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The prevalence of slash in fandom

Those of you who pay any attention to fannish channels may have seen the 2014 Archive of Our Own Ship Stats chart. It catalogues this year's hundred most popular relationships written about in stories in that particular fan fiction archive. It discovered, among other things, that making this list are 3 F/F pairings, 3 non-romantic, 23 F/M, and 71 M/M.

Perhaps it shouldn't have, but that surprised me. Not even a third as many straight romances written about as gay ones? I know fan fiction has alway had a ton of queer stuff, but I'm curious what the motivating factor behind that is. Is it that people can't even find queer romance in mainstream media? That might lead me to ask why people don't write original works with queer themes, because CLEARLY there are people who are interested in that. (Is there just as much original queer fiction as queer fan work that is just less visible?) Do they feel like they won't find their audience unless that audience is already hooked by interest in a mainstream property? You don't have to tell me how hard it is to get a new work to find the people who would care about it, but is that indeed why so many queer fan works exist?

I guess the above speculation makes sense. Maybe my real question is why are there so few straight fan works by comparison? Why aren't people writing straight romance in fandom? Are there really so many fewer fans who are interested in it? I have a hard time believing that; properties would not have lots of general success if ONLY the subset interested in queer stuff liked them. And not that you can only write about people like yourself, but are the straight/straight-interested fans less creative? I can't believe that either, creativity has no correlation to sexuality. Do they feel like they get their quota of straight stuff from source material/mainstream media in general and if they want queer stuff find that the only solution is to write it themselves? Hell, as an offshoot of that, why so little femslash? Again, not that you can only write about people like yourself, but aren't there lesbians out there who want to women characters getting together? What about the demographic of authors makes it so that male-male romantic pairings is so overwhelmingly represented?

It stumps me because I don't really relate; I am not a slash fan. I think it's fine if that's your thing, or if it soothes the need for representation or diversity that mainstream media fails to satisfy, but for me personally I tend to not be able to get interested in things that are not compliant with the canon of whatever property I enjoyed enough to seek out fan fiction for. I've written about this issue for me before. I think I must be something of a rarity in this subculture in that when I seek out fanworks, it's because I want MORE of whatever it was I liked about the original. If that is rare, I don't understand why it would be. You enjoy a story, you want more, right? But lately I find myself being, while no less fannish, less and less interested in engaging with fandom. While I don't fault it in any way, I don't really conenct with how it expresses so it's really not so much fun. But I am pretty bemused as to why it works out the way it does.

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
lillibet
Sep. 4th, 2014 06:21 pm (UTC)
There's a growing body of academic writing on this subject, if you're curious about others' thinking on the subject. One of the other factors here is that the preponderance of it is written by women. It's a fascinating phenomenon.
qnmark
Sep. 4th, 2014 07:40 pm (UTC)
What lillibet said about slash being written mainly by women.

For comparison, if you look at written porn sites, and search tags, you'll also see a ton of same-sex stories (though not as many as het ones), but these are almost all F/f. At least in stereotype, those sites are largely for a male audience.
offside7
Sep. 4th, 2014 07:45 pm (UTC)
My assumption has always been that there's joy in whatever it is about M/M pairings that makes them feel subversive. As you mentioned, there's already plenty of mainstream M/F, and generally, I think the world feels more comfortable with not just lesbians, but also close, affectionate female friendships and the various ways they're expressed (hugging, saying "I love you," etc.). But M/M still feels subversive, and fanfiction is an outlet for that where mainstream media isn't.

It would be interesting to see what percentage of the pairings reflect actual hetero and homosexuality in the characters. Like, is M/M disproportionately about characters who are written to be explicitly straight? Or is it more about ambiguous characters, or characters who are homosexual but aren't into the guys they're being paired with in fan fiction? (I mean, it probably has to be because gay romance is so rare in mainstream media, but I wonder to what extent it's skewed in fanfiction.)
(Anonymous)
Sep. 4th, 2014 09:00 pm (UTC)
Drive-by from the front page of LJ...

but for me personally I tend to not be able to get interested in things that are not compliant with the canon

But of course, heterosexuality is RARELY explicitly stated in your canons. It might be implicit, and it might be a default assumption, but like, just because Jim Kirk's only ever shows with women or aliens who read as women, that doesn't make it inconsistent with canon that he sleeps with men (as well). It means this is not a thing you are shown, but that is a different statement.

Thing is, for real, until the last very few years, showing so much as two men being known to be sleeping together or one man who it is known sleeps with other men (not: kissing, sharing a bed, or engaging in any other relationship-ish activities like shared grocery shopping. Nothing so extreme as that. Just, mentioning that they sometimes or always have sex with other men) was not a thing on TV or in popular media at large unless the viewer was meant to understand this to indicate deviance--and I mean, even now, it's very much the exception (Modern Family comes to mind) to show queerness as: sexy, fun, normal, familial, familiar, loving, mundane, or happy.

Anyway, what I'm saying is, your assertion here, or at least your implication, is that if canon does not show queerness where you see it unquestionably, then queerness is inconsistent with your canon, and I'm saying, no, queerness is merely not mentioned, but this doesn't preclude its existence. I don't know you, so I promise I am not making an assumption that you are close-minded when I say this, but: the lack of mention/representation is effectively a silencing tool, wherein conservative media interests choose not to show something, and then conservative social groups assert that because it is not shown it is either not normal, not-extant, or not OK. When you assert that showing something not currently in the text is inconsistent with what is in the text (even when there is no statement that it is), you are playing into that game, and because of that, it's harmful. Again, I promise I'm making no assumptions about whether you intend for that; I'm telling you that this is a thing, and if you would like not to participate in that harm, then you might consider whether you are stating your position clearly.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 4th, 2014 09:25 pm (UTC)
When I went to a panel about fanfic at Arisia, they brought up a point that I hadn't considered: Heterosexual relationships in the world we live in today are inherently power-imbalanced. Even the most progressive couples in that regard are still operating with in a world and a framework that doesn't view them as equals. M/M pairings, however, are in some respects the only kind of pairings where you can truly have a love between equals (since F/F partners are both so heavily marginalized by the world by virtue of being women, even if their sexual orientation is not revealed.) And since so much of fiction is varying degrees of wish-fulfillment, it makes sense that the most popular type of romantic pairing for women would be a pairing where both partners are equal.
laura47
Sep. 5th, 2014 06:31 am (UTC)
Do they feel like they get their quota of straight stuff from source material/mainstream media in general and if they want queer stuff find that the only solution is to write it themselves?

Yes.
laura47
Sep. 5th, 2014 06:56 am (UTC)
in two parts.
I've read you talking about fanworks before, and been bothered by some of what I perceived to be certain undercurrents, but I didn't feel like arguing. Now since you are literally asking questions that I have strong feelings about, I am going to address some of them. This is something that is important to be, and if I sound vehement, it is because what you are saying is making me feel defensive against what feels like judgement of how I like to engage with media. I don't think you're a bad person, but I very much would like to see you consider your perspectives and views carefully. (As a comparative media studies major who worked with fandom, i have many related academic feelings, but this is pretty personal here.)

Again, not that you can only write about people like yourself, but aren't there lesbians out there who want to women characters getting together?

Yes. There are great femslash stories. Just because they aren't in the top 100 (and fandom is huge so that's a lot) doesn't mean they are out there. It's not huge, but my friends are in this right now: http://femslashex.dreamwidth.org Please don't erase these parts of fandom because they aren't in the top 100 stats. Also, I'm not going to bother with the historical fandom reasons that many women are into M/M, but there's plenty there.

Is it that people can't even find queer romance in mainstream media?
Yes there is some now, but there's not enough, and what if I really want queer relationships on a space station? queer relationships in the Wild West? What if I think most options are shallow and I'm afraid of the creators or networks killing them off? Many of us prefer our stories to canon relationships because it is impossible for the powers that be to fuck it up if it isn't theirs anymore.

That might lead me to ask why people don't write original works with queer themes, because CLEARLY there are people who are interested in that. (Is there just as much original queer fiction as queer fan work that is just less visible?)

I think as a professional writer you may underestimate how much easier (and more fulfilling) it is for some people to write fanworks. It's not just that you have a built in audience who knows the source, but you are *celebrating* what you love with other people who love it! People are constantly writing fic *for* other people. Yuletide has thousands of stories written for other fans basically out of love. These days, some really popular slash fic does get published as original work with the names changed. And yes it is less visible. And the majority of fans, I'd say, just aren't interested in publication. So much of this is about community and belonging and a broader experience, not just the experience of writing. As a professional writer, I can see why you focus on that, but please understand that this does not exist in a vacuum.

laura47
Sep. 5th, 2014 06:57 am (UTC)
Re: in two parts.
I think I must be something of a rarity in this subculture in that when I seek out fanworks, it's because I want MORE of whatever it was I liked about the original.

You are not a rarity, and I find some of your comments make me bristle as they seem to have an undercurrent of judgment. Fandom is huge, sprawling, and I think your focusing on certain aspects leads you to have a very narrow view of things. Do you know what I mostly read? Fics that are tens of thousands of words long and focus on delving into character relationships and exploring parts of the canon that intrigue me but didn't get all the time I'd like to see, or about which I'd like to see different takes. I also read slash. I love F/F but read more M/M slash because there are so few stories that have

* multiple female characters
* who are interesting enough that I want to read about them
* and who have chemistry

There is some fetishization of M/M for *sure*, but there are just more men!

I also often seek out fanworks for "fix it" reasons, to take a story that I loved, or that had potential, and to take out the parts that I have problems with, to make it less sexist, to drop the rape plot, to not have them all die in season three, etc. That is about loving it and wanting more, but wanting a *different* more, wanting a new perspective. The author is dead and I don't care about their opinions. I say when you let someone else see an idea of yours, you no longer truly own it, because it exists in someone else's mind and their subjective experience and it will be to them what it is. I embrace this, and my mind and my life is improved for it.

You don't have to love fandom, or engage with it, or like fanfic. I don't care! You find strict canon adherence a positive, I find it boring. That's fine. But please don't think that because I don't accept all the nasty things I have to suffer through in stories I like, because I am sensitive to many things because of who I am, and because want to remake those in a way that brings me less pain and appeals to things that interest me narratively, does not mean I do not love those stories and want more. If you want people who are insistent on canon compliance, check out the Harry Potter ship wars of yesteryear.

And yes, I *do* think that is what you are saying, because you talk about non-canon compliance and then say If that is rare, I don't understand why it would be. You enjoy a story, you want more, right?. Yes. I do. We do. We just don't want it exactly the same way you do, please don't say we don't love it the same way you do.
breakinglight11
Sep. 5th, 2014 12:24 pm (UTC)
Re: in two parts.
Thanks for answering my questions. I apologize if I made you feel judged. I swear that's not my intention, and I didn't mean to hurt your feelings if it came off that way.

When I say my preferences, which happen to be for canon compliance, I really just mean that's what they are: preferences. That's what happens to click with me, and I promise I don't think what clicks with anyone else is less valuable or valid. I just honestly don't relate to it in that way, so I wanted to ask the questions to get a better idea of how other people do relate that results in some of the things I see in fandom.

I don't judge fandom, or think it's bad. I've just been trying to engage in fandom in some way or other since I was twelve, and my experience to either not find the sort of fanwork that grabs me, or else it's silly, inappropriate fighting like the shipping wars you've described above. Therefore it's tough for me to get into, that's all. Again, i have my preferences, but I can't understand why anybody would tell another person that they can't like the thing they like in the way they like it. So I don't get the wars, and I don't want to make you feel like that's what I'm doing now, so I apologize if I screwed that up. And I DEFINITELY don't mean to suggest that you're not as "real" a fan as anybody else.
qnmark
Sep. 5th, 2014 06:00 pm (UTC)
Re: in two parts.
It's mostly a nitpick, but I don't think what you say on the last paragraph in Part 1 is correct. I give some personal examples on my own LJ, but if you're looking for major communities, then 163x is very different from the sort of fanfic that's about canon characters, and my guess is that if you can write good 163x fic, you can write original period works.
mirrored_echo
Sep. 7th, 2014 08:18 pm (UTC)
There's a *lot* of writing on this subject (this Geek Feminism post might not be bad to start with), but to answer some of your points:

--writing mainstream commercial works (TV shows, video games, movies, transmedia franchises, anything where you need to make a huge profit and be accessible to a wide audience) with queer romances is still not really done that often. so people do feel the need to invent their own when they get hooked on something.
--many popular fandoms (Supernatural, Sherlock, Lord of the Rings) have barely any female characters to begin with. introducing an original female character to write a M/F romance based on one of those fandoms is not likely to make you popular. :)
--internalized sexism: the tendency for women to judge female characters more harshly than they judge male characters, and not want to read about them.
--fanfic involving dubious consent, non-consent, BDSM elements, or power dynamics that would not be okay in real life can make people more uncomfortable with a M/F pairing that plays true to gender stereotypes than a M/M pairing.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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My name is Phoebe. I'm Boston area theater professional and English professor focused in writing, acting, directing, and modeling. I'm known for having lots of interests, lots of opinions about those interests, and a very high estimation of the value thereof. This blog is for talking about whatever's on my mind, from my daily life to my activities to musing on any number of abstract topics. Thanks for taking the time to read.

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