Whole Different Ballgame

>> Saturday, October 29, 2011

Man, time flies. Sorry, sorry, I shouldn't let so much time pass between blog posts. Last post, I was pointing out just how much more some poor slob has at stake acknowledging (to himself) and then communicating his passion for his fellow fellow to said, um, fellow.

I went over it in some length about how it's unlikely you'd make a confession to someone who wasn't important, how that importance, that drive to communicate it just made it that much more to lose and how drastically the recipient (if he's not already established gay) could potentially react to the disclosure of featuring in a buddy's romantic fantasies.

Let's face it, there's a lot more at stake from "You're cute. Wanna go out?" to "I've tried and tried but I can't stop thinking of you. I love you and can't keep this to myself any longer," even if we don't add the gender element. So, yeah, being the man to man up and admit his feelings is no easy task nor one, I'd think, a man would take lightly except in the right environment (like say a gay bar where, hopefully, his odds of finding a prickly non-gay recipient are less).

But what about the other guy on the receiving end of this confession. Let's assume, for one moment that he's not an acknowledged homosexual (though he might be quietly aware of that particular sexual preference) and assume he's not the kind to kill or beat the ever living crap out of someone just because he admitted to caring about him, because, in either case, minimal soul-searching is required. If he's an acknowledged homosexual, he can answer with a similar freedom a heterosexual would have if the confessor were a different gender. If he's answering with violence, again, little thinking is required.

But, between those extremes are a great many situations, many of them uncomfortable. The recipient (Call him Sho just 'cause) for "Jin's" confession could be someone who always considered himself a regular heterosexual guy - could readily be a regular heterosexual guy who's just discovered his friend or a acquaintance likes him and perhaps lusts after his body. Let's assume there's no inclination (at all) for Sho to reciprocate. That's a whole world of hurt you're laying down, but, more than that, you're probably doing a good bit of soul searching on why your friend was gay without you knowing and what it says about you that he found you appealing. I suspect some people could move past the confession and maintain a healthy relationship, but I'd also suspect a large percentage of such people in that position would never look at their friend the same way again. A sad ending to our story, but only a couple of degrees more traumatic than its heterosexual counterpart.

Similarly, if Sho happens to be aware of his own homosexual inclinations (either bisexual or homosexual will work), again he can respond with sensitivity but without much more impact than a heterosexual encounter. One would think that the confessor (Jin) might have an inkling of this and have less to lose as a result, but that might not be the case.

What really gets challenging, however, is when Sho has never considered himself anything but a heterosexual person and yet can't quite dismiss Jin's interest out of hand, for various reasons: the friendship is so valuable/essential that he's willing to pursue more rather than lose it, curiosity, similar feelings he'd not been able to bring himself to acknowledge, etc. All that soul searching Jin had to go through before he could confess, on what his passion said about him as a man, now Sho's got to go through a crash course if he's not going to refuse Jin out of hand (which is almost undoubtedly his gut reaction). He isn't going to have the leisure to consider and work through it indefinitely - Jin is waiting for an answer, with 'bated breath no less. He's going to have to think about what people would say if they found out (because two guys "dating" is easier to spot than one guy with a crush).

Oh, and one more thing. Now they're both going to have to think about the implications of pursuing romance with another guy, the physical side of it. When it was just the dream of one guy, that aspect may have figured prominently (depending, possibly, on his experience level) or been too far beyond his expectations to have figured in it. If both guys are interested in moving forward, however, it's potentially both a bigger deal and a lesser deal than it would be if one were a woman.

And I'll probably talk about that next time, whenever next time is.


Upping the Stakes

>> Tuesday, October 11, 2011

If talking about homosexuality gives you the willies, be warned. I'll be talking about it. On the other hand, maybe you could learn something. I am.

This is one my posts exploring what I'm learning from exploring yaoi manga, which could be seen as boy-on-boy romantic smut (as opposed to "bara" which is generally less romantic and more about the physicality, or so I've read). So, what have I been learning as I delve into a different world, a different environment? Or at least, one type of portrayal of that kind of world? Well, I need to add a couple of disclaimers. What I've been reading, called "yaoi" is actually male-on-male romantic manga generally written by and for women and girls to read. So, one might expect there to be marginal realism. However, it still has given me pause to consider things that are the same and things that are potentially different with regards to a gay couple.

Today, I'm noting the difference in magnitude in confessing a heterosexual romantic interest and confessing a homosexual interest.

Now people around the world don't necessarily have a love confession like is often portrayed in many kinds of manga: "Hey, I really like you. Would you go out with me?" but it really struck me how much more is on the line for a gay guy in that situation. You like someone, even love someone who might be your best friend in the world or someone you barely know that you saw and instantly fell for or just someone you were drawn to.

First, you have to come to grips with it yourself. If you knew you were already inclined that way, preferring men to girls, the fact that you love another man is unlikely to cause you untold soul-searching. True, every overt move toward another man is an opportunity for your preferences to become known (and stigma still attaches to this sort of thing in most societies), but you have probably already come to terms with who you are.

But what if, as frequently happens in what I've been reading, you either haven't known (or acknowledged) your preferences or, as it could be, you don't necessarily have a preference so much as a connection to a certain person who, for whatever reason, calls to your own soul. Maybe you've always dated women without understanding why it never really worked for you, why you couldn't become bone-deep passionate about them? Maybe you don't have a natural preference for a particular gender, but just particular people. Maybe sex has always been impersonal before, gender notwithstanding. But, if you never thought of yourself as a homosexual, before you've confessed to anyone, you have to come to terms with how you feel, what, if anything, that says about you, what that does to your own view of yourself as a man.

Ideally, I'd hope, you realize it doesn't change that, but then it's easy for me to say that. It's not a question I'll likely have to deal with, given that I've pushed three people out of my body. But there's something to be said for how society has inflicted stereotypes and concepts on people. There's nothing in the world that keeps someone homosexual from being a talent or capable athlete or soldier or policeman to teacher or delinquent. It doesn't make you more tough or less so, doesn't determine your favorite color. It doesn't make you a threat to your "buds" who are just friends, or, in fact, to anyone else. In fact, it doesn't really mean a thing except that you love people that come with the same equipment (or at least one person who does).

(There's a big controversy, apparently, because yaoi often portrays this ambiguously without making clear that people are "born" one way or the other. I'm not going to tell anyone gay they were or weren't born that way, but I'm also not going to tell someone else who says they aren't that they were. Not sure there's one and only one answer for everyone. But I don't know; I'm not gay)

That's one of the biggest differences I've been thinking of when comparing the realization you love someone to heterosexual relationships. Even if a relationship is completely inappropriate or impossible for any number of reasons, loving someone of the opposite sex doesn't impart the same level of soul-searching an unsuspecting young man would face when he realizes that the person he loves most, that he wants to touch sexually or to have in his life, is another man.

Girls, you'll be pleased to know that men, if manga is any indication, are no better at communicating with each other than they are communicating with us, at least if romance is involved.

Now, let's say our protagonist (we'll call him "Jin" which is often used to denote "man" or person in Japanese compound words) has wrestled with his soul and come to terms with the realization that he loves another man, that, despite trying to pretend it's friendship or kinship or some other feeling, he is sexually and/or romantically attracted to another man. What does Jin do?

A girl in that situation, or a boy, might be thinking how they could get that feeling reciprocated, or about finding a way to ask the other person out, or be too shy to say anything. But note how much less they have to lose to make a move, whether subtle or overt. A boy can ask a girl out and, if she refuses, that doesn't make it the end of their relationship. They can still be friends or coworkers or whatever. In fact, it's so painless (relatively speaking) that a heterosexual doesn't have to reserve asking someone out until he or she is desperately in love. He or she can ask if someone's just cute or has a nice smell or strikes one the right way. In fact, the less one is already invested in it, the less of a risk it is.

But for Jin who loves another guy, particularly if the guy in question is not overtly gay, it's considerably stickier. If the "guy" is not someone he is deeply attached to, someone he truly loves, why would you risk it? And risk you do, even if your heart isn't on the line. With attitudes as they are, you could get the crap beaten out of you for speaking your heart. Even someone who might not be bothered to find a good friend gay might react violently to find himself the object of affection. Even if violence doesn't break out, ugly words readily could and you've now made clear your sexual orientation to someone who might very well feel antagonistic; i.e. you've take the chance on it all going public (which can ruin someone, even today).

But even if that doesn't happen, even if the object of affection is tolerant and understanding, if he's not of the same mind and inclinations, there's an excellent chance that a friendship or relationship Jin cherishes, perhaps the only contact he has with this person, could be lost or transformed into something entirely different. Every word studied for nuance, every gesture, every touch could be examined and treated with suspicion. Putting the genie back into the bottle ain't that easy.

But what if this guy really is the love of Jin's life? Those of you (like me) who might feel like you've found your soulmate may know what I'm talking about here. If someone is the one, THE one, keeping silent, keeping the distance, being friends may just not be an option. And that just means you're gambling with your very heart, gambling everything because what you want matters that much. The more you are compelled to speak, to act, the more you have to lose, the more it will hurt if your love and heart are rejected with extreme prejudice.

Food for thought. Next, giving some thought to receiving such a confession...


Diving Into the Uncomfortable

>> Thursday, October 6, 2011

There's a saying in writing - "Write what you know." My friend, Darrell B Nelson, says, "Write what you don't know." I'm not an advocate for either approach - both have their benefits and drawbacks - but I'm a strong believer in good characters, strong characters, characters that challenge the mindset of the average (American) reader as they are my most likely audience.

Historically, my characters have been, to an extent, modeled on myself or my husband, on people we know and interacted with, combined with varying amounts of imagination. I'll still do that, but I want to give my characters more depth and an expanded viewpoint from what I have. So, as a lover of knowledge and advocate for research, I have always exhaustively delved into cultures and histories that fascinated me. Since my interests are eclectic, that means I can name most kings of England and not a single one for Prussia, for example (in fact ,that whole Prussia/Holy Roman Empire thing still confuses me a bit). I've read Russian history and studied it for my own edification. I've read about the different Chinese dynasties and histories and the same with Japan. I find it fascinating, noting particularly the differences in how cultures deal with different but comparable issues.

That education in multi-culturism (which is not, by any means, complete) helps me when world building or culture building so I'm not restricted to Western notions of life or right and wrong, etc. I can tailor necessities to the circumstances. Some of what I learned made me more confident pointing out physical differences and addressing those between characters (i.e. characters of different color or, in some cases, species). I've frequently butted headfirst into the stereotypes of men and women as well, using, defying or ignoring them as required to tell a good story.

Well, I've stumbled onto a new area of research that I haven't really pursued before, through a very unexpected source. Smut.

Now, don't get me wrong. I've stumbled over smut before. I have seen a representative smattering of what I tend to think of as man smut (like pornographic films and the like), which has never appealed to me, and more than my fair share of woman smut, usually in the form of "romance" novels but often having no more soul than the average stag film (and frequently objectifying women as much or more than the male counterpart) . I don't object to sex in my novels (or films), but novels or films that are nothing but excuses to parade prurient scenes have never interested me.

Novels that tell good stories that have believable/likable/fascinating characters where sex also occurs, however, I've always enjoyed just fine. Possibly still counting as smut, but not JUST smut. Smut with substance, or is that an oxymoron?

Well, I've found a hitherto untapped selection of smut, different than I'm used to, and I have to admit my interest has been piqued. Just as shoujo manga rekindled my interest in romantic stories by having characters I loved and cherishing people who actually were capable of adult self-control (as opposed to those romances full of "adults"), I have discovered a resource for expanding my outlook on a group of people I'm woefully ignorant of: homosexuals.

Now, if you get the willies just hearing the term or are militantly anti-gay, you might as well stop reading here. And this will probably bleed over into several posts, so you're forewarned. On the other hand, if you want to expand what you understand on this subject, as I did, perhaps you should read forward, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

Now, just because I'm not confident to write a gay persona doesn't mean I don't know any gay people. I do. Quite probably more than I think I do. Nor have I ever had the slightest heartburn with people finding happiness with whoever made them happiest, gender notwithstanding. I have never felt otherwise and don't now.

But I also knew that, as a heterosexual girl, I had very little insight into the world of same-gender romance, lifestyles and interactions. Even where I could speculate regarding girls, I was hopelessly clueless when it came to gay men except what I've seen peripherally in films and such. For that reason, I have really not assayed gay characters. I don't object to them, but I'd want to portray them realistically. I know they're people like anyone else, but they have different issues than many of the rest of us.

Recent, an otaku acquaintance of mine suggested a number of mangas, including "Betrayal Knows My Name" which I'm enjoying. Apparently, there's a yaoi element attached to it (yaoi being the manga term for boy-boy romantic manga, which is popular with girls too, apparently), so bunches of yaoi jumped into my amazon.com recommendations. So, although I'd never been interested in it, I checked some out.

And became fascinated.

Not with the acts depicted (and most are pretty graphic about it) nor about wishing I could indulge. I'm not properly equipped and the flexibility required (apparently) is rather daunting. I became fascinated with the stories, the scenarios, the characters in this or that yaoi.

Now, don't get me wrong, much of it is smut smut, in the truest sense of the word: "stories" and characters brought together with little fanfare as an excuse to show sex. That pales quickly. And, yaoi, even more than man porn but perhaps less than woman porn, lends itself to force and violence more than average. Stories at least skirting the edge of pederasty are also common (at least in the one's I've read so far), so not all good. I don't like rape or child abuse, I don't care which genders are involved. (Note, however, that "child" is a term I'm using loosely since the age of consent in Japan is 13 and everyone is well over that.).

But, I have also found profound food for thought, not only into the challenges and interactions for gays, particularly in a world that stigmatizes them based on their sexual preferences, but also in what they're looking for, how they interact, and both the parallels and disconnects with romantic relationships between men and women. Also, what makes them different from "regular" men and what doesn't.

So, though what I'm learning is coming from manga, where I'll best be able to use what I learn is writing, so I'll be writing about it here.

Starting next time.



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