Although it is, until now, an essentially Southeast Asian phenomenon (Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, and even China), the television series, movies, literature, and reality shows that, under the name of BL, openly promoting erotic relationships between young men have transcended these regional boundaries and are beginning to have followers and fans by the thousands in other parts of the world, including countries of our language.
BL is the acronym for Boys Love (or Boy's Love), referring specifically to homoerotic experiences among teenagers and young people, especially in the field of high school or university. Although there are obvious sexual scenes, they are usually sidestepped with some modesty. The emphasis is not placed on sexual activity, almost always promiscuous, which stands out in the typical gay-themed films and series that we know in this part of the world, but on love, on the often-sudden discovery of someone —whose sexual orientation has occurred, fundamentally, within the heteronormative canons— who feels irresistibly attracted to another person of his own sex, with all the conflicts that this, on many occasions, entails.
Over and over again in these series the actors repeat what has already become a wild card: "I don't like men, I like him", emphasizing that this preference does not make the person who experiences it the member of an exclusive party with militancy, slogans and flags, but rather a "normal" individual who happens to have fallen in love with someone sexually similar. This is remarkable.
Barricade homosexuals —for whom the world is divided into impassable parcels— do not look favorably this approach, to the point of saying that it is a manifestation of masked homophobia and that these fictitious stories help to perpetuate discrimination and subjugation of those who have not managed to overcome stereotypes; that these actors are taking the gay issue to another plane that serves to leave behind silenced minorities with unresolved problems.
Maybe, but I think that approaching homoeroticism from feelings, not from mere sex gymnastics, is a great contribution to this topic; making it clear that love —the most noble and exalting impulse of the members of our species— is not only above the barriers of race, religion, nationality, language, etc. but also gender.
Origins of a trend
BL literature originates in Japan about half a century ago and typically deals with the erotic relationship between male characters, a subgenre created by women for almost exclusive consumption by women, and is distinct from products aimed at gay men, although it ended up attracting to male audiences and has also been produced by men. Just as lesbian relationships have long been part of the erotic repertoire of heterosexual men; these stories of boys who love each other (almost always, originally, of androgynous beauty) served to exacerbate the eros of Japanese women (mostly heterosexual) in the last decades of the 20th century.
From this century on, the genre began to become independent and acquire greater autonomy, until it manifested itself overwhelmingly in Southeast Asia, although, first of all, as a fundamentally literary experience: cartoon books (which would become popular under the generic name manga), novels, magazines that began to interest other areas of readers, even in the West, and that would later end up becoming the source of countless television series (and some movies), to the point that, in the last ten years, the plots of these novels, already definitively assumed as BL, would be written as mere drafts or scripts of these films.
A general feature is that the titles with which these TV series are marketed are invariably in English and with such names they are promoted even in the very sphere of the countries where they are produced, although the title in its original language also appears on the screen. My Beautiful Man, Mr. Unlucky Has no Choice but to Kiss (Japanese), Gameboys (Philippine, which is already in its second season), Crossing the Line and Make Our Days Count (two Taiwanese series of moving originality, beauty and good acting), To My Star, A Naked Boy (from South Korea), among many other commendable series from these nations.
The pre-eminence of Thailand
However, Thailand's contribution to the BL industry, in diversity and quantity, exceeds that of all other countries in the area, with an extraordinary volume of works and what seems like an inexhaustible pool of strikingly handsome and talented boys, who, in general, are both models and actors, promoters of various products, without having stopped pursuing higher education and acquiring a university degree, inserted in a modern and dynamic society that they represent very well in these series.
It is surprising, however, that since Thailand is not the most liberal state in the world (it is not, for example, Sweden; marriage between same-sex couples is still not legal and there are many homophobic prejudices) these series - which are broadcast on television at peak hours and reach a large audience – in most cases approach the issue of homosexual relationships from a perspective that is not only acceptable and normal, but even noble and commendable.
In this link you can see minibiographies of 30 Thai actors from these series, ranked in order of attractiveness and likeability in 2021. They are the protagonists of many of these works, whose titles are included at the end of each profile.
Couples on camera and off camera
A characteristic of these series is the creation of couples who can star in more than one work, as is the case of Tay Tawan and New Thitipoom in Kiss Me Again and Dark Blue Kiss, or Bright Vachirawit and Win Metawin in Together and Still Together or Krist Perawat and Singto Prachaya in Sotus and Sotus 2, already classics of the genre; but beyond these performances for TV, some of these couples, supported by large fan clubs, participate in interviews for the media and reality shows, which adds resonance and relevance outside the strict scope of stage representation for turning them into authentic icons of a cultural phenomenon that promotes and magnifies homoerotic relationships in the public space, without this necessarily having to mean that these couples are such in real life. In most cases, it is more about heterosexual individuals who, flattering their fans, publicly behave like lovers or "close friends", while extolling same-sex love as an expression of a feeling which is a hymn to the mutual celebration of youth and beauty that is affirmed in the synergistic duplication of one's own image as a challenge to time.
The Kings of BL
In the already quite extensive list of Thai actors involved in this genre, Max Nattapol and Tul Pakorn, pioneers of these series and who have rightly been called the kings of BL, stand out for their grace, beauty and talent. At 28 and 30 years old respectively and more than six years of acting, Max and Tul can be considered veterans even though they don't show the slightest sign of aging. They have starred in four series: Bad Romance, Together with Me (not to be confused with Together), Together with Me the Next Chapter and Manner of Death; and they have taken part in dozens of interviews, theater performances and reality shows, in which they have reaffirmed, repeatedly, the great love and tenderness that unites each other. If something characterizes this couple, it is the constancy of a relationship that exalts homoeroticism, emphasizing the homo, that is, the same, in a relationship of similarity that identifies them as two extraordinary models of masculinity. It is about a love that not only dares to tell its name but exalts it far above conventional stereotypes with an infectious celebratory jubilation.
They have said that they will be together until they go gray and one of their thousands of followers on Instagram has expressed what many of us might be tempted to subscribe to: "I have fallen in love with these two. I truly hope that their friendship never dies and that they love and care for each other until the very end."