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Article

Fanfiction Fervour: Queer Emancipation Through Fan Writing

Growing up surrounded by cisgender straight women left very little space for teenage me to emerge. Out-and-proud queer women were few and far between; to say I led a cloistered existence wouldn’t be too far from reality. Going to a miniscule all-girls’ school only compounded my desperate need for escapism. To seek solace in imaginary worlds seemed a natural extension of being surrounded by girls who seemed to share none of my interests.

Enter the wonderful world of fanfiction.

I’d always been a writer, even at a very young age. Anyone who was active on fanfiction.net, Tumblr, Wattpad, etc. during the early 2010s would know where this is going. However, mid-to-late 2000s media was often male-dominated, and their few female characters were generally tokenised, or met untimely demises. Supernatural, Sherlock, the list goes on. This was not ‘good representation’. Of course, it never actually occurred to me to seek out other forms of representation—I doubt I would have known where to look even if I tried. It was the late 2000s and early 2010s anyway; nuanced, genuine, respectful representations of queer women were thin on the ground.

It was during these formative years, in the absence of half-decent female representation, that I found myself projecting both onto and through men, tactically misdirecting my queerness. To my knowledge, at that time the vast majority of authors of male/male erotica, or slash fanfiction, were women. Personally, I know I developed my understanding of own bisexuality by projecting onto gay cisgender male couples. It’s fascinating that this process was seemingly commonplace, particularly among bisexual women.

While avidly consuming fanfiction as a teenager, I was under the shadow of very toxic second-wave feminist thinking. This ideology inscribed femininity and masculinity along a rigid passive-aggressive binary. Fanfiction slash couples neatly avoided all my preconceived ideas that femininity meant weakness, disempowerment, and objectification, purely through being embodied through men. It was a form of femininity that was powerful and proactive, at least to teenage me’s mind. Notwithstanding, of course, that real-life gay men probably would have had plenty to say on the subject, but this was 2013, and I was 15 years old. The nuances and history of the queer community were utterly beyond my comprehension.

Writer Raven Davies wrote that slash constitutes a literary form where "men come to terms with, and act out their need for, sexual and meaningful encounters with other men”. Thinking back to my own projection experiences, I wonder if woman-authored slash fanfics wouldn’t also contribute a way for the author herself to “come to terms with and act out” her sexual and romantic encounters with men, in a space divorced from the power dynamics and toxic masculinity that often permeates real-life encounters.

Dean Barnes Leetal writes about fangirls and the popularity of fanfiction as a form of “activism of care.” Activism of care promotes social change through validating, affirming, and consoling readers’ emotional needs. In early 2010s fanfiction circles, there were writers writing stories specifically to cheer people up, to comfort them, to empower them, to make them feel less isolated and alone. I know fanfiction was a source of solace for me. The idea that somewhere out there in the Internet void were people who shared my interests was a tremendous comfort.

Exploring my sexuality in the relatively isolated domain of grammatically incorrect, misspelt Wattpad ramblings gave me an arena for self-development that, crucially, did not affect my real life. I never shared these stories—that wasn’t the point. I was in the closet, but with my laptop and my Lord of the Rings Aragorn x Legolas Hurt/Comfort oneshots, I was free. I could write whatever I wanted, explore whatever I liked, and face no repercussions because, after all, Supernatural and Lord of the Rings were ‘fantasy’.

 
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