Girls Who Love Boys Who Love Boys: Inside the Midwest's first celebration of all things yaoi — where the screaming never stops

It's the Saturday night before Thanksgiving, and the crowd in Salon B at the Holiday Inn in Sunset Hills is primed for a drag show. Some 50 teenagers are dressed like Japanese comic-book and video-game characters, and many of them sport wigs in colors not usually found in nature.

Two girls bounce onto the stage dressed as boys dressed as Cheshire cats. One wears devil horns and a cape; the other carries a whip. They begin to sing their own version of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." The devil-horned cat forces her sidekick into a chair, climbs onto her lap and begins to bump and grind and poke her between the legs with her tail. The crowd goes wild.

In retaliation the cat in the chair pulls out her leather whip and forces the other to bend over. It's butt sex, Wonderland-style. Then the handcuffs come out. The crowd goes even wilder.

Moriah Douglas, 18, from Ashland, Tennessee, performing as Ciel Phantomhive from Black Butler.
Moriah Douglas, 18, from Ashland, Tennessee, performing as Ciel Phantomhive from Black Butler.
Douglas with Genna Greene, 19, from Valparaiso, Indiana, as Sebastian Michaelis from Black Butler.
Douglas with Genna Greene, 19, from Valparaiso, Indiana, as Sebastian Michaelis from Black Butler.

By the time the Cheshire cats finish their number, the screaming has reached ear-shattering levels. Out in the hallway, unsuspecting hotel guests, big-haired visitors to the Viking Lounge and a couple of garden-variety female impersonators in high heels, wonder: What the hell is this?

Why, it's Bishie Con, the Midwest's first weekend-long celebration of all things yaoi. And what is yaoi? Well, that answer is a bit more complicated.


Yaoi (pronounced "yowee") is stories of beautiful, deeply emotional boys who are desperately in love with each other.

One can find these erotic tales in Japanese comic books, called manga, or watch the animated versions, known as anime, on DVDs that are sold at mainstream bookstores like Borders. The stories range from the cute to the romantic — to the downright depraved.

The bestseller Happy Yaoi Yum Yum begins with a panel of a boy who is enthusiastically shoving a corncob up his ass. On the next page the corncob has magically transformed into a full-grown, fully developed man. Exclaims our hero: "I'm so glad I found out that when I stick vegetables in my ass, they turn into hot hunky men!"

Yaoi boys, called bishounen (or bishie for short), don't just make it with vegetables. They do their teachers, their brothers, their dogs. Sometimes the sex gets violent. The two romantic heroes of the series Gravitation consummate their attraction with a rape. Afterward, they cuddle.

Virtually all the characters in yaoi are boys, though they're so slender and delicate-featured that, aside from dangling genitalia, they could pass for girls. But fans are almost exclusively adolescent girls and young women.

"The guys I'm seeing are into it to win brownie points," observes Yaoi Press publisher Yamila Abraham.

Yaoi is an acronym for the Japanese phrase "Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi," which translates as "no climax, no resolution, no meaning." Of course, given the abundance of boy-on-boy sex, it could also stand for "Yamete, oshiri ga itai," or, "Stop, my ass hurts."

The genre's origins are somewhat murky. What is known is that it began in Japan in the 1970s when, according to Kyoto Seika University manga scholar Matt Thorn, some teenaged girls noticed that the friendships between certain male characters seemed unusually intense.

"These female fans," Thorn wrote in a 2004 essay, "read into the story — its setting and characters — the possibility of male bonding yielding to homoerotic desire."

The girls began to make up stories about these boy-love affairs and publish them as amateur manga.

Around the same time in the United States, female Star Trek fans sensed that there were tender feelings between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock and wrote erotica about them. Then they moved on to Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John in M*A*S*H, Josh and Sam in The West Wing, and Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. These stories became known as slash fiction, stories in which pop culture characters hook up and a slash is used to separate the lovers' names: Kirk/Spock.

Yaoi came to America via the Internet. Girls who were too young to buy the hardcore manga in comic-book stores could read it online. In chat rooms they could meet other fans, learn about new yaoi sites and share their own slash.

"I'm not lying when I say I knew how yaoi sex works before I knew where babies come from," declares a young woman named Mary during a Bishie Con panel discussion. "It started with Yu-Gi-Oh! [a popular manga, anime and card game] fan fic. I didn't know what was happening, but I liked it. I finally found one with clinical terms, and I got out the medical dictionary."

The How I Got Into Yaoi panel feels like a revival meeting. Girls talk proudly about converting friends to yaoi fandom and hiding their manga and DVDs from their parents. "My mom asked me, 'What's yaoi?'" reports one girl named Colleen. "I told her, 'When a boy and a boy love each other and don't make babies.'"

Another girl, Mary, says she tried to get her mother to watch yaoi anime. "She lasted 57 seconds." The room erupts in laughter and hooting. "I'm serious!" Mary protests. "I timed it."

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