When I mention to people that I am a writer, and yes, that I write fanfiction, and yes, that I often write this fanfiction about men who fall in love with men, I am sometimes accused of fetishizing homosexuality.
A girl recently told me the following story: She was visiting a pub with her girlfriend when a group of men approached them and asked whether they’d make out so that the men could watch and enjoy the show. She felt violated by the experience, and a debate unfolded over the fetishization of lesbians, both in porn and mainstream media. The idea that women have sex because women enjoy it is somehow incomprehensible to many people. Instead, such people assume that women’s sexuality is there for straight men to enjoy. This fetishization is a disgusting, dehumanizing practice.
However, as a straight girl and an avid writer and reader of homoerotic (slash) fanfiction, I do not feel guilty of fetishizing gay men. Of course, I cannot speak for all of the fangirls all over the internet, as there are multitudes of people and viewpoints out there. I can only say that I consider fanfiction to be an innocent hobby, and in this article I will attempt to tell you why.
Firstly, homosexuality is grossly underrepresented in the media. Queerbaiting is a very real practice. Often, makers of television or other types of popular media introduce characters as possibly being gay, then later deny ever having done so, often even making the perceived non-straightness of the character seem silly. Not only does this disappoint the audience, it also enforces stereotypes of homosexuality. “You thought John Watson was gay? Nah, he was in the army.” As though soldiers are never and can never be gay and the notion of a gay soldier is somehow funny.
Tumblr user actualanimevillain on queerbaiting: “They introduce a character that queer people can relate to. They use the details and feelings common to queer people’s lives to make it very obvious to anyone who is queer, that the character is also queer. They know that because there is very little queer representation in media, queer people are going to latch onto this character, and therefore latch onto the series.” Source
Secondly, slashing characters (“to slash is to create a slash fanwork or to interpret the chemistry between the characters in the source text as homoerotic,” Source) allows aforementioned characters to exist outside of the boundaries of society. In some cases, where characters are criminals or outcasts or underdogs, this already makes sense: Dean Winchester won’t ever fit in with society because he kills monsters for a living. Remus Lupin won’t ever fit in with society because he’s a werewolf, etc. But there is something else in society that puts a strain on these men: toxic masculinity, which I have written about before.
Toxic masculinity is one of the ways in which Patriarchy is harmful to men. It refers to the socially-constructed attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth. Source
When men feel societal pressure to be violent, stoic and sexually aggressive as well as display a host of other strange caveman-like behaviors, it often puts a strain on their romantic relationships. Men often feel these pressures when they have to define their identity in relation to women. “Keep your lady in check,” is what other men tell them. Or they warn against the dangers of being ‘whipped.” In a relationship without a woman, i.e. a homosexual relationship, this need to assert manliness often falls away, allowing the characters to show their vulnerabilities. What is slash fanfiction about? Love. And what makes characters lovable? Vulnerability. So what makes for the best romance fiction? A context where characters feel at ease with their vulnerability. That is what makes fanfiction such a smash hit all over the internet.
No-one ever asks me why I am emotionally invested in fictional heterosexual couples. Everyone roots for Mulder and Scullly, everyone roots for Josh and Donna, everyone roots for Bellamy and Blake. Is it entirely healthy to get so much emotional satisfaction out of the lives of fictional characters and live vicariously through them? Probably not, and I accept that I might be a troubled person. But I don’t think the gender of the characters I ship has anything to do with that.
Shaming women for reading or writing slash also ties into the long history of things women like being belittled and ridiculed. Although fandom is often considered childish and silly, expressions of fandom that are predominantly practiced by men, such as curative fandom and filmmaking, are considered less so than the field of transformative fandom, i.e. fic writing and drawing and making playlists and videos, where 90% of participants identify as female. Source. For example, everyone thinks Broad Strokes Productions are amazing, which they are.
But no one acknowledges the genius of novel-length fanfiction that makes me cry and reconsider the human condition like The Life And Times. I refuse to be mocked for my hobbies.
Finally I would like to add that genderbending characters is a common practice in fanfiction. How would the story have progressed if Harry Potter were a trans woman? How would the story have gone if Hermione Granger was a boy, or if they identified as queer? People outside of fandom, transformative fandom especially, underestimate how utterly unimportant gender is when there is also plot, dialogue and character development to consider.
Note: I found the adorable fanart of John Watson and Sherlock Holmes snuggling on the couch here.