The mainstream moment of LGBTQ+ content in Asia

Scene from GL series, Gap: The Series
Scene from GL series, Gap: The Series Photo: Screenshot

While major U.S. streaming services canceled numerous LGBTQ+-inclusive series last year, Thailand premiered more than 50 Boys Love (BL) series in 2022 alone.

With origins in Japanese gay manga comics, the BL genre features gay romances in which homophobia is more or less nonexistent. The shows have experienced resounding success in Asia, but other continents seem to only be spectators of this phenomenon. But one thing that stands out most around the genre is the parallel world in which the Girls’ Love (GL) series live, one in which the shows have struggled to stand out in the market.

Due to its origins, Japan was the main exporter of BL series, but as the years went by and the content evolved, Thailand became the dominant voice in the genre – a triumph brought on quickly during the pandemic that even had an impact on tourism in the country. Thousands of fans are now eager to visit the places where their favorite series were filmed.

As such, the government has learned to coexist, for love of art or mere business, with LGBTQ+ content. Money is coming into the country, and the series are usually aired on alternative platforms or channels, away from their traditional soap operas, for the peace of mind of the conservatives.

But the circumstances surrounding GL series have been different. 

Several Asian countries have had a humble catalog of GL series with middling success. Strangely enough, the women couples that have most resonated with audiences in recent times have been secondary characters that have barely any air time in other popular shows.

Then, in 2022 something happened. The famous Thai actor Suppapong Udomkaewkanjana, who goes by Saint, created his own agency, Idol Factory, and while producing their first BL series, he realized that within his cast, he had the perfect leads for a GL series, Sarocha Chankimha (Freen) and Becky Armstrong. The actresses had so much chemistry that it was unthinkable not to risk it all.

With no investors and only the monetary support of his mother, Saint created a project around the actresses. Through trial and error, Idol Factory came up with the perfect product: an adaptation of the novel Gap: Pink Theory, from the sapphic Japanese Yuri genre.

The team managed to broadcast the show on a TV channel and on YouTube with uncut versions. They added subtitles in different languages for international audiences, an alluring soundtrack and most importantly, an epic couple. With over 500 million views, Gap the series is already an international phenomenon, proving that GL series have a fan base willing to bet on them.

The avalanche effect soon followed, and GL projects multiplied. At least 20 series are on the table to be developed on different Thai platforms and tv channels. Freen and Armstrong have already been signed for a movie and another series together, as well as working on a World tour for the Gap fans. 

Coincidentally, well-known Korean actress Han So-Hee (from the Netflix film Nevertheless) is about to release a GL film called Heavy Snow, a project that could demonstrate the visibility and expansion of the GL genre.

Let’s be clear: For years the BL series content has provoked mixed feelings and bothered many members of the LGBTQ+ community in Asia. Magical and positive content that is out-of-touch from reality and includes stereotypical protagonists has created an endless debate.  But one point everyone can agree on is that the popularity of the genre is taking up more space in the media and helping keep the conversation open about LGBTQ+ rights.

Within all of this there is a sad irony: Asia commands all of this GL and BL content, yet most countries on the continent still have some restrictions regarding the liberties and rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Even Thailand still does not have marriage equality, which is noteworthy as the country has a reputation for being very queer-friendly. Taiwan, in fact, is the only Asian nation that has legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

The struggle is global, and it’s a battle we will only win by learning from each other to reach the same point. Great content with quality representation that goes hand in hand with laws to protect the LGBTQ+ community – not just because it’s good for business but because it’s the right thing to do.

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