Curious: How have the femslash fandoms changed since you got into fandom?
Jarrow: It’s hard for me to say, because I wasn’t in fandom at large until recently. My friends have forever been queer ladies. For me, it was just, “Well, which of my friends are watching TV?” I had my best friend, who I was watching Buffy with, and her best friend from high school. The 3 of us watched a lot of Buffy. Then after college I had a friend—she comes to TGIF/F and does the vid shows for us—she and I were in Battlestar together. It’s like, “Oh yes, here’s my queer friend who also watches Battlestar. Let’s talk about ladies being gay on Batttlestar.”
It was just kind of, where do those worlds collide already in my life? I would only meet new people at cons, really. I am not someone who can speak too knowledgeably on what the femslash fandom culture was like more than 5 years ago, but there are a lot of people who come to TGIF/F who can.
Leah: The other thing is that I think it’s very fascinating—I’ve had that thing happen to me, where all of my closest friends in high school, we all identified as straight in high school. None of us are straight now. Those aren’t even fandom friends. Those are just like, “Oh wow, I didn’t know all of my friends were freaking gay. Look at us.”
All of my fandom friends, as we’ve all grown up together, there was a very natural progression where it’s like, “Oh, shit, since when is everyone in this room bi? We all are. Okay.” It’s a priority for us now, and it never used to be. In Doctor Who fandom, for example, it’s so funny to see after the fact. The vast majority of people I know who were passionate, passionate shippers of the Doctor and Rose Tyler, are all queer women. And in hindsight, it is in some ways a queer narrative in the way the story unfolds; all of the same indicators are there. It’s all about what’s left unsaid, the subtext, the way you have to fill in the blanks. It not dissimilar to the narratives that you see for women who like women on television.
So now I can see that it was kind of the gateway drug to most of my fandom friends suddenly spilling into all of these femslash fandoms, even though it’s a het ship. Then, we kind of all moved as a flock, from one thing to another. It’s like, “Oh, it’s safe over on Supergirl! Let’s all go over there!”
Jarrow: No one’s died yet.
Leah: Once you find your corner of people who you like and have the same taste as you, it no longer feels like femslash fandom as any kind of a community experience, so much as it feels like what you and your friends are doing naturally.
Curious: What do you think of fandom’s place in the media nowadays? I think fandom and fan culture in general, has been getting so much more of a media spotlight. Now I see more articles every week on more platforms about fandom and fan culture and slash and femslash. I’ve read a lot of really insightful articles about what went down on The 100 and Clexa and the fallout, more outlets are kind of turning a spotlight on things that are going on in fandom.
Jarrow: Much like how science fiction can push the boundaries of what happens in reality, and we can kind of see, “Oh, what could life be like?” We’ll put it in science fiction. I feel like fandom is generally more progressive than the real world. I’m glad that there are conversations happening about this. I wish that there weren’t so many queer people dying on television. I wish there weren’t so many queer people dying in real life. If it means that we can have these conversations and start pushing representation in a variety of forms, I think it’s important to have those conversations.
Leah: The other thing to keep in mind, though, is that there’s this… It’s only very recently, essentially since the advent of Twitter, that it’s been a two-way conversation and not just them just spilling things out at us, and us consuming it. I think that on the one hand, in the last two or three years, you’ve seen an evolution from people kind of helplessly going, “What do the kids want these days? Is it this? Is it that?” I think they’re getting better at hitting the moving target. It seems very ironic to say they’re getting better at it in 2016, of all years.
I still remember, one of the first New York City Comic Cons that I went to, I went to a panel on which Jane Espenson was sitting. She’s written for Buffy, and Battlestar, and now runs the room at Once Upon a Time. Someone asked her about queerbaiting. She was like, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what that is, you’ll have to explain it.” This was several years ago. Johnlock was actually the example they used of something where it really feels like they are giving us crumbs to keep us engaged, but never intend to actually deliver. She said, “Well if that’s queerbaiting, then I’ve done it.”
And she went on to explain that, when they were writing for Buffy, they already had Willow and Tara, and then Willow and Kennedy. She was like, “So when I was writing Andrew, I knew for a fact that I couldn’t write him as a gay man, even though we, the writers, were all very clear on who Andrew was. If you thought in the Andrew and Spike scenes that you were being baited, it’s because that was all I was allowed to give you. I would have given you more if I could.”
That was really eye-opening for me to hear it from a creator’s perspective: that the network exists, and they will edit you. I think there’s much less of that now. I think we’re able to judge creators for their content—and take them at the word—in 2016, as opposed to being able to give them benefit of the doubt, as we did before. Now we know our allies from our enemies, much more clearly, because in this time and place, it’s a lot harder to accept those things as answers.
Like, when Rebecca Sugar is able to get the gayest cartoon ever made (Steven Universe) actually distributed on Cartoon Network, in China—which was why the network so often would say they couldn’t “go there,” because international audiences will never go for it—and make money, it’s really a sign things have changed.