Queen Cultural Narratives as Seen on Tumblr

Sarah Liggera '17 Contributing Writer

Last year, I finally took a significant step in improving my social awareness: I made a Tumblr account. All my friends were on it. Because they would not stop talking or referencing things they’d seen on it, and apparently it was geek-chic, I made one of my own.

Quickly, I discovered the world of fandoms. To those of you who are unaware of fandom culture, fandoms are – pretty accurately – described by Urban Dictionary as the “community that surrounds a tv show/movie/book [sic] etc. … Fandoms often consist of message boards, livejournal [sic] communities, and people.” What this definition leaves out is both the intensity and commitment of fandoms and how very queer they are.

It is a pretty general sentiment, at Smith especially, that LGBTQIA people lack representation in movies and in the media. And while there has been an upward trajectory of media forms offering more depictions of queer people, there is still work to be done.

You would not think that looking at Tumblr.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I am pretty out of the loop when it comes to media crazes, be it TV shows, anime, movies – whatever. As such, Tumblr bombarded me with posts about a huge number of TV series and books I had yet (and still have yet) to watch or read.

When I first checked out Supernatural, in an attempt to figure out who Destiel (actually the name for a pairing of two of the characters) was, I was pleased to discover its main characters were gay and in a relationship. No wonder my girlfriend liked it!

Then I watched it. Long story short, they were not actually gay. They were also brothers, but that’s a whole ’nother article. But tell that to Tumblr or, more specifically, the “shippers.”

Shipping, another piece of fandom related diction, means taking characters from media and “coupling” them together, usually romantically. Shipping is popular on Tumblr, and many posts are dedicated to fanart and fanfiction – fan-made artwork or fictional stories that depict people’s favorite characters in TV or movies. So, as I began my journey through Tumblr, I was struck by the sheer number of fanworks dedicated to the portrayal of characters in queer relationships.

At first, I was kind of flattered. For the most part, Tumblr seems very open-minded, and I was impressed by their inclusiveness. The question was, however, where were the lesbians? And why were they so focused on sexual positions?

Naturally, that statement needs a little clarification. I have noticed that, in fanworks, there is a certain degree of stress on positions, more specifically in gay male-bodied relationships. However, this fascination with positions can be narrowed down further and more specifically to a fixation on who’s “on top” and who’s the “bottom.” In a sense, to me, this seems to convey a certain translation issue.

I am sure many a queer can relate to the experience of talking to a straight person who has only recently discovered your sexuality and hearing the question, “Who’s the man in your relationship?” Or “Who’s dominant?” Or the confusion on their faces if you and your partner are both femme or both butch.

I have been asked questions like this from both people who were deliberately trying to set me off and close friends who are completely accepting of my sexuality. As such, I have come to understand that, in a way, they are trying to put it into “straight” terms, to make a foreign concept relatable to themselves. Or to be annoying. That’s possible, too.

While I think this same concept can also be attributed to the trend I was describing on Tumblr, I also think there is another component, namely fetishization.

Straight men think lesbians are hot; straight women think gay men are hot. I’m all for equality. If you are attracted to men, it is more than understandable that two men together is attractive as well. However, I do believe that fetishization based off of a misconstrued perception of gay relationships does have the potential to be harmful or degrading. While I do not believe fanfiction written about Sherlock and John getting together and raising a family is in any way comparable to, say, the contemporary pornography industry’s warping portrayal of lesbian and trans* women, I do think it warrants discussion and acknowledgement. After all, both fall prey to the tendency to focus only on the sexual aspects of queer relationships, often depicted in a heteronormative and fetishized light, ignoring the fact that, in reality, we’re just two or more people being together and hopefully having fun together outside of the bedroom as well.