On Boys’ Love Stories, Queer Fantasies, & Communities We Create

Boys’ love is a queer fantasy. Like other fantasies, it chooses what to take or ignore from reality and how to incorporate real positives or negatives into the fantasy world. As we live in a world where queer content is increasingly under fire from moral panics leading to censorship and queer people everywhere are subject to mistreatment for our identities, that means that many BL plots and creators around the world often choose not to take on the tough stuff.

“Indeed, some would argue that danmei provides a highly stylized, fantacized and idealized portrayal of gay experiences, while ignoring the practical challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community in real life. The most popular Danmei stories online, namely those that have the most hits and comments on Jinjiang Literature City, are usually stories with happy endings,” Peilin Chen writes in “Negotiating Queer Fantasy And The Normative: Boys’ Love Stories Fandom In China.” “In a lot of Danmei story settings, the male characters fall in love with each other just as most heterosexuals, without having to worry about social pressure from people around them. Their romantic relationship is one that has been beloved and blessed; their parents, colleagues, friends and all surrounding characters happily support the characters after their coming out. The everyday struggles and discrimination faced by marginalized sexual minorities are rarely depicted.”

Some examples exist, however, like Kou Yoneda’s No Touching At All which has a main character, Shima, dealing with the trauma from internalized homophobia and a bad break-up. Or the iconic 90s series Banana Fish which pulls heavily from — and then went on to inspire more of — the boys’ love genre. That series focuses on “the struggles they face together, not the snuggles.” And then there’s groundbreaking boys’ love series Gameboys, that shows the highs and lows of queer young adulthood in the Phillipines and doesn’t shy away from messy moments between the close-knit community that comes together across the show and film.

However, there’s no singular queer fan or creator consensus on how to feel about BL or its fandoms. The content can differ widely depending on the creator and their interests, and many queer readers like a world where their queerness just is and no one has to fight for their rights because their relationships are, at least for the volume they’re reading, accepted by everyone around them.

For Cal, BL offers experiences and explorations of identity that he didn’t have access to when younger.

“It’s like a combination of nostalgia, fantasy fulfillment of what I consider lost experiences I didn’t have in my own high school/younger life because of intense closeting, and then just incredibly exciting and hot storytelling,” he says. “Anime bishounen aesthetic is much more appealing to me than western masculine power aesthetic, too. I would prefer to gaze at beautiful, vulnerable and emotional men than I would aggressively strong, stoic slabs of men.”

Stitch will continue discussing the many layers of fandom in Fan Service, published every other week on Teen Vogue. You can follow their work on Stitch’s Media Mix and on Twitter.

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