HOOKED ON BL? A LOOK AT THE HYPE AND ROLE OF THE BOY’S LOVE GENRE IN MAINSTREAM MEDIA
Mishaps, cuties, and all the ‘feels’—BLs just popped its way into the mainstream media to show us simple stories of love and representation.
BL is Boys’ Love. Light stories candied in gay romance in everyday scenarios. Call it basic but these seemingly simple stories hold truth on how boys do fall in love with each other. And that’s where its appeal is coming from—that love is a universal feeling.
In a conservative country like the Philippines, it’s easy to be vulnerable on these narratives because our mainstream consciousness has always been heteronormative. But thanks to online streaming sites, we were caught by its wave and now we’re taking our chances in normalizing the genre. At the height of its hype, local outfits are finally making efforts to produce our very own BL shows and inject it to the mainstream. Following the likes of Thailand’s 2gether: The Series, TharnType, and SOTUS to name a few, our country is infusing our own flavor of cheeky romantic flair to the genre.
Currently, local frontrunners include Black Sheep’s Hello Stranger which holds a record of 5.3 million views in total of its 4 episodes (as of writing), and The Idea First Company’s Gameboys which rakes at least 500k views for each episode. Several other shows include Globe’s Gaya Sa Pelikula, JP Habac’s Happiness is an Allegory, Unhappiness a Story, USPH TV’s In Between: Sa Pagitan ng Kamusta at Paalam, and Camp Avenue Studios’ lesbian-love counterpart, Chasing Sunsets.
All these efforts work well for entertainment and representation in the Philippines. The anticipation in each episode of this category holds us up while the country’s in quarantine and keeps us cuddled up in our rooms every scheduled night to keep us warm. Plus, the fact that this paves way for more visibility of the LGBTQIA+ community and their lived experiences, it’s been a long time coming, butwe’re finally becoming inclusive and accepting of differences. We’re shedding light on coming-of-age stories that anchor on topics of coming out of the closet, finding love in an unembellished setup, and seeing a more relatable experience for gay youth.
To further understand its hype and its wholeness, going beyond the fan-kilig, here are some facts worth knowing about what has dramatically become a phenomenal genre.
It was first made for female audiences
A brief of history on BL culture will tell that it didn’t start out to cater for the LGBTQIA+ community. In Japan, we were introduced to yaoi, homoerotic fiction that’s made by women for women. Several studies suggest that it’s women readership can be attributed for these reasons: non-conformity to patriarchal or parental norms about sex and gender; in support of gay rights and its community; rejection of gender binarism; and also to enjoy romance without problematic female stereotypes. Eventually, the queer community caught up with it and found refuge in the representation that was rightfully theirs.
There are many local LGBTQ+ shows even before the BL influx
In 2016, local gay publication TEAM started a digital BL series titled Hanging Out created and developed by Petersen Vargas and Patrick Valencia. At this time, there is no apparent BL hype yet but it garnered at least 200,000 views for each episode in YouTube alone.
Other local gay shows anchor on more serious topics like bullying in Vargas’ 2 Cool 2 Be Forgotten, tragedies in Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, and disease and demise in Die Beautiful. Most noteworthy, though, is a So, it is refreshing to see that the BL trend adds a dash of positivity and “sweetness” in our long quest for love in gay narratives.
Questions and criticisms on proper representation afloat
Even with its well-received hype, it comes with flaws. People began to question the casting of straight men in BL to hook the LGBTQIA+ community. While BL may initially have catered for women, the queer community, being them as the main focus of BL, questions its reliance on the straight community.
Juan Miguel Severo, writer and a leading proponent of local BLs, gave his insight on the matter by saying that systemic homophobia is one reason. Philippines is predominantly heteronormative so queers are more placed in token roles. So with the notion of actors taking on gay roles, it may come with fear being boxed in its category in the long run or be questioned for their sexuality.
Systemic homophobia pa rin ang kalaban. I learned na some queer actors are actually dissuaded from pursuing gay parts because
1.) They're not ready to come out yet and taking on a gay role will inevitably subject them to convos about their sexuality.
— Juan Miguel Severo ????️???? (@TheRainBro) June 15, 2020
Other issues include the long-standing image of local entertainment to cast looks over talent, credibility to embody and interpret queer life, and providing enough roles for the community.
BLs extend to major online streaming apps and platforms
While YouTube may have housed most of the BLs we know today, they’re finally expanding to more platforms to extend viewership. Netflix may have its own series of teen shows that tackle queer topics such as Elite, Riverdale, and Sex Education, but Thai BLs such as Love Sick, Sweet Boy, SOTUS, and 2gether: The Series are also in it. Even local streaming platform iWant has Hello Stranger, a tagalized version of 2gether: The Series, and Fluid, a story on bisexuality.
Now, looking into the future of BL, this influx hopes to normalize the genre and provide more opportunities for the LGBTQIA+ community to have their own shows, made by and portrayed by its community. At a time when connectivity allows for more viewership, it’s a matter of sustaining its hype until it normalizes to our screens in the long run and just say, love is love is love.