on the subversive potential of fanfiction
So I’ve seen a discussion going around Tumblr about queerbaiting in television shows, particularly in BBC Sherlock. The argument is a solid one, and needless to say it irks me that this happens, but I still find myself wanting to support the show (even if I’m critical about it) and to ship the couples I ship (in this case, primarily John/Sherlock).
And I wonder - does the fanfiction we write serve to exarcebate the negative effects of queerbaiting, or does it have the potential to subvert the “impossibility of queerness” that prevents these relationships from becoming canon?
Judith Butler argues in several of her books that drag performances have the power to reify (give authority to) gender norms; the performers strive to be “real”, to exact the gender norms completely, and that reinforces the idea that these gender norms SHOULD be valued and imitated. However, Butler also argues that drag subverts the idea of naturalized gender - if a man can look and behave just as “womanly” as a “natural born” woman, what does this say about the idea that gendered behaviour is natural?
Does fanfiction also have this ambivalent status?
On the one hand, writing fanfiction takes away some of the responsibility of the producers to deal with their unrelenting queerbaiting. There isn’t a pressing need to resolve the romantic or sexual tension they’ve carefully plotted in, because fans simply write their own resolutions and share them with other fans, online, for free. People ship their ships, and can find an abundance of fanfiction that supports them, and their outrage at the lack of any resolution in the show’s canon is diminished because, well, there’s always fanfiction.
On the OTHER hand, I think fanfiction has the ability to be subversive. When we take two characters whose romantic potential is always the butt of a joke and prove, with wonderfully plotted stories and lengthy character development, that the relationship is not only possible but indeed quite PLAUSIBLE, we are talking back. We are expressing our impatience with the producers’ continued inability to imagine a world in which two characters, who love each other very much platonically, could ever be prevailed upon to take their relationship to a more intimate level.
I think, maybe, that the key to transforming fanfiction into a subversive act is to develop queer relationships within popular literature that don’t rely on the queerbait-ey cues that are so strategically used to get our attention. If we ignore those moments that are supposed to encourage us to ship two characters together, and instead write strong narratives that show that queer relationships develop in the same way as heteronormative ones (and aren’t the result of a bit of eyesex), then maybe our stories will help convince others fans, if not writers and producers, that queer relationships are a distinct, valuable and heretofore neglected possibility.