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29th March 2024

Let women write fanfiction

Fanfiction gave many, including myself, the space to be themselves. So, we look into the origins and communities behind fanfiction to shed light on why it shouldn’t be dismissed.
Let women write fanfiction
Credit: Jan Baborak @ Unsplash

I have an embarrassing secret: I used to write fanfiction. Being a fan was a coming of age for me. I experienced the highs and lows of fandom with an intensity that can only be felt when you are 14.

Every new piece of your favourite media is sacred – whether it be an episode of manga or Taylor Swift re-recording albums. If you have ever been on the internet, you have either been a fan or encountered a fan.

The origins of fanfiction

Fanfiction is a writing genre that uses a previously existing work as source material for further writing. It is not a rip-off, but a transformation standing on centuries of literature.
Being a fan is gendered. To like something with a borderline obsession is seen as female and, because of this, being a fan and writing fanfic is embarrassing. This raises the question: why don’t we ever let women enjoy things?

Fanfiction is born from fan culture and ‘fandom’. A fandom is a group of fans engaging with and sharing content around a piece of media. Fandoms see media in two ways, canon and headcanon. The canon is what you’d expect as the rules set out in the piece of media while headcanon is a way for fans to transform the source material. In this way, the character of Sherlock Holmes is built off of canon and headcanon.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, has always been a source of fan adoration. If you are not already familiar, Sherlock follows Detective Sherlock Holmes with his sidekick John Watson through solving murder mysteries. Even back in Conan Doyle’s time, this amassed a cult fandom. Victorian men mourned Sherlock’s death (sorry for the spoiler) by wearing a black funeral armband. Yet, these men were not dismissed for their interest because they loved the source material first.

The BBC adaptation is a fan work in a way as it completely derails the plot of the novel. This attracted a new audience that Conan Doyle almost certainly did not predict – teenage girls. It offered escapism through a whole universe of fanfiction that had many, including myself, longing for more.

Queering fanfiction

I was a teenager coming to terms with my own queerness and I found a community through reading fanfiction. For me, it was reassuring to see writing imagining Sherlock and John as a couple. The books have no reference whatsoever to a Sherlock who was anything other than straight. By fanfiction queering the canon, I felt seen even if it was just through the imagination of a stranger on the internet. I didn’t just read fanfiction. I wrote about Riverdale too. Yes, that show on Netflix about an unhinged murder mystery. Despite lacklustre performances and a nonsensical plot, Riverdale was the first time I saw queer women on screen. The relationship between Cheryl and Toni inspired me to write.

The anonymity of fanfiction websites ensured that whatever weird thing you could dream up, you could write with no fear of any real-life repercussions. For queer people in the closet, this meant fanfiction was a safe space to explore these feelings.

Fanfiction and representation

I will never reveal my Tumblr blog URL, yet fanfiction did represent me when I needed it most. It’s not surprising that fandom is dominated by women and non-binary people. One of the more popular sites Archive of Our Own found that more users identified as genderqueer (6%) than as male (4%).

Queer and female audiences want to change the source material to see themselves represented. Yet, when they do write, we degrade them. It’s the same derision that forced the Brontë sisters to write under a male pseudonym. The only barrier to recognising fanfiction as a legitimate art form is breaking down this stigma of what makes art good enough.

Websites like Archive of Our Own and Wattpad are the few places left where anyone can get popular. Self-publication on these sites allows writers to embrace their creativity and envision new possibilities through writing. But, as a culture, we remain terrified of young women and their art.

I see similar themes from fanfiction reflected in my literary tastes today. My current favourites are mysteries and LGBTQ+ horror which, in a strange way, are reflected in the stories built from Sherlock and Riverdale. Fanfiction helped me find the things I love.

Our current literary landscape is full of fanfic – with Fifty Shades of Grey born from Twilight, The Mortal Instruments from Harry Potter, and The Love Hypothesis from Star Wars. Fanfiction is quickly becoming part of the mainstream.

The radical spirit of fanfiction helped me find my identity as a queer person. As a literary movement, it is exciting to see these existing books blossom into new narratives. Fanfiction is changing the nature of literature, and it deserves respect as a literary genre.

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