Queer Fandom Spaces Aren’t a Utopia, Part I

There’s a certain kind of fantasy about queer fandom spaces. A utopia, where queer content flows fast and free and queer fans come together to celebrate queerness in many forms. It’s the ultimate safe space for queer fans.

Sadly, that utopia doesn’t actually exist, because people are still people in and out of fandom, and they bring their biases, perspectives, and racism with them into online spaces – even when they’re queer themselves. But that doesn’t mean things can’t be better — and that there aren’t practical solutions for how to make queer fandom spaces truly exist for all queer fans. 

These spaces should be ones where we’re protected and where we can explore our identities in fiction or in conversations with other queer people. We shouldn’t have to be left out of the fantasy. We shouldn’t have to feel unsafe simply by stanning something or someone. Let’s start with some of the biggest issues I’ve noticed across a lifetime of being queer in fandom, and get into some problem-solving.

“Ace Discourse” and Exclusionism

First, let’s talk about one of my longest-running issues with the way queer fandom handles identity: “ace discourse.” While it’s difficult to trace the beginnings, ace discourse took hold of queer social justice spaces on Tumblr in 2010 and then built up steam as it moved into fandom at large over the years. On the surface, “ace discourse” is what the label says: discourses or conversations about being asexual and what that means in conversation with queer theory.

In reality, however? Tumblrized queer theory and what would come after it – commonly known as exclusionism – became a way to decide who was “really” queer and then punish people for claiming queerness online. In fandom, people’s marginalized identities are often (unfortunately) used as a trump card to win ship wars and shut down even the most valid criticisms. (Ex: “I’m Asian and I don’t think the ‘Dragon Lady’ stereotype is racist… so you shouldn’t either.”) Ace discourse is often leveraged as a way to define and control who gets to be queer in these spaces and whose queerness counts when it comes to content creation and consumption.

It hinges on positioning an ace person as not Queer Enough to create specific kinds of queer content – especially when it’s NSFW. Because of commonly believed stereotypes about asexuals, the idea of someone being both largely uninterested in sex and the author of an 18+ fan fiction that’s hotter than a five alarm fire is still something many people struggle with. Over the years I’ve seen asexuals told that they’re lying about their identity because they wrote a spicy slash fic or because they commented that some fanart was “hot” and of course, constantly, asexuals in fandom who talk about that are often dismissed as “secretly hets” by people who really should know better about how queerness isn’t a monolith.

It’s all about exclusion, a desire to “protect” queer communities from outsiders, gone awry. Ultimately, the people harmed by these conversations are queer themselves, and queerness isn’t clear-cut. Across history and queer theory, what gets claimed as queer can be contested and even controversial because we’re all shoved under an umbrella that’s too large and too small for us at the same time. 

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