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Top!Joe is a controversial trope in fanfiction and fanart produced for the pairing of Joe/Nicky in The Old Guard fandom. Joe/Nicky became the dominant pairing of this fandom immediately after the films release, and discourse soon arose in fandom about the way Joe in particular was presented in sexually explicit fanfiction.
Fannish discourse about sex positions has long been a feature of slash fandom. Within the Old Guard fandom there is a subsection of fandom which believe it is problematic and racist to portray Joe, a Muslim person of colour, as a dominant and/or aggressive sexual partner. This has led to a push back against works featuring Top!Joe.
Some fans argue that Top!Joe/Bottom!Nicky is a fic writing or reading preference and does not imply that an individual story will feature racist elements. Other fans believe the less controversial Top!Nicky/Bottom!Joe trope can also be problematic, as it requires Joe to submit to the white character.
Development of the Discourse
Early fandom commentary regarding sex positions was focused around preventing Joe from being exclusively portrayed as a top in fanworks (fanfiction, kinkmeme fills, and fanart) when topping was presented in combination with other stereotypes perceived as harmful towards Muslim men ; the specific position itself was not considered an issue in these posts.
Throughout late summer and early fall 2020, many fans were able to acknowledge that fandom policing was an issue from some members of the fandom in various directions, but reiterated that mindfulness was being called for and not policing of works. However, some fans who enjoyed top!Joe felt that they were being unfairly criticized, including through vagueblogging or over anon messaging which resulted in a conversation between certain fans about criticism versus kinkshaming, curating personal experiences, and willingness to have discussions  as well as side commentary ; a number of meta posts were written in response to the mid- to late-October round of discourse .
Fans participating in the discussion holding a multiplicity of opinions or stances reported that they’d received messages ranging in tone from criticism of their perspectives to openly harassing, mocking, or personally attacking. It became clear that there were some fans who had read the posts critical of racist stereotypes and interpreted them to mean that top!Joe was inherently problematic; the authors of some of these critical posts pushed back against that interpretation and insisted it wasn't an accurate summary of their stance, but fanfic writers and artists who created works featuring top!Joe in some cases received comments on their works to the effect of 'it's inherently racist' anyways. In late October, a moderated discord server was created  for fans who preferred top!Joe exclusively over any other interpretation, a decision met with controversy  as well as excitement. One of the users who created and moderates the server later discussed why it was created and her perceptions of how it had been received by others in the fandom . Some of the fans most critical of the discord server later expressed that they wished they'd handled things differently.
Some fans felt that the reaction of those running / participating in the server derailed conversations happening about racism in fandom which had been ongoing since August or misrepresented key arguments; more meta posts or ask responses were created on the subject . By December 2020, fans began to leave the fandom because of the controversies, including some who felt they had been bullied out [note 1], that their concerns about racism were being ignored, or that the wank was pointless.
In mid-December, a fan noticed there may have been a troll in the fandom intentionally stirring up drama, given the similarity between the anons received by one fan author calling top!Joe ‘inherently racist’ in November and later anons received by another blog around a month later with a similar tone . The troll PSA dropped the same day that another anon attempted to start unfounded drama about Andy/Quynh content , and other blogs soon lent credence to the reading that the troll was using classic techniques including playing ‘both sides’ of an argument to cause drama. The OP of the troll PSA and some other users speculated that the troll was intentionally trying to create more conflict, give people legitimately discussing issues a bad name, and make some users feel unwelcome by attacking them or their works .
In late December it became apparent that related drama was happening in off-Tumblr spaces when the creator of the top!Joe server, a prominent artist in the fandom, had art reposted without credit to a separate Old Guard-focused Discord server [note 2]. Someone affiliated with the server later responded to criticize the Callout; however, it was clear in the notes of the callout post that the vast majority of onlookers disapproved of the art reposting, and that there were general concerns with the moderation style of the Discord mods in question unrelated to the incident. One user later wrote a post decrying the incident and other trends she felt were occuring in the fandom .
By February 2021, many fans considered the discussion around top!Joe as a trope to have devolved into a culture war, with the original focus of the discourse lost amidst the shouting, and other fans were frustrated that the wank kept re-igniting periodically.
After several months of increasingly bitter verbal feuding between those who believed that Top!Joe was a signifier of authorial racism and those who believed that Top!Joe was simply a fic-writing preference, Tumblr user Lazaefair created a post in February 2021. Joe/Nicky Discourse: A Hand-Counted Survey apparently showed the disparity between fics on AO3 that featured Top!Joe as opposed to Top!Nicky. The dataset included every E-rated Joe/Nicky fic on AO3, but Lazaefair released a controversial spreadsheet of all of the Top!Joe fics counted along with the post about data. The post and spreadsheet drew immense ire from the fandom.
Highkey I’m realizing there is a problem in fandom of people misusing labels as a guise to push their preference. Please, I read the metas about and I understand problematic patterns but also how is forcing bottom position joe also not racism or fetishization? I can use similar arguments in reverse, all brown people must be subjugated by white people? If you like bottom Joe, that’s totally fine because that’s just your preference and not some racist intention behind it.
The sexual positions are not the point. The sexual positions are proxies. Symptoms. Symbols. Low-hanging fruit, the easiest to point to when building an overall picture of racial trends in fandom. In a vacuum, I don’t actually care about who tops and who bottoms - I headcanon everyone as vers anyway. But in a culture where giving and receiving penetration is observably tied to -
- who is meant to be the writer/audience surrogate
- who’s the three-dimensional character the writer identifies with versus who the writer treats as their two-dimensional sexual fantasy
- who gets to have expanded interiority and whose interiority gets reduced or stripped from them
- who gets dumped with most of the work without much, if any, reciprocation (either emotional or physical)
[...] But here’s the thing: I have read fics featuring Top Joe/Bottom Nicky where Nicky gives care and affirmation to Joe just as much as, if not more than, Joe gives to Nicky. (Thank you a thousand times to the writers who bless fandom with such fics. They’re delicious.)And that’s really what I’m looking for. It’s not about sexual position logistics, it’s not about demanding some kind of quota. It’s about the representation.
In a podcast comic creator Greg Rucka claimed Nicky originally proposed exiling Booker for only 20 years. This led some fans to headcanon that Nicky was the more forgiving of the Immortal Husbands, and led to more discourse related to sexual dynamics.
Because what has happened is that this brief conversation in a podcast has been used as a jumping-off point for some obtuse logical gymnastics, by a small minority of people in this fandom who are desperate to headcanon Joe, a Maghrebi Muslim, as possessive, protective, violent, and vengeful, and to headcanon Nicky, a white European Catholic, as soft, diffident, and gentle. And this somehow extends to the idea that some of them are ‘top’ or ‘bottom’ (as if general personality traits are an indicator of preferred sex positions.) And I and so many others are so fucking tired of this discourse.
- Saucer-shaped equines, who does what, perceptions and portrayals of (queer) male characters of colour, and why the heck this is a Thing by unstaple-yourself
- really wish that people made the effort to use specific terminology when talking about bias in tog fandom by lgbtmazight, a controversial writer in ToG fandom who has, since posting this meta, been accused of racefaking
- There are problems in the Old Guard fandom by nizarnizarblr
- Joe/Nicky Discourse: A Hand-Counted Survey a controversial Tumblr post by lazaefair
- 030. Love Before Good Lube on I Met You On LJ heavily discusses the Top!Joe discourse in TOG fandom through the lens of Joe and Muslims as the victims of Nicky's and the Catholics' violence in the Crusades.
Archives & Links
Notes & References
- Among these users is nizarnizarblr, cited here, who deleted his entire blog
- A Callout post was written which included screenshots taken without permission in the Discord server; for that reason the references have been removed.
- Listen. The sexual positions are not the point. Tumblr post about top/bottom discourse in TOG by lazaefair, Aug 27 2020, Archived version
- one day fandom is going to have to reckon with the reality that gender is racialized and race is gendered by lgbtmazight, Sept 7 2020, Archived version
- i’m going to say this bluntly; if you are twisting yourself into pretzels in my inbox to avoid admitting that race might have something to do with your preferences and preferences of fandom at large, you need to sit down and really, really think about that. By of-scythia, Sept 9 2020, Archived version
- problematizing Joe/Nicky - a thread between karanoidandroid, shadowhannibad, magrib-genova, mewbotz, and lazaefair in early Oct 2020, Archived version
- Tumblr post entitled "Conversation vs Criticism in the Old Guard Fandom" by mewbotz, Oct 6 2020, Archived version
- Addition to mewbotz's post by shadowhannibad, Archived version
- Addition to mewbotz's post by lazaefair, Archived version
- As a POC fan, I’m going to add my two cent by eiseul, Oct 18 2020, Archived version
- anon ask to karanoidandroid with added response about sexual position preferences by elamae56 (Oct 18 2020), Archived version
- fandom racism, homophobia, tog fandom drama, and discussion of sex by viridianpanther, Oct 30 2020, Archived version
- Saucer-shaped equines, who does what, perceptions and portrayals of (queer) male characters of colour, and why the heck this is a Thing by unstaple-yourself, Nov 2020, Archived version
- specific terminology with respect to bias in TOG fandom by lgbtmazight, Nov 2 2020, Archived version
- it was never about the top or bottom dynamics and i NEED you guys to get that - Mewbotz, Oct 20 2020, Archived version
- There are problems in The Old Guard fandom that should be pointed out post by nizarnizarblr, Nov 8 2020, archived Nov 9, accessed Jan 3 2021)
- we have an idea to make a top!joe/bottom!nicky discord server… is anyone interested? (Oct 21 2020), Archived version
- response to anon by polarcell, Oct 27 2020, Archived version
- response to anon by mewbotz, Nov 8 2020, Archived version
- about top joe discord, LET ME ADDRESS A FEW POINTS by karanoidandroid Nov 21 2020, Archived version
- top!joe discord info post by karanoidandroid, Dec 5 2020, Archived version
- Top!Joe Discourse Anyone? By avengersnewb, Nov 15 2020, Archived version
- a kink which is neutral in one context might very well lean into orientalist/racist tropes in another and that should be taken into consideration when writing kink - response to an anon by polarcell, Dec 10 2020, Archived version
- Anon: “I am annoyed that legitimate conversations around Joe's characterisation has been reduced to kink talk.” with response from polarcell, Dec 10 2020, Archived version
- hey girl, just a heads up that top joe in inherently racist and has a lot of issues… an anon message to oldguardhc with response from lazaefair, Archived version
- Trolling? In the Old Guard Fandom? It’s more likely than you think by lightdescending, Dec 16 2020, Archived version
- I don't see any discussion about that Quinn is always made to the "woman" in the relationship with Andy - anon ask sent to karanoidandroid with response from nicky-olives, Dec 16 2020, Archived version
- Trolling? In the Old Guard Fandom? Thread between lightdescending with extra commentary from unstaple-yourself and oldguardhc, Archived version
- Bullying, Racism, and Hypocrisy in The Old Guard Fandom by socvrates, Jan 3 2021, Archived version
- As a POC fan I'm going to add my two cents, extract from Tumblr post by eiseul
- Tumblr post by Lazaefair, Aug 2020.
- Viridianpanther responds to anon ask on Tumblr, Oct 2020