Joe/Nicky Discourse: A Hand-Counted Survey

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Fanwork
Title: Joe/Nicky Discourse: A Hand-Counted Survey
Creator: lazaefair
Date(s): February 2021
Medium: Meta, Google Doc, Wank
Fandom: The Old Guard
External Links: Tumblr (archived link), Spreadsheet Link
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Joe/Nicky Discourse: A Hand-Counted Survey is a Tumblr post by lazaefair which caused controversy in The Old Guard fandom in late February 2021.

Lazaefair is a meta writer who had been critical since early August 2020 about the disparity between Top!Joe and Top!Nicky in Old Guard fanfiction because it represented, to them, a disparity in empathy by fanfiction writers for Joe (Yusuf al-Kaysani) (a character of color) versus for Nicky (Nicolo di Genova) (a white character). The Tumblr post outlined the results of a "hand-counted survey" of all E-rated Joe/Nicky fanfiction on AO3 and graphed the instances of Top!Joe versus Top!Nicky.

Lazaefair also published a spreadsheet on Google Docs containing the raw data collected, which many fan writers took as personally offensive. The spreadsheet included names of and links to specific E-rated fics, along with the characteristics of the sex position in the fic (whether Joe or Nicky was top, bottom, or both). In some TOG Discord servers, this was referred to as the Top!Joe Wank Spreadsheet.

Reactions

As with many other fandom events, reactions to the post itself became rapidly distributed across multiple other blogs, with commentary occurring in several places. The reactions and conversation became very difficult to track as a result. The arguments being made differed in tone and content depending on how long a fan had been participating in the fandom, whether they were previously aware of the discourse (and discussions around it), had avoided the discourse, or had to seek out context.

Negative or critical

The reasons for negative or critical reactions varied:

  • Some fans whose works were included felt that the spreadsheet amounted to calling out every Top!Joe fic in the fandom
  • Other fans who had been trying to avoid or ignore the discourse felt they were being dragged into it because their works were included in the count
  • Some fans who had intentionally left sex positions untagged on their fics were angered that their fic was now linked to a specific position
  • Others were critical of the methods behind the stats, including the data analysis or the focus on penetrative sex acts
  • Some felt that the data wasn’t the best illustration of the issue at hand
  • Arguments that there were more important issues in the fandom to address
  • Complaints were made on side blogs (not on the post itself) that fics had been miscategorized

Neutral or positive

There were also a few fans who spoke about the spreadsheet neutrally or in defense of it. These included:

  • A few fans whose works were included who said they understood why the spreadsheet was created and that they didn’t mind their fics being included
  • Arguments that the fics were all public when gathered (ie: not archive-locked) and that data collection and analysis of this sort is relatively common in fandoms
  • Feelings that the negative reaction to the post was disproportionate and, over time, increasingly vicious
  • Arguments that even if other content gaps and issues existed in the fandom, this trend was worth discussing, specifically because Joe is a Muslim man of colour
  • Positive responses grateful that a general overview existed at all, even if the overview had limitations
  • Willingness to see if/how Laz and Ven would provide updates, explanations, or responses to people's complaints

Post update

In response to concerns raised about the analysis, Lazaefair published an update to the original post 4 days after the original was made. Among other points, the update clarified the number of fics examined, discussed inclusion and exclusion criteria, and gave an explanation of how the fics had been categorized and why.

[snipped]

Note: I have removed the titles and links to several fics from the public spreadsheets at the request of the authors. The purpose of making the raw data available is so other people can verify our results and let us know if we coded something incorrectly (which, I have to say - I’ve seen vague complaints on other people’s blogs, but nobody has actually bothered to approach us directly. At all. If you have found inaccuracies in our coding, we do welcome anyone who approaches us in good faith with specific corrections). So to be crystal clear, removing the requested titles and links is not an attempt to backtrack or hide data.

[snipped]

Note 2: Yes. We did this survey because people had flatly denied more than once, in more than one argument, that there was any content gap at all between Joe and Nicky.

We chose to focus on top/bottom because it’s something concrete to count, and we wanted to reduce subjective judgment calls. We’re well aware that it’s not anything close to a full picture of either the content gap or empathy gap.[1]

A number of fans from Feb 21 hosted indirect conversations on their blogs around the post and spreadsheet, and several opened their inboxes to anons. Some of these anons complained after the update was made that the survey creators had blocked them, so the anons felt they had no way to contact them to get the link to their fic removed or the categorization updated; other fans said that they were sympathetic as to why anon messaging and dms were turned off, due to the rapid escalation of the situation and frequent instances of personally attacking language directed towards Lazaefair and Ven. Other anons expressed that they felt they had been harassed or silenced when they spoke up about racism in the fandom, so were unconvinced by arguments that the post and spreadsheet were making the fandom toxic or that Laz and Ven were solely responsible for reigniting the discourse. Some fans in their responses differentiated between those they deemed “top!Joe Stans” and fans who enjoyed writing, reading, or otherwise creating content where Joe topped.

In the aftermath of the spreadsheet, a number of fans left the fandom; others flounced. Some fans chose to focus on creating new discord servers or events, including some specific to bottom!Joe as a trope or welcoming dark fic written about Joe/Nicky.

Fan Comments

[torch-the-throne]
Would it be possible to remove the links to fics from your survey? A lot of people are incredibly uncomfortable either suddenly being a part of a discourse they had no idea about, or worried that having the data presented like this provides an opportunity for trolls to target specific fics/authors. From a data handling point of view large surveys like this should be kept anonymous as good practice.[2]
[lizaliveunenchanted]
You present this data as somehow problematic but you find even stronger splits in most of the major fandoms. Also if you look at BL and yaoi tropes which alot of fanfic borrows from size difference plays alot into popularity of top/bottom characters.[3]
[miss-nixy]
Initially we we’re having these discussions in the All & More server with Lazae and Ven when Ven and Neb (as mods) shut it down, and now this topic is off-limits there. This post is public and I would like to comment publicly in return, my points are valid too, and since this is posted in The Old Guard tag I’m happy to reply with my opinions as a content creator and participant in the fandom

It’s also interesting that this fandom racism discussion is always specifically only about Joe/Nicky, and their top/bottom ratio content. Where is the discussion about Nile, who is the main character of our film, or andyxquynh, getting a fraction of the content JoexNicky get. Based on @tog-resources 183 explicit mlm fics posted in august 21 explicit wlw fics posted in august The fandom is severely lacking in the canon wlw and WoC content this movie has provided. That’s your content gap.

So many PoC are in the topjoe server to get away from the fandom space on tumblr, because of harassment that’s occurred based on defending poc in fandom spaces… the irony. Having these conversations is good, but from what I know and have experienced in this fandom, these unfortunately have never been /just/ conversations, and I worry how things start back up again, esp if some information is incorrect

The reason people have left this fandom/fights occurred is cos some took the point you’re making and used it as an excuse to harass and bully people, and it still happens today. I see no conversations about the horrendous bullying that’s occurred, the death threats people have gotten, even though topjoe isn’t inherently racist and this is just a conversation? People you endorse and interact with are some of the ones who have been very openly vocal about how racist and vile the topjoe server is

[...] Also getting reports this data isn’t completely accurate? Might be worth fact checking, some people are mentioning their fics are listed incorrectly atm, can make a list and pass it on to you [4]
[giotanner]
exactly @miss-nixy and also because there is a preference. And a preference it’s not a bad thing. In all the fandoms there are preferences. Just this, I don’t think the things will change just because someone says “there is a trend”, if the trend is not racist/xenophobic/homophobic it’s just “i like it/i don’t like it”. In the past people were bullied for top!joe as preference,poor mena-poc people [5]
[prevalent-masters]

Oh god I so don’t want to engage with but I NEED to put in my two cents and then put it to bed. First of all Mewbotz’s reply is good and distills a lot of how I feel about it–the dynamic is not the problem, the elements that are often paired with the dynamic can be, most top joe fics aren’t problematic at all and the issue is really about characterizations and stereotypes, and we should all be aware of our implicit biases and question why we like the things we like, both in fandom and every other facet of our lives.

But, IF the issue is not actually about top/bottom, as everyone keeps saying, than this breakdown is inherently not actually addressing the issue we’re supposedly talking about. [snipped] I get that going through 900+ fics was already a massive effort, but if you’re going to use data about top versus bottom fics as a base argument for a debate that…isn’t as much about top versus bottom as it is about all the other baggage, then I would think you would widen your survey to more accurately represent the breadth of fics out there.

Overall, I get what this is trying to tell us, and I agree that there is a gap in fic and there has been since the beginning. I agree that there are racial stereotypes at play here that should be discussed and addressed. But this breakdown of these particular fics does not present the full story, or the full scope of fics that should be considered, and therefore isn’t a totally accurate distillation of the trends in the fandom. And that comes back to the hill that I will die on, which is that talking about this with the labels of top/bottom is reductive, heteronormative, and completely clouds the actual issues at play. We can say it’s not about sex positions ‘til the cows come home, but as long as we still talk about it in those terms then we’re never going to get anywhere with these arguments. It just isn’t that cut and dry.

[lazaefair]
Hey! I actually totally understand your point and largely agree with you. This is why I put the disclaimer at the bottom and referenced the Bechdel test as a parallel.

Thanks for acknowledging that going through 900+ fics took a lot of work already. We did in fact consider counting toys, fists, etc. and also considered evaluating based on power dynamic rather than sexual position, BUT this quickly turned into a mess of judgment calls that we both did not have time to go through for 900+ fics (many of which had 10k or higher word counts) and that we did not feel comfortable making anyway because they started getting really subjective/playing into our own biases. So we decided to keep the survey parameters as simple as possible to keep the count as free of argument as possible.

I am fully aware that this survey is designed to be reductive, but that’s unfortunately just what practicality forced us to do. Once again, if anyone else would like to put in the same or more effort as we did in gathering data, WE COMPLETELY WELCOME IT.

Finally, I’ve been reblogging old and new posts all afternoon that draw the throughline between “the bottom is the fandom fave” and “racism exists in fandom.” No, top/bottom is not the full picture, but it is NOT completely irrelevant to the picture. The main reason why we undertook this survey at all is because people have been claiming for months now - over and over in multiple arguments - that there is no gap between the types of content produced for Nicky versus for Joe, and using an old data post that only looked at July fics to back up that claim. Our survey shows that even in the simplest and most reductive of terms, there is STILL a clear and present content gap. It exists. We did not extrapolate or project. We went through every. single. fic.
[prevalent-masters]

The disclaimer is good and does back up a lot of what I was saying. I suppose what I meant is that, where you say there is a clear content gap even in the simplest and most reductive of terms, I am saying that the content gap would look different if the terms were less simple and reductive. There would probably still be a gap, but it would be interesting to see the difference.

As for the top/bottom framing of the discussion, of course I agree that it isn’t totally irrelevant–in a racialized society like ours you can’t separate anything fully from race, especially not dynamics in an interracial relationship. But I do think we’ve moved beyond this framing in this particular discussion in this particular fandom. Because of the way this discourse has gone, we’re never going to get anywhere talking about it in these terms now because they illicit such kneejerk reactions of defensiveness from everyone that no constructive conversations or analyses are happening. Additionally, simply using “who sticks their dick where” as a metric of measurement for racist content just doesn’t work because there’s so much more at play here. That’s why I think it’s more important to bring attention to specific tropes and trends that keep popping up rather than the blanket division of top/bottom, which lacks so much nuance. And I still stand by my feeling that it’s a heteronormative way of talking about queer relationships and the blanket descriptor of top!somebody or bottom!somebody tells you very little about how the sex and the relationship is actually lived or portrayed–in real life and in fiction.

Again, I do appreciate the incredible amount of time and work that went in to putting this together, and it does clearly display that a gap is present–can’t argue that. I’m just not sure this is the gap we should continue to place all our attention and analysis on. [6]

Links

References

  1. ^ archived version of the update.
  2. ^ Reply by Tumblr user torch-the-throne to Lazaefair's Tumblr Post
  3. ^ Reply by lizaliveunenchanted to Lazaefair's Tumblr Post.
  4. ^ Replies by miss-nixy to Lazaefair's Tumblr Post.
  5. ^ Reply by giotanner
  6. ^ reblog by prevalent-masters