So I’ve been too afraid to peek my head into tumblr today in the wake of some truly upsetting things said in an interview with Out Magazine by an actor that many of us hold in very high regard. (Here’s a link to the interview for those of you who are interested).
In crudely summed up terms, it’s the situation that has become so typical in this day and age, in which an interviewer prompts an actor to talk about the existence of fanfiction (in this case slash fiction in particular). Actor responds with mild disgust, bewilderment and dismissal of this type of creative production, diagnosing the reason for its existence as the adolescent expressions of overly emotional and sexually voracious 13-year old girls. ‘How silly they are,’ the actor says, ‘They don’t yet know anything about how the real world works when it comes to sex and romance. These are just the fanciful, lust-fueled imaginings of their adolescent yearning. How disappointing. Why must everything be about sex for them?’
I think it’s important to note that these sorts of interviews (whether they be print or media) should be taken with a grain of salt. We can never know to what extent the interviewer/editor skewed the information that is presented to us to prove a point.
And I think the problem of one actor’s opinion on the matter (as disappointing as that opinion may be) is beside the point. What’s really infuriating, and I think what makes so many of us respond with hurt and rage, is the fact that these remarks are representative of the larger cultural attitude toward fanfiction and female sexuality in general, an attitude that is characterized by dismissal, belittlement, and outright derision.
It is the same attitude that we saw expressed at The Empty Hearse screening this past December, where one writer’s work of fanfiction was read aloud and ridiculed by those present. My rage in the wake of that incident prompted me to begin a piece of writing that is tentatively titled “In Defense of Fanfiction” and is essentially an examination of the relationship between creativity and female sexuality that is embodied by the fanfiction genre. Much to my chagrin, I haven’t yet finished this piece of writing, but I’ll just say briefly now that there is SO MUCH WRONG with this attitude toward fanfiction. It is evidence of the fact that we still do not take teenage girls seriously, nor, in a broader sense do we take female sexuality, or displays of emotion, seriously. It is evidence of the fact that we still live in a world which has been shaped by the Enlightenment ideals of rationality and reason. A world in which, all that is good is masculine, logical, and rational, and all that is wicked (or more insidiously these days ‘silly and unworthy of regard’) is emotional, bodily, and feminine.
These sorts of cultural attitudes are more than just disappointing to witness. They are destructive. Just to give a brief anecdotal example—this morning I woke up early to squeeze in an hour of writing before a long and busy day, specifically writing a piece of fanfiction inspired by BBC Sherlock, in which John and Sherlock are re-imagined as a sailor and an aristocrat at sea in the early nineteenth century. Does that sound ridiculous? Juvenile? Silly? Maybe. And maybe it is. But all I know, is that working on this piece of fiction is the most important work of my life because it enables me to write in a way that I have not been able to ever in my life. And although I have not yet put into words all the reasons why I think fanfiction specifically as a form of creative engagement enables me to do this, I know this to be true.
However, when it came to my attention this morning before I sat down to write, that an actor whom I admire and respect had such disparaging things to say about fanfiction, I felt that awful sense of self-doubt and shame creep over me, which is poisonous to the production of all creative works.
That’s right, the horrible voice inside me said, Don’t you remember? Writing fanfiction doesn’t count. It’s a frivolous waste of time at best. At worst, it’s a self-delusional practice of fetishization that betrays an embarrassingly stunted inability to develop sexually in the right way. How pathetic. How worthless. How sickening and sad.
This horrible voice of self-doubt and shame manifests itself in an infinite number of ways. This is just one example of the things it will say to prevent me from any creative endeavor. It has been the project of my life (as it is for every creative individual) to ignore these voices and do the work that matters to us. But it is a lifelong struggle. And hearing this kind of attitude in our culture about fanfiction (which to me is representative of attitudes towards female sexuality and creativity) repeated over and over again makes it harder to resist those internalized voices of shame and self-doubt.
All this is to say, the hour that I was going to spend writing this morning? It was spent in a rage discussing this issue with a friend who also writes fanfiction, who was also pulled out of her writing when she heard about this issue because she was too angry to focus on her work.
There is more to be said on the matter, but for now, I’ll let Virginia Woolf say it for me when she says it in A Room of One’s Own. This kind of attitude towards female creativity is a problem for this simple reason: “the thought of that one gift which it was death to hide—a small one but dear to the possessor—perishing and with it myself, my soul—all this became like a rust eating away the bloom of the spring, destroying the tree at its heart.”
This derision toward female sexuality and creativity is harmful to us all.