWP” doesn’t just mean plot- what- plot, (pr0n w/o pecker works too) and that can be a fine thing indeed!
Still I might have learned too much since my first brush with yuri pr0n: his signature work – which on first encounter bowled me over now re-reads as clumsy, repetitive and occasionally mean-spirited – besides being little more than near plot-less smut in manga form. Only the “mermaid” chapter, the series resolution and the joke bonus after-series/ omake redeem it a bit. And like yaoi-bait characters, its creatures are nothing close to human; gay, lesbian, straight or otherwise. Not realistic at all, but mercifully free of “I must pine away silently while I build up my courage to confess” tropes. His puppets clang together like magnets and fuck like rabbits. Then when I shake my head and wonder why I keep reading, he throws in just enough humor or over-the-top gushy romanticism to get me to read the next page. And damn if there isn’t more smut there waiting for me. Unfortunately after reading too much theory I now must ask if (gahhh!) I am engaging in a symbolic libidinal exchange with a bunch of otaku guy pr0n addicts when I read the stuff? That somehow feels not good. Curse you Mizoguchi <grin> for planting the seed of doubt.
Disenchantment is the sacrament of modernism. (TM)
On the other hand, there is material here that can be used for further exploration of the Genshiken- verse. Remember that the Genshiken is different from all the other “visual culture” clubs at the University: Its cover story is that it a hybrid model, its reality is that the “study material” is highly sexualized, starting with the initiation rites and running through the dojinshi expeditions. Everyone goes to comiket, then runs home to enjoy their loot. The place is a cesspit of pervy otaku, and later a den of pervy fujoshi. Notable members have been expelled from other clubs and dumped in the Genshiken for their sins. “I am Ogiue and I hate Otaku!” Concepts of symbolic libidinal exchange emphasize the weirdness of the Genshiken; a club that has in the past been presented as a covert field observation post for post-graduate social science research into pr0n consumer-fans.
Back to Mizoguchi and yaoi-space: for her: authorship, rather than chara is the most important thing in romance and raunchy manga. Women’s authorship! Women’s authorship that creates out of a culture of interaction with women fans! “Virtual lesbian separatism” – in her own words.
Most Yuri, to radically simplify her position, feels fake and exploitative to her, and is made by and /or for guys. For instance, she bristles at Maka Maka, and hey, it drags, and it is thin on romanticism, and the sex stuff is formulaic – the only thing that redeems it is that the characters are drawn as adults and not loliconstructs. For Mizoguchi, Maka Maka is annoying because the two main characters play with each other, but still center their emotional lives, desires and sexuality on men, which privileges the gaze of the male reader. No matter how much LFB’s protest that the characters are written as “bi”, they are inscribed as available- and- willing to male fantasy: typical japanese rezbian sex-show fodder in manga form. I bring this up, because it is an odd complaint. Lots of yuri pr0n posits male- less space (pwp) and is still built for the male gaze. Is it that with adult women characters, the s-class tropes (impending boyfriend/ husband?) are absent and so the unsatisfying boyfriends must be dropped in, to get in the way? Is this analogous to the “why doesn’t she just die in a ditch” effect in yaoi?
Mizoguchi’s section on Yuri also in some way mirrors the discomfort that het males feel with BL/yaoi – she even addresses this by arguing that the serious and persistent power imbalances within society make for significant difference between males looking at yuri and women looking at yaoi. Fair ’nuff – I’ve heard these arguments before, mostly in heated discussions in crit classes. The only way I made it through them was by muttering the old sci-fi/ fantasy mantra “magic is matter of symbology and intent” to myself. (It helped a bit – hooray for displacement strategies!) Shimoku in Genshiken (and also the parodic yaoi episode in Girl Saurus) takes this on with “Ogiue’s sin”. I guess no one likes to be objectified, but without it the whole fantasy exercise, as noted previously in the Zizek quote (and the masthead of the bwog) falls apart. “all of our desires are just things we force on others” indeed.
If Mizoguchi’s position at first glance seems conflicted, she appears to have resolved it quite well. Why the M-M fake gay stuff? Because she likes it, so piss off! Reading her footnotes, you get the sense that she even takes some small credit for trying to make the genre a bit more sympathetic to real-world LGTBQ concerns by smearing the rapey stuff and the signature “I’m not gay but,” line with a big gooey bad-taste brush. From what little I have heard of the western analog to bl/yaoi – slash fiction, its champions try to enforce similar if not far more stringent codes of political correctness on it – which sounds like herding cats to me.
Three cheers for cat-herders everywhere!
Mizoguchi also brings up the “conflict of interest” or “wolf in the fold” question by proxy in her discussion of a “more modern” yaoi series that deals with an openly gay Japanese construction worker. She notes how the writer of the series deals with the het guy characters worrying that their gay co-worker will “come on” to them with a blend of humor and a series of teachable moments that aim to put down the prejudice that all gay males are ultra-promiscuous predators, so all gay male yaoi characters (and by inference all other LGBTQ characters and real-world LGBTQ folk) must be too. To hold to the old view is hurtful, offensive, in bad taste, and worse: bad writing – them’s the new rules! (3) Never underestimate the power of a “canon” within a fan genre.
Contested space indeed!
All of this leads back to Kio Shimoku and his Hato character. Did he toy with the idea of dropping a lesbian fujoshi into the pot? Too dangerous! The yuri trope temptation would lurk in the shadows and drag the whole exercise down the wrong path. Besides, as I have idiotically asserted previously, “There Are (almost) No Lesbians in Japan!”
There are plenty of women who love other women; a few publicly declared activists; plenty of gaijin gals who are looking for lurv and material for a masters thesis from the that Monty- Python- skit University in Australia; but the term seems obnoxious to many of the Japanese sisterhood – poisoned by plain pr0n, including yuri, and s-class shoujo-ai, nosy media and a century of push back by an extremely patriarchal society. I wish I could find that online journal article – now lost, that had an exasperated gaijin lesbian researcher looking for genuine Japanese lesbian survey respondents at wimmins bars and meetings. The punch line is that she gets repeatedly brushed off by Japanese- women- who- happen- to- love- other-women- and- wish- that- the- rest- of- the- world- including- nosy- furreign-girls- would- just- mind- their- own- business. Did they really start calling themselves something that sounds like “carpenter” in Japanese or did our plucky researcher get her leg pulled? (Perhaps this is changing: more and more folk show up at the two pride parades in Tokyo each year – did I get that right? there was something in Metropolis about why they have two Tokyo parades – oh well, matsuri are movable feasts in japan, the more the merrier!)
Remember, this is a culture that won’t countenance same-sex marriage, but will readily allow gender reassignment in the official rolls, as long as you bring a doctor’s note (LATER: ooops: actually a whole lot more and it will still be a damn hard slog) or you can adopt your significant one. Perhaps also incorporation as a partnership works?
So dropping a “lesbian” main character into the Genshiken would pose too many problems (though I am still convinced that one could show up if handled as already happily in a relationship). But take the manga flavor of the month – a
trap ooops cross-dressing guy who just so happens to look like a cute girl and give him a conflicted back story that makes him want to re-construct himself as a rotten girl, for the purpose of entering into a (crit-speak on) symbolic libidinal exchange within a community of women/ fujoshi and voila! we have a very serious, very truthful “I’m not gay!” Hato with no “buts” needed. And he only falls for women, (Later: at the time, it will take years before the “only you” effect raises its head) even while reading and drawing man-smut. And damn if he wont turn out to be perfectly well-behaved, and he won’t jump anyone because that would be gauche and poor writing.
Madarame’s virtue (and anatomy) is safe, no matter how much stand-chan prods Hato-kun. It’s the frisson of dangerous possibility within the prodding that is being exchanged, because that’s what fujoshi with over-active “goggles” do. “Unfair!” say the girls: “you get more frisson because your alter-ego is a guy! You can ship yourself! SHARE!” And Hato-chan likes to share! (Note well that I use “ship” as pairing fantasy; the currency of the exchange within the fujoshi social. Still I wonder why Mizoguchi never discusses “the goggles”) (4)
Having worked so hard, Hato will never risk destroying the magic circle he joined by getting a crush on any of the Genshiken fujoshi either. Why look for sex when he has found something better, something that he has sought with single-minded determination for so long. We are told that BL/yaoi piqued his interest even before he sought out the fujoshi at his high school art club (V10 p148) We assume that what piqued his interest was the subject matter. Was there more to his desire? Could it be that he is written as a young male who gets his satisfaction from the exchange of man-smut with women, and/ or the degree to which he enjoys man-smut depends only on the degree that it fits within the potential for such an exchange? One can get off on all kinds of things, and a convoluted solution like this maintains Genshiken as a heteronormative space, but where the heck would Kio Shimoku get such an idea?
Hato is not only Kage-Kaminaga, he is Shimoku’s Kage-Mizoguchi
Wait, I’m confused now…
Such a solution ensures that no matter how many yaoi puppets he has looked at or drawn, Hato has always spoken truthfully (if incompletely) about his desires:
He has only ever fallen for women.
Next up: Contested spaces
(1) Whoa! I just hooked extra batteries to the playset field and have expanded its scope beyond all reasonable boundaries of playing what if with Genshiken characters, to suggesting authorial influences.. For now lets just consider the fantasy of Kio Shimoku getting ideas from the works of Akiko Mizoguchi as shorthand for “dealing with somewhat similar concerns”, zeitgeist, working the same district on different sides of the street etc. You want a down to earth essay, go read a mechanical engineering paper. This is my toy! Mwaaaahahaha! I push the lever forward…
[Much Later: I think I have found enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that if he would have had to work hard to miss her stuff and research yaoi at the time he started with fujoshi characterizations.]
(2) Mizoguchi’s real-world academic space is a small village; she has run into Erica Friedman a few times at least – they go to each other’s conferences, and while they hold opposite preferences on yuri and yaoi, they strike similar activist chords. I hope they consider each other allies. I was also surprised to see that Mizoguchi supervised the translation of Allucquére Rosanne “Sandy” Stone‘s work “The Empire Strikes Back: A posttranssexual manifesto” – anyone who is a friend of Sandy Stone must be way kewl. I first ran into the amazing Sandy Stone years ago at a puny little conference where she wowed everyone at the proceedings and the after-party. Two years later, I am hundreds of miles away, walking around Toronto and suddenly I hear my name called out and it’s Sandy Stone saying Hi! and inviting me to another of her conferences that evening – and I have no academic rep or anything. I was just a late-return to school undergrad art student of one of the profs who invited her to speak at the University of nowhere-ville two years before. Now that’s class! So Akiko Mizoguchi goes up 3000 points in my books by association. Stone’s work is not just for readers of queer theory, but for anyone who wonders how technological extensions of identity have and will induce extreme states of flux in how we define ourselves, as selves. If you’ve enjoy John Varley’s sci-fi novels you’ll enjoy Stone.
(3) added later – yup, its a canon rule now: the later scanlation of Aoi Hanna by Dynasty is finally out (though the /u crew did an amazing job of the 1st pass) and during the election arc we have the senior-most of the out couple making the pronouncement in a class group that “It’s not like we’re nymphomaniacs! I don’t go chasing after anyone wearing a skirt!” (ch40 p17) Of course the entire plot of Hanna hinges on the backstory of Kazama developing serial unrequited crushes for “cute girls” and needing support from her straight and “not-cute” friend. But these were politely unrequited pining-away-from-a-distance crushes.
No harm no foul.
(4) Again, later – Almost missed this one, because it flew by so fast: Hato’s sharing can at times have an odd effect on his fujoshi friends, and the effect is magnified for Ogiue who is a published mangaka. Recall when she was reviewing materials for the club zine and came upon a steamy grope scene done by Hato featuring her characters. “My characters are making love” “Is this what a doujinshi of my manga would be like?” (ch74) Is this a translator shading or a spot-on rendering of Shimoku’s nuanced description? Because she could have used other terms.