I know it feels like I keep prefacing every post here with wondering what the fuck is wrong with me. Mostly because I keep prefacing every post here with wondering what the fuck is wrong with me. No really, people. Every now and then it occurs to me to ask why the hell I find this:
More sexually appealing than this:
Full disclosure: I’ve never been into alpha males. I don’t know why. But for some reason, western society’s image of what I, an American woman over 30, is supposed to be attracted to makes my vagina shrivel up and glue itself shut. Even before K-pop my tastes tended toward the pretty boys. It’s just how I roll.
I’ve taken all manner of shit over this. I’ve actually been accused by some particularly ignorant souls of being “pseudo lesbian” due to my love of guyliner-sporting pretty boys. I’ve also been told I like “chicks with dicks.” I don’t deny that, seeing as it’s a joke and not a profound misunderstanding of the way lesbianism actually works. As pretty as these boys are, they still have dicks. They’re male. Ergo, not really an indicator of latent lesbianism.
We’re all familiar with the inherent terror of homosexuality among straight western males. Any time a man expresses a quality considered traditionally feminine—an interest in fashion or clothing, use of cosmetic products, an overt display of emotion, etc.—it emasculates him; the spectre of homosexuality rears its ugly head. Oh, the humanity. For all of American society’s acceptance male homosexuality is still a force to be feared by men more than nuclear war or the zombie apocalypse; gay men must necessarily be othered so that they are easily distinguished. They must be fierce and fabulous, sassy accessories to the hip urban straight woman, much like the latest designer handbags and shoes. Gay men who do not fit this archetype don’t exist or they are anomalies (at least according to most popular Western media).
K-pop, on the other hand, is a bastion of what Americans would consider symbols of raging homosexuality (or at least metrosexuality): guyliner, sparkly outfits, an overall youthful and effeminate appearance. Yet these young men are obviously being marketed as sex symbols for women. We’re meant to believe they’re straight–they’re constantly matched with female idols on variety shows and asked questions about their ideal girl—and yet there’s a lot of touchy-feely behavior (called “skinship” according to the lingo) for the sake of fan service. So we’re meant to believe they’re straight men playing at gay for the amusement and titillation of their female fan base. Confession: I never got on board the whole “male homosexuality as a source of titillation for straight women” train, and I don’t get the appeal. I just like looking at pretty boys in general; I don’t really care if they’re fucking each other or not. But I acknowledge that it’s a thing and that it exists, and I ain’t here to judge. It’s obviously enough of a thing that K-pop companies cater to it.
I would like to emphasize once again that I am not talking about Asian culture as a whole here, only K-pop. I am far from an expert on the subject, having never actually lived in Asia, but my impression is that homosexuality is no more or less accepted in Asian society than it is in the West. People are seemingly more open about it in the West, granted, but queer people are still very much othered, and acceptance seems contingent upon queer people remaining safely within their designated stereotypes. I hesitate to pat either society on the back. They each have their own problems.
That said, however, K-pop does seem to be its own little microcosm of fascinating gender dynamics. Part of it is, I’m sure, the “flower boy” look that is popular in Asia. In my understanding, the typical flower boy is young, pretty, very fashionable and hip, and generally considered desirable (to women). I’m all up on the flower boys, quite frankly. While Western society has its own pretty boys that tend to populate TV shows on the CW or on ABC Family, they’re typically presented as objects of desire for teenage girls, much like Western boy bands. By the time you hit puberty you’re supposed to outgrow them. Then there emerged the “metrosexual” of the late 90s/early 00s, loosely defined as a man who is presumably straight but still engages in trappings of gay stereotypes such as dressing fashionably and using cosmetic products. However, neither pretty boys nor metrosexuals are ever allowed to fully cross over into flower boy territory; there’s no guyliner or bb cream in sight. They are dancing on that delicate line between the acceptable and unacceptable according to Western standards of masculinity, somewhere between the conventional straight alpha male and the flamboyant gay other.
So I guess what I’m saying is that for people who overthink every little thing like I tend to do, K-pop presents a myriad of jumping-off points for fascinating discussions on gender identity, sexuality, and female desire. Or if you’re a normal person who doesn’t write pages of text in MS Word on this stuff, you could just say “Pretty boys. Me like” and be done with it. Both approaches work. What I can decisively conclude is that K-pop does provide a space for Western women where we are allowed to perceive as objects of desire men outside the typical realm of Western media-approved masculinity. It is a place where androgyny and queerness have become normalized and even desirable, even if said desirability is only within that particular realm.
I often joke that K-pop ruined my life since I am now incapable of being attracted to what I, an American woman over 30, am supposed to be attracted to (read: deemed acceptable by Western media). But I realize now that was always the case. K-pop just acknowledged and normalized what I was already drawn to. Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone, and this is just my experience. But I’ve never looked back. Never has life-ruining been so enjoyable as it has been since I discovered K-pop.
ETA: I did not make all of these gifs. I don’t claim credit for them. I found them all over various places on the internet, mostly tumblr.