I have to admit that before writing this post, I had never purposefully sought out fanfiction involving asexuality, if only because I was too scared to. I’m not trying to say that I think all ace fanfiction would be terrible or poorly written—one of my favorite fics stars an ace character—but I’ve had a lot of bad experience with stories that have unfortunately made me a little terrified to see how other people interpret my sexuality. As such, I generally get my fanfiction kicks from reading stories that simply have no pairings, or no overt romance and sexual tension, as I more or less know what to expect from them.
Though I know there has to be plenty of well-written stories involving ace characters, there are also plenty of bad ones, and I sometimes feel as if this lack of quality comes from not only certain misunderstandings about asexuality, but also from how the original source material and writers treat asexuality.
If it exists, there’s porn of it—no exceptions. That’s actually a rule of the internet. But most often, when we talk about fanfiction, we’re talking about a relationship between two guys. This is commonly known as “slash” (accordingly, a relationship between two girls is “femslash”, etc). It’s hard to explain this phenomenon to those outside fandom: the usual explanation runs something along the lines of, “Well, there are a lot of straight girls in fandom, and they like reading about two guys together… what?” I’ve used that explanation myself when trying to explain to my brother why, upon ascending to the internet, Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy can no longer keep their hands off each other. (To be fair, it was a much better explanation than the first one that popped into my head, which ran something along the lines of, “Because… shh”.) Now, however, there’s some legit data on the inner workings of fandom, and it means we might do well to rethink the assumptions that lead to this explanation.
Queerbaiting happens when The Powers That Be (TPTB) of a show or other work openly acknowledge that their text could have a queer reading, but don’t ever actually make any of their characters queer. It’s when TPTB try to satisfy the slash-loving part of fandom’s need for shippy content by allowing their characters to engage in long, heated stares, share dialogue that could be read romantically, and be physically affectionate with each other—without alienating their straight audience and pigeonholing their show into a ‘gay and lesbian thing’. It’s the showrunners placing suggestive things into the text and then yelling “No homo!”
This creates a couple of problems.
First, this plays into the assumption on the part of TPTB that fans who want to see real queer relationships on a show are simply fangirls who fetishize gay relationships. They pay lip service to the idea of the ship in question, but don’t take it seriously, because they assume that the people who want it to become canon are just in it to see two hot guys (or girls) make out. This is patently not true. Although gay-fetishizers will always be a part of slash fandom, a large part of the fandom is queer, and we read these characters interactions as queer because we are desperate for shows that represent our own experiences.
Second, whether intentionally or unintentionally, queerbaiting perpetuates the idea that queer relationships are not important and that they’re not worthy of representation. It’s like, “Sure, we’ll give you some suggestive dialogue, but actually spend time telling a story about you in a thoughtful and complex way? No, we can’t be arsed. You don’t matter enough for that.” Continue reading →