There’s Nothing Wrong with Fanfiction

Men are Just Mad it’s not Always about Them

Most people can recognize a harlequin romance from the cover alone. Stylized lettering, a scantily clad man – usually weirdly shiny, like they dipped his whole body in oil but somehow not his hair – and a damsel in distress. Newer ones usually feature stock photo art, which I personally find much less cool, but times change. Either way, we all know about the cheap romance novels that tend to end up stacked on your grandmother’s bookshelf.

Romance novels get a bad rep. They’re seen as silly, shallow, and sappy – all things our male-dominated culture has deemed worthless. Even the words used to describe them are derogatory – it sounds a lot different if you call them lighthearted, comforting, and romantic. I can’t speak to how true these descriptors are, as I’ve never really read a romance novel. They had gone out of style by the time I was old enough to be finding my own wish-fulfillment stories to read.

Instead, raised in the internet age, the romance novels of my generation aren’t paperbacks in a gas station, but rather extensive chronicles or short self-insert stories on internet archive sites like Wattpad, Archive of Our Own, and, formerly, LiveJournal, and 

I speak, of course, of fanfiction. The guilty pleasure of almost every teenage girl at one point or another, as well as countless men, non-binary people, and adults. Fanfiction is open to everyone, but the most visible creators and consumers of it are young women, so that’s who it tends to be associated with.

Much like the paperback romances of my mother’s youth, fanfiction gets a bad rep. Not only is it seen as fluffy and indulgent, but it’s also condemned for its frequently highly erotic nature. While romance novels were a little closer to Hayes code compliance, all rules go out the window when it comes to fanfiction. In fact, one of the main tenets that Archive of Our Own – the biggest fanfiction hosting site in existence – is built on is that there is no censorship. As long as all content is appropriately tagged, anything goes. used to be the internet’s primary home for fanfiction – also referred to as “fic” – but in 2002 it underwent a huge purge as all explicit content was banned from the site. This raised questions of free speech, as well as a concern that starting out by banning certain sensitive topics, the door would be opened to heavier censorship like banning of LGBT topics – which was especially worrying given that fanfiction is a safe space for many queer people. This purge was what led to the birth of Archive of Our Own, also referred to as AO3, and the staunch anti-censorship policy of the site. 

AO3 has an incredibly detailed tagging system that includes content ratings and a breakdown of every fic’s content before you click on it, along with a filtering system that allows you to hide tags or ratings, so it’s very difficult for users to happen upon explicit or triggering content by accident. 

All that to say, while easily avoidable, fanfiction still is home to a lot of explicit, erotic literature, and fic as an entire genre tends to get lumped into this category. This isn’t an accurate representation and, besides, if you’re going to condemn fanfiction for being full of steamy romances, then I hope you’re also staunchly against every other literary genre in existence. Plus, fanfiction is also home to a massive community centered around platonic relationships and found-family stories. In fact, the relationship with the newest works posted on AO3 last year was a platonic pairing, for what seems to be the first time in AO3 history.

But there’s nothing wrong with romance-centered fics, just like there’s nothing wrong with found-family works. What is a problem is the way society views this entire art form. Fanfiction is most popular among women, queer people, and other minorities, and because of this, it’s looked down on. 

There are certain fics that I keep coming back to, year after year because they impacted me so deeply that just reading them reminds me why I’m a writer. However, I can’t really include them on my lists of favorite books or talk about them, because people tend to give me a very specific look when I say “fanfiction.” They squint a little, but not enough that they think I’ll notice, and almost always take an unconscious step back – which is funny because I promise it’s not catching. The topic of conversation generally gets changed pretty fast after that, if there isn’t a muttered comment about how it’s “just so weird,” first.

The whole point of fanfiction is wish fulfillment – fans writing the stories they want to read, whether it’s rewriting the season finale of their favorite show or exploring how they think characters would react to situations not covered in the story’s canon. Alternate universes, referred to as AU’s, can range from aging all the characters down and putting them in high school, or setting them in the universe of different work. For example, Hunger Games AU’s are particularly abundant.

This wish-fulfillment aspect of fanfiction makes it a media form that tends to be largely centered around women’s desires and fantasies. Just like how video pornography tends to cater to men with more violent and dominant content, fanfiction – explicit or not – is usually more about female pleasure and self-actualization – not to mention the huge range of fics focusing on queer stories and other “taboo” topics.

And I know this is a generalization, and there are exceptions to every rule, but if you’re going to nitpick my generalizations about PornHub’s usual fare, then you’d better be ready to dissect every aspect of how you perceive fanfiction with just as fine-toothed a comb.

For many people my age, fanfiction was the first time they encountered realistic and positive stories about queer people. One of my friends in the LGBTQ+ community told me that as a young teenager, the fic was the first time they had ever read about a healthy queer relationship “with a happy ending.” At the time, only straight people got those kinds of love stories. Another told me that fanfiction is still one of the only places she can reliably find a realistic representation of queer experiences, written by and for queer people.

In the same way, men make fun of pop stars for having fan bases made up primarily of teenage girls, see my other article here ( ), the cisgender, heterosexual male-dominated world of literature devalues and puts down fanfiction because it isn’t for or focused on them. It’s space women and minorities have carved out for themselves, going all the way back to the female-dominated Star Trek fanzines of the 60s, and this makes people uncomfortable.

In reality, fanfiction is a hugely rich and important genre of literature that should be given just as much consideration as traditional literature. I myself have read fanfictions so well-written and poignant that I still think about them now, even six to eight years after I first found them. Fanfiction is for everyone and it’s not monetized at all, which also makes it one of the very few genres with a truly egalitarian community. 

There is insane, incredible talent in the fanfiction community, and it’s available to the world for free.  Anyone can post fanfiction, anonymously or not, and there are no barriers to posting or accessing fic, unlike traditional publishing. In addition, many traditionally published authors, like Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles) and S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders), started their writing journeys in the fanfiction community.

I’m sure you’ve all heard about how Fifty Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fanfiction, even though that’s not necessarily the work I’d choose to highlight the literary prowess of fic writers. More recently, though, Ali Hazelwood’s bestseller The Love Hypothesis began as Star Wars fanfiction, and the movie The Idea of You, which is currently in development, is based on Harry Styles fanfiction.

Just because something is focused on teenage girls and their wants does not make it any less important than the umpteenth dry fantasy novel about a man whose wife and children die in the apocalypse and he’s forced to turn to ruthless violence for survival and probably hook up with a one-dimensional female character who is way too young for him but whose street smarts and prowess with some sort of traditionally masculine weapon earn her a place at the boys’ table. 

I’m not bitter about this trope at all, as I’m sure you can see. 

There’s nothing wrong with stories about indulging unrealistic fantasies, and fanfiction only gets the bad rep it does because it’s “for girls.” Sure, fanfiction has its flaws and issues that I could dedicate a whole other article too, but so does every single genre of media. Fanfiction is no different from any other stories, except for the fact that it’s not usually about fulfilling the fantasies of cisgender, heterosexual, white men. 

So do you automatically scoff and roll your eyes at the mention of it because you genuinely have an issue with the idea of fanfiction – a category which, by the way, works like Dante’s Inferno and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet both belong to – or is it because society has conditioned us to look down on women and their wants?

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