Note: I am here to discuss the exploitation of queer characters and themes in fandom. I am unsure as to whether this happens to PoCs too, though I can unfortunately see how it would, but as a non PoC myself it is something I have yet to become aware of. I tried to look up of there was anything on the issue but mostly all I could find was how racist fandoms can be, so if anyone has anything relevant to fandoms exploiting PoCs I would be infinitely grateful!
Anyway, into a topic that I, as a gay man, can talk about from first-hand experience: the exploitation of queerness, and primary gay and lesbian relationships in fandoms. I say gay and lesbian primarily because there will be considerably fewer fanfic written where a canon cis character is made trans unless it might actually be written by a trans person (I have never seen any such cases personally but then I am not the greatest reader of fanfic), whereas there are countless fanfics that turn canon straight characters into gay or lesbian characters, with the odd person remembering bisexuality is also a thing (something most writers also seem to forget about, sadly).
Now why is this a problem, you ask?
Let me cite an incident that happened on Twitter recently to try and give you an idea. Author A, who is quite active on Tumblr, and posts links to many fanart/fanfic of their work on Twitter from there, posted a link to a fanfic that slashed two of the canonically straight male characters together. Author A absolutely loved the slashed pairing, gushed over boys kissing, and generally made a rather big fuss over it. Problem? Yes, because in Author A’s work there is literally only one, tiny, mention of homosexuality. It was in an offhand way, sufficient to say, “look! My world accepts homosexuality”, but not enough to actually make it feel as though homosexuality was an accepted part of the world. But somehow, it’s absolutely fine for homosexuality to enter the picture when it’s in a fanfic (which was, if memory serves me right, written by a girl), because ‘sexy boys kissing’.
Er, excuse me? Are you saying you only accept characters that are queer and in queer relationships when they are there for you to ogle and be entertain by? Oh, I see.
This is one of the problems I raised in my review (here) of The Captive Prince, a book that romanticises slavery and rape whilst presenting a gay relationship as only being able to exist on a sexual level. Oftentimes, homosexual relationships are absent from most media, only to be brought in purely at a sexual level. I fully accept that many fanfics may not portray straight out sex, but it doesn’t take full on sex for something to be sexualised.
It is a recognised fact that many non-gay men find lesbians sexy and that many non-gay women find gay boys hot. It is a fact. And it might have been fine if, as a whole, LGBT people were actually represented at all levels in non-sexual fashions.
Of course that doesn’t mean they can’t be sexual people: Magnus Bane from the Shadowhunter series is definitely a very sexual being but he isn’t sexualised. The writer doesn’t put him on the pages because he is ‘a hot piece of eye candy who’s likely to make out with another boy’, she puts him on the page because he is Magnus Bane and belongs in the damned story. Everything sexual he does, he is in control of. He is not there to fulfil a fetish of any sort. He exists as a fully-fledged character whose sexuality is secondary to his belonging in the story: he is more than just bisexual (because yes, not only is he awesome but he is one of only a handful of bisexual characters I can think of and he is soon to be the main character of his own novel!).
Now to go back to my initial point about exploitation. Exploitation is defined in the dictionary as ‘use or utilization, especially for profit’ or ‘selfish utilization’. Now most (all?) fanfic isn’t going to be for profit. But is it selfish? Yes. Yes, because the writer will be writing it (or drawing it in the case of fanart) for their own pleasure. Their own pleasure involving the fetishization or male and female homosexual characters.
Fetishization, for those of you unsure of its meaning, is a form of objectification. The people involved in the acts written about in fanfics are not consenting people (especially if we remember these characters are supposed to be straight), they are forced into these acts by the writers of the fanfics. They are reduced to objects present only to satisfy the fetish of the person writing/drawing these things.
Now this might not be entirely a bad thing, if LGBT characters appeared in the rest of the media in the same way that non-LGBT people do. But instead they don’t. It is rare to see TV shows, or movies, or even books represent fully realised LGBT characters. So when I see authors who don’t represent them in their work get off on their characters being slashed in fiction, I get really mad.
We are not here for your entertainment.
If you want to be able to write sexual stuff with us, you’re going to have to work and earn that right by first and foremost allowing us to be fully developed people in your worlds. Until then, stop turning us into sexual objects.
We are so much more than just our sexuality.