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In defence of fanfiction

Author:
fanfics

I have been reading and writing fanfiction since I was 13 years old – I am almost 20 – and I am unashamed of that fact. I believe in the power of this medium. Middle-aged white men may not see the value inherent in fanfic, and the rest of the world may ridicule fangirls and our “creepy/obsessive/weird” hobby, but I know that doesn’t mean anything. After all, aren’t some of the best things about the modern world widely misunderstood and undervalued? Aren’t selfies seen as proof of the ‘fact’ that young women are shallow, vapid creatures? Isn’t YouTube culture deemed as evidence that entertainment is in decay? And yet, think of the brilliance and importance of these things, of how selfies can promote self-love, and of how YouTube allows anyone (with access to a computer – still a massive privilege, of course) to be a creator? Fanfiction has similar value. Trust me, it’s played a significant part in shaping my life and who I am.

As a young teenager, I felt incredibly isolated. I had friends at school, but for several years I was unable to be honest with them – about my emotions, my sexuality, about anything substantial. Thankfully, there was the internet. More specifically, there was the One Direction fandom. It was whilst the band were on The X-Factor UK in 2010 that I found a community for myself, and I am immensely grateful for that. I remember very clearly the evening I went on Twitter, as usual, and one of my mutual followers posted about wanting to write a fic featuring female characters based on herself and a bunch of her fandom friends. I ended up being one of them – the fic concept being of us, as a girl band rivalling One Direction on the X-Factor (but being super close friends with them all, of course!). Each of us in that group ended up writing our own fics, and we all included each other in them. I remember feeling like I belonged, like I finally had a place. That circle of friends – and the stories we created together – was integral to my survival at that point. I was more than a bit miserable at school, but I knew that at the end of every day, my computer was waiting for me. I had something to escape into – the latest chapters of my friends’ fics, and the chatter that followed reading. And I had a purpose – I had my own fic to write, and people who wanted to read it, people who wanted to know my thoughts. Although it was fiction, my group all inserted real life issues into our stories – I remember vividly how one of my friends wrote my character’s body image issues, and finding so much comfort in reading it. The comfort that ‘I’ was given in this fictional world translated into real life. I eventually lost touch with those girls, but I never lost what they gave me. I will always value their friendship, and I will always value the way that fanfiction brought us together.

Fanfiction has not only helped to connect me to others, it’s helped me to connect to myself, too. I have never been comfortable in my sexuality, never really sure of ‘where I fit’ in regards to labels. Bisexual is the word I used to define myself for many years, but it was never quite right, and that always inhibited me considerably. This discomfort only intensified as I began to surround myself with queer friends, people who were out and proud and sure of their sexuality – as I became more and more immersed in queer culture, the more of a fraud I felt. Fanfiction was the thing that began to change that, because it was through fanfiction that I first came across the labels that I felt a true connection to. It was in fanfiction that I came across the concept of asexuality, and suddenly there was a possibility in the back of my mind that I wasn’t ‘failing’, that my general disinterest in sex did not necessarily mean that I was inherently lacking. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I ‘fit’ asexuality, because I did not 100% ‘meet the criteria’. For a few months, I was more confused than ever before, and it was immensely distressing. I began to strongly believe that I was defective – sexuality being one of many things that I felt I did not have ‘a fixed place’ in, one of the many things that left me in a grey area. And then came the fic that changed my life. I’m not even exaggerating. This was a high school AU, and in this fic, the two main characters – Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson – defined as grey-ace and demisexual, respectively. I had heard of the latter, but not fully understood what it meant, and – having a friend who defined this way – I wanted to. The former, on the other hand, was a term I had never come across before – intrigued, I looked it up. The results of my Google search were like a slap in the face. Except, pleasant. It was the first time I had sighed with relief at a simple word, the first time that I did not feel like I had to reach for a label and clutch desperately at it. It was the first time I’d latched onto something – not only in regards to my sexuality – that felt natural, easy. It was the first time I realised something important, that I am not defective, and what I feel (and don’t feel) is completely valid. It continues to amaze me that something so monumental in my life was a result of reading fanfiction, and serves as a reminder that doing what you love can have some huge results, beyond anything you could possibly imagine.

Fanfiction has been many things for me over the years – a place of community, of creativity, and of self-discovery. But perhaps the simplest and most important thing that fanfiction has done for me is given me a place to call home. Of course, that’s fandom in general – in the worst of times, One Direction have always been my retreat, my safe place – but fanfiction is perhaps a particularly special extension of that. As a life-long book nerd/story obsessive, it is the part of fanfiction that matters to me most because it encompasses all of myself, and it provides me with an escape of multiple dimensions. I will never understand why the rest of the world can’t see the beauty in that, but I’m not too bothered about that anymore. I know that I am never on my own in what I believe in and care about, and the proof is in this fandom.

What is queer fiction?

Author:
IMG_7257

By Anna Hill

When I first started my search for mirrors in the form of queer books I was often recommended entirely non-queer books. I think this is because people have fundamentally misunderstood what queer fiction is and how good and valuable representation works. Here are some of the problems I have found:

One [side] character does not a queer book make

Throughout my journey the recommendations people made to me simply reaffirmed some of the things I already knew – that only white men are gay enough, or even interesting enough to be represented; and that if you are a lesbian or worse – a bisexual woman – you do not exist. I was recommended good books, but not good queer books. Books with straight girl main characters and straight romance pushed as the most important aspect of girls’ lives, with sad, buried gays and sick pitiful gay friends, but never part of the main story.

The lie that a queer book is one with a glimpse of a queer person has been spread, for example by lists like this. Books like Weetzie Bat and The Perks of Being a Wallflower have been put on it, but it’s Weetzie Bat’s best friend who is gay, it’s Charlie’s best friend that is gay! The main character in both these stories is straight. On other lists people have suggested Liberty’s Fire, Remix or Letters To the Dead – all of which have queer side characters, brothers or friends, but are lead by heterosexual and heteromantic love stories.

Queer books should be intersectional

On top of that the number of queer books I was recommended to begin with normally told the stories of white, cisgender, male characters. From Will Grayson, Will Grayson to lesbian classics like Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Carol or Fun Home (all of which do count as queer fiction), all are overwhelmingly whitewashed. The queer literature we continue to celebrate often simply reaffirms the idea that there is an acceptable, palatable type of queer and the majority of the queer community are not it.

The moments when you finally find those books that make you feel seen and validated are radical and nourishing. They are so important that, without them, I don’t think I would have survived. Being able to claim a historical and literary ancestry helps to centre queer survival and power today. Suggesting so-called queer fiction which doesn’t centre intersectional queer main characters allows all queers to be disempowered from their own narratives; we are not important or valid enough to be the heroes of any stories, even our own.

A quick counter-list of 15 queer books to read:

(I have yet to read any aromantic or agender books :()

KEY:

* are for poc

b is for bisexual characters

a for asexual

I for intersex

t for trans

  1. The colour purple by alice walker*
  2. Snapshots of a girl by beldan sezen*
  3. Huntress by malinda lo*
  4. Aristotle and dante discover the secrets of the universe by Benjamin alire saenz*(b)
  5. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson*
  6. The song of Achilles by madeline miller
  7. Far from you by tess sharpe (b)
  8. She of the mountains by vivek shraya*(b)
  9. Not otherwise specified by Hannah Moskowitz*(b)
  10. None of the above by I.W Gregorio (i)
  11. Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis*
  12. Pantomime by Laura Lam (i)
  13. From under the mountain by Cait Spivey*(a)
  14. A safe girl to love by Casey Plett (t)
  15. If I was your girl by Meredith Russo (t)

Boobs of Steel

Author:

By Abby Fontaine

When I was younger, my older brother had a pair of Superman pyjamas that I loved. They matched Superman’s costume completely, including the cape, which made the pajamas even cooler. My brother would run through the house with the red cape flying out behind him, and I got jealous. Soon enough, I learned to make my own cape from my pink blanket and followed him around. I remember waiting anxiously for the day he outgrew them and they were put into our storage closet full of potential hand-me-downs.

As soon as I was big enough, I wore those pyjamas whenever I could, day or night. However, time flew faster than Superman, and the pyjamas were soon too small for me. From then on, I had only girly pyjamas. My superhero days were over, until this Christmas when my sister gave me adult-sized Batman footie pyjamas, complete with a cape.

I used to love pretending to be a superhero. It was amazing to think that I could have super strength or super speed. With the current releases of all the fantastic Marvel movies, my nerdy love for classic comic book heroes has been renewed and invigorated. Only now, I’m more aware of important equality issues when it comes to representations of men and women. And in the superhero world, things are very far from equal.

Recently, I’ve been playing a two-person video game called “Injustice: Gods Among Us.” The game has a huge collection of superheroes that you can choose from and then fight with in one-on-one battle. At first, I thought it would be awesome to play as a female superhero. Although, when I choose a female character, it’s disappointing. She is always at a distinct disadvantage because she’s just not as powerful. As a result, I’ve learned to love the cooler male characters.

Along with differences in power, there are obvious differences in depictions and costumes. Women’s costumes consist of minimal material and the focus is on the body rather than on power—breasts are clearly emphasized and exaggerated. Yes, men are in tights and have defined muscles, but male characters’ costumes cover all. The contrast is so annoying and so obvious.

By objectifying these powerful women, the game makers lessen their imposing presence and powers.

superheroes1

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If the male characters were to dress in a similar way, the result would be comical rather than sexual. The problem here is the disparity: female characters’ costumes aren’t viewed by society in the same way. Women are effortlessly and commonly objectified, while men in similar costumes invite uproarious laughter. We can use this humor to our advantage to highlight the inequality and to help consumers abandon their blind acceptance of these inconsistencies. Better yet, how about some female characters fully and appropriately clothed to kick ass?

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