Fanfiction: A Place for Queer Fans to Write Themselves into the Narrative

Image Credit: Yannick Pulver via Unsplash

Ciara Darling discusses the representation of LGBTQIA+ themes in fanfiction and how it has become a medium for queer representation

Fanfiction has existed ever since literature itself has existed. It’s a medium through which fans can continue to enjoy a piece of work after it has long finished, or alter a piece of work that disappointed them or left them wanting more in certain aspects. Not a fan of how Romeo and Juliet ended? Write a fanfic. Think Jack could have definitely fit on that door? Write a fanfic. You believe that Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy should have been star-crossed lovers instead of mortal enemies? Once again, time to break out your laptop and get to typing. 

When it comes specifically to queer literature, fanfictions take on an even more important role, due to the scarcity of representation in the wild. It’s not so easy to find queer characters, or a queer romance in the zeitgeist. It’s a hunt that can leave you exhausted and chasing for more content that will never quite quench your thirst. Therefore, websites such as Ao3, Fanfiction.net, Wattpad and Tumblr have become safe havens for those who want to see their sexuality and community represented. However, as with everything, there is always a catch, and recently more people within the community have raised a question regarding this “representation.” How many of these stories are created by queer authors hoping to express a part of themselves, and how many are merely a medium through which non-queer people further fetishise this already marginalised community?

When it comes specifically to queer literature, fanfictions take on an even more important role, due to the scarcity of representation in the wild. 

As a queer fan of a mainstream series, it is often too much to hope for a gay character, let alone to wish it upon your favourite characters. This leaves fanfiction as an incredible space for fans to take these characters and write their own representation in. It only takes a few clicks for you to open a list of works with multiple interpretations of a queer relationship. Finding heterosexual versions of well-known romantic tropes such as the nerd and jock pairing or the enemies to lovers dynamic, is extremely easy, with the average person being able to list multiple examples on the spot. Yet fanfiction can be the only medium through which gay reimaginings of these stories can be found. 

In addition, not having to cater to a mainstream audience allows fanfiction to often depict an interesting variety of LGBTQIA+ representation. There is plenty of intersectionality, which is practically non-existent in most mainstream media. You can find queer characters who are people of colour, struggle with a disability, are on the autism spectrum, and so on. The depiction of bodies that do not fit the societal canons of “attractiveness”, such as transgender and disabled bodies, are often portrayed in a romantic light and setting. Fanfiction can thus be people's first encounter with a positive representation of their own bodies. 

The depiction of bodies that do not fit the societal canons of 'attractiveness', such as transgender and disabled bodies, are often portrayed in a romantic light and setting.

Queer fans can form communities around these stories, with one of the biggest being the Harry Potter fandom. The pairing of Harry and Draco romantically, continues to be one of the top internet “ships” -  online slang to describe a romantic pairing - with Ao3 alone containing over 63,000 stories featuring the two men’s relationship. Amongst these narratives you will find important discussions on homophobia, familial and platonic relationships, mental health, discrimination, and other topics which are of importance to those within the community. The comment sections of these fanfictions along with other discussion forums online allow for fans to come together and examine which parts of the characters’ journey they related to. The harsh reality of living in a world that constantly gender, sexual and ethnic minorities, are a lot easier to deal with when you have others that are only a screen away, sharing hope and acceptance through their interpretation of your favourite characters. 

While this can be considered a great medium for marginalised people to read and share stories that represent them, some ethical discussions regarding fanfiction  have cropped up in recent years. In 2019, After, a movie that began as a Harry Styles fanfiction, hit cinemas sparking debates on how ethical it is to write about real people. Is it really okay to spin stories about people that actually exist, to speculate on their sexuality and real life relationships? Where do we draw the line between enjoying a celebrity's work and performative persona, or exploiting their personal life for our own enjoyment? Spreading rumours about a public persona’s sexuality or gender, in a world that still struggles to accept those who are different, can endanger their career or even their personal safety. 

Additionally, outside of the fanfiction sphere, the genre of “boys love”, “yaoi” or gay, male romance has become extremely popular worldwide, mainly amongst straight women. This has led to people becoming sceptical about these stories' real intentions. Just as lesbian media has been historically fetishised by the male demographic, the recent obsession with gay media has taken a turn for the fetishistic amongst some straight women. These works are written without consideration of the queer audience, but rather the characters are treated as a spectacle to be ogled and sexualised by the readers. The treatment of serious topics such as homophobia are not treated with the care they need and used as dramatic hooks instead. This normalises the commodity of queer people and adds an unnecessary obstacle to the representation that queer fans are looking for. This leaves more people viewing queerness as a tool for making their writing more “interesting,” rather than a completely normal aspect of a lot of people’s identity. 

This leaves more people viewing queerness as a tool for making their writing more 'interesting,' rather than a completely normal aspect of a lot of people’s identity.

All things considered, fanfiction has opened up a portal to a world full of queer delight, as hundreds of thousands of LGBTQIA+ stories are within reach for anyone who is looking. Without the censorship that traditional publishing has to adhere to, fanfiction has all the freedom it needs to include a variety of queer representation. Nonetheless, fans should never turn a blind eye to the problems that can come with the freedom of the medium.