Toward an Understanding of Whether Straight Fanfiction Exists: A Study

(featured image via Shutterstock)

Sitting on the patio of a neighborhood cafe-bar where freelancers nurse coffees until happy hour hits and they finally give up on the tedium of the gig economy and order a beer, I turned to my girlfriend and read her an excerpt from an article on trademark law’s implications on fandom and fanfiction. The article, written by my lawyer aunt, astutely pointed out that if the internet had been around when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was still penning Sherlock Holmes stories, impassioned fans would no doubt write fanfiction shipping the original Sherlock and Watson. At this point, my girlfriend turned to me, astonishment in her eyes, and asked: “Wait, does straight fanfiction exist?”

My girlfriend is not an internet person. I’ve had to explain many things to her over the years: tumblr, subtweeting, Mariah Carey famously saying “I don’t know her” re: Jennifer Lopez, and sliding into DMs — a concept that she always contextualizes as “how Sarah Paulson and Holland Taylor started dating.” My influence has no doubt affected her perception of pop culture. I’m pretty sure she thinks Scandal is a television show about the love story of Mellie Grant and Olivia Pope, probably because that’s what I’ve said it’s about. Eventually, she figured out that when I say a show is “super queer,” she should have me clarify whether it’s actually queer or if I’m just providing my own interpretation based on unfulfilled subtext. Still, this latest reveal that she briefly thought fanfiction was a queer utopia came as a bit of a shock. But how could she have known? Her exposure to fanfiction has been limited to me reading passages out loud about all my wlw ships. (She’s going to ask me what wlw means when she reads this.)

As I began to explain that straight fanfiction does indeed exist, I realized that it was a bit like me trying to explain the Eiffel Tower, or Antarctica, or the movie La La Land: I know these things to be real, but I’ve never seen them for myself.

I came to fanfiction late in life. It’s perhaps the only facet of fandom I didn’t throw myself into when I first became a certified Internet Person in 2004. Back then, I frequented the WB (RIP) message boards, participating in roleplaying communities for Charmed, Smallville, and Gilmore Girls (my username was PiprLoreleiClark). But for some reason, fanfiction remained on the periphery of my fandom experience. I think a large part of my fanfiction ignorance was the fact that I obsessed over shows, books, and movies so much that I actually wanted to be a part of the story. Fanfiction allows fans to create, to add to, to subvert and challenge the narratives they derive from. I wanted to insert myself into the narrative quite literally, as evidenced by the not-quite-fanfiction I wrote in my composition notebook in elementary school in which I was the quirky best friend to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as the detective characters from their serialized book series. This tendency to cast fictional characters as my imaginary best friends continued well into my early teens, when I would daydream elaborate adventures shared between me, Dr. Gregory House, and Dr. Lisa Cuddy. These daydreams became a chaotic labyrinth of crossovers. Cuddy and I would link up with Jean Grey and Sydney Bristow and maybe even a Desperate Housewife or two to save the world.

I’ve since learned there’s a term for the narcissistic fanfiction narratives I dreamt up as a youth: self-insert fic. But self-insert fic seems largely to be a very private endeavor. Because frankly, who cares? Fanfiction is democratic; it’s communal; it’s more widely appealing to people than the tales of Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

It was during my senior year of college that I finally said the words “I’m a lesbian” out loud. Around that time, I also started realizing The Media, and television specifically, played a huge role in suppressing my queerness. My life revolved around television, but I rarely saw lesbians on TV. There were even fewer non-white lesbians. Finally, I saw the power of fanfiction. There were stories out there where the queer subtext could finally be realized! There were stories out there that acknowledged the fluidity of sexuality that television often ignores! There were stories out there where the lesbians who television killed were still alive.

Like the true millennial I am, I first turned to Harry Potter fanfiction, where I was met with the plethora of Hermione/Ginny (sorry!) stories I craved. One of the best ones I ever read featured a bisexual Ginny who was a powerful witch and lawyer?! Eventually, I branched out into Hunger Games and The Vampire Diaries and The Good Wife fanfiction. I read Glee fanfiction long after I stopped watching Glee.

I still remained a pretty casual consumer of fanfiction, mostly because I didn’t really know where to find the good stuff, and there was only so much I could take of the really poorly written shit that switches tenses with no explanation and goes out of its way to avoid calling the characters by their names (seriously, what is up with this fanfiction writer tic?!). Luckily, my friend Mariah entered my life — fittingly, at Comic-Con. A connoisseur of fanfiction, Mariah is my official Fic Librarian. Without her, I’d be lost in a sea of passive voice usage and comma splices. (The only time my requests have ever stumped her was when I was sought Rachel/Quinn UnREAL fanfiction. Unfortunately, they share the names of a rather popular Glee pairing.)

Throughout my fanfiction journey, I was never exposed to the “straight” fanfiction my girlfriend apparently does not believe in. The closest I came was probably the time I procrastinated from studying for my Econ exam by reading a 52-chapter The West Wing fic told from the perspective of a goldfish (I should note here that I have never seen The West Wing). For me, fanfiction always served one clear purpose: providing me with the queer narratives mainstream pop culture insufficiently provided. I understand that there is fanfiction that doesn’t center queerness and that there’s even fanfiction that doesn’t revolve around ships at all. But that’s not what I’m here for.

So my girlfriend’s question remains: Does straight fanfiction exist? I was more than willing to adopt her willful ignorance and just proceed with life as if it did not. But the headline of this article promises a study, and I do not break my promises when it comes to internet detective work. First, I hit up the Fic Librarian herself, who is also my token straight friend, but she quickly saw through my questions and pointed out that just because she’s straight does not mean she mostly reads fanfiction about straights. She has a point. She also did not want me exposing some of her more embarrassing fanfiction interests, but she wished me good luck on my foray into the world of hetero fic. I would have to take this journey solo.

First, like the prestigious investigator that I am, I Googled “heterosexual fanfiction.” One of the top results is a Supernatural fic called “Dean Winchester is a 100 Heterosexual, Manly Man of Masculinity.” Unsurprisingly, the title is ironic. Dean falls in love with a man, as he tends to do in 90% of Supernatural fanfiction. Even Google doesn’t seem to believe straight fanfiction exists. To find what I was looking for, I’d have to think like a straight person. So I sat down and challenged myself to think about what the straightest ship ever might be. Then it hit me: Jack Donaghy and Liz Lemon.

Friends, perhaps you are hoping for some particularly outrageous excerpts from the mentally scarring Jack/Liz 30 Rock fanfiction I found myself drowning in on the darkest parts of the world wide web. To which I say: You will have to look it up yourself. I cannot bring myself to republish these atrocities. I realize that this is turning out to be a pretty bad study, but I also feel like I’m doing you a favor.

Straight fanfiction is stylistically very similar to my beloved queer fanfiction. The sex scenes are similarly overwritten and detailed to the point where they almost read like furniture assembly instructions. Straight fanfiction can be raunchy and absurd and funny (sometimes intentionally) and immersive, just like the fanfiction I read. The biggest difference I found between straight and queer fanfiction is that the former tends to build on canon ships more often than not. With a few exceptions, I’m used to reading slash fics and ones in which the queer subtext of the original work becomes fully realized. The vast majority of fanfiction I found about heterosexual pairings built on canon relationships, like Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt from Parks And Recreation or Will Gardner and Alicia Florrick from The Good Wife. Sure, there was a fair share of non-canon shipping going on in the straight fanfiction community, too, like Glee‘s “Schueberry” (yikes!), Hermione/Snape (double yikes!), and probably some that aren’t problematic teacher/student pairings, although those certainly stood out (perhaps I am being hypocritical given that I read a lot of fanfiction about a certain ship that rhymes with “proctor satanic”).

Another interesting thing I noticed is that when it comes to shows that are popular among queer women because of a particular ship — canon or not — the queer fanfiction far outnumbers fanfiction about the canon heterosexual pairings. For example, in the world of Supergirl fanfiction, Kara/Lena fics significantly outnumber Kara/Mon-El fics. Even though Kara/Lena fanfiction writers are building on real sentiments and moments from the show, turning the subtext into bold text, there’s an element of wishful thinking at play. Those of us who can see the obvious chemistry between Kara and Lena don’t trust the show to bring that tension to fruition, so we turn to a place where it can. Fans of Kara/Mon-El get enough overtly romantic moments between the two on the show to be more satisfied. Even I switched from Alex/Maggie fanfiction to Kara/Lena fanfiction after Alex and Maggie became a legit couple on the show (though I sometimes return to the Alex/Maggie stuff because their scenes have becoming increasingly sparse). Fanfiction fills the gaps in representation. If people don’t see themselves reflected in a show, they can turn to fanfiction, much like I quite literally added myself to the story with my active imagination as a teen.

As with any medium, there is plenty of aggressively heteronormative fanfiction out there. Far worse than the grammatically challenged stories, there’s also plenty of racist, sexist, homophobic, and ableist fanfiction out there. If you’re not good at finding the good stuff, I highly recommend finding yourself a Fic Librarian. After a few hours of digging through fanfiction in which two women don’t even so much as make meaningful eye contact, I’d had enough. I much prefer my queer utopia of fanfiction, where bisexual Ginny Weasley kicks ass in magical court and Lexa lives long enough to build a house for Clarke and Alicia Florrick leaves her husband for Kalinda Sharma. Straight fanfiction might technically exist, but to quote Mariah Carey, I don’t know her.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 305 articles for us.

96 Comments

  1. Sherlock Holmes fan fic’s always existed, I’d love it if someone could find out if there’s Johnlock from back then though or just additional detective stories. They especially started when Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock, ending up in him backtracking.

    • Oh that would be brilliant. There was a connection between Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde, and some serious theories that Conan Doyle conceived Holmes shortly after he met Wilde, and copied his witty dialogue (there are other theories that are equally queer).
      Doyle certainly was aware of the gay trials of the day, as marrying off Watson happened in exact chronological reaction to either Wilde’s trial or that other one with the gay whorehouse, I forgot.

  2. Great article! This is pretty much the opposite of my experience. I actually came to fanfiction through straight fic. When I was 13 I started reading fanfic for my favorite video game at the time, Golden Sun, and that was a super hetero (but almost universally T-rated, thank god) fandom. There was some dude-on-dude fic but almost no queer lady fic. I came out when I was fifteen but I didn’t really get into queer fanfic until after college. For whatever reason it just never even occurred to me that people were writing fic about queer women! It boggles the mind.

  3. I haven’t read any fanfiction since I was 13 and a big fan of the Lion King. Nevertheless, this experience has instilled me with the knowledge that straight fanfiction exists… but also a certain hunch/fear that it’s all about weird animal penises and neck biting.

  4. This is so great. It has been my experience too that most hetero fic is canon ships. Or there are sometimes secondary hetero non-canon couples in the queer fic I read.

    I started in 8th grade with Buffy/Faith fic on lj and it was a glorious world that I need to dive back into sometime.

  5. I basically swore off fic before I even knew it was a thing, because I accidentally wrote some in 4th or 5th grade and got accused of plagiarism. (This was mid-80s, the internet wasn’t a thing yet.) I wrote a short story based on Anne McCaffrey’s Pern, essentially a self-insert but my character was a boy, because the boys got the fighting dragons and I wanted one. In retrospect, I should have been flattered that my teacher thought my writing was good enough to have BEEN plagiarism, but I was just furious. I’d spent a lot of time writing that story! I’d even bound it in green construction paper and added my prized green foil dragon stickers. (Did I mention 1980s?)

    I rediscovered it in college in the late 90s when a friend wrote a lot of really enjoyable Harry Potter smut. Her pairings, and the ones they lead me to through other sources, were a lovely jumble of genders and numbers, and guess I never got into the habit of sorting fic in my head into het-or-not, it was just like me, it liked variety!

  6. I learned that fanfic was a thing when my SIL casually reveled that she wrote Snape-Hermione fanfic and I was HORRIFIED!

    It wasn’t until later that I discovered that queer fic was a thing, but I’ve never actually read any fanfic, I’ve just read about it.

  7. I also wrote quite a few self-insert fics as a child, before I really knew that fanfiction existed as a concept. Actually, I have seen quite a few self-insert fics posted on AO3 (though I can only assume they’re written by young teens). Once I even left a comment because the author was complaining about their fic not getting any attention and I noted that if they wrote about canon characters they were more likely to be read. Their response? ‘But I don’t want to worry about whether or not my writing is in-character!’ Hmmmm.

    Sidenote, but is anyone else rly irritated by the way ‘wlw’ has taken off in tumblr communities, almost as a sanitization/repudiation of ‘queer women’?

    • I want queer lady harlequin novels to exist so bad. There is nothing better than a horribly cheesy harlequin historical romance when you’re feeling stressed out by current events. I’m bi, so I’ve appreciated some of the hetero ones in the past, but now that I’m dating a woman I’m much more interested in queer stories, and it frustrates me that this isn’t a harlequin genre! I mean, seriously, they publish EVERYTHING else.

  8. Isn’t 50 Shades of Grey straight Twilight Fanfiction?
    I don’t know why it’s totally a ok for all the straight women to gush about how they devoured the 50 shades books, thrice, while I can’t slink far enough back into my seat when Kara is taking Cat against a tree in the middle of a thunderstorm.

    Btw. The Bellatrix/Hermione fix you didn’t know you needed in your life: https://m.fanfiction.net/s/7755315/1/Those-Gilded-Chains-We-Wear

      • The thing that drives me absolutely mad about this is, that I have read some veritably brilliant fanfictions and they didn’t get a cent, a nod, a handshake.
        50 shades isn’t even good!
        And of all the ones that’s the one that hit it big?
        Argh!

        • I’ve just spent the weekend devouring an old 600,000 words epic Faith/Wesley (BtVS) AU that’s a retelling of the movie Secretary and it’s probably one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve read in ages. (I’m not even mad it’s 98% heteronormative). I was crying for a good hour at 5am during the middle act.

          The one thing I thought about was “why the fuck couldn’t THAT have been published over 50shades of non-consent ?

      • Honestly, I’ve just caught up with it today and am considering spending this three day weekend rereading the entire thing.
        I’ve finally gotten through my Harry Potter reread last week only to finally read “The Cursed Child” and was so disappointed (I’m sure it’s great as a play,though) that I might just make this story my official headcanon and spent a few more days in and around Hogwarts, extending my Hogcation a bit further.

  9. I love this! I could read fanfiction articles and analyses all day tbh.

    I absolutely agree with the idea that “fanfiction fills the gaps in representation” – I’ve fairly regularly written and read fic since the early 2000s, but although I’ve been involved for a decade and a half-ish, my first canon ship didn’t come about until last year. I think the need to seek out or create fic feels so much more urgent if it’s centered on a non-canon ship because you know you’re not going to see that pairing onscreen/anywhere outside of fanfic, fanart, fanvids, and other fanworks. Much more often than not, those non-canon pairings are queer because showrunners tend to a) willfully ignore non-heterosexual chemistry between characters, b) simply don’t take the chemistry/claims of the chemistry seriously, or c) acknowledge the chemistry but don’t view the ship as a viable path for their show to follow. Conversely, if heterosexual characters have chemistry (or even if they don’t tbh), it seems like the powers that be adhere to a “Why not?” mentality and make the pairing canon.

  10. I was introduced to fan fic via The X-Files, so I would say that the majority of that fic was/is hetero Mulder/Scully fic, since the show played far longer with the will they, won’t they dynamic than reasonable.

      • Ah, Xena fanfic back in the day :)

        But XFiles fanfic is good argument for the need theory. Because they weren’t a couple, everybody wrote fanfic about them. Even I found them slightly sexy because of that unresolved tension, and I never like straight coupling ^^

  11. My first fanfic was Harry Potter, when I was pretty young and didn’t know gay was a thing that existed. My first w|w fic was a Cheetah Girls one that I only read cause I wanted to read CG fix so bad, I didn’t care. That was the only one I read until I came out, and now I read it exclusively… but even though that happened, I still think straight fanfic is a myth ?

  12. I think my first dip into fanfiction was Willow/Tara after the end of Season 6 :( And that segwayed into Buffy/Spike. At the time I had not figured out the reason I was so into Tara and Willow! I really want there to be a fanfiction genre that is “Woman realises her over-romanticised relationship is problematic and or abusive” (e.g Ezria and CaptainSwan) but I have yet to find any. I did start to write an Aria fic though(and Sparia always has a special place in my heart!!)

    • “I really want there to be a fanfiction genre that is “Woman realises her over-romanticised relationship is problematic and or abusive” (e.g Ezria and CaptainSwan) but I have yet to find any. I did start to write an Aria fic though(and Sparia always has a special place in my heart!!)”
      YES!

  13. What I’m left with here Kayla is “how have you never seen the west wing????” We’re going to have to have a serious talk about this so I think you should shoot me a message on Facebook. But also with your experience of the near “hidden” straight fan fiction, I remember back in the days of my fan fiction youth, a lot of the lack of it stemmed from the fact that anything, and I mean anything, that was hetero was immediately pegged as being self insert/Mary sue. Even stuff that had characters written better than the show writers managed in terms of character consistency and whatnot, because it was a man and a woman and the author was a woman, it was just a self insert, so at least on tumblr in those days we were both on there, I think it got buried very deeply.

    Anyway. I’m still shocked you’ve never seen TWW because that’s the show I watch once a year almost.

    • RE: TWW

      I loved The West Wing, I was a once a year watcher as well. After last November, however, to cheer myself up I tried watching it again and I just couldn’t suspend disbelief enough to enjoy it. Something has crushed my rosy notions of competent people who actually wanted to make life better for citizens through politics.

      Veep though, that I can do, it seems to match the real world more each and every day.

  14. This was such a good read and you girlfriend sounds adorable!

    My first foray into fanfics was in 6th grade and was through smut lol. I had just started puberty and discovered porn and masturbation and stumbled across Sailor Moon smut. Found regular fanfics about a year later and have been reading them ever since!

    Particularly love the Kim Possible, Frozen, Gargoyles, Sailor Moon, and Avatar: The Last Airbender fandoms

  15. Here to admit I’ve read a lot of hetero Eric/Sookie Southern Vampire Mysteries/True Blood fanfic, bc I was always here for that, especially in the books’ canon (which I liked so much more than the show.)

  16. Checking out The 100 fics on AO3 is an interesting contrast to this, there are a loooot of straight fics for the non-canon Bellarke pairing. In fact it was only in the last few months that Clexa fics finally surpassed them. It took an aggravatingly long time for that to happen and I realized it was so bothersome to me because this is one of the tiny few times the queer ship was the canon one and yet it was still being outpaced by straights.

    It should be said too, that while queer fanfic is the majority, wlw fic is the minority of fic by far. Gay fic and straight fic pairings both out number femslash and it’s really sad.

    • I don’t necessarily see it as sad (though there are layers of analysis that can show problematic trends) so much as a matter of statistics. I don’t even know if sheer number can be the only predictor of the popularity of a pairing.

      For instance, if straights (majority of the population and probably the audience of a show) write straight fanfiction (for the 100, for instance, with the lack of canon Bellarke as a motivator), it makes sense that there could be more.

      Additionally, for male slash, there is a huge amount of that written by straight females in addition to gay men and the occasional queer female. That’s going to outstrip the mostly queer female writing population for any femslash ship (and I can’t say that the general idea of straight dudes writing femslash to fill that gap has much appeal to me as a reader).

      • I agree that the relative proportions of mlm to wlw fanfic (never mind the heterosexuals) has a lot to do with straight women writing gay porn for other straight women, but it certainly doesn’t help that there are so few shows that pass the Bechdel test. If you think about it, the Bechdel test is actually a test of whether something is ripe for femslash or not!

  17. Actually re: your point on straights only shipping canon stuff. It’s not even that… it is that if a straight ship is popular enough, it will almost always become canon. Case in point: Spuffy from BtVS. They weren’t some big plan, meant to be together from the moment Spike was introduced as a character (he was actually meant to die back in s2) – but due to good chemistry AND immense fan support, and a lot of fanfic, they became a thing, slowly.
    Same thing could probably be said for, like, CaptainSwan from Once upon a time, though I think they had way less build-up there.
    Even that damn Harry/Hermione kiss in the 7th movie was straight-up pandering to the shippers of that pairing, though one thing can be said for Jo, she never paid too much attention to what the fans were shipping – and thank the gods cause i really wouldn’t want to see Snape/Hermione in canon lol.

  18. I recently dipped my toes into the fanfiction/fanart for the first time ever as part of my transformation into a Mass Effect fangirl. Mass Effect has been a particularly interesting avenue to look at queer themes, since the most frequently shipped character, Commander Shepard, can either be male or female (since they’re the player character), and there’s at least one cannon love interest (Liara T’Soni) who’s entire race is functionally bisexual (as they themselves only have one gender and can mate with anyone). The queerness was then turned up to 11 when cannonically gay characters (Samantha Trainor and Steve Cortez) were introduced as love interests in ME3 (though I’ve been told Cortez’s romance with Male!Sheperd feels pretty phoned in).

    Surprisingly, despite the fact that most players play the male version of Shepard, Female!Sheperd is most commonly featured in fanfic- and a rather large portion is focused on shipping her with Liara. Admittedly, a good chunk of it is kinkfic (which I’ve quickly discovered is its own weird thing). Non-canon queer pairings- say, with Tali, or Miranda- seem to be comparatively rare. I’ve also discovered there’s a *huge* amount of straight fic involving FemShep and Garrus (another canon pairing)-which definitely says something for Bioware writing’s team, given that Garrus literally has mandible and a carapace (the fact that he’s super adorkable is probably a strong contributing factor).

    Anyway, all of this is to say I may or may not have a bookmarks folder specifically dedicated to Liara/Femshep fanfic and art.

    • I came to Mass Effect late, but it was really important to me. My Shepard (female, who I will continue to refer to as ‘Shepard’) sort of fell into a romance with Liara.

      My room mate was intensely interested in who I would romance, and I had no real opinions. I’m never invested in the romance, besides getting more of the story I suppose. Then I chose a dialogue option that surprised me with flirting, and then Shep and Liara were a thing and then I found myself, by the second game, really glad that I was playing the one character from the first game that got a reprise.

      The “Come back soon, Liara” line was too much for me. And I realised, for probably the first time, that I was super into this story line of two ladies who were super into each other.

      Which was surprising. Eye-opening.

      After I finished all the games, I wanted there to be more. So I’ve read pretty much all the Femshep/Liara tag on AO3. (Sorry not sorry) I came to the 100 because there were copious amounts of Clexa, and I’m thinking I should give Korra another try because of the Korrasami fics.

      Fan fiction let me see myself in the characters I was reading, which let me think that maybe it was okay, and that maybe I was okay.

      (Um, spoilers for the original Mass Effect trilogy beyond here.)

      So really the whole point of this comment was that “Who do you fight for?” was updated in the past few days. I check a couple of times a week, always hoping it wasn’t dead, and then bam! Today a gift!

      http://archiveofourown.org/works/5182193/chapters/11939018

      It’s a much more renegade FemShep/Miranda with past FemShep/Liara, and so well written that I can get past the renegade (my Shepard was so paragon omg) and the lack of Liara. It’s super good, alternating viewpoints between Miranda and Garrus. And if you want slow burn…

      I also have a fond place in my heart for the Best of Entertainment series (lots of kink in that one), which is mainly Tevos/Aria, with bonus FemShep/Liara and eventually everyone just thrown together. Did I mention that one is rated Explicit??

      http://archiveofourown.org/series/25567

      There’s also the Cari’ssi’mi series by Joking611, very well written Shepard/Liara that gives more thought to the fact that the Asari would have a very complex culture, and then how that plays out.

      http://archiveofourown.org/series/317813

      (OMG another slow buuuuuurn)

      Life’s a Catch, by Luthor – http://archiveofourown.org/works/4642257/chapters/10587135

      AU where the reapers don’t exist, and Shepard goes to college after losing part of a leg. Shep/Liara, Student/teacher realtionship, but they are both adults sooo…

      I don’t like the fics about how Shepard dies. I don’t like the fics dealing with what you would do after, how the galaxy picks itself back up when the hero they were relying on eventually can’t keep pulling off miracles. In my game, I had enough points that Shepard is alive, and I choose to believe that Miranda magicked her back together alright and that she kept on as a Spectre, because she has an overblown sense of responsibility and couldn’t take a damn vacation if her life depended on it. (I know that doesn’t make much sense, but that’s my head canon for Artemis Shepard and I’m fine with it.)

      But this one fic, this fic.

      http://archiveofourown.org/works/893399

      Like It’s Hallelujah by montparnasse.

      “At the end of the world, a woman walks into a bar.

      Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”

      ALL THE FEELS.

      A final Mass Effect rec is Melds and Matter Manipulations, an AU where the biotics are basically magic done with circles. To help foster peace, Liara (closest thing to royalty in the Asari kingdoms) is entering into a marriage contract with the hero of the human kingdoms and recent wars, Shepard.

      http://archiveofourown.org/works/3793489

      It’s so well written, and another one I check a few times a week to see if it’s been updated. Soon! … This one is also a slow burn. This is not actually a favourite feature of mine, I swear to you.

      Non Mass Effect, but still bioware <3, is The Beginning and the End by Razikale. Explicit Alpha/Omega fic for Dragon Age 2, and it's both the opposite of a slow burn and a slow burn at the same time.

      http://archiveofourown.org/works/6743026/chapters/15409504

      Also my first fandom was Sailor Moon when I was young enough that my parents probably should have been more attentive to what I was ready. Even though we had internet with no pictures*, there was still age-inappropriate smut one could find, if one know how to look.

      *Freenet. I can't remember the client we used, but it was a blue background with white text. You didn't use a mouse, you navigated with the keyboard. We originally used an external 2800 modem, then upgraded to an internal 28.8. I have fond (?) memories of trying to connect to the internet, where you had to dial, and see if it picked up. Sometimes there was a busy signal, and you had to try again.

      We had a timer, because there was ONE phone line in the house, and the internet tied it up. If you picked up the phone while someone was online, there were horrifying electronic squeals that you had to listen to.

      I remember getting full internet, WITH PICTURES. I remember how excited I was, to be able to see the pictures I was trying to download. It was amazing.

  19. I’m showing my age here, but my favorite fanfics are the ones with Alex and Olivia from SVU, and I’ll still go back and reread some of them now. I love the Maura and Jane pairing from Rizzoli and Isles too. I would drive my wife crazy narrating the subtext between the two on that show when we watched it together.

  20. Such a good article, more of it please!

    “a 52-chapter The West Wing fic told from the perspective of a goldfish”

    :D

    It’s interesting how you stopped shipping a pairing when it became canon.
    That’s what I believe will happen, too. That’s why I never got the “queer bait” thing completely, beacuse I felt that canon pairing would kill off the shipping (esp. in shows that aren’t that good but have incredible fan fic).

  21. I discovered fanfiction in college (mid-90s) with Mulder/Scully X-Files fanfiction. The internet was kind of still young. You kind of had to hunt around, so I can’t remember any centralized source. I’ve always been a voracious reader and watcher of TV, but I usually also seemed to take things as they were presented to me, and leave them if they didn’t fulfill some emotional need of mine.

    Though, I think I remember co-writing some self-insert ST:TNG/Nancy Drew fanfic with my best friend in middle school that her English teacher was complementary of as far as the quality of the writing (I have no idea what her assignment was).

    XF led me to Xena, which led me to the world of lesbian and queer romance novels, etc. Curated collections. Yay, Xena! A fanfiction community that literally spawned publishing houses for queer fiction (particularly with a real lesbian romance novel bent). However, I also read a lot of Bones fic (Booth/Brennan) as an overlap. My ships tended to be canon, I guess. And I could have feelings for straight and slash pairings.

    It wasn’t until I discovered Dorothy Snarker’s Rizzoli & Isles recaps that it even occurred to me to actually notice and run with subtext.(seriously, why did that not occur to me before?)

    The rest is history. A history of so much gay. ;) Rizzles, Faberry, SwanQueen, Supercat, random other stuff peppered in (e.g. Bechloe, Mirandy).

    It is interesting to talk about fanfiction in general as a real thing, versus this sort of ephemeral fan-related construct. A lot of the modern, recorded origins comes from the original Star Trek and fan magazines. And lord knows there’s a ton of male slash out there. My straight, religious roommate in college (upon finding out I read X-Files fanfiction) mentioned some m/m Due South fanfic she’d read! That’s how widespread it is.

    I do know that at some point my best friend/TV-watching buddy (someone I think would really, really enjoy fanfiction) internalized this message that its existence is “wrong”, based on something an author said in the 90s (?). Said author spoke out against fanfiction, insisting that these characters she created were hers alone, and decrying the practice of others using them in any unofficial manner.

    Yet these days we do have 50 Shades of Grey. I was listening to an NPR piece (I think?) that was talking about the worldwide popularity of a particular One-Direction fanfiction, and what a phenomon it was in that particular fandom.

    At the TGI Femslash convention this year there were multiple women who were working on academic research, essays, documentaries, etc. involving fandom, fanfiction, representation, etc. It led to some fascinating conversations.

  22. Lovely article of the “I’m grinning because I can relate so much” – variety.

    I had a short but intense fanfiction phase a few years back which started with me searching for Bering/Wells fanfiction. That somehow lead me to take a deep-dive into the flood of Xena and Gabrielle stories out there and I finally re-emerged from my reading sessions several weeks later, like a queer-bear from hibernation with fragments of all kinds of f/f dreams swirling around in my head.
    I’m a helpless book nerd, however, and my reading list gets longer by the minute so when it came to reading during my spare-time I soon pushed fanfiction aside again in favor of the books that were impatiently waiting for me on my nightstand. Until the end of last year that is.
    When Kara and Lena suddenly came along and swept me right back into the maelstrom of non-canon realizations of unfulfilled potential. Since then I allow myself a healthy, regular dose of fanfiction on my weekends. In fact, I have several tabs of delightful SuperCorp content open right now.

    All the charming humor of this article aside, the main point I take away from this is the astute observation that straight fanfiction is indeed (as most of us probably suspected) more often than not backed up by the reality of the source content. It builds on a certain confidence, assurance and certainty, and is an extension and re-imagining of what already counts as canon; whereas queer fanfiction remains an outlet for “wishful thinking”, unfulfilled as well as optimistic hopes and plausible but – more often than not – purely chemistry- and subtext-based scenarios.

    Which for me just shows that fanfiction represents an even more important tool and medium for us queer pop-culture and story-obsessed geeks than I previously realized.

    ——-

    I hope all of that makes sense (EFL speaker here). Anyway, thank you so much for an insightful article. =)

  23. It’s interesting how even with queer pairings, there is still a good amount of “Rule 63” going on, which effectively takes that queer narrative and turns it heteronormative, with a transphobic twist? Not that exploring characters under the confines of different gender roles is *inherently* bad (maybe? I don’t even know), but that trope more often than not is just about taking a same-gender pairing and making it about sex between cis heterosexual characters, which has never quite sat right with me (so I tend to avoid it). It’s still incredibly popular though– many BNF’s have one or two works which incorporate it.

    On a different note entirely, there is less of a strong *tradition* of fanworks for heterosexual pairings, even if the individual works themselves exist on a small scale– sometimes people write one or two stories about a particularly cute TV couple, but it doesn’t have the same well-developed fanon that queer, non-canon pairings have (more often than not). It will often appear as a secondary work in a series whose other stories center around a more traditional fanficiton pairing. If two characters on a show have chemistry and are heterosexual, the writers are probably going to make a storyline involving that, because that’s what heterosexuals do. Same doesn’t go for queer characters, and the queer storylines we see on TV are so far and few between and so often mishandled that we don’t actually trust TV writers to write these pairings properly, so canon queer ships tend to dominate fanworks (like, Kurt/Blaine, or Clarke/Lexa)

    But, I dunno, I’ve read plenty of Jeff/Annie fanfiction, so I can say that straight fanficition is out there. It’s definitely a secondary presence in fandom, though, and there’s a good reason for that. I’ve always noticed which voices are strongest in the fandoms I participate in, and most certainly in newer and smaller fandoms, a large number of the authors tend to not be straight, so the stories they write reflect that. Transness is also a really large part of fanfiction for me, but that’s mostly because the only places I actually get to see happy trans people at the forefront is fanfiction or like, real life.

    • Late comment, but I want to say that my partner and I have been in fandom together for almost a decade now, and we’ve also been really uncomfortable from the start with all the Rule 63 trope stuff, for the reasons you’ve stated here. Neither of us are trans (I’m nb, although not out as such publicly in an everyday context to most people, and it’s a label I’ve only started identifying with in certain spaces over the past two years), so I don’t want to step on your perspective here with my voice, but if it helps, know that at least other two people in fandom have spent years being really uncomfortable and ranty with it, too, if mostly only feeling comfortable enough to say anything about it in the privacy of discussions in our living room. I used to talk back to friends writing/supporting it to a the degree I could back in the day when doing so was popularly considered “kink-shaming” (showing my fandom age here) and in most fandom spaces thought of as more problematic than the act of writing that sort of thing itself, but I spend a lot of time now regretting and wishing I had spoken up about it more when I had more of a public voice to do so, before mental health concerns and the general horrible climate of Tumblr made both of us back away from more public fandom presences than we used to have.

      There have been a few times where I’ve had discussions with fandom friends about Rule 63 sorts of topics, but all of those have been the speculative kind for discussion purposes, like how one of my close friends and I occasionally play a cisswap-recast game with media for the purposes of highlighting how a fandom or media consumer audience would respond to a character differently, reworking the story to see what elements would change, etc., if that character were played by a cisgender actor of a different gender. In my opinion, that’s the only way that Rule 63 has a place in fandom, if done respectfully and with an intent for opening up that kind of sociocultural discussion – and, generally speaking, keeping sex out of the discussion entirely. But unfortunately, we both know that’s not how the majority of fandom uses Rule 63, which, in addition to being horrifically transphobic in the way you’ve stated here as the primary concern (as well as often being horrifically homophobic, when used as a “the magical curse made me wake up with breasts”-style contrivance to get two same-gender characters together in fic), is… also just not how sex works, seeing as how most people can get up to most possible sex acts with a little creativity and, depending, an Amazon account and a spare $15.

  24. Maybe it’s because of the fandom I was in (wanna talk about Homestuck? Haha), but a lot of people, including myself, ended up writing straight ships alongside queer ships. So I have a lot of gay ships I love and straight ships I love, too. My datefriend and I nicknamed them “good hets”. :p

  25. Yeah, straight fic exists. I’ve even written some, hahaha… My first fandom was Xena, right as I was getting online (this is also, more or less, how I found out that two women could get it on, lord, I was so young) and so I plunged right into fanfics. I remember there was a big division between the Xena/Gabrielle shippers and the Xena/Ares shippers. I personally didn’t care. Now, as an adult, I know that Xena and Gabrielle are like, SUPER gay with each other, but I still can’t see them that way. I guess it’s because of how young I was when the show came on.

    As for self-insert fic, I know it’s something of a teenager-y thing, but sometimes it works out in the end. A character that was originally created as a self-insert OC in the Xenaverse later morphed into a standalone char with her own standalone world. Man, I need to finish that book someday.

  26. You know guys, I’m really longing for a good Kara/Lena ff, so, if you could point me in the right direction with a link, I’d be ever so grateful:-)

    P.S.: Person of Interest: Canon relationship, yet you don’t even have to use a filter on ao3 because 90% of fics are Shoot.

  27. This is so excellent. I also discovered fanfic late in life, think the first one I ever read was Tyzula (classic). Fic culture really is the only consistent source of quality queer content, which is a bittersweet thing. Bitter, because we deserve more fully-human and canonically queer characters, but sweet, because we’ve taken this space we’ve been relegated to and turned it into a bottomless well of queer creativity.

    I do still read hetero stuff from time to time though. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s the only way I engage with my attraction to men anymore lol.

  28. Omg someone help me with proctor satanic I’m losing my queer mind. What does that rhyme with??

    Is this a doctor who reference? Bc I’m a serious Who fan and still stumped.

    Haaaaalllllpppp.

  29. This is actually super useful for an academic thing I’m writing right now. Also my best friend is a “doctor of the internet” (i.e. she just spent the last five years studying fandom online) so when I saw your title I cackled.

  30. If you’re a die-hard X Phile, then you are probably more than familiar with straight fan fic. Maybe you follow dozens of tumblrs in search of vintage photos of Gillian Anderson in oversized blazers, but the price you pay for such magical queerness is having to scroll past innumerable installments of Mulder/Scully fic. I guess it makes sense, given that they never actually have an established romance on the show, but it’s still just a tad annoying when all you want to see is a gorgeous woman in equally gorgeous shoulder pads.

  31. Doctor Mechanic is a guilty pleasure dude, I feel you. It has its issues but is hard not to ship anyway. What are your fave Hunger Games pairings? I mostly live for THG femslash.

  32. It’s kind of fun to see how fanfiction has evolved and even changed how we read. I started with Mulder/Scully fanfic many many years ago. And then, bless the stars above, came Xena and Xena fanfiction. Many of the writers of Xena fic went on to publish books and one or two even started their own publishing companies. At the moment, my current obsession is writing a SwanQueen story and re-reading a ton of Faberry stories.

  33. I’m having some trouble with this article, and I’d like to offer a different perspective on things.

    I know that the opening anecdote is meant to be a cute introduction, but I have a lot of discomfort with its juxtaposition here. Using an example of shipping of queer male characters as a cause-and-effect segway into “I didn’t know straight fanfiction existed” carries the unfortunate (probably accidental, but still) implication that your partner was shocked that fandom was a space that involved men in any way – which, aside from the odd linking of male queerness as an equivalency to heterosexuality, is more of the same biphobia/transphobia, racism, and other prejudice that permeates so many queer spaces.

    I know the old, tired stereotype is that there are supposedly two kinds of fandom: femslash spaces, which are viewed both as more highly politicized than other kinds of fandom but also more accepting/socially acceptable to publicly be involved in as a queer woman, and the rest of fandom, supposedly filled with bored, horny, privileged straight white girls getting the equivalent of their daydreamy adolescent kicks by writing fic where they can insert themselves into the female character’s headspace in order to self-insert fall in love with that handsome fictional man until they grow up and find their own Prince Charming (or, perhaps, the more NC-17 kicks of abstracting and removing their own sexuality from the narrative by writing about how two penises are hotter than one). With the advent of Twitter allowing media consumers to talk back to creators directly for the first time, and the help of Buzzfeed and other similar publications using “shipping” to describe every time a media consumer has an emotional response in any way whatsoever to a canon romantic plot, there’s arguably a third kind of fandom that’s sprung up, mostly made up of casual fans who more passively consume the content that’s given to them (if doing things like baiting authors and producers with death threats about if Character X and Character Y do/don’t end up together can be labeled passive, but that’s another argument for another day).

    I’m a bisexual person who lives somewhere I can never quite pin down in the right words in the land between nonbinary and agender. My female partner and I have been in fandom together for almost a decade, consuming and producing writing and other fan content for dozens of fandoms, for canon, non-canon, femslash, slash, poly, and, yes, even “het” ships. (I’m hesitant to use that word to describe relationships between a male character and a female character, because many, many fandom people who produce content for those ships don’t necessarily interpret, or produce fan content characterizing, those characters as monosexual or cisgender, but I digress as it’s the traditional fandom word for M/F ships.)

    None of those stereotypes have ever, in any way, been my experience in fandom.

    The vast majority of people I’ve ever met who produce content in any way for queer male ships have been queer themselves in some way or another, and a much larger percentage of them than one would expect, contrary to the “horny fangirl” stereotype, were queer men or trans/nonbinary people. The vast majority of people I’ve ever met who produce content in any way for ships involving a male and female character have been bisexual, pansexual, or otherwise non-monosexual people, usually either non-monosexual people who have learned to stick to certain kinds of M/F shipping spaces because of biphobia and gatekeeping attitudes in queer spaces, or people whose broader fandom and shipping patterns don’t reflect a particular overall gendered trend.

    The vast majority of people I’ve ever met who produce content in any way for fandom have been people who want so much more out of fandom and stories than Insert Body Part A Into Body Part B, than unrealistic romance novel tropes, than the often severely underdeveloped and/or deeply problematic portrayals of relationships – all interpersonal relationships, not just romantic ones – that make up 99% of relationship depictions in the media. And, yes, a large majority of fanfiction aims to pick up the slack for some kind of media discrimination by writing representation in where there is none, but to assume that representation is, or should be, exclusively reserved for monosexual queer representation is extremely troubling to me. You say that “fanfiction fills the gaps in representation … If people don’t see themselves reflected in a show, they can turn to fanfiction,” and yet, by the end of this article, trivialize the idea that anyone could possibly be coming to fandom for any representation, for any desire to see themselves in media, that isn’t linked exclusively with queerness.

    There’s been a lot of fandom discussion over the past few years, for one, about the often problematic intersect between queer fandom spaces and het ships involving non-white characters, particularly interracial ships involving black men and white/-passing women. For many non-white people, seeing characters of their race depicted on screen as nonthreatening, positively portrayed protagonists, enough so to get a romantic plot (and one that isn’t relegated to “genre media,” read: media marketed to non-white people, or sidelined to pair-the-PoC-spares background plot, even) is still as huge of a deal with regard to representation as the inclusion of positively portrayed queer characters. Yet many fans coming to fandom spaces for this kind of representation are met with gatekeeping attitudes by queer fans, acting as if the inclusion of a male character or M/F relationship at all is heteronormative oppression that trumps their desire to see characters of their ethnicity portrayed empathetically as protagonists, let alone the desire to intrude on queer spaces and produce fan content exploring those characters further.

    Even with regard to M/F ships where both characters are white/-passing, presented as heterosexual and cisgender, and canonically romantically involved in their media, there are still many reasons people come to fandom seeking to discuss and create more representation and better narratives for those characters. One of my favorite M/F ships in fandom involves a male character who is a rape victim, for instance. Another involves a biracial male character who was a victim of severe child abuse. Rape and child abuse are, unfortunately, issues that hit too close to home for my partner and I, and are issues that are rarely dealt with sensitively and thoroughly in the media. The vast majority of characters – in relationships with people of whatever gender, if they’re in a romantic relationship at all – that we produce fan content about are characters who exhibit significant signs of PTSD or other mental health conditions my partner and I both live with, whether or not their media ever says that aloud. Writing fic and having analytic discussions in fandom spaces about these things over the years has been a huge cathartic help and, honestly, a significant replacement for the professional therapy neither of us can afford. Discussion of mental health issues and neurodivergency subtext discussion with regard to fictional characters has increasingly, over the past few years, become a huge reason many, many people come to fandom spaces. Is that representation not valid and something you “don’t know” if it involves a relationship between people that a major television network or major book publisher deem to be between heterosexual cisgender people?

    Look: I’m not saying that a lot of fic isn’t terribly written schmoopy purple prose that makes the original source material look revolutionarily progressive by comparison. I’m not saying there aren’t many people who come to fandom spaces looking for nothing more than the casual entertainment of reading or writing porn or overly sentimental, overly simplified romance-novel-esque depictions of romance. (Which, honestly, good for them, too. If all “straight fanfiction” is doing for anyone in terms of representation is teaching heterosexual women to demand more out of their current or future relationships than they see in the media – well, – it would be anti-feminist to suggest that sex positivity, the in-depth exploration of female sexuality, and the discussion of what makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy could be a bad thing.) And I’m not saying that there aren’t huge problems in slash/het-centric areas of fandom, just as there are huge problems in all areas of fandom, and that the trivialization or erasure of female characters or relationships between women isn’t one of the biggest ones.

    But this kind of in-joke attitude that the “rest of fandom out there” beyond some supposed queer female fandom utopia has nothing to offer in terms of representation for anyone isn’t just nothing even remotely close to my decade-long experience and the experience of so many others I’ve known in fandom. And more importantly, it’s the same kind of gatekeeping that makes so many non-monosexual, non-cisgender, and non-white people feel unsafe and unwelcome, even unwanted, in queer, feminist, and other spaces that are supposed to be on our side as well.

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