Hey there. So normally I use this blog for like… 80% games criticism, 15% general media criticism, and maybe 5% personal stuff I just need to talk about. This post falls in that last 5%, so if you usually come here for games stuff you’re free to go.
Also I wanna warn you that it’s impossible for me to talk about this subject without going into some personal stuff about myself. I’m not saying this out of embarrassment — to be honest, part of me wishes we could talk about this stuff more — but because it might just straight up be things you don’t wanna know about a stranger or casual acquaintance. If so, that’s cool! I will not be offended.
Okay. Warnings delivered, here’s what I wanna talk about: body types in gay manga. Details after the cut.
NOTE: Many of the external links in this post are NSFW. Please click at your own risk.
First off, you should read this post from the people at MASSIVE/Gay Manga about the word “bara” and why it’s better to use terms like “gay manga.” I for one didn’t know most of that stuff until recently so it may be enlightening for you. Teal deer version: “bara” is built on outdated, offensive terminology for gay men in Japanese pop culture.
Secondly, thank you to the folks at MASSIVE for answering some Twitter questions for me recently on this subject, because I wanted to enlighten myself a little bit before I put my foot in my mouth.
With that out of the way…
So if you don’t know anything about me, I’m a pretty big guy. And not in a “muscle” kind of way. I am fat. I want you to understand that even typing out that sentence for your consumption took emotional effort. Not a lot of it, but it still took some. Just “saying it out loud” feels like you’re giving the world permission to abuse you over that fact, as if me “admitting” than I am fat means all the people who shout shit at me on the street or whatever is deserved.
I am also a cis gay man. I don’t feel like I need to go into the problems that can cause in detail (you can, again, refer to my GaymerX2 talk for some examples of how that plays out). Someone recently asked me about bear culture on ask.fm and if you want to know the very, very abbreviated version of what bothers me about bear culture, click that link. There are other problems, and the most salient one is the burning need! for labels and labeling in gay male culture of any stripe, but especially in subcultures with bigger guys in them. You can imagine how easy it was for me to tell people who wanted me to call myself a “superchub” that they could go fuck themselves (instead of me, I guess).
Now, I’m a longtime fan of Japanese pop culture. It comes and goes — I had a hardcore anime phase, a hardcore manga phase, and am now at a much more sedate, selective equilibrium — but I tend to really like anime and manga, usually way more than any US media of the same kind. I am not really sure why. On the other hand, while I was once into yaoi and boys love (two kinds of Japanese same-sex content) I have since fallen out of love with them. There is nothing wrong with either but now I’m in my 30s and my life wants/desires have changed, somewhat. I don’t really need or want what they offer at this point in my life.
Gay manga, or at least gay manga as found on places like, uh… gaymanga.tumblr.com, wasn’t something I even really knew about until a few years ago. And when I found it, I was… well, I was intrigued. These were not the typical, waif-like, willowy bishounen/biseinen (“beautiful boys” basically) of BL and yaoi. Much the opposite; the men in these manga were big. Really big, sometimes. And while “big + muscular” was the usual order, there were sometimes guys who were… well, fat. And since these were explicit comics, these were fat men who were not just desirable but desired which is kind of a big deal? Nobody forced them into labels (that I knew of); nobody asked them to conform to body expectations. They weren’t fetishized for their size (a thing that I am really uncomfortable with in the US “chub/chaser” dyad). They were just there, sexy and sexual. Havin’ a good time.
It was through poking at gay manga that I found the absolutely lovely Gachimuchi Senshi Tsunagi Moon (“Muscle-chubby Soldier Coveralls Moon”, basically) by gay manga artist SUV. Tsunagi Moon isn’t really explicit, per se, not in the way many gay manga are, but it certainly doesn’t shy away from being playfully sexy when it wants to. But I loved the art style, and as a Sailor Moon fan of course I loved a gay manga version of it. But I also read some other things, too… comics by Takeshi Matsu and Seizoh Ebisubashi (don’t ask me which ones; I’ve forgotten a long time ago). And I noticed… a thing going on.
It was a thing that has prevented me from getting TOO heavy into gay manga, and I feel the need to talk about it.
So I recently read a post on the Gay Manga tumblr that I found surprising — a post about body type labels in gay manga. Of all those labels, I had only heard “gachimuchi” (“muscle-chubby” — basically, a muscular guy who’s a bit, well, chubby) before. But seeing “gachidebu” and “debu” really made me despair. It felt like that word “chub” or “chubby” was just inescapable. And this dovetailed with what I had experienced in the manga I had read: the “chubby” guy, while desirable, is also the “passive” guy. He’s coded as “cute,” usually shy, almost always a bottom. It was this weird, kinda irritating vision of fat gay guy passivity that…
Alright. This is where I need to start talking about me.
In my lifetime, I’ve often been encouraged to “seek out” guys who “are into guys like you.” Lots of people — more than you think — have told me stuff like this. And they always mean well. But I’ve always had this feeling like I’m being told to “get in the box.” And here is the shape of that box, at least as I have experienced it in various spaces: be a “cute” chub bottom who is shy and is there to be dominated by a… well, take your pick, but usually a muscular, aggressive bear, or whatever.
I don’t… mind being called cute, per se? I mean, it’s usually a positive term, a pleasant term. “Cuteness” and being a “cutie” are now a widespread internet aesthetic with its own traction and expression. But I don’t know that I want to be cute sexually. Or at the very least, I don’t want being cute to be the only way I can be perceived as sexual.
Used in this way, “cute” often feels infantilizing, a second place to “sexy” or “hot” because they don’t really apply. And in so doing, it implies and encourages that feeling of passivity I talked about, the objectifying notion of a thing being acted upon because it enacts a certain type of desire rather than a partner who has something positive to give (an active verb). To be truthful, the few sexual experiences I had that were based on this dynamic were pretty miserable, all told. They were focused on the other person’s pleasure (in layman’s terms: they got off, I didn’t). I was just sort of… there. That’s not fun, for me. Why would it be? And it kept happening.
I’m not gonna say I’ve got it in me to be a hella dom top or whatever. I’m not really terribly aggressive, sexually. But part of me wonders: is that because it’s just “how I am” or is it because I was learning, from my early days as a wee gay to now, that my body type was built for being the “cute chubby bottom” and that’s just how things were gonna be? And let’s say I want to explore being that dom top. If the idea that I shouldn’t move outside the “cute chubby bottom” box is pervasive, when am I going to get that opportunity? (Answer: never, really)
Before anyone starts sexsplaining up in here: I know bottoming doesn’t have to be a “passive” thing. I know there are gay men who are into fat guys. I know all of these things. But that’s not what’s getting to me.
I became frustrated with gay manga because I felt like it was this space that US gay media were never going to offer me, as invested as US media are in the twink/bear duality dynamic into which I do not (nor want to) cleanly fit. It was a place where being fat and gay could actually mean being hot, being desirable, without having to be an object that is acted upon. Which is why, when I encountered so many stories where the big macho muscle guy has the hots for the “cute chubby bottom,” I got really sad and kinda ditched the idea of gay manga as a place I could explore that.
Now, having talked to the Gay Manga folks on Twitter, I’ve been assured that while this sort of label/role slotting is certainly present in gay manga, there are plenty of stories where it’s not the case. Hopefully a few of those will come my way, someday. I’m not gonna claim that I’ve read even a fraction of all the gay manga out there so if you know of any where there’s a non-muscle big guy who’s not relegated to the “shy cute chubby” role, feel free to let me know.
I’m not sure where I was going with this blog post; I imagine most people are going to read it as “wah wah I’m fat and nobody wants to fuck me” and I guess that’s fair. But I live a life where people are constantly asking me to have better, stronger self-esteem, especially body esteem, and I feel like maybe this will be an interesting read for those people about the background processes going on for me.
(Poster image originally from http://gaymanga.tumblr.com/post/104705008542/massive-gay-erotic-manga-and-the-men-who-make-it — you can find their book Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men who Make It on Amazon, as well as other places)