Queer as bans | Pocketmags.com

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Queer as bans

With the term first appearing in 1938, fanfiction as a practice of rewriting already established works of fiction has been around for a while. Fans have been writing new versions of their favourite stories or taking beloved characters and creating completely new storylines for the longest time. Beatrice Fanucci describes how for many queer people who don’t see themselves represented in mainstream media, fanfiction is a way to reclaim their rightful places in the story and write their queerness into their favourite characters.

Dante’s Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost are fanfictions of the Bible.

That’s a joke, yes, but hear me out. While fanfiction is a category of storytelling that rose to popularity only since copyright became a legal reality, the practice of retelling stories is as old as time. Think “Roman Emperor Augustus commissioning Virgil to write The Aeneid on the basis of Homer’s Iliad” old.

Many retellings have nowadays become popular stories of their own, like The Wide Sargasso Sea following on from Jane Eyre and Bridget Jones’s Diary as a spin on Pride and Prejudice. And I know what you’re thinking: retellings are not the same thing as fanfiction. You’re right, but the two have much more in common than they don’t.

Retellings tend to be 'new versions' of old stories, whereas fanfics are usually new stories involving already established fictional characters. But the lines between the two are blurry and, essentially, retellings seem to be a more formal version of fanfiction, with the main differences lying in the fact that the formers are based on works that are not copyrighted.

In recent years, retelling as a genre has gained widespread popularity, with more and more commercially published books taking old stories and making them new again. Fanfiction, instead, usually gets a bad rep. That’s because it is a genre mostly relegated to online spaces and associated with stereotypical types of people, such as ‘nerds’ or ‘superfans’. The fact that the majority of people who write or read fanfiction are women also generates stigma, as most stereotypically feminine things do in a male-dominated society.

But the main aspect the two have in common is the possibility for authors and readers to reclaim an original story and add, change, or completely overturn the existing narrative for their own satisfaction. For members of marginalised groups that often see themselves misrepresented or completely erased in mainstream narratives, this element of fanfiction and retellings is vital. While queer representation in media seems to be on the rise nowadays, it’s only in recent years that we’ve truly started to see some change. Plus, more marginalised identities within the community can count but a few characters that they can truly relate to.

In this context, fanfiction and retellings offer a chance to create or seek the representation lacking in the books and movies created by multi-million-dollar production companies that typically focus on profit rather than painting a diverse and inclusive picture in their fiction. In both the realm of retellings and fanfiction, queer characters have found a way to squeeze through the pages and find their rightful place in these popular narratives.

The aforementioned classic Pride and Prejudice is one of those stories that has stood the test of time and inspired countless retellings. In a recent young adult version of the Austenian classic titled Most Ardently, by trans author Gabe Cole Novoa, Elizabeth’s character is recast as a trans boy named Oliver Bennet who meets and falls in love with the rich and sulky Darcy. Other queer versions of Pride and Prejudice keep springing up like mushrooms.

And while these retellings have offered many queer people a chance to recognise themselves in the stories they love, the world of fanfiction is even more rife with such possibilities. The fact that this genre doesn’t have to cater to a mainstream audience means that it can offer authors a complete lack of restrictions on what they write. Moreover, on many online websites, these stories can be published anonymously, providing an additional layer of freedom.

For many authors and readers, fanfiction represents a way to explore one’s own identity through the written word and their favourite fictional characters. Through fanfiction, the heteronormative structures of mainstream stories are picked apart and reassembled in narratives that better resemble the diverse reality we live in. What’s more, because fanfiction is written and read byyou guessed it - fans, a community of people gather around these stories. Readers form emotional connections to the text and, through comments and online engagement, to the author and each other, building a support system that they often can’t find in their daily lives.

While not all fanfiction is good fanfictionespecially given that just about anyone can post these stories on the internetthe lack of restraints combined with the authors’ lived experiences gives rise to much more authentic representation than that offered by mainstream media and publishing. Intersectionality, which is a rare thing in commercially produced narratives, is a key feature of fanfiction. In the stories written by fans, it’s easy to find queer characters who are also people of colour, disabled and/or neurodivergent. For many queer folks, fanfiction can thus represent the first encounter with a positive and nuanced representation of themselves. Even the most marginalised identities within the community can findor writetheir space into fanfiction.

One example of this is how the iconic detective and genius Sherlock Holmes is often written as an asexual character. In cases such as this, it’s interesting to see how the stories written by fans recognise and reveal queer subthemes that were already present in the original narratives, but were only hinted at. In these re-interpretations of Sherlock Holmes, fanfic authors explore the character’s complete lack of interest in sex, particularly as presented in the 2010 BBC adaptation, Sherlock.

This unveiling of queerness is common practice in a subgenre of fanfiction called fix-it fics. The aim of fix-it fics is to identify and repair harmful or unresolved elements of mainstream stories as a way to “save a beloved text”. Such elements could be a queer relationship that is only teased but not fully realised on screen or on the page. One example of this is Marvel’s character Steve Rogers (aka Captain America), whom fanfiction authors often write as a partially deaf man with a very frail body because that’s how he started his arcbefore being turned into the stereotypical able-bodied hero. Fix-it fics also often explore the homoerotic undertones of this character’s relationship with Bucky, as well as focusing on the latter’s prosthetic arm and navigating intimacy between previously able-bodied individuals.

There is then an entire genre dedicated to uncovering queer relationships called ‘slash’. The word supposedly originated in the 1970’s among the Star Trek fandom writing stories about the Kirk/Spock pairing. This subgenre has garnered criticism from members of the community because a lot of the authors who wrote slash stories were supposedly cis straight women who didn’t portray authentic representations of gay characters. However, recent studies have shown that a great number of the people who write and read slash fics identify as queer and use these stories to explore their own sexuality.

Slash stories often actualise queer subtext present in many commercially published narratives and make desires and identities visible. A favourite pairing in this genre is Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn from the DC universe. Over the years, both the comics and animated series portraying the pair relied heavily on subtext to imply that the two could be in a romantic relationship. Many fanfics werestill arewritten to make this relationship visible on the page until, in 2020, it became canon when Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn shared their first on-screen kiss.

Another popular subgenre is the so-called ‘genderfuck’ fanfiction, which is an umbrella term for stories that aim to undermine traditional understandings of gender. Within this umbrella are other subgenres, one of which is ‘genderswap’, in which a character is rewritten as a version of themselves but in a different gender. Genderswap has been criticised for perpetuating heteronormative structures and transphobic tropes. For this reason, trans authors who wished to see authentic and positive representations of themselves created a new fanfiction subgenre, the so-called ‘transfic’. Rather than focusing on stereotypical tropes, transfics feature characters who explicitly identify as transgender and focus on the realism of navigating life as a trans person. Many transfic authors also write elements of queer theory and transgender studies in their narratives, using their stories as a commentary on current LGBTQ+ political struggles.

When Harry Potter’s author JK Rowling started revealing her anti-trans ideologies years ago, many fans turned to fanfiction to reclaim the characters that had been part of their development and who they had loved as kids. Many fanfic authors wrote Harry Potter fanfiction, beginning them with a disclaimer that clearly stated that they condemned Rowling’s anti-trans views, and then purposely writing trans characters into their stories. In the years since Rowling’s first troubling tweets, the creation and consumption of Harry Potter transfics has exploded, leading to a bigger increase in trans representation within the Harry Potter fandom than ever before. Not only that but in popular fanfiction sites like Archive of Our Own (AO3), where stories are sorted through a tagging system, authors have started to use tags like “F*ck JK Rowling” to signal opposition to Rowling’s views. These tags are often used even in stories that don’t feature trans characters or that aren’t even part of the Harry Potter fandoms, simply as a way to show solidarity with the trans community.

Fanfiction authors are striving to create safe spaces with their stories. When original narratives exclude LGBTQ+ representation, the queer community comes together and creates alternatives, as it always does. Queer spaces in fanfiction are growing and becoming more inclusive than ever. So if you don’t feel represented in what you see on screen or can find in a bookstore, take a dive into the world of fanfiction and you might just find what you’re looking for.

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