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As I’m sure is no surprise, I’m a genuine gay. An honest-to-god homosexual. A natural non-hetero.
Studies vary on the actual number of LGBT people in the world, probably due to the fact sexuality is sort of complicated and fluid, sample size, cultural differences, et cetera, but the numbers usually fall between 2%-12% of the general population. (There is a hypothesis out there that about 94% of the world feels sexual attracting to both sexes, just leaning heavily one way or the other, with the remaining 6% split between exclusively gay and exclusively heterosexual, but if they don’t self-ID as bisexual, it’s questionable if that actually means anything. Even saying “both sexes” is an oversimplification itself… But I digress.)
Whatever the number is, it’s safe to say that at least ~75% of the world considers itself straight. And we see that all over our culture. Advertisers market for straight people (him/her couples goods, etc), love songs are usually assumed to be male-female, old Disney movies focus upon a princess-prince romance, etc etc etc.
Even media which features LGBT characters often present it in a heterocenteric way. Many fictional gay couples, canon or otherwise, have an assumed seme/uke dynamic that extends beyond sexual positions into the entire relationship; one partner is more masculine and dominant, the other is more feminine and submissive. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, and it does hold true in some real-life queer relationships. But when seme/uke dynamics saturates the medium, it does give the implication that a relationship, even if it’s between two men or two women, needs an inherent “maleness” and an inherent “femaleness” in order to work.
Another example of heterocenterism in “gay media” is the common trope of schoolgirl lesbians. Lesbianism among schoolgirls is seen as healthy, but also a passing phase, a sort of a practice round for “real” heterosexual relationships they will have later in life. This is why so much yuri resolves around schoolgirls; it’s where female-female sexuality is accepted. (The beginning of this article here covers heterosexual-created-yuri and its problems much better than I can: https://the-artifice.com/yuri-manga-an-indepth-look/)
Note that these tropes are not inherently bad, in and of themselves. It’s perfectly okay to consume this media, and to enjoy it. But they do present queer relationships through the lens of heterosexuality as the norm, a sort of a Straight Eye For the Queer Guy.
And this makes sense. Most people self-identify as straight. Everybody knows that. But for a queer person, being surrounded by heterosexual media, and having gay media presented in the context of heterocenterism, can be somewhat alienating.
This is one of the many reasons fandom has stepped in to fill the gap, to create content that might not be palpable to the audience of the original media. For queer creators, the reason might be the desire to see proper representation of themselves. For straight creators, they may be tired of the same old tropes. For both, maybe they just think two characters look really cute or hot together.
That’s right, I’m talking about non-canon gay ships.
— ily (Im leaving you) (@NR_Tihah) July 15, 2017
Let people have their non-canon gay ships.
Fandom allows people to explore their sexuality through pre-established characters, taking away or limiting the vulnerability that comes with direct sexual experimentation with ones own body. For queer fans, this can be especially important, due to the lack of mainstream queer media available. In some cases, it is also the only way for queer fans to have any sort of queer experience, due to living in a remote area, or the risk of being kicked out of home or workplace discrimination if outed.
And it’s perfectly fine for heterosexual people to create, to share, and to enjoy fan media centering around queer relationships, so as long as they show respect for, and avoid fetishizing, real-life queer relationships.
(I know this opinion might be a little bit unpopular among queer people, as there is no shortage of cringeworthy straight yaoi fangirls and straight men who hate homosexual men but visit the girl-girl section of PornHub daily. But I don’t feel like gatekeeping by basis of sexuality is the solution for several reasons: It forces closeted queer people to either out themselves or leave the community, and it implies that queer people in queer spaces can do no wrong.)
So, with all of that in mind, there is a reason for gay ships to exist in fandom. Experimentation, a small act of rebellion against the norm, the fact it’s really fucking cute.
FINN AND POE GENTLY SPICY pic.twitter.com/3rDkqsx4mE
— jen wang (@alooghobi) June 22, 2017
But in spite of this, there is a large number of fans (mostly heterosexual men in my experience) who are upset by the mere existence of non-canon queer ships. And quite frankly, this is puzzling.
The beauty of fandom is that it is completely voluntary. If you want to ship two characters who have never met but you think would a good match, by all means, go for it. Nobody should be stopping you. You’re not hurting anybody, nor are you forcing anybody to accept your ship.
Clearly, for some fans, canon is treated as irrefutable, and as the only way the media should be interpreted and allowed to exist. Fanfictions are alright, but if they contradict the canon in any way, they treated as though they blaspheme the medium itself, a blemish upon a pure creation.
This, of course, is horseshit.
Even the most beloved and well-thought-out universes are riddled with inconsistencies, some minor, some major. One relatively minor example is Jet in the Fallout universe. Previous iterations have stated that jet, a short-lasting an addictive stimulant drug, was created after the bombs dropped. In Fallout 4, there is a terminal belonging to a pre-war drug dealer which indicates jet was in fact available prior to the war. Of course, they can’t both be right.
More to the point of queer ships, a lot of the anger against non-canon gay ships occurs even when the characters involved do not have a canon heterosexual ship. People assume that if a character has not explicitly been stated to be gay, they must be straight, or that if they have ever dated a character of the opposite sex, they must be straight. Both of these stances are laughable hills to die upon; not every queer person is out of the closet or has reason to mention their sexuality, and of course, bisexuals do exist.
I see some similarities between the no-noncanon-gay-ships-ever community, the “I overheard someone speak Spanish and I am furious” monolingual Americans, and the Christian conservative “they’re shoving homosexuality down our throats” community. All of them are freaking out over media that does not harm them directly, does not perpetrate harmful norms, and is completely optional for you to consume. There’s no reason to get mad at something that isn’t created for your demographic. Additionally, There’s no reason why straight ships and queer ships cannot co-exist within a fandom.
And besides, “conflicting” ships can lead to great creations.
— Overwatch Feed (@OverwatchFeed) January 28, 2017
If a queer ship isn’t your thing because you don’t feel like the characters are a very good match, or if you’re ambivalent to them, that’s perfectly fine. (Although, if you hate /all/ queer ships, it might be worth examining why that’s the case.) But I’m sick and tired of seeing people complaining about the existence of fan creations that were not created with their tastes in mind, as if they expect the entire world to bend to their tastes.
It’s worth noting that I’m not trying to prevent legitimate criticism and discussion. It is fine to have discussions about whether or not a fictional relationship, canon or otherwise, may have poor implications in the real world. There are some situations where a ship might be a bad idea in real life, or aspects of a relationship could lead to abuse, such as a power imbalance between the involved characters. And there are some people within a fandom who are negatively affected by stumbling upon such content, as it could remind them of previous abuse they have suffered.
But the lines of what is and is not acceptable are difficult to draw, and arguments about what is “problematic” often quickly turn into toxic harassment campaigns targeting people who themselves are survivors. Fandom is a messy place, and while people must be considerate about posting content which could hurt survivors, attempting to police what is and is not acceptable to enjoy–and I don’t mean “please tag your ___”, I mean “if you post ___ I will harass and dox you and do everything in my power to ruin your life even if you’re a survivor who’s coping or even if you didn’t realize it was an issue and even if you apologized”–create an atmosphere of fear in spaces where people go to be safe. I won’t pretend I have the answer, and others have written about dogpiling in social justice spaces much better than I can, but I know the solution is not harassment of individual artists, and I also know critique of fanworks should keep in mind that they by one person for a limited audience, not a TV show created for a mass market and therefore capable of spreading misinformation far and wide.
- Let people enjoy what they want to enjoy.
- Recognize that niche fanart is going to do a lot less to spread potentially harmful norms than mass media, but if you need to avoid certain media for personal reasons, that is perfectly fine.
- Non-canon ships do not prevent you from enjoying canon ships.
- Let people explore their sexuality through fandom.
- I want Tei Sukone and Miku Hatsune to set aside their differences and spend their weekend on the couch binge watching Food Network shows.