Fandom, we need to talk about romance.

/Fandom, we need to talk about romance.

Update: The text of the linked article has now changed, apparently in response to this post. Thoughts here.


The genre, not the trope, that is. Because I’ve seen the article “A guide to fanfiction for people who can’t stop getting it wrong“, written by Aja Romano and Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, floating around recently. It’s long and breaks down a lot of the myths that pop up in mainstream media articles about fandom and fanfiction. Reading it, I spent most of the time nodding my head vigorously and agreeing with like 94% of what was being said, but

But. Let’s just talk about that 6% for a moment. Because it’s something I’ve seen before and, sadly, I’m sure I’ll see again. Romano and Baker-Whitelaw are guilty of one thing in their detailed, otherwise-good, five-thousand word breakdown and that one thing is, ironically, the same thing they’re accusing other media outlets of being guilty of. And that’s ignorance of a particular “specialist” subject matter, in this case books.

Yeah. Books. As in, fiction novels. Well. Mostly romance books, in fact.

And the thing is, they misconceptions they have are, I think, ones that are not just incredibly common in fandom itself but are also self-defeating and self-propagating.

Ref. the section “Myth: All fanfic is porn“:

You’re actually way more likely to find well-written erotica on AO3 than from a legitimate erotica publisher. There’s also the fact that when it comes to sexually explicit material, the fanfic community has a pretty unusual attitude compared to mainstream porn, erotica, or normal popular entertainment.

In the real world, we’re used to seeing a pretty clear division between what is and isn’t porn. Novels can include sex scenes, but they’re generally not the emotional focus of the book unless it’s specifically categorized as erotica, at which point it’s immediately classified as embarrassing and slightly pervy. Similarly, there’s a huge gap between adult-rated shows like Game of Thrones, and actual pornography. In the world of fanfiction, this division is almost nonexistent.

Typically, the most popular and highly recommended fanfics are long (about 20,000 words and up), well-written, and feature a mixture of plot, character study, and romance. In popular fandoms like Sherlock, Teen Wolf, and Avengers, the most popular longfics focus on a central relationship like Sterek or Johnlock, but they also have an action/adventure or mystery plot, and adult-rated sex scenes. This type of cross-genre mixing is virtually nonexistent outside of the fanfic community, which is one of the reasons why fanfic is so popular in the first place.

Stop. No. Seriously. Just… stop right there.1 If you say or believe things like this–and I know a lot of fandom does–then you are exactly as guilty as doing to romance in general and m/m in particular what the mainstream media does to fanfic.

So stop it. All statements like this show is that the person who espouses them hasn’t actually fucking read anything at all in one of the genres they’re talking about.

Because this is apparently a secret to so much of fandom–at least, I very rarely hear it discussed or fangirled over–there is a huge scene in published, original, plot-heavy and/or character-focused erotica being produced by a variety of indie writers and traditional publishers–both large and small–alike. You may have heard me talk about authors like KJ Charles and Jordan L. Hawk before, because, a) they are cool ladies, and b) they write awesome original, plotty m/m stories. The plot structures, tropes, and “cross-genre mixing” of books like Widdershins and The Magpie Lord will be familiar to anyone with a background in fandom in general and slashfic in particular. Jane Kindred‘s Prince of Tricks has more sex and more kinky sex, and also a whole heaping helping of angelic intrigue. Jordan Castillo Price‘s PsyCop series is, as the name suggests, about a psychic cop who talks to the dead. MC Hana‘s Moro’s Price is a kinky h/c space opera. And that’s just a small sampling of some of the stuff I’ve encountered recently, in the one single genre–SFF m/m–because it’s the genre I enjoy.

There’s more. Much, much more. Whole Goodreads groups of more. Het and queer, men and women, kinky and vanilla. Stuff that is as explicitly, aggressively feminist as even the deepest corners of fandom, even. In fact, in-group academic defenses of romance as a genre look suspiciously identical to those made about fanfic. “Written by and for women”, “privileging pleasure”, “unironic sincerity”… stop me if you’ve heard any of these before. (Also see: discussions of intersectionality while we’re at it.)

So why is it that (hah!) mainstream media fandom often seems so aggressively invested in tearing down–or, being more charitable, blithely ignorant about–what would seem to be a sympathetic cultural product?

I wish I knew. I wish I didn’t sort-of-maybe see it as a kind of a side-effect to that most invidious of anti-feminist social constucts. Yanno. The one that tells woman the only way they and their labour can succeed is by tearing down and shitting all over other women.

Is that too harsh? Because that’s what, at the moment, this reads like. I’m trying to ascribe it to gentle lack-of-exposure rather than outright malice. But that’s hard when the misconceptions are coming from such a big megaphone as a mainstream online magazine.

And, look. Fandom. I get that maybe you just don’t want to read origfic (which, incidentally, is now allowed onto the AO3) or you can’t afford it or whatever. But can we please stop pretending that it’s because like-(slash-)fanfic-but-original stories just aren’t available, full stop?

Because they are. They really, really are. No matter what excuse you think you’re using.

Well. Except for one: no, original novels generally aren’t free like fanfic is. So you will, in most cases, have to cough up some dollars. But if this is the media you want–queer, sexy, kinky, plotty, character-driven, emotional, intersectional, whatever–then why not, yanno. Support it.

Or you can just write fanfic about a Yet Another Two White Dudes TV show. That’s fine too, if it’s your bag. All I’m asking is people stop making out as if it’s the only one available.


  1. Also, that first line? Yee-ouch. Really?
2018-06-26T12:38:56+00:0018th June, 2014|Tags: aja romano, books, culture, fandom, fanfic, m/m, pop culture, xp|Comments Off on Fandom, we need to talk about romance.