For yaoi and BL lovers, there are a few tropes we can often expect; such as the unwanted fiancé, giant hands, and one or both dudes exclaiming “I’m not gay!!” Sure, of course, but in a few chapters, you’ll be changing your tune! Whether you’re an older or newer fan, there are countless examples of this line in our manga and anime. Why is it so prolific? What purpose does it serve? Keep reading to find out!
Women love Boys Love
In case you’re coming in cold, we’ll let you in on an important point: Boys Love is not for boys. Most BL or yaoi is written by and for women who fantasize about hot men or boys getting it on. It first came about as a stark contrast to the mass amount of manga and anime with women or girl characters that were mostly there for sex appeal. Women countered with sexually-charged stories of men banging other men which, of course, earned it the scorn of the mostly-male industry. But if men can have their bikini-clad bouncing boobies, why couldn’t women have flowery, gentle, long-haired men tenderly caressing other men?
You might wonder why heterosexual women wouldn’t prefer to read or watch depictions with straight couples. However, most such anime or manga are made with males in mind. It doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyed by women, but the difference can definitely be felt. Things like the point of view, focus of scenes, and seemingly unrelatable female characters can leave women wanting.
What it means for its intended audience
So we know fujoshi like to see men in gay relationships. Why would these girls want them to deny their gayness? It’s not really about actual gay men, it’s about a self-insertion fantasy that involves the idea of gay men. A perfect man who knows how to please a woman and leaves her wanting more even as she struggles with accepting her sexual urges can feel too impossible for some women. Two men being sexual creates a safe enough distance that reality doesn’t come knocking and interrupting the fantasy. Take, for example, anime with guns vs magic. When you see a gun do something ridiculous, say shoot bullets between jiggling boobies at a zombie 20 paces away, your mind interrupts with something like “I’ve seen guns, that’s not what they do, bullets can’t do that.” Now think of the last magic-based anime you’ve seen. You probably didn’t question how one shounen protag could be so powerful or how someone could float or have powers that melt only clothes but not skin.
The typical “I’m not gay!” attitude many male characters have, at least at the start of the show, is made to mirror a woman’s denial of her sexual urges. While in this day and age, women expressing their sexual desires is no longer taboo, it was certainly not always so. Women who were or wanted to be sexual, especially just to feel good, were thought to be gross and horrible much in the same way gay sex ‘should’ be considered repulsive. Seeing a guy character go through these same such fears of being considered disgusting or terrible for something they can’t control but were taught to hate aids in making him relatable to female readers. Women may not even want the characters necessarily to be gay if they subscribe to the ‘only gay for you’ narrative that has more to do with love than sex. This makes the less sexually inclined readers have a bit of an excuse as we do tend to excuse behavior associated with love, no matter how harmful it might be.
Adaption over time
What started out as purely erotic female fiction (and often problematic at that) became a medium for important commentary. Recently, more and more BL has challenged the narratives of someone forcing themselves on another in favor of a discussion of feelings and consent. As society shifts more towards open communications instead of finding ‘excuses’ for when it’s ok to want or have sex, our stories are changing too. Many women still like the kinky non-consensual yaoi but are also fans of seeing two men who are sure of themselves and each other and just want to bang free of guilt or self-hatred. It’s still very common for characters first to struggle with identifying as gay, but often they overcome their hang-ups more readily or admit to having always liked men to begin with.
Yaoi used to be a tongue-in-cheek way to refer to anime or manga with gay relationships that had no plot or purpose. Nowadays, there’s a lot of good stuff out there that shows healthy relationships, consenting adults, even non-traditional families that are supportive and loving. The ‘I’m not gay’ narrative is certainly not gone, but it now often serves as the original mindset of a character that is overcome through self-discovery instead of as a separation of ‘gross behavior’.