Category Archives: News

Scared? Representation vs. Cultural Appropriation

The last few days have been very frustrating for me.

Maybe it is the pull of the moon making me feel so off centered. Perhaps I am responding to the building national tensions in the U.S. Maybe I need to take a damn iron suppliment and do some selfcare.

Either way, there have been quite a few events in the last few days that have inspired me to take a long look at racial representation in fanfiction.

The spark that finally set off the brush pile building up within me, each stick representative of a casual racist comment – each as dry and tasteless as the last – was when I saw the following data from Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen on Twitter.

If this horrifying breakdown wasn’t enough for you, someone actually responded to this by saying:

“And if a white person were to write a book like that, you’d cry #CulturalAppropriation, right? Where then are the books meant to come from?”

I will not be listing their name. This is about more than one person.

This lovely person seems to be intentionally ignorant on the definition cultural appropriation and, perhaps even more alarmingly, seems to be living under the assumption that the statistics of authors who identify as races other than white cannot rise to take the place of the white authors who are currently dominating the field to obtain equal racial character representation (if we approach this with the understanding that this person is bringing to the table: that you can only write characters belonging to the same race as you. I’d personally be very interested to know what animal is writing 27% of our children’s’ books…).

Now boys, girls, and nonconforming pearls, we get to the point:

THE BOOKS ARE MEANT TO COME FROM ANYWHERE LINDA.

Ideally we would see a rise in racial representation among children’s book authors too, but as for the books themselves, they can be written by anyone who recognizes the importance of representation. Especially for the kiddos.

Most fanfiction is not something that a child would be interested in. No one wants to be read angsty Drarry before they go to sleep at night. Not even me.

However, the ideology behind the infamous comment is something that we, as fanfiction readers and writers, can address.

The difference between representation and cultural appropriation is incredibly important here. As a white author, I strive to ensure that my characters are diverse and not harmful to any groups. It is a complicated, scary road to walk, but I know that practice and collaboration will ensure that someday all stories will be naturally inclusive.

Cambridge Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.”

It is hard to nail down what cultural appropriation is, exactly. Cultural exchanges are natural and have been happening since people dispersed enough to have distinct cultures. However, cultural appropriation can be very harmful, especially when the culture being appropriated is a minority group that has been oppressed or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.

As fanfic writers and readers, we all understand the concept of plagiarism. Think of cultural appropriation like plagiarism: if you do not acknowledge the community that you are taking things from, you are gaining and giving nothing in return.

This is doubly important if you are privileged, and are able to use that to draw attention to a marginalized community in a positive way.

After taking the time to really learn and inform themselves, white authors of children’s books could use their power, influence, and privilege to share diverse stories and, by creating a place in their niche for these stories, plow the road for authors from within those communities to have a space to give voice to their own experiences.

I do not have a racial breakdown of fanfiction writers; it would be very helpful if I did. Certainly, a huge percentage of fanfiction features white characters and white main characters.

It is hard to say if this is because a majority of fanfiction writers identify as white and chose to feature white characters, or if it is the result of a mainstream society which, by and large, features white characters. Perhaps a combination of the two.

Roughly Three-Quarters of Film Actors Were White in 2014

SOURCE: USC ANNENBERG’S MDSC INITIATIVE

Want to read some more scary stuff? According to Maya Salam with the New York Times, researchers at USC found that of the top 100 films each year from 2007 to 2017 (that’s 1,100 films in total), representation of women, people of color, L.G.B.T.Q. people and the disabled has remained overwhelmingly stagnant.

“Women have never accounted for more than 33 percent of speaking roles in a given year.”

Maya Salam

In short, the representation we see in terms of freaking anything through Hollywood is abysmal. However, as I will state time and time again, fanfiction is about giving a voice to the voiceless and providing some really beautiful representation.

When mainstream media fails anyone, fanfiction is there to help.

It stands to reason then that fanfic writers need to do a better job at including/identifying marginalized people in their stories.

I am guilty of this too.

After just ripping into J.K. Rowling last week for having a gay character in seven books and never indicating that he was gay, I’ve been doing some uncool shit also.

Oh hypocrisy, thou art mine only friend.

My upcoming novel, A Sherlock Holmes Tale of Deep Dark Intrigue (Also Murder) features a black John Watson. He is not the only attempt at inclusive representation I have in the book, however I have released not one, but two fanfics so far that include these characters, and I have made no mention of John Watson’s race.

This is problematic because then the representation that I am seeking exists only in my head *cough* Rowling *cough*.

Due to the original books, and almost every adaptation after, my readers will be assuming that Watson is white.

So it is easy, you see, for even good intentions to fail miserably when it comes to representation.

I am going to take a few steps back and examine how I can do a better job at this. Perhaps read some articles on how to write diverse characters well (I will share any good ones I find over social media if you want to explore this with me).

Looking back at the original graphic, the one that shows that just 23% of children’s books are written about characters who identify as American Indian/First Nations, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander/Asian Pacific American, African/African American, I hope we can all identify the same troublesome statistics running throughout the fanfiction world.

This is a problem because fanfiction is the haven that people turn to when the larger society fails them. It is a place for everyone to feel welcome and, in order to achieve that, everyone needs to be represented.

I think it is to easy for writers to fall back on what’s always been done. What we know. There are no shortage of tales of white experiences out there. We got it. Yet so many stories seem to feature a mostly white cast almost on default.

To combat this, I spend a lot of time with my stories planning ways to make it inclusive and broadly representative.

I would be very interested to hear how you think we can increase representation in fanfiction. Please share in the comments below.

Call to Action:

We all need to be discussing this issue in order to create lasting change. There are so many individuals in the fanfiction universe, each with unique approaches and ideas. Only together can we be impactful.

Please share your thoughts below. We can tackle this problem.

.

M.




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Harry Potter and the Magical World of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Okay. 

This here is a big one. 

Like, the biggest. I can’t function until I write about this.

Is it even a real fandom site until I dive into the mess that is this subject?

J.K. Rowling: toot or boot?

Harry Potter shaped my childhood. It shaped many of my first experiences of the fandom world. J.K. Rowling inspired me as a woman, as a writer, and as an activist.

Is she the role model that I need now though? Or should her actions, and inaction, place her firmly in the past?

Can actions today affect the legacy that she has created?

Do we, as fans, move forward with or without J.K. Rowling?

The Beginning:

In 2007, the author J.K. Rowling revealed to fans that her character, famous wizard Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, was gay.

The thought? A-MAZE-ING.

However, the problem with that statement was that there was literally no mention of this in the books or in the movies. No hint. No indication.

Trust me, if there was, ficfans would have found it and spread it.

But it was 2007, and even earlier when she wrote the books. Maybe it was simply to early for that story to be told, I thought to myself.

Come 2016, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released.

2018, and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was released.

Was Dumbledore depicted as a gay man? The answer is complicated.

What level of representation do we need?

Do I believe that every queer story has to look the same? No, obviously.

I was variety and diversity. I want stories that are all about a person’s gender and sexual identities, and I want stories about queer people that hardly touch on those things because they are to busy telling other aspects of their lives.

I am really sensitive, however, when it comes to the way mainstream media represents us. I think it is to easy for an author to say they are inclusive by commenting, after seven books, that a character was gay the whole time, even when every single relationship in her books to date appeared to be heterosexual.

With seven books and eight movies, I think we as fans are very right to demand a lot from J.K. Rowling when she says that one of her characters is gay.

I was certainly the first to applaud her, I think it is a boss-ally move to make that announcement about the most powerful wizard of all time, but actions speak louder than words. J.K. Rowling had the chance to show the queer community that we would be represented in the Harry Potter world, but did she?

Opinions vary.

Certainly there are some queer vibes. Dumbledore sees Grindelwald in the Mirror of Erised so like, you’ve got some desire there. Of course Harry saw his parents, so the desire does not have to be sexual (back down all you AO3 incest taggers, this is not a space for you). So really, we are still left to make that leap ourselves.

Dumbledore is gay. It is cannon. We know it, the director knows it. It really comes down to what they are willing to put in the movie.

Some say they aren’t explicitly addressing the relationship that Dumbledore and Grindelwald had because that isn’t what the story is about.

Others say that they are hiding the nature of the relationship to make the store more palatable for a larger audience.

One thing is for sure though. Eventually, Dumbledore and Grindelwald will have to meet, and then their past will be exactly what this story is about. It will be interesting, I think, to see what the franchize chooses to represent in that moment.

Will they stay true to Dumbledore’s identity as a gay man? Or will they leave just enough induendo in there to throw at fans when they raise questions over this exact issue, while still leaving their films bland enough that even the most homophobic of movie-goers will enjoy the film?

In my opinion, doing so would be a huge cop out, and a letdown to the fans that do believe in J.K. Rowling’s promise to bring more diversity into her stories. Cause on the surface, her stories are filled with straight, white, and cisgendered characters.

As fans, I think we demand more from our mainstream media now, so this story line should be handled with the utmost delicacy if the franchise wants to avoid losing the support of its LGBTQ+ fans and their wonderful allies.

But wait, there’s s’more!

While the debate about J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter universe will doubtlessly rage forever, there are tons of other books that will give us the representation we crave.

We can demand better from the people who say they want to support us, but we can also do our best to support those who are already doing a stellar job of supporting us!

Fanfiction, of course, is my go-to. If you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out <3.

However, here are three of my fav books that do a really lovely job of showcasing queer stories and capturing a bit of the complexities of the queer experience. I flew through these books, and am currently obsessed with Gentleman Jack on HBO.

I came for the GOT and stayed for the queer representation: story of my life.

Heads up: I do believe I will get a percentage of the sale if you buy through this link. 
If that makes you uncomfortable, then I encourage you to buy these titles through your town's 
locally owned bookstore.

M.

Fanfiction is a Revolution

There are moments in life where you discover something, and are for a time unware of how profoundly it will affect you.

For me, fanfiction was one of those discoveries. (Some things that didn’t even come close to making the list were crossfit, ice fishing, and rollerblading. Ew)

A fun discovery slowly became an irreplaceable part of my world. At first, the lingo was confusing, site navigation baffling, and the smut shocked me. I struggled to find my way, but once I found it I never looked back.

Now I am a veteran of thousands of fics read, hundreds of authors followed, and dozens of my own baby-content out there for others to enjoy.

Smut doesn’t really shock me anymore either. Good? Bad? Who can say.

But what is fanfiction, Auntie M?

If that is what you are thinking then I just have one question for you… how did you find this website? No really, I am wondering. Email me.

Anyways.

Fanfiction is where a creator takes the characters or the story from a piece of work that they love – maybe it is a TV show, a movie, a book, a play, etc. – and makes their own world.

Occasionally, people will take inspiration from more than one world, and that lovely unicorn is called a cross-over.

Of course, most everything that can be written already has been. Vampires? Been done. Does that mean that every book written about them since Bran Stokers’ Dracula is worthless? Of COURSE not.

Fanfiction is taking elements from someone’s story and making them your own.

Every creator brings their own wonderful interpretation or world view to a work, which refreshes old stories and re-inspires the public to love them.

It is really beautiful, when you think about it.

After all, what young teen cared about Dracula before Stephanie Meyer brought us the breakthrough hit Twilight? (Oh, there will be more on this subject later -_-) After that craze, the market was flooded with vampire books. The success of Twilight, inspired by Stoker’s universe, brought back the excitement of vampires.

Essentially, I am a passionate supporter of fanfiction being far more widespread than most people give it credit for. It is not a small niche interest group on the internet; it is a cultural phenomenon that shapes the trends we see in our movies, TV shows, books, etc.

Consuming Fanfiction: A Guide

I could write a really detailed dictionary of fanfiction terms, but that would bore everyone except me. So if you have questions, I encourage you to email me, or just head on over to AO3 or Fanfiction.net and start exploring!

The only advice I would give is to be watchful of the tags on each fic. If you aren’t looking to read something violent, sad, or otherwise potentially harmful to your well-being you can steer clear of those works. There is something (thousands of somethings) for everyone.

Fanfiction and Me: A Love Story

To me, fanfics do an amazing job of capturing the essence of our society. They lack the generic appeal of mass-marketed media, and represent the wonderful diversity of our world.

Fanfics are written by anyone for anyone.

They are written by all sorts of folks with a myriad of different experiences and identities. These intersectionalities provide readers with a truly endless glimpse at the breadth of human existence.

Something that I have always valued is how fanfics represent queer culture more completely than I have ever seen before. The fanfics that I read as a baby gay were the first positive representation and community that I had experienced. Seeing my favorite characters re-imagined as people that reflected my own identity was unbelievably impactful. They showed me that my experiences were not odd, or unusual.

Take Harry Potter for example. The fandom of fandoms. A book series that overtook my generations’ imaginations. Through fanfiction, we can see these classic characters firmly represented as people of color, queer individuals, and so much more.

So, if you are a person who finds yourself in need of an ally, fanfiction can provide that for you.

When I needed a space to find myself, fanfiction allowed me to do that.

It has unequivocally made me a stronger person. It gave me the language to describe what I was feeling as a young queer person and gave me a community of people to reach out to. This level of representation does not yet exist in the mainstream, but damn it folks, we will create our own representation.

The more time I spend thinking about this, the better I feel about that thought. It’s more accurate that way, don’t you think? This beautiful grassroots movement of people creating and connecting, providing spaces where people can feel affirmed?

We don’t need a boardroom full of Hollywood shot-callers to approve our stories. WE approve our stories, and we will never stop telling them.

M. Grace