Ah yes, the #TineSarawat couple
Boys Love (BL) stories have finally reached the Philippine mainstream. The genre has won the hearts of many – not just the gay community but almost everyone who’s watched it.
These stories are not new, in fact, they have been around for many decades. Pop culture historians trace this genre to the manga subculture yaoi. In Thailand, BL stories have been around for almost a decade, conquering not only indie films but also mainstream media.
The glistening pros
As a person who identifies as gay, I find these stories liberating. For one, they reflect the struggle of expressing love for gay men. The fear of rejection, the coming-out battle, and the painful hiding of feelings just to protect each other – these are some realities that heterosexuals find hard to grasp.
PH media is also filled with heterosexual perspectives, and series like 2gether is a break from these stories. For most heterosexuals, these shows are an eye-opener and pave the way for understanding these relationships in society.
I will also bet that these series made other gay people more confident in proudly expressing their love without the fear of stigma and discrimination.
Ultimately, it can’t be disputed that BL series are a welcome development in the raising of social consciousness on LGBTQ+ realities. However, we need to call out some of its messaging. Most BL series, like 2gether, has sketchy tendencies that need to be addressed.
The daunting cons
‘2gether: The Series‘ tells the story of Tine, a college freshman who wants to start his university life and find the girl of his dreams; and Sarawat, the campus crush. Together, they agree to pretend to be a couple to discourage Tine’s gay admirer from pursuing him. The whole story plays on the confusion between the pair’s sexual orientation and romantic connection. So, what’s wrong with that?
For one, there is an anti-homophobic criticism that the BL series limits queer interpretation. The characters usually deny they are gay at first – like Tine. The disavowal, highlighted as a significant perpetuating expression of homophobia is not a statement of definition, but one of possibility.
By not identifying, by refusing the category of a specific sexual identity, the male characters allow the audience to interpret their own views on sexuality. This lack of defining identity leads directly to the other facet of anti-homophobic criticism of BL: The lack of identity and realness.
Since this series largely ignores explicit representations of homophobia except as a plot device, it is somehow less ‘real.’ Since Green (Tine’s admirer) is a flamboyant and out-and-proud gay, the character can be seen as yucky and maybe even lesser. The messaging about gay identity seems to be limited to the gay-masculine construct.
There is also a gender normativity that is supported through stereotyping characters into top/dominant and bottom/submissive roles. Although the 2gether series doesn’t explore on sex roles, it is safe to assume that the messaging plays along with the ambiguity of these roles.
Since women are absent from prominent positions in BL, as the audience, we can quickly construct the relationship between two men’s relationship into a replication of what we’re already familiar with: heterosexuality.
The denaturalization of the gay relationship can ultimately lead to privileging heteronormativity, rather than a queer occupation of gender hierarchies. It positions the ‘softer‘ role to femininity, while the character with a ‘tougher‘ role suggests masculinity.
There is always that one is the boyfriend/husband, and the other is the girlfriend/wife role. Although the series does create different possible masculinities, it is still moored to the particular reified position of masculine and feminine roles.
This sends mixed messages to the audience, especially for gay fans. What I am worried about is that these fans may choose to conform to masculine tendencies, which the series somehow emphasized through Tine and Sarawat.
Gay fans may play along with the idea that for them to be accepted, they have to conform to masculinity and reject any femininity. It has been a long-winding debate in the gay community about shaming effeminate gays, and this series fuels that discrimination.
While it is okay for us to enjoy these kinds of series, let us not forget that these are meant to be marketable and appealing. Boxing our thinking of gender identity to heteronormative tendencies and favoring masculine over feminine attributes is something we have to be very careful about.
Let’s remind ourselves (primarily gay fans) that these series don’t affirm the lives of young gay men in relationships.
Tine and Sarawat are not the gold standards for gay relationships – we need to reinforce that no matter what gender you identify yourself with, you are loved and will be loved.
Words and opinions expressed in Pvblic Voice don’t necessarily reflect that of We The Pvblic.