Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

Arisia: Queering Up Canon

Another great panel in a much-too-small room, and one that could have gone on much longer. (I went to non-me panels today but I'm writing this one up now while it's still fresh.)

(My first draft of this was a wall of text, so I'm making all my sentences bullet points; since that takes up a lot of scrolling space, I'm also putting it behind a cut.)


Much fanfic has a large interest in QUILTBAG themes. Maybe your fic involves making characters of the same gender fall in love with each other, having a character established as cis turn out to be trans, or asking if Sherlock has never shown any interest in a "proper" Victorian marriage because he's asexual. Can fanfic writing and QUILTBAG activism potentially intersect? What does it mean that fans of works with cis, straight characters are looking for more variety in the fiction they consume?

Kate Nepveu, Julia Pilowsky, Adrienne J. Odasso, Cassandra Lease

I reformulated the order and phrasing of this description somewhat, and set out a three-part structure for the panel: why queer canon; what general ways can fic advance activism; and how can specific story types/tropes queer canon?

Why queer canon?

We started by talking about why queer canon (queer up? Just "queer" as the verb sounds better to me, but I don't really know).

  • We talked about representation, the need to see oneself in stories to help one survive, especially in light of the historical lack of queer characters in mass media, which is only slowly changing.
  • We talked about shifting the kinds of stories that get told, the dominant narratives of how relationships "should" go and what they "should" look like (variations on how romances progress, the existence of poly relationships).
  • One really interesting reason was to relate to students as a teacher: talking about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or The Song of Roland (warning: Crusades propaganda) through a queer lens can be a way to reach students.
  • (People also talked about The Great Gatsby and its various subtexts, and then the bit that's barely subtext if that, when one male character gets drunk with another male character, there's the sole " . . . " in the book, and then the character wakes up in the other character's bed in his underwear . . . )

Fic as activism

Then we talked about the general kinds of ways that fic can be activist.

  • There's education, of course, the basic "this identity or type of relationship exists! Here's how it might be experienced by this character from canon!"
  • But re: education, there's also fandom as a place of discourse and potential community and support.
  • There's resistance and subversion, asking the questions, why shouldn't these characters be in a relationship/have this identity/express themselves this way?
  • Related to this, I think, was the idea that fic can model negotiation, not just in a sexual context but in the contexts of relationships and personal boundaries about identities; fic is freer, as a genre, to focus more on pure character development/introspection/discussion without, say, a monster-of-the-week to juggle.
  • We also talked about fic as normalizing marginalized identities: past the "this identity exists!" fics and into "here's a character with this identity, hanging out and being themselves and doing stuff, without the identity being the focus of the story."
  • (An audience member said they'd been a moderator at FictionAlley, which was a huge Harry Potter fanfic archive, and there was a thread running for years about whether reading slash could change people's minds about real-life queer characters, usually involving very young fans (answer: yes).)
  • And there was fanfic as hope, resisting the idea that queer people, trans* people, etc., have to have unhappy endings (see the book & documentary The Celluloid Closet (Wikipedia) for an examination of this trope in movies).
  • An audience member asked about balancing fic-as-activism with writing fic under pseudonyms or otherwise not being fully out as a fanfic writer; the panel generally agreed that fic writing is just one avenue of activism and there are others that don't have the associated baggage of fic writing and thus may be easier to publicly engage in.

Some particular story types

We were running low on time by that point, so we talked very quickly about a few specific story types and how they worked or didn't in terms of queering canon.

  • Stories that sex-swap one or more characters (edit for clarity: referring to stories in which a character has always been a different sex, usually cis, but not always, which is good): how that can be interesting and, particularly, increase representation of women in stories; but also, if changing an m/m pairing to m/f, can be disappointing or problematic, even if it's not motivated by "slash is icky" but rather "let's explore this character's life if he'd experienced sexism and the power dynamic expectations imposed on het relationships." (Using sex-swap to go from a canon m/f relationship to an f/f relationship is apparently pretty rare, though exists.)
  • Femslash and how it thrives in canons with multiple well-developed female characters, but unfortunately fandom doesn't generally put the same effort into fleshing out undeveloped female characters that it will into male characters.
  • An audience member pointed out the internalized sexism in a lot of women in fandom that can result in sex-swap stories: we hate all the women, so we'll ignore them or write them out, and now there are no women, so let's swap one of the guys! And we agreed that for all we were focusing on positive things fic can do, stories can, regardless of the arrangement of sexes or genders in a story, end up reinforcing harmful norms instead of subverting or challenging them.
  • (I'd complained about bisexual erasure earlier in the panel, but it didn't really fit in the summary above; anyway, lots of fandoms tend to coalesce around characterizing particular characters in the big m/m slash pairings as gay when canonically they have romantic interests in women (Rodney in SGA; Arthur in Inception). Pair them up with John and Eames all you want, just call them bi not gay!)
  • We ended by talking very briefly about fandom-created AUs in which sex and relationships and sometimes reproduction work on entirely different axes than in our world, and how that has the potential to allow a lot of queerness and/or examining restrictions placed on people in our world through the AU lens.

And I think that is the gist of it! If I forgot stuff, let me know, my note-taking tailed off toward the end. I had a lot of fun and those there seemed engaged and enthusiastic (also very patient waiting their turn for questions!), which makes me really glad.

Edit: remembered one additional bit: an audience member asked about creators, especially TV show runners, interacting with fandom and whether we thought that might lead to changes in the shows etc. We thought it could go either way, but that the more significant change might come from fans rising to positions of creative power within TVs and movies, much the way fic writers and other fans are increasingly getting published without disclaiming all involvement in fandom and bringing the discussions they've had in fandom to their professional writing. comment count unavailable comment(s) | add comment (how-to) | link

Tags: cons: arisia: 2014, fanfic, sexuality

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