Lonely Weirdo Hearts
When I was 13 years old, my parents decided that our house would get dial-up Internet.
This was probably the second most influential thing to happen in my pre-adult life, the first being that girls got really pretty in late adolescence. On the Internet, albeit an Internet where it took a solid ten minutes to download a single image file and the sheer concept of streaming a video seemed stupidly impossible, I found myself.
You think that sounds crazy, and maybe that’s because you had healthy normal emotions and a well-adjusted social life around the same time adults were telling you that you were “becoming a woman.” But if you had a Livejournal and an obsession with elvish languages or monster movies or some other weird uncool thing that made your classmates wary of you, then you know exactly what I mean. The Internet came around and all of us dweebs found each other. A worldwide network of utter dweebage was formed, a community of lonely weirdo hearts, and it was goddamned beautiful.
You could say that I’d been looking for myself for ages, poking around in the hearts and minds of American Girl dolls and the constantly shifting politics of preteen girl cliques and issues of Seventeen magazine at my dentist’s office, applying the most likable bits to myself. Nothing seemed to stay stuck. And then I found the Internet, where you could talk to a person (a real person!!) at any hour of the day on a forum designated for exactly the weird thing that made you the subject of bullying at your middle school. And this person (a real person!!) was as obsessed with this weird thing as you were, to the point where this person wrote stories about the weird thing, and edited pictures of the weird thing, and shared the stories and pictures on the forum. I was especially fascinated with the stories, because I already wrote stories, long and epic and terrible fantasy stories, and I didn’t think anyone else did the same long and epic and terrible things I did.
I didn’t find femslash until I was 17. I can’t remember the exactly when but I do remember the exactly what: Ginny Weasley and Pansy Parkinson. I noticed that Ginny seemed a lot happier and more alive with Pansy than she ever did with Harry, kind of like how teenage me was noticing that I hated being around boys but was positively radiant in a girl’s presence. You can actually track the evolution of my sexuality with the fanfiction I read and wrote: the more comfortable I became with my hugely gay life, the more hugely gay my bookshelf was, fanfiction included.
Looking back, it’s perfectly natural that I was processing my own experiences and identity crises through fictional characters, especially when I was the one in control of their fates. I couldn’t find enough lesbians in the media who actually got the girl and came out on top and didn’t kill themselves, but on the Internet, femslash was giving me more than just a queer character who made it to the end of the story. Femslash characters got to thrive and survive and have messy beautiful love. I finally saw the happy endings I didn’t know I was allowed to have.
A Brief History of Playing in Someone Else’s Sandbox (or Transporting The Sand To Another Reality, Questioning Importance of Sand, What Is Sand Exactly, Why Doesn’t Your Sand Look Like My Sand, Etc.)
The Brontë sisters used to write epic fantasy stories about a real life duke and his sons, just because they could. They made the characters all hunky and heroic and capable of inhuman feats, probably because they were bored teenage girls who weren’t allowed to be too creative or crazy or sexual.
Scholars credit Star Trek as the fandom that created what we know today as fanfiction, and that’s not surprising considering science fiction as a genre is continually building upon and communicating with itself, a literary movement that bends backwards and foregoes linear movement as much as it looks to the future. Fanfiction originally grew in fanzines, but these publications were only circulated within insular communities, remaining relatively unknown to those outside of fandoms.
These days, a lot more people know about fanfiction, probably to the slight horror of those of us who used to hide our stories in covertly titled files on our parents’ computers so no one, no one, would ever find out about them. As of 2008, fanfiction made up one third of all Internet content related to books. Fifty Shades of Grey was famously adapted from a famously bad Twilight fanfiction, just like the City of Bones series was famously adapted from a famously bad Harry Potter fanfiction. George R. R. Martin has said that he strongly opposes fanfiction and considers it to be copyright infringement (but go ahead and finish that Sansa/Margaery Roller Derby AU as soon as possible, fuck the man). Other authors tolerate it and seem vaguely into it, if not at times enthusiastic about its creation.
Television producers and filmmakers are often asked about the strangest or most poorly written fanfiction inspired by their work, a question that most conscientious members of fandom dread. Badly informed journalists keep writing badly informed articles about fanfiction and talking about how it’s “cool” now. No, it’s definitely not cool now, because if it was cool then you wouldn’t be dredging up all the terribly written stories that some poor 12 year old girl in Ohio is writing to get through the horrific reality of 7th grade and making her favorite actress read it out loud during an interview on Access Hollywood. Fuck you, seriously.
All of this is to say that most people are now familiar with fanfiction, even if they’ve never actually read any fanfiction. Their concept of fanfiction is likely rooted in the examples that mainstream media dares to acknowledge, chiefly the works that will be easiest for people to laugh at or think of as embarrassing. If you’ve never actually visited a site like Archive of Our Own, you may think of fanfiction as overly sexual, poorly written, or plagued by author inserts. And all of these things do exist, and they’re not as awful as people make them out to be. In fact, one could argue that they are all very necessary and valid, otherwise the author wouldn’t have felt so compelled to write them and share them with the world.
Fanfiction is, after all, about strong compulsions. Fanfiction writers are not being compensated for their work, even if it’s longer than most novels and read by thousands. They can never publish their work for profit, at least not in its original form. As writers, they remain relatively anonymous even if their work is extremely prolific, since (99.9% of the time) they are only publishing under usernames.
Most interestingly, fanfiction is not just about continuing popular narratives. Fanfiction is almost exclusively based around relationships, or ‘ships.’ It’s why fanfiction sites divide works not just by fandom, but by relationship, and even more specifically the orientation of the relationship. I would argue that fanfic writers aren’t just obsessed with the original work; they’re really obsessed with the love and the kissing and the fucking and the complicated will-they-or-won’t-they that comes with it. Fanfiction that’s considered “Gen” is a relationship-less story, and it’s few and far between, as it is not particularly popular. Far more popular and immensely common are the works that focus on a pairing (or two, or five, or ten, in any number of combinations) and spend the story exploring all the ways in which that pairing interacts.
Fanfiction loves love, and all its complicated and challenging forms.
“Write Like A Girl”… Just Don’t Write About Girls
Fanfiction is an overwhelmingly female-created medium. Like many other female-dominated artforms, it’s often dismissed. There’s a lot of internalized shame in the fanfiction community. No one wants to be accused of being a fangirl. Who wants to be associated with the teenage girls of the world? After all, the boy in my high school English class who told me that I “write like a guy” was telling me that because he thought I wrote well, and were that not the case, I’d be “writing like a girl.”
Fandom, like everything else in our sad messed up world, is very much tainted by misogyny. It’s not just that we don’t have enough femslash — because we don’t — it’s that we as a society of fans still hate women as much as the rest of society. We talk quite openly about how much we hate female characters. We even write into television shows and tell them that if they introduce a female love interest for one of the male leads, we’ll stop watching and we’ll hope that character dies! Because nothing sends fandom into a tizzy quite as much as upsetting the possibility of two apparently hot men banging each other. Nothing gets us on our feet quite as fast as upholding, consciously or not, patriarchal bullshit.
Patriarchy teaches us to care the most about male characters, most often white male characters. Patriarchy says that male characters are the most relatable, the most interesting, the most likeable. Unlikeable female characters are a reason I hear cited for the lack of femslash out there, but it makes me wonder: Are these characters unlikeable because they’ve been crafted this way, or are they unlikeable because we have been trained to automatically find female characters less appealing? We let their male counterparts get away with murder and adultery and bad behavior only to condemn the ladies for being wet blankets or cheaters or “crazy bitches.” It’s called the Skyler White Effect, after Anna Gunn’s character on Breaking Bad.
Is this dislike of female characters part of the reason there isn’t more femslash? It’s probably difficult to write a love story between two women when you can hardly stand the women on their own, when you don’t think they’re deserving of a storyline at all.
Historically, female sexuality, specifically queer female sexuality, flies invisible within our culture. You’ve probably experienced this when you’ve held hands with your girlfriend and she is still referred to as your friend, your roommate, or even your sister. Two girls being affectionate to each other, physically and emotionally, is seen as relatively acceptable and not indicative of homosexuality, so long as neither girl looks like one of those queer deviants. Let’s call it “Gal Pal Syndrome,” since celebrity queer ladies can be making out with their current smooch in public, but they’re still just gal pals out on the town, right? Maybe the same thing is happening in the media we consume: physical, emotional, and even sexual tension between women is something that is supposedly very hard to read, so it’s possible we’re just not seeing it.
But the proof is in the pudding, and the femslash community exists because we are really familiar with this particular queer pudding. We’re queer, and we know queer when we see it. We may not be the only ones who see it, but we certainly have been the only ones to feel passionately about it. The numbers speak for themselves.
Predictably, the boys are on top. Gay male pairings make up a whopping 42.6% of fanfiction works on contemporary fanfiction giant Archive of Our Own. Femslash comes in at a pathetic 3.8%, behind heterosexual pairings’ 15.4%. In fact, works of fanfiction that have no defined relationships at all have more works of fanfiction than femslash.
I’ve heard a lot of excuses for why we don’t have femslash, and I think of them as just that: Excuses, and not particularly good ones. A lot of it sounds like internalized misogyny, or a confirmation that female sexuality is still misunderstood and rendered invisible.
“There aren’t enough three dimensional female characters.”
Y’all managed to write 1047 AO3 fics about the torrid romance between Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They are, respectively, right wing/center and centerman for the Chicago Blackhawks. Once again, just to confirm, these are hockey players. They do not have a motion picture dedicated to their complex relationship. There are not multiple seasons of television that capture their stories and explore their characters. They play hockey for the NHL. So, what you’re telling me is that you folks have the imaginative power to generate entire novels worth of dramatic love involving two heterosexual hockey players but Rizzoli and goddamned Isles are only worth 652 stories? I’m serious, guys. These are real stats.
“There are barely any lesbian storylines in television, books, and movies.”
This one in particular boggles my little mind. Since when is canon a factor? Here are the top five relationships on AO3. The numbers beside the names indicate how many works of fanfiction have been written about these pairings.
- Sherlock Holmes/John Watson (19,875)
- Castiel/Dean Winchester (14,978)
- Derek Hale/Stiles Stilinski (14,851)
- Dean Winchester/Sam Winchester (7890)
- Rodney McKay/John Sheppard (6943)
Let’s tally up which of these relationships have a canon romance storyline. Hint: It is none. Apparently canon is no match for the great loves of lilywhite cisgender boys, but it is enough to topple even the most well-established female relationships.
“Femslash is a feminist thing, and I don’t want to write about feminism.”
I don’t even know how to argue with this one.
“Bechdel test, yo! We rarely see two women interact with each other, and definitely not for long enough.”
In the film Inception, Arthur and Eames interacted, what? Twice? With that gun thing and then the chair kick? A grand total of 6.47 seconds of direct interaction. And there are 4180 Arthur/Eames fics on AO3 alone. You can do the math.
The thing is that we don’t need any more excuses for why femslash isn’t happening. We need to ask the important questions.
Why is femslash the smallest genre in the world of fanfiction? Why is femslash the most underrepresented relationship type by a sizeable margin? More importantly, why is it that almost all femslash writers are queer women? Male slash pairings are written by straight women, queer women, and even some men (I say “even” because men are rarer than a two dollar bill in the world of fanfiction) and they’re read by a mostly female audience. Femslash has a completely different ideology, because it’s almost exclusively written and consumed by the community it portrays. Unlike a straight girl writing about two boys having sex (and I guarantee that they’re two conventionally attractive white boys whose female love interests have been deemed either worthy of death or asexual by the fandom), femslash is written by those whose identities and personal narratives are reflected in the stories themselves. Maybe the writer of that erotic scene hasn’t had sex with a girl yet, but damn, she has thought about it a lot. That queer author has two girls fall in love with each other in her story even if they’re straight in the original work because two girls falling in love means something to her and to so many people like her, and it’s important that she sees herself in a work of media whose canon forgets she exists. One of the great frustrations of LGBTQ media is the fact that so little of our representations end up coming from LGBTQ-identified creators, and thus we see inaccurate portrayals with limited diversity. Femslash exists because we were sick of being told we didn’t exist, so we wrote ourselves into their stories.
I can’t write this piece without stating somewhere that interests are personal, or I’m sure you’d crucify me in the comments. Every individual comes to write or read for their own unique reasons, out of their own unique experiences and perspectives. I cannot force anyone to eat candy if they don’t like candy. I can’t force anyone to make candy if they wouldn’t eat it themselves. However, I think it’s fair to ask someone to question why they find candy so unpalatable, if you get my drift.
I think it’s really, scarily important that we ask ourselves why so many people will read and write m/m and m/f fanfiction, but will state their disinterest in femslash as a “preference.” As queer people and lady people and queer lady people, why are we putting so much energy and passion into the fictional exploits of conventionally attractive white cis men and their squeaky clean buttholes? Why are we so quick to make excuses for why we don’t like to read or write about people who share our identities and experiences? Doesn’t that feel like something important and big?
Let’s think about why the male pairing so blatantly outshines the female pairing. Let’s think about lesbian invisibility, and female sexuality, and the goddamned patriarchy. And more importantly, let’s write! In fact, let’s write femslash whenever the heck we can. Let’s stage a femslash takeover. Let’s stop letting certain stories dominate the blogosphere. Femslash is overdue for a revolution, y’all.
Culture doesn’t need exploring so much as it needs exploding. We need to destroy things and reconstruct them in our own image, because the people who make our media aren’t going to do it for us. That’s why I want femslash to save the world, and I will not take no for an answer.
Yes, yes, yes!!! Femslash was so important as a way of my self discovery and identification as a queer lady. It made me feel like I wasn’t crazy for liking girls and that it was ok to to indulge in those feelings rather than push them away, which I had been doing for so long. It was sure as hell more relatable than the first ‘lesbian’ porn that I was exposed to which basically just creeped me out.
Thank you so much for writing this. It really means a lot to have someone who is such an incredible writer put all of my femslash feelings into coherent words, seriously.
Also now I want to get a stickers with #FemslashRevolution2K14 on them and just spread the F/F love everywhere!
I second the desire for those stickers.
I would totally buy those bumpber stickers!
EEK! I meant to say that THIS is my new favorite sentence:
“Culture doesn’t need exploring so much as it needs exploding.”
It’s so true.
Yes yes yes yes yes this is an article about my life and I need to read it 3 more times right now. Also this is coinciding perfectly with some serious hp fandom nostalgia I’ve been experiencing. The AO3 analysis is really interesting, I’d love to see those kind of statistics with historical data incorporated for some sort of statistical rise/fall of geek subcultures.
Really what I wanted to know is if Harry Potter really did used to be the #1 fandom on AO3/the internet or if I just had a skewed perspective. Answer: probably both, but look what I found!
Click through for interesting info on what fandom was like in 2008. Spoiler alert: not overwhelmingly full of femmeslash (18% of participants report reading f/f).
Oh my god Stargate was the second most popular fic fandom in 2008?? That is so weird to me. Oh Stargate. <3
God bless this post. That’s all I’ve got.
Eh, I agree with this a lot in theory, but I strongly feel like holding femslash to the same fandom cultural standards and expectations is a path at the end of which lies nothing successful.
Fandom is not inherently porn, but a lot of people are in fandom because they want to read dirty, hot fucking. Since, presumably, most people want to read porn about people they personally find sexually attractive, a lot of straight and otherwise attracted to dude people are going to be hot and heavy for M/M fic. And maybe won’t get the same frisky shivers from F/F or M/F fic.
Because of that, I always get a little irked when fic is turned into a numbers game. Like if fandom can just produce exactly 1,343,232 femslash stories than misogyny and homophobia in fandom and larger pop culture will then be magically absolved. If a smaller number of people are writing fic that’s awesome, hot, deep, etc etc it can’t possibly be considered a loss because a more sizable chunk of people are writing more fic about the things that get them going.
WHICH OKAY I reread that and it comes across as way more negative on femslash than I am, which no! I love femslash and I write it as often as I can in the fandoms that interest me. I even do believe that fandom can open people’s eye radically to aspects of identity — see me and kink, me and gender ish, me and any number of things.
But, on the other hand, I started writing fic in 2000 at the age of eleven and didn’t started regularly writing femslash until 2011. In that time I knew I was gay, but I was also dealing with a whole lot of hard ish about gender that reading femslash didn’t fix. Reading femslash required me to imagine myself as something desirable, worth reading about, and sexy. And that didn’t come as easily.
SO, yes. I agree with a lot of this, but I think there’s some super simplifying stuff in here about why people read what they do.
I would agree with you, because the general impression I’ve always had from fanfic-writing culture is that it’s mostly straight women and I agree, you can’t really blame them for being more interested in something that involves dudes. But in fact, when people have crunched the numbers about this, they’ve found that most fanfic writers and readers are queer-identified:
And this was survey was pre-Tumblr, so it’s probably even more the case now than when those numbers were crunched.
And that’s why I think this is worth discussing, because even queer women I see who write this stuff tend to gravitate primarily toward either slash or het fanfic, and write very little in the way of stuff about two ladies. EVEN WHEN they are dealing with a show that has a lot of lady-lady interaction like the kind that fuels slash fanfic when it’s between two dudes. The only time femslash truly seems to outnumber the other two kinds is when there are hardly any dudes of note at all in the show, as I explained below.
Why is that? I don’t know, but whatever it is, I think it’s a little more complicated than “people want what makes them horny”. After all, us queer ladies do “get off”, to put it rather crudely, to our fellow ladies. And yet, a lot of us don’t seem to write about that very much compared to writing about two dudes instead.
That’s totally legit! I also definitely didn’t mean to suggest that these questions aren’t legitimate, but rather that I think this article is showing a seriously superficial level of examination into why people read the fic they do. I think it’s pretty specious to suggest that a reflection of one’s own sexuality is the primary draw to fic for any one person.
But, again. My issue with those polls is that I remember when they went around and they went around circles of fandom that were already queer to begin with. To me, that would tend to say that queer fandom is, unsurprisingly, queer.
This starts running into a huge conflation of terms, identities, and what ~fandom~ means. There are plenty of people writing and reading fic that wouldn’t identify themselves as members of fandom, and who don’t see shipping as anything close to a fandom contextualized thing. Tumblr is doing a ton to break down the boundaries that used to be very strongly enforced across LJ (and still are, I think, across DW and what is left of the old fandom platforms.)
i’m not totally sure what you’re arguing wondy, because you’re saying that it’s about people being attracted to guys and thus writing more about guys but it’s not about that? what exactly is superficial about the things i’m saying — which are more about starting a conversation than finishing one, and calling out some things that i see as poor excuses in the world of fandom
i use statistics at times because they are a simple way of illustrating the huge discrepancy that exists here. numbers tend to be quick to consume and speak for themselves. there’s a macro issue here that is best illustrated by a chart, but it’s not the only issue and i never claimed that. you’re right, we are not going to solve all the issues of society that have leaked into fan spaces by writing a lot more femslash, but i think only positive things can come from people examining their inner biases, producing more content that is queer-centered and queer-created, and spotlighting a community that is significantly undervalued
Hey Kate, sorry if this pops up in the wrong place for you. I’m not seeing an option to reply to your comment.
First, sorry, yes, I didn’t explain that clearly.
One) I personally finding looking at the statistics of how many of what kind of fic exists to be generally unhelpful in talking about what things need to be fixed in fandom. I do believe there are a large number — though not all! but any means — of people in fandom who are explicitly interacting with fanworks for the sexy stuff.
I looked at the polls that Rose linked in her comment and what I found interesting was that the numbers trying to break down the demographics of fandom in terms of sexuality are so wildly, ridiculously different from survey to survey. Some came up with a strong majority of fandom being queer, others came up with a strong majority of fandom identifying as straight. Personally, I take the numbers listed in the bottom comment with a survey pool of 7000 with more weight than the survey with a sample size of 150.
These are, of course, demographic problems, yo.
The point being, I don’t personally think it’s unreasonable or queer lady-phobic for there to be more M/M and Gen than F/F in fandom — considering those demographic markers and the reality that fandom might not explicitly be for porn, but porn is a strong thread in it.
Two) What I meant, and didn’t really succeed in saying, is that what you’ve discounted in this article is any notion that gay ladies can do a lot of really hard identity work that is contextualized by fic that isn’t femslash. That queer women are being badly served or misrepresented or denied by a perceived lack of fic that superficially represents them “better” than what they already have.
You identify a totally true and completely depressing fact that female fan writers have been taught to hate women just as much as anyone else. But your conclusion — that writing about femslash is the obvious solution to that — rings false to me. I don’t believe that the simple act of getting two characters together has the power to unpack a lifetime of misogynist crap in the way that this article suggests.
This is a really interesting comment! The first part made me think about my own reaction to fanfic. I’m a femslasher through and through, but I often skim or skip sex scenes, while when I’m reading for ‘pr0n’ purposes, I seek out very different things. (Mainly, I’ve gotta avoid vanilla.) What I find romantically interesting and what I find erotically interesting are different. And one thing I’ve worked on was to try and write more edgy femslash smut. I like problematic sexuality and negative sexual encounters, and I don’t want femslash to be all good and sweet sex as self-discovery. I think a lot of people are like, omg, gay guys have anal all the time. That’s kinda gross and it turns me on, so lets write M/M. And lesbian sex, well, what do girls even do together, right? They don’t fuck. That’s not sexy at all.
So yeah, I think your point about people seeking out what they find sexy is important. But I also think that our preconceptions about what is sexy are determined by external factors, like the discourse about lesbian sexuality. So, we should write more dirty, kinky lesbian sex, right? :D
I’ve been eagerly waiting for this piece ever since I saw it mentioned on tumblr, and it did not disappoint! I can’t thank you enough for writing this.
I’m a queer lady who writes a lot of (man) slash, and I think that for me, it’s that in a lot of the shows where I do that, the relationships between female characters pale in comparison to the ones between male characters, or between a male and a female character. So I don’t have as much motivation to write about them, because I’m not as invested in those characters and their relationships in general.
I’m not sure if I think that’s the reason for the fandom at-large not writing enough femslash, though. I’ve heard people trot that out before, but idk, man… I found it pretty eye-opening when someone crunched the numbers of Attack on Titan fanfic and found that Eren/Levi, a non-canon slash pairing with no real subtext of any sort behind it, outnumbered fanfic about Ymir/Krista, a CANON femslash pairing, by about a 10 to 1 margin. Even when we get good representation, fangirls don’t seem interested in writing about it (though, ftr, I have written some Ymir/Krista fanfic).
I’m not big on the pitting slash and femslash fans against each other (not saying this article does this, but I’ve seen convos go this way), especially since a lot of the people on Tumblr I’ve seen shame slash fans for “not caring about ladies enough, you need to write more femslash!” only ever seem to write HETERO fanfic themselves. YAWN. YAWN YAWN YAWN. But there is something weird going on here in why even a lot of queer women seem more interested in writing about two dudes together than two ladies, even when we get the rare show that DOES seem to develop the female-female relationships. Pretty much the only fandoms I’ve seen where femslash dominates over slash and het is where ALMOST ALL of the major and well-developed characters and relationships are between women, and there are hardly any notable male characters whatsoever. Shows like Orange is the New Black, Sailor Moon and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Even when we have canon lesbians, people would rather write about non-canon slash and het pairings.
Anyway, I really like this article and I’m so ready for the femslash revolution. I’d be a much happier writer and reader of fanfic if I could find more actual good stuff involving two women, and not just lip service paid by people who only seem to care about heterosexual couples in what they actually write.
Yeah it’s weird but EVERY DeanCas writer I follow on tumblr is a queer woman, and I never realise that until after I’m already a devoted follower of theirs. So we seem to get a lot out of it. I personally don’t need a queer pairing to be women to feel affinity with that pairing, but it’s def still important to have good femslash out there, and while you CAN find that in SPN fics, the show is not kind to women, to say the least. Also I would argue with Kate’s claim that DeanCas are not a “canon romantic pairing”. We’ve had every sign that it IS canon, but are never going to get the satisfaction of seeing it played out on screen because the writers are cowards. At any rate, many of the queer women authors I read DO believe DeanCas is canon, and are writing fic about them so we don’t DIE OF FRUSTRATION AND ANGER. So there’s that. Even though it has nothing to do with this larger conversation.
Jumping in to reply to Rose’s question of queer ladies writing male slash pairings:
(Wow – sorry for the epic block quote fail!)
Wonderful piece Kate. I had no idea how far in the minority femslash was! When you spend all your time in the community of writers and fans on tumblr it can give you the illusion that there’s more of us than there actually is. :( I do know a few straight identifying women who write Rizzles though. They do exisit. LOL
I have a wonderful piece of art from motionless-dream.tumblr.com that I think goes well with this post if someone could be so kind as to insert it properly. Here’s the image URL:
I didn’t mean insert it into the article, I meant into my comment. Please?
I think that femslash, and fanfiction in general, is hugely important because writers are able to write what they want without worrying about what publishers and editors and the general public will think. It’s a place where at times, you can find beautifully written stories that have realistic portrayals of love and attraction between two women. That’s important, because of how rare it is in mainstream media to find such representation; in films, tv, and novels. For young people, especially young queers, femslash/fanfics are an outlet that allows them to not feel so alone and ostracized by the world. Not all fanfiction is great, and there are issues with it like stated in this brilliant article. But the fact that people are able to read stories about love between queer women that don’t end in heartbreak, suicide, death, etc. is extremely important.
I think fanfiction gets a harsh rep from people that have never read it; yes, some of it is “weird”, “poorly-written”, etc. However, it’s also a beautiful thing that is full of endless possibilities. I have read fanfics that are absolutely amazing and moving and heart-wrenching-
The girl I’m dating recently found out that I write femslash fanfic, and now she is relentlessly begging me to let her read some. I can’t decide if it would be embarrassing or hot…
Speaking from experience: probably hot.
I’ve often tried to figure out why I’ve never really been into reading femslash. I think partly it’s because it’s SO HARD to find well-written femslash, since there isn’t much of it in the first place. I really love that this article was ACTUALLY WRITTEN YESSSS. Even though I don’t read femslash, it’s very satisfying to read an article about fanfiction. (I am def one of the many queer girls who reads deancas… because I love them… even though I hate the blatant sexism of the show…) *crawls away*
Seriously, that too! Slash has enough problems with writers not understanding anatomy, but with femslash you get shit like this: http://wtffanfiction.com/post/23892555732/fandom-fullmetal-alchemist-riza-takes-some (very nsfw, obviously).
Oh my god hahahaha that is horrifying. I kind of love badfic bc it is SO MUCH FUN.
I think the Swan-Queen (OuaT) section on Ao3, “Regina Mills/Emma Swan”, is a goldmine for well written femslash, if you want to give it another spin. Granted, it’s also the most written about F/F ship on the site.
That’s actually one of the femslash pairings I kind of love anyway, so yeah, I’ll take a look!!! :D
There is a lot of amazing femslash in Glee fandom. (I know, Glee. But the fic is so good!)
Like this: Eyes Closed to Fingers Crossed (or really anything by this author, she is so good and we all cried when she left the fandom)
And this: I Tell The Stars Each Night
Those are just a couple of my absolute favorites.
There is also a 735,000 Paris Geller/Rory Gilmore fic, if you’re into such things.
Thank you for fixing my HTML fail!
(I still don’t understand how someone wrote 735,000 words of Gilmore Girls femslash.)
Haha yeah Glee… but maybe I will check it out anyway?? Thanks! :D
If you want to check out specific ships, I would recommend you look here (http://femslashrevolution.tumblr.com/tags) for your favorite fandom/ship and start exploring. :)
Have you heard of/read The Knife Thrower’s Daughter? It’s hard to believe that a piece of writing that beautiful was inspired by something as disappointing as Glee.
I’ve heard of it, but haven’t read it. I don’t tend to read AU fic, even though I enjoy historical fiction in general. Maybe I’ll give it a try one day when I am gifted with massive amounts of free time.
Kate….. tell us what you need/want. inside that makes you write? Straight to the gut…. fearless. Thanks
Oh, my gut is hanging out in GenderStraddlers and FenceStraddlers and needing Maryanna. Fair enough ?
So little f/f ff? Really? Maybe the fem slash writers are more ff net bound?
I guess our classic couples like Xena and 7of9/Janeway are more to be found in their own spheres, like Incandescent Fire which carters to the Otalia fandom.. I refuse to believe that there is so little percentage of slash fiction out there.I’ll just pretend we haven’t found our way to AO3,yet.
Anyways, that said:
1. Fanfiction has ruined me a little for literature.
2. My life has totally improved since my “I shall not read any more bad FF” resolution.I am happier and have a lot more time.More sleep,too.
3.I love the genre. I love how open FF is, there a song fictions,and all kinds of formats that defy traditional structure.
4.The wild creativity of people really gives me hope sometimes.I once happened upon a rather well written Myka/HG as Jedi/Sith story, that totally worked. Western AUs, you name it. It’s sometimes way out there, but then it clicks and works..isn’t that just magical and returns all love in literature back to you, when sometimes you might have lost hope?
5.Shades of Grey makes me cringe so hard.Of all the brilliant, truly brilliant fanfictions in all the fandoms out there….just…why?
6.75% of the truly readable and enjoyable and uplifting and heartwrenching and well written Lesbian Fiction out there is to be found in FF.
7.You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find that one special ff, that you wish were published instead of “Shades”.
8. Fanfiction grows with you, your writing does, but so does your reading.Let me put it this way:After the age of thirty, a lot of my friends tend to travel back towards the T ratings. Kitsch over Kink.
9.Some fandoms fall victim to certain tropes. Like Regina and Emma and their leather and boots business.
10.The people.If you love the same kind of stories, you’re more likely to stick in real life, if you meet and become friends, as sometmes, happens.
I sincerely have no clue what this comment is even about, but I wanted to leave you with a story rec.
It’s from a fandom from a show I hardly remember, a cartoon no less, Gargoyles, but it’s well written and it worked, and that way I’m not shamelessly advertising the fandoms I’m actually reading:
It’s to be found on ff net and it’s called “I have Something to Tell You” by Princess Alexandria.
Thanks for the article on FF, it really is an important genre for queer folks.
The funny thing is, everything is pretty much switched in the My Little Pony fandom. There are loads of men and women who write femslash about pastel equine animals making kissy face.
Yeah, and sexualizing animals and making it impossible for those little girls the show was aimed at to look up anything about their TV show on the Internet. And also, making the fandom a really inhospitable place for actual queer women (and queer people and women in general, tbh).
I don’t think the bronies’ love of femslash is a progressive thing, even if I tried to argue that a couple of years ago. I think it’s just men fetishizing lesbians. They certainly don’t seem to be comfortable with the real-life equivalent.
You realize that a kid is just as likely to find that sort of content while searching for Harry Potter or Adventure Time, right?
Also, there are MANY queer women in the MLP fandom, such as: Bookplayer, ToixStory, Obabscribbler, Schpog, and Spittfireart. The writer who made femslash popular in the fandom, AbsoluteAnonymous, was a woman.
I have no idea where you got the idea that the men in the fandom, the ones who actually write and read femslash stories, aren’t comfortable with real life lesbian women.
“You realize that a kid is just as likely to find that sort of content while searching for Harry Potter or Adventure Time, right?”
I’ve been in a ton of fandoms of adults for kids’ stuff – with me it’s more anime like Pokemon or Digimon – and this just blatantly isn’t true when one goes on Google and looks at what you find. The only thing that comes close to where it is with MLP is Sonic. Plus, numbers aside, it’s associated with this in the public consciousness in a way it isn’t with those shows.
(Also, Harry Potter became more of a YA series in the later books, and J.K. Rowling even said something to that effect in an interview, so I don’t think it’s a fair comparison. But I digress.)
“I have no idea where you got the idea that the men in the fandom, the ones who actually write and read femslash stories, aren’t comfortable with real life lesbian women.”
Because I’ve met these men in real life, and I’ve seen how they talk about how “hawt” lesbians are and how disparate that is from the condescending and dehumanizing way they treat real-life queer women.
And that’s not even going into the really disturbing homophobia and misogyny they exhibit on the rare occasions someone in the fandom would write a slash story between two MALE characters, whining about “gays” and “yaoi fangirls” “ruining” the fandom even though it was like 0.1% of all fanfic that got posted because the show had so few male characters. I kind of automatically have my eyebrows raised when a straight boy seems super-excited about “lesbians” but unleashes a torrent of homophobia when confronted with gay men. Because I know why that difference is there, and it has nothing to do with actual respect and dignity toward queer women.
Oh mylanta, this is taking me back. My entire queer awakening can be traced back to Velvet Goldmine, Harry Potter slashfic, and the interactions thereof. (See: “Fairy Boys are Pale and Nervous”) All that, and ladies were SO few and far between and I might have figured out things sooner if I had seen any representation…
Anyway, so glad to see this article, and have the numbers out there. If fanfic is supposed to be about limitless possiblity, why can’t we see ourselves in it?
Velvet Goldmine + Harry Potter. Holy shit why did I not think of this before?!
It was a HP femslash fic that gave me the first inkling that I may not have been so straight after all.
THIS. FUCKING THIS. I cannot stress enough how much this resonates with me, from the fact that it was fanfiction that helped me realize and kinda-sorta come to terms with my sexuality, to the whole under-representation thing. Sometimes it’s nice that femslash fandoms are small and “homey” and, idek, there’s just less drama. But then I remember that there are more fics about two guys who’ve never even had a scene together than there are about Jane and Maura, or Emma and Regina, and it just makes me sad.
This article was really great to read, especially since it was slash fanfiction that made me start to accept my own sexuality back in the day. But I do think there is a move toward more and better femslash now than there was when I started consuming fanfic about ten years ago. The older fandoms are still very, VERY heavily dominated by m/m pairings with a healthy dose of gross misogyny, but I’ve noticed an interesting trend in newer fandoms… that of genderbending. I’m running across more and more stories where the canonically male characters are changed to female versions of themselves and then shipped together.
Take the 1D fandom for instance (yes, I’m a twenty-something lesbian who enjoys boybands). The OVERWHELMING majority of stories are Harry/Louis, but there are also quite a few stories where Harry and Louis are written as girls. As having always been girls and falling in love with each other as girls.
I find it quite interesting both that this trend seems to be picking up steam recently, and that people are taking male characters (whether real people or not) and turning them into girls for the purpose of writing femslash rather than write about women that already exist.
Oh, thank God, someone brought up the 1D fandom before I had to. I was basically going to make the same points you made, but I feel awkward bringing it up since, considering how many queer girls I’ve found in the 1D fandom, I haven’t found any 1D fans on this website (until now).
I can’t say I am much of a 1D fan anymore for a variety of reasons. Most of them having to do with their abysmal behavior(which I fear is going to hit Bieber levels any day now) but I do know that Harry/Louis slash is so dominant that even Harry and Louis are aware of it. And Louis seems to really hate that fans ship them as a couple. I think that’s mainly because these girls take it too far and start threatening their real-life girlfriends, which Louis has reprimanded them about many times on twitter.
Great article, I was so excited to see this! I have been writing femslash (and some F/M and M/M, but not nearly as much) since I was in middle school, and I’m still going strong. Just for another resource, I also co-mod a blog with the very apt title on Tumblr, devoted entirely to collecting femslash fanworks and original works. Femslash has always been there for me, so I work hard for it to be there for others.
Ugh, bad HTML…link is there, blog is called Femslash Revolution. <3
This is a great article! I’ve read fanfic for a couple of years and always bemoaned the lack of femslash but definitely never done anything about it myself. Might try writing some and see how it goes, although I’ve never actually written fanfic before…
It’s fun reading femslash about characters from my favorite books/shows/movies of my younger years (before I realized I was gay), and wondering what it would have been like if I’d let myself think of the characters that way then.
I think you’re misattributing the cause of crazy people complaining about this stuff.
First off, you have to deal with the fact that a lot of these people are, in fact, nuts. The internet lets crazy people aggregate more easily than ever before, so if you end up with a small, insular group of people who hang out with each other and live in a house of mirrors, of course they’re going to get very outraged. They’ll start doing things like throwing around words like “patriarchy” and blaming all their problems on everyone else.
Er, wait, that wasn’t where you wanted me to go, was it?
But seriously, that’s what causes it. It is because these people are nuts. Getting upset over your ships being ruined is incredibly silly. There are shows where it would be inappropriate to introduce romance because that’s not what the show is about, but otherwise? It happens. And the people who get really upset over it have issues. And it isn’t just women either; the MLP fandom had some people freak out when Rarity expressed interest in a guy.
Secondly, why is femslash so rare? The real heart of this article.
Well, it isn’t. It is rare on a place which is full of straight female fanfic writers. It is incredibly common on, say, FIMFiction, where the majority of shipfics are about two girls. Shockingly, FIMFiction is full of… straight guys.
It is ALMOST as if straight girls like dudes making out, and straight dudes like chicks making out, and as such, write gigantic piles of stuff about those things happening. Because MLP:FIM is an almost entirely female show it really encourages the lesbian ships because they’re the most prominent and well-characterized characters. Straight stuff happens at a lower rate, and gay stuff (the typical guy-on-guy stuff) is rare and… a lot of it is written by bisexual or gay dudes, as far as I can tell.
I suspect it is related to the invisible penis of a lot of hentai – basically, the premise is that a straight person doesn’t want to see a member of their own gender with someone of the opposite gender, as they’re competition, but they don’t see another member of said gender as competition, and also because, well, that way they only get the parts they like.
It also has to do with community norms – if you gather together with a lot of like-minded people, you’re likely to all behave similarly and write similar things.
Complaining about what people write for fun – probably mostly for their own personal sexual gratification – is quite silly.
*sigh* i had a feeling the bronies would come up at some point
like your dismissal of the patriarchy as a legitimate thing to talk about was my first red flag, but as soon as you were like BUT MY LITTLE PONY IS FULL OF FEMSLASH AND IS WRITTEN BY STRAIGHT MEN was a giant red flag covering the sun
first of all, this is not complaining, this is called starting a discussion. second, people don’t just write femslash for sexual gratification, although i have this funny feeling that a lot of bronies write femslash for sexual gratification. i lied, it’s not a funny feeling. it’s a gross feeling
Completely agree. As someone who wrote an article for this very site about brony femslash (and regrets it)… yeah, it’s not the kind of representation we want. Funny that straight boys tend not to really care about what actual queer women want when they write about our sexualities in their horse porn! Or, actually, not funny at all, but completely unsurprising.
Where was the article? I’d be interested in reading it and seeing how its experience matches up with my own in reading stories on the site and the criticisms that generally get leveled at such stories.
A quick Google search found your article, and I read it; you seemed very enthusiastic about it at the time. Why do you regret it now?
I mean, as you noted in the article, the vast majority of the stuff wasn’t horse porn… and that is still the case.
My experience with the brony fandom is pretty similar to this person’s: http://www.btchflcks.com/2013/09/the-bronies-documentary-is-borderline-propaganda.html
I was more “enthusiastic” then because I wanted to believe this fandom I was a part of and seemed to be violating gender roles was a good thing. I realized I was wrong when it got too sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist and rape-apologist for me to ignore it. And bronies, far from being dudes who are into girly things, instead choose to transform a thing for girls into something for gross misogynistic nerdbros like themselves.
I don’t buy that “most of it isn’t horseporn”, since the fanfic did seem to tack that way over time (and I eventually stopped reading it because of that). There’s enough of it that bronies have to do a freaking “SafeSearch Roundup” because it’s impossible for little girls to Google it EVEN ON SAFESEARCH without finding their porn everywhere. That’s really disturbing for something that is designed to empower young girls, and is unprecedented in any fandom I’ve been for this stuff. (And I’ve been deep into the Pokemon and Digimon fandoms, other “kids’ shows that are popular with adults”, so don’t try to tell me this isn’t true. Unless your example is Sonic or something. I think weird Sonic fans were everything wrong with bronies before they were a thing.)
First off, the brony community displays surprisingly little bigotry for such a large group of people; when you have a large group of people, you undergo what is known as “reversion to the mean” – that is to say, a group which makes up a sizable proportion of the population is more likely to mirror the general population in all its characteristics, especially when it is not strongly self-selecting. This is not to say that homophobia, sexism, ect. don’t exist, but they’re not terribly common amongst bronies, probably at least in part because the average brony is fairly young (teens or twenties), though there are older members of the fandom. People frown upon bigotry, by and large, and bronies are no exception to that; indeed, homophobic individuals tend to find that the fandom is actively hostile to them. And listing off things like racism (which is quite rare amongst the fandom – though they have little avenue for expression of racism, seeing as the characters are all technicolored horses, and “racist” terms like mud pony are a source of humor rather than anything which anyone takes seriously) and rape-apology (which people yell about) are pretty silly. Sure, there are indeed rape-fics… which are, well, fetishistic in nature.
As it turns out, a lot of people have fetishes which are generally considered creepy. Rape, bondage, futa (that is to say, girls with dicks), the list goes on. This has nothing to do with people actually thinking that, say, rape is okay in real life, and everything to do with people’s sexual fantasies. Even still, said fics tend to create controversy as, well, people find them creepy (which is hardly surprising; almost all fetishes are at least a little bit creepy to people who don’t have them, or at the very least bizarre). The internet has allowed us to find out just how many people have said fetishes, and of course a lot of people decided that they’d really rather not know after finding out.
But of course, as they say, you can’t unsee something.
Condemning the entire community because some people in it have odd fetishes, though, seems more than a little silly – and, well, let’s face it, bronies are a part of the furry fandom, and the fact that they write pornography about intelligent quadrapeds having sex is already a bit odd in the first place.
As far as “not buying” it goes… it is pretty trivial to verify it for yourself. You can go to FIMFiction and do a search for mature – sex rated stories posted in the last week; you’ll find 60-80 on any given week (I’ve been tabulating them since May). This, out of over 500 stories on any given week, suggests that the overall amount of horse porn is somewhere between 12% and 16% on any given week – and I will note that, due to the nature of the sex tag (which includes not only explicit sex, but also suggestive content) means that this is actually something of an overestimate of the amount of horse porn produced by fanfiction writers – that 12-16% is actually a maximum, with the actual number being somewhat lower than that. And some fraction of that is romantic erotica rather than pure pornography.
Sure, it is pretty much all tripe, but, well, it is fanfiction – what do you expect? Sturgeon’s Law suggests that 90% of professionally published stuff is garbage, and fanfiction is not professionally published nor nearly as polished or selective, so even more of it is terrible.
But in any case, 12-16% is pretty low, and somewhere south of 20% of stories on the site are tagged with the sex tag, indicating that they have suggestive content of some sort (about a third of sex-tagged stories are rated teen, indicating no pornographic content).
So the idea that there is any “buying” of it going on is simply false – there is no “buying it”. North of 80% of what is produced by the fandom – or at least, which is produced by the fandom and published on FIMFiction – is not pornographic in nature, or even suggestive.
Contrast this to Achive Of Our Own, where sexual content is the #3 tag, and then only barely behind Angst (though a fair bit behind Alternate Universe). On FIMFiction, Adventure, Alternate Universe, Comedy, Dark, Gore, Human, Random, Romance, Sad, and Slice of Life are all as or are more popular than the sex tag – indeed, the only tags which are LESS popular are Tragedy, Crossover, and Anthro (where they anthropomorphize the horses, turning them into more traditional furries – incidentally, by far the least popular category of story, making up less than 5% of what is published on the site).
In terms of fanart, the amount of pornography is much harder to gauge – while FIMFiction is the central hub of pony fanfiction, there’s no real central hub of pony fan art. There are boorus, like derpibooru, but it is hard to say whether or not they are well representative of the fanart; if we assume that derpibooru is representative, then 78% of the content produced by the fandom is “safe”, with 4% being suggestive, about 14% being questionable/explicit, and the balance being other things (semi-grimdark, grimdark, and grotesque). This has been my general experience with pony art, honestly – even with safe search off, the vast majority of the content you find is non-pornographic in nature.
And as for the idea that the brony fandom is somehow unusual in the amount of pornographic content it creates for a children’s show… well, you haven’t spent a lot of time around furries, clearly. Digimon and Pokemon have truly astounding amounts of porn, and Renamon in particular is a ridiculously popular source of pornographic art, to the point where people make jokes about it. Google it and you’ll find a huge amount of porn of her – in fact, you’ll find a higher proportion of renamon art is porn than is the case for the ponies.
Rule 34 is the most infamous rule of the internet for a reason, after all.
Now, am I saying that the bronies are perfect? Of course not. There’s tons of messed-up people in the fandom. But that’s true of any large grouping of people.
I’m prettttyyyyyy sure you’re a troll, so I’m not going to continue engaging with you after this, but: jfc, why do you assume I haven’t spent time on these websites myself? I told you I was in these fandoms, and spent time on these websites, and the fact of the matter is that I found the gross people a lot easier to avoid among Pokemon and Digimon fans than MLP fans. And I used to spend hours hatereading the shipping forums on Bulbagarden!
It’s true that I’ve never done some detailed statistical analysis of how many fics on FIMFiction are M-rated, though. You’ve got me there. I’d try to think about what that says about you and your degree of defensiveness toward your fandom, though, that you spend that much time calculating just HOW MUCH of it is horseporn or not.
But while you’re going in with all guns blazing to tell off us MEAN anti-bronies for daring to think your fandom is kinda gross due to REAL-LIFE EXPERIENCES we’ve had with them both on- and offline, you’ve suggested in other comments that the patriarchy is not real, that trans people are mentally-ill and therefore TERFs are “kinda right” about them, and that gay people aren’t really THAT discriminated against in the workforce. Bronies need vigilant, detailed defending, but women and LGBT people doth complain too much in your world.
Either you live on another planet (and if so, I’d like to move there), or your priorities are REAL mixed-up. Regardless, I don’t think this is the kind of website where you’re going to find much sympathy, I have to say.
People don’t write shipfics for any one reason, but, well, let’s face it: as the article itself pointed out, there are over a thousand shipfics about two hockey players. I would be shocked if the vast, vast majority of them were not, in fact, written for the purpose of personal gratification, because I doubt they are intensely character-driven stories.
The stereotype of the teenaged female slashfic writer is that they write the stories because they are personal fantasies; I dunno if “sexual gratification” is necessarily the right word for all of them, as some of them do not, in fact, really involve sex, but I think a lot of them are about romanticism and are, essentially, what some folks refer to as “girl porn”.
The fact of the matter is that a lot of people write femslash for sexual gratification as well, and the truth is that if you see most people who write femslash being, well, lesbians, then chances are good that this is because said femslash appeals to their own personal fantasies in some important way.
A lot of bronies do, in fact, write stories for their own personal sexual gratification; according to my analysis, about half of the stories which get 1k+ views on FIMFiction (which is the top 5% of the stories on a weekly basis, viewership wise) are in fact outright pornography (they are rated mature and have the sex tag appended to them).
That being said, only about 60-80 stories per week (out of 500-600 stories per week) are, in fact, pornography. The overwhelming majority of shipfic stories on the site do not have the sex tag on them, and romance and pornographic stories combined only make up about a third of stories submitted to the site – in other words, about two-thirds of stories submitted to FIMFiction are not shipfics or pornographic fanfiction.
While it is certainly true that there are a fair number of stories which are written with the prurient interest in mind, that is hardly surprising – this is most certainly true of the fanfic archive referred to by this article, and indeed, the archive referred to in this article seems to imply that FIMFiction is, actually, shockingly clean by the standards of fanfiction writing.
Feeling grossed out by the fact that some people masturbate to colorful cartoon horses is a bit silly – people do it, and it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Indeed, it is probably less gross than people writing about their sexual fantasies about real people. And the fact that a lot of them involve lesbians is hardly surprising – a lot of guys like the idea of lesbians, even if they don’t really understand them. Not to mention the show is about women, so them being featured heavily in its fanfiction is not terribly surprising.
But the fact of the matter is that merely because people write stories to wank to does not mean that the majority of writers are there to write said stories – and indeed, the highest rated stories on the site are consistently non-sexual in nature. A lot of people write these stories precisely because they DO enjoy the characters and find them cute together, rather than because they masturbate to them – or at the very least, are content to write stories which are purely nonsexual in nature.
Really, it seems to me like you’re dismissing any data point which might not fit into the narrative you seem to be constructing. If people who write MLP fanfiction are mostly male, and write lots of femslash (and they are, and they do), then that may very well indicate that the true cause of the overwhelmingly huge amount of m/m slashfics is not because women have internalized oppression and are supporting the patriarchy, but because they find men more sexually appealing than women and as such write fantasy stories which don’t include any women. Which is exactly what most people suspect the actual reason is.
Though, given that the stereotype about bronies all writing about female horses banging is apparently untrue (as, after all, the majority of stories submitted to the site don’t involve romantic themes at all), perhaps the stereotype about women writing only gay slashfics is wrong as well and the real problem is sampling error – that is to say, the way that these sites are organized, they encourage people to write and submit stories like that as opposed to other types of stories.
I don't really trust people calling others 'silly' when their pseudonym is 'titanium dragon'.
Sooo… a list of your favorite femslash?? Please?
I second this!
I find this article/discussion interesting, because I didn’t really get into fanfiction until I was older and already out. The first fic I ever read was in Buffy fandom, but I was in college by the time I got into BtVS. And I didn’t read much of it. I don’t know if I just didn’t find the good fics or what, but it didn’t hold my attention at the time.
I didn’t really get into fanfic until I joined tumblr in 2011 (at the age of 30) and found Glee fandom on there. Somehow I stumbled into this amazing group of women who knew each other because they all wrote Glee femslash. They’re all older (by tumblr standards) and smart and funny and really great writers. Some have come and gone, or mostly moved onto other fandoms, but there’s still a core group of us that stay in touch. They’ve also inspired/encouraged me to try writing myself, both fanfic and personal things, and while I haven’t written much I feel like even just thinking creatively in that way is a good outlet. So for me, fanfic didn’t really have anything to do with me discovering my sexuality, but it has helped me to “come out” as a person who sometimes writes things.
Anyway, this has gotten long and rambly, but perhaps a reason why there isn’t as much femslash posted on a large fic archive like AO3 or FFN is situations like mine – there is writing happening, but it never makes it past tumblr ficlets or gchats. There’s also still a lot of writing posted on Livejournal. I’m sure M/M and M/F is still more common in general, but I feel like you need to look at more than just one fic site to get a full picture.
I don’t really write or consume fanfic. However, I do really wish I had the Internet when I was in middle school because I would have felt so much less alone…
Well perfect timing on this because I just recently spent a whole afternoon researching historical dildos’n’lubes because I was writing femslash based a novel set in the 1890s and was determined to make that happen (I ended up just winging it but that was still definitely time we’ll spent in the pursuit of knowledge- sex archaeologist now goes on my list of dream careers).
lol I could call myself Indiana Bones
Oh my god I love you.
I love you too, Samantha. Let’s make a little Shia Laboeuf together.
Nooooo! That movie didn’t happen! I don’t know to what you are referring! *buries head in sand*
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Wonderful piece, and definitely coherent with my experience and ENORMOUS frustrations in the world of fandom and fanfic.
I write a lot of fanfic, and I read a lot more of it. A problem/dilemma I’ve found myself running into lately with my own writing and roleplaying is that I’ve historically always focused on and played female characters, which places writing and playing male characters as more “out of my comfort-zone” and thus a reasonable thing to do to Grow as a Writer.
But damnit, if I write male characters as part of a group or partnered roleplay, suddenly I blink and realize I’m in a group of predominantly queer women and almost all we’re writing about is dudes. And that’s even with other members of said group being aware of the representation issue. So in anything that’s not a solo project, it frequently comes down to “well, I could stretch myself and try on a character who’s not necessarily comfortable to me… or we could have women doing things. Not both.”
This isn’t me being tired of playing women and wanting to play men instead; it’s a general desire to round out my experience/headspace. And if I’m being honest, the occasional bit of pressure from others do something “different.”
The fact that that pressure is coming from people who then never write female characters is all the more frustrating. Why is my being comfortable with and wanting to write women a limitation, while their preference for writing men is somehow less of one?
… I’m getting ranty-pants here, and that wasn’t my intent. TLDR, brava to this essay, and I shall go on with my intermittent personal crusades to remedy the lack of femslash.
Great article! I remember reading a Ginny/Hermione femslash yeeeeaaarrrsss ago that I really enjoyed and I don’t think I’ve ever actually told that to anyone until right now! :P
That brings back some memories! The HP fandom had some truly excellent femslash. I might have to go take a trip down memory lane!
I actually think the only femslash I ever really read was HP… awww those were the days. I miss HP… *goes searching for recs*
I have so many thoughts and feelings about this that all I can actually say is…
I love you.
I’ve read a couple of really good F/F fics in the Wicked fandom. Some of my favorites on AO3 — “Something Most Odd,” “Unadulterated Something” (which is an AMAZING slow build story — don’t be put off by the missing final chapter! or the first person POV!), and “The Love Club.”
Didn’t have femslash in written form when I probably needed, just my barbies with posable heads and that one John Smith doll.
And the sci-fantasy stuff I made them act out which came from my imaginary world. That always turned into femslash even though my canon as the “original creator” said differently. When I did have internet access I went straight for the visual rather than literary porn. Coulda blamed my brother, but he was the one that caught me.
Ahem, uh good article.
The world does need more lady queering by lady queers.
I remember when I first came across fanfic, and I had a few friends who would send me m/m fic. I used to secretly read so many because I was SO hungry for anything queer. (Obviously not a conscious thought I had at the time, but something I realised later)
Even if I didn’t find two guys together as sexy or as heart-wrenching as my friends did, I was still getting to read stories about characters that weren’t Boy Meets Girl.
When I came across my first femslash it felt like an epiphany. (Faith/Willow if anyone wants to know)
This is clearly what my friends had been feeling reading those other fics.
I agree that femslash is so important and I disagree with the idea that we should just shut up and let people write what they find sexy.
You finding something hot does not mean you get a free pass for any sort of critical thinking; sexual preferences aren’t formed in a vaccuum.
By no means should you stop writing your Johnlock Star Wars epic, but maybe consider a femlock WWII novel as well.
(That femlock wwii fic actually exists and is beautiful, fyi)
ROSE AND KANAYA MADE ME A GAY LADY! <3 <3 <3
rosemary for life!!!!
but seriously, homestuck fic has some of the best f/f that i’ve come across. like, the comics itself have a fuckton of issues, but damn if the fanfic isn’t good.
I recently went on a Homestuck binge, and would be interested in reading more about the comics themselves having issues. Any recs for reading?
First, I just have to say that SQ art is amazing; I want to print it out and plaster it everywhere.
FF.net has a much larger femslash presence than AO3, especially when it comes to some f/f-heavy fandoms like Rizzoli & Isles or Warehouse 13. I also think that femslash tends to be spread out between other sites like LJ, Dreamwidth, and Tumblr, as well as separate archives like P&P. I don’t think femslash is as rare as it may seem sometimes, but it can be incredibly hard to find. That said, there’s still not enough of it.
I think your points about patriarchy are spot-on. I’ve noticed a lot of female fans saying that they were more comfortable reading and writing m/m because they felt it gave them a way to explore queer sexuality without having to deal with female sexuality specifically. I think the idea that female sexuality is presented as such a scary and taboo thing in wider society definitely plays a role in the popularity of m/m slash.
I discovered fan fiction during my junior year of high school when I was 16 (I’m almost 22 now). I have never read anything other than f/f pairings. I had like 2 straight ships that i didn’t mind but not enough to read fics about them. My favorite thing about it was that I could get in contact with these writers who were my own age through the early days of twitter, Facebook and now tumblr. I have become very good friends with a few people who wrote stories that I loved. I even tutored a few of them in calculus and chemistry when they needed help. I went so far as to dating one of them. We’re not together now, mostly because distance got in the way, but we’re still very good friends and I’ll be going to her.graduation party in September. Creating a small community for myself when I was figuring things out is the sole reason I never really felt alone during that time.
I didn’t start writing until the last year and some change and I debated about putting up Amy other social media info besides tumblr but I kept thinking about confused 16 year old me and how much writers of the same age and folders writers have impacted my life so I put up my Facebook link. I hope I can help someone.
tl;dr I love femslash and the community I’ve become apart of :)
Yaaaaahhhhs. Finally. Thank you so much for this! Off to write some more femslash.
to be found on fanfiction net
“The Secret is in the Telling” by pyrophoric, complete (I cried so.hard.And I never cry.)
“Falling in the Frey” by Ravensbear, incomplete, but pretty well almost done
“Good Citizen” because I like the film noir tone of it, but it’s nowhere near done and probably won’t be
Warehouse 13 (my love of the Day):
“She Pales the Light of Day”, by holistic details, done
“The Journey That Mattered” by Scotchpliad, in progress, but it’s going to be veeery long and is long already and could be its own novel if the names were but changed)
“Empire of the Sun”, incomplete, I like th eorigina plot
There’s another one about Pirates, that I don’t remember the name of
Wicked (my OTP):
“Unadulterated Something” by Throppsicle,complete(at least on ff net it is)
“The Narrative Strain” by “The Noble Arduenna” (It’s seriously better than Maguire’s books), complete
“Not Together,Altogether There” by Good Afternoon, complete, bring tissues, like a lot.
“When Even Dreams are Private” by ReallyUhSharp, not done, last time I checked
on AO3, Swanqueen:
“Somewhere, someone must know the Ending” by maleficiently. Complete. I like the character driven aspect of it, so many writers use special effects to drive their story forward, it’s a lot more difficult to go for the quiet harmonies.
The good thing about AO3:There is a download function that allows you to download the FF right onto your reader/tablet.
For FF net and others, you might have to employ the FF downloader, calibre,etc.
P.S.: Further recommendations are always welcome :-)
I just finished reading The Narrative Strain and HOLY CRAP I agree with your assessment entirely. Thanks! (Well, thanks with a dash of “how could you send me to this heartrending wonderful thing.”)
Just to clarify what I said about Unadulterated Something earlier in the comments, it’s the same text (minus some author’s notes, from the looks of it) on A03 as on FFN. A03 shows the fic as having 17/18 chapters, but as the last update was a good two years ago, it’s as complete as it’s going to get, and enough story threads are resolved by chapter 17 that the unwritten chapter 18 is not that big a deal. I’ve reread that fic, like, three times.
I look forward to reading your other recommendations, but I think my heart has had its full dose of Gelphie tragedy for a few days. :)
Also also also: a lot of writers in the self-pubbed queer lady lit scene (Sarah Diemer, Kayla Bashe, to name a couple) cut their teeth on fanfiction. Genre lit author Seanan McGuire also got her start in fandom, but I recall her genfic more than anything for this pairing or that one.
I had never heard of those authors but I looked them up and Sarah Diemer’s work in particular sounds awesome. Thanks for the [inadvertent] recs!
Eeeep! I don’t even have anything significant to contribute to this feed other than to say, this article just filled up my heart. My whole damned heart.
Thank you so much this is really important!
(Also, Pocahontas x Nakoma forever the scene with them and the canoe is my favorite scene in the entire movie, hands down.)
Thank you so much for writing that quote on invisible queer female sexuality. I’ve always felt something wrong when people play my female crushes off as just “girlcrushes” or “yuri” (Otakus can be homophobic and/or homoblivious too.) I mean, what makes the object of my crushes so different from “normal”, “straight”, opposite-gender crushes? Ohhh, right, she’s just a girl, it’s just a phase, you’ll get over it and want to eventually get married, doncha know.
Back to the topic at hand- my (pretty recent) awakening as to my orientation came from shounen manga, of all things. Specifically Bleach (even though Fuck You Kubo for the characterisation of Chizuru) has this one lovely, nearly canon pairing- Sui Feng/Yoruichi, anyone? Bleach and Fairy Tail, like a lot of shounen manga, have lesbian romance subtext of the totally-not-for-the-guys-to-ogle-LIKESRSLY variety, but… I don’t know, I find some of it pretty hot too. Odd places to find queer romance, I guess.
It’s still not as prevalent on tumblr as m/m and m/f, though, which is objectively true save for a few select fandoms where the leads are ladies (in which case, there’s a lot more fic going on in general).
Honestly, looking for femslash pairings of my favorite characters on tumblr, A03, FFnet, or anywhere, usually nets me 1/6th of what M/M pairings do. M/F pairings pairings are typically more successful, but I’m usually reading it for the lady’s point of view because it’s the lady I’m more interested in.
The points are still completely valid, and honestly your own use of the term ‘tight-knit group’ that ‘knew each other’ just spells it out entirely. The fact that we (I am a femslash writer in a couple different fandoms) practically know each others’ personal backstories is not a thing that happens nearly as often in other circles. There’s cliques, sure, but in a couple fandoms – when I was more active – I had *every single* femslash writer on my AIM list.
You’re right that it is getting more coverage in general, but it’s still not widespread, or a Big Thing, except in some very select fandoms.
well…I agree with parts of this article, but not other, major parts. background: I’ve written some of the older Kane/Toews on AO3. I was writing it back when my audience was 99% people I knew personally. About 60% of those people were queer women, myself included. Also in my profile is a lot of het, and some femslash. I don’t personally write Rizzoli & Isles fic because as I was watching the first season, Angie Harmon said some INCREDIBLY homophobic, unfortunate things, that kind of ruined my enjoyment of the show.
I don’t disagree with the central thesis that fandom expresses its affection for characters in a sexist manner, nor that it would be nice if there was more femslash. But I think – as I always think, every time this argument comes up, which happens on the regular in fandom – that the answer is not shaming people who ship dudes. The answer is SUPER not being like “bad puppy, ship women instead!” The answer is encouraging people who write about women, and drumming up support and enthusiasm for women within fandom.
(also fwiw, sports fandoms have narratives, both fannish narratives and popular-media narratives. That’s how books like The Boys Of Summer get written, along with most non-immediate-news sports articles. Narratives are constructed from RL events and woven in with opinion, conjecture, etc. That’s how sports journalism works.)
Yep! And also, while representation in fandom is nice and all, “write femslash and all your problems will be over” is really not an accurate framing of things. It also kind of bothers me, as a fan, as a writer, and as someone who likes to write/read femslash, this idea that femslash should be written for Great Justice. I don’t think it should be about justice at all – it should come from a place of enthusiasm and wanting more stories about your favorite characters. The fact that misogyny, racism, etc., influence what’s in fandom is without a doubt true, but the way out of the woods isn’t by implying that people are holding back their own salvation because they’re not writing enough fic about ladies doing each other on it. Much though I like said fic, that’s only a small piece of the overall puzzle.
And, cynically – when someone is writing femslash because they feel they should, it shows. Quite a bit.
bah, this was probably just poor writing on my part, but it’s definitely not a question of “CREATE MORE CONTENT AND PROBLEMS A, B, AND C GO AWAY”
i don’t think there’s any harm in creating more content if it moves you, giving existing content more exposure, and drumming up more interest and support in a community
if anything, i wanted to open up some discussions i didn’t see happening and i’m glad that is happening now!
Yes, every goddamn word of this.
There is so much more that goes into why people write and read the fic that they do than some simple one to one of lesbians reading about lesbians etc. There’s so much more that goes into why someone identifies with a character than they’re both ladies!
I write about Steve Rogers because dude speaks to me in ways that are gut deep and feel truthful. I resent the implication that those emotions are lesser because not a lady.
like 100% power to you and respect and all that good stuff if you are writing hockey rpf, i have zero problem with that. i am not discouraging people to write slash at all, or any kind of fic. i just think it’s important to talk about why there is a different set of rules between one type of slash and the other, unwritten or not
i brought hockey rpf up as an example of where the same rules would not be allowed in femslash, for the most part: people talk about lack of backstory or story presence all the time as an excuse for not being interested in female characters, whereas sports rpf is super popular and doesn’t have a continual narrative piece of media. and yes, 100% understand how sports journalism works, and yes, technically, there are narratives in play, but it’s still *different* and something that i see female characters/femslash being slighted for all the time. so it wasn’t an example of a “bad ship”, it was an example of a place where the standards are different.
Yeah totally, I understand why you brought it up but I still have kind of a problem with framing it as a…shaming or telling people what to write issue. I have CRAZY problems with straight people who write slash yet find femslash too beyond the pale to write about, but I don’t think the way to get people – straight or otherwise – to write more is to frame it as a “it’s a problem if you don’t write femslash” kind of issue. I ESPECIALLY don’t think that’s the right way to go about it on a website aimed at queer ladies. and my purpose in bringing hockey RPF up specifically was partly because the genesis for most of the content on ao3 was a lot of queer women, but also because – it’s actually way harder to find info on female players. Like, a lot harder. There’s their twitters, a few videos on youtube, and occasional televised games, but you just don’t have the constant, in-depth coverage with female players the way you do with men. And that matters, because that kind of coverage is what sports RPF is based on! A better example for this purpose might be the difference between say, music RPF based on dudes, and music RPF based on ladies. Women in pop are some of the most famous, visible women in the world, but they don’t have much fic to speak of written about them, whereas One Direction fic is some of the most popular fic on AO3.
Basically my beef boils down to: I don’t think the right way to go about this is to frame it as an ethical concern. Not because it’s totally disconnected from ethics, but because fic isn’t activism. Femslash is a great way to get representation and can be very affirming and wonderful, but that is a SINGLE piece of a much larger puzzle.
I have repeatedly and with great frustration yelled “there’s always a reason” re: why fandom never ships women/POC as a juggernaut pairing. It’s frustrating! It sucks. But “ur doin it rong” has persuaded exactly 0 people, in my experience.
this is all super legit and i’m down with discussing any and all of the things i wrote about, thank you for entertaining me
sure, it’s not a 100% ethical issue. it’s fandom. fandom is…fandom. but i think we should talk about the gap. we should talk about where it may or may not come from on a sociological level and why that gap isn’t getting any smaller. and the thing about queerness that is both cool and at times fucking horrible is that to be queer and to write about queerness and to do things that are inherently queer is to also participate on some level in activism. i know, i know. and most of the time this is a thing i hate, but it’s true! to be a member of an oppressed minority means doing things that are centered on the oppressed minority is inherently a political act! it’s crazy and exhausting but it’s true. so yes, creating femslash and reading femslash and participating in the femslash community is ultimately an act of queer activism, in some small and weird and interesting way. which is why yes, at the end of the day, there is a hint of ethical interest in why we create the stuff (and if it wasn’t, why would it be so fucking important to queer ladies to write and read femslash? why would the community be so identity-based?)
i think it’s a fantastic point re: music rpf. one of the other reasons there aren’t lots of femslash in that genre though is the makeup of the musicians themselves. boy bands are going to spend a lot of time with each other, have nontraditional masculine relationships, intimacy (aka the boys all touching each other etc) and whatnot which rings as super homosexual to those of us who understand masculinity to be anti-intimacy between men. female pop stars are a) almost always solo artists, b) perform in ways that are very heteronormative in terms of sexuality and presentation so we don’t see anything unexpected in their relationships with women. it’s interesting that the grand, grand majority of music rpf femslash is from girl groups (or belongs to musicians who were formerly in some sort of thing together, like demi lovato/selena gomez). i still think sports rpf is a better example because with music rpf this is still part of the world of entertainment where cult of personality is a huge part of their media coverage, personal narrative and relationships are still a huuuuge part of their media coverage, and the core fanbase is very different. it’s expected that girls will be highly interested in who harry styles is dating, and thus there is a lot of media coverage of who harry styles is dating. we could plot the media narrative of his personal life very easily. sidney crosby’s dating life? not in as great detail or passion were we to just follow media coverage, no. and like, i am as big a hockey fan as the next big hockey fan (go habs go) but i am the first to admit that the coverage of players and their lives is nothing compared to almost any major music act, because the people who want to know about these individual’s lives typically want to know very different kinds of things
Yeah, I’m gonna piggyback my comment on yours here, Imp– “Fic isn’t activism” is basically what most of my issues boil down to.
Also, by framing femslash as something only queer women with a highly personal connection can write, including their own very personal experiences, not only does it limit the kind of femslash that gets written, it gives straight women, and men in general a pass on ever writing femslash. It also makes writing femslash a gatekeeping tool for queer women– you’re not queer enough, you don’t write enough femslash. It leads to writers being accused of “only doing it for the social justice points” when they *do* write femslash.
Representation is great, but do you know what is *also* othering? When the only representations you see of yourself and your relationships in fic is regarded as “social justice points”.
Also, and this is slightly tangential– good grief, sometimes I want a cute meet cute about ladies, not An Authentic Queer Experience. It’s like all the Sad Gay Movies– sometimes you want the fantasy rom com where everyone’s parents are totally cool with the gay, not the one where one person got kicked out at age 16 for being gay and the other doesn’t bring home their partners to their family to keep the peace.
technically responding to ana but comment reply limits, hurrah:
i’m definitely not saying that femslash can only be written by queer women about their queer experiences (although let’s be real, i’m gonna be a little fishy about straight cis men writing femslash, just as a gut reaction). tbh that kind of fic sounds pretty dull – if the only femslash was coming out stories and moments of queer oppression, that’d be a hard sell for a lot of folks. but that’s not to say those fics don’t have a place somewhere, since as i argue in the piece, if it’s written, it was written for a reason. someone had a strong compulsion to make this thing and put it out there, and it’s serving somebody somewhere, and that’s important when that’s happening in regards to a femslash pairing.
also “authentic queer experience” doesn’t have to mean highly political piece. i write a lot of shit that is based off my love for bad romantic comedies, but i would consider what i write to still be “authentically queer” not because it’s drawn from my important life experiences but because i’m a queer person writing about other queer people, specifically queer ladies. i bring up lgbtq- themed things in the media being authored by non-lgbtq people as a problem because it is. we should think about and question why we’re not the ones who get to tell the stories. but i’m not saying those stories should be social justice themed or “authentic” or whatever it is we’re arguing about here. let’s have the fluffiest cheesiest romcom in the world (and seriously, please, someone do this, i need it) and let’s have it come from our community, because i know there’s homos out there who have already written a bitchin screenplay along these lines.
I guess how I would see that is that someone who is specifically writing sports RPF is someone who doesn’t feel like they need a complex fictional narrative behind that to spur their fanfic. People who write fanfic based on TV shows, books, movies, anime, etc. generally do need that stuff. So I think it’s not so much a “double standard” as it is separate groups of people with separate rules. From what I’ve seen – although I could be wrong – the people writing RPF about celebrities and the people writing fanfic based on fictional characters are often not the same people.
For me, I at least need something that could possibly suggest a romantic/sexual relationship between these two people, which is why I stick to fiction based on fictional characters. (Also, I have to say I find RPF a little creepy, especially since I have a close friend who is somewhat “Internet-famous” and has been made aware of some REALLY gross fanfic written about her.) And unfortunately, in fiction, the relationships that tend to be best developed are those between men or between a man and a woman. Now, with the latter, if there’s chemistry that way the series tends to make it canon. So, combined with the fact that I find queer relationships more compelling anyway, most of the fanfic I read and write is M/M.
But the reason I can’t completely disregard what you say in this article about how fandom DOES seem to have a bias toward M/M is that, even when a specific narrative does have major relationships between women, even CANONICALLY lesbian ones, most of the fic is M/M or M/F. Again, the prime example of this is Attack on Titan. This series has a ton of interesting female characters who interact with each other, including a CANON lesbian couple who are some of the most intriguing characters in the series (if you’ve read the manga, at least). And yet, most of the fanfic is about imagined relationships between the boys. The only series that seem to be femslash-dominant are, again, those where there are hardly any boys: Orange is the New Black, Sailor Moon, stuff like that.
(And that’s shit I don’t get at all, man. When I get a good, complexly-written and fairly-represented lesbian relationship in a series like Attack on Titan that has a lot of intriguing plot and thematic shit in it anyway, I can’t fucking wait to write lots of fanfic about it. I have no idea why people would rather write Eren/Levi shit that seems to be based on nothing more than “Levi tied up Eren once when he was on trial.” Yeah, I’m not gonna shame slash fans in general, but I do not get that ship at all. So sue me.)
So I think it’s more complicated than most sides want to make it here. I didn’t get the sense that you were shaming slash fans, and I say this as a huge one myself that has gotten into it with people who talk a big game about “well you should write more femslash!” and shame people for that while not doing jackshit about it themselves. And I definitely think that a lot of why slash is more popular even with queer women is tied into better fictional representation for men and their relationships in general. But not always. Even when authors give us what we claim to want, fandoms seem to focus more on the boys. I think there’s some complex societal stuff going on behind that, for sure. But I don’t think the solution is to be complacent and just accept that that’s how it is. I think we need to keep having conversations like this about that and trying to change that. And of course, keep writing femslash.
That’s an interesting point you bring up about RPF vs fiction-based FF in terms of narrative background. I was a super prolific Savage Garden fanfic writer as a teen, mostly gen but I did have all sorts of pairings occasionally. Recently I’ve gotten into HP universe fic – same general setting, but different country, so all OCs. And yeah, the expectations for canonicity were extremely different. With SG RPF (which the band sort of allowed to the point that there was a subforum on their official forums specifically for it) there wasn’t really any expectation of canon, though it was interesting that the fandom pegged Darren Hayes as queer loooooong before he himself came out. (Granted, the band being made up of two men made M/M fic too easy, but still.) Whereas with HP fic, especially nowadays, if you don’t overtly say “this is not canon” you’ll be nitpicked on not just for HP-related canon but also for universe-related canon (“they don’t say this in X!”).
Wow, I had no idea of the number comparisons. That’s amazing to me, because I read a TON of femslash, so I just figured there was as much of it as other varieties.
I need to actually finish some of my own, given that there’s a demand.
I have a whole bunch of problems with this article that I’ll lay out when I’m not on my phone but I just wanted to add real quick:
Hey. Some of us are doing our damnedest to write fic about female hockey players, generally doing each other.
Mine personally is locked on AO3 because I feel like KIND OF A CREEP but…yep, almost 50,000 words, in my case.
I have a tumblr acquaintance who writes a lot of women’s soccer RPF. I may or may not have read my fair share of it. (I also may or may not have read my fair share of fic about the female members of the Glee cast.)
I just want to jump in with one more quick thought in response to the argument that femslash doesn’t carry as much weight in fandom as ships involving male characters because of the stereotype of the privileged straight girl only writing slash because two hot dudes are better than one:
In my experience in fandom, it is just. Not. True. At. All.
In over half a decade of being actively involved in fandom, do you know how many fandom friends I’ve made who are straight cis allosexual women? Exactly one – who is one of the least heteronormative people and best allies I’ve ever met. She also belongs to several other minority groups (most notably, she’s a WoC). She’s not particularly more or less privileged than anyone else I’ve met in fandom, her minority identifiers just aren’t ones to do with sexuality and gender.
There are absolutely, absolutely areas of fandom, I’m sure, where there are privileged straight white cis girls writing problematic things related to slash ships for the same reasons straight men watch lesbian porn. I haven’t encountered them nearly as much as is the stereotype, but I’m sure they exist, and you know why? Because fandom, LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD – like every other social discourse arena, like every other setting where a large number of people with a large number of opinions converge – isn’t a unified entity, it’s a spectrum of good and bad and complex and diverse and unique experience. And in the areas that are more populated by straight girls writing out their sexual fantasies, I have trouble criticizing them for exploring their own sexuality in a healthy, safe, supportive community.
But in my experience, fandom is just not a straight white cis girl paradise. I’ve made many close friends over the years who fall everywhere on the spectrum of sexual orientation to others, of sexual attraction level, and of gender identity and gender presentation, and the common unifying thing I hear over and over again is that without fandom – without a safe place to interact and question media, to question the society it’s created in and is reflecting, without the normalization of queerness within fandom (fandom might not be perfect in all respects to representation, but queerness IS indisputably more normalized in fandom than in broader society, even today), they NEVER would’ve come to the self-realization that they were bisexual, genderqueer, ace/aro, trans, gay, what have you. That it’s made them more aware of the media they consume, more aware of WHY things are presented in the way they are in the media (and why they have to be – it’s hard not to question mainstream media choices when fifty fic writers on your LJ friends list or Tumblr dashboard or in your AO3 section are coming up with better ideas than the canon’s own creative minds are), and as a result, more self-aware about their own identities.
By contrast, I think this:
“I think it’s really, scarily important that we ask ourselves why so many people will read and write m/m and m/f fanfiction, but will state their disinterest in femslash as a “preference.””
Hits the nail on the head with the most important conversation going on here, for me. It’s the same argument as why male protagonists in media are considered the relatable default for all consumers, but female protagonists are the realm of “niche” or “genre” fiction. I ship a lot of queer male ships and a lot of het ships, but in real life it’d take a hell of a guy for me to want to engage in any sort of sexual activity with a man. I don’t ship those male-inclusive ships for the porn – I ship them because I understand their queer experience and, as a life-partner-shacked-up queer lady, like the idea of being able to relate to characters whose experience resonates with me as the experience of a fellow queer person for whatever reason, or like the idea of being able to relate to characters whose experience as someone else in a healthy relationship resonates with mine.
Why can’t men or straight women feel the same way about femslash? If they’re not comfortable with writing porn, because they’re not attracted to women or because they don’t want to be seen as co-opting a safe queer space for personal sexual gratification reasons, there’s a WORLD to do in fandom beyond writing explicit NC-17 “this body part goes there” porn. I haven’t written anything remotely resembling a lot of the porn-without-plot stuff that fandom gets a reputation for being full of in almost half a decade of being fandom productive now. That isn’t to shame anyone who does in any way, just to illustrate that you don’t HAVE to be writing about Insert Body Part A Into Body Part B to be a part of fandom.
So why isn’t femslash resonant to non-female-identified queer folks the same way that male slash can be resonant to queer ladies because of the shared queer experience? Why can’t straight folk support queer ladies the same way they support queer men – as fellow people looking for healthy romantic and/or sexual partners, with other relationship and personal traits and experiences that can still resonate regardless of sexuality or gender? That’s the big question we need to be asking here, I think, rather than only telling people who are already writing femslash to write more femslash off in their pre-approved femslash corners.
AMEN. Especially to the second part. Male is still seen as the default. If you have a female protagonist – or, god forbid, more than one female lead character – the show/film/book is considered “for girls.” Men are not expected to relate to female characters, but women are expected to relate to male characters. It’s only logical that this double standard extends into fanfiction.
I’m not sure what the answer is to fix this, but I feel like at least part of it is to support those shows/films/books that are female-driven. And even moreso if they are female-created. We’re not going to get more representation in media (and by extension more fanfiction) if we don’t support what’s out there. I think this is slowly changing, and studios are seeing that films/shows with female protagonists CAN make money and be popular (The Hunger Games is a great example), but they’re still far in the minority.
So glad this article exists! I’ve got a couple of friends who are just babystepping into reading fanfic atm, but it’s not femslash and I don’t think I could chat about it to them.
I pretty much learnt about sex from femslash. I don’t know if that’s better or worse than porn, but as a gay lady I can’t think where else I’d pick up any context beyond the basics for how two women could sleep together.
I don’t think it’s a travesty that more F/F doesn’t exist. It might show us things about society that are awful, but I don’t think that the number of fics are an injustice in itself. I also have a hard time blaming other people for not writing or reading femslash because tbh, I have no interested whatsoever in F/M. Like at all. Occasionally, I’ll read some M/M, but on the whole I stick to the super gay, super female fandoms.
And the way this talks about how women are almost invisible on tv, I think that that’s how I see men on tv. And I’m not happy about it. Like I tend to switch off immediately if a straight bloke is the main character. Does that mean I’m like a mysogynist? I don’t know. Maybe I just live up to my own expectations of what gay women should be interested in.
I like this post a lot, and I agree with a ton of it. I guess what I would have liked to see is more of a recommendation of what fandoms have strong femslash communities, so that I could seek them out and read their fic and maybe write some myself. You mentioned, for example, Rizzoli & Isles, but I don’t know anyone who even watches Rizzoli & Isles, let alone writes fic for it, because it’s just a plain boring show. On the other hand, Once Upon A Time has a big enough femslash contingent that they have their own tinhats who harass the actors about making the ship canon, just like Teen Wolf & Supernatural–not a thing we should be happy about, maybe, but proof that dedicated femslash shippers definitely do exist.
I guess I kind of feel like this article is yelling at me for not writing femslash when there are a lot of reasons I might not be writing femslash. It feels too personal. I overidentify with the ladies in the fic. I’m getting what I need fic-wise from other femslash writers in the canon. I have trouble reconciling my queerness with my ladyness and find it easier to explore through male avenues of sexuality. etc, etc, etc. I’d like to find more femslashers–maybe a pimping post for us to throw out there the fandoms, writers and ships that we like?
Anyway, I guess all of this sounds pretty harsh. I do agree with the things you’re saying, and I do think that the problems in our media are problems that fandoms tend to recreate in their image. I just think there are maybe more positive ways to encourage queer-lady-friendly fic and fandoms.
I agree with this super hard. \o/
I’ve been lurking Autostraddle for a long time and I decided to sign up because of this article..just uh. Spot-on. Ginny/Pansy helped me discover my blooming sexuality for sure. (If anyone’s got any fic recs, I wouldn’t say no. Finding femmeslash is hard) Heck, this article inspired me to write some damn femmeslash.
Also, irrelevant, but Kade, as a 17 years old masculine FAAB in a small community thanks for writing here. Thanks a lot.
I can do a Ginny/Pansy rec! I really liked “Matching Muff Matrimony” years ago (back when I was a girl/thought of myself as a girl/oh god who cares I’ve given up on parsing it out). One of the first F/F fics I really (like, really) enjoyed. It’s funny, it’s sexy, it’s a giant cliché (marriage of convenience -> actual romance), and the hate-flirting is amazing. Also the completely cracky backstory – The Girl Who Drove! ajsifoew;a I CAN’T.
This article, shorter:
“Here are all the reasons why people have been conditioned by society, by culture and subculture, to feel more comfortable with m/m than f/f. Here is the history of oppression that has taught women, especially queer women, that we aren’t interesting or worthy of our own stories or our own happy endings. Here is a long list of the forces driving this.
And here is my solution: you, queer ladies — *you specifically* need to fix this. Just stop. Stop being yourselves. Stop living your lives, shaped by your experiences and history, including your history of oppression. Stop using your dumb and inadequate coping mechanisms, stop having your insufficiently activist escapist fun. Start being better. And by “better,” I mean “like me.”
Because obviously the problem here isn’t the misogyny of the culture; no, I won’t deal with that. That would be hard. Instead I’m going to make queer women feel guilty for having reactions to the misogyny they live with, to being affected by the culture they’re soaking in. That will work! Yes. I have decided to FIGHT OPPRESSION. By GUILT-TRIPPING THE OPPRESSED. I am a genius.”
No, Kate, you’re not. You’re another person in the long, long history of people who think you can cure oppression by yelling at oppressed people for being oppressed. And you’re another fan in the long history of fans who think you can make people not like what they like by making them feel bad and dumb and wrong for liking it.
And I, as another queer woman who writes fan fiction and found her people online and wishes there was more of what she loves to read on AO3 — I really wish you’d stop this. Our people don’t need more harassment, and they definitely don’t need it from within. Please continue to be activist, and next time, please focus your energy on some aspect of the problem, instead of one of the symptoms.
Yes this all of this. thanks for being so coherent when I couldn’t manage it through the red haze.
What are you talking about? This is the most incoherent post I’ve seen in the lot, and there’s been many.
You can ‘be better’ by being more supportive as opposed to ‘eww’ing at female/female relationships if you are, in fact, in a female-female relationship? It seems pretty straightforward. Sure, there’s a call to arms for those of us who do like to write those sorts of relationships, but, really?
I’ve seen entire screeds on tumblr disregarding f/f as a squicky afterthought, with shitloads of people agreeing with it. I’ve seen it written off as writing that’s catering to men, which is the single most common thing that’s mentioned in the first place.
Seriously, this comment went on the white-phosphorous style defensive so fast that you really need to step back, breathe, and realize that you’re disrupting a necessary discussion by getting defensive in the first place. No one said stop being yourselves. No one said stop being escapist. They just said examine the reasons why this is happening. Do you call yourself lesbian but prefer to read the adventures of two dudes? Well, yes, you’re still ever only going to sleep with girls, but why is it that you prefer reading about them, rather than what gets you off in bed? Where’s the discomfort, or disinterest?
Honestly, the only thing I object to at all in this article is the constant use of tumblr terms like ‘heteronormative’ and ‘cisgendered’ since half the fanfiction populace don’t know those terms, will feel talked down to, and erupt into a series of platitudes as a result of it.
I’m not sure if you’re proving my point with this comment, or what, but, seriously, you need to re-read it, and settle down.
Excuse me: ‘constant use of tumblr terms like ‘heteronormative’ and ‘cisgendered’ should be changed to ‘overused by tumblr in spite of being academic terms that can be described in simpler terms to the laymen who could stand to hear about all of this.’
There’s not a lot of people outside of sociology that even think of things in those terms. It’s unfortunate that it’s placed here without a footnote to give more context.
Is it really guilt tripping us all that much? The point isn’t to change the community for straight people, or to change straight people. It’s to rethink what is happening in our own heads and our own community, to make sure the community takes better care of its own. Personally, this article made me realize I always fantasize about men even though I am not into men, and start thinking about internalized oppression. It won’t make me stop liking what I like, but if I’m influenced by my culture and experience, then this article and the Autostraddle community is also part of my culture and experience. I can fantasize about guys all I want, but I can also be aware why if I’m into being topped, I can only imagine guys topping me even though I’m only into women – is it because our culture says only men are powerful and dominant, or have desires? I read a ton of fanfic when I was younger, and it shaped me. I never even thought to ask these questions of it. I don’t feel guilted. Does pointing things out and wanting to change them always mean ‘guilting’? Why? Come on.
I have a question – since the problem here is obviously misogyny in the culture, which is addressed in the post, how do you want to deal with that, if not by being aware of how we are shaped by misogyny and trying to form liberative communities, and making sure that writing that represents queer female sexuality is heard? Should we just wait around until straight guys decide to change things and fix the culture, and then we can start writing about lesbian sex?
“No, it’s definitely not cool now, because if it was cool then you wouldn’t be dredging up all the terribly written stories that some poor 12 year old girl in Ohio is writing to get through the horrific reality of 7th grade and making her favorite actress read it out loud during an interview on Access Hollywood. Fuck you, seriously.” <3
I love femslash. I read a lot of it. I write almost exclusively femslash and gen. I complain all the time about how there isn’t enough f/f for my tastes. But if your aim is to get more people interested in femslash, articles like this one are deeply, deeply unhelpful, IMO. Telling people “That thing you like is problematic! Please meditate on the way your tastes are shaped by internalized sexism and then consider liking this morally superior alternative instead!” is only going to make people feel angry, insulted, and defensive. It’s not going to encourage them to check out femslash; in fact, it’s going to put them off.
Why not just put aside the slamming of dudeslash and people who like it and talk about why femslash is fun and awesome, like you did at the beginning? Maybe recommend a few fandoms that lend themselves particularly well to it? That might entice a few people who aren’t already femslash fans to check it out.
Also: Like I said, my fandom activity these days revolves primarily around femslash, but when I was a baby lesbian in the throes of your standard teenage sexual identity crisis and just discovering the wonderful world of fanworks, I was pretty much solely into m/m. It gave me the happy-ending, non-Teen-Problem-Novel same-sex romances I desperately craved at the time, but also let me maintain a little distance from my own experience. Femslash was too close to home; there was no plausible deniability there. So there are reasons besides The Patriarchy that women might be more interested in m/m than f/f. (And if there women who are attracted to men and who just like m/m because they enjoy hot guys making out, well, my own fandom preferences are no less shallow in the end.)
Also also: AO3 is not the entire universe of fic-writing fandom. There are other spaces with different gender balances and different proportions of content.
The article isn’t bashing dudeslash. It’s pointing out the obvious: that a lot of it is fantastical, which even a lot of femslash is, and that it’s almost never based on canon relationships. How is that bashing?
It’s interesting to see this on Autostraddle since, as some other commenters have mentioned, the “why isn’t there more femslash?” issue is a debate that comes up frequently and cyclically in fandom, or at least in the parts of fandom that I inhabit. My first experience with it was on LJ in the mid-2000s (I say, as a 25 year old – holy shit was I young when I got into fandom) when a lot of Buffy fans were frustrated by the lack of femslash in newer fandoms popping up, but I’m sure the debate is even older, really.
I agree with some points of the article (I want femslash to save the world too!), but also many points made by other commenters, re: shaming and demonizing slash. I just want to add one thing that we need to be clear on when we talk about this: despite the overwhelming prevalence of dude slash in fandom, we need to remember that slash is still revolutionary. Few of us are able to live in worlds that are entirely populated by fannish folks, which means that no matter how much of a community we are able to find on the Internet, we’re still spending a large portion of our lives in heteronormative environments where people either don’t know slash exists or marginalize it.
That’s why this debate has always been hard for me to reconcile, because m/m slash was absolutely crucial for me in understanding my sexuality when I was growing up – and to be honest, while I’m a lot more secure in identifying as queer than I used to be, slash is still part of my identity. Femslash is part of my identity too, but it inhabits a different space for me. I want to have both, and in a world that is still telling me that the slashiness I see is in my imagination, I’m not willing to give either of them up.
I want more femslash, I want to write more myself and I want others to write more, but I want us to write it because we want to, not out of guilt. So maybe we should just start at trying to have less bashing of lady characters, because that is something I think we should all be able to agree on, at least at some level. But pitting this as a slash vs. femslash fight (which is sort of hilarious to me, given the history of het vs. slash in fandom) hardly seems useful.
This is it. THIS IS MY MOMENT.
You guys, I have a life dream of becoming the world expert on the best femslash stories for every ship in the universe. Although it is a daily struggle, I am always glad to fight the good fight (…and create a semi-legitimate excuse to read more fanfiction instead of doing something more productive, like sleeping).
I strongly encourage anyone who would like some pointers towards some good femslash to comment/message and I can hook you up with a good femslash story for your favorite fandom/ship/relationship type. (Credentials: even my straight friends have a 100% appreciation for the fanfiction I send to them, which is usually femslash.)
Because I love you guys, though, I’m gonna run through a quick number of my favs from a few different genres and fandoms to get you started.
Whatever our souls are made of: Gilmore Girls. “Edward Cullen tries to woo Rory. Paris does not approve.” You’re welcome.
Life With Amy Pitch Perfect, Bechloe. Funny, sweet, and (very) hot. A good example of the many joys fanfiction can bring you.
When Maura Isles Made It Rain: Rizzoli and Isles, Rizzoli/Isles. Although the trope of “Cops must go undercover as stripper/prostitute and the john” is very…well, tropey, that doesn’t stop the trope from being fantastic. This fic goes the final mile by addressing the “what happens next” after they inevitably sleep together.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being: My favorite Brittana one-shot. (I hear they’re popular here.)
Priceless: This is the Kat (10 Things I Hate About You) and Missy (Bring It On) crossover that you never knew you needed to have in your life. Because really, did anyone think they completely straight?
Lifeforms: Bering & Wells. I’m reccing this one because the premise is interesting and it keeps the family dynamic aspect of the show wonderfully intact.
Eyes Closed to Fingers Crossed: If I didn’t link this one then I would be doing you a disservice. Truly one of the masterpieces of femslash fanfiction. (Actually, everything by this author is wonderful and perfect, speaking of which…)
strange attraction (spreads its wings): Essentially, the author tried to write the G!P trope realistically and created a really touching piece focusing on a transwoman. Transgendered characters are unfortunately rare in fanfiction, and even more rarely written well or seriously. This is one of the good ones. (Warning: contains body disphoria and transphobia)
somewhere, someone must know the ending: Swan Queen. Someone already linked this, but it’s good enough that I feel the need to link it again, especially since its premise (real-world middle age queer women trying to repair their relationship) doesn’t often appear in fanfiction. Note: Speaking from personal experience, you can read and enjoy this fic with little to no knowledge of Once Upon A Time.
Let me know if I missed any of your favorites or if you want to hear my recommendations for another ship!
PS: If my links didn’t work, I’d like to apologize to the autostraddle community in general and also all of my computer programming professors whom I’ve failed.
Thank You, so.much! I really have trouble navigating the AO3 waters, but since I’m super short on time lately, it’s the much better alternative for downloading stuff and reading it on the tablet while traveling.
Do you, by any chance, have a few choice tidbits from the “Bering&Wells” fandom? In progress is fine,too.
Swanqueen is also, much appreciated.
Have you read “The Secret is in the Telling”, btw.? What did you think?
“Somewhere,Someone…” really takes the “Divorced Lesbian Mommies” Thing to town.
I think that one actually warrants a reread on the train this weekend.
Thank you for your dedicated,eh, research.
If you happen on something good, please feel very free to message me, whenever.
AO3 can be pretty overwhelming, but I think it’s a much better site (in terms of organization, policies, and general quality) than fanfiction.net. My best two tips to navigating Ao3 are:
1) Always, *always* search by kudos (which is essential up-voting a fic). That way, you can filter out the less-great stories without as much “comment-bias,” which is a term I just made up that refers to the fact that longer, multi-chapter stories (especially ones that don’t update often) tend to generate a lot more comments just begging the author to continue than one shots do.
2) Start paying attention to summaries. It’s tough to quantify, but once you’ve read a lot of fanfiction, you can start to judge the overall quality of the fic by the type of summary it has. I’ve made too hasty judgements and initially missed out on some good fanfiction with this method, but it’s a generally accurate, quick-and-dirty method of judging the tone/quality of the material you are about to consume. Beginning tip: Very short, sentence-long summaries (especially with a quote as the summary) tend to indicate a good fic.
I started reading that specific Swan Queen fic, but then got sidetracked, as I so often do with longer stories nowadays. It was very difficult for me to judge the quality as I am neither very into Swan Queen or finished with the fic, but for me personally that fic is probably middle of the road (in terms of how much I liked it).
I don’t feel comfortable reccing any Swan Queen fics I haven’t read, but I encourage you to search the Swan Queen Tag by kudos (click the drop-down over on the right, choose kudos, then choose “Sort and Filter”) and read what you’re interested in. Let me know if you find anything good!
Bering & Wells, though? You got it. (Summaries quoted, to show you what I mean about short summaries usually equal good fics)
Classification Error: “Myka had told Helena that no good could come out of hanky-panky in the Warehouse. And look, here she was, pregnant and right.” Bit older, still perfect.
Catalysis: “Myka keeps accidentally having sex with H.G.. She’s not okay with this. (Except for the part where she totally is.)” Okay, so maybe the trope of “artifacts make them have sex” is a bit ridiculous. But this fic pulls it off and it’s perfect.
The Future An Experiment: “H.G. settles in at the warehouse. Kind of.” You almost never get to see fics from HG’s perspective. This is the best one I know of.
She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah): “Myka’s a cop, H.G. keeps getting arrested, and the rest of the department thinks it’s hilarious.” If you are a Bering & Wells fan, trust me when I say you needed this AU in your life yesterday. Definitely my favorite femslash fic I’ve read in the past four months.
Yay, another thememoriesfire fan! She was one of the best (maybe the actual best) writer I’ve ever come across in fandom. My other favorites of hers are These Strange Steps, I’ve Been Trying to Reach You (I’m still sad she abandoned the sequel to this), and her infamous bodyswap fic that is no longer on AO3 because she quit Glee fandom before she finished it.
If anyone else is looking for great fic about a trans character, written by an actual trans person, I highly recommend this one: To Be Heard.
Or if anyone wants more Glee femslash recs in general, hit me up. I probably have a rec for any pairing you can think of. Glee fic is kind of my jam.
There’s also some good femslash in the Lost Girl and Orphan Black fandoms, although I don’t have specific recs.
PS – Shannon, do you have any recs for Pretty Little Liars femslash? Emily/Hanna in particular. I’ve had a hard time finding good fic for PLL.
PSS – Bookmarking that Kat/Missy fic for later because AMAZING.
TUMFS! So, calling myself a tmf fan would be a bit of an understatement. I’m more like tmf’s crazy drooling fangirl that is rarely seen outside of the connection young girls often feel to their favorite male anime character. I could talk about how perfect she is for years and about how tragic it is that she didn’t get to take on more of fiction’s deliciously horrible and messed-up female characters, like Alison from PLL, HG Wells, and, well, sort of everyone from Orphan Black and Game of Thrones.
I’d be a terrible person if I didn’t make sure you knew about the tumblr project dedicated to gathering and archiving all of tmf’s work we can find. I glanced over the current drive and it appears we have everything except tmf’s Fuinn and Fabrastings work….which is unfortunate, but it means we have stuff like the I’ve Been Trying to Reach You and AoCC sequel outlines and what exists of The Mating Game. I, um, also spent an afternoon one time cataloging every fic I’d ever seen tmf rec so if you’re curious about those fics you can find them here.
PLL fic is pretty tough; I’ve popped in and out of that fandom for years and only found a few fics I really liked. I don’t know if you’ve read this fic, but it is by far my favorite Emily/Hanna fic.
PLL in general? Ummm. I like Against Promise (Emily-focsued, with Alison and Maya), Chemical Bonds (Spencer/Aria), and Sleepover Protocol (Alison/Emily). Actually, if you like Glee and PLL, you might wanna check out Fabrastings (Quinn/Spencer) as well. I’d start with the first part of this and this.
I love you so much for posting a transfic rec. I have huge issues with the way transfic is usually written, and the tired tropes that show up even in good stories, but ugh I read it anyway because I can’t not. Imma go read your rec now. brb
My wife reads this site pretty often, and sometimes links me to the articles, which are typically pretty cute and enjoyable. For me, this one wasn’t, though. So I wrote a comment, which turned into an essay: http://www.wondyone.com/?p=38
I may have enough spoons at some point to check to see if there are any replies here, but I really doubt I’ll comment in return. The reason is that others have already said the same thing, no matter that they were less comprehensive, and I feel like any replies need to go to them, not me.
Why? I don’t participate in Autostraddle–my account was just registered–and I don’t want to presume to talk about things I don’t know about. So if y’all want to discuss how articles and ideals like this are harmful to the community here at Autostraddle that’s a discussion I need to bow out of.
OTOH, if you want to discuss attitudes like this in fandom, queer fandom, or the queer community at large… I’m not 100% sure it works, as we haven’t had a chance to test it out yet, but there’s a comments section on that post that will be much easier for me to keep myself up-to-date on.
Oh man, I have so many feelings about this. I remember back in high school and college I was trawling LJ and DW, anywhere (even, jeez, FF.net), for decent femslash. I could not find it. Okay, that’s not true – there was some. But wow was it rare. And this confused me so much – there are so many awesome and sexy female characters in the shows (and books and movies, etc) that I like – why don’t they get their own queer ships like the boys do? It was very very frustrating for me, as a young bi girl still insecure about her queer identity.
I mean, I didn’t really give up on femslash until a while after I started identifying as male full-time – partly because I didn’t want to be That Guy (who fetishizes girl-on-girl sex), and partly because of internalized queerphobia – I thought it would be harder for people to accept me as a man if I said I was bi, so I narrowed my interests, and told people I was “mostly gay.” Which I still had to explain as “mostly interested in men” because people inside and outside the community are still pretty ignorant about trans stuff.
I never found my femslash niche. I can’t think of very many examples where I even enjoy the non-romantic, non-sexual relationships between female characters, because so often the depth of those relationships, if it is shown at all, is relegated to B plots and comic relief and “heartwarming moments” that rarely touch me at all. I have found plenty of compelling female characters in fiction, plenty of female characters that I read as queer, or potentially queer, but I don’t have anyone to ship them with! Like, I ADORE Beverly Katz on “Hannibal” but she doesn’t have much of a relationship with any of the other women on the show. Starbuck from “Battlestar Galactica” reads TOTALLY queer to me, and she’s sooooo amazing and badass and hot and competent and flawed and ugh, she’s the best, but I was so into her thing with Apollo even though I’m not that into Apollo. If Apollo had been a girl, or if Starbuck had interacted with Boomer more, I’d be so into that. Buuuuut that didn’t happen. So that has been my main obstacle for femslash. That, and the scarcity of it. I have pretty high standards for the fic I read, so I mostly go to rec lists and AO3’s search function “kudos descending” for a pairing or fandom I want, and I maybe get three “meh” level stories about a relatively popular femslash pairing that way. I just. I don’t know how to find it. I mean, I could start watching different shows, but “Lost Girl” doesn’t do it for me, I’m not that into anime, “Rizzoli and Isles” doesn’t look that interesting (plus, unapologetic queerbaiting), etc etc.
If I could write it, I would. Those gaps are crying out to be filled. I actually sort of have, it’s just that I write slowly and not very well, so the stuff I’ve managed to publish on AO3 is okay at best – but anyway, the one I’m most proud of/least ashamed of is a Hunger Games fic, Madge/Katniss. It’s one of the few femslash ships I actually ship, not just “it would be cool if these two characters had a deeper connection because they’re awesome and it would make great fic” – honestly I think Madge is way underrated and the romantic subplots with Peeta and Gale seemed weird and forced to me. But Hunger Games is not one of my main fandoms, so it still doesn’t fix my problem.
So much rambling. Sorry. Not done – there’s at least one more point I want to make: although I think misogyny and patriarchal nonsense certainly have a hand in the scarcity of femslash (and the excuses for its scarcity), I do think it’s valid to say that misogyny and patriarchy influence creators and the media they create, which in turn gives would-be femslash writers and readers less material to work with. The writers of “canon” are mostly male, mostly straight, and they have a long history of writing female characters really poorly, either through blatant misogyny or just not understanding how to write women as human beings, as complex and flawed and awe-inspiring as any man. And also, by virtue of being men – well, by virtue of being cis men – they’ve never been in an all-female group, and it’s unlikely that they have much experience listening to women talk to each other. Which kind of disadvantages them when it comes to writing about relationships between women, however fleeting. Like, slash fandoms can start up for pairings that get as little onscreen interaction as Arthur and Eames in “Inception” because what little interaction they have is compelling, and packed with the suggestion of a long and intense history. Interactions between female characters are rarely so fraught – unless they are familial, and then only sometimes.
(Brief aside for an amazing example: “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” had a beautiful portrayal of the relationship between Jade Fox and her protégé, especially near the end, while Jade Fox is talking about poison. Guts me every time. Not a lot of screentime devoted to those two either, but what’s there is so suggestive, so significant.)
So yeah, I absolutely agree that we as fans should be writing, reading, drawing, and imagining more femslash. We should be asking ourselves the hard questions about misogyny and lesbophobia. We should expand our interests and step out of our comfort zones for a while, maybe read about Harry Watson getting down with Sally Donovan, or Natasha Romanova with Pepper Potts, instead of Dean Winchester sobbing into Cas’s shoulder for the thousandth time. And while we’re at it, we should spotlight more characters of color, more canon queer and trans* characters, more characters with disabilities or neuroatypicalities, etc etc. AND WE SHOULD ALSO THINK ABOUT WRITING OUR OWN WORKS THAT REPRESENT US BETTER, WORKS THAT MIGHT INSPIRE THEIR OWN FANDOMS SOMEDAY. Sometimes deconstruction and conscientious reappropriation can only take you so far.
(I can’t really get on board with the gender AUs though. Or not without many misgivings. Almost every time I read one of those I notice a serious amount of cis privilege or cissexism showing through, and I have to stop. This happens in trans fic too, all the time, but I can’t stop reading that because I’m a masochist and I’m desperate for someone to get it right, which they do pretty fucking infrequently.)
THANK YOU FOR THIS ARTICLE KATE IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT THANK YOU
Oh, uh, with regard to the above aside about “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” – I didn’t mean that to be a direct parallel to Arthur and Eames; I never saw Jade Fox and her protégé as having any kind of sexual or romantic tension. I was just pointing out how compelling their messed up surrogate family relationship was.
Also, and this may have been mentioned upthread (didn’t finish reading all the foregoing comments first like I usually do before I post), one theory for why many straight women may prefer slash to het, and why some queer women may prefer male/male slash to femslash, is that the female body is a political battleground in a way that the male body isn’t, in terms of feminism, objectification/fetishizing, contraception and abortion debates, personal safety, this list is getting kind of stream of consciousness but you know what I mean, women have a lot of baggage about how they view their bodies and those of other women, which consciously or unconsciously may affect what they get out of fictional romance and porn that includes women, and that doesn’t include women. Also, for straight women, when they’re reading or writing het romance or porn, they have to engage with a bunch of inter-gender codes of behaviors that may get in the way of their fantasies and ids. I know I got/get turned off by it. Still can’t read het fic even if I ship it.
…I read a lot of slash meta in college.
I am just going to put this here.
No Pairing Left Behind: The function of lesbian fanfiction in conversation with mainstream media
This is a paper a friend of mine researched and wrote about femslash fanfic and the community it comes from and that grows around it. There are some points she makes in here that I think will contribute to this conversation.
I have some inchoate thoughts about this particular article, but I am just posting this here until I can get them together.
This is an AWESOME article! I agree so much with all of the above! I’m a huge Fanfic person myself (Reading not writing, couldn’t write to save my life) and I’ve always been frustrated by the lack in the Femslash pairings. Thanks for highlighting this!
I’m confused by people saying that it’s shaming anyone. Being aware of how things get shaped by culture and being ashamed seem like two different things to me. People can read this and think “Hey, I never thought about how this was happening, and to be honest, I should make sure not to say anything anti-f/f or to point things out if someone makes misogynistic comments, to try and heal this problem” but don’t have to think “Man, I love m/m, I am a traitor and a bad feminist.” Everyone can like what they like and enjoy what they enjoy….the point is just to think about what social contexts might be shaping that and if there’s any way we are harming ourselves/others in how we exist as a community….not shaming what we *do* enjoy.
“because if it was cool then you wouldn’t be dredging up all the terribly written stories that some poor 12 year old girl in Ohio is writing to get through the horrific reality of 7th grade”
YES, THANK YOU. People who do this bs are bullies.
I think the lack of femslash is complicated. There’s the heteros mostly looking for fap fuel of course, but queer women seem to make up a much more significant chunk of fandom than you’d guess based on femslash output. I myself am probably attracted to all genders about equally and will happily ship any combo, but mostly find myself looking at M/M pairings (or F/F versions of them.) So, why is that?
My guess is for the same reason that my Attractive Naked People folder overwhelmingly consists of pictures of ciswomen, despite actively looking for more diversity. There’s far more content featuring that demographic out there and greater variety as a result, so I find pictures I like more often. By the same token, the majority of characters in most media are male, especially popular media. Even with no other biases chances are high that one’s favorite character will be a guy, just because there’s more of them and more variety. Once you factor in a lack of lead female characters, bad writing, lack of Bechdel passes, lack of enough female characters to even ship, and internalized misogyny or Skyler effect, you can probably account for the relatively pathetic femslash presence.
I’ve thought a lot about why some characters grab my attention moreso than others, and I’ve noticed that male characters typically have far more effort put into them for complexity and to garner audience empathy than female characters get. In a mixed cast with few women, they’re often relegated to Smurfette status wherein their gender is their defining characteristic. So I don’t think it’s that we’ve all been conditioned into finding man pain more compelling, but that the characters themselves are regularly better written because they are male and many of the writers are also male. I like the characters just the same if not more so as women. So there’s patriarchal bs afoot, but not quite in the kind of insulting way you put it.
Yeah, there is an ugly segment of fans who are genuinely misogynistic and terrified of girl cooties getting on their sacred M/M ship but I’m pretty sure all of them are hetero and very young. Skyler syndrome also mostly comes from that camp. I’m guessing it’s what happens when you combine the mindset of other females being competition with the lack of emotional maturity to empathize with a character you weren’t spoon fed to. The higher the average age of the fandom, the less of that shit you see. They’re a whole other can of worms.
Fandom in and of itself also has a way of building momentum and snowballing. I’ve ended up shipping combos I hadn’t initially thought of or cared about because of fanworks, and having an active community helps to keep up interest, which generates more content. The general lack of femslash communities ends up being kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Who wants to keep posting if no one responds? I try to keep this in mind and make sure to leave encouraging comments on anything rare I’d like to see more of, especially femslash.
I feel all of this so hard.
How do people feel about real person femslash? (rpf / rpfs)
Creepy? Totally fine? Okay with caveats?
I’m currently in a fandom that totally sucked me in despite finding rpf a bit squicky. I still tend to prefer the AUs though.
Most of my fic has been RPF (having been in a fandom where it’s permitted). I can see why it’s creepy, but there’s also been RPF written as “legit” (for lack of a better term) fiction: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052970203413304577088334057775086
I want to go ahead and say that I think a lot of female fans get very heavily invested in female characters in ways that can actually PREVENT writing or reading fic about them. When you have hit “bordering on overidentifying” with a character, the level of intimacy involved in writing about them can be squirm-inducing. There are some characters I have difficulty writing for the same reason I have trouble writing love letters or frank diary entries about emotions, only more so, because fic is for public consumption. These are ladies on whom I’ve totally hung my heart and my guts and portions of my mental health, I’m not always prepared to talk about them with strangers. Dealing with fan characterization and divergent readings of the canon with these characters can cause some serious stomach ache, too. I mean, I power through and I write femmeslash, but it’s not something I can do for fun if I’m in an emotionally delicate place.
I think too often when we write broad rallying cries for feminism in fandom we forget the vulnerabilities and the sensitivities of the people who lurk there. Representations of the self are super important for consumption but often super exhausting to produce, especially for people whose identities are marginalized or even embattled. Writing about people who don’t resemble us has an emotional distance and safety. I keep my feelings about my lady faves locked up in my heart where no one can step on them, injure them, or make me feel small or wrong about them. I’m not saying there’s no internalized misogyny in fandom, far from – I have seen some things and could tell some stories – but I think it’s unwise to paint such broad generalizations.
i’ve been thinking long and hard about why i have femslash pairings, but i haven’t written fic of them. (i don’t publicly write fic of my few male slash otps either, because i’m /embarrassed/ to ship them, so clearly these issues are kinda related for me…) my prolific fic writing friends don’t write femslash either, even though they’re into it. WHY?? there’s a million things i could say, this article hit on most of them, but a big one for me as a queer woman is my internalized homophobia kept me away from femslash places for years, or kept me standing on the fringes, too afraid to go inside. (i lived on a steady diet of voracious consumption of brittana meta a long time ago, the year i decided to lock myself in the closet; trying to read fic of them reduced me to TEARS. like the post above me, it was too close to home.)
i finally came to look at it this way. i was always a late bloomer, and society had to convince me that heteroexuality and attraction to men (as a woman) is normal. het relationship are decent and good and acceptable and ideal. the way mass media presented heterosexual sex totally did nothing for me, and so i sought out fandom, but that…didn’t quite /fix/ anything.
i got resocialized again by a huge m/m fan presence in fandom that slash is also acceptable, even badass in its notions/attempts/goals to subvert and equalize blah blah blah, i like PORN, that’s why i started reading tons of slash, it was so EASY to find, and i got used to it being the only “normal” form of porn to me. unfortunately, there is that discrepancy with so many talented writers being focused on writing m/m exclusively – it’s hard to find decent het, it’s next to impossible to find good femslash (i am positive i’m looking in all the wrong places – please, shove me in the right direction, i’m clearly not at the right party, haha)
in both cases, the majority swayed me and made me feel ok about things i would normally find uncomfortable. and unfotuntately, i just didn’t get into a femslash place in time, or in the right frame of mind, or SOMETHING, i clearly missed the right train. i want to write and read these relationships and i feel like it’s some final last stop on the Self Acceptance Train i haven’t gotten to yet. to see myself reflected in fiction, how personal that will be, will be terrifying. BRING IT.
the only person who is gonna convince me that femslash is ok, at this rate, is myself. i’m standing in my own way, and i’ve said this to other queer women and they’ve confirmed it’s the same for them, too.
we NEED a femslash revolution. fandom has always been a sorts of grassroots movement; this one is important, and that gives me a motivation to keep scribbling my stories down, keep pushing my boundaries, which is how it’s always been for me, personally, YMMV to anyone reading this of course. maybe someday i can help a young person, especially a young queer girl, feel normal, without having to jump over a million psychological hurdles like myself, maybe it’ll help her the way femslash fandoms helped you. (or i’ll just have fun writing porn which will be /great/)
thanks for the brilliant article. i never leave comments on stuff but i really wanted to say something here – i need to read this, thank you.
I feel this so hard. I have an account on AO3 and yeah I like the yaoi pairings. I read them a lot, but I also really enjoy yuri. The sad thing is that my main fandom has canon lesbians and there’s still hardly anything. And with my main ship I figured “why not?” and wrote the two boys genderbent into girls. I’m the writer of the only genderbent series for that ship and it makes me sad. I’ve gotten feedback on my tumblr and it’s like “it’s more fun for girls to read about two guys getting it on because the anatomy is different” and “I’m a bisexual girl and I don’t want to read about two girls being in a relationship because it makes me sad that I can’t be in a relationship”, etc etc. I don’t care about reasons like that. These people would read about a hetero ship before a femslash fic and they’ll still pull the relationship crap. It’s appalling to me.
I’m the only one to have bent a pairing like this in order to see what I want. The fact I had to bend a m/m pairing into f/f annoys me. We need more canon f/f pairings in media and the whole “They’re just friends” mentality should be destroyed.
I started reading fanfiction in high school and still do on occasional. I have a hard time saying I really identify as anything, I simply like who I like, but I will read anything as long as I like how it’s written. That said, I’m kinda getting bored of yaoi and have been looking for more yuri to counterbalance and it’s hard to find. The one area I’ve had the best luck? Disney Princesses. Perhaps this is a result of girls feeling that there’s underdevelopment among many stories’ women.
It’s funny, reading this article immediately puts me on the defensive. As a lesbian who writes dudeslash far more often then I write femslash, I read the last part of the article like an accusation. You’re basically saying the reason I do this is because I am brainwashed by the patriarchy and not just that, that I am too blind to find the light of femslash, or too weak to break free of the cock prison.
The gist of it is the same it was back on LJ when this came up years ago. And back then some parts of femslash fandom were toxic as fuck, for me personally. My slash writing friends were a support group I needed and then there were these ladies telling me if I didn’t write a certain quota of fics about two women who aren’t even in the same show, I was a failure as a queer woman and as a feminist.
I actively work every day to rid myself of old thought processes, of judging women and female characters with a different standard then I judge men. It’s a process, but I like to think I got a lot better at it over the years, even when I sometimes appreciate the male gaze and patriarchy for providing me hot women in tight clothing kicking butt.
It’s a bit of a sport to blame slash fandom for everything up to and including global warming. It’s easy because we’re a pretty diverse bunch of people with a pretty diverse bunch of reasons for doing what we do and you can pretty much just fire in a random direction and hit someone where it hurts.
But the idea that femslash is this tiny inactive thing personally offends me, because it’s never been true. Yes, slash is bigger, because aside from queer women, straight women also write it. There’s a whole scholarly body of works about straight women exploring their sexuality through it. Henry Jenkins and his ilk did all sorts of studies about it.
That said, AO3 literally developed out of LJ slash fandom. How can it be any surprise that the people who wrote those slash stories and then built the thing are also the ones to be most represented on it? But if you look on ff.net, tumblr and wattpad you will find a slightly different story.
You can’t take the metric of absolute stories in a given fandom on AO3 and apply it to fandom as a whole. Because when you look at fandoms like Once Upon A Time or The 100 or Glee, the femslash ships are the juggernaut, even if their overall presence on AO3 is lower then the incredibly huge slash ships.
But if you were around for some of the ship polls of the last few years, the biggest femslash ships were easily as well represented as the slash ones. SwanQueen murdered smaller ships and ate them for breakfast.
Let’s get back though to my very personal excuses. Yes, I do believe that backstory and interaction matters. I do believe it matters how women are written in the source. And here’s the rub – I’m not the same person who will just write about two hot guys who never met, who barely interacted. And I assume that’s the truth for a lot of people. You’re taking one group of slashers and using their personal experience to discredit another group of slashers. So thanks for that.
And this argument is nothing new. This article is nothing new. Instead of taking the sources to task, you’re blaming other women for simply writing what they like, for writing what will get them the biggest, most supportive audience, for doing what they can to work through whatever it is they want to work through.
My own personal truth is that writing two men usually comes down to one character that sparks recognition in me and a specific set of relationship cues that women very rarely, if ever, get on screen. I know what I like and so far media is not giving me what I want. The truth is that writing two men can be a safe place for me, give me a kind of distance that helps when pouring too much of myself in these characters. The truth is also that in my original writing, should it ever be published, there’s lesbians and queer women galore, because it matters to me.
And slash gave me the tools, the space and the friends I needed to get there. All the corners of femslash fandom I frequented back then ever gave me was exactly what you’re giving me now, and that’s a guilt trip and accusations of misogyny.
The last thing fandom in all its amazing, terrible, ridiculous glory needs is to point fingers. I don’t blame today’s femslash fandom for what happened to me back then, and I don’t think you mean to imply all those things about me and women like me. I don’t think you set out to point the finger and go “you all suck because you couldn’t work your way out of patriarchy like I did, write me more ladies finger banging porn” but with all of fandom history behind us, it can sound a bit like that.
I’m sure I sound angry and bitter. I still write femslash when a pairing strikes me, which is actually fairly often given the lack of good sources. It’s easy to write two men who interact a good 60% of every episode, whose emotional core is laid bare to us. Women are still a mystery to many tv writers, so when I get a gem of a show that has loads of interaction and the right chemistry and the right audience for fic and enough of a genre bent to really keep me around, I write femslash. I am too old to let anyone shame me for my choices though.
The majority of what I write in and for fandom is slash. No amount of telling me how all my reasons are cheap excuses is going to change that. Though making Katrina Law a recurring or regular character on Legends of Tomorrow might. Having Clary and Lydia and Isabelle on Shadowhunters do shit together without the boys might. Giving Jess Pava a speaking role in the 8th Star Wars might.
You’re right that we do need to have this conversation, but your opening salvo was aimed at us instead of the guys in suits. So think about that bit of internalized misogyny.
My interest lies in writing original stories with genuine lesbian romance (especially SF). But I do very much appreciate femslash pairings (especially those that really, really, really should have became canon, like Myka/Helena). And I don’t just like pairing up characters. I like to consider which actresses might have chemistry for playing couples in original stories.
BTW, I know a (straight) girl who’s very into yaoi. So, I’m familiar with the phenomena of girls loving m/m couples :).