What do Vergil, Dante Alighieri, John Milton, and Erika Mitchell have in common? They all wrote fanfiction. Dante's Divine Comedy, The Aeneid, and Paradise Lost are literary classics. Erika Mitchell's Fifty Shades of Grey, originally published as a fanfic, made more than a billion dollars from the movie alone and broke several box office records. Fanfics and their authors can earn significant commercial success - so why does fanfiction carry a significant stigma?
There are many reasons for fanfiction's lackluster reputation, like bad grammar and overused tropes, but the sheer amount of queer and trans stories is an important factor. Modern media has improved shows' and movies' diversity, but it is nowhere near enough. Fanfiction fulfills the need for LGBTQ+ representation.
The Kirk and Spock relationship is clear evidence of this. First seen in the 70s, Kirk/Spock was the first widely circulated slash ship (homosexual relationship). There was little to no positive representation in the 1970s, thus creating a relationship that continues to be famous to this day, more than 50 years later. To date, there are about 16,286 total works on AO3. Archive of Our Own, otherwise known as AO3, is one of the most popular fanfiction sites on the internet. Though it did not exist in the 70's, writers still published their work on the internet. Kirk/Spock became an automatic fan favorite because of the World Wide Web, homophobia, restrictive laws concerning LGBTQ+ rights, and no representation in the media.
Today, LGBTQ+ Chinese fanfiction authors also write fanfiction for the same reasons as Kirk/Spock fanfics. China has some of the most oppressive and comprehensive censorship laws. People cannot publish or produce anything that pushes the homosexual lifestyle. In response to the lack of representation and oppressive legislation, LGBTQ+ Chinese fanfiction flourishes on Archive of Our Own, though at the writers' own risk. Several have been arrested in the past decade. China banned AO3. However, this has not stopped the tenacious writers. They continue to write and publish, most likely using VPNs to get around the Great Firewall of China.
It is impossible to completely censor fanfiction. When the internet does not work, fans can revert to fanzines. When they ban fanzines, writers can use the internet. Even if both are banned, authors can simply write for their friend group. Publishing isn't the point of writing fanfiction. Writing fanfiction is the point of writing fanfiction. It is a risky game of whack-a-mole, but for its writers and readers, worth it. Within the US in 2022, only 12% of characters on "scripted primetime broadcast" are LBGTQ+. Making it worse, "Of the 596 LGBTQ characters, 175 (29 percent) will not be returning". Fanfiction is an integral part of the LGBTQ+ community and will never die, no matter how much censorship there is. On the contrary, it flourishes in darkness.
– Written by Gabe (they/them) GLSEN Collier Shine Team