Cas Sweeney ’19
I have been reading fanfiction and involved in various fandom communities since I was a child. I don’t remember discovering fanfiction; it has always been part of my life.
I have heard my fair share of bad takes involving fanfiction, read articles where it was used as a synonym for fake, seen it held up as the epitome of silly, young girls, especially during the Twilight craze.
All of these opinions were very far away from me, however. They were mostly expressed by people I didn’t know, on blogs or social media accounts that had nothing to do with me.
In my personal life, people either knew what fanfiction was or soon would. When I made a new friend, I was quick to explain the concept: stories that are inspired by already existing media. Most of the people I met found that either familiar or fascinating. I assumed for a long time that the opinions around me were the opinions that most of the world held.
It wasn’t until last semester that I found myself in a group of people who were not so readily accepting of fanfiction. I had finally met people who had already heard of fanfiction and whose opinions were already cemented by the time I met them.
I tried to include these new friends in my enthusiasm, sharing my feelings about a new story that I had stayed up all night reading or speculating about what stories would be written about the movie we had just seen.
Instead of idle curiosity or shared enthusiasm, I was met with shunning silence and incredulous looks. Finally I had to confront the possibility that more people than I could have believed held those far-off opinions about fanfiction, that it was silly, shameful, wrong.
Initially, I was tempted to justify myself. I could have begged for acceptability through the fact that fanfiction can be a stepping stone to writing original fiction; that it is a good way for people to critically consume media; that it gave me a unique view on sex and relationships; that for some people in fandom history, fanfiction was their only interaction with a fictional world that would accept and invite them.
All of these things are true, of course, but there is more nuance than would fit in these narratives.
To try and find respect through the ways that fanfiction can benefit other people means to sideline people who do not follow that narrative. Some fanfiction authors will never write original fiction, and it doesn’t mean that they are worse writers or less deserving of respect.
Fanfiction is not the only way to create new content that is more accepting of LGBT or queer people, of women, of people of color. Often it is not the best way, and some fanfiction is even less inclusive than the original media. If one presses the narrative that fanfiction is always more inclusive than original media, then we ignore the opportunity to face the flaws within the fanfiction community.
It’s true that I’ve learned new things about sex and relationships from fanfiction, and I believe that overall being part of that community has made me more sex positive. However, to claim that fanfiction is “good” because it teaches things about sex is irresponsible.
For one, it puts a lot of pressure on fanfiction writers to make their stories teachable moments, when teaching is not a goal that they have agreed to take on when they decided to write fanfiction.
Secondly, it ignores the fact that fanfiction writers are just people, and they will write things that are good and bad, whether accidentally or on purpose. Just like with other forms of media, it is ultimately the responsibility of the reader to choose what to take away from their stories.
So when I was met with negativity about my chosen hobby, I decided not to mention any of these potential benefits. The reality is more complex, but also it isn’t relevant. I don’t have to prove the worthiness of fanfiction to other to be willing to admit my interest in it.
After all, none of these things have ever been the reason that I read fanfiction. I read it because I enjoy it. That is the only thing that matters.