Queer Fandom Isn’t a Utopia, Part 2

Check out part one of this column, On Queer Fandom and the Radicalization of the Underdog.

Fandom is all about choice. In queer fandom spaces we choose what characters to turn into our little meow meows or our blorbos. We choose what media to hot glue onto the pieces that already make up our personality. We choose who our friends are, what we talk about, and who we talk or don’t talk to. Online queer fandom functions as a social network held together by choice. So when queer fandom chooses to be racist, it fractures relationships and communities, and it’s not only really frustrating, it’s devastating to countless other fans of color. Fandom is supposed to be for everyone, an escapist space where we’re all seen and respected for what makes us different. For queer fans of color, that doesn’t always feel like a reality because of the ways fandom tells us queer fans are expected to behave.

Fans of color should not have to choose between our queerness and our identities as people of color, especially when we’re not from the United States. However, queerness in fandom is often highly reliant on white queerness — queer white histories, queer white feelings — and so fans of color are implicitly or explicitly told to choose. We’re not seen as Real Queer Fans if we’re not doing exactly what everyone else in queer white fandom will do and if we ever question fandom practices or priorities, especially racism or how race is handled at all, we’re actively reframed as anti fans or outsiders out to destroy fandom as we know it.

This is because fandom frequently reframes queer fans of color talking about race or racism in fandom as being against what fandom is supposed to be about: freedom, feminism, and queerness. To fandom at large, we’re destroying fandom by daring to point out the ways it fails and erases us in the process of portraying the spaces as a queer utopia. Even when we’re talking on our own with our own, we’re turned into fandom killjoys that are ruining fandom for people. The “fandom killjoy” as Dr. Rukmini Pande defined it in Squee From The Margins: Fandom and Race, is a term that describes someone whose intent is to “threaten the invocation of a broadly inclusive, woman-centric, and queer-coded community” — and to do so with pleasure. For many queer white fans, fans of color who point out the racism in online fandom spaces around queer characters and fans are ruining everyone else’s escapism.

When queer Black fans talked about the racism of the burgeoning Black Panther fandom (primarily how non-Black people wrote Wakandans as savages or married the royal family off to white heroes who then got to rule Wakanda), we were accused of… hating interracial romances. Or queerness. Back when Sleepy Hollow was popular or when Skyfall came out, queer Black women called attention to how queer fandom was actively centering (non-canon) white male queerness at the direct expense of Black women in main roles as romantic interests for the hero. In response, white queer fans erased these fans’ queer identities, accusing them of being cishet women trying to launch a ship war… while people wrote off the little representation we got. Even now, in fandoms like 9-1-1, Our Flag Means Death, and The Old Guard — fandoms where a major canon or fanon pairing involves at least one queer character of color — racism runs rampant and queer fans of color are punished and harassed for bringing up racism in fandom. Unsurprisingly, racism begets more racism.

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