Queer men as a spectacle for straight women

Sex on Tuesday

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“I am a woman, but I find this so hot.” 

I stared at the screen in absolute disgust and felt a sudden rage fill my body. My regular masturbation session had been interrupted by a straight woman announcing herself in a supposedly queer space, and I was no longer alone in my room to enjoy my afternoon sexual release. I was now in the presence of an uninvited guest, and I felt watched, much like the men having sex on the screen before me. While I am not in front of the camera, gay men like me become a spectacle for the sexual consumption of straight women.

My porn-watching adventures began in middle school and gradually expanded the older I became, so naturally, I grew accustomed to the variety of categories porn had to offer very early in my life. I consumed straight porn largely in middle school, but slowly switched to gay porn as I embraced my identity. While I enjoyed watching men having sex on screen, I also noticed a festering issue within the comment sections of these videos: straight women.

Initially, I would see comments from straight women sprinkled throughout gay porn. Each time, they would feel compelled to announce their presence and proclaim their love of, or rather their obsession with, the porn in front of them. While these comments bothered me, I was unsure as to why because they were similar to the comments of queer men. I tried to avoid them and treat them as isolated cases as opposed to a problematic phenomenon.

However, the problem became apparent and unavoidable when I began to consume gay hentai, which is pornographic anime and manga. 

Both in middle school and high school, I consumed a lot of hentai. While I never really watched it in video form, I remember reading hentai manga late at night in my room while everyone was asleep. For the most part, at least for gay hentai, I used a single website, which is where I primarily consumed bara — a term used for a category of gay hentai in the West that has problematic origins as a homophobic slur in Japan. I also occasionally read yaoi and boys’ love. The latter two categories are where I saw the biggest issues with how straight women consumed this type of pornography.

To provide some context, yaoi is a genre of anime and manga that centers around gay male romance, usually with elements of sexually explicit content. Boys’ love, or BL as it is commonly referred to, generally focuses more on the plot and the actual romance, and its distinction from yaoi depends on the reader’s interpretation. Bara is more clearly recognized as gay hentai meant for the consumption of queer men.

While I typically read bara, I sometimes ventured into the territory of yaoi and boys’ love where I encountered an overwhelming amount of straight women fawning over the relationships of gay men. Whereas in normal porn, the fetishizing comments were avoidable, the presence of straight women was undeniable within yaoi specifically. It became instantly clear to me that yaoi was not meant for me, a gay man, but rather it was meant for a larger audience of straight women consuming my identity for their own sexual gratification.

Yaoi is particularly problematic in that it relies on heteronormativity to determine the sexual positions of these queer men, and typically suffers from consent issues that are romanticized. All of these problems indicate that the target audience is not queer men, and the presence of straight women in comments sections condoning and even obsessing over these abusive and heteronormative queer relationships further confirms that. While I can continue to critique the issues within yaoi, the underlying problem that connects yaoi with the viewership of gay porn by straight women is that they fetishize queer male bodies — specifically queer Asian men, due to the fact that a large portion of yaoi and BL is produced in East and Southeast Asia — and force us to become a spectacle for their pleasure. 

I am not going to argue whether or not straight women can consume queer media or even queer porn, but I hold issues with them announcing their presence followed by a “but” statement. In some ways, their behavior indicates that they are doing something wrong or taboo, and while they might not intend it, their behavior stems from homophobia. Instead of treating queer sex and relationships as something normal and human, these straight women treat queer men in sexual or romantic acts like a guilty pleasure, which contributes to their dehumanization.

In the context of porn and yaoi, queer men become moldable objects for straight women to use for sexual pleasure and discard upon a return to “normalcy.” Specifically, because of yaoi and BL, this obsession with fictional queerness seeps into social media platforms and spaces outside of porn websites. Many people have created pages on apps such as TikTok dedicated to fictional and real relationships of queer men, most often Asian men, who are sometimes not even confirmed to be queer.

Unfortunately, within discussions surrounding yaoi and BL that I have seen on various social media platforms, many straight women will defend their obsession by saying that they simply enjoy queer representation, while occasionally implying that other people are homophobic. However, queer content is not bound to yaoi and BL, and as long as those forms of media remain spectacles for straight consumption, they will never properly represent queer people. 

And I refuse to be a spectacle.

Joaquin Najera writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact him at [email protected].