As part of our commitment as a media partner of Born to Make History: A Yuri on Ice Fan Gathering, we are publishing transcripts of some of the panel discussions. These articles are designed to follow the flow of the PowerPoint Presentations used by the speakers.
The first installment entitled Queerwhatsitmaybes On Ice: Yuri On Ice, Boys’ Love & Gendercoding, features our very own EIC Pamela.
Here then, is Paolo Tiausas’ panel on Yuri!!! on ICE and how it redefines intersections between the male body, the gay identity, and its varying masculinities.
EDIT: The admin would like to apologize for gross oversight.
We forgot to place a caveat on this article, on behalf of our transgender readers. This article (and the panel discussion it came from) was delivered from the perspective of a heterosexual man trying to understand something outside of his field of reference.
We are all for productive, meaningful viewpoints aimed towards inclusivity and discourse. And we only ask for comments to come from a point of kindness and compassion. Any hate speech and doxxing will be deleted.
In heterosexual relationships, love happens between two biologically different configurations of bodies.
While we tend to see this as “normal”, this bodily and genital difference appears as some kind of hurdle.
There is a stark difference. In a way, we base our binaries and heteronormative beliefs on this difference. The bodies are different, so we say: men are like this, women are like this. Interestingly, the same hurdle becomes the primary impetus to our cultures’ greatest and most universal love stories.
We always hear of “love that wants to love despite”, in spite of not knowing everything there is to know. We frame it as a romantic journey. And say things like “I want to get to know you better throughout the rest of my life”. Or even: “I may not understand, but I’m willing to spend the rest of my life trying”.
That is why the prospect of Yuuri and Yuuko was, at least in the start, alluring for me. They held different lives; and the reconciliation could be nothing but glorious.
But underneath these tropes is the scathing inflexibility of heterosexual relationships: I can love you as you are, know you as much as I can, but I will never completely know. I can rationally understand the female body, but I cannot live in it. I can try to communicate the male body, but words will never suffice.
After all, in heterosexual relationships, gender is tangible and inscribed on the body. “I am the man, she is the woman.” Two separate worlds.
While I might talk about male bodies, let me be clear:
Viktor and Yuuri are clearly gay identities in male bodies, within a functioning gay relationship. I am drawn to reading Viktor and Yuuri as a homosexual couple who explicitly do not resemble the framework of heterosexual relationships.
What I mean is this: there is no role-playing here as the man or as the woman. I do not detect the seme/uke or top/bottom dynamic. Even if at times, I find the temptation great, or even seemingly “correct”.
Our running imaginary of gay relationships, especially in the anime and manga community, is dominated by established categories. And I must admit, that some days I find myself leaning towards determining which one dominates and which one submits. In more romantic terms, which one gives and which one takes.
Viktor and Yuuri, however, confuse me. Make no mistake: Viktor and Yuuri are homosexuals. But the gay masculinities that they bring to the relationship is unusual, strange, radical. This is not the BL or Yaoi or slash that I am used to seeing. It is not even the belligerent sexual tension usually detected in sports anime. Where obviously straight males unknowingly love each other, even as they wrestle each other to the ground after a difficult loss.
Viktor and Yuuri are different. Or at the very least: they are unflinchingly new. Especially to unfortunately straight me. When Viktor’s male body loves Yuuri’s male body, I feel a dart sinking into my heart.
Seeing a male body loving a male body feels nostalgic—in a way, it is coming home.
The lover and the beloved share a similar shell. And since the contours of the lover/the beloved’s body are familiar, there is a glimpse wherein complete knowing is possible. When the lover says “I feel this,” the beloved can say, “I know exactly how you feel”. And it will be true.
When a friend told me that eros also translated as “to know”, the image of Viktor and Yuuri hugging each other before each pressure-filled program appeared in my mind. Comically enough, the hug to me was anything but heterosexual. There was no hurdle to cross.
When the best male figure skater body hugs the aspiring male figure skater’s body, it is a moment of complete unity; a mirror. It is complete eros—completely knowing the other.
Sociologist RW Connell defines hegemonic maculinity as “the masculinity that occupies the hegemonic position in a given pattern of gender relations”.
While it is obvious that this standard damages groups that have spoken up against it (specifically the feminist and LGBTQIA movement), even its own constituents feel the brunt of its pressures.
We tend to see the space occupied by the male as the default. That which is normalized to the extent that there is no other way but to break it. With the patriarchy being a solid expression of that power, there exist lapses and synapses in the system of maleness and masculinity.
Usually the patriarchy is that large and obnoxious homogenizing power—the hegemonic position. Yet, even those who are expressive of male power are not exactly neatly placed into this program of sex and gender. This ranges from those who are cast into powerful positions in the hierarchy of labor, to the powerless one wielding misogyny as a last attempt at dominance. There are different intensities and exceptions.
In the series, even the bravado and machismo of JJ Leroy succumbs to the pressures of this idealized masculine life.
The markedly male success indicators of being a champion, a king, the partner of a world-famous rock band; and most importantly, winning a hand in marriage. All of a sudden, they become too heavy a burden.
JJ’s implacable invulnerability is suddenly breached. The standard is next to impossible to obtain. It is the fallout of that lack, however, that causes those who fail at it to start exercising other modes of compensation. Simply: they start to find other ways to cope with that lack.
At the root of most toxic masculinity is this need to dominate.
This need for domination stems from an unrealistic standard that has been set up. Here’s the thing: when men fail to reach this unreachable standard, they feel the need to overcompensate. The starting point of this masculinity has a mythical beginning—it’s as if men, in some iteration of the world, were once at the top of their manhood. When really, no one was ever there.
The failure is a self-fulfilling prophecy, based on what is perceived as lacking. This entire need to overcompensate—either via talking over women in meetings, or discounting their feelings; or choosing to belittle their rationalities because it is female. This is unhealthy, precisely because its only reward is pleasure for the men buying into the illusory rewards of an absolute masculinity.
So instead of this perfect manhood, they do the next best/worst thing. Let me at least show the symptoms. This is the obsession of toxic masculinity: Simulating but never becoming The Man.
Fortunately, we are blessed to have a negation of that toxic masculinity in YOI.
One of my favorite things about YOI has been its self-aware and unconventional take on the competitive aspect of sports anime. I remember telling a friend: what’s weird about YOI is that we never get that character or rival whose main goal is to just crush everyone else in his path. The closest we have is the rage-filled Yuri Plisetsky, who, for all intents and purposes, hides under that boiling facade a more tender type of love.
Even as I’m impressed with how he reconciles the search for agape with his grandfather who he deeply loves, it is the agape for fellow competitors, peers, and dare I say it—friends—in Viktor and Yuuri, that really negates any possible toxicity. When Plisetsky challenges Katsuki, there is machismo. But there is also respect and admiration. This is difficult to balance in sports where only two polar absolutes exist: winning is winning; losing is losing. In the fantasies of hegemonic masculinity, there is room only for winning.
Most sports are built around this notion of domination. Much like technical knowledge, there is always the predication of an ultimate; of a wielder of the title of best.
Connell, surprisingly, would see this as normalized in structures of conquest that permeated Western cultures; the notion of politics, and even the chivalry of knighthood. This one-uppance, this always-applicable framework of domination, is what makes sports so watchable.
Some would say that it is the realization of previously unknowable limits of the body, that limit is always seen as a physical limit; that which is unfortunately shaped in the body of a male.
Think of it this way: a function of motherhood, an activity uniquely tied to womanhood, does not bear the same association with any type of dominance. It sounds weird to say, for example, that “mothers dominate their offspring”. If you have sports that do not feature “winners”—that is considered, ultimately, boring. The spectacle of the highly performing male body is the core of all sport.
That is why “losing” has become taboo in cultures dominated by males—winners get the spoils.
The losers are labelled as weak, soft, non-masculine, and undeserving. The most offensive jargon in sports fandoms usually revolve around the questioning of one’s masculinity. Winning is equated with being the most dominant version of yourself, with the sheer power by which you can force someone to submit to your power.
There is plenty of distraught to be had in a world that normalizes these things. But here’s my thing: it is also plenty hopeful to see a world completely devoid of all of these derogatory modes of relation, aka the world of YOI. This modification of sports shifts YOI into a renewed and re-masculinized vision of competition.
When I watch sports: winning makes me feel good, but it doesn’t overwhelm me the same way unbridled emotion does.
The moments when I cry are the moments when the obsession with domination slowly recedes into the background. And the capacity of community becomes a cue for rediscovering about how human we are in our strengths and our weaknesses. I don’t cry when my team wins, nor when my team loses. When my favorite player walks up to the best player of the other team, and they exchange handshakes and hugs, all while sitting on the polar opposites of legacy and elimination, I think: how beautiful. How utterly beautiful.
When Isabella Yang starts the chants for JJ, and you have the almost-comic hysterical crying-singing of the crowd to “The Theme of King JJ”; this is it. This is what I came here to see.
When sports taps into this celebratory communal act of giving, understanding—things are strange. It is almost, pardon my term, gay. And when I say that, I mean complete eros, complete understanding.
I’ve never really thought of it that way. When I exchanged hugs and high-fives with my friends back when I watched my first championship game, it was as if, for a moment, we truly understood how each other felt at that time. Purely, completely. For a moment, the athlete, whose build was something I could never come close to, felt completely familiar; nostalgic, even. “I know exactly how you feel.”
In these small pockets of love, all differences fade into the background.
This masculine vision, for a brief moment, appears wonderful. And for the first time, positively powerful. The love between Viktor and Yuuri becomes a love that is possible for all of us.
I find I am always longing for that vision. And it is a vision that YOI makes real for me.
What does it mean to be a very straight gay man?
The phrase “a / very / straight / gay / man” is a space of contradiction. What is the space being proposed by YOI, with its gay identities in decisively male bodies? Even in mentioning that, I find myself in a space of doubt.
There are masculinities to these gay identities, in the same way that there are gay interruptions in their decisively male bodies. In a way, Yuuri and Victo—they’re so gay they’re practically straight. They’re so straight that they’re gay. It is this unknowable, untouchable space that draws me to YOI so much.
I am unfortunately a very straight male. The fear is that, given the inescapable toxicities of masculinity, the only logical thing left to do is to annihilate onself. To say: we don’t need any more men, the world should do away with men. And some days I am content with that crucifixion. But this spiral into YOI has been nothing short of surprising for me.
In the course of writing this essay, I find myself discovering new things, not only about the series, but also about myself.
It is an endless empathy—I ask myself: what if I were JJ, what if I were Christophe, what if I were Isabella Yang, what if I were Phichit, what if I were Minako-sensei, what if I were Yakov, etc.
In the YOI world, who ever I place myself in, I find I am always emanating a positive masculinity. The hunger for dominance instead becomes a hunger to love, in complete understanding, and in complete eros. Short of actually saying it, ever since I watched Yuri!!! on Ice, much like Yuuri himself on watching Victor, my life has been mired in an unending chain of surprises.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is this: YOI has given me hope that an unfortunately straight male person like me can actually aspire for something; instead of just living in that fear of self-annihilation. That there are very straight gay and manly ways of living, way above and beyond my cloud of hegemonic masculinity.
This whole essay has really been an entire distraction to simply say: YOI has changed my life. If you are an unfortunately straight male, or if you have friends who are unfortunately straight males, let them watch YOI. It will save lives. That sounds funny, but I do live by it.