This is for the November 2012 Carnival of Aces. Here is the introduction.
‘Bad boys’ come in flavors, including these two:
Flavor 1: Rough, violent, rude, nasty, physically dangerous
Flavor 2: Rebellious, free, passionate, maverick, mischievous
Yang Guo falls neatly into Flavor 2. Most of the time he’s considerate, even generous. Though he can be violent, he almost never initiates the violence.
From now on, when I say ‘bad boy’ I mean Flavor 2.
Bay boys are appealing partially because they are sincere and open. They have the courage to embrace their feelings. If society tells him to repress himself, he tells society to shove off. This makes him ‘bad’.
Many of the feelings ‘classic’ bay boys openly express are sexual. They might ignore taboos and have sex with any consenting partner they please. Even if they don’t take that route, they are not inclined to submit to social norms which deny the truth about their sexual feelings.
I love how Yang Guo tweaks this dynamic!
There are multiple instances in the novel of various characters assuming that he is having/has had sex … when in fact, he is/has not. When they make these assumptions, that makes him ‘bad’ in their eyes … but the revelation that is is/has not doesn’t change his ‘bad’ status. Maybe he does so many other ‘bad’ things that he doesn’t need sex to maintain his ‘bad boy’ credentials … but I wonder if that fact that he is repeatedly *not* having sex also factors in his ‘badness’.
Yang Guo is socially marginalized. Not by choice – he seems by nature to be a very social. Yet he seems on a different page from his peers, and generally they eventually reject them, or he rejects him. There is more than one cause. As a child, Yang Guo bears the stigma of being fatherless. Then he gets ostracized because of his relationship with Xiaolongnü. And then he loses able-bodied privilege. But I think asexuality might be in play too.
Many asexuals attest that feel different from everybody else in a significant way, and that this difference makes them feel invisible, or at least makes it feel like there is a gulf between them and their sexual peers. Now, Yang Guo never identifies as asexual – but some asexuals take decades to come to the conclusion that they are asexual, so even without identifying as one he might experience life as one. And I think asexuality might be yet another wedge which pushes him into abandoning social norms and being ‘bad’.
I’ve read comments about this story in which people say it’s unrealistic that Yang Guo would ignore various sexual opportunities that, according to these commentators, very few heterosexual men would ignore. Assuming that these commentators understand heterosexual men from the Chinese-speaking world better than I do, to me this a) is even more evidence Yang Guo may not be heterosexual and b) he might feel, perhaps not consciously, society marginalizing his (a)sexuality, and that it contributes to his ultimate rejection of society.