When I was twelve years old, I published my first fanfiction. It was 617 words long and about Fang, a character from Maximum Ride, getting his routine vaccinations. I vividly remember going through a serious, deliberative decision process of whether I should include the word “crap” in something that I published on the internet because I was a kid and didn't want college admissions officers five years into the future to look down on me. If you want to peek at my early masterpiece – here. After discovering fanfiction by accident while searching around the internet for information about a new Harvest Moon game, I was hooked on the genre. I would spend hours on my family computer creating document after document about characters from Maximum Ride, Artemis Fowl, Harry Potter, and so many other books and movies. Being able to work with other characters was a boon to my creative and allowed me to write freely without the pressure of creating original characters or settings.
While fanfiction in and of itself indubitably benefits young, inexperienced writers, the community was in the end what kept me writing fanfiction. Most fanfiction websites allow users to like, favorite, or give kudos to a story or author as well as leave reviews and constructive criticism. Before I was introduced to social media sites like tumblr or twitter, I had no way to communicate with people in the same fandoms as me unless I knew them in real life. Despite the fact that every one of my interactions online was haunted by the memory of all of my elementary school teachers admonishing me to never talk to strangers on the internet, I made friends quickly by leaving reviews on each other’s stories and chatting over fanfiction.net’s private messaging service. We exchanged ideas for our respective stories, shared recommendations about stories we liked, and at one point I even met a friend I had made online at an anime convention. For then fourteen-year-old me, things didn’t get much better than that.
Along with it’s creative benefits and ability to establish a (mostly) constructive community for young, nonprofessional writers, fanfiction in today’s political climate has also allowed authors to craft their own representation when they fail to see themselves represented in mainstream media. In particular, fanfiction presents a medium in which queer writers can write about queer characters, and in turn, for queer readers to read about queer characters. It’s difficult to find positive, queer representation in mainstream media, especially with tropes like “bury your gays” where show runners kill queer characters (particularly females) off. The impact of this can be incredible – I remember sitting on a plane with a friend as we flew to Florida. He was watching Carol, a 2015 film centered around two women develop an intimate relationship. At the conclusion of the film, he turned to me, highly emotional, and exclaimed, “No one died!” When the metric of positive queer representation is a lack of death of one of the primary characters, obviously something isn’t correct.
This isn’t to say that queer representation isn’t making great strides from where its been. Shows such as The Legend of Korra, which concludes with two bisexual women of color setting off on what is probably the coolest date ever, provide positive, although not wholly explicit, queer representation. Other cartoons such as Steven Universe and Star vs. the Forces of Evil are taking steps to introduce queer characters or explore themes related to sexuality and gender identity. Furthermore, there has been a greater number of transgender characters present in television, with approximately 6% of regular and recurring LGBTQ characters on broadcast, cable, and streaming programs in this television season being trans (for a comprehensive report on LGBTQ representation in general this television season, check out GLAAD's "Where Are We on TV" 16-17 report).
Still, current queer representation in modern media isn’t enough. However, fanfiction provides an outlet for in particular queer youth and young adults to write and craft positive queer representation in the form of some of their favorite characters. Fanfiction as a genre is famous for being, well… pretty gay, with its origins tracing all the way back to Kirk/Spock fanfiction written in the 1960s. Fanfiction serves as a kind of escapist literature for the queer community, allowing people to read or write about their favorite characters as queer and change the societal environment that their stories take place in, whether they want to write within a world where queer discrimination and transphobia don’t exist or whether they want to tackle these topics in a safe medium.
When it comes down to it though, seeing representation even in simple, cliché settings like the infamous “coffee-shop AU” or experiencing a typical domestic morning is both crucial and validating. Telling these stories is more than a simple retelling and is essentially a reclamation of heterosexual-dominated narratives and validation that yes, queer characters and by extension queer people still experience the same, basic, trite love stories that heterosexual people do.
Fanfiction is still nerdy as hell and I won’t deny that fact. Even though it’s a key facet of fandom culture (and my everyday life), it also serves the critical functions of providing a safe, encouraging space for young writers and allowing queer youth to craft their own positive representation when they fail to see it in mainstream media. Although my understanding of fanfiction has certainly shifted from a tool to build creative writing skills to a way to better understand queer identities, the fact remains that its still a crucial and immutable party of my life and the lives of many others as well.
So if you ever need fic recs, hit me up.