A YEAR ago, editor and writer Jun Matias asked me to join his “Lock and Roll” Facebook discussion on Boys’ Love, or the BL series.
Produced in Thailand, the BL television series has taken Southeast Asia by storm, especially during the Covid-19 era.
Boys Love TV shows are about boys falling in love with other boys. But they are radical in Thailand because the boys deviate from the khatoey, or the stereotype of the gay man who is effeminate, swishy and works in beauty salons or in entertainment. These boys are handsome and cute; they play football and date girls; they live in beautiful houses and wear elegant clothes. It’s almost like your TV series about love and loss, except here the boys fall in love with other boys.
Hendri Go, my informant and tireless organizer of the Cebu Literary Festival (Liftest), said Japanese yaoi culture influenced Thai BL. Yaoi are Japanese manga dealing with physical gay love. Yaoi fans are called fujoshi, and they are mostly young women. On the other hand, we have the sonenai, or gay manga comics that deal with emotional and romantic gay love.
In both varieties, the music brings the boys together; the setting is usually a school; the city is another character in the unfolding of the tale. Social networks punctuate the lives of the characters: the universe of likes, comments and shares impacts them on a daily basis.
This is seen most clearly in the “2gether” series, directed by Weerachit Thongjila, which ran from February to May 2020. The series is about Wat (Vachirawit Chivaaree, nicknamed Bright), a football player and musician who meets Tine (Metawin Opasiamkajorn, nicknamed Win), an aspiring musician. Wat is brooding and melancholy while Tine is bright and bubbly. The cast perfectly captures the differences in their character traits. There’s charm and chemistry between the two boys, who sometimes wear similar swimsuits, or simply look deep into each other’s eyes, or feel the pangs of jealousy like the other partners do.
Premiering almost as Southeast Asian countries began to go into lockdown due to the pandemic, the series racked up millions of views per episode on YouTube. Comments on Twitter exploded and fan sites sprang up on Facebook and YouTube. Thailand’s GMMTV aptly uploaded the series, with English subtitles, almost the same time it aired on Thai TV. The effect was electric: chat lines opened as soon as the series went live buzzing with reactions from viewers. And guess which country had the most passionate, emotional reactions? The Latin Asian country called the Philippines.
Why did he hold an entire region in the cup of his hand? 2Gether and the other BL series that followed showed what many gay people didn’t have growing up in college: groups of friends, straight and gay, who openly supported them. That, and a milieu where homosexual acts were not considered bizarre, or in the Catholic Philippines, a form of sin. The series showed that homosexuality is as normal as breathing; that families can accept and love; and that life is worth living even if you dare to be different. And that a gay character doesn’t have to live a tragic life or die at the end of the TV series.
Writer Miguel Poblador says, “Just the fact that they were two boys having such simple, yet sweet times, had awakened something in me that I had put to rest so many years ago. I was compelled to watch because they showed moments I fantasized about, but starved through high school and college. Those over the top romantic gestures, like being serenaded or receiving small gifts for no reason, were things my straight friends were doing when we were younger, things that I was afraid of denying myself. I was living vicariously the past that I never had. I was making up for the time that I had never been granted. I would not have didn’t even dare to watch something like this when I was in high school, let alone try to experience it in real life. And now I’m watching with tens of thousands of other people, like it’s normal. Because It’s normal, at least more so now than when I was growing up.
“The success of this show and the passion with which it is celebrated in the media is a testament to how far it has come in terms of acceptance. It makes my heart race to know that we can have these stories in the mainstream. happy and perfect, those that don’t end in heartache or death as they too often do. It reminded me that we, too, are entitled to have beautiful things, despite what we were told growing up. We are entitled to have simple joys and cheap thrills, just like everyone else.”
Writer Don Kevil Hapal agrees: “I’m reassured to think that shows like this will at least help the community to get non-LGBTs to consume and appreciate queer media, which is still a step.” towards inclusiveness. The two lead actors seem to understand LGBT. In their recent ABS-CBN interview, they even made it clear that love has no gender, and it’s not something you hear on TV every day.
“That a show with two male leads has gained so much popularity – no, even the mere fact that shows like this are now being watched on TV – also gives me some hope for the future. Living in the Philippines there are days when I just cry out of frustration at how unfair the system can be to the gay community Not only does the state not recognize our right to be with the people we love, but it makes us also denies protection from discrimination.
Well said and I wholeheartedly agree. And now that 2gethers is over, I watched BL’s other series: “Together With Me”, “Love by Chance” and “Deep Blue Kiss”, among many others. It’s a fantasy, parallel universe, yes, and it does wonders for mental well-being too.
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