There is something queer here

The question of queerness in fandom is as old as fandom studies itself. It can be said that

The queerness of podfic exists in the text itself, because the stories are about queer characters and relationships, and in the reader’s literal performance of queerness in the act of reading these stories out loud.

Riley, Olivia Johnston. 2020. “Podfic: Queer Structures of Sound.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 34. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2020.1933.

This line of questioning suggests that when examining fannish culture as writing, it can not only be done in the framework of queer literature or queer art.

(Slash) in particular raises particular issues of identity and sexualities: women writing fantasies with and for another projected through and by same-sex desires that fandom may be a queer female space – if not at the level of the text and the writers, then at least at the level of their interaction.

Busse, Kristina. 2006b. “My Life Is a WIP on My LJ: Slashing the Slasher and the Reality of Celebrity and Internet Performances.” In Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, edited by Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse, 207–25. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Fandom as a queer space in these descriptions mean more than spaces where queer people are or spaces where queer acts happen.

All the participants share a romantic, sexual space that attaches fluctuating gender and sexual identities to their roles as reader and listener, which may or may not align at any given time with the reader or listener’s own. This highlights the messy queer potential that fans enter into when they become part of this desire-filled narrative space, where the abundance of shifting gender positionalities and desire lines encourages unique formations of identity and sexuality that run obliquely to normative male/female heterosexual ones.

Riley, Olivia Johnston. 2020. “Podfic: Queer Structures of Sound.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 34. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2020.1933.

There is something queer in here and it’s more than the sum of its very queer parts.

Boundaries of fannishness in yaoi fanzines

When theorizing fanworks as a genre of its own, it is always interesting to look at works that are not transformative in their nature but they are related to fandom in some way. That’s why I was excited to find this remark in this 2003 work about the history of yaoi:

These amateur fanzines (sold at Tokyo Comic Market) include both ani-paro (…) and original compositions, despite the fact that the English term “fanzine” may suggest only the former.

Mizoguchi, Akiko. 2003. “Male-Male Romance by and for Women in Japan: A History and the Subgenres of ‘Yaoi’ Fictions.” U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal, no. 25, pp. 55. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/42771903. Accessed 10 Jun. 2022.

This section refers to a connection in publication (the same zines, the same convention) and in genre. There is a presumption of interest of the ani-paro fans in original yaoi works implied in publishing them together and there is a recognition of similarity implied in grouping them under the same genre names (yaoi, BL etc.)

What kind of paratext makes you recognise an original work as part of fannish culture? What are your thoughts?

Signal Boost: A Survey About the Tag Exclude Function

Our last drive is over, Election is upon us soon, k-pop groups are making their comebacks left and right, Star Wars released a truly marvel worthy material (pun intended) and it is time for another survey. Sarah Bieletzki is working on a Bachelor thesis about if and how the exclude tag function is used and its potential for other applications. 

The survey is anonymous and should take no more than ten minutes to complete. Participation is open for all ages and no prior knowledge is necessary. You can access the survey here.

The survey will stay open until June 14th 2022.

If you have any other question, be encouraged to reach out: bieletzs@student.hu-be.du

Theorization of the Racialized Fan

”…I posit that the unexamined yet assumed whiteness of media fan spaces has allowed for successive theorizations about their workings to have now solidified into accepted histories. This positioning now forces any consideration of racial dynamics within those spaces to be considered as something additional to, rather than constitutive of, media fan identity. Because the activities of (white) women interested in reworking popular cultural texts have been the target of societal scorn (like Cath), the project for the reclamation of their practices has been constructed as a particular narrative around the ways in which fan communities engage with difference and how fan works engage with bodies and sexualities.

In this theoretical construction, any discussion of race becomes an exception, an interruption, and a bringer of fandom drama.”

Pande, Rukmini. “Introduction.” In Squee from the Margins: Fandom and Race, 12. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2018. 

The Man with Qualities

Twitter user kawí brought the idea of featureless protagonist in video games. There is a reason I didn’t make that connection before and that reason is a presupposition. Video games, to state the obvious, brings the question of games into the discussion. Then when we ask the question if the audience can identify with the reader insert, we have more than one answers: not only they are encouraged to see themselves in the character but they are the one committing their actions. The way the reader is encouraged to identify with y/n is also through this lack of features. But this character has their actions fixed in texts by nature which mark their preferences, they have bodies with which they commit these actions and these can easily differ from the reader’s.

When it comes to a story, a reader can find places that they can occupy. The Avengers have not travelled to their country in canon yet, maybe when they do, they will save them from an attack and become friends from then. If the barricade boys from Les miserable reincarnated, they could be an exchange student coming to their school. Their favourite idol could go on secret trips to a hole in the wall restaurant where they are already a regular but they don’t recognise them and maybe that’s what attracts the idol to ask if they can share a table… In reader insert, these places are already filled up as the position of the reader is fixed, the meeting of y/n with the fictional world is set. Maybe, there is actually less freedom for the reader to see themselves in the narrative this way.

What do you think, y/n?

Imagination Gaps: Crowdsourcing and Decolonizing Fandom

Previously, I talked about the linguistic and racialized gaps in fantasy worlds, specifically with respect to the construction of magic and magic systems. I’ve been pondering a lot about that still: how do we emancipate magic? Do we racebend, as in the case of a Desi Harry Potter? Do we rewrite histories to reflect the diversities of lived experiences across the world? Or do we still yet create new worlds of our own where Whiteness (and the Western world) is not the baseline for existence? 

To be clear, I think it’s probably all three, happening simultaneously. In a chapter discussing the existence of a racebent Hermione who is Black, Elizabeth Ebony Thomas says: 

Today’s readers are using the tools of social media to make meanings that are not just independent of authorial intent but that can also deliberately contradict it—which is to say that meaning itself is in the process of becoming outsourced and jointly imagined.

Ebony Thomas, Elizabeth. “Hermione is Black: A Postscript to Harry Potter and the Crisis of Infinite Dark Fantastic Worlds.” In The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, 156. New York: NYU Press, 2019. 

The idea of crowdsourcing meaning is endlessly fascinating and amusing to me; fan communities have been doing it long before it became a mainstream process. However, as often as queer readings are crowdsourced in fandoms, racialized readings are still marginalized to a large extent.

As Thomas says: 

While the production of transformative fanwork and vigorous discussion show that fans are invested in alternate worlds, there is a vast gulf between the acceptance of slash celebrating homosexual relationships between White cisgender male characters and the disdain for racial and ethnic diversity in many fan communities. This shows that not all alterities are created equal and creates an ontological dilemma that must be reconciled.

Ebony Thomas, Elizabeth. “Hermione is Black: A Postscript to Harry Potter and the Crisis of Infinite Dark Fantastic Worlds.” In The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, 157. New York: NYU Press, 2019. 

Fandom, I think, is at a crossroads in some ways; reconciling this ontological dilemma can be as simple and as complex as recasting Hermione as Black. It involves admitting that fandom has a racism problem, and decolonizing not just fan spaces, but the fannish, participatory self as well. 

But ultimately, emancipating the dark fantastic requires decolonizing our fantasies and our dreams. It means liberating magic itself. For resolving the crisis of race in our storied imagination has the potential to make our world anew.

Ebony Thomas, Elizabeth. “Hermione is Black: A Postscript to Harry Potter and the Crisis of Infinite Dark Fantastic Worlds.” In The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, 169. New York: NYU Press, 2019. 

Imagination Gaps: Magic and Language in SFF

I’ve been thinking a lot about magic this week. 

As an SFF writer (both in fandom and outside of it), almost all of my work involves building fantastical worlds and magical systems that are both realistic and believable. Systems in fiction more often than not depict systems in real life. “Magic” for me, as an urbanized and educated kid growing up in the Global South has translated to what can be captured within the confines of the English language—spells from Harry Potter or rituals from Supernatural, which draw their linguistic roots from Latin and the Judeo-Christian tradition.

In the introduction to The Dark Fantastic—Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, Elizabeth Ebony Thomas describes the lack of diversity in popular fantasy media for kids as an “imagination gap”, created by the lack of diversity in childhood experiences and teen lives depicted in kids’ media. She goes on to further argue that 

“[w]hen youth grow up without seeing diverse images in the mirrors, windows and doors of children’s and young adult literature, they are confined to single stories about the world around them and ultimately, the development of their imaginations is affected.”

Ebony Thomas, Elizabeth. “Introduction.” In The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, 1-14. New York: NYU Press, 2019. 

For me, this imagination gap has often manifested itself in a linguistic gap—one that has Othered me and my work, both within my own culture and that of the larger tradition of fantasy writing. English is a poor language to write in; it doesn’t make space for non-white vernacularisms very easily. And magic already exists in my culture—English just calls it “exotic”. 

What are some of the racialized imagination gaps you have experienced? How is “magic” perceived within your fandom spaces?

Dalong and Tiantian: who is less real?

Thank you for all the suggestions regarding reader insert narratives! I am going through them and will post about my readings later.

Two weeks ago, the new Transformative Works and Culture issue, Fandom Histories, came out. Among the many interesting essays, there was one that I could connect to my recent readings. Guo talks about RPF fans’ practices of interpreting history.

The first connection is obvious: my readings were about RPF, this paper talks about celebrity fandom. But it was especially interesting to me how historical reinterpretations as a result of a thorough look into historical sources was contrasted with what Martin described as fans seeking character resonance. Guo says about the latter:

 In general, as fans’ research has allowed them to perceive Guangxu in their minds as both a clearer historical person and then an imagined character, their discoveries and fantasies, in turn, enable them to understand and connect to Yunlong on a broader and deeper level.

Guo, Qiuyan. 2022. “Historical Poaching within Celebrity Fandom Practices.” In “Fandom Histories,” edited by Philipp Dominik Keidl and Abby S. Waysdorf, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 37. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2022.2213.

If we view RPF as creating a character instead of learning about a real person, than these historical details can be building blocks for this character just like how actor interviews are used the same way.

Do you have similar experiences? What do you think?

Where is the author in reader insert?

These past weeks, reading about RPF, I danced around the question of the fan fictionalizing the very fan narratives that they live in. Yet so far I haven’t touched on a genre that appears to be more popular in RPF than in any other fandoms and makes this relationship explicit: reader inserts. It is almost as if it was easier to see the narrative creating process when it was not so explicitly presented.

Harder might the examination be, that’s why it brings some questions that might be productive to follow. Is there some significance to how reader insert stories seem to flourish in RPF fandoms? How do these stories create the fiction of a fan – something the author and reader share?

And finally: what literature about reader inserts would you recommend to me to read?

Meet the Volunteer: Shyamala

Hello, hello! I (she/her/hers) am Shyamala—feel free to rhyme that with Pamela—and I am the latest Fanhackers recruit. Armed with a B.A. from the Global South, an M.A. in English Lit and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, I’ve been writing fanfic since I was about eight. Some of my earliest fandoms were Beyblade, Power Rangers and Cardcaptor Sakura, from where I transitioned into the Hindi soap-opera fandoms that I concurrently played in with western media fandoms as a teenager. My current playfields are Supernatural, Sense8, 9-1-1, 9-1-1: Lone Star, and c-drama fandoms like Mo Dao Zu Shi, Tian Guan Ci Fu, The King’s Avatar, etc. 

While I enjoy writing fic, most of my fandom consumption tends to stem around podfic, which is one of my main academic interests in fan studies. I am a very auditory learner, and I’ve found that text-to-speech can shorten academic texts in a way nothing else can, while readers of podfic can spin familiar fics in unfamiliar ways by giving it their own voices. My own work, both academic and creative, has often centered around ideas of voice and space, stemming from my identity as a fangirl of both English and non-English-language fandoms growing up in the Global South. I am interested in the ways race can interact with the (dis)embodied performance in a podfic and what that means for larger questions of accessibility, both technological and otherwise. 

For my M.F.A. thesis, I wrote a YA fantasy novel exploring pleasure and play in everyday life in a tropical city, not taking on any Big, Systemic Thing, but focusing on the play and pleasure of everyday life in a queer tropical city populated as much by gods and deities as it is by ordinary folk doing extraordinary things. In contrast, fanfic is where I enjoy exploring traumas—tackling the Big Things that need 100k+ words to be Solved with a happily ever after. Worldbuilding is one of my absolute favorite things to do, as evidenced by the fact that a majority of my fics are fantasy AUs.

As a magpie nerd who likes learning shiny new things, I’m happy to chat! You can find me lurking on twitter. Live long and prosper!