Currently browsing tag


[QUOTE] From Homophobia, heteronormativity, and slash fan fiction | April S. Callis | Transformative Works and Cultures

Social science research has pointed to a gradual lessening of both homophobia and heteronormativity in the United States since the 1970s. That this lessening is mirrored in K/S fan fiction points to the utility of fan fiction as a lens through which to study society. While writers of slash fan fiction might be, on the whole, more accepting of nonheterosexuality than their nonslash-writing peers, these individuals are still clearly influenced by normative cultural expectations. Therefore, a study of slash fan fiction across the decades could also point to changes in how sexual identity is understood, how roles within relationships should be articulated, or even in our understanding of what is sexually pleasurable. Thus, studying changing US norms of gender and sexuality through slash fan fiction is a fruitful—dare I say logical—endeavor.

Homophobia, heteronormativity, and slash fan fiction | April S. Callis | Transformative Works and Cultures

[QUOTE] From Fannish masculinities in transition in anime music video fandom | Samantha Close | Transformative Works and Cultures

Just as hooking up is central to many sexual subcultures, rewatching, reworking, reviewing, and redoing are central aspects of many fannish practices. (…) This queer, fannish emphasis on the re, rather than the mix, is the place where creation and authorship in fan communities most clearly opposes normative practices of future-oriented production.

Fannish masculinities in transition in anime music video fandom | Samantha Close | Transformative Works and Cultures

[QUOTE] From Rukmini Pande, Episode 29 of @fansplaining, “Shipping and Activism.” There are so many things I want to quote from this episode, but this segment in particular was extraordinary in helping me frame my thinking about conflict between fanon, canon, queerness, and race. (via elizabethminkel)

I’ve been trying to think through this kind of canon versus fanon kind of thing, and for the longest time I was a “who needs canon” kind of person. We have our archetypes, we have our narratives, and we’ll run with it. And those are the stories I want, and I don’t care whether they are the same stories I’ve read a hundred times, those are the stories I want. But as those stories themselves, as those characters have changed, I’ve realized that it’s not that simple. That I can go and find versions of queerness, but those versions of queerness in fandom will mostly be white queerness. They’re not going to be brown queerness, they’re not going to be black queerness. And that’s something that I’m going to have to rely on canon to center those characters to the point that they cannot be ignored. And that is very very rare.

We’ve now kind of come to the tipping point where how much primacy can a character of color get and still be marginalized in fandom? And you know, it seems like we’ve come to the end of that rope! I don’t think you could have—this is a question I think that a lot of people have kind of been thinking about at the back of their minds. Surely some text will come along where there’s no other option. And we’ve seen that fandom will make the option and it still won’t be black or brown queerness.

Rukmini Pande, Episode 29 of @fansplaining, “Shipping and Activism.” There are so many things I want to quote from this episode, but this segment in particular was extraordinary in helping me frame my thinking about conflict between fanon, canon, queerness, and race.
(via elizabethminkel)

[QUOTE] From Janelle Monae: Sci Fi Queen Yet Uncrowned by Sam Keeper

I think the choice of words in that article—”uncomfortable”—reveals unwittingly the feeling present through the silent parts of geek culture that may not explode in paroxysms of racist, sexist, and homophobic rage whenever anyone dares to intrude on their supremacist fantasies… but that quietly through their silence, through their discomfort, through their resistance to the 21st Century social order, give strength to the howling, spoiled princelings of the digital age.

To someone that draws their identity from outmoded conceptions of gender and sexuality, Monae’s genderqueer persona and her unstated, ambiguous sexual desire…is probably “uncomfortable.” To people unused to thinking about Sally Ride, Monae’s use of Ride as a touchstone is probably a little “uncomfortable.” She’s working with a repertoire that’s maybe not familiar to geeks, and if there’s one things geeks hate, it’s not being smarter than everyone else in the god damn room, so, again, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to posit discomfort and the bias it represents as a possible reason for Monae’s lack of attention in geek circles.

Janelle Monae: Sci Fi Queen Yet Uncrowned by Sam Keeper

[QUOTE] From Anne Jamison from the “Future of Fanworks” chat with fan studies authors, going on right now. Join in!

A lot of people like slash better if they imagine queers slashing, or imagine it to be political, in favor of representation, talking back, etc. That’s a story people like. And it’s a TRUE story. But when we think of heterosexual women who get off on thinking about explicit sex between (or among) men? Also a true story—that’s a story that I think more people are unhappy with.

[QUOTE] From Emily Regan Willis, Fannish discourse communities and the construction of gender in “The X-Files”

Much of the literature on fan fiction sees slash fiction as transformative because of its imposition of a queer framework on heteronormative texts. While I do not disagree that this is one way fan fiction can be transformative, it is a mistake to believe that slash is inherently more transformative than het or gen fic just because of its queering of canon.

[QUOTE] From Fan-Yi Lam, Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture

The Comic Market was dominated by women from the beginning (90 percent of its first participants were female), but in 1981, thanks to lolicon, male participants numbered the same as female participants for the first time in Comike’s history. With almost ten thousand participants, Comic Market was now Japan’s biggest dōjinshi event and the center of dōjinshi culture. It grew big enough that the nineteenth Comic Market, in the winter of 1981, was held in the International Exhibition Center in Harumi. A year later, a convention catalogue was sold for the first time, both to help visitors to find their favorite circles in the crowd of almost a thousand circles and to help finance Comic Market’s expansion. Comike also encouraged the many fan-related companies to include advertisements in the catalog.

Internal conflicts on the Comike planning committee underlay some of these developments: they marked the ascendancy of the faction led by Yonezawa Yoshihiro, who favored Comike’s unlimited expansion. Though he was criticized for purportedly selling dōjinshi out to commercialism, Yonezawa couched his plans for Comike in terms of a collective organization of the convention by all participants, including staff, circles, and visitors. Whatever the underlying reality, these public principles remain little changed today.

Fan-Yi Lam, Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture

[REQUEST] Call for survey participants: Women’s Production and Consumption of (Male) Homosexual Erotica

The OTW Events Calendar for May includes a call for participants for a survey by researcher Lucy Neville. Here Lucy gives some more background about this survey and the research it will be used for.

I am a Lecturer in Criminology and Sociology at the University of Middlesex (this is me: – you will find an overview of my qualifications, research interests and links to previous open-access research reports).  I am also a writer (and appreciator!): of prose, poetry and slash (this is me: – if you want to read any more of my writing, please send a friend request). I am currently carrying out an academic study into women’s involvement in sexually explicit m/m slashfic and gay erotica/pornography more generally. I would really appreciate it if you could take the time to complete the below survey.

What’s the research for?

The purpose of this research (both earlier focus groups I conducted and the survey) is to gain a better understanding of what appeals to women about (male) homosexual erotica, and how this sits within their wider thoughts and feelings around romance writing, erotica, pornography, gender and sexuality. As such, from a slash perspective, it is specifically looking at women who produce and/or consume explicit m/m slash.  I see this very much as an exploratory piece of research, and have no expectations per se as to what I might ‘find’, I am just very interested in hearing about the diversity of experiences people have had, and their own reflections on their enjoyment of homosexual erotica. I think this is a very nuanced and complex area, and I don’t expect to find any ‘one size fits all’ theory at the end of this. But I would like to produce a piece of research that can act as a stepping stone towards a better understanding of how and why women interact with gay erotica, and, hopefully, will reflect a lot of your own experiences back at you, offering an opportunity for interesting future discussion.

For a detailed description of how I came to do the research and what my research philosophy is, please see this post.

Who is the questionnaire for?

The questionnaire is open for both readers and writers of male homosexual erotica. I am interested in exploring all forms of gay erotica, from m/m slashfic with a sexual content, to wider gay (male) erotic literature, and gay (male) pornography.  Some questions will only be applicable to respondents who are either readers or writers (or both), so if a question does not apply to you (e.g. you do not write fic, only read it, and the question is asking you about writing), please leave it blank.
This survey is specifically interested in looking at women’s production and consumption of gay erotica, pornography, and m/m slashfic with a sexual content. As such it is only open to those who identify as women. However, if you’re a man involved in the slash community and you would be interested in sharing your opinion around any of this, please do get in touch. I see this very much as exploratory research and welcome all dialogue!

Due to issues around consent, the questionnaire is only open to those aged 18 and over.

What will you do with the data?

For your protection, I have sought and obtained ethical approval for this study from the Research Ethics Committee of the University of Middlesex, and in accordance with the recommendations of the British Sociological Association.  All research (and data collected from it) will be conducted according to the University’s ethical guidelines and the British Sociological Association statement of ethical best practice. All data is untraceable back to you, will be stored securely (on a password protected computer), and will be treated as anonymous. Only I will have access to the full dataset. Nothing you say will be attributed back to you personally.

I will make all aggregate data available to participants through my LJ page, and by informing other relevant organisations (e.g. the OTW). If you have any feedback on any of the findings, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – a lot of my previous research within social sciences has adopted an ‘action research’ philosophy (where participants are actively involved in how data are used and interpreted to form a community of best practice), and as such I welcome opinions, feedback (and constructive criticism) that can help me to design better research going forward, and get the richest interpretations from the findings themselves. As an academic, I also see this as a really fantastic opportunity for me to receive informed feedback on my work before sending it off for peer-review!

I will also link to any publications that arise from the data, and, while I won’t always be able to post completed articles on my LJ page due to copyright issues, I will happily email full articles to anyone who is interested.

If you would like to be involved in a further discussion about any of the issues raised by this questionnaire, please go to the discussion on my livejournal page or email me (

Filling in the questionnaire

If you are at all uncomfortable with any of the questions, please don’t feel under any obligation to answer them – just leave them blank. Any data you provide is useful, so please don’t feel that you need to answer all the questions if you don’t want to.

I’ve constructed the questionnaire to enable participants to give lengthy responses if they want to, as from my experience in the slash community I know a lot of us have a great deal to say. However, if you don’t want to provide additional information (or are in a rush!) please don’t feel obligated to give lengthy text box answers.

The questionnaire should take 10-25 minutes to complete, depending on the length of your answers.

If you have any further questions about the research, please feel free to contact me:

I have already carried out focus groups with women who are involved in the production and consumption of gay erotica, but am interested in conducting more interviews and focus groups in this area. If you are local(ish) to London and would be interested in participating, please contact me via email or through my LJ.

Thank you for your time.

UPDATE: Thanks so much to all participants so far for feedback on the q’naire, it’s incredibly helpful, and while I can’t change the actual questions now I’ve started it (re: validity, reliability etc.), I will of course make use of suggestions/feedback/concrit over wording when I analyse the results etc. Keep it coming!

[META] Can Fandom Change Society? (by PBSoffbook)

Can Fandom Change Society? (by PBSoffbook)

Before the mass media, people actively engaged with culture through storytelling and expanding well-known tales. Modern fan culture connects to this historical tradition, and has become a force that challenges social norms and accepted behavior. Whether the issue is gender, sexuality, subversiveness, or even intellectual property law, fans participate in communities that allow them to think outside of what is possible in more mainstream scenarios. “Fannish” behavior has become its own grassroots way of altering our society and culture, and a means of actively experiencing one’s own culture. In a sense, fans have changed from the faceless adoring masses, to people who are proud of their identity and are stretching the boundaries of what is considered “normal”.


[META] Oprah Winfrey and Joss Whedon: Transformative Works from Within

Typically, I think that this space should be reserved for celebrating the achievements, creative works, and intellectual production of fans themselves, and not those of the incredibly rich owners of the media franchises that give us some of our most important raw material. But I’ve been thinking about Oprah all week, naturally, and I think that her audience-centered finale merits meta-fannish discussion. However, I also know that the Oprah franchise is controversial, perhaps even more so in circles that concern themselves with complex media representations generally than in the broader social world. And so, I thought I’d look at an isolated moment from her address in combination with a similar moment from one of Joss Whedon’s addresses to his fans, in order to draw out some crucial shared tendencies in these two promoters of women-centered media, who in so many other ways speak past each other.

Oprah organized her final show as a love letter to her fans, but she also used the opportunity to construct a narrative of the show’s history, and the way in which it inserted itself into the media landscape, ultimately effecting real changes in many lives. Not coincidentally, early on in this narrative, she explicitly addressed her own transition from passive consumer of the media landscape to creator, who, though still a consumer of others’ stories, took on an increasingly active role in shaping the way in which (and the extent to which) they could be heard by people who needed to hear them. She said,

“When I started this show, it was a revelation to all of us how much dysfunction there was in people’s lives. I grew up with Leave It to Beaver and Andy Griffith. I thought everybody’s family life was like that, even though I knew mine was not. Well this show, and our guests, began to paint a different picture and allowed us to drop the veil on all the pretense and do exactly what we envisioned in that first show: to let people know that you are not alone.” (transcript of the finale available here)

One of the most common criticisms I encounter about the Oprah franchise is that “it’s all about her.” But in moments like this, it’s most definitely not. Her openness about her life, especially about her own intellectual and personal growth over time, is what has made her show so relevant for so long. Certainly, there were many people who were profoundly aware of how much dysfunction there was “in the world” before Oprah, but there were more who lacked the vocabulary with which to contextualize their own experience of such dysfunction, and of these, some were able to connect with the stories that appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Obviously, it’s not enough. But coalition building has to start somewhere, and the more people who can hear a story of abuse without shutting down or getting defensive, the better.

In the introduction to Fray, his comic series about a future kick-ass slayer, Joss Whedon creates a narrative, not too dissimilar from Oprah’s, of his own transition from passive consumer into big name storyteller. Like Oprah, he starts with his childhood, speaking to the theme of girls and comics:

“Don’t get me wrong, there were certainly other things on my mind in my young adolescence. But almost certainly topping the list were girls and comics. More specifically girls in comics. Because, frustratingly, there weren’t that many. At least in the Marvel universe, where I made my nest, there were very few interesting girls young enough for a twelve year old to crush on. … Until Kitty Pryde… Cut to me grown up — yet somehow not remotely matured. The idea for Buffy the Vampire Slayer came from that same lack I felt as a child. Where are the girls? Girls who can fight, who can stand up for themselves, who have opinions and fears and cute outfits?”

And you say Oprah’s cheesy? No, just kidding. Obviously, I love both of them, cheese and all. This is a story about lack, and two authors’ attempts to fill a lack. There have been mistakes along the way, of course, for Whedon as much as for Oprah, but I think that both offer their stories to their fans with a specific mode of inspiration in mind. They are saying, “Look, when I grew up, I was given a story about what the social world looks like. I was also given a social world, and it didn’t look like that. Now, I actively seek out better stories, by creating them, and by creating space for them when they’re not mine to tell.”

A love letter is a very specific kind of writing, and one of the most beautiful things about it, I think, is that one is in no way obligated to respond, be grateful, reciprocate affection, or, and let me be clear about this, buy any associated paraphernalia. Oprah was very insistent on the idea that we all have a platform, and that, regardless of size, we ought to take advantage of it. With our opinions and fears and…cute outfits? Really? No, I’m sorry. But the opinions and fears part. For sure.

[META] I am Mary Sue! Pheer me!

The most recent issue of “Transformative Works and Cultures” featured a fascinating interview with Paula Smith, the fan writer and editor who coined the term “Mary Sue” in 1973. Anyone who writes fan fiction that includes original characters in any form runs into this term sooner or later. And probably all fan fiction writers spend way too much time worrying if their original female characters are somehow slipping perilously toward this stereotype! Mary Sue’s are female characters in fan fiction who, Smith says, are “wish-fulfillment characters whose presence in any universe warps it way the heck out of reality. But we don’t notice that when it involves men.” These characters are way too perfect, take over the story inappropriately, and are often author-insertion characters. Smith says: “A story demands headspace, and the Mary Sue wants to come and occupy your whole head, so the writer gets the enjoyment and not the reader.” Cynthia Walker interviewed Smith, and asked many fantastic questions. One that leaped out to me was their elaboration of why fandom and its source materials tolerate male wish-fulfilment and self-insertion characters way more readily than female characters of the same type. “Q: Why, then, do Superman and James Bond succeed, while we tend to pull back from the female version? “PS: Because the world we live in is not just a patriarchy; it’s a puerarchy—what gets focused on in the culture is defined by boys and young men. Psychologically, there’s a turning point in men’s lives. There’s a point where they need to break away from women in their youth, and then later they come back to women as grown men, but many men never make it, never quite come back to a world that includes women as human beings.” I love how smartly and briefly Smith put that! Besides the very clear-eyed and historical look at Mary Sue and Gary Stu, in fan fiction and in our source material, the interview is a wonderful tour of the early years of Star Trek fandom and media fandom generally. That’s one of the chief things I love about this journal — its attention to our fannish history. So much to learn, and so much to be proud of here!

[META] Canon Ships, Fanon Ships, and What Readers Want

Last week, Henry Jenkins posted a compelling rant about the lack of “committed relationships,” especially functional marriages, depicted in contemporary television. Jenkins speculated that this could be partly because many writers “are twenty-somethings still recovering from their first major breakup,” and partly because there is a perception in the industry and among some critics that sexual tension ought to remain unresolved for as long as possible in order to sustain viewers’ interest. However, he claims that viewers only lose interest when, as he argues is the case for the current season of a show I don’t watch, and therefore won’t spoil for anyone who might care, the coupling comes at the expense of previously possible depths of “emotional maturity, any kind of psychological depth, and any kind of personal growth.” That is, this correlation between resolving sexual tension between significant characters and the waning of affective resonance of the show itself is unreasonably strong, and therefore, the question Jenkins asks is why, although they have the resources in terms of talented actors and narrative possibilities, many writers are unable to develop good storylines for committed couples.

As a proud shipper, who has devoted countless hours and weeks to pondering the complexity of Mulder/Scully, Daria/Sandi, and Spuffy (note the varying degrees of accordance with canon), I was excited to encounter Jenkins’s caveat that, in contrast to the shortcomings of television writers, “fandom is all about the relationships between characters, and fans are capable of pulling out insights into those relationships from the most subtle touch, the most nuanced reaction shots, and stitch them together through their stories and videos into stories which show how relationships can grow and unfold over time.” I share this understanding of the intellectual work of shipping, based on every fandom I’ve had the fortune to encounter. I wondered why, then, it mattered if indeed there was a lack of a certain kind of relationship on television today. After all, I know plenty of shippers in various fandoms who write epic marriage fic, which never lacks for emotional maturity, psychological depth, or personal growth. These serve as the cornerstone of many fanworks, even those produced by twenty-somethings (*cough*), and it seems to me that fans are not simply fantasizing about marriage and making it happen to characters who are portrayed in canon as being inadequate to the task. But even on that point, what I see is that there are complex, adult marriages nearly everywhere in contemporary television (or at least, everywhere enough when we consider how few non-marriage relationships, which face social hurdles beyond UST, are portrayed) — but rather, as in real life, these are often represented in the background of a broad social tapestry. Fans can focus on these relationships, and derive real satisfaction from drawing out the subtleties already present in the sourcetext that some of us may not have noticed initially, having been distracted by the soapier love plots played up by the promos. But the marriages are there — I’m wary of listing endgame couples, for fear of spoiling my favorite shows for the uninitiated, but they are there.

All this being said, I do understand Jenkins’s frustration. Perhaps my own perspective is skewed because of the extent to which my interest in shows is that of the shipper. I always have time to look for characters’ compatibilities with one another, and, the greater the depth with which these are explored in canon and fanon, the happier I am. I’m the kind of person for whom the relationships of Six Feet Under, for example, are almost never too melodramatic. That’s a show in which canon does a great deal of the work often performed by fanon, for various reasons related to its writers’ explicit interest in psychology, family, and love relationships, but I wouldn’t want to privilege it over other shows, which prefer to leave a trail of shippable traces, rather than to have their characters articulate every nuance.

But I do think that there’s an important truth in Jenkins’s concern, and it’s one I’ve seen reflected in another arena of recent debate, one judged by the New Yorker‘s Facebook page to be “just for fans.” I note this because I would normally rather talk about television than literature in this space, but I do think that there are some potentially interesting connections to be drawn out between Jenkins’s argument and Jonathan Franzen’s argument, articulated in “Farther Away: ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ David Foster Wallace, and the island of solitude,” which recently published exclusively on Facebook. On recent responses to Wallace’s fiction, Franzen says:

“The people who knew David least well are most likely to speak of him in saintly terms. What makes this especially strange is the near-perfect absence, in his fiction, of ordinary love. Close loving relationships, which for most of us are a foundational source of meaning, have no standing in the Wallace fictional universe. What we get, instead, are characters keeping their heartless compulsions secret from those who love them; characters scheming to appear loving or to prove to themselves that what feels like love is really just disguised self-interest.”

There is a difference, I think, between the specific kind of committed relationships Jenkins was longing to see, and this more general idea of “ordinary love,” but I think that they are intimately connected. Jenkins specifically suggests that his expectations for a complex committed relationship are high, because his show has already demonstrated a rare attention to the dynamics of other kinds of relationships, including friendships, partnerships, mentorships, and family relationships. It’s interesting, then, to compare these two arguments — one being a psychological argument about how a literary writer revealed much about his worldview by systematically thwarting emotional connections of various kinds among his characters, and the second, being about how a broad range of writers in a specific medium, namely television, persistently drop the ball when it comes to transitioning characters from an exciting and unresolved sexual tension into a committed long term relationship. But, perhaps because of my sympathy to the Wallace argument, I can’t help but respond in terms similar to Franzen’s, when he notes:

“how recognized and comforted, how loved, [Wallace's] most devoted readers feel when reading [his fiction]. To the extent that each of us is stranded on his or her own existential island…we gratefully seized on each new dispatch from that farthest-away island which was David.”

I see much of value in this part of his argument, and I think that, despite the author’s own unseemly relationship to fans of contemporary literature, he is on a page here, to which I’m happy to turn. Once again, there’s what’s represented within storyworlds, in terms of the percentage of “ordinary love” relationships versus dysfunctional attachments, and this ratio surely reveals something about a body of work. But on the other hand, in both literature and film, there are readers, passionate readers, and fans, and it’s our job to maximize the possibilities offered to us by the always-finite sourcetext. Sometimes it’s finite due to writerly shortcomings, and other times, it’s finite due to some more specific cultural confusion, as may well be the case in the context of marriage and marriage-like relationships in U.S. culture today.

But in any case, I just wanted to say that fans have told a wider variety of love stories than any other kind of writers. This being the case, I remain excited for the day when every polymorphously perverse and panfannish shipper has the canon moresomes and emotionally mature marriages of their dreams. But until that day arrives, I feel pretty well served by fanworks.

[META] Are we too tough on gay TV teens? Who’s we?

This past weekend, Heather Hogan posted a thought-provoking piece to AfterEllen, which prompted me to reflect on conversations I’ve been having about sexuality in/and fandom. Hogan’s piece, but to an even greater extent, the comments on it, helped me to articulate some of the reasons I am protective of my corner of fandom on LJ/DW, because the conversations I’m able to have there, especially when it comes to emotional questions like character hate, are so much more satisfying than those I encounter in the greater blogosphere, academic and popular media-oriented (in which category I would include AfterEllen). When it comes to these intimate questions about media representations of queer lives, especially the character arcs of out queer characters in long-arc television series, I find a fannish vocabulary to be absolutely fundamental to the conversation.

I should, before I say anything else on this subject, admit that I actively avoid industry-connected conversations about series with open canons. One of the more revealing comments on Hogan’s piece admonished AfterEllen’s mission as one of “sucking up to” those in industry, including writers, producers, and actors, because it is owned by Logo, and thus explicitly exists to serve its interests. (Of course, LJ is not free from serving corporate interests, but its fannish content is less explicitly connected to these.) In any case, when I read this comment on AfterEllen, I breathed a sigh of relief, remembering how grateful I am for fandom’s generally accepted etiquette when it comes to a relationship to the industry — particularly in my recent experiences with RPF, I’ve seen how seriously this is taken, but also more generally, there is an enforced and productive distance between fan activities and the creators of sourcetexts, bridged only at specific moments for specific purposes, when desires converge. This is not the case for AfterEllen, or, perhaps not unrelatedly, for the academy (although the academy has a self-deprecating tendency to assume that no one of much importance would be interested, anyway), and therefore, these venues’ critical rhetoric inevitably takes a different shape from the fannish.

Another caveat: I’m glad that the writers at AfterEllen do what they do, and I think that the space they provide for lesbians, bisexuals, and other queer and questioning women (I can’t speak to their record on trans inclusivity, but it’s important to talk about), is incredibly valuable. I admire their interest in actively following as many media franchises as they do, keeping ever-vigilant about the representation of queer identity, sexuality, and experience. This work is very different from the work I most admire in fandom, but the two share much in the way of critical stakes. To put it as plainly as possible, while acknowledging that I’m surely missing a lot of context, what AfterEllen does is critique queer representations as they happen, making sure to take note when established stereotypes have been uncritically put into play, speaking on behalf of an invested queer female audience that longs for complex representations of queer women’s lives in narratives across media. Fandom, as such, does not have this explicit investment. However, (and any kind of statement on fandom as a whole is bound to be controversial, so bear with me), fandom does have a complementary investment in using the most intriguing available sourcetexts from narratives across media to generate critical analysis and artful, transformational fanworks. Because of this investment, fandom is, I think, well-equipped to offer a different angle on the question posed by Hogan’s title, about why we hate on certain fictional characters, and the storyworlds that give them life.

This answer entails a shift in focus best described by Henry Jenkins in Textual Poachers: “Fandom celebrates not exceptional texts but rather exceptional readings.” (291) In other words, fandom sees criticism (whether it takes the form of meta, fic, art, vids, whatever) as an active part of the meaning-making process which begins in the sourcetext, and this speaks to the heart of this emotional question about hatred, or, as we might call it, character bashing. Of course, that term is significant (particularly here, where it speaks sharply to other histories of bashing), because it reveals a space where fandom has a somewhat better-established distinction between sourcetext and analysis than non-explicitly fannish media analysis: character bashing is distinct from writer-bashing (although both persist, sadly, in a variety of fandoms), and both of these terms can be strategically deployed or wholeheartedly rejected in favor of the fanwork-creation response mode. In this mode, fanworks can give queer characters the love they deserve, while remaining critical of the under-thought adherence to stereotypes on the part of the writers, which soured our initial readings of the sourcetext.

What I see in fandom, and fandom alone (well, perhaps also in academic feminist and queer criticism, see for example the inimitable Sara Ahmed’s literary analysis in The Promise of Happiness), is an insistence on breathing life into characters insufficiently realized in-story due to an unfortunate fusion of marginal social location and the ignorance of the writers. However, it’s an approach not easily incorporated into more mainstream critical practices. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course — just another reason I’m glad I have a place to go when I want to channel my nerdrage productively.

[META] Whose pregnancy?

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.

[META] Fan fiction as play

Our guest blogger this week is: Susanna Goodin, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Philosophy Adjunct Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies University of Wyoming ~~~ No other type of writing does what fan fiction does: It allows the writer to play. Think about it. How do most of us get into fan fiction? A story captures our imagination. It doesn’t matter if the source is great literature, popular fiction, film, play, or poem. We become captivated with a setting or with characters; the original work creates a mental space within our minds that we are loathe to leave, and so we continue to think about the original work long after we have closed the book or left the theater. We can certainly enjoy or study the work without writing fan fiction. We can go out for coffee and talk about the film. We can gather in someone’s home and talk about a novel we have all read. We can go on-line and join a forum and discuss details ad naseum. If we are of a scholarly inclination, we can write a critical essay discussing themes and implications. But in all these cases we are sticking to the story itself. There remains the option of going beyond the story itself and beginning to play with it. We use the thoughts we are having about the original to write a story of our own, playing with it by continuing the tale, revising it, or using it as a jumping off point to go wherever our mind’s fancy takes us. It isn’t that I can’t create my own worlds; it’s just that, sometimes, I have something different in mind. I really like some of the worlds out there that have already been created and I want to spend time in them, see more about what is going on, discuss it with others, and get their take on it. I want to play with the world and play within the world that has captivated me. Fan fiction often consists of what are known as fixes, what-ifs, or gap fillers. A common move is to take characters from one story and place them within another, then explore what might happen. Come play the “what-if” game with me and imagine for the moment that Captain Vere from Melville’s Billy Budd were to find himself in the kitchen with the two women from Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers.” Should a person write this story, they would be writing fan fiction, drawing upon a common original source and using it to explore new possibilities. The interest is not in creating new characters or a new setting, but using, playing with, established characters to explore new possibilities. Would Captain Vere adhere so rigidly to justice if faced with the same evidence as the women in that cold, desolate kitchen as he did on a ship during wartime? Perhaps the majority of the readers of this blog do not know Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers” (or the play version of the same story called Trifles). Then the power of imagining Captain Vere in the kitchen is lost. And if I have to spend my time writing a story that sets up a similar situation to that found in Glaspell’s work, then the focus of imagining Vere in that so very bleak kitchen is lost. But what if Frodo had sent Merry and Pippin back to Hobbiton rather than allowed them to accompany him on the Quest? What if Snape went to IKEA? The point here is that, whether we are dealing with literature and asking serious questions about justice or writing crack!fic about popular children’s stories, it doesn’t matter. What we are doing involves playing with a shared, known original text, and as such it all qualifies as fan fiction. The type of writing that shows up in fan fiction couldn’t happen in any other setting because the work deals with the possibility of capturing a moment and playing with it, where the focus is on the playing (twisting, revising, exploring) rather than on the establishing, since the work of establishing the moment was done in the original work. Fan fiction can also provide a study into an otherwise minor moment in the original work, revisit the moment from a different perspective, or use the moment to tell another story entirely. Fan fiction can draw upon an established story with known characters to create a mood, moment, or story that is not possible unless there is shared knowledge of the original. It only works if the audience knows the reference, for if the reference has to be created anew each time, as an original work, the focus of the piece about the mood or the moment would be altered. For example, consider the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard. This play is fan fiction–professional fan fiction written at the highest level, but fan fiction nonetheless. (One might even argue that it counts as slash, since the introduction of the Alfred character creates a homoerotic subtext that was not there in Hamlet.) The success of the play depends entirely upon a shared knowledge of the source material. Granted, Stoppard has written a play that can be enjoyed by those who know nothing of Hamlet, but to grasp the full import of Stoppard’s work, knowledge of Hamlet is essential. In other words, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead depends upon there being a Hamlet fandom. What Stoppard does in his play is play with Shakespeare’s play. I would like to be able to refer to fan fiction writing as playing-writing, but I suspect the playwrights would object. My claim is that fan fiction is playing and that in order for that playing to occur and to be the focus of the writing, it needs a common source upon which to draw. This means that there needs to be a fandom—others out there to read and write within the same story world that I am reading and writing in. I’ll end with a final comment that is beyond the scope of this post but merits further exploration. There is a psychological component to the notion of play. One doesn’t play unless one is comfortable in the environment. There needs to be a sense of freedom and acceptance. And since playing often is improved by the presence of playmates, the play is more fun in a community of like-minded individuals. Women tend to be far more communal than men—they are less competitive and judgmental. I mention this as a partial possible explanation for why the majority of fan fiction writers are women.

[META] Why, yes, sloppy journalism does provoke me, why do you ask?

Every now and then, an article catches my eye from the mainstream press (or in this case, the GLBT press) about a presumed connection between slash fan fiction and gay romance novels.

Most recently I noticed this article, W4M4M, in the online edition of “OUT”. And I got really annoyed.

I’ve yet to read an article (outside fandom) on this topic that included anything approaching solid reporting on what is presumed to be a trend — that gay romance is the next thing in the romance publishing industry. (That sweeping statement is verbatim from another poorly researched article, this one from December 2009 in “LA Weekly”.)

The OUT article also makes some pretty sweeping and unsupported assertions about who writes gay romance, and who reads it.

If I were writing such an article? Here are some of the, you know, ACTUAL FACTS I’d try to nail down before publishing:

First of all, is gay romance really the Next Big Thing in romance publishing? The OUT article mentions one publishing house, and a very outdated study of slash writers and readers. And no statistics.

My cursory google search turns up, for example, the entry “Romance Novels” from This gives a fascinating list of famous gay romance, lesbian romance, and other non-straight romance books going back years. Maybe talking to the authors of those books, or their publishers, about the trends they see might be a good place to start?

Or, what about the big name heterosexual romance publishers? They would know what’s trendy. This website, The Passionate Pen, lists dozens of romance publishers. Again — cursory google search by me. Took five seconds. All those companies have PR people. Who have phones and email.

Further things to check: What about the traditional GLBT niche publishers, like the well-known Alyson? How are they doing with romance lines? Real sales and circulation figures? Just a thought.

What about the blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books? They’ve written about gay romance and lesbian romance, I’ll bet.

The OUT article also annoyed me with its amateur psychologizing about why in the world straight women would want to write gay porn. Yes, the article included an interview with two authors, but are those authors typical? And what about the presumed connection to slash? No documentation. At all.

Anecdote posing as journalism does not do this “trend story” justice. At all.

In 2009 there was a rather heated controversy, which I followed from a distance, about the changes in the rules for the Lambda Awards, which are literary awards given to GLBT fiction. This online discussion was only the tip of a possible iceberg to be explored in terms of documenting the author pool for stories about queer people (whether romance or Some Other Genre), the markets for such stories, and who’s reading them and buying them.

Fascinating and important questions were raised during that controversy about authorial voice, authenticity, the degree of realism and research needed in fiction, and the ethical questions that arise when writing about a culture or subculture different from the author’s own.

I have more questions than answers at this point, obviously. What do I seek? Good solid fact-finding on this story, please. Actual evidence for trends, including statistics — not just the reporter’s anecdotes and the repetition of gossip.

More TK.

[META] Genre shift?

When I started reading fan fiction, around 2002, I ran across fan fiction of all ratings right away. I had vaguely heard of fan fiction and ‘zines as far back as the seventies, but I had never read any or even seen any except in passing. When I got interested in fan fiction, I found it online, and I ran across missing scenes that could have been slotted right into the original shows or movies or books, and I also ran across triple-X rated, *fans self* porn that most emphatically rejected the fade to black — sexually explicit stories that could never have been included in the original books or movies, but showed the characters we knew and loved in bed. When I first ran across the term “slash”, I wrongly assumed it meant any adult-rated romantic fan fiction story. Furthermore, I assumed that if fan fiction were grouped in any way, it would be divided into categories I knew from mainstream movies — the G, PG and PG13 stuff would be separate from the R and NC17 stuff. I was completely surprised to learn, the more I explored list-based and Livejournal-based fan fiction, that in fact the groupings were based on other concerns completely. The categories I found were gen, slash, femslash and het, and the boundaries between them were less about ratings for explicit sex or violence than about the presence or absence of romance, and the presence or absence of same-sex relationships. My preconceptions were, perhaps, a product of my 21st-century introduction to fan works. A little history, drawn from articles on media fandom (meaning fan communities that grow up around TV, movies, and other forms of pop culture), on Fanlore, this article by Coppa in Transformative Works and Cultures, and her chapter in “Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet”. Fan fiction as written within media fandom seems to have been an outgrowth of science fiction fandom, and seems to date from the sixties and early seventies. When fan writers began weaving their own tales about Kirk and Spock and Number One and the Alien Babe of the Week, the male/male slash was hidden away in boxes under the tables, while the straight romances, even the explicit stories and the explicit art, were displayed widely at conventions, along with the action-oriented, plot-oriented fan stories whose focus was not romance and which became known as gen. Based on my readings in fan history, it seems that the first widely written femslash came out of Xena, and that fandom seems to have a separate history. (Please correct me if you have different information!) As we all know, societal attitudes toward same-sex relationships were harsh in the sixties in the USA — and still are, in many places. Because the Hollywood TV and movie canons we write about are so, so, so heteronormative, fan fiction that tells stories about intimate relationships between men or between women is usually pairing off people who aren’t presented as queer in the original shows or movies. (As an aside, the range of sexualities explored in fan fiction is limitless and often sets aside entirely the idea of sexual binaries.) So the objection to the earliest slash fan fiction often took the tack of: “Oh no! Don’t make that character gay!” Gay, lesbian or queer characters in mainstream Hollywood productions are very, very rare to this day. So if you hold out for only the romantic relationships that are present in the original canon, that means het (unless your fandom is Torchwood or one of the non-Western fandoms….). Of course, we’ll always have subtext, and certainly we are all watching different shows in our heads, and Hollywood is getting less reluctant to show us non-straight characters, but…. Let’s just say the lavender revolution is not yet in Hollywood. So my exploration of the history of fan fiction showed me a het+gen versus slash+femslash divide (and femslash is still by far the rarest category — all that history deserves a post of its own. In the meantime, I direct you to the Fanlore entry on Femslash, which is just fascinating.). But it’s my impression, and cryptoxin has written about this as well, that the het+gen/femslash+slash split is not as pronounced these days, two generations into what’s become known as media fandom. The lines that delineate the camps are blurring. Why is this? I’d love to hear your answers. I think it’s because movies and TV now include more female characters in roles other than Babe of the Week, and even occasionally pass the Bechdel Test. One reason that is sometimes advanced for the emergence of slash was the lack of strong female characters in television and movies in the sixties. I don’t know that I buy that, but it is true that fan writers now have a broader range of strong characters of both sexes from which to draw for our stories. So, my question is this: Do we have one fan fiction community now, instead of two or three or four? Or maybe we still have two, but a different two than slash+femslash and gen+het — maybe now we really do have the two categories I wrongly assumed almost a decade ago: Adult Rated, and Everything Else? And if these category lines have blurred, is it because society changed in terms of accepting queers? Or is it the shows that changed? Have vehicles like Buffy and Leverage and Stargate Atlantis and Queer as Folk and Torchwood, shows that have queer characters and female protagonists, driven the shift I see — the blurring of fan fiction genre lines and the lessening of negative judgments against each genre? For example, I rarely see today’s slash fans asserting that “there’s no good het” — and honestly, I always have a hard time understanding how bad het fanfic could be any worse than the badfic of any other genre! Another question: Did the internet accelerate the boundary crossing among fan fiction genres after, say, 1995? And, am I wrong in my additional impression that the fan enterprise of writing romances involving two people who are not traditional male/female, perhaps doesn’t horrify The Powers That Be as it once did? I do know that it was slash which captured the attention of the academic researchers, moreso than erotica of any other type, because it seemed “strange” that women would be interested in porn about two men. (Fan fiction is overwhelmingly written by women.) There’s a terrific discussion of this in Driscoll’s chapter in “Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet.” But surely, such an interest is not strange anymore to academics? Or to Hollywood? Or is my personal comfort level with this type of fanfic — and with GLBT lit in general, for that matter — obscuring for me a colder reality? There will never be an end to ‘ship wars, of course, and probably never an end to gen-only fans ruefully noting what they see as a fan fiction community preoccupied with romance and sex at the expense of other kinds of stories, but at least within media fandom, it seems to me that the het and the slash and femslash and poly and noromo and bob fans coexist much more peaceably than in earlier days.