A Good New Hope of Thai BL series
Not only in Thailand, nowadays Thai Y or Boys’ love series has already become another mainstream media and a viral throughout Asia. However, before the phenomenal rise of this genre, Boys’ love which is also known as Yaoi originally came from Japan as a subgenre of shojo, a romantic manga for young female readers. Yaoi, nevertheless, is a bit different from shojo; Yaoi focuses on homosexual relationship between male and male characters. Still, this genre is not aimed at homosexual audiences at all even though its plot centers on homosexualprotagonists in the story. Strange as it seems, “yaoi characters typically do not identify as homosexual” (Kincaid) and also the writers and the readers of Yaoi stories are typically women and female teenagers. In other words, these stories are generally “written by women for women and girls'' (Kincaud.) Yaoi is also the origin of fan fiction, a lot of Thai Boys’ love films and series together with its controversial discourses about the misleading portrayals of gay coming afterwards.
As Boys’ love series were generally created and seen through women’s lens, there are many scholars along with novel and LGBTQ+ readers argue that what happens in Yaoi or Boys’ love series is somehow problematic; by using homosexual figures, Thai Boys’ love series do not help portray and give the new understanding of gay but simply serves groups of Y female fanclub’s fancy. With the illustrations of male-female relationship reflected from male characters in Yaoi series created by authorized female writers, this genre reinforces heteronormativity and distorts the actual identity of gay altogether. Just like what Kincaid said in his article, BL characters generally do not find themselves “homosexual.” The storyline of Yaoi series appear to focus simply on the romantic love stories of the two men, but gays. For instance, in My Engineering Series (2020), the romantic-comedy BL series about the popular engineering senior student Bohn and an adorable first-year medical student Duen who fall in love with each other after Duen is forced to give Bohn a flower every day. Even though Bohn and Duen relationship is tied with homosexual identity, when Mike, a gay who has a crush on Bohn, tries to flirt and convince Bohn to choose him instread of Duen, Bohn vogorously rejected Mike and says: “ I don’t like boys and I only like Duan.” As well as “Love sick the Series (2014), Sotus the series (2017) Love by chances (2018) and 2gether The Series (2020,) the storylines of these BL series seem to focus only on the ‘manly’ love of the male characters trying to cross the gender boundary to love another one even he is not gay. In one way, it seems romantic but in another way, these series are misleading the actual gay identity with the concept of heteronormativity; Y series creators just replace lead male and female protagonists with men characters who love each other. Interestingly, the relationship between these two guys still stuck in the binary position and the more masculine ones tend to be superior to the ones who are used to replace the lead female protagonists with both strength and power.
As unlikely as it may seem, despite the problematic sides of BL series, there are various people who enjoy watching this genre; it seems that this genre is not simply created for female audiences as apart from women, there are also a lot of LQBTQ+ and some straight guy watching this kind of media. Owing to the survey I did, there are 20respondents at the age around 20 - 25 who watch Thai BL series. 11 out of 20 people are teenage girls, 2 are straight guys and surprisingly 7 are gay people. For male and female interviewees, they all answered the reasons why they watched Thai Yaoi series pretty in the same way. The main reason was that they liked the romantic love stories and also the beautiful scenery in some BL series. Even though some were too romanticized, yet they were happy when they saw the protagonists end up with each other despite the fact that they both were male. Plus, the respondents informed me further that they did not see male lead protagonists as a replacement of male and female characters like in general heterogeneous films; they tended to find BL series as another love story between guy and guy while they do not know much about gay actual identity and were not given much new information about gays rather than the portrayals of two guys loving each other. For the 7 respondents who are gays, they admitted they already knew that Thai BL series were somehow surreal and did not illustrate much about the struggles and truths of being gays. Still, they enjoyed watching this media for entertaining and fulfilling the dream of having the perfect love lives like the ones portrayed in the series. To this point, I believe that Thai BL series still have its own good advantages. Although they does not represent much about gay identity and its plot are too predictable mostly, at least they, in away, help normalize and generalize the pictures of gay or the two male lovers towards public’s sights. Looking back before the emergence of Thai BL series, people especially in Thailand mostly thought that being gay was a crime. Unlike nowadays, there were so few gays back then who were courageous enough to come out in front of their family members or gay artists who came out to the public’s sights. Gay people were always treated badly by the society. I think those BL series can be more polished and developed to be more informative while not being too surreal.
For me, I find the development of Thai BL series in the latest notable series from Nadao Bangkok “I Told Sunset About You (2020).” This series basically focuses on the relationship of Teh and Oh-aew, the schoolboys who used to be best friends to each other before the occurrence of the conflict rendering them disconnected and have not spoken to each other for years. Still, after they meet again, Teh and Oh-aew decide to fix what happens in the past; they start sharing a special bond to each other again while Teh is struggling to understand his feelings towards Oh-aew his best friend. The thing that I like the most in this series is how the producer portray the great sense of anxiety and confusion of gay people who are questioning about their sexual orientation such as Teh. I can feel Teh’s awkward and confused feelings through the scene that Teh metaphorically breaks up with Ao-aew as a lover even though Teh does not literally consider Oh-aew as a friend; through his actions, Teh is obviously in love with Oh-aew and vice versa. Additionally, I also like the scene that Teh decides to come out with his brother and reveal that he is in love with Oh-aew who is a guy, but he does not dare to admit it because he is afraid he will make his mother disappointed along with being judged by society. To be honest, I almost cried over this scene for it is such an emotional and dramatic scene and I also feel related; it reminded me of the day I came out with my parents and friends. In my perspective, I think these scenes did so well in representing about the hardship of being gay or LGBTQ+ especially the time before they come out. Furthermore, unlike many other BL series, “I Told Sunset About You (2020)”also allows the audiences to interpret many symbols asserted in this series such as Hibiscus flowers which could be seen as the “love of marginalized people” and also the coconut which could be interpreted as “the acceptation of Teh’s romantic feelings toward Oh-aew” (Virailux.)
To sum up, without any bias, if we look closer, we can see that Thai BL series also have their good own sides as they, at least, help generalize the portrayals of male-male relationships towards the public's eyes. However, they just need to be polished to be more informative and friendly towards LGBTQ+. If we help each other to shape or give BL series creators the feedback on how the contents in this kind of media are supposed to be, I believe that one day there will be Thai BL series which help promote and urge for the same-sex marriage among LGBTQ+ communities. Just like “I Told Sunset About You (2020)” has already proven to me that right now Thai BL series already came out of the comfort zone and are ready to move to the next step.