During Quarantine I ran out of things to watch on Netflix (I thought I had seen all they had to offer) and somehow ended up on a Thai Drama called Sotus. I love foreign programs with subtitles. I like listening to different languages and learning about different cultures and different stereotypes for different countries and just different things from other parts of the world. So I started watching it with an open mind, but with no idea at all that this would lead me into a very deep rabbit hole that would completely blow my mind open about what is possible out there in the world, what types of shows investors in other countries spend their money on, how completely ignorant I was about “Asia”, and how absolutely in love I would fall with a genre that I had absolutely zero idea even existed.
I am not going to kid you, it is not for the faint of heart and you must have a very open mind. Before finishing the first episode of Sotus I paused and went to Google to find out what Sotus was. There I discovered something called “Boys Love” and “Yaoi”. These are the names for this genre. The second one, Yaoi is from Japan and goes along with Manga. I had a very small idea about Manga from back when Pikachu was in style when I was younger. The name “Boys Love” troubled me. I didn’t want to continue watching if it was some kind of pedofile thing that grown men wrote to lure young boys. Turns out that Yaoi and Boys Love Novels are mainly WRITTEN by teen GIRLS. Wow. Now I am super intrigued.
Upon watching more episodes I started to get it. Then I dove deep in the rabbit hole and now having watched 80+ Boys Love Drama Series and Movies, with some dramas having 4-30 episodes ranging from 10 min per episode to 45 min per episode…I can assure you I am close to having a PhD at this point with the excessive number of research hours I have dedicated to this genre. I am also able to immediately identify Thai and Filipino and Chinese and Korean and Japanese Series, and have learned so much about how they eat, what they eat, how they name their children, why they name them as they do, how they show affection and love, and so much more that I honestly feel like I was a completely ignorant person prior to this endeavor when it came to the vast differences between cultures in an area of the world that I don’t have much exposure to normally.
I am from South America and I should have known better than to lump a whole continent together and assume all of their customs were the same, when in South America, not only is every country different, but every region of each country is different too. Same as in Asia. Now I know.
So I will just give you some of my major take aways regarding this genre. I can’t go into all the details because it would take me a novel to cover everything I have learned and discovered. First some disclosures: Is the genre perfect? Of course not. Are there things I purposefully overlook to not throw out the baby with the bathwater, yes. Absolutely. Just to name a few things you have to be willing to overlook, for example: yes, there are some series, or parts of some series, that touch on pedofile friendly topics, some issues of consent, some topics that the gay community is very against (even though these are all stories about boys falling in love with boys), etc. and I understand completely why Thailand is by far the #1 producer of this genre. I imagine that the money these actors generate (Fan Events are absolutely insane. Never seen anything like it) lures Producers that want to widen the audience from young girls (with limited income) to a much larger adult male audience (with income) by adding more sex scenes, and more risque borderline story lines that do make you feel uncomfortable, and you know some of these young actors just want to make it in the industry and you want to pull them away from this, but…it is a different culture and I am not one to judge.
Now the overwhelming positive side of this genre in general. I found myself smiling from ear to ear. Having heart palpitations as these boys (almost all in their early to mid-twenties, only a couple are younger than that, but all over 18. Yes. I looked it up cause that is also not OK) start to have feelings they cannot put into words, and then just blurt out what they feel. To their friends, to the object of their affection, to anyone around. They just simply say what they feel. OMG. This. It is this simple. It is lifting the requirement that Toxic Masculinity be forced upon young boys. Boys just being vulnerable because that is what they feel. Girls are writing these novels. And girls are fanatics of ANY boys that they ship with other boys (shipping is like matchmaking), whether they identify as gay or not is completely irrelevant in this genre. The overall idea is that we are souls. Souls find each other and love each other and sometimes they are in boy bodies, sometimes in girl bodies, sometimes in masculine boy bodies sometimes in feminine male bodies, basically it is completely irrelevant what you are on the outside because when you fall for someone, you are falling for the inside. That is the gist. The acceptance of almost all of their friends and parents in the series as matter-of-factly as if they were choosing vanilla or chocolate is also invigorating and nonchalant and amazing.
It is fascinating to me how OBSESSED young GIRLS are with the actors from these series. Surprising to me was the fact that the most sexual the series, the less popular it is with the main audience. The #1 Series (by a long shot) is a 13 episode series that has 1 or 2 pop kisses in the entire series. That is it. The actors from that series have over 4M followers, which is more than 2x what the next actor on the list has. Boys taking care of each other, saying “I love you” or “I like you” to each other and holding hands, drives these girls WILD. Why? I kept asking myself. Why? Well…we live in a world where men are not safe for girls. Maybe that is why they create these fantasy version of boys that have zero toxic masculinity. But maybe…just maybe, they are onto something.
Can you imagine a world where that layer of Toxic Masculinity is completely removed from the uniform way boys are raised in the entire world? Where ego is erased? Where young boys are encouraged to “just be” whoever they are and love whoever and however they want? I completely understand this would be utopia and is not realistic, but there is absolutely something that hits you very deep when you watch these series. There is a universal appeal that I cannot describe but I can assure you it moves something inside me that I didn’t know was there, and I cannot explain fully or put words to it, but the freedom that these boys show, is special. Not just in the series, but watching a lot (and yes I also went off the deep end investigating this other aspect) of the public life of these actors, who may be straight or not (it is irrelevant). They bond with their acting partner and you can see layers of toxic masculinity be completely shed and they can freely hug each other, touch each other, kiss, and be relaxed about it, and yes some do it because the investors and producers need them to sell a fake relationship to the fans, but others seem genuinely comfortable with their acting partners, especially after a few seasons of a show or acting in different shows together. These are boys forever changed by this acting experience, boys that will continue in the world with open minds that perhaps would not have been so open had they not had the experience of participating in these shows. Imagine a world where world leaders were raised to not let toxic masculinity be the main decision maker in their day to day lives. Just imagine what kind of world we could have and how this would affect every single aspect of our world.