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Explaining fandom can be difficult, because it’s so sprawling and, like any community, it means something different to everyone, and individual fandoms vary. Fandom, most basically, is being a fan of something such that you seek out other people who are fans and can connect with them solely on that basis. When we move on from the basic, things get weird.

I’m a member of both the Homestuck and Teen Wolf fandoms. I participate in them by blogging about them on Tumblr, writing fanfiction, and going to Meetups (from casual ones in my city to The Bite Convention in LA). Fandom is a fairly big part of my life, and so I have conversations about it: this post is pursuant to a few conversations I’ve had with my mom about not just fandom, but the narrow experience of fan creators and some of the things that drive them. There are two sort of fundamentals to the discussion of fandom as I’ve experienced it and as a political force. The first is that a lot of the people I’ve met are smart, kind, passionate young women (20-35) with some awareness of both literary theory and LGBT issues. The second is that fandom generates an almost incalculable amount of gay romance.

These things are not unrelated. One of the keystones of fandom is that creativity becomes a gift: not one you possess, but one you give. Birthdays, graduations, quitting one’s job to go freelance, getting a new professorship: these are all occasions that I’ve seen prompt gift-giving, and in fandom, gifts of art and fiction are accepted and appreciated. I’ve also participated in two fundraisers now where people bid on my fiction and all proceeds went to Wolf Haven International.

The fiction is all derivative of the work the fandom revolves around, to a greater or lesser degree. That’s the point, that it’s still in the same universe, that it’s more of the characters we already love. What fandom does, though, is allow us to add extra dimensions, such as remixes of Homestuck, The Secret Histories, and Brideshead Revisited, or Pride and Prejudice retold with extra teenage werewolves. Fandom also lets people explore complicated issues of rape culture with characters we already love but are well aware are fictional, putting it at exactly the right remove to spark fascinating discussion.

But even when fanfiction is more geared towards pure titillation, there are parts of it that are political, such as this post by a tumblr user who has since deleted their blog, presumably as a result of the death and rape threats that usually follow a popular post that is feminist.

“why do fangirls always make them gay?”

Imagine being in a relationship in which you are treated like an equal, consciously and unconsciously, sexually, emotionally, socially, romantically, without being bound by gender expectations, without risk of pregnancy (or having your reproductive rights taken away from you), without feelings of inferiority, without being mistreated or neglected because men don’t understand your body and can’t be bothered to learn how to give you pleasure (or that you even deserve pleasure). Imagine having a reciprocating relationship with someone who knows how to touch you and how to talk to you, who will never abuse you or take away your consent. Imaging feeling powerful, safe, like the default rather than the specific or second-class. Imagine not requiring special handling by awkward, inconsiderate men who were never taught any better. Imagine being allowed to touch and enjoy and indulge without apprehension. Imagine being able to trust your partner. Imagine knowledge and understanding, someone who sees your depths and treats you the way you’d treat yourself if you hadn’t been told from birth that you weren’t worth it.

Girls aren’t “making them gay.”

Girls are fantasizing about being equal.

Fanfiction with gay male romance is a way of writing or reading something emotionally fulfilling without navigating the minefield of scars left behind by the way our culture treats female sexuality and female bodies. Fanfiction and fandom are also places to explore ideas about kink and consent in a supportive and education-positive environment. Gay romantic fanfiction is a way to reclaim our romantic selves separate from coming to terms with our bodies and the way we’ve been taught to think about them, and can often help.

Fanfiction in general is also a reclamatory action in the face of a culture where narrative is owned and contained, in some ways a return to pre-Victorian traditions of story and oral tradition and folk tales and the joyful allusive qualities in literature: it reflects a tradition dating back to the Aeneid, which at its most basic is Iliad fanfiction. Fanfiction, and fandom, are a tremendous social force, fostering vibrant creative communities.