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!!
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.