Fandom is a rather general term. Oxford dictionary defines fandom as being “The fans of a particular person, team, fictional series, etc. regarded collectively as a community or subculture,” but I feel as though the term fandom is popular culture is known as a specific fan base around a fictional show or movie, and anyway that is what I’m going to be focusing on in this exploration. Fandoms have existed since ancient times with the beginning of sports and sports teams. Rooting for different teams with communities of people that you wouldn’t know beyond that specific sport is really the beginning of fandom as we know it, but now it has evolved into something much different.
In 2019 Fandom is mostly understood as the online phenomenon and community of fans that form on different social medias and share their love of different fictional medias together, but fandom is also a way in which many people, including myself, have made new realization about their own character and identity. The relationship between fandom and queerness is not a new or uncommon pattern. The Slash fandom is the term to describe the section of fan bases which focuses on LGBT and specifically MLM (Men Loving Men) relationships. Homosexuality has been a part of literature and the oral tradition since the beginning of story telling, but the slash fandom really made its popular appearance with the show Star Trek: The Original Series. It’s hard to know exactly when the slash fandom begun because of the art and literature associated with the relationships were distributed and shared privately with not very many people. The Ring of Soshern written by Jennifer Guttridge in 1968 was one of the first or possibly the first stories written about the sexual relationship between Kirk and Spock. The novel was written with the intention of being just passed around from fan to fan, but it was published without permission in many magazines and was quickly spread far and why. It is extremely hard to find copies of this story due to many fans of the show going out of their way to buy copies to burn them in a form of protest and censorship. After this story was created there were multiple other stories published and then fanzines made to gather and form a kind of archive of Spock and Kirk fan creations. These fanzines were spread nationally so that people from across the country could share and enjoy slash art, but the anonymity of artists and buyers were still very important in 1970s when these fanzines became popular.
This national community of Star Trek slash fandom started as a smaller tight knit community. It was this community of mostly women exploring different sexualities not really ever present in popular media. This small community was made with the intention of not being very much publicized or seen by the public. I feel that the current fandom that has grown widely over the decades since have changed in obvious ways but stayed the same in that it has really remained a community with the understanding that that is supposed to be more private than public even though most fandom interactions are public on social media sites, fandom has this feeling of exclusivity and removement from the outside world. It feels like a safe place for the most part to explore topics that you wouldn’t normally feel the freedom to do in other online communities.
I discuss these fandoms from two major points of views: tumblr and instagram. Tumblr definitely harbored more of private community type of feel to it while instagram feels much more open and like content and conversations could spread throughout the entire social media site. On tumblr fandom content usually stayed within the people following specific tags or popular fandom blogs, but due to the popular explore feature of instagram, any posts of any kind can end up in the feeds of people who may not be a part of different fandoms, causing a major occurrence of negative comments on many fandom posts on instagram. Commenting negatively on others posts are for the most part looked down on. This contributes to a community more focused on uplifting individuals within the fandom and not tolerating bullying or negativity on a larger scale. This means individuals are more likely to explore their own personal likes and interests with the knowledge that their community will be supportive and understanding. With this environment created, male friendships in their respective fandom shows and movies are explored along sexually and romantic ways. A theory behind why slash as opposed to fem-slash has really been more popular in these communities is that there just aren’t a lot of female characters in media and when there are they either are not major characters or they are not written as well as the men. “there are not enough well-written female characters, particularly in the nerdy fandoms that dominate fanfiction – the Avengers, Supernatural, Star Trek – so women spend their energy pairing up the interesting male characters instead. (I think the enthusiasm of the Swan Queen shippers in the Once Upon A Time fandom give credence to the idea that plenty of women are interested in femslash too, if there are interesting female characters who bicker and meet each others eyes meaningfully.)” I explain this to say dispel the idea that all women writing about m/m relationships are fetishizing homosexual relationships, and instead I believe that it’s more the idea that young and old women alike are exploring ideas about romance and sexuality through likeable and relatable characters. I also argue that it is through this environment of freedom found through fandom that many women have made realizations about their own personal sexuality.
In 2016 a survey compiling data about different demographics and sexual practices of adults in fandom was made and distributed through the internet through blogs dedicated to fandom and fanfiction with a notable focus on BBC Sherlock and the tumblr fandom. Over 2000 people completed this survey in 21 days. 24% of the participants identified as heterosexual while 34.8% identified as bisexual. A huge difference between the general population and the participants of the survey. I feel that the reason behind this gap is that this inclosed community allowing people to explore and share new findings about themselves in way that isn’t really seen on any other platforms. Themes of family and change are common in a lot geek fandoms that grew on tumblr so it isn’t a huge surprise to see this openness and self reflection in the people that were in these online gatherings. “It is significant that these themes find their way into fandom, as fans often rely on their show for solace, comfort, and reassurance. While Zubernis and Larsen illustrate persuasively that fandom itself is a community that “builds confidence and self-esteem, offers a support system and creates a space where people can explore and grow more comfortable with their identity,” so too can the television texts themselves offer comfort and companionship to some who may be outside traditional community.” (Paul Booth 116)
- “History of Slash Fandom.” Fanlore, fanlore.org/wiki/History_of_Slash_Fandom.
- Booth, Paul. Crossing Fandoms: SuperWhoLock and the Contemporary Fan Audience. Palgrave Macmillen, 2016.
- Susana-Polo. “In Defense of So-Called ‘Bad’ Fanfiction.” The Mary Sue, The Mary Sue, 8 Aug. 2014, http://www.themarysue.com/in-defense-of-so-called-bad-fanfiction/.
“Fandom and Sexuality Survey.” Three Patch Podcast, 1 July 2018, three-patch.com/sexsurvey/.