I am so excited to welcome Lee Blauersouth to the blog today to talk about the transformative and queer power of fanfiction. They are the author of the Secondhand Origin stories. You can find them on Twitter or their website.
I was born in 1983. I realized I was bisexual in 7th grade, which, if I have my math right, means I was out to myself and a small, select group of friends in 1995. My coming of age was during what I’m horrified to find people have started calling “the turn of the century”.
In one teensy, tiny way, things were easier then. I knew never to pin my hopes on any movie or TV show to give me the stories I really and truly wanted. I knew implicitly that they could only whisper to me under their breath. Xena could only kiss Gabrielle if there was body swapping or mind control involved. Jadzia Dax could only be in love with a woman if it was her ex wife from when her alien symbiote was in a man’s body. There always had to be a laying of plausible deniability, and scifi and fantasy were great for that. I treasured my impression that some of the stories I loved would have spoken to me more directly, if they could have. But it was as if the adults were watching, and we all knew it was better to pass notes under the table. But there would be a sly smile, a knowing wink to tell me that, in some little way, I was seen.
Now, I can’t honestly say that I had no queer rep in my formative years. But there was little enough that I can remember it all. In fact, I had little enough that to this day, even with a very gap-y memory, I can recite most of it. First, I had The Birdcage, then later RENT came out, and then I found The Last Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey–which had come out in the 80s but which I didn’t discover till my small band of emerging queers started furtively passing it around between us. Later still I found But I’m a Cheerleader–the first and only openly rep that I had that focused predominantly on queer women.
I still love each and every one of these, the way you can reminisce about an unexceptional meal, eaten while you were ravenous. They say “hunger is the best spice”, and it applies to stories, too. I shut my eyes to the racism, the transphobia, the buried gays, the humorous take on the trauma of conversion therapy the same way you might ignore mold spots on the first meal you’d eaten in days. My meal tasted good to me in that moment, and I believed that I was content.
Until I stumbled, through the same passed notes and whispers, into a land of plenty I hadn’t imagined.
Because at 15, I found fanfiction for the very first time.
It was harder to find, in those days. We didn’t have google, let alone AO3 or Dreamwidth or Tumblr. But oh, I dedicated myself to finding it. I printed out huge binders full of it. In fanfiction, I was being spoken to directly–there was no need to pass notes. Even more than those few books and movies I had, fanfiction spoke to me. My parents were laissez faire about my internet usage and indulged my epic need for printer ink. My dad was a trekie from the way back and understood the idea of fanfic from the old zines, and he never bothered me about specifics. I joined mailing lists with other young queer people from all over the world, I emailed my favorite fanfic authors and found a community of people who could boldly tell the stories the TV would rarely do more than hint at.
I will state plainly that a lot of it was at LEAST as problematic as what the TV offered. Fandom had and has all of the issues larger society has and every phobia and ism you can find on the news, you can find in fanfiction. Besides which, my sex education needed significant correction after I gleaned too much of it from Gundam Wing fanfic written by other pre-google teens with no more idea how anything worked than I had.
But by God, there was was LOT of the stuff–endless pages of proof that other people were out these feeling these feelings and craving these stories and that meant as much to me as the content of any one story. No more moldy meals for me, there was a feast waiting for me whenever I wanted, all I had to do was open one of my massive 3 ring binders or search the nearest webring till I found what I needed.
I saw that we could fix the broken narratives we were given. We could un-erase ourselves. We could make stories for ourselves and for each other, with no censors or TV executives to stop us.
And there were so many of us.
I didn’t start writing then. I didn’t feel the need–I had my stories and again told myself that I was content.
But, once the constant availability of queer stories became normal to me, I completely lost my patience with stories that whispered under their breath to me, but wouldn’t really look me in the eye. Much as the world was full of queer fanfic, it was still also full of stories that pretended I needed to whisper, pass furtive notes, and the thankful for a wink or a sly smile. Once I’d been seen and spoken to, I couldn’t go back to being somebody’s dirty little secret.
I was told that the world wasn’t ready for openly queer stories, but I knew they were there. I was told there wasn’t a market, but I’d seen the dedication and passion and sheer volume of queer content screaming its contradiction. I knew damn well we were being silenced and lied to.
I grew up. I came out again and again and again and I wasn’t furtively passing notes to anybody anymore. The idea that I should pissed me off.
And when eventually I’d had enough and I decided a story NEEDED correcting, 900 pages of furious, queer fanficiton poured out of me.
There was no censor to stop me. There was no studio or publisher to beg approval from. I didn’t have to wait for some mythical future date when society would be more accepting. I made the story I wanted and found that, far from trying to stop me, an awful lot of people wanted to help me.
Without fanfiction, I would not be a published author today. I would not be writing unapologetically queer books because I wouldn’t ever have trusted that they were wanted, or needed. I might never have heard the vast cacophony of voices shouting that queer stories have value. I couldn’t have stopped being queer, but I wonder if I might have given up on stories.
I’m writing this essay still giddy on the contact high of being at a writers conference dedicated to the voices that gatekeepers try to silence. I spent hours talking to my peers–other authors who also came of age nurtured by the assurances of “turn of the century” fanfiction. Many of them are still writing fic in their spare time today, and virtually all of us were still reading it. I shared a meal with my favorite Gundam Wing fanfic author, now published with multiple titles to his name. I reminisced about geocities webrings with award winning storytellers, and I showed people my own book, born out of the confidence and community that fanfiction gave me, and received smiles when I discussed it’s queer cast.
For this feature, I was encouraged to think about stories that had moved me, that had given me something. I have a glorious library full of those, now, but when it came down to it, I had to take this moment to thank fanfiction for everything it’s given me as an author, as a queer person, and as a reader. I wanted to thank fanfic for all the queer authors it’d given us.
I hope that I can take the power fanfiction has given me, and help the next generation feel a little less desperate, and lot less likely to settle for less than what they deserve.
Nobody should settle for whispers.