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Hope in Performativity: How Professional Yaoi Writers Subvert Japanese Gender Ideology

Sun, June 26, 8:30 to 10:20am, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 119


BL (Boys Love), more widely known as Yaoi outside Japan, is a category of media that focuses on male-male erotic romance, originally created by and for Japanese women. Existing scholarship on Yaoi has focused on the question of why some groups of heterosexual girls/women prefer producing and consuming male-male romance fiction more than heterosexual romance. However, few scholars have focused on the motivations of professional Yaoi/BL authors. This paper intervenes in scholarship on Yaoi/BL by examining and questioning the degree of agency of Japanese women who produce these highly commercialized media. Women who create Yaoi/BL are still perceived pathologically as “abnormal cross-voyeurs,” which has resulted in many such women crying out “leave us alone!” Through in-depth interviews with professional BL authors, this paper explores the pressures they face and the rewards they receive in their work. By doing so, the paper directly tackles the issue of the “subjectless concept of agency” in Judith Butler’s notion of performativity. The paper contends that these professional BL writers performatively subvert the normative gender ideology even when their actions are not willful, by conspiring with the BL industry to reproduce highly-formalized heteronormative templates and binary gender rules, but also by consciously (and unconsciously) breaching them in their creative processes. Through these (feminist) methods employed by BL writers, this study shows that there is hope in their critique of gender ideology in Japanese society.