I’m looking for some advice regarding the teen anime club…We started fine without any problems but within the last few months I’ve had the yaoi fandom take over the club. It’s just 6 girls out of around 15 members, but they really tend to dominate and make the others uncomfortable…Nothing I say seems to have any impact beyond a few minutes of toning it down, then they’re right back at it. Has this issue ever arisen in your club? — A teen librarian at a public library in Colorado
First, for those who don’t know, yaoi refers to manga or anime that feature male/male romance, which is a subgenre of manga or anime that can inspire devoted fans but is a niche audience. For answering this question, I’m considering the specifics of yaoi fans, but in truth these strategies can apply to any niche fan within the larger fandom—those guys that really love harem manga (hapless guy surrounded by buxom ladies) or those fans that really adore all the mecha (giant robot) series and only want to talk about them ad infinitem.
I have had yaoi fangirl-y-ness pop up occasionally here in my club, frequently among the girls, although we’ve had guy fans as well. However, I’ve never had it take over the club. There are times exclamations would get a bit overzealous—watching Ouran High School Host Club, for example—but most of the club members are well aware that it’s part of anime fandom and are tolerant of the momentary outbursts.
Keep in mind is that if it’s the male/male romantic aspect that’s making club members uncomfortable, that may be a harder topic to address. Romantic relationships between characters of the same gender, whether joking or not, are fairly common in anime and manga, especially in titles aimed at girls. This content cannot be completely avoided, so manga and anime fans should understand that the topic may well crop up.
However, in this case, it’s important to consider how these fans are dominating the club. Is it the choice of what the club is watching/reading (and how much say do the club members have in what they read/watch)? Is it that the topic comes up in discussion all the time no matter what the club watches? Is what these members are saying inappropriate (i.e. too explicit or raunchy in some way), or is it the topic that’s unnerving?
Depending on the answers to these questions, I suggest a few different tactics.
If it’s what you’re watching, think through how to regain control of what is watched or read within the context of the club. I’m open to suggestions from my members, but most of the time I’m in charge of picking what we watch and discuss, and so I make sure there’s a wide variety over the course of the year. If fans keep returning to one show (like Hetalia, which has gathered many avid fans the past few years), I remind them that the club is not, in fact, about that specific show, but about all of manga and anime.
If it’s a small group of vocal fans, I’d pull them aside, or ask them to meet with you before or after the club, to make it clear that you want to speak to them about a serious concern but don’t want to embarrass them by doing it in front of their peers.
If fans are speaking inappropriately in terms of being explicit or raunchy, I’d call them out on that aspect of it as inappropriate for the club (and make it clear that anyone being that explicit in any club would be given the same warning). I keep explicit language out of my teen room, so I think it’s more than fair to expect the same attention to language in library clubs.
If it’s the other members who are uncomfortable, start with that—that you understand that these fans like yaoi, but that you’ve understood the repeated discussions are making other members uncomfortable, so you want them to tone down discussion while at the club. Let them know it’s their peers that are feeling excluded and uneasy, and that you want them to take their fellow fans’ concerns seriously.
You could also bring up a salient comparison. This very much depends on the content of what they’re saying and whether they’re objectifying people. They may not quite understand what objectification really means, so I’d ask how they would feel if a bunch of the guys in the club were constantly talking about how hot the female characters were, about how sexy they were, and calling out loudly about their bodies. Help them understand that when they squee about yaoi it can be just as reductive and off-putting. They also may well be making someone who is GBLTQ feel their real-life identity and emotions are only there for other people’s romantic fantasies. No one likes being treated as an unwilling pin-up.
Finally, remind the subset that while yaoi (or harem manga, or mecha) is a part of anime fandom, it is just that—a part. It’s not even a dominant part. Part of the idea of an anime and manga club is to be inclusive about other fans and to share what you love. If fans insist on only talking about a small part of the fandom, then they’re excluding all the other discussions members might like to have, and that’s not in the spirit of such groups. It’s great that they’ve found each other, and that they can be fans together, but it’s not a yaoi club, it’s an anime club, and they need to keep that in mind.
As a final step, you might well have to give them a consequence. Give them a warning, and let them know that if they can’t curb their discussions and behavior, they will not be welcome at the next meeting or until they prove they can tone it down. I hate doing things like this, and I’d start with talking to members about the problem in depth as I’ve mentioned above, but if you need to, you might just have to enforce a temporary ban. That way they’ll get the message that you are serious and that this isn’t just about them or anime, but about the whole club being a open and welcoming group for all members.
How about you, my fellow librarians and educators? Have you had to deal with a similar problem? How have you handled it?
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