Despite the queer content that proliferates in many parts of creator-forward fandom spaces, a majority of places where fandom congregates and occurs is still obviously and overwhelmingly catered to straight white men. Unfortunately a lot of preconceptions about who the fans are and who should own certain properties still affect the way that people react in these spaces. Comic cons have had to adopt specific anti-harassment policies for female cosplayers. The culture of Hollywood has fostered rampant sexual assault and the #MeToo movement has allowed for limited consequences to a select few.
Here’s the thing: people in power will generally refuse to give up power. They want to maintain authority, or ownership, or be the sole keeper of fan media. Video games, comics, superhero movies, and science fiction genres have always had women at the helm of the fandom, and often at the helm of the creation of the media.
The problem is that when people see something that they relate to, it’s easier to claim that only people similar to them can relate to that piece of media than to consider the ways in which others can relate to the same piece of media. It’s easier to say ‘this is mine’ as opposed to ‘this is ours.’
There have been studies which show the difference between white male fandom gatekeepers and those who do not believe that fandom is created for them. This is the idea of a collector verses a creator. A collector gathers facts, collectibles, editions, covers, and trivia. A creator tends to focus on a method, such as art, writing, fanvids, or any other productive fan activity which results in something new and derivative. Both are valid ways of interacting with fandom and becoming a fan, and I use the term productive as a way of conveying the product, and not the intense diligence needed for either method.
So what happens when white men control the narrative? In the late ’80s and ’90s, fan culture became isolated and strangely insular, catering mostly to the white men who were the most vocal and obvious consumer. In an effort to appeal to this audience, especially in comics and movies, hyper-macho characters were introduced alongside hyper-sexualized women; the only gaze becoming a male gaze. Comics, already a niche market, became even less approachable.
There are some exceptions to this, as there always are, but this was also the time during which comics produced their lowest sales, comic shops began shuttering their doors, and Diamond Distributors became really the only place where you could purchase comics for your shop. Comic shops became gatekeepers to nerd culture, and these places were primarily run by men, and thus turned into a boy’s club.
So how did people who weren’t necessarily invited to the party attend? There was still a lot of good stuff happening in comics and nerd culture. . . who can ignore Dana Scully? Xena? Buffy? The advent of internet fandom allowed for the dissemination of cultures beyond the single point-of-view embodied in comic shops.
“This is ours,” became the rallying cry of online fandom, and women and queer people quickly flocked to a space where they could rewrite their favorite characters to be more explicitly representative of who they were. The importance of queer fandom and queer representation went hand in hand with better female representation and better representation of people of color. Older, female-led fandoms such as Star Trek, Sentinel, Blake’s 7, and Starksy and Hutch paved the way for derivative works that featured queer couples at the center of many stories.
Queer fandom has always been ignored, pushed off as a splinter cell of larger groups of fans. However, it’s undeniable that queer fandom has succeeded because it offers a viewpoint intensely and immediately different from what is being sold in comic stores or shown on screens. Queer fandom is making up the difference in representation through fanwork, leveling the playing field the only way that we can: through explicitly and obvious occupation.
There is the presumption that many queer fanworks are inherently erotic. There are many reasons for this, but one of the biggest reasons is, in my opinion, the desire for confirmation. To see representation only in subtext is awful. To see representation explicitly shown, yes, sometimes to the point of erotica, is a powerful thing. It takes back the narrative, and it shows that yes, this is ours too.
The need for queer fandom and queer-only spaces is not to silo queer representation but to allow more variety, and eventually allow for more representation across all media. Support for queer stories is still relegated to niche markets, while the white male’s POV is still considered universal. In order to uplift the community and explore the parts of queer culture that make us unique, beautiful, and worthy of mainstream stories, we need to have a safe place to do so.
There is no wrong way to be a part of a fandom. There is no one way. But to accept the status quo, and allow a single point of view to dominate our conversations and our media is intolerable. Queer spaces need to arise, and queer creators need to be supported alongside queer fandom. The change is happening, and I can’t wait.