I like things.
I like learning about them, I like wading in them, and when I’m about thigh-deep I like deciding I’ve had fun so far, but getting the rest of the way in would require real commitment, and there’s another patch of water over there I could be wading in. That is actually how I act at the beach, but is marginally more relevant as a metaphor for my tendencies as a fan.
As a pop-culture wader, I had a hard time thinking of what to do with a n00bsday article. I’ve tried a lot of things; I’ve liked a lot of things. There wasn’t too much I’d been reluctant to try, few biases I was eager to overturn. Then I thought of those fans that dive in, the fans that learn and love the characters they’re watching or reading, who know them enough to build on the “official” writers’ work. I know I had to go into the depths of fandom, in that passionate world I was always too lazy and a little scared to enter.
Into the world of fan fiction.
I shot off an off-the-cuff email to a few people I knew read and wrote fanfic, thinking I’d get some recommendations for “fanfic that isn’t just people’s romantic fantasies,” because I’d heard people say that there was good fanfic out there. I figured I’d read some short piece where James Potter and Sirius Black get stoned for the first time (okay, if anyone has that, please send it to me), then write about how not all fanfic is erotica, people.
Oh, so now I have to think critically about the inherent biases I might be bringing to the table?
Let’s be clear: I’m a Yankee fighting New England’s puritanical streak. I’m a girl who’s father used to hold the remote and fast-forward through love scenes in movies. All Buffy’s relationships ended badly, so clearly you can be a really badass lady without nailing down the romance side of it. To me, romance has a certain superfluousness to the actual storyline, and kissing scenes are scenes where there’s no sword-fighting. When it gets personal I get uncomfortable.
Now let’s get to it.
I go to Archive of Our Own, the most comprehensive collection of fanfic, which is broken into “fandoms,” which are whatever media the story is based on. I skim fandoms, pick a couple, see what sticks, and re-read 3-5 of my favorites.
At least one romance (I did try a couple with sex in them, but I’m just the equivalent of a 5-year-old in front of a plate of sushi in that respect).
I want to know the Fandoms fairly well…
…But nothing I hold sacred.
Fanfic is rated with Kudos, and I stayed with the top number of Kudos in each fandom.
I started with recommendations from a friend who sent me a link from her NAME OF THING favorites. The first thing that caught my eye was:
I couldn’t really believe this was even a fandom, but have extensive experience with drug addiction PSAs, so it seemed like the perfect place to start. The story told of a recovering addict’s return home and rekindled romance with his childhood best friend, probably a huge extrapolation from the source material. Well-written, with a good balance of exposition and brevity, this was a really sweet love story. Better, it was a love story about two young men with absolutely no grandstanding about how it was a LOVE story about TWO young MEN. There was a level of ease with gay relationships I haven’t encountered in most main-stream literature.
The gay romance route was working for me so far; the PSA story was super sweet and emotional, but I figured I should do something a bit sexier, you know, for integrity’s sake. The True Blood fandom caught my eye. When do you get through an episode of True Blood without someone getting it on? This story took place in between two seasons and covered the character Lafayette, who had some erotic dreams, met a cute paramedic, and had some erotic dreams about him. Cute, the erotica wasn’t all that graphic, and I thought the author captured the voices and personalities of the characters. It was also nice to get a little more attention to characters that aren’t, say, broodily dramatic enough for HBO to focus on.
Another well-covered fandom was Star Wars, and I decided if I focused on the newest set of characters it wouldn’t qualify as sacred. I discovered that there’s a ton of fan-fictional support for a Poe Dameron and Finn the ex-stormtrooper romance, which I really enjoyed. It fits well with my aversion to the inescapable Rey/Finn romance in the movie, which I plan on finding tiresome. Rey is off hanging with daddy Luke and Finn, instead of mooning over his lost love, is missing his friend, when a romance crops up. There’s a smack of bromance (where my heart truly lies) in Finn’s missing Rey, and between Poe and his other pilot friends, who are all harassing him for not making moves on Finn. It’s cute, funny, and well in line with the character’s they’re working with. Also, in romanticizing Poe the author opens another aspect to a character that, until this point, was pretty solid entrenched on the bro spectrum. This is done while adhering to the character such as he has been portrayed before.
Everything was going good, and Star Wars was kind of sacred, so I decided to stretch my “No Fanfic of Nora’s Sacred Texts” rule, and head over to Harry Potter.
Full of intellectual cowardice, I turn tail and run.
To the Princess Bride section. Here’s a neat Humperdinck origin story, and is that a link to a Hunger Games/Richard III crossover?
Don’t mind if I do…
I’d found my niche. The imagination and open-mindedness I’d been enjoying really hit their stride in the crossovers. It’s the 5th annual Hunger Games and the theme is to choose tributes from families the government has deemed a threat. It’s a bit messy as a premise, but totally worth it. Alessandro Borgia has already gained control of District 1, so it comes down to the canny Richard of York and Lucretia Borgias fighting to the death in an arena. It’s a who’s who of medieval history, each figure reacting to the Hunger Games framework. It was so clever, so out there, I couldn’t help but be impressed. It’s analyzing characters and changing their circumstances to experiment with their characters. Basically, it’s a cerebral exercise, not an emotional one; there was minimal kissing and a lot of fighting.
So I’m back where I started. My niche is the unemotional niche, the one that “isn’t just people’s emotional fantasies.” I found the ensemble of displaced characters more compelling than characters in their worlds. There’s a level to which you need to actually know the characters and think about how they would act outside of their world, but without getting emotionally involved. Back in my webcomic days I was always uncomfortable when fans discussed characters as they would real people. There’s a distinction between reality and fiction I personally can’t blur to that extent. I might have pushed past my aversion to romance, but fanfic is based on connecting to characters as people, and I think it’s in this basic premise that it’s not for me.
So, I feel like I failed this n00bsday by not getting really deep into fanfic, but also think I’ve gained a lot of understanding and respect for the practice.
Now more than ever, I can see my dislike of romance as a privileged stance. From what I read, fanfic is a refuge for the LGBT community to see their heroes and celebrities in unconventional relationships. There aren’t a million Draco/Harry or Angelus/Spike love stories just for kicks. The unadulterated creativity of these pieces is a great foil to the limits of mainstream pop culture. I can’t imagine how it must feel if the mainstream love story I was supposed to relate to growing up ended in Jake Gyllenhaal getting beaten to death by hicks. It was refreshing to read about two young men reliving their childhood haunts, communicating about the tension between them, then making out a bit. Let’s get Harry and Ron a bit of grab-ass in a Room of Requirement filled with floating candles, silk cushions and butterbeer.
As a straight lady, I have ample examples of how to behave in a romantic relationship. I use mainstream media to form my opinions on what is and is not healthy and acceptable. Of course, the pervasive trope of females only as love interests is difficult to work with (Eowyn’s a badass shield-maiden with a country to run and an uncle to tend to and she spends her time mooning over some 80-year-old dude she just met?), but I also have the Buffys and the Liz Lemons (of course, Joss Whedon being the god that he is, Buffy isn’t without a beautiful lesbian relationship).
I’m glad I know that people pursue these subjects with such tenacity, creativity and imagination. I’m really impressed by a community that recognizes a deficiency in the media they’re offered and forms a sub-media to provide such things for themselves and others. It reeks of independence and determination, and I’m into it.
**Note: This is not all to say only/all LGBT people write/read fanfic; I had a lot of thoughts and wanted to focus on one main takeaway for the sake of, um…brevity?