Don’t Like, Don’t Read: A Queer History of Fandom

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Title: Don’t Like, Don’t Read: A Queer History of Fandom
Creator: Kitsune Heart
Date(s): 2016
Medium: a Powerpoint presentation, transcript
Fandom:
Topic:
External Links: the slideshow (on Dropbox); the speech (on Google Drive)
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Don’t Like, Don’t Read: A Queer History of Fandom is a panel presentation created by Kitsune Heart.

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts from the Powerpoint Transcript

Yaoi. Don’t like...don’t read.

Now, as I branch out in my fannish tastes and start looking for sophisticated new media, like Dragonball Z and Harry Potter, this phrase follows me. It was everywhere on Fanfiction.net, it seems. Sometimes used just in an attempt to shield the author in the terrible shipping wars, as in the mid aughts Harry Potter fandom. But more often, “don’t like, don’t read” was associated with fanfics which shipped same-sex pairings. It was a defense mechanism. A plea from writer to reader.

But, off the computer and in my home, I was seeing other things. In the living room, my mother is watching Will & Grace and laughing at the antics of over-exaggerated queer stereotypes. On the news at night, seven same-sex couples in Massachusetts were demanding to be heard, demanding that their right to equal legal status be finally recognized. And on the weekends, during orchestra rehearsals, I’m bonding with another avid fangirl, and looking at her, and realizing that this feeling I get when I look at her is very...very similar to all the feelings I had as a young girl, thinking of my male classmates. And I realized...shit. This was going to be a thing, wasn’t it?

I wanted to talk about queer fandom not because queer fanfic consumes me--though it does, but because it eased me into a knowledge of myself and my own sexuality, as well as the orientations of many other people. The first time I had ever heard of trans people, it was in an Artemis Fowl fanfic. I learned about asexuality from Homestuck fics. Getting into the cosplay community has introduced me to people on every edge and middle and alternate side of so many queer identities, and I am still learning every day.

And while there has been a lot of rather apt criticism of the fetishization of queer ships by straight readers, I’ve also seen it act as a sort-of middle-step to acceptance, in the example of some of my own relatives.

These early fanzines were like illicit little love letters to the show. Rarely did they make the editor’s any money, and often they cost quite a lot, as they were reproduced on mimeograph machines like the one above. They were messy. The took a long time. And they weren’t infinitely reproducible. Editors first created a stencil of each page of the zine. If they made a mistake in the stencil, they had to cover over it with a correction fluid and try that section again. When printing, the stencils were repeatedly sent through an ink supply, with the ink only coming through in the lowered sections of the stencil. Most of these stencils could only last for a few hundred copies, the pages getting worse and worse each time, until the stencil finally broke, and you either gave up or make a brand new stencil. And you did this for every page of the zine.

Fandom...has never been a simple process.

Robin of Sherwood aired from 1984 to 1986, riiiiiight at the very earliest rise of the Internet. And the creator, Richard Carpenter, while allowing fanzines, actually reached out to insist on no slash pairings.


Panel: RoS text

Here’s a quote from an early zine.

“However, since RoS fandom was made possible by the imagination and efforts of Richard Carpenter, in accordance of his wishes, we will not be accepting or publishing stories involving 'slash' (homosexual) encounters. It is, after all, his universe.” --Hernes Son #2, Editorial

Later fanzines seem to show that the rules had been relaxed a small bit.

“[Richard Carpenter] also mentioned that homosexual relationships involving characters such as the sheriff, Philip Mark, Tom and Dickon - or your own original gay and lesbian characters - are fine by him.” --Cousins #8, Fan letter

Now, for those of you who have never seen Robin of Sherwood, which is probably everyone, let me tell you who those four characters are. Tom and Dickon die in the pilot episode. They have no character arc other than to die and be part of someone else’s arc. Of the remaining two, both are villains. So the creator of the show basically said “everyone is straight. Except these two dead dudes and these two villains. They can be gay, if you insist.” But, let’s be real, queerness has been used as shorthand for villainy for far too long in media. And there were already plenty of books and movies where the only way you could be in a queer relationship was if one or both partners were dead at the end. We as fans? Why would we bother?

Buuuuuuut, we’ve got to go back in time a bit, to another major bit of Star Trek fandom history. It’s the last bit, in case you’re bored of Kirk and Spock, by the way.

Now, it’s 1978, and Carol Frisbe puts out the first adults-only, K/S exclusive fan-zine. Named….

Thrust.

Now, you see this slide, and you see I have only give you a title and link. Why, you ask? Because I can’t show you this zine. I can’t. You’ll need to go on your own, see the cover image. Scroll down, check out the interior art. If you’re an adult, it is an...experience.

Before mailing out copies, the editor, Carol Frisbe made purchasers send her a signed statement of age in the mail, to protect herself from potential indecency charges.

“I sold Thrust in plain brown envelopes—Gayle F.'s gorgeous and explicit cover made that necessary—and with stringent warnings and age requisites.

“Despite all my caution, a member of the anti-K/S faction sent a copy to Shatner’s office.” --Carol Frisbie


Panel: Shocked Kirk

YA’LL, SOMEONE SENT A COPY OF AN EXPLICIT KIRK/SPOCK FANZINE TO WILLIAM SHATNER TO TRY AND STIR UP DRAMA.

Luckily, Shatner basically ignored the zine. ...though his business manager/future son-in-law found it and CALLED UP CAROL FRISBIE. Luckily, no legal action came against the zine.
But the Xena fandom never needed validation. They just did their thing, and in a rather interestingly different way. The Xena fandom didn’t really produce many zines, being one of the first strong Internet fandoms--and I mean true Internet, not USENET. Fans were creating their own actual html-coded web pages. Individual webpage owners would reach out to fanfic writers, asking to host fics, or would invite writers to submit fics to their pages. Things were very dispersed, search engines were just emerging. Again, Google is only launched in 1997, midway through the show’s run. There’s so much to archive and search engines can’t really keep up, so instead of depending upon these spotty tools, fans formed Web Rings.

The fanvid.

Fanvids had existed for a while, yes, but it’s really now that they start to come into their own. Previously, and still a bit in the Xena fandom, these fan-made music videos were circulated on VHS tape. And the effort that went into making the videos was INTENSE. There were few video editing softwares available, and far fewer for free. Many fans made these videos by recording episodes as they aired on television, and then using a second VCR to record snippets in the order they wanted. They used external microphones to record music over the show’s own soundtrack. And when you finally had the video edited the way you wanted it, you used MORE VHSs to make copies and to mails to the friends you made online. Or, if you could somehow manage, you got web hosting, and your fans sat around, waiting on a download that jumped it’s time estimate between five minutes and INFINITY.

There was no YouTube. YouTube didn’t enter public beta until May of 2005, four years after Xena ended. This was all individual hosts, single developers, and lots and lots of download time.

Never underestimate lesbians on a mission.