Fanfiction

Fanfiction is usually viewed in a derogatory way and is likely to be dismissed as badly written, childish drivel produced and consumed by “fangirls“. However people of all genders and ages write it. Some fiction will be published by the most talented authors you’ve ever encountered, whilst others are so bad you can’t read past their first paragraph but ultimately I don’t think ability is the point. Whatever their sexuality people are being inspired to write and create and I think that’s wonderful. Even if you never post any yourself, fanfiction improves your writing and editing skills just by reading it. It also builds friendships and community as people comment, critique and come together to recommend and discuss stories.

Fanfiction is important to me for several reasons. One is that there are so few LGBT+ characters in film, books and television it allows you to input something else into a monosexist heteronormative world. With hindsight I’m no longer surprised I’ve consumed so much fan fiction over the years. If writers, producers and television networks aren’t going to portray it then fans are certainly going to take their creations and write their own LGBT+ characters and storylines with them. Hell sometimes we even give them a happy ending too! It makes a nice change from all the character deaths we get lumbered with. I suppose you could view fanfic as some kind of creative, literary wish fulfilment. 

Fanfiction also allows us to have stories where other character’s reactions to someone’s gender or sexuality isn’t the plot. In TV & film the story for an LGBT+ character always seems to be about rejection, discrimination, bullying, violence, fighting for rights etc. If it’s not that then it’s a negative portrayal which, for example, sees bi people as hypersexual, greedy, murdering, cheating secondary characters to be used as a plot device to further someone else’s story.

For bisexuals, even reports on poor representation in the media are erasing. *cough*

So as you can see fan fiction has been invaluable for me. When I was a teenager I devoured it. I was addicted to it. I would do things like pretend to feel ill on family holidays just so I could ‘rest’ in a public library and read it on the Internet whilst my relatives went sightseeing.

For most of my teenage years I didn’t know anyone else who wasn’t straight. In my small town I had nowhere to go to meet other people like me. There was no LGBT centre or youth group where I could get support. I didn’t even know those things existed. So fanfic showed me that there were other queer people out there looking at their computer screens too. Thanks to fanfic authors and websites I knew I wasn’t alone. More importantly, fics taught me that life would get better. It wouldn’t always be about loneliness and isolation, combined with feeling terrified that your parents might find out about your sexuality whilst you were trying to cope with being bullied at school. It taught me that when I would be an adult there would be a scene, a community that I could join. Fics gave me hope I could find happiness and relationships in the future.

Fanfiction was also one to way to find out answers to a curious teenager’s questions. What was it like when two women kissed or had sex? How did two women have sex?! As I’ve written before, my education certainly didn’t provide any answers.

Of course it’s not all positive. When people post LGBT+ fanfiction online (or even just link to it) they face harassment, abuse and bullying. You’re also not going to get a safe, accurate sex education from reading fanfiction! In addition unquestioning minds can absorb the attitudes of the writers of what they read and they might not find, or there might not be, any alternative view points to counteract it. If they only find fanfics saying x, they might begin to think is x true.

Fanfic, like the media, is a reflection of the dominant beliefs and attitudes in our society. One example of bi erasure is that stories involving two women getting intimate are nearly always tagged ‘lesbian sex’, even if the characters in the story are bi. Biphobia might take the form of someone writing a character that pertains to the aforementioned negative stereotypes. People also tend to do things like take straight characters and write them as gay/lesbian. Yes fans are welcome to write whatever they like, and that’s the point I made in the second paragraph isn’t it? Though I guess what I’m trying to say is when the majority of fiction is gay/straight as it reflects our monosexist society, this sucks as it reinforces biphobia and bi erasure both internally for any readers attracted to more than one gender and amongst readers in general. I long for more bi fanfic and bi friendly fanfic!

However at least you can (for the most part) choose, control and contribute to what you read on the Internet. In film and television you don’t have a say about content. Nor can you stop people showing endless hetero kissing and sex yet cut to a shot of lady legs behind a metal shutter because showing two women so much as brush lips will…erm…cause the viwers’ eyes to burn? Send us all to hell? Yes The Good Wife, I’m looking at you!!

shutter shot

The picture is a screencap from the first season of The Good Wife. A kiss between two women is implied by a shot of two pairs of legs very close together. The upper halves of their bodies remain obscured by a partially closed shutter of a storage unit.

So yes, fanfic definitely fills the gaps of what you rarely/will never see onscreen.

So what is being an avid consumer of fanfiction like? How have things changed over time? 10-15 years ago before Google took off it was really hard to find any LGBT+ fiction. Search engines were so crappy! So when I did find some I always quickly copied and pasted it into Word documents. If you wanted to read it you either had to be in front of your own computer, or save it to a floppy disc in order to read it on a different computer. The only alternative was printing it off on A4 paper. This was easily done with a short stand alone story, but a bit more difficult and time consuming when it was written across 70 chapters all posted on different pages of a website! 

Closeted teenage life also meant having to delete all your browsing history and saving documents to floppy discs hidden in your bedroom so parents wouldn’t find anything on the computer. I certainly enjoy the freedom having my own laptop brings now.

As the web grew and grew so did massive archive sites like Fanfiction.net and Archive of Our Own. It soon become a lot easier to publish on sites and blogs through creating an account rather than through having to make your own website from scratch on somewhere like Geocities. As those older sites disappeared offline over time anything you hadn’t copied and pasted was lost forever. Now you can download nearly anything and put it on your phone or kindle to read anywhere you go. Some fandoms even have communities where people record themselves reading fics out loud (not necessarily their own stories) so others can listen to them instead of read them.

Experiences of finding fiction varies greatly depending on the popularity of the thing you’re interested in. The more well known and liked something is, the larger the fan base and the more fiction produced as a result. I’ve been lucky as the things I love have always had huge online fandoms. It’s nice to know you’ll never run out of anything to read.

I can’t imagine a life without fanfic. My favourite stories will always stir up emotions along with the memories from the period of my life when I first discovered them.

BBC Breakfast Show Post – Follow Up & Apologies

At the end of August I wrote a blog post about bi erasure on a BBC Radio Nottingham Breakfast Show.

After distributing the link on a email list, the leader of a local trans group politely informed me that I had got it so very wrong.

In the previous post, I had written that to me the language used on the radio show when talking about Kerry Ann and the transphobic abuse and discrimination she faced seemed ok. I was corrected on this, and was informed that language used on the show such as “used to be a man/woman”, “going through the change”, and “to become a man/woman” is not acceptable. They then took the time to explain why.

I can only thank them for calling me out and correcting me on this, as it’s not their job to educate me and they shouldn’t have to. I apologise for any hurt caused. I’m really sorry I made a mistake and got this wrong. I promise that I will keep trying to be a better trans ally in the future.

With regards to the BBC I got an email from them in response to my complaint just a few hours later that day. They said “Please be assured it was not a conscious omission not to mention biphobia.” and not much else. They didn’t apologise.

I had asked them if they wanted a bi speaker on 23rd September (Bi Visibility Day) in my complaint but they didn’t mention this in their reply. However they did offer me a slot to be interviewed/talk about bi issues on their afternoon show that day.

As it happens I never did get round to replying to their response due to having limited time and energy to spend on bi activism/bi groups stuffs. However I wouldn’t have accepted their offer anyway. It would have been inappropriate to go on the air about a different issue on the same day as the feature on Kerry Ann/transphobia in Nottinghamshire. It would have been better for them to speak to a local trans group or something instead.

Later on that day the BBC called another member of the bi community to arrange for them to go on air a week later. They wanted to talk about ‘why women are more likely to be bisexual’ and the recent news story of ‘how the amount of young people seeing their sexuality as fluid is on the rise’. I was happy that the BBC were doing this as it would have been a positive counteraction to previous erasure, but I was disappointed again when they cancelled the interview a few days later! Sigh.

Anyway, thank you to everyone who emailed in to the BBC, and sorry again for getting the trans stuff wrong in my previous post.

Bi Erasure on the BBC Nottingham Breakfast Show

This morning the horrific abuse and transphobia a trans woman faces everyday in Mansfield was discussed on the Andy Whittaker Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Nottingham from 8am. I thought the presenter did a good job in discussing what Kerry Ann has been going through. They never misgendered her. They never questioned why she was transitioning or made comments about it. They simply explained what people have been saying and doing to her, and made it clear their behaviour was wrong and unacceptable. In addition the general consensus from people who called and texted in was how intolerant and narrow minded people in Mansfield are in general to anyone LGBT+ and anyone who is outside of the accepted social norms. I thought the show did a great job in raising awareness of this issue.

EDIT: I have since been corrected and informed that the language used on the show was not acceptable language to use when talking about trans people. I’m really sorry for stating otherwise out of ignorance. I have explained the situation in more detail and apologised fully in a follow up blog post, which can be found here

After playing a pre-recorded interview with Kerry Ann, Andy Whittaker then interviewed a police officer about hate crime who encouraged LGBT people to report it. Sadly at the start and end of the interview Whittaker referred to “IDAHO Day”, calling it the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. (This mistake when repeated by the woman reading the news at 9am.)

I have to admit, seeing as this police officer was the man who organised all the events across the county for May 17th I was disappointed he didn’t correct him on air. It would have only taken a few seconds. Especially as he texted me at 7:40 in the morning just to tell me he was going to be on the radio! I wouldn’t have listened otherwise. (Though I accept he may have simply not had chance, as he was only given 2-3 minutes of air time.)

I immediately texted in to the show to correct Whittaker and explain it’s IDAHoBiT Day, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

Please could you email the show to do the same?
Here is a template you can adapt, and the email addresses to send it to. If you can phrase it in a better way than me, then please let me know!

andy.whittaker@bbc.co.uk and radio.nottingham@bbc.co.uk

Dear Sir/Madam,

I was listening to the Andy Whittaker breakfast show this morning (26th August) and was disappointed when the presenter used the term “IDAHO Day” and described it as ‘the international day against homophobia and transphobia’. I was further disappointed when this mistake was repeated on the news at 9am. In 2015 the day was actually renamed to IDAHoBiT Day to include bisexuality, and the day campaigns against homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia.

Whilst this is a minor correction in the grand scheme of things, I feel very strongly that it is important to get this right. Bisexuality exists, and bisexuals face biphobia in the same way gay and lesbian people face homophobia, and trans people face transphobia. Our lives are made miserable through discrimination, harassment, and hate crime too. However when bisexuality is erased and ignored in the media, it is forgotten about and taken less seriously as a result.  We need visibility and representation too. Our health and wellbeing matters too. People listening might not think they are able to report bisexual hate crime because of this omission.

I hope in the future you will use the correct terminology for IDAHoBiT Day, and mention it is the day to campaign against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, when you cover any LGBT stories.

I look forward to your reply.

Thank you and best wishes.

Yours sincerely.

Name.

Appropriate Behaviour (Film)

Last month I went to a screening of Appropriate Behaviour held by the Reel Equality Film Club at The Broadway Cinema in Nottingham. The film is very unique in a number of ways. It’s written and directed by a woman (Desiree Akhavan). The lead character (Shirin) is a woman. In fact most of the main characters are women, whilst the male characters are sidelined in the way that female roles normally are. The men have few words to speak and play the bit parts of father, brother, person Shirin has sex with that one time etc. rather than being fully rounded characters in their own right.

All of the above are very rare in the film industry.

It’s also a movie about a bisexual who happens to be Persian which makes the film even rarer. How wonderful it is to have a British movie where the main character is not white and gay/straight! Also whilst being an American-Iranian bisexual is certainly a major part of Shirin’s identity, I never felt that these things were all her character amounted to or were completely defined by. 

Rarer still is the fact that this portrayal is bisexuality is a positive one: the main character doesn’t cheat on anyone!
*gasp*
She doesn’t kill anyone!
*double gasp*
She isn’t hypersexual!
*triple gasp*
She’s a cool, complex, fully rounded character in her own right. She’s not a plot device for the main character’s story!
*more gasps of shock*
She doesn’t have a threesome!
Oh. Wait. Well she does. But it’s her first ever one and there is nothing wrong with showing a young women exploring something new sexually.

Desiree Akhavan as Shirin.

Desiree Akhavan as Shirin.

Shirin has recently broken up with her girlfriend when the film starts. There’s not really a plot or storyline as such, it’s more about how she’s dealing with the break up and how she’s trying to figure out what direction to take her life in next. How she fits and misfits (to reference the name of a well known BiCon workshop) with the various different cultures and identities in her life. The film does this in a warm, witty, funny, sarcastic and very endearing way. It’s the most realistic portrayal of bisexuality I’ve ever seen on screen. I wish there were more films like this.

Appropriate Behaviour portrays the biphobia Shirin faces, but it doesn’t do it in a depressing or negative way. It portrays how her Iranian family reacts to her sexuality when she decides to come out to her brother and her parents. Whilst this isn’t resolved by the end of the film, I certainly left sharing Shirin’s realistic but positive & hopeful attitude towards the situation.

Another thing I like about this movie is the title. I find it very positive and affirming. It’s a nice play on words and the prejudiced beliefs surrounding bisexuality. It’s a nice way of subverting the negative attitudes some people might have towards Shirin’s behaviour in the film too.

I don’t want to write too much here, as I think it’s best to see the film knowing a little as possible about it. However if you’ve seen it I’d love to know what you thought. Did you like it? Did you like Shirin? What did you think about the way bisexuality was portrayed? Let me know and we can discuss it in the comments!

I’ve been tweeting and writing about the film to raise awareness of it and I’ve just bought it on DVD. Appropriate Behaviour is Akhavan’s directorial debut so I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next.

Perhaps we can arrange a screening of it at this year’s BiCon?

Lost (TV Show)

Lately I’ve been re-watching Lost, the TV show which ran for 6 seasons from 2004 – 2010. The show was unfortunately a victim of its own unsatisfactory ending and has never been remembered fondly since. It is also known for having too many unanswered mysteries, despite the fact that nearly all of them were resolved by the end! However I’m finding the re-watch to be absolutely gripping. To get the most out of it, I’d recommend shifting your focus from the sci fi/fantasy aspect of the show and enjoying it as a strong character drama. Some of the themes that run throughout involve love, loss, loneliness, friendship, family conflict (especially absent, cruel, and dead parents), survival, good v evil, science v faith, free will v fate, and the question of what happens to us when we die. I find the show a really interesting fictional format to explore all of these issues.

I was 18 when it started, and a decade later I see the show in a different way than before. I’m only on the second series at the time of writing this, but the female characters are not being written very well in my opinion. Whilst they are many in number they don’t have many storylines outside of their relationships to a man or outside of motherhood. (E.g. Rose, Claire, Sun…) One exception is Kate, a very strong and independent woman who  can rescue herself and others as well as any male character. However, even whilst she’s off roaming the island to move the plot forward with the men she’s caught up in a whirl of sexual tension love triangle. Most of her angst and character motivation comes from the fact that she unintentionally got the man she loved killed. I’m looking forward to seeing how the female characters are written throughout the rest of the series. I hope it gets better, but I don’t think it does! Sigh.

I realised this morning that I couldn’t remember seeing any LGBT characters in the show. It’s always a great shame in any sci fi/fantasy show when this happens. It subconsciously conveys the idea that things such as smoke monsters, seeing dead people, and tropical islands that travel through space and time are all more normal and easier to understand than the fact that someone isn’t straight. Double sigh. This is an especially big fail in Lost’s case when you consider the sheer number of characters that must total up to several hundred. Surely more of them could by gay, lesbian, bi or trans? Surely there could be more same-sex characters and couples as background extras and minor characters? WRITERS, IT’S NOT THAT HARD TO DO!!

What makes me doubly sad is that a decade on, they still haven’t changed. A lot of the same producers and writers for Lost went on to work on the show Once Upon a Time. Sadly it’s still a case of creating a world where murder, mass murder, dragons, magic, torture, children being the same age as their parents, being able to travel between worlds… etc etc. all regularly occur BUT GOD FORBID WE HAVE AN LGBT CHARACTER! Once is also just as bad for not casting BME people in anything other than small supporting roles. Though oddly the show does a lot better than most shows in terms of awesome female feminist characters…BUT IT SHOULD NEVER BE EITHER/OR IN THESE CASES. A SHOW SHOULD BE ABLE TO HAVE A DIVERSE CAST, DIVERSE CHARACTERS *AND* WELL WRITTEN FEMALE ROLES!!

And breathe.

So how many LGBT chracters are there in Lost? According to this website there are two gay males and one assumed bisexual (Hurley’s sister in law). Who leaves Hurley’s brother for another woman.

*throws laptop out the window*

Please excuse me whilst I go and sulk in the Swan Station with a poler bear and dream of representation in the media.

Something Simple I Learnt From Stonewall’s Bi Consulations

Since I attended the Bi Consultations held by Stonewall in February 2015 I’ve wanted to do a write up of my thoughts and feelings on how the event went. I deliberately waited a few weeks for the adrenaline, excitement, and euphoria to wear off so I could write something more balanced. However by that point I felt really hurt and angry at the charity again and still haven’t been able to face doing a blog post about it yet.

However once thing that has stayed with me was something Ruth Hunt (chief exec of Stonewall) mentioned, which was this idea of what sucess looks like at the end of the day. An example she gave was an experience of going in to speak with a large construction company. This is not a quote, just my recollections of what she said! On that occasion sucess was getting them to realise that some people are gay or lesbian. Some of their staff could be gay or lesbian. That it’s not ok to call another man a poof when they do something like drop a load of bricks, and even if there were no lesbian employees it is still offensive to have a calendar containing lesbian porn hanging on the wall.

Now this was obviously a humoristic over-simplification of what she discussed with the company (though I’m sure the B word would’ve been left out a lot. : p) but the idea stayed with me. It reminded me that whilst some people are clued up on LGBT issues, most people aren’t. That for some it will take a long time to change their prejudices and negative attitudes. Others never will. You might want to walk in and talk about LGBT rights and issues and have everyone on your side, but sometimes you have to start with the basics such as what LGBT actually means.

One memory that came to mind was when I came out to a close Japanese friend. She had no concept of bisexuality at all, and after I had explained it to her, and then explained that I am one of those bisexuals, she told me that it was very interesting but there are no bisexuals in Japan. “Well when I lived there for two years, there was at least one!” I quipped before explaining that there are many LGBT people in Japan, but because it’s not socially acceptable most LGBT people don’t come out so live their lives in secret. It was a lot for her to take in, and I had to leave it there and tell her about other bi related things in my life later on. At that point sucess was just being able to come out, and being able to tell her what I was coming out as.

Another example comes from when someone new turned up at my group, and I unintentionally overwhelmed them by speaking about bi related things too much. They were at a bi meet for the first time, and just realising that they might not be straight for the first time. Sucess should have been me not making any assumptions about them and remembeing how scary it is when you first venture out into the bi scene.

Remembering these things has helped me recently, such as when I called up prisons in Nottinghamshire and asked them to display a rainbow flag on 17th May. I only had a few minutes to explain the whats and whys of my unusual request to people who had never heard of IDAHOBIT. It has also made me realise how little I know on topics such as racism and white privilege. That I will get things wrong sometimes. Do stupid or hurtful things sometimes. That people will have to explain things to me and/or correct me (if and when they want to).

However one simple thing I learnt from the Stonewall consultations is that some people are confusing bisexuality with complexity. So they are either mis explaining it or not including it at all as a result and this is a really harmful and hurtful thing to do. I didn’t consciously realise people were conecting the two until then. In addition it was great to hear an apology for doing it from Ruth/Stonewall during the consultations. One of the many reasons why the consultations were a sucess for me was being able to hear the apologies that I’d waited years for. (Along with statements that in time, Stonewall would change and do better in the future when it comes to bi issues and bi inclusion.)

I think it’s fine to simplify if you need to. Sometimes the sucess of your goals depends on it. However bisexuality it itself is not too complicated to talk about or understand!

Bisexuality in The Sims 2

The Sims franchise is a series of four games where you get to build and create your own neighbourhoods, houses and characters (which are known as sims). The artificial intelligence turns the game experience into a wonderful, interactive, large scale doll house. Instead of four separate games, think of it as one gameplay experience that gets updated every 4-5 years with infinitely better graphics and game play mechanics.

The Sims series has always been good in its attitude towards all things LGB. (Sadly I can’t include the T here, because so far in the franchise sims can only be male or female. There’s no reason why sims can’t change between the two or be genderqueer, so EA/Maxis should change this. Although you can have hair, make up and clothing however you want for any sim male or female.)

Right from the start of the series you could direct your sim to romantically interact and fall in love with any other sim regardless of gender. Whilst same-sex couples couldn’t marry in the original Sims game (launched in 2000), they could move in with their loved one and adopt. If they went down this path both partners were listed as parents.

The second instalment was released nine years ago. In this game you can still make your sims interact, flirt, kiss, date and have sex in exactly the same way regardless of gender. They can now have a “joined union”, which is the same as a marriage in terms of game play mechanics. They can adopt and both be listed as parents just as before too. Also when you call a matchmaking service that first appears in Sims 2, you can choose the gender of your date.

One day a few years ago I discovered something that made me love the franchise even more. It’s known as the “boolprop testingCheatsenabled true” cheat. When turned on you have a wide range of benefits, such as being able to fulfil all your sim’s physical needs in the click of a button. Another possibility is the option to show a sim’s gender preference. (Ignore the fact that it says debug in the picture below. There’s nothing buggy about it. You just can’t find out the gender unless you use the cheat!)

IMG_2534

One of the pre-made characters in The Sims 2: Mary-Sue.

When you click on this it makes a little box appear in the corner of the screen. It has a statement from the sim saying “My autonomous gender preference is for females/males/males and females.” This is what makes the game awesome for me, it doesn’t just do the usual gay/straight divide. The fact that this cheat exists is proof that bisexuality is programmed into the game. If you wanted to, you could still make a sim romantically interact/have sex/adopt etc with a sim of any gender (and therefore have a neighbourhood made up entirely of queer families and couples!), but this programming means that if free will is turned on, the sim will romantically interact and develop relationships with sims of their preferred gender if left to their own devices.

I’ve just done a bit of reading on the gameplay mechanics and they’re quite complicated…but apparently in The Sims 2 nearly all the characters start off with a neutral attraction to either gender (which effectively renders them bi by default). They then go on to develop an attraction to one gender depending on the gender of who they interact with. So for example, if a female sim flirts with a woman, she will become more attracted to women. If she flirts, kisses and has sex with a man later on, she will become less attracted to women and more attracted to men.

However in the pre-made neighbourhoods that are installed with my game, many of the characters start off as LG and B rather than all B. In addition, some characters that have only interacted with one gender still have a preference for the other. About a third of the kids my sims have grow up to be LG or B regardless of how I play them or who they interact with. So who knows what’s going on!?

A bisexual sim that is already living in the town when you install the game.

Mary-Sue is already living in the neighbourhood with her husband and twin daughters when you install the game. My game lists her as bi despite only romantically interacting with her husband. Also in my game both of her daughters are in relationships with men (no reason, I just happened to play it that way), but one is straight and one is bi.

My criticisms of The Sims 1 and 2 (apart from the erasure of trans people and identities mentioned above) is that there are no pre-existing LGB familes when you install the game. Also whilst some sims have been coded to already be in love with someone when you start playing (such as Darren having feelings for Cassandra, despite the fact that she is engaged to Don), no one has a pre-existing same-sex attraction for a specific individual. I suppose one reason why the game was designed that way it is to prevent it from being banned or given a higher age limit in other countries, but it’s still unequal, still a shame, and still a missed opportunity.

In The Sims 2 there is a pre-existing sim who starts the game with a positive attraction to both genders, (rather than no attraction to either gender). Disturbingly she is a someone who uses another character for cruel scientific experiements and in the PSP version of the game she’s cheating on her husband. SIGH.
The person she experiments on is a pre-existing character who starts the game with a negative attraction to females, which would make him gay. In addition, He was also taken away from his mother by social services as a child. This is a bit to close to the “abuse makes you gay/bi” myth/stereotype for comfort.

I will write about The Sims 3 and 4 in another post, though I will mention briefly that “joined unions” have been scrapped and any sim can now marry a man or a women.

The Sims has been such a huge part of my life and I’ve now been playing the game for over half of it. It’s very enjoyable for me because it doesn’t force me into a heteronormative or biphobic gaming experience. My characters can be with who I want them to. I also love using the cheat to find out what the sexuality of my sims is as soon as they grow up to be teenagers. It’s exciting to find out who they are!