Sexualized Saturdays: The ‘Everyone is Gay’ Trope in Fanfiction

I first encountered this trope in Harry Potter fanfiction waaay back in the day, but it’s something that’s pervasive in many fandoms: stories that feature exclusively same-sex relationships. Harry wants to be with Draco, and that’s okay because Ginny is with Luna. At least Sirius and Remus approve of the matchup. Then Hermione stops by with Parvati to say hi on their way to Dean and Seamus’ house and… you get the gist.

A more recent fandom where this is very popular is the Avengers fandom, along with any spinoff crossover fandoms that include Supernatural or Sherlock. Steve/Tony and Phil/Clint and Pepper/Natasha (and possibly Thorki) with a side of Destiel and Johnlock? Par for the course, guys.

Let’s consider the good, the bad, and the ugly of ‘everyone is gay.’

Problematic areas are a dime a dozen with this trope, the biggest of which is that it smacks of unrealistic writing. In real life, various statistics and studies suggest that somewhere between 3-20% of the population identifies as queer. Although I can speak from experience that queer can call to queer in friend groups (many of my friends, who I was friends with long before realizing my own sexuality, are also queer), this means that in a randomly selected group of six people, say, the Avengers, it’s unlikely that more than one or at the most two of them would identify on the LGBTQIA spectrum. Running with the ‘everyone is gay’ trope means you’re prioritizing your shipping wish-fulfillment over realistic writing.

This seems like the correct place to use the most famous manip in H/D fandom.

This seems like the correct place to use the most famous manip in H/D fandom.

If a writer is using ‘everyone is gay’ to retcon a pairing they don’t like, then that’s sloppy writing as well as bisexual erasure. If you don’t want Harry and Ginny to be together so you make Ginny or Harry gay, you’re a) taking the easy way out, and/or b) willfully ignoring the canon opposite-sex attraction that the two have displayed. It’s bad character development-wise and it really grinds my gears. The Avengers fandom in my experience is less dependent on this aspect of the trope, verging toward a slightly less erasure-y ‘everyone is queer‘ conception that allows for non-monosexual characters, but I may just be reading better fanfic these days than I was ten years ago.

There’s also the problem of gay fetishization, which suggests that same-sex couples are somehow cuter, hotter, or in some way better than opposite-sex couples. A writer who wants to flood their fanfic with a preponderance of same-sex pairings should ask themselves why they chose to do so: is it because they legitimately believe in and want to explore an alternative sexuality for a canon-straight character? Or is it because two dudes making out is hot and so eight dudes making out is four times hotter?

Mary-SueThere are a few problems with dismissing this trope out of hand as an example of poor writing, however. For one thing, fanfiction is, at its core, wish fulfillment. Fanfiction exists to fill the holes in canon or retcon the parts you don’t like. There has been a recent movement to reclaim the term Mary Sue, because why shouldn’t women create fantasy worlds where they are perfect and beloved by all? It may not be realistic writing, but why is it considered wrong? Somewhere deep down, there’s a layer of misogyny saying that Bella Swan is a stupid Mary Sue but Batman (who scored a whopping 67 out of 71 on The Mary Sue Litmus Test) is a fascinating original character. In the same way, everyone-is-gay storylines may not reflect the predictable demographics of a given group, but is it wrong to write them?

In my experience, much of fandom is some flavor of queer, and to say “no, sorry, your story has too much gay in it bad writing stahp”, when every other form of media remains dominated by heteronormativity and heterosexual love, seems sort of disingenuous. If a story contains a number of well-written, non-objectifed same-sex relationships, I’m not going to chase down that writer and scold them and tell them their story needs more straight folk.

5 thoughts on “Sexualized Saturdays: The ‘Everyone is Gay’ Trope in Fanfiction

  1. Yet another article that needed to be written and now, thanks to you, has been. I’m surprised that they haven’t been able to come up with a more accurate statistic than ‘somewhere between 3-20%’. I love the ‘holy ship’ picture you included. I also liked the Mary Sue Litmus Test. I sent it to my brother, who is considering attempting some fanfic writing. I’m don’t particularly like ship-fics, though I mostly don’t object to them, and I understand that they can be fun. Nonetheless, as I read this I kept thinking of the particular relation to this subject that we of the MLP fandom have. We have two legitimate excuses for an over-abundance of homosexuality in our fanfics:

    1. The universe is 80% female, so it stands to reason that some large percentage of the universe is gay.

    2. Sexuality is almost never canon, so we are left able to slap whatever labels on characters we wish to.

    Your thoughts?

    • I think the statistics vary because of the methods of surveying – answers will vary extensively based on the way questions are asked, who’s doing the asking, and the atmosphere of the testing. (There’s also the Kinsey scale to take into account, which allows that some people who identify as straight will occasionally experience same-sex attraction.) And the Mary Sue litmus test is great – it’s not a perfect scale as the results page points out, but it’s a good starting point and some of the questions crack me up.

      Something like MLP fandom is an interesting case, because in fandoms like HP/the Marvel Cinematic Universe/etc., there may not be much gender equity among main characters, but most characters have a canon (and 99% of the time heterosexual) love interest. In my humble opinion, I think that it’s totally up to you to make headcanons for sexuality regardless of fandom or character, as long as you respect that some people may have different opinions.

  2. I tend to be OK with whatever people ship, because they do not impact me. But lately I’ve noticed that some people on Tumblr get really attacky towards those who do not ship a certain gay couple in a fandom and there is also the shipping of real life people (especially with the one direction fandom, and not all directioners are like this but their shipping is more problematic as these are real people with families and girlfriends who get hate)
    So perhaps these people are trying too hard to be “accepting” of the LGBTQ community but doing so they are fetishizing them to a point where they start shipping people only because they are hot characters of the same gender when their personalities clash or just would not make a good couple (like, John and Dave in Homestuck are both canonically straight as told by Hussie himself and EriSol doesn’t work because Sollux only platonically hates Eridan and pities Feferi or Aradia or both)
    ((and then because everyone is such hammertime shippers the only heterosexual fanfiction in Homestuck ends up being the dersecest thing))
    (((this makes me sad as a spacetime shipper)))
    ((((there needs to be a good balance between gay ships and straight ships in a fandom with an equal amount of male and female characters that are relevant to the plotline, and homestuck has done a bang up job of balancing the genders of the characters but somehow there is no heterosexual fanfiction))))

    • As long as peoples’ ships don’t hurt anyone else, fictional or not, I’m okay with them. It’s only when people get hateful toward each other or the people involved, or mistake their fantasy for reality, that it becomes a problem.

      However, as far as canonical sexuality goes, fanfiction has never been about preserving that. I don’t personally ship John/Dave, but I could give less of a crap what Hussie says about their canonical sexualities, haha. I’m big on the concept of ‘death of the author’, which holds that once a story is given to the readers, it’s theirs to form opinions about. Sticking with my Harry Potter example, the only canonically gay character in the whole series is Dumbledore via word of God, but that doesn’t stop fans from shipping other assumed-straight-in-canon characters up to and including Harry himself for any number of reasons. You are entitled to your own opinions about EriSol or hammertime or any other ships, but it’s unfair to assume that people only ship them because they’re hot or to dismiss the ship because you disagree they’d work together. (Also, I think Homestuck is a loaded/tricksy example regarding this, considering that over half of the cast is made up of pansexual aliens for whom the gender of their partner is not a concern, and considering that in a lot of fanfics the human kids often adopt or experiment with quadrants.) In my experience, fandom, even fandom of something that does have queer characters and representation, will tend to lean queer in fanfiction because fans are inundated with straight relationships in other media.

      On a less serious note, If it helps, I find a lot of supporting Jade/Dave in the John/Karkat fics I’ve found on AO3. 😀

  3. Remember everyone read’s fanfiction for the realistic and cannon plot devices. and as a side note i could care less who’s banging who. you don’t see this kind of argument with porn because as far as that industry is concerned every single girl ever is completely down to play with every other girl…… but that’s realistic right…… but i’m more concerned with good writing than which gender the love interest’s are.

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