Fangirl Fridays: The role of fanfic in representation

Hi, peeps!

Here we are on a Friday and I’m fangirling some more just cuz. I’ve decided that I’m fangirling even harder these days because of the current craptastic political climate and I’m basically escaping into movies, TV shows, comics, books, and fanfic. Either that or I’m refusing to acknowledge the passage of time. Maybe both. Whatevs. Regardless, it’s a hella good time.

Many of you know that I’m an avid follower of the post-apocalyptic TV show The 100 (for those not in the know, it’s pronounced “The Hundred,” not “The One Hundred”). In spite of the episode in season 3 that shall not be named (but that I blogged about here) that started a much-needed conversation about LGBTQ rep in TV and the so-called “dead lesbian trope.”

Clarke and Lexa (Clexa) going canon in The 100.
Clarke and Lexa (Clexa) going canon in The 100.

At any rate, let’s talk about fanfic. I know many readers of Women and Words no doubt engage in fanfic reading (and writing, quite possibly) of your fave ships from various TV shows and movies. There are any number of fanfic universes out there in which people develop whole novels, often, based on ships they’d like to see and ships that go canon (like Clarke and Lexa in The 100). Here’s a list of terminology for fanfic, in case you’re new to this world. Or they develop fanfics on whatever they’d like to see in a show/movie and go from there. There’re THOUSANDS of fics, and probably that many fandoms and universes, so whatever you’re into, you should be able to find it. If not, well, the sky’s the limit on writing it.

One of the things that I find really intriguing about fanfic is its relationship to what we know as lesfic — e.g. the lesbian fiction writing and publishing industry. What we call F/F or “femslash” (the slash indicating the slash between the Fs) has strong ties to fanfic and there’s a strong argument to be made that femslash drove the creation of the current lesfic industry. There’s a good piece on that at iO9 called “The History of Femslash, the Tiny Fandom That’s Taking Over the Universe” by Alex Cranz, who I believe is the reviews editor over there. Cranz says that

Almost fifteen years before E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Gray the Xena fandom was “scrubbing the serial numbers” off their uberfic and turning fanfic writers into lesbian lit superstars. And they’re still doing it today. Check out the top ten best selling lesbian romance novels on Amazon. They’re almost all either former fanfics, or the work of authors who started as uberfic writers.

I’ll just come right out and say it — I wasn’t aware of the relationship between fanfic and lesfic for a while. When I started writing lesfic, I didn’t read fanfic, and I wasn’t really all that involved in fandoms. I consider myself a geek because I love me some spec fic and Star Wars and comics and the like, but I just didn’t read or write fanfic. I’m much more involved in fandoms now, and I do indulge now and again in reading fanfic, but it’s not something that I’ve done regularly.

When I first published my space opera series, the Far Seek Chronicles, one bookselling site in the UK labeled it as Xena uber and I had to write to them and explain that it was actually misleading to do that because I was not a follower of Xena and didn’t write fanfic. That’s how ingrained fanfic is in the lesfic community, that a space opera with two strong women characters who share a romance are considered to be derived from fanfic in some way.

Is it any wonder fanfic writers ship these two? I mean, HELLO.
Is it any wonder fanfic writers ship these two? I mean, HELLO.

Indeed, Cranz notes the importance of the Xenaverse to femslash and the continued evolution of it as a genre (though I did not watch much Xena, I am curious about the reboot), and notes that though femslash is traditionally a very small part of the fanfic universe, it is a vocal, savvy, and activist part and has driven a lot of the recent outcry over queer rep in film and TV. Cranz pins the beginnings of these overt rumbles of challenge to the TV/film industry as really beginning in 2009, and she makes a case for that, but I’d argue that the femslash community has ALWAYS been activist because it’s full of people who identify as queer/lesbian/bi/trans and HAVE to be activist simply by being alive and dealing with the crap that life doles out to us because of all the -phobias and -isms out there.

Could be that by 2009, femslashers started taking their work to the streets, as it were, in the shifting cultural milieu around sexual orientation and gender identity. Whatever specific trends or perfect storms you pin it on, the community did start going more active in terms of rep and with the death of Lexa on The 100, it freaking exploded into a movement both on- and offline. A movement that demands better queer rep in the entertainment industry, that has launched bunches of campaigns that have raised thousands of dollars for various organizations and causes, and even initiated the formation of another con that will deal exclusively with the representation of queer women in the entertainment industry.

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 10.12.59 AM
That’s ClexaCon, slated for Las Vegas in 2017 and I’ll be blogging about that later because AWESOME and I’m going to cover it for Women and Words. Stay tuned, because I’ll have an interview here with the director of ClexaCon a bit later on this year.

Point being, femslash has been an amazingly prolific and engaged fanverse, though it’s one of the smallest. It’s a vibrant, passionate, and occasionally issue-laden verse (as all creative communities are), but even when there’s a debate about something, the conversations and dialogues between disparate viewpoints invariably make me think about my own views and challenge me to consider different perspectives and what queer rep really means and looks like beyond the verse. For that, I am eminently grateful that I started participating more in fandoms and the fanfic universe.

As for me, I have written some fanfic in the past, set in Anne McCaffrey’s Pern universe, but it remains unposted. Though I’ve never actually read any Pern fanfic, I just decided one day that it would be cool to have lesbian-identified dragonriders, so I started writing my own fanfic and had a blast. I still work on it now and again, but I treat it more as a writing exercise than anything else. I do read a bit more fanfic these days, including SwanQueen (the Emma Swan/Queen Regina ship from Once Upon a Time) and (DUH) Clexa (Clarke and Lexa of The 100). In fact, losing Lexa in The 100 pissed me off so much that I actually started writing a Clexa fanfic that I’ve been posting Friday evenings at Archive of Our Own as AndiLand, if you’re searching for it (FANFIC FRIDAYS, PEOPLE).

I think I’m finally understanding how rich and varied fanfic verses are, and I’m humbled and amazed at the activist sensibilities of so many who participate. To all of you, I say THANK YOU because without you, I don’t think we’d be having so many conversations about queer representation, and we sure as hell wouldn’t be seeing the shifts in dialogue or outcry or concrete results following what happened with The 100.

Live long and prosper, my friends.

Happy reading, happy writing, happy fandom, happy Friday.

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10 thoughts on “Fangirl Fridays: The role of fanfic in representation

  1. Super interesting. I am quickly becoming more educated about fanfic. I loved the one piece I’ve ever read (Fletcher Delancey’s) and I have discovered at times that some of my favorite books have come from the fanfic world. Since I don’t watch TV fanfic never held much interest for me, but I definitely enjoy the resulting books. My daughter actually writes fanfic, but won’t tell me where to find hers. She’s afraid I will be surprised or offended. As if.

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  2. I discovered lesfic by way of fanfic and, in all honesty, I totally stumbled across that. I was searching the internet back in the day…10-11 years ago now, for something and just ran across a site that had fan fic stories based on several different TV shows I loved that were, OMG!, lesbian themed. I read everything I could get my hands on, online by now lesfic superstars like Kim Baldwin, Mavis Applewater and so many more. I fairly quickly moved from fanfic to lesfic and, a couple of years ago, I started writing lesfic too. All along the way, I’ve loved every minute of it.

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  3. You see? Amazing how many people started out in the lesfic world by writing fanfic. I’m a rare exception, I think, because I didn’t even really know about fanfic except peripherally when I started writing my own stories. I did, however, write long-ass stories in my head based on popular spec fic I was reading in which I shipped female characters in those long-ass head stories. So I guess I was already primed to write lesfic and, in a way, probably fanfic, too. Though like I said, I don’t have a background in fanfic. Regardless, I think that LGBTQ fanfic readers and writers are an extremely savvy and activist bunch, and it’s been great fun and a learning experience watching how fandoms respond to TV shows and movies. I’m learning things, and that’s always a good thing.

    Thanks for stopping by.

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  4. how many freaking episode of the hundred do I have to watch BEFORE I get hooked? I don’t think I’ve made it through the first to third without getting up and doing something else!
    Mmmm?

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  5. This is most sad. It clearly does not speak to everyone, and that’s how it goes. I was hooked after the first 20 minutes of the first episode, but then I’m a post-apocalyptic and dystopic kinda gal. I’ve loved watching the arcs of the characters develop, and the way these young people become really strong leaders in their own right after they go to the ground and are confronted by the realization that they are not alone. And then when they try to figure out who they are and who they should be in this new world, and they’re faced with making really hard choices in which people die — the writing is some of the best I’ve seen in a TV series.

    The world-building alone is amazing, and the richness of the cultures that the writers and consultants developed is mind-boggling, including the language that a linguist developed for the Grounders. And just when you think it can’t get darker or more fucked up, it does and it forces you to think about who the real “savages” are. There are themes dealing with colonialism, technology, religion, violence, and what people are willing to do when faced with horrible choices as resources dwindle or are perceived to be scarce.

    Plus, it’s one of the very few shows on television in which women are simply accepted as leaders and decision-makers, rather than dissed about it. They’re part of the collective, and the female characters are rich, varied, three-dimensional, and it’s a gorgeous thing to see this kind of representation. Not to mention open representation of bisexuality and homosexuality without anybody freaking out about it. It’s just part of the landscape. And representation of POC as strong, powerful characters both bad and good — this show is probably one of the only shows on TV where you’ll get this diversity and no one bats an eye about it. We certainly could deconstruct the neocolonial elements of the Sky People coming to Earth and facing Grounder culture as sort of a metaphor for Europeans coming to America and facing indigenous peoples, but that isn’t the main thrust of the writing, though I do think it plays a role in cultural interaction in terms of setting and world-building.

    And we see love develop between people of different cultures and what that means and how it plays out, and the burdens that leadership among the cultures imparts. It’s beautifully done, these amazing, rich layers of meaning and storylines and plotlines are often so tightly woven that were you to pull on one, the whole thing would unravel, so carefully are they bound together.

    The cast is amazing, and how each has developed the characters is such a treat to watch. There’s a lot of chemistry between them, even the characters who are “bad” or “antiheros,” and you can tell that they all had a good time working together.

    So I’m sad that it doesn’t speak to everyone, but that’s how it goes. There are lots of fangirl verses for everyone! 😀

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  6. I also love these type of shows – I’ll have to try it again. It totally could have been the state of my mind at the time! After such a loving tribute – I think it deserves a second chance ❤

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  7. Great article, Andi! Back when lesfic books were more difficult to come by, I found fanfic sites to be great places to get my reading fix in before I could get my next shipment of books delivered. Fanfic sites are also good for readers who are on a limited income.

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