Last month at PCA/ACA, I had the pleasure of hanging out with some very excellent people who are just as damn well fond of slash as I am. And to prove it, these lovely people were willing to read porn in public—at an academic conference, no less! Bless you, my friends.
Our reading was designed as both a celebration of slash and as a very public fuck you to anybody in academia or otherwise who tries to get us to justify why we love and choose to study fanfiction.
Presented under the gleefully George Michael-derivative title of “What’s Your Definition of Dirty, Baby? Taking Pleasure (Together) In Fanfic,” the event itself was so much goddamn fun. In teams of two, we performed excerpts from six fics, each representing a different slash pairing, in an old-school forensics-style more akin to mini-plays than formal literary readings.
(Though I gotta admit: the performance itself was scarier than I’d expected. It was harder reading Dean Winchester’s dirty talk with a straight face [or, uh, something] that I thought it would be.)
More to the point: the thing generated enough happy, pervy energy that we’re going to try and stage a repeat performance at the next PCA/ACA con next year in Seattle.
But this, what follows, is the exigence for this event, the spark that set off the slash: a NSFW rant I composed one afternoon in a fit of fic-fueled fury that came to serve as the opening remarks for our little get together. So consider this some rhetorical ammo for the next time someone looks askance at what you love and what you do: a big ol’ hey, fuck you, too.
We spend a lot of time as women, as fan studies scholars, trying to toe the line between taking pleasure in what we study and taking what we study seriously. That’s what we’re supposed to say, right? That whatever we do, as fangirls, as fans/scholars: we’re always walking the line.
Well, I call bullshit.
Let’s face it: we make the dominant discourse, along with some of our colleagues in academia, really fucking nervous with what we do. Oh, they try to spin it, the ones who think that they mean well, as “concern”: for our careers as scholars, maybe; for the state of our respective disciplinary fields; for the serious nature of academia. Real scholars, the worst of these bastards tell us, all fake paternalistic concern: real scholars don’t study television. They don’t study fan practice. And they sure as hell—let me underscore this point, true—don’t study smutty fanfic.
What-the-fuck-ever, man. What the fuck.
Because here’s the real goddamn problem, when you get down to it. Here’s what makes some of our colleagues faux righteous uneasy about what we do, y’all: we, as female fan studies scholars, take particular pleasure in our work. Pleasures of the body and the mind. Pleasures that can’t be shown on network television, all right. That’s some of what we take from our objects of study: we get fucking turned on.
For some reason, it’s ok if you get a hard-on for Bukowski, or get your dick in a twist over Shakespeare. But gods forbid you get wet for Johnlock, or get all tingly for Sam and Dean, because that must mean that whatever you’re doing with your keyboard, sweetheart, it ain’t scholarship.
But look: that attitude reaches right back to mainstream characterizations of women’s writing, of women writing, as something trite, something silly, something worthy of popular scorn. Witness the recent “fanfic theater” bullshit that was to be held at WonderCon in April, and the now familiar trope of trotting out fanfic for actors to read all flush-faced during interviews. All of that crap, that kind of public shaming, is arguing that fanfic—texts of porn and fluff and romance and erotica and angst and dirty, dirty kink—texts written primarily by women, for women, are a subject worthy of mockery, of popular dismissal. Of diminishment at every turn.
Once again, friends: I call bullshit.
And that’s why we’re gathered here tonight, in this collective space of celebration and smut. Because, yeah, we read and write fic for all kinds of reasons: to right the wrongs of canon, to resist the interpretations or plotlines or OOC bullshit that TPTB try to pull, to give our favorite characters all the happy endings they deserve. But we also read and write and study and love this shit, to the ends of AO3 and back, because it turns us on, yo. And there’s not a damn thing wrong with that. It doesn’t weaken our work as fan studies scholars; fuck no. It makes our work stronger, right, better informed, more aware of the ebb and flow of the fandoms, the media texts, the fan practices that we study. So we’re here tonight, friends, to get collectively riled up. To get turned on in public and give the middle finger to anyone who’d dare look at us askance. We’re here to make each other squirm in our chairs and take pleasure, together, in one of the many things we love about studying fandom, about engaging with fanfiction. We’re here, to be clear, for the smut.
We’re here, in the words of Jane Ward, to “take some time to observe our desire,” so we might then “think creatively about how our particular lust might serve” us as scholars, as fans (135). Our observations this evening will crossover four acts, four acts and eight fandoms, if we here do our job right. Take note, then, as you listen, of your reactions to each piece you hear. They may move you in different ways; you and your neighbor may squirm in your chairs during the same reading, but for very different reasons, you dig. All are welcome. Of you, we ask only: take note.
We ask this because, as Ward writes, “I am interested in my desire. I do not presume it is natural, static, or predictable. I observe its form and shape, not because I want to know how my childhood experiences or social conditioning might have determined it beyond my control, but because I want to know its relationship to my happiness, my suffering, my creativity”—and, may we add, our scholarship (138).