How Does Fandom Affect Perception of Gender and Sexuality?


Introduction

Fandom, especially fanfiction, is (in)famous for what those in the know call "slash." Slash began as a term for (sometimes explicit) stories featuring a male homosexual couple, but it has expanded to include female homosexual couples as well (also known as femslash.) Slash is extremely popular in many fandoms and in fact eclipses heterosexual couples in several. It stands to reason that all this writing and reading about gay romances and encounters (not to mention fanart and fanvideos) has to have some effect on the people within fandom. That effect is what this page hopes to engage and describe.

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-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------from [Secret Post #1955] on fandomsecrets.livejournal.com


Justification

This effect is worthy of study because the LGBT community is at the forefront of the most recent, widespread civil rights campaign. Anything that might have an effect on how people perceive sexuality and gender thus merits at least a glance.

Slash fanfiction in particular is important to the LGBT community because it represents a resistance to the expectation that all people are heterosexual. Most media, until recently, did not bother to explore the possibility that their characters might be anything other than straight. Slash takes this heteronormativity and destroys it.

Besides this Real World benefit, asking this question can also benefit fandom. Many fandoms recently went through a wave of Social Justice awareness and since the LGBT equality was one of the focal points of that wave it stands to reason that any discussion on what fandom does for that community is worthwhile.

Fandom as a Safe Space

A safe space is an area that does not tolerate homophobia or harassment and thus people can feel free to express themselves however they choose. Not all fandoms can be considered safe spaces, but there are many that can. For example, in Nabari no Ou fandom only a little under a half of the members identified themselves as heterosexual and only a little over 80% identified themselves as cis-gendered. One member of the community recognized this and commented “a lot of the fandom is queer or queer friendly, so I feel welcome here.” (Fisher)

The effect of these internet safe spaces goes beyond simply being welcoming to the LGBT community. For some people, it is an area in which they can take comfort from the hardships of real life. For others, it is a place for exploration, a place where they can think about the world and themselves in new ways. One blogger writes:

"...fandom was first outlet for me to express my feelings, to explore what independent thought meant, to understand that the feelings I had were normal. It was a way to escape the intolerance of my surroundings, to believe in the beauty in love, however it manifests, and to escape the skeleton promise of my future: you will grow up to be a pretty woman. You will get married. You will have children. And then you will die. Excuse me, I can say today. Excuse me, but fuck you" (canttakeabreath.)

Besides affecting the LGBT community, fandom also has an effect on its members from outside the queer community. Most importantly, it is a vehicle for spreading awareness about the the community and involved issues. One person from the Nabari no Oufandom wrote "Fandom... made me a much more open-minded person than I may have been otherwise, and has made me much more aware of the issues in today's society and the continual fight against them." Another person from the fandom added “…prior to being in anime fandom, I didn't have any opinion on homosexuality nor did I really give much thought to my own sexuality or (future) sex-life. Fandom also opened the doors to an entirely new culture that I now consider one of my own." (Fisher)

Fans Finding Themselves

Perhaps most interesting of all is that fandom is often a place of self-discovery.

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The above image is a fandom!secret from [Secret Post #1915] over on the fandom!secrets Livejournal. fandom!secrets is a community where user anonymously submit their secrets to due with fandom for other people to see and comment upon. Many of these secrets have to do with fans coming to the realization that they are simply not who they thought there were.

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The idea of fandom!secrets has taken off throughout the internet. The above image is from a fandom!secrets blog specifically for the Homestuck fandom on Tumblr. There are dozens of such blogs, suggesting that many people have things about fandom that they need to get off their chests and thus that fandom truly does affect its members. It is not just a hobby; fandom is a culture, a considerably large one spread across the entire globe and touching the lives of millions of people.

I feel confident in saying so because I am one of those people. I spent most of my life assuming I was heterosexual. I actually had very little evidence to make this assumption on. I’d never had a genuine crush on anyone at all, opposite sex or not. I never had any desire to date anyone, never mind going to bed with anyone.

But since I didn’t ever fall for someone of the same sex I figure that meant I was straight. Heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual were the only orientations I knew of and since none of them fit me I decided to identify with what I considered to be the “default”—straight.

And then sometime in fall 2010, I came across an interesting word on the internet: asexual. I don’t remember exactly what was the context that I came across “asexual” in, but I do remember exactly where it was-- a fandom site.

I’d heard of asexuality before, but only ever in biology textbooks. I’d never considered that it might ever be something to do with human beings. So I searched the term and quickly found the homepage for the Asexual Visibility and Education Network. The more I read about it, the more I realized that this was me. This was what I’d been all along, though I’d never known what to name it.

And that is how fandom led me to what is probably the most important discovery about myself that I have ever made.

Recommended Reading

"On Fandom and Expressing Sexuality"
"Re-evaluating Your Sexual Preference"
"Fandom, Sexuality, and The Second Class Citizen"
"Gay People are Real, Slash is Meta"
"Why Fan Fanfiction Is Possibly the Most Lethal Threat to Your Heterosexuality" (PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS A SATIRE SITE.)

References