Amanda Hodges and Laurel Richmond published an article in the latest issue of Transformative Works and Cultures that will delight and intrigue fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, especially fans of bad girl Faith Lehane. Much of what the authors say about fanfiction generally is familiar terrain for the readers of this publication, but it leads nicely into a case study of Faith fic specifically. Their most persuasive argument is that fannish responses to a character like Faith reveal much about the value of fandom as a space to explore female sexuality.
They explore a number of common tropes in Faith fic, including the fleshing out of her canonical redemption arc from bad girl to caregiver, speculation on the details of childhood with her canonically neglectful and alcoholic mother, and interpretations of her hypersexuality, including suggestions that it is a cover for, or enactment of, her closeted lesbianism or bisexuality respectively. At play here is the idea of carnival as a metaphor for fandom, the idea of a space apart from the workaday world in which the rules of the dominant culture, which are in this case present mostly to delimit expressions of female sexuality in the name of stable gender identities, are made visible via performance-based aesthetic practices. In other words, both “bad girl” and “caregiver” are roles, signified by dress, speech, and mannerism as much as by action. In canon, we rarely get access to Faith’s interior life, and so there is much left open to interpretation about how Faith ended up acting successfully in those roles at different points in the narrative, and fic serves not only to fill in those gaps, but also to advance interpretations that restore a degree of intentionality and self-awareness to Faith’s various performances of femininity.
Of course, the authors are careful not to romanticize fanworks as “rescuing” the male-authored canon narrative of Faith in the name of sex-positive fan feminism. Instead, they are careful to enumerate some of the key ways in which Faith is subversive in canon, and the ways in which some fanon explanations of her behavior in fact dull that subversive energy by restoring normative gender expectations in their own narratives.
The bibliography of relevant fanworks and academic articles here is a pleasure to see, and offers a great resource to anyone interested in Faith fic, the current state of Buffy fandom (alive and well!), or academic approaches to gender play. Go check it out!