By Emma Regan and Jordan Maxwell Ridgway
In a previous article, we, as the alternative publishing team, explored how fanfiction is classed as unauthorised creations based on existing intellectual property; a way for fans of the original work to express their admiration and creativity by reimagining their favourite characters. We also discussed how fanfiction has often come up against barriers on its journey towards legitimacy, despite current and successful examples of fanfiction being transformed into original works. It is then poignant that a type of literature looking to claim a rightful space in the publishing industry is only supported by a group of people still fighting to be heard.
One study, conducted on data from Archive of Our Own (AO3), suggests that, while fanfiction is largely thought to appeal to a female majority fanbase, there are also readers out there who identify as trans, non-binary or as genderless. The LGBTQIA+ community appears to be a strong readership for fanfiction, with the same study showing that a diverse range of sexualities is represented in AO3’s readers – that study was based on Harry Potter fanfiction readers alone. The LGBTQIA+ community is so prominent that a whole subgenre, known as slash fiction, revolves around non-heteronormative couplings.
Furthermore, LGBTQIA+ fanfics are not only directed for people already in the community, but also for those who are still trying to figure themselves out. One article in particular, titled How Fanfiction Helped Me Come To Terms With My Queer Identity, delves into the importance of fanfiction and how it can shine a beacon of light for those questioning their identity. The writer explains how the fanfiction on AO3 helped them to realise they identified as bisexual. Another article, which focuses on the author Cynthia So, explains that, before discovering fanfiction, she was unaware that other queer people existed in the world:
“I didn’t struggle with my sexuality initially, because the first thing that fanfic taught me was that it was normal. I read fanfic about straight relationships and I read fanfic about queer relationships; as a child, I didn’t really know to think of them differently. Even though I had never (to my knowledge) met other queer people in real life, let alone seen an out queer couple—so you would’ve thought I might have been like, “Hang on, but why don’t I know any queer people if it’s so okay to be queer?”—the moment I found fan fiction and learned about queerness as a possibility, I didn’t think to question it at all. I just accepted it.” - Cynthia So, Muggle Net.
It has become apparent that fanfiction has been filling a gap left by mainstream media. Although representation is growing each day for the LGBTQIA+ community, fanfiction presents a haven for the expression of identity and sexuality. There is a sense of catharsis in rewriting some of the most famous and beloved characters in literature in a way that better reflects our society, upending the tired tropes that prevent this more accurate representation.
Obviously, people like to feel seen and validated in the media that moves them. Wouldn’t we all take the chance to write ourselves into the pop culture that comforts and inspires us?
If that isn’t reason enough to convince you to hop on the fanfiction bandwagon, then the fact that it can be published anonymously on the internet should. This not only provides safety for the author and reader from potential backlash, but also connects them to other people within the community. Fanfiction welcomes those who may feel absent from the everyday content and connections that mainstream audiences enjoy.
And let’s not forget that it is also just a bit of fun.
Although it is still something people would not openly admit to reading or writing, if you consider the success of works such as Fifty Shades of Grey, After and The Love Hypothesis, couldn’t this attitude be changing in the publishing industry?
We would like to think so, considering the fact that fanfiction has been around for a lot longer that one would imagine. Books such as Paradise Lost by John Milton and Inferno by Dante are both fanfiction of the Old Testament, and even the roman emperor Augustus commissioned Virgil to write The Aeneid to connect himself to the Trojan hero Aeneas (which can be boiled down to a glorified self-inserted fanfiction if you will). Therefore, why should there be shame when it comes to people admitting they read or write fanfiction, especially if they have helped curate a space so safe and welcoming for others to enter?
Currently, there are roughly 341,400 fanfiction under the LGBTQ Themes tag on AO3, with the most popular having over 1 million hits. There is also a similar tag on Wattpad, the infamous fanfiction website with over 1,200 stories, some ranging from 150,000 hits to over 1.7 million hits. We can deduce from this that the LGBTQIA+ community is as wide as it is diverse with over hundreds of thousands of stories to choose from, either set in fictional worlds we already know and love or original works on the road to publication. Fanfiction should be celebrated more for its success in changing people’s lives and helping them to discover the beauty of being queer.