Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Alexis Lothian

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Alexis Lothian
Interviewer: Abigail De Kosnik
Interviewee: Alexis Lothian, Lila Futuransky
Date(s): July 19, 2012
Medium: audio, print transcript
External Links: Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Alexis Lothian
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Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Alexis Lothian was conducted in 2012 by Abigail De Kosnik and archived at the University of Iowa Libraries.

This interview's medium is audio (length: 01:30:50), and it has a 55-page transcript.

It was part of the series: Fan Fiction Oral History Project also referred to as "a Fiction and Internet Memory Research Project," "the Fiction and Internet Memory Program," and "Fan Fiction and Internet Memory."

The interviews conducted for this project were used for the book by Abigail De Kosnik called Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom.

Some Topics Discussed

  • fanfic as making one feel the "over-arching emotion, the sense of getting away with something"
  • acafandom
  • Stargate Atlantis race discussion
  • WisCon and the disinvite of Elizabeth Moon
  • "the more public state of fandom, of fannishness now, and the sort of ethical changes within fandom, are making that ever more complicated"
  • fandom as a private thing becoming more visible vs fucked up fantasies, id, and policing fantasy and sexuality and "the ways in which we respond erotically, libidinally, and emotionally to narratives that we know quite well to be deeply problematic"
  • social justice fandom
  • being "out" as a fan in the academic world, the workplace world
  • is the term "out as a fan" offensive, or descriptive?
  • the advantages and disadvantages of increased visibility for fandom
  • fandom as a feminist thing
  • Fanfic Symposium, founded by Cereta
  • the gender split in fandom, masculine is rewarded, feminine is not: "fan film makers versus fan—versus vidders, you know, one of these things is seen as laudable and original, and "Oh wow, look at that, that's amazing," you know, and one of these things is trivial."


I'm pretty sure that the first time I had any real awareness of fan fiction was actually comparatively late, when I was in my early twenties, so I was in my final year of undergraduate, and I was reading—I'd spent a year abroad, a year at Berkeley, actually and that was the first year I got into online community.


And that was when I got really, really into online feminism. And because of online feminism. And I was a member of the feminist message boards. I'm still friends with people from there now. I started reading a lot of feminist magazines. And I'm pretty sure that it was actually in Bitch magazine, after I had been reading it for a few years, a couple years, that I first came across an article about fan fiction. And I had just finished reading the Harry Potter books, and I was like, Wow! Harry Potter. But, like, it was about slash. So my first knowledge of fan fiction was slash. So it was like, Harry Potter, and they're making people gay; I think I want to read that. Because people are writing—people are thinking of this stuff, and they're actually writing it down. And I know this is a common emotion among fans, this sense that you've had, been kind of telling these stories, or sort of expanding on universes that you've been reading about in your head for your whole life, as I had, and then you discover that people are doing this and sharing it, and they're building a community around it. This is real.

And of course I was reading slash and I was reading, well, sexually explicit fictions. So there was also this, you know, kind of a, something really amazing about this outpouring of sexuality and desire. Even when it wasn't something I necessarily would identify with myself, it was like, Wow! You know? And it was also a moment in my life where I was getting into queer studies, when I was sort of thinking a lot about sexuality. And so I started pretty soon thinking about it in a more, like, analytical vein, as well. But definitely it was a very visceral excitement, and a sense of belonging even though I didn't—and never have a lot, actually—written much fiction, I still felt as if these were my people, you know?
So probably the first thing that I would have seen would've been questions about gender and the relationship to fan fiction, especially to slash. So, like, what fandom and gender community are we? Even pre-LJ, on the original Symposium website —which is the one that Transformative Works and Cultures Symposium is named after, that was run by Cereta—there're some essays on there, I think, that deal with gender, and this question of what does it mean that this largely female community is writing about male sexuality.
You started to see more kind of intensely critical voices coming out and more critiques of, not just shows themselves, but also what fans were doing. What stories fans were telling. So there's a point ... I feel like there's almost a fandom all its own arrived with questions of politics in relationship to media or sci-fi media fannish works. I mean people talk about social justice fandom in a derogatory way, but it's a thing, you know? It exists. And that's my fandom, at this point. Although I go around through fandoms, you know, but those conversations kind of bring people together and are sort of developing new languages and new ways of thinking, I think
[Flame wars between fans about issues of race and gender and sexuality]: Well, I mean I have two answers to that, I suppose, because, on the one hand, I'm fascinated by it as a scholar. You know? I'm really, really interested in wank. And what is the work that wank does? Not just in fandom, but in any community? You know what, I actually think that disagreeing and fighting and all that wank is kind of one of the things that makes anything happen, one of the things that keeps any kind of political movement going even at the same time as it also breaks it apart, you know? That's always going to happen, no matter who you are or where you are. I get annoyed—I get really annoyed, lots of the time. I think, I don't think by any means that this is a rosy—a hundred percent good thing that's happening. I think it's good in that I'm really—. I think that the conversations, it's good that they are happening, and I think that we're—. One of the things I like about them also is that it really is a great example of how fans are not just receiving media, you know? That fans can love something, can love a media text a whole lot, but that doesn't mean that they're just accepting everything that it offers, that they're actually—that fandom can be critical, and it can be critical in a lot of different ways. But I do see, I definitely see, like, a reduction sometimes of complexity of discourse. Kind of a knee-jerk thing. I think, something I haven't really spent a lot of time thinking about yet, but really want to write about, once I'm sort of done with this one project and into the next one more seriously, is about social justice Tumblr. Because I think that the architecture of Tumblr as a new kind of archive, and the reblogging and so forth, actually is kind of doing some interesting stuff with well-established forms of online debate about social justice.
I think a lot of early fan scholars—fan studies scholars and fan writers — went to fandom and basically saw the women's id right there. You know? I mean, that's what Joanna Russ writes about, in Pornography by Women For Women, With Love. And ethical questions, right? In tons of fan fiction. Which I really want to read. (both laugh) And anyway. But then the ways in which fan fiction has become more public are often ways that are about that id, and exposing that id, but in a more circumscribed way. So, you know, we get to have more—the idea of "Mommy Porn;" you get Fifty Shades of Grey.
I'm really interested in femininity and this idea that we shouldn't want to be in the position of the feminine, you know? That, like, that that's, there's something kind of undesirable about that kind of disempowering position, and what it means to desire that position is something that I'm really interested in. I think, I definitely feel like there are certain fannish engagements that I have, that I tend to talk about only one-on-one with fan fans. Because I feel like if I talk in public about how much I'm really into Game of Thrones, for example, right now, then a lot of people will be like — both my academic and my fan friends will be like, Don't you realize how fucked up that shit is? And I'm like, Yes; obviously, I do. But those very same people—You know, most of the people that I squee about Game of Thrones with are, like, critical race scholars, feminist scholars, radical fans. Everybody knows how fucked up it is. We don't—but we still love it. And I think fandom has kind of a lot of ways of participating in that. And a lot of ways of underst—of knowing how to love something problematic, you know?
all of the different LJ fuck-ups. Strikethrough. It just was very—it was fairly clear to me that LJ was not really a sustainable home for fans, you know, that its moment of being a, kind of, internet thing was kind of over in the US. They had a different role in Russia, and that was a primary role. And whatever it was that they were going to do with the site, it wasn’t necessarily going to be what fans were going to want. And when Dreamwidth started, as a sort of fan-ented, creative-oriented open source project, with a famous, just a disability-positive bent, I was, like, Well obviously I'm going to go there, you know. I mean I hope that I will have a community there, but I'm going to use it regardless. And so I, you know I've used it occasionally for classes I've taught, and hope to use it more in the future. I think for certain kinds of classes it's a very good site to do online communication. Not for others, but ... If I ever get to teach an upper division gender studies or feminist theory course we'll use Dreamwidth, you know
[Regarding social justice and fandom]: I think there are people who are connected through their participation in fannishness, and their engagement with fan production, and their commitment to a certain kind of politics, that—. And to their participation in networks around certain kinds of politics which includes trans politics, disability stuff, race, feminism and gender, queer stuff, like, that's sort of conglomerate, which is ... I know a lot of people of a certain age, for sure, I'm probably on the upper end of that, but also, you know a lot of older people as well—people that have kind of come to it from different areas—and there is something that—there's something about the place where those things meet, where those political orientations and the particular fannish interests meet that create—that produces a lot of really interesting cultural production, for a start. And then a lot of—also a lot of really interesting conversation and what I would kind of understand as being ways of thinking of theory.
I think kink_bingo is always going to be—is going to be my example of, sort of, a kind of formation that comes from pan-fandom social justice-oriented but also really very much about pleasure, you know. So kink_bingo—I don't know if you follow it at all, but it's all about, like writing fic about weird sex, you know, or, like, out of the ordinary sex, non-vanilla sex. Or it can be vanilla but just with a certain twist, you know. But the whole framework and the way that it's organized is about—it is explicitly political in the broadest sense, you know. It says, Well, you've got to understand, you know, your kink is—. One kink is not better than another, but we don't—. But at the same time, like, we really don't want to see stories that are using kink in a really oppressive and horrible way. You know, where you can write one if you want, but like a lot of the discussion on the community is about how to avoid that, how to deal with kink respectfully, how to—how kink intersects with social justice and with people's personal politics, so, or people's personal experiences. So for example, there's a lot of stuff about disability, or recently I've been reading some interesting posts about experience of, like, living in a disabled body and how that relates to kink and sexuality, and then, you know, there's a kind of implicit thing which is that a lot of disability kink is very dehumanizing to people who actually have disabilities, but how do you engage the intersection of kink and disability in a way that's actually both sexy and respectful