Are ‘Boys Love’ Series Good Representation?

There’s still a heated debate over whether these cutesy stories truly serve the community

Think of your usual teenage romance stories, but with two male leads. That, in essence, is BL (or “Boys Love”). The genre has become extremely popular in recent years, with fans all over the world, and a wide selection of series on various streaming platforms. In fact, Thailand is one of the world’s most prominent producers of BL stories, to the point of many joking that they’re basically Thailand’s main soft power export. And they’re not really wrong—2gether: The SeriesBad BuddyLove of Siam—those are just a few examples of Thai series that have garnered huge followings internationally, and launched Thai actors into the top spots of the industry.

Seeing the success of the BL genre is a good thing. For one, we can all remember a time when this type of representation was the opposite of mainstream. Back then, a male couple on television was difficult to find, and sometimes, the writers might find ways to imply their feelings for each other, without actually showing them together. And it was even harder to find gay characters that weren’t caricatures, stereotypes, or one-dimensional.

The genre taking off means there’s more queer representation, which we can all agree is very important for the community. BL dramas are loud and proud, grabbing the attention of the mainstream spotlight of the media industry. As the number of fans keep increasing, new male-led shows keep getting greenlit, which means even more representation. It shows our society that the queer community is as normal and deserving of our place as anyone, and that as humans, we aren’t all that different. It’s this kind of recognition that the queer community has been fighting for as long as anyone can remember.

Furthermore, the path of acceptance paved by the genre has led to activism outside of the media field. For example, Taipei-based LGBTQ+ streaming platform Gagaoolala was one of the major driving forces behind Taiwan’s same-sex marriage law in 2019. 

While recognising the impact of these series, many think that there’s still more work to be done.

Despite portraying the lives of queer people, the vast majority of lead characters are portrayed by charming straight people. In many dramas, such as 2gether: The Series, gay characters that are not in lead roles or do not fit within the typical beauty standards are still portrayed as stereotypical, effeminate men. Many gay people are cast into the stories to exist as comic relief instead of well-rounded characters. 

The majority of BL dramas focus more on the romantic tensions of the leading couple, and less on the plot. Which means more heart-fluttering sequences than you could count. But, it also means a lack of depth, and the omission of the actual obstacles and hardships that queer people meet in real life: tensions with family, coming out, homophobia, othering and assumptions. These realities are minimised in pursuit of heartwarming, marketable scenes. While understandable, it would be great to get just a glimpse of what they have to go through to just be accepted as human.

Every instance of queer representation should be celebrated, but there’s more complexity in being LGBTQ+ than sex, romance, and finding the right one. Happy pride, everyone.