Six years ago, Jared Presler met Matt Weston in the yaoi aisle at a manga shop off Highway 40 and Noland Road. That store no longer exists, but the two 20-somethings have been partners ever since — romantic partners and, as of last weekend, business partners. From Friday through Sunday, Presler and Weston chaired the first annual Ahn!Con, a gathering of yaoi enthusiasts held at the Ramada Inn Convention Center at Interstate 435 and Front Street. I attended. Everybody was really nice. It was super fucking weird.
If somebody asked me last Friday morning to define manga, I might have muttered something vague about Japanese entertainment. If asked to define yaoi (generally pronounced yowee in this country), I couldn't have supplied much more than a dull squint. But having logged roughly 12 hours at Ahn!Con over the weekend, I've returned armed with a few facts. Here goes:
Manga refers to Japanese graphic novels. Anime refers to Japanese animated productions. Yaoi is erotic manga or anime stories about teenage boys; it translates roughly as "boy love." "Ahn!" — are you ready to get nasty? We are about to get nasty — is the sound a uke (a "receiver," or submissive sexual partner) makes when he is penetrated by a seme (an "attacker," or dominant sexual partner) in yaoi manga. Oh, we are just getting started.
Because the characters are gay males, one might assume that the target audience for yaoi would be gay males. One would be wrong. Yaoi is made largely by straight women, for straight women (and sometimes lesbians). "Women like to look at pretty boys," Weston told me. "And lesbian women like pretty boys who look like girls."
E.K. Weaver, a yaoi artist and author from Austin, Texas, was one of Ahn!Con's guests of honor. She explained yaoi to me this way: "The most common rationalization is that it's really no different than straight guys being into lesbian porn."
Weaver, who is married — she looked to be in her late 30s and wore jeans, a nice blouse and smart glasses — was, like me, not a perfect fit at Ahn!Con. Many yaoi productions have about as much plot as, say, Cum Craving Teens 3. Weaver's book, The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal, is more about friendship than fornication.
"A lot of yaoi is just boy meets boy, they have sex, end of story," Weaver said. "I try and put real humanity and humor in my stories. There's sex in them, but it's only about 2 percent of it. The sex has to fit with the story."
But from what I observed, sex was the main draw of Ahn!Con. (It was a 17-and-older event, and most guests were in their late teens and 20s.) Nearly every panel discussion (sample titles: "Fetish Fuel," "The Art of Good Smut." "Bondage Checkers") dripped with sexual innuendoes, and most conventioneers were dressed in either a suggestive outfit or some kind of fantasy costume: RenFest garb, comic-book characters, furries. One of the first things I saw upon entering was a plump woman in her early 20s wearing pigtails, a tiny yellow skirt and a midriff-exposing cheerleader top. A man in a trench coat was leading her around the lobby on a leash. They were both smiling. The leash was set at a comfortable slack.