Threshold Fandom

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See also: Feral Fandom, Gateway Fandom
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Threshold fandom is a term used by people in Media Fandom to describe a specific type of media subfandom that introduces many new fans to media fandom, especially if many go on from there to join slash fandom.

A large proportion of the members of any threshold fandom have never been in a media fandom before, let alone a slash fandom, and so the fandom becomes something of a Feral Fandom. Some examples are Xena, Quantum Leap, Harry Potter, Beauty and the Beast, and plenty of others. Fans within a threshold fandom tend to be younger, are more likely to be in their first media fandom, have friends that are also in their first media fandom, and thus are more likely to focus exclusively on their current show (mono-fannish). They are more likely to be gen or het fans than slash or femslash) fans (since it is rarer to come up with the idea of pairing off same-sex characters on your own, without exposure to the idea of it first), and if they are slash fans, they probably read both gen and slash in that universe.[1]

Not all new fans in threshold fandoms progress to generalised media fandom or slash fandom: some stay monofannish (there are Star Trek fans who have remained monofannish for decades), some remain or become happiest with het, gen or femslash, some join other parts of fandom such as anime or gaming fandom, or leave fandom altogether. Not all media fans are introduced to media fandom via threshold fandoms at all: some encounter panfandom media fandom first via communities or friends, or join via some other method. However the threshold fandom dynamic is relatively common.

Some attributes of threshold fandoms

Threshold fandoms bring lots of new people into media fandom, or into slash fandom. They have lots of energy, because there aren't a lot of people saying, "no, don't even bother trying -- it didn't work in Star Trek fandom, so it'll never work here, either."

From the point of view of established media fans, threshold fandoms tend to recreate the wheel, because they don't know that certain ideas or concepts have already been worked through elsewhere. For example, it was thought that new Xena fans named their same-sex fiction Alt, which is short for 'alternative fiction', because they had never heard of slash fic. (However, it has also been argued that Xena fandom intentionally distanced itself from established Media Fandom, viewing its f/f fanfiction as an extension of lesbian culture rather than as having any connection to m/m slash. See the talk page.)

Threshold fandoms tend to have a million little archives instead of one big one. In earlier times, they tended to have horrible gen vs. slash wars long after non-threshold fandoms had finished them. The same controversies may occur repeatedly, similar to the 1970s gen vs. slash wars, where editors of gen zines have a policy of not printing gen stories by people who also write slash. And of course there will always be naive fans threatening to 'out' slash writers by sending their work to the studio/actors in an effort to "make fans behave." (It can be generally assumed that the studios and actors know all about slash fanworks since they are much more common than heterosexual or gen works.)

Newbies vs. Culture Clash

It's not always clear-cut whether a given fan is new to fandom in general or only new to a particular set of social norms.

The concept of a threshold fandom entails a default process whereby fans discover and are socialized into media fandom culture. Typical parts of this discovery process include:

  • Discovering the concept of fanfiction.
  • Realizing that other people out there produce things similar to your drawerfic.
  • Being told about slash and realizing that you aren't alone or weird for imagining same-sex characters having it off, or seeing homoerotic subtext in films or television series.
  • Discovering where and how fans communicate with each other.
  • Joining other fandoms that your new friends are in.
  • Going to fan-run conventions, joining media fandom mailing lists, discovering fanfiction archives online, buying zines, and doing other things that make one a part of the media fandom community.
  • Starting to identify as a member of a subculture.

The underlying assumptions in the use of the term threshold fandom only really make sense in relation to media fandom. For many fans, even many who produce fanworks, go to conventions, and describe themselves as being in "fandom", some or all of these typical steps happen very differently. Fandom experiences and media in general have also changed significantly over time. For example:

  • No one is born writing fanfic, but fans discover it at younger and younger ages, often just by googling the name of a favorite show, or by dreaming up imaginary episodes. In some cases, this leads to the view that fanworks are simply how one responds to media--all media--rather than media fandom being a subculture one intentionally joins.[2]
  • By the late 1990s, mainstream media regularly featured articles about fanfiction--no need to discover fanfic from fans. Many of these articles specifically focused on slash, often portraying all fanfiction as homosexual and R-rated, so this could introduce the idea to readers who had never thought of it before.
  • In 2010, discussion of slash outside of fandom circles is common. It's not kept under the table anymore.
  • Fans of Sherlock Holmes or Jane Austen or Virgil may be introduced to the idea of derivative stories long before they call these "fanfic" (if they ever do).
  • Queer media and canonically gay characters are ever more common, and pointing out and being aware of homoerotic subtext in genres like buddy cop movies is now the norm, even within buddy cop movies themselves. (So by the time many fans discover slash, they'll already be long familiar with the idea of subtext or of female viewers being interested in m/m sex.)
  • Many fans remain passive consumers of fic on, livejournal, and other huge sites without ever joining or attending anything where they'd have reason to learn media fandom social norms.
  • Anime fans often become fans of Western media after learning the norms of anime fandom, not media fandom.

What is significant about all of these fans who do not experience the traditional introduction to media fandom is that many of them describe themselves as being in "fandom" (without qualifying that word) just as many media fans do, and they frequently use the same archives, communities, mailing list hosts, and other online venues used by media fandom. The more these various groups of fans interact, the more traditional concepts of threshold fandoms can seem inapplicable or even outright offensive.

Influxes of new and younger fans into the hottest new media fandom can appear to old hands to be made up of fresh, untutored fans with no knowledge of fannish culture. In reality they may only be new to the version of fandom practiced in a particular place. For example, when Merlin fandom took off on LiveJournal, many fans were posting on communities in ways that bore all the hallmarks of a "newbie"—missing story headers, no lj-cuts on posts, hard-coded font colours, informal, chatty story notes and off-topic posts. In reality many of these fans were merely unfamiliar with LiveJournal and LJ-style fandom. They often had dozens of stories posted on, knew all sorts of other fans via chat, Facebook or Twitter and had considered themselves in fandom for years.


The history of threshold fandoms is tied to the history of media fandom in general. These fandoms are often described as threshold fandoms for their respective eras:

  • Beauty and the Beast (1987-1990)
  • Quantum Leap (1989-1993)
  • Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001)
  • Harry Potter (books first released 1997-2007)


  1. ^ post by Sandy Herrold to Virgule-l, 1993
  2. ^ Folklorists would agree that creating new stories is a normal, common response to media.