This week, we have a guest post for you from Elise Vist, who is a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo.
Two years ago, I sat down with my supervisor for three hours as we came to terms with the fact that my dissertation was now going to be all about hockey. For two Canadian women who’d grown up feeling alienated in hockey towns and hockey families, this was actually a pretty difficult decision. I’d spent a good portion of my life not just not caring about hockey, but actively disliking it: it’s violent, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, and full of the entitled white boys who have always occupied a privileged position in my country. But I’d been reading Hockey RPF for about six months at that point, and I couldn’t stop writing about it, because I loved it. I’d started watching hockey games and learning things about the NHL that past-me would have called boring. I was a hockey fan, suddenly, and it was all because of gay porn!
Well, ok, more accurately, it was because a friend of mine sent me a Jamie Benn/Tyler Seguin name-on-wrist Soulmate AU (you know the one) and I became obsessed with the softness and queerness I found in the Hockey RPF I was reading and writing.
In my dissertation, I use a framework of intimate publics to talk about fandoms, based on the work of Lauren Berlant and my supervisor Aimée Morrison. Intimate publics, in Berlant’s work, are groups of people who are otherwise unconnected in their social circles, but who realize they’re part of an identifiable group when they find something marketed to them and people like them. It’s that feeling of realizing there are other people like you who exist, too, and that’s a comforting thing to know: you aren’t alone. According to Morrison, intimate publics online are a little different, because we do actually connect to these other people – we make blog networks, come up with code words to hide our conversations from people who won’t understand, and we read and write each other’s emotionally vulnerable work. Intimate fandoms are online intimate publics that create themselves in fannish spaces: part of what connects us is our complicated relationship to the thing, because we might love it, but we also know it doesn’t love us back. We find other people who are hurt in the same way, say, by consistent queerbaiting (she says, looking Supernatural-ward), and we try to soothe the pain together: by talking about it, by writing ourselves out of the pain, by acknowledging that the pain is real and we aren’t just overreacting.
Using intimate fandoms in my work requires understanding that there’s no such thing as a singular fandom. To say that “hockey fandom” exists as a singular entity means having to pick and choose which things count as Hockey Fandom. Is it going to live games? Knowing a player’s stats? Liking a player because he’s hot? Using homophobic slurs to refer to players you don’t like? Writing gay porn about NHLers? If you talk about hockey fandoms, though, you don’t have to make those choices: you just look at what choices the fandoms you’re a part of are making.
Part of my research, then, is also understanding where my own intimate fandoms of hockey RPF are. I can’t speak for all of hockey RPF, only my own experiences of the fandoms I’ve discovered and participated in, but the fandoms I participate in share the ambivalent relationship to the NHL that I’ve developed: I love NHL hockey, but I hate it. Hockey RPF helps me balance that love/hate relationship into something that doesn’t tear me apart.
Hockey RPF lets me hold onto all the queer stuff that already exists in hockey (do me a favour: search “nhl kisses” in Google images and count how many kisses are between two men) and instead of hiding it behind “just bros” or “hockey, man *insert shrug emoji*” or “no homo,” hockey RPF is a resounding “YES HOMO” in a way that really, really works for me. For example, mainstream hockey media calls Sidney Crosby a Creature, a hockey robot, the member of the two-headed monster with the biggest glutes/quads/thighs/lower body (take a look at the “quads” entry), or Sid the Kid, but still expects us to treat Crosby like he’s just a normal, polite, humble, regular, good ol’ hockey man. Instead of agreeing wholeheartedly, hockey RPF takes all of that at turns him into a monstrous Omega who has no desire to participate in the social rules set out for him, a Sentinel who thinks he’s broken, and/or an empath who wants nothing to do with other people’s feelings and we do it while occasionally sticking one-to-several penises inside of him. It’s great.
Of course, in my dissertation I grapple with the “But is it ethical?” question, because that’s always the first thing people ask me. The answer I’ve come to is that it’s no more or less ethical than any other interpretation of celebrity bodies. It’s maybe not great, but those of us in RPF tend to know that it’s the Fiction, not really the Real Person, that we love. I tolerate Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin because without them there’d be no Sid and Geno for me to love. And that’s the tl;dr of my research: RPF is the tool I use to survive being a fan of hockey. It seems like I’m not alone in Hockey RPF and I’m pretty confident that other intimate fandoms work in the same way.