Sylvia Plath (sort of relatable + mental health issues) Ted Kaczynski (not dead yet, but including anyway because he's a good example of internalised shame, and the exact thing he was ashamed about I find interesting, especially how it's not widely talked about yet it seemed to be a significant catalyst,) Mary Shelley (I mostly just like that she wrote Frankenstein and her fixation with death and cemeteries.)
male-male romance and narratives of homoeroticism have been a staple of women's writing and reading in Japan since as early as the 1970s.
In this context, many yaoi critics and authors describe the considerable influence that Mori Mari's (1903-1987) male homosexual triology has had on the development of the yaoi genre/ As the famous yaoi critic and author Nakajima Asusa writes:
As soon as I read the first line of Mori Mari's "The Bed of Withered Leaves," I was captured. I can't easily express the shock I received. My life changed completely after reading this work, and I found myself beset by a painful desire. I wanted to write a similar sort of story, and the longing was excruciating. It was as if the world I encountered in her work represented "everything I've always desired." I felt, "I want to bathe in, identify with, and merge into this world."
The primary focus of this essay concerns the ways in which the female imagination of male homosexuality can be analyzed in terms of women's attraction to the homme fatal archetype, the cultural prevalence of misogyny, and the consequent female idealization of the homosocial orientation. First, I will briefly describe how Mori was motivation to create male homosexual narratives and how these stories have been evaluated.
Although 'yaoi'-like content can be found earlier including in one of the first novels ever written, which is also from Japan, (The Tale of Genji, pederasty because 11th century) she triggered a kind of discourse between gay men, fans of this content, and feminism that hadn't existed before and kind of brought this into more public attention. (I'm also interested by this idea in culture that certain kinds of female sexuality are examples of 'not growing up' like queer women in general are stuck in a perpetual child-like form in culture):
In “A Lovers’ Forest,” I argue,Mari is not only bringing her father back to life but also creating a space of pleasure in which her own (and perhaps our own) “maturation” into heteronormative adulthood can be deferred indeﬁnitely. It is this insistence on pleasure, along with her refusal to grow up, that makes Mari the ﬁrst (and still one of the best) practitioners of what would later be called yaoi.
The more confused images of gay men circulate among the general public the harder it is for gay men to reconcile these images with their own lives and the more extreme their oppression becomes. Those among them who are able to live by their genitals alone might be all right. But the truth is that they are far outnumbered by gays who live their whole lives without ever having sex with another man. For gays like these, yaoi and okoge [*** hags] are a real nuisance, people they’d rather see dead. Gay sex is looked upon by men with disgust and by women with curiosity. When you’re spying on gay sex, girls, take a look at yourself in the mirror. Just look at the expression on your faces! You can all go to hell for all I care.²
This debate was perhaps most signiﬁcant in that it highlighted both the crucial need for and the diﬃculty of theoretical and political alliances between feminism and queer theory. Satō’s letter seems to have come as something of a shock to the readers of Choisir, most of whom were fans or even writers of yaoi ﬁction. Many of them responded by saying that yaoi representations of male-male romance were never meant to have anything to do with “real” gay men but were simply projections of women’s fantasies onto male bodies. Takamatsu Hisako, a yaoi fan and amateur writer, was Satō’s most vocal interlocutor in the early years of what would eventually become known as the “ yaoi debates”(yaoi ronsō).
Takamatsu argued that her own discomfort with being the object of the male gaze along with her disgust at the female body made it impossible for her to imagine romance or sex from the perspective of a biological woman. As a result, she explained that at a certain point she “gave up” being a woman and found that her sexuality centered exclusively on fantasies of boy love.
Over the next ﬁve years the pages of Choisir were almost entirely monopolized by impassioned arguments about the meaning of yaoi, almost all of which recapitulated in one form or another the basic positions originally articulated by Satō and Takamatsu. From Satō’s perspective, yaoi was not only an unfair co-optation of gay sexuality by women but also a rejection of female (not to mention “feminist”) subjectivity. As a sexual fantasy, it was both politically regressive and self-defeating. Those in Takamatsu’s camp, on the other hand, sought to salvage a space for their own fantasies outside political exigencies. They saw yaoi as a space of refuge from a misogynist culture in which women were made to be always the objects and never the subjects of desire. While they generally recognized that yaoi might constitute a form of violence against gay men, they insisted that to proscribe it as a rejection of womanhood or feminist subjectivity was to militate an equally repressive vision of female sexuality as one that must always culminate in heterosexual sex and sexual fantasies. In essence, then, they were arguing that the gay critique of yaoi was itself a form of heterosexism.
But in the end it is crucial to remember that yaoi is ﬁrst and foremost a form of fantasy. And “every single phantasy,” as Freud wrote, “is the fulﬁllment of a wish, a correction of unsatisfying reality.”⁴² While children are allowed their fantasies (in the form of play), Freud went on to write, “the adult. . . is ashamed of his phantasies and hides them from other people.”⁴³ But the fans and authors of yaoi, like Mori Mari before them, indulge their fantasies in public. In this, they have refused to grow up and accommodate themselves to an “unsatisfying reality.” It is precisely this juvenile intransigence that constitutes the radical value of yaoi - a value that is at least diﬀerent from if not superior to that of the “positive” images of homosexuality that Satō called for in his original letter.
Mori Mari wrote that she always felt that her father was too good for this earth. There was something in his goodness that made him vulnerable, and she felt it her duty to protect him. In 1960 she wrote, “Once a nightmare disturbed me and woke me in a cold sweat; it was about some men approaching my father working at his desk and attacking him from behind.”⁴⁴ Any reader of Mori Ōgai (including most likely Mari herself) would be reminded by her dream of a passage in his 1909 novel Vita Sexualis. The protagonist of this ironically autobiographical novel (a text that is so sex-phobic that one of my students once called it Vita Asexualis) is terriﬁed of homosexuals and takes a dagger with him to bed in his boarding school to defend himself against the older students who he believes are out to rape him.⁴⁵ In Mori Mari’s stories and the yaoi works they spawned, homosexuality may not be out and proud, but it is not nearly as scary and violent as it was in her father’s novel. Mari will take the place of that dagger to defend her father against attacks from the rear, but she will do so by making him queer. In the context of modern Japanese literature, where Ōgai is a towering masculine presence, this is no mean feat.
Similar Western work (which is what I was more exposed to,) has a variety of different dynamics and people haven't really discussed this so openly. Like there's a lot of ongoing friction but yeah... There are tentative comparisons between eg: slash and yaoi as well, but not really.
I've seen some stuff written about how early slash started very sadomasochistic,
and then a lot of people moved onto other themes after accepting that what they were looking for was homosexual relationships in work (so the sadomasochistic relationship of hurt/comfort between men eventually led them to slash,) but because they were using straight characters in Western media and trying to transmogrify something out of nothing (and this is another issue I have with the idea that slash/yaoi is oppressive to gay men, especially in fanworks it's mostly straight people being queered,) they ended up with a narrative of love can only come from pain back in the 70s/80s, which is something they had to move through. (I was reading slash etc for the first time in the 2000s, so by that point this wasn't an essential starting point for relationships depicted in fanwork, even though it was a theme that continued to exist.)
There's also a lot of people into these genres who are also into femmeslash/yuri, which is why I continue to describe it as queer, but also because of the weird repeating theme of androgyny in a lot of works. Plus lots of 'I started reading this, then later realised I was a lesbian,' personal narratives and various atypical gender identifications too. I mostly see a lot of this stuff as a form of liminal space, but unfortunately liminality is considered immature because there's supposed to be an end in the form of a preexisting role.
But obviously everyone gets something different from this content, and I think a lot is lost in the battles between different sociological ideological narratives as well.