What is Bara?
This genre attracts a much smaller audience compared to other genres of visual works and storytelling. The little word is shortened from barazuko, which in Japanese means rose-tribe, a code phrase for gay men. Bara works are produced by gay men for gay men. The genre depicts gay male, same-sex feelings and sexual identity of masculine, muscular men who sometimes behave in aggressive, violent, or exploitative ways towards one another. This is not about romantic gay love or hearts and flowers. Bara is wild, adventurous, and unflinching in how it mirrors real life behaviors of male aggression, power trips, violent tendencies, and exploitation.
The more vanilla works of young and shirtless gay men falling in love with other young and shirtless gay men are a lot more safe and less emotionally challenging for the viewer. So, yeah, those works are going to have a “mass audience” compared to the bara genre.
I tell stories and create illustrations about masculine men involved with one another to provoke the viewer. I have seen all my life how straight people do not like to see masculine men showing affection towards one another. Straight people will accept drag shows and comedies about effeminate gay men. And why not? Those are non-threatening. But, if masculine men are depicted in a story or images showing sexual interest in one another, oh wow, that suddenly becomes very threatening to straight people!
Some gay men I have encountered also find it uncomfortable to witness masculine men showing sexual interest in one another. Some gays even relegate such masculine men to the pejorative category of being “too butch.”
What I do is considered provocative. And that is my intention. When I look around me at the straight world, I see straight people who do not like to see masculine men showing affection towards one another.
Straight men and women tend to accept drag performers like RuPaul Charles, whom I greatly admire as a genius. I enjoy watching the RuPaul’s Drag Race series on television. Straight people derive pleasure and amusement from male drag performers. As an audience, straight people enjoy laughs at the satirical comedy and the sexual ironies that RuPaul and other drag performers excel at. Such is the enjoyment of performance art, but art is separate from the everyday life most of us live.
Drag performers engage in performance art. Would you want to live, day-to-day around someone who is in drag performance art? No me! Men who are drag performers are artists that I very much respect from my perspective as an audience member. But, art is different from real, everyday life. Performance art like male drag performers does not get me excited sexually. What gets me excited sexually are masculine men who speak and behave using masculine (not feminine) talk and actions.
Major Hollywood comedies featuring men in drag such as the wonderful Mike Nichols film The Birdcage are also “safe” and “unchallenging emotionally” for straight people. That nonthreatening kind of gay man is what seems to find a “mass audience” at least by Hollywood standards. But, I don’t work in Hollywood.
I choose to depict muscular and masculine men who connect with one another emotionally, physically and sexually. Feminized gay men who choose to speak and behave in flamboyant ways have a right to do so. But, I work within the bara genre and use themes that include violence and exploitation—not what appeals to the audience that enjoys feminized gay men.
My storytelling explores conflicting and opposing compulsions that all men have—not just gay men. On one side there are impulses men have towards sustaining life, engaging in love, and being attracted to others.
In the opposing direction are impulses men have towards being aggressive, engaging in violence, and, causing pain and death. For centuries, artists and storytellers around the world have found inspiration in these two opposing human compulsions that no man is able to resist or impede merely by his conscious will alone.
Themes involving violence and/or people who hurt or kill others are quite common today in motion pictures and in television dramas. The Purge and The Hunger Games series of major motion pictures, for instance, depict people brutally hunting, hurting, and killing other people within a government-sanctioned story context. You are asked to suspend thinking about believing in an almighty deity when you watch such depictions of brutality and violence in The Purge and The Hunger Games films.
Meanwhile in the real world in which we live, it is very easy for anyone to find visual evidence online of the brutal killing of men in certain parts of the world—usually because of believing in an almighty deity—where men use homicidal methods such as beheading, a bullet to the brain, hanging, drowning, impalement, and so forth.