Image description: a pad of paper, pen, mug, and laptop placed on a desk.
I’m sure that most of us, LGBTQ+ people especially, have been pretty disappointed by the way a show or book has turned out at some point in our lives. Maybe your favourite character died, or didn’t get the spotlight you wanted them to get, or the characters who were definitely, absolutely in love with each other just didn’t kiss.
Disappointment is inevitable, sometimes, when you don’t control the story. Not everyone is pleased by the same things, and authors or directors have to find a sweet spot between the most popular outcomes and the ones that they’d envisioned; you just can’t please everyone.
Cue fanfiction. Hundreds (or thousands, if you like something particularly popular) of people putting in time and effort to write the story in the way they wanted it to go. Filling in gaps in characterisation or throwing out the plot entirely and starting anew. Or, if the author is particularly ambitious, constructing a completely new world for familiar characters to explore.
Putting aside any queer benefits to fanfiction for the moment, I think it has so many fantastic traits: people write novel length works, they’re usually far more readable than your average piece of academic literature (which is the only other thing I end up reading), and the possibilities are endless.
Sure, fanfiction gets a lot of flack sometimes. The quality can be varying, to say the least, and sometimes I look at what someone has written and wonder why on earth they would think of the concept and go ‘yes, the world needs this’, but I honestly think fanfiction is an incredibly powerful medium for queer people, both as readers and authors.
In the first place, fanfiction is separate from pretty much any kind of question of making money. Many fanfiction authors take commissions or donations, but there’s no question of ad revenue or marketing. And that means that there’s no pressure to write to a particular audience. You can write whatever you want.
Sure, that means you get some weird stuff sometimes. It means there’s no quality testing to produce a general high standard of content. But it also means there’s no gatekeeping; anyone can write and publish fanfiction on pretty much anything they want, including young authors and including queer authors.
Anyone can write and publish fanfiction on pretty much anything they want, including young authors and including queer authors.
There’s no need for censorship to keep a high-paying audience happy, and equally no need to queerbait in a way that a lot of media can be guilty of these days (and yes, I am thinking about the BBC Sherlock series of years past whenever I think of queerbaiting). Fanfiction can be queer as much or as little as an author wants.
Fanfiction also provides the freedom to explore queer themes in as much or as little detail as you like. Over the summer, I spent hours upon hours writing works about a character who is, in universe, cisgender, and ended up with a series approaching novel length exploring his character should he be a transgender man.
Exploring LGBTQ+ themes like that has the potential to be an incredibly emotional experience. Through writing, I was able to work through feelings surrounding some of my personal relationships that had been affected by me being trans, and I was also able to reach an audience of many transgender people who felt the same way.
And sure, maybe the world of publishing would have space for or be accepting of a story about a transgender man with heavy doses of found family and no romance to be seen, but I also wouldn’t want to write something like that for a paying audience. Personally, I think that queer stories should be available to everyone.
Reading fanfiction is easy. Anonymous. There’s no physical copy that becomes incriminating evidence for something you’re trying to hide from your parents. And on the writing side, you don’t need to modify the story to make it fit the editor’s or publisher’s idea of what people want to see, what will sell, what’s easiest to market.
Fanfiction can easily bring much-needed diversity into otherwise very mainstream, safe stories that wouldn’t dare touch queer themes. My latest big interest features, in a huge cast, only a smattering of (mostly female) bisexual characters who can easily be seen as fanservice for male fans.
Fanfiction can easily bring much-needed diversity into otherwise very mainstream, safe stories.
Yet, in fanfiction, the cast takes on a completely different dynamic. Collectively, through many different content creators and over the course of several months, I think almost every character has been written in a same gender relationship, or in a work with queer themes.
I’ve seen works about sharing trans experiences and learning from each other, about supporting friends who have to strike out on their own due to homophobia. Alongside these more hard-hitting works, I’ve seen pieces about a girl getting nervous about asking her crush out, or a boy teaching his friend how to dance.
To me, fanfiction has a vitality that cannot be replicated in the stories found in books, on TV, in films. It’s so easily accessible, not dependent on funding or resources. I think it’s a vital medium for self exploration, for understanding a plethora of stories both similar and different to your own.
I think it’s a vital medium for self exploration.
For a long time, I was always intensely embarrassed to admit that I both read and write fanfiction extensively. It felt like a ‘girl thing’, a shameful secret that would somehow lower me in the eyes of anyone I told about it. But I don’t think I care about that too much anymore, honestly.
Fanfiction is, to me, the ultimate form of LGBTQ+ media. It doesn’t rely on any kind of authority or money, it doesn’t ask me to tone down my feelings one way or another. You don’t see the kind of trope I always tired of seeing in bookshops about a hidden secret, brought into the open through rumours and blackmail.
It has the potential to be anything at all, and I find that it quite frequently involves normalising queer relationships, exploring queer experiences. And, most importantly, it doesn’t hide. Fanfiction is unapologetically queer, and I think it’s a visibility and celebration that is incredibly important.
Image credit: Pen and paper by Carol Browne.