Mary Ingram-Waters wrote an article in the most recent issue of Transformative Works and Cultures called “When Normal and Deviant Identities Collide”, about her experiences trying to collect information from authors of mpreg fan fiction stories at a Harry Potter fan convention. She was seven months pregnant at the time.
“Mpreg” means “male pregnancy,” and it has its own subgenre niche inside fan fiction. Ingram-Waters quotes a fan author as ruefully explaining, “It’s definitely a ‘guilty pleasure’ for some and a squick for others, and is in general not that well regarded [among fan fiction readers and writers], mostly because it allegedly turns the male characters into whiny, feminized versions of themselves.”
Ingram-Waters writes that there was a distinct difference in the way she was treated by the authors she interviewed in person compared to the authors she interviewed via email. The authors she interviewed at the convention seemed to make more mention of the stigma of writing mpreg when faced with an actual pregnant woman. They seemed defensive and took pains to note that they had done research on pregnancy before writing. One writer refused to be interviewed at the convention, after previously agreeing.
Ingram-Waters writes, “One explanation for the negative interactions is that my physical presence illuminated the extent of deviance of their mpreg stories.”
Deviance can certainly be found in fan fiction, however one wants to define the term (I immediately thought of that tag line, “You say that like it’s a bad thing!”), but I am focusing on the dictionary definition of the word, seen in the way she contrasts “normal” and “deviant” in the title of her article. I think by that contrast, we can see that mpreg is not all that “out there” in fan fiction terms. One of the things fan fiction does with mpreg is the same thing that commercial science fiction that speculates with gender roles does – it experiments. It plays. What does it mean to be pregnant – socially, culturally, personally? Would it mean something different to a man than it does to woman? What do we learn about pregnancy if we posit that it’s the men who do it and not the women, like sea horses? What is gender, anyway, and what does it have to do with reproduction?
A lot of this sort of questioning and playing goes on in fan fiction, as it does in science fiction, and I have always found those kinds of questions deeply interesting, and also at times downright entertaining.
This particular Ingram-Waters article was confined, however, to the methodological issues, and did not go on to actually examine her findings as she researched the subgenre of mpreg itself, although I am hoping that at some point she’ll publish the outcome of her research on the stories and the authors! That would be fascinating too.
She found that unlike other scholars who have conducted field research while pregnant, the experience of being a “visible normative reproducer” was of no help in establishing rapport with mpreg writers. Some scholars in other fields, she found, have written that being pregnant makes them seem nonthreatening and gives the people they meet something perceived as positive to talk about, something familiar.
Ingram-Waters also noted that she had gone to some pains to identify and establish herself as an acafan as she pursued her research into the mpreg subgenre online, but that face to face, her identity as a pregnant cisgendered woman trumped that pretty completely.
She found a silver lining in even her negative interview experiences, writing that perhaps she’d stumbled on an efficient way to elicit “stigma management strategies for mpreg authors.” I share her fascination with subjects concerning “identities of gender, sexualities and normative bodies,” and I look forward to getting to read more, someday, of her actual research into mpreg fan fiction.
In the meantime, her description of how she was received made a fascinating story.