Erica Friedman: With yuri, it ending up doing what it always does: it goes to the guys and it turns into a "lesbo thing." That's how it's been for a long time. So even though there is a tremendous body of work by lesbian women for lesbian women, you have guys saying, "No, no! It's lesbian porn!" (laughs) Okay, for you, it's porn.
Then there's the doujinshi world, which is basically small press-published comics that are primarily porn. In the mid-1990s there were some lesbian women drawing for themselves. There was a niche-y niche called "bian" or short for "lesbian" — guys say they want the "lesbo" stuff, so the women called work for themselves "bian."
In 2000, I started Yuricon, and in 2001, I started making connections in Japan. In 2005, we did a Yuricon event in Japan, where we sat down with the editors of a new magazine in Japan called Yuri Hime (Yuri Princess). While yuri is still primarily conceived as lesbian porn for guys, there is actually more material done by women who have been working in self-published space for their own audience for the past 15 years, and are now starting to be published, and finding their own audience.
Unlike BL, there is no one established genre, which confuses people. Yuri is what you think it is: Anything that has elements of women wanting each other. Yuri gets baked in as one of the many fetishes in a manga. Then you have this stuff by women for women, and you have this stuff where it's by men for men. It's complicated because there's no one way to define this.
Now, when you look at the stuff that Yuri Hime is putting out, it's all yuri. Even though it's been in existence for 40 years, it finally has a name, so (these creators) are now calling it yuri for themselves. That's pretty cool.
There are only four or five (yuri) magazines, so it doesn't have the same body of literature as BL does. It really took off as a genre when the BL sales started flattening out. So the publishers said, 'Hey we need money. What about lesbians?' (laughs).
This doesn't get said too often, but nothing we ever say or do here will ever make a difference in Japan. You can buy stuff and you should because that's what will make a difference, but Japan doesn't care about you.
Leyla Aker: I will say that on the BL side, the Japanese publishers are becoming increasingly aware of their foreign audiences. Be-Boy just started publishing a complete translated edition of their magazine in France. They know that there's a big audience for BL out there, so the wheels are spinning back there on how to take advantage of this situation.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND YAOI OR YURI MANGA TO GBLT READERS?
Robin Brenner: Would you consider BL and yuri as GBLT comics? Would you recommend this to someone who is looking for that kind of content?
Erica Friedman: Yes and no. It depends on the situation and it depends on the person. I can say now that in 2010, yes, there are lesbians writing lesbian content for lesbians.
Alex Woolfson: I'd give a unqualified yes to that question. I have a friend who is a schoolteacher, and in terms of learning math, there are very specific gender differences between boys and girls; that girls learn math one way and boys learn math another way. What they don't tell you is that only 60% of girls learn that way and 40% learn the same way as boys do, and vice-versa. I think it's the same with manga, in terms of gay comics.
When I first was looking for gay comics for gay men, most of it was very sexually oriented in nature. Very sexualized, certain parts of the anatomy were drawn as big as your forearms (laughs).
Chris Butcher: And what's wrong with that? (laughs)
Alex Woolfson: Oh, nothing's wrong with that! (laughs) It's just that it was not what I was looking for.
When I'm giving recommendations to my gay male friends, there are those of us out there who really want the romance and then the hot stuff. We don't just want 'Wham bam thank you Sam!' (laughs) I think for those who are looking for a more romantic, sweeter take, in particularly for young gay men who are just coming out, they tend to find yaoi particularly appealing, because it's not as hardcore, but it can be. They can find something satisfying in reading yaoi.
Scott Robins: I'd add an unqualified yes here as well. There aren't a lot of gay comics, whether they're for gay men, teens or adults.
There's a really fabulous documentary called The Celludoid Closet, it's based on a book that looks at gay representation in films. A woman in this film said when she was young and she watched these old movies, if there was even a hint of a gay relationship in a movie, she would be drawn to it. Bad representation is better than no representation at all.
I think that while there are some problematic things with yaoi in terms of that the relationships are not all that realistic, at least it's something. It's something that young gay men can see themselves in.
Chris Butcher: I have been reading manga before shojo was commercially available. You read shojo and you hear about yaoi, and you're maybe 16 and you're just coming out, and it's the most mind-fuck thing that you can possibly hear about! (laughs) There's this whole industry of comics in Japan with this stuff!
Then TokyoPop says "We got FAKE, but don't tell the straights." (laughs) It blows your mind! Then you get your hands on it and it's all, "Aww." Then you grow up and you've got the internet and you find all kinds of things that are more interesting to you than the promise of yaoi!
But for a lot of people, especially in public libraries or in stores, yaoi is undeniably queer. I think we can all agree on that. Whether it's gay for gay people or gay for straight people, yaoi is gender queer in a lot of situations, it's definitely queer. It's definitely queer positive, even in the horrible, tragic, 1940's film type stuff where the plot is 'We're doomed lovers because of our love,' and they die at the end of the story. The end. (laughs)
So could I recommend yaoi? Yeah, definitely. But it's like saying I recommend comics, but i don't recommend shitty comics. (laughs) It's definitely out there. I think that it's great that there is so much of it out there now. I'm glad this panel is happening, so we can recommend the really good stuff.