[Taken from: http://www.anime-planet.com/images/anime/covers/gravitation-15.jpg
Description: The anime’s name, Gravitation is in the top left hand corner. The image is of two male figures. The blonde man, Yuki, reads more masculine in appearance in comparison to his partner. The other figure named Shuichi, reads more feminine and has pink hair. Yuki’s arm is possessively wrapped around Shuichi’s neck who’s smiling brightly and has both of his hands wrapped around Yuki’s arm.]
I’ve been reading fan fic since I was 14 years old. I remember hearing from a friend about this website called fanfiction.net waaaaaaay back in I think it was 2004? Anyways. I found fan fiction and quickly developed an obsession. (For those who aren’t aware, fan fiction or fan fic, is a story written by fan of and about a TV show, book, movie, band, celebrity, video game, or any other kind of media. This is done as an act of love for the media and is always unpaid work. Fan communities build community around fan fic as well as drawings, videos, music, and a host of other artistic mediums). Fan fiction was formative in the development of my sexuality and support networks. It was the first space where I felt my desires were validated and was probably the reason why I didn’t get that I was even supposed to be straight for a long time.
I developed my queer community through fandom (the places where fans congregate, often this is in cyberspace). Initially, it was through anime (Japanese animation) culture and anime fan girls who were into yaoi (a Japanese writing genre which means, “boy love” or BL). It was within anime fan culture where I first came out and received support. Yaoi and reading gay romance into stories was and still is wildly popular. I was accepted as a boy who liked boys enthusiastically by my fan girl friends. I was fortunate enough that the vast majority of my fan girl friends ended up being queer too so the space between queerness and fandom bled together. I didn’t notice any problems with the fan cultures I participated in until I reflected on my experiences many years later.
Major Notice: this is mostly based on my personal experiences as an avid fan fic reader. I’m making a lot of broad generalizations here based on my experiences. None of this is meant to be taken as Fact. I’m mostly just venting feelings.
Anime cultures and much of fan cultures are not queer the same way I experienced queerness outside of anime and fan cultures. Granted, anime, fan, and queer cultures are not mutually exclusive. But I couldn’t help but notice that there are differences between fan cultures and non-fan queer cultures. This only became more pronounced between my queer fan communities and fan communities that aren’t explicitly queer.
When I hung around heterosexual-identified fans who enjoy consuming gay romance, we would bond instantaneously over our love of imagining guys make out/fuck/romance each other (unless the pairings we supported clashed… But that’s another tale). But that’s about as far as the queerness often went. And this reflected in the fan fic I read.
The characters rarely were in queer space unless it’s a gay club. There were rarely queer references to the cultural canon of the author. There was rarely talk of homophobia, community politics like “no fats, no femmes, no Asians”, or that feeling of dissonance because heterosexism and cissexism. There are no queer youth groups, GSA’s, queer pop culture references, or any queer community. The stories written rarely were situated in queer communities. The fic was overwhelmingly m/m while f/f and trans fic were significantly lacking.
While I grew up reading fan fic, I also discovered and devoured erotica written by (mostly) gay men. The erotica had a number of issues, (white supremacy, racial fetishism, fatphobia, transmisogyny, misogyny, rape fetishism) the stories were often culturally queer. Many stories, even the porniest, plotless filth, at least mentioned internalized homophobia and institutionalized heterosexism. Or they actively imagined worlds where those institutions didn’t exist. As much as fangirls were my community, these gay men were too.
The fan fiction and gay erotica I read is different in many ways, but have things in common too. Namely, they both often take queer subjects and bring them closer to the norm. What I mean by this is that queerness has historically been something that was understood as not-normal. No, I don’t mean in some hipster bullshit way of, “we were doing this before it got cool” way, but in a, “we created culture and meaning for our existences even though the cultures we were born into did not support who we are”.
As a baby queerling, I felt different from everyone else around me. The way I experienced the world, my desires, and who I was, didn’t fit. I played with gender, I dreamed of a world with less suffering, I wanted to date boys as a boy-ish critter, I wanted to be a femme to a butch boy, and I wasn’t on the same brainwave as other people. I found language for who I was through the queer communities that nurtured me. Against a backdrop that was sometimes hostile, sometimes violent, and often quashing my language, I managed to claw a small niche for myself. And this niche I clawed was distinctly queer, distinctly different from the cultural norm. And I do not see this queerness often in fan fic (or erotica).
I don’t see bodies like mine at all in fan fic really… I rarely see trans interpretations of characters. There are genderswapped characters and “boypussy” and “dickgirls”, but they’re not trans. There are rarely disabled characters or disabled interpretations of characters that don’t treat disability as part of a character not to be cured. There are very few representations of fatness. And there’s an overwhelmingly large number of white and masculine male characters. The same things applied to the gay erotica I read except there were no differently gendered bodies and more fetishization of racialized folks in the interracial section.
I’m quite guilty in the consumption of white, cis, able bodied, neurotypical, non-fat male on male action. I voraciously read stories about these kinds of boys meeting, falling in love/fucking, get married, find domestic bliss in the suburbs, and have lots of kids through adoption/mpreg. Now I do have to admit, the porn is often really hot. Filthy hot. And it often hits on a number of my kinks. But it’s depressing. I live vicariously watching these boys who have tons of privilege doing the things I desperately wish that I could have with another person with every fibre of my being.
It makes me feel like there’s no redemption for the deviant queer that I am. I’m the villain and when do villains get a happily ever after?
I’m outside of the norm. Therefore, I’m not supposed to get Nice Things. I’m not supposed to have a fulfilling career. I’m not supposed to find the kind of love that’s supposed to last a lifetime. I’m not supposed to be valued, found respectfully desirable, and have amazing shared orgasms with others. I’m not supposed to take up space unless it’s making money for normies. And I don’t feel like people who are like me are valued in fan fiction.
I link this with two academic concepts. The normate and homonormativity. The normate is term that brings attention to the systems that name certain kinds of bodies as “normal”. And this “normal” body is white, cis, male, able bodied, etc. The closer one is to this body, the closer one is to “normal”. This term is a useful shorthand to refer to all the privileged identities and naming it as something that’s artificially created as “normal”. Homonormativity describes how predominantly gay and lesbian communities who are typically close to the normate, who align themselves with hetero ways of doing things. Queers who don’t fit into the normate (like myself) are tossed under the boss because our ways of existing in the world just don’t fit in the normate world.
I argue that a lot of fan fiction is homonormative. The bodies we see and the stories we see are often bringing the queer relationship closer to the normate. Well there are fics and communities that don’t and are really queer and awesome, I’m trying to argue that a lot of fic doesn’t center queer, non-normative ways of doing life.
I don’t really have any inspirational ideas or solutions here. This isn’t an essay, just a lot of my feelings. It just sucks that there aren’t more people writing fan fic that are really queer and value all different kinds of bodies. I see little bits of it her and there and cherish it. (Chubby!Derek, translady!Zayn, ace!Niall) There are some awesome communities around, but I’m always looking for more.
So for any writers who’re reading this, I’m hoping someone gives me transguy!Teddy Lupin/James Sirius Potter and transgirl!Scorpius Malfoy/Albus Severus Potter right now. I’d also love to see more translady!Zayn Malik/Liam Payne. Or at the very least, I want to see more people doing more fan art, fan fiction, or other kinds of fan works that challenge the normate and homonormativity. I’m willing to fic exchange with anyone.