The year is 2019, Yangon is supposedly the most (and only) cosmopolitan city in Myanmar. We celebrated Pride a while back, with the first Pride March on the Yangon River, with multiple little boats boasting the beautiful rainbow flags, people of many sexual orientations on cruises celebrating. It was like magic. Everyone is having a good time. I remembered thinking to myself how far this country and its people have come, in terms of supporting gay rights. The dancing crowd in the Thakhinmya Park as the gayest music is being played, the media coverage, the collective joy that you could just feel all around you, the security and familiarity as a gay guy, the knowledge that you are all in this together, everything was too good to be true that I almost thought I was living in a parallel universe. But I wasn’t. All of it was very much real.
It brought me back to the time I was at Mandalay Pride a year prior, experiencing the same joy but on a smaller scale. Because Mandalay is a relatively smaller city, it was smaller crowd. I was dancing with a few of my friends, a gay guy and a lesbian girl. Then, a girl came up to us and asked to take a picture with us. Weird, I thought. I am by no means known among my gay peers but one of my friends was very “big” on Facebook, everybody knew him. That weekend, a lot of people came up to him to chat. After the photo was taken, the girl asked my mini-famous friend to introduce the rest of the group to her. The first words she spoke to me were “Are you gay?” to which I answered yes. She followed up by asking me if I were a ‘uke’ or ‘seme’. I was dumbfounded for two reasons, the first being my incomprehension of the words she had just mentioned and the second being her total casualness as she asked me the question. Apparently, ‘uke’ and ‘seme’ are words used to describe a gay guy’s “position” in a gay relationship. As my friend explained me this, I was assuming if they were the same as ‘top’ or ‘bottom’. They were essentially the same but my friend went on to further explain that they are mostly used to refer to “personalities” in a gay relationship.
Confused, I asked him to explain more. ‘Uke’ refers to the submissive, soft, cute ‘personality’ whereas ‘seme’ refers to the dominant, tough, assertive ‘personality’. The girl then asked me the same question. “Are you uke or seme?” I thought to myself this question is just as bad as “Are you the top or bottom” or the infamous “So…. who’s the girl?” if not worse. I was put in a very uncomfortable position and I just replied that I did not know. But she was adamant and decided it was up to her to label me. She said I was a “seme” because I didn’t “act cute”. I jokingly explained to her that ‘uke’ and ‘seme’ weren’t personality traits, that even if we were just gonna go by the sexual references of the words, it was still deeply offensive because she was disregarding versatile guys or even guys who aren’t into anal sex. And of course, she did not seem to get me.
During the ride home, I asked my friend more about this and he had told me that “BL shows” also known as “Boys Love shows” are now very popular among young people, especially young straight girls. In these “Boys Love shows”, there would be a cute, slim, somewhat feminine guy, who would be the ‘uke’ and the taller, leaner, fitter, more “masculine” guy who’s the “seme”. These shows were and still are so popular among the crowd that fans of the shows would gather and talk about their favorite moments, have fan groups and pages. I had read that there would even be Myanmar’s very first Boys Love show.
As much as I think that it’s great that gay characters are getting the representation that was always deserved and that the audience support for these are incredible, I am sure that it is problematic in the long run. I do not find thisfrenzy “progressive”. Because the people who are supporting this are supporting what is the amalgamation of societal stereotypical “gay traits” and fetishized cute guy-on-cute guy relationships. The multiple identities of being gay are boiled down to just being ‘uke’ or ‘seme’. People would see two guys who fit into their standards of “cute” and their first instinct would be to differentiate the guys’ position in bed and in the relationship. I do not know about other gay people but the last thing I need is someone putting me in a box and judge if I am “gay enough” for them or not. I would like to know if these supportive fans of BL shows would give two older gay men their time of day, especially guys who aren’t considered conventionally attractive, guys who would never be portrayed in their weekend-afternoon-fantasy-shows.
The LGBTIQ community is very diverse. There is many forms of identities, personality traits that go far beyond than the word “cute”, likes, dislikes and we have to respect that. Allies have to respect that. Just because a member of the community does not conform to their standards does not erase them of their identity. The point of this cheesy, cliched, bumper sticker like passage that might as well been from a gay volunteering group is just that no one’s identity should be limited or put into a simple category.
There is a TV documentary show called “Gaycation” that tries to understand the LGBTIQ experience in different countries and cultures. In an episode set in Japan, it explores the supposedly progressive, acceptive and supportive nature of readers of ‘Yaoi’ novels and manga. Ellen Page, who co-hosts the show, made an incredible point about how the support just stems from fetishization of homoerotic behavior and fantasy. And that is true with the case here. If we are going to teach kids or adults to be allies, they have to know to respect every identity. But how would that be possible considering all the exposure they have with the gay culture is just two pristine looking Asian boys making out at the 6th episode of a webseries after much queerbaiting? Not that there is anything wrong with it, because at the end of the day that’s what most of the audience signed up for when they watch the so-called Boys Love shows. But there is so many media out there, books, TV, movies with incredible portrayals of different marginalized identities and maybe if they were given a chance or a glance, this fetishized bullshit would not happen.
So, go on. Watch that Thai webseries about two highschoolers who look like they just came straight out of a Ken doll box but also watch Paris Is Burning.