Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

Nippon 2007: Yaoi v. Slash


"Simultaneous rise of the culture by Female around the world--it is Yaoi and Slash Fiction. This program gets . . . the program participants [to] approach the attractiveness and mystery of Yaoi / Slash Fiction through the comparison of them."

Mari Kotani, Ann Harris, Amy Thomson, Reiko Hikawa, Hisayo Ogushi, Junko Kaneda, Azusa Noa, Reona Kashiwazaki.

I completely failed to follow the introductions, which weren't fully translated anyway, so the only people I am sure of are the two American participants. If anyone can help attribute remarks, I'd be very grateful.

The title, plus my vague awareness of Internet debates, made me expect an oppositional stance between yaoi and slash, which there was not. Most of the panel was of the form "let's reaffirm our love for the panel topic"--this is *not* a criticism. And the room was very lively and engaged. But it means that I didn't feel compelled to write down a lot.

I am saving my comments for the end, because otherwise the flow was just impossible.

There was discussion about the acceptability and commercial potential of m/m romance. One of the Japanese panelists said that the publication rates of yaoi is parallel to that of Harlequin in the U.S.; a friend could go to the bookstore each release date and come home with a stack. The panel's general consensus was that the difference between yaoi and slash is that slash is overwhelmingly not commercially publishable, because it's fanfic.

Why do the panelists like yaoi and slash?

One of the Japanese panelists said that yaoi is a multi-layered fantasy:

* het romances can't avoid societal norms and hierarchies;

* it lets shy women avoid talking about their own bodies/experiences (or being seen as talking about);

* and it includes a layer or element of parody or self-referentiality that appeals.

Harris agreed that there was an element of the last in slash, though it seemed to me that the Japanese panelist was talking about an omnipresence and Harris was talking about a few stories. That may have been a translation issue?

Harris had a similar reason for liking slash: "I love romance but I hate heterosexual power dynamics." In same-sex relationship, any roles are assumed by choice and not dictated by society. Also likes breaking the taboo on male emotionality.

The sole male panelist said, what a great question, I'm a heterosexual male and I'm really not sure *why* I like yaoi. Are there heterosexual American men who like slash, and if so, why? The American panelists both said, sorry, insufficient data.

One of the Japanese panelists said that the first two yaoi manga she read, she had such a heteronormative mindset that she didn't even notice *both* participants in the romance were men. (This is heavily paraphrased.) When she realized on the third, though, her reaction was that this is what she'd always been wanting.

A Japanese audience member said something to the effect that the gay community in Japan is so non-visible that it *can* be a fantasy, but in America gay rights seem much more advanced, so does the gay community object to slash?

Harris thought that the newer queer community was more flexible, and said probably, yaoi yes, slash no--which I don't understand at all. Thomson said that there are sometimes complaints from gay men, but more often they appreciate it; cited the gay sex guide for slashers on the Internet.


* Thomson mentioned that Joanna Russ filed the serial numbers off a _Star Trek_ fanfic and had it published in _Asimov's_: toddlers wreck the _Enterprise_. Slash was apaprently a very small part.

* A gay Regency romance is being published next summer as a romance mmpb, _Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander_ (author's homepage: "presents the situation of a man with a wife and a boyfriend as a love story, with a happily-ever-after ending for the three main characters.").


_My Comments_

First, disclaimers.

1) This turned into a braindump on my complicated feelings about slash, and so I am probably living dangerously by posting this when I have limited connectivity. But my availability won't get any better for nearly a month, so it might as well be now.

2) I've read and liked a lot of slash stories. I haven't read yaoi, but I don't object on principle. I am also not saying that people should or should not write, or should or should not like, anything. People write and read for a lot of different reasons and these comments will not be relevant to many of those reasons. No personal attacks are intended.

Now, my comments:

Again, I had the impression that it was somewhat controversial to equate slash and yaoi in some fandoms, but don't have specific knowledge.

As for my other comments, I think that this falls into two categories, content and context. The comments I particularly wanted to respond to were the comment about not noticing two m/m relationships, and the comments about slash & yaoi freeing writers and characters from gender roles. These end up mixing my two issues some, so I don't think I can structure the discussion very neatly, unfortunately.

The comment about not noticing two m/m relationships: it raises the cultural defaults thing that generated such discussion before WRT race. But it also raises the question (about both content and context) of the level on which writers write and readers read. Is it possible to ignore the cultural defaults and write/read a truly equal opposite-sex relationship? It might be just as much a fantasy as yaoi was called, but that would be some of the appeal. And I think I see something like that in the panelist's apparent focus on the non-gendered aspects of the personalities of the characters in the manga she read. But it raises the question and challenge of writing/reading about individuals to whom gender roles are normally assigned in a way that subverts or rejects those roles.

The analogy that keeps coming to mind is het relationship : explicitly multi-racial cast :: slash relationship : cast of non-specified race.

As for the comment about roles in a same-sex relationship being freely chosen--well, as a prefatory matter, is that accurate? It sounded a little utopian to me, especially since I believe I've seen references to research (perhaps in the domestic violence context?) showing that same-sex relationships have a very strong tendency to mimic het gender power structures. But, regardless, I'm given to understand that yaoi, or at least the yaoi that gets published and scanlated in the U.S., also tends to mimic gendered power imbalances in specific stylizied ways. Is this not a prevalent or significant strain in all yaoi? What about in slash? How does this fit with the attractions stated by the panelists?

And to move away from the panel a bit, to the question of slash's place in a larger feminist context, besides what I've already said--

There are a couple other discomforts I tend to feel about slash, which I would have liked to explore--and see whether and how yaoi deals with them. These are a tendency for slash stories to displace (1) women and/or (2) non-romantic or -sexual relationships in order to make way for a m/m relationship. Neither of these seems like a plus for me in feminist terms. Also, that last strikes me as the other side of the coin: everything *can* be about sex (slash), but everything *shouldn't* be about sex (feminism, at least my version thereof). And I think those are both useful analytic tools that are most useful when deployed together.

Finally, I can see that as a writer, it would be *tiring* to constantly be writing upstream against sexist norms in a het romance. But on the other hand, a response that's solely moving to slash or yaoi seems like abandoning the field to the "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" crowd. I don't think there's a general-purpose answer to resolving that tension, but I would have liked to see it acknowledged as a complication.

. . . I keep trying to disentangle this, and failing. I'll try to respond to comments relatively often, given the time differences--it appears that Internet access at the con is working now, or at least it was before I went to lunch and then worked on this.

Tags: cons, nippon 2007, worldcon

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