The girls have trouble, though, explaining their yaoi obsession.

"Not a lot of people talk about why they like male/male romance," says Jessica Freely, who writes erotic romance novels. "They say it's exploitative to gay men, or women fetishizing. It's much more than that, or porn. It's about exploring gender roles."

When a girl reads or writes yaoi, adds Katrina Strauss, a St. Louis male/male romance novelist, she isn't confined to traditional women's roles. She doesn't have to identify or compare herself to the heroine. The reader can imagine herself pursuing a man instead of waiting for him to approach her. Then, afterward, no matter how raw the sex, she gets to cuddle.

Gender play continues at an impromptu game of spin the bottle, err, gun.
Gender play continues at an impromptu game of spin the bottle, err, gun.
From left: Jayme Smith, 23, from Piedmont, Missouri; Kiimberly E., 15, from Robertsville and Katrina L. from Pacific; Sharon H., 15; Elise Z., 16.
From left: Jayme Smith, 23, from Piedmont, Missouri; Kiimberly E., 15, from Robertsville and Katrina L. from Pacific; Sharon H., 15; Elise Z., 16.

"A lot of my really die-hard fans have had abusive pasts like me," says Yamila Abraham. "They're kindred spirits. Yaoi lets us get into [the rough sex] without reservation, despite the way we've been treated in real life, because the uke [a submissive bishie] is not us."

At Bishie Con girls get to spend a weekend pretending to be boys. There's more hugging and cuddling and innuendo than actual sex, but that's not the point. Instead girls get to be sexual without having to worry about getting raped or being called a bitch or a slut. It's sex without the politics. Instead, it's just fun.


All weekend long, 300 girls and bishies parade through the Holiday Inn in hand-sewn military jackets and hoop skirts. In con parlance, dressing up in costume is known as "cos-play."

To look more boyish, girls bind their breasts with duct tape. "The first time I used duct tape I passed out," recalls Sonja Desloge. "The problem with duct tape is that you have to cut it off."

On Saturday afternoon Moriah Douglas walks down the hall in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. Another young woman sees her, screams, runs over and gives her an enormous hug. Then she picks up Douglas and carries her away in the direction of the lobby. This practice — hugging and sometimes kidnapping — is known as "glomping" and is considered the ultimate tribute to a cos-player's outfit.

"Going to a con is an immersive experience," says Mikhail Lynn, one of the organizers of Bishie Con. "It's grabbing people out of real life and putting them into something else for a weekend," adds his wife and co-organizer, Katrina.

Katrina and Mikhail work at a video company in Clayton, but their real passion is organizing fan conventions. For the past four years they have put on Kawa Kon, advertised as "St. Louis' premier anime convention." "It's the most fun thing in my life," Katrina declares.

They are both 23. Mikhail is calm and scholarly and skinny enough to fit into women's size-one jeans. At Bishie Con he works behind the scenes. Katrina handles the MC duties. She is cheerful and seemingly incapable of being embarrassed or rattled by the crowds screaming for penises.

Bishie Con was conceived two years ago as an alternative to San Francisco's Yaoi-Con, which for ten years was the only yaoi convention in the United States (There's also Yaoi North in Toronto.) The Lynns raised $20,000, booked the Holiday Inn, locked in vendors and guests of honor, and recruited a band of volunteers.

"We have the same function as an amusement park," Katrina says. "It's fun. We have games and stuff for people to win. You can people-watch." There's karaoke and a laser light show. Vendors sell T-shirts, stuffed animals and neon-colored Japanese soft drinks.

"People who are normally shy get really social," notes Cassie, a frequent con-goer.

Cassie is at Bishie Con to help promote Gale Con, scheduled for this summer in Galesburg, Illinois. She and her fellow organizers did not come in costume, but they already know plenty of people from the Midwest anime con circuit.

"Sarah didn't recognize me," one of Cassie's friends complains after an acquaintance breezes by.

Cassie consoles her and pats her arm. "She only saw you with your real hair once."


One of the biggest hazards of a Bishie Con weekend, besides a lack of sleep, is what Sonja Desloge refers to as "con stench."

"There are people who don't shower all weekend," she complains. "Their rooms smell like feet and dead people. And you're not allowed to Febreze people. It's considered assault."

Febreze aside, Bishie Con is a peaceful affair. The two-man security force wanders through the events, making small talk with the con-goers and, in the case of Brad Hale, promoting Gale Con. Loud screaming doesn't constitute a security threat and is, therefore, out of their control.

Bishie Con happens to coincide with the release of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, which may explain the absence of girls dressed as vampires. Desloge went to a midnight premiere and, consequently, showed up to the convention on three hours' sleep. "It was totally worth it though," she says. "Cute Indian boys. Even though Edward has hairy nipples."

A panel for Hetalia: Axis Powers is almost entirely occupied by girls in quasi-military uniforms. Hetalia tells the story of twentieth-century world politics with each country represented by a pretty boy. The panelists make a few half-hearted attempts to introduce themselves to the uninitiated ("I'm America, and I'm Russia's bitch because we're in debt"), but they can't resist acting out their roles.

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