by: Evelyn Eisleigh
This summer, I was sucked deep into the world of Harry Potter fan fiction, and my life will never be the same. I know what you’re thinking, this girl is a nerd. Suspend your judgement for just a few pages. Humor me a bit. Embrace the nerd within.
Fan fiction is a spectacular phenomenon. I could gush about it for days. Writers of all ages and skill levels publish their own creative writing based on the universes created in popular works of fiction. The overwhelming majority of fanfic is self-published online, free to access, without any intent to make a profit. People share their work in online communities and share feedback in the form of comments, reviews, or editing another writer’s work as a “Beta” reader. The sheer volume of fiction online is astounding, and the creativity and dedication of many fanfic writers is unbelievable.
In this article, I want to discuss my perspective as a queer-identified woman as I begin to explore the wide world of Harry Potter fan fiction, and particularly gay “slash” fiction.
First, in order to talk about this, we need to have some common language. If you’re a seasoned shipper, by all means, scroll away! If you’re new to scene like I am, let me share with you my limited understanding of some common phrases.
Fic: A work of fan fiction.
Canon (noun): The original work of fiction as the author intended it, i.e. the original Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. “In canon, Harry is a Gryffindor and Cedric is a Hufflepuff.”
Canon (adjective): Adherence to the rules of the original canon universe. If something is canon, it fits within the accepted parameters of interpretation of the original work. If something is not canon, it breaks the rules of the original work. Debates about whether something is canon or not can rage on and on, especially if the author is ambiguous on the topic. “Writing Harry as a Hufflepuff is not canon.”
Alternative Universe (AU): A work of fan fiction that is deliberately non-canon.
Ship: A relationship between characters in a work of fiction.
Slash: A queer/LGBT pairing of characters in a relationship.
Femmeslash, or Femslash: Girl-on-girl slash pairing.
Drarry: A common nickname for the romantic slash pairing of Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter.
Wolfstar: A common nickname for the romantic slash pairing of Remus Lupin (Wolf) and Sirius Black (Star).
SS Antithesis: A not-so-common nickname for the romantic slash pairing of Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood. (This pairing is not all that popular, but it’s one of my favorites.)
The Golden Trio: Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.
One Big Happy Weasley Family: A nickname given to the Golden Trio in the Epilogue of The Deathly Hallows. Nineteen years after Voldemort’s defeat, Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione get married, have children, and become one giant extended family.
Shipper: Someone who reads/writes fiction from a particular ship. “My friend has been a Wolfstar shipper since she was twelve.”
OTP (Only True Pairing): The relationship in which you believe, that you will defend ’til the death. Your OTP is the banner beneath which you rally, the ship you obsess about until you’re blue in the face.
Did I miss anything? If you need clarification, feel free to ask.
I first learned about Harry Potter fan fiction through this Time Magazine article from 2011, and proceeded to read every one of Lev Grossman’s recommended works. The first fic I ever read was Underwater Light by Maya, a classic Drarry novel written between 2002-2005 during Rowling’s publishing hiatus between The Goblet of Fire & The Order of the Phoenix. It was Drarry that piqued my interest in fanfic, but it was Wolfstar that kept me hooked on it.
When people read a work of fiction, it’s only natural that they interpret it using their own experiences as a road map. I identify strongly as a queer woman, and I cannot help but bring my own experiences into my interpretation of the fiction I read. In my mind, fan fiction is a queer phenomenon, and I owe a lot of that perspective to the Drarry fan community. I take pleasure in finding queer narratives within popular works of fiction. I also take pleasure in queering the perspectives of familiar characters and interpreting their stories in unique and nuanced ways.
There are myriad reasons why someone would seek out gay fan fiction, not least of which is for pornographic purposes. Not judging, just saying. A lot of NC-17 fanfic exists, and a lot of it is marvelous work. Some of it is not. A lot of fetishizing happens in fan fiction. This is true for slash fiction as well, and particularly femmeslash. Girl-on-girl pairings are, IMHO, the bread and butter of sexist hetero fantasy stereotypes. I often remind myself what it is that I’m looking for in a fic before I read it. Bottom line, I expect more from my writers than one-dimensional sex dolls going at it. On the other hand, many writers treat their characters with respect and keen insight, and they create some extraodinary works of fiction. It’s common practice for authors to give warnings or use rating systems to communicate the content level of their fic. Sure, a lot of it is pornographic in nature, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
However, objectifying characters is fairly endemic to the world of fan fiction, and I would argue that women, queer characters, and characters of color bear the brunt of this objectification. Case in point: Hermione Granger. Bless her soul, Hermione is paired with every known Harry Potter character under the sun. Some of of these pairings are interesting, some of them are revolting, and some are just plain tired. Despite the fact that in canon she’s a rich, nuanced character with a fair amount of integrity and agency, writers will often reduce her character into a one-dimensional sex puppet for the sake of the ship they’re shipping.
Why is Hermione shipped ad infinitum? I honestly don’t have a good answer. Is it because she’s such a compelling character in canon that people gravitate towards shipping her? Or is it because she’s the only female lead in the Golden Trio, and becomes a replaceable mannequin for every female archetype under the sun? Something about the way she gets passed around from ship to ship disturbs me, and makes me reticent to read a lot of romantic fiction that features her. That being said, I have also seen a lot of admirable writing in which authors imbue her with independence, fire, tenacity, sexual agency, spunk, wit, self-determination and courage. Perhaps it is because she is the most recognizable woman of the series that Hermione’s character is emblematic of the female experience. Often she endures sexism at the hands of her writers as well as her fellow characters. I would rather see the latter, and see her rise to the occasion with the resilience of all the strong women I know and respect in real life.
J.K. Rowling has built an incredibly compelling sand box, and fan fiction is just another way in which we as readers and writers can jump in and play. I’m currently working on a few budding fics of my own, and when I jump into writing, I take joy in queering the narratives of these iconic characters. It’s my favorite thing to do. Easy, normative, happy endings don’t sit well with me, and they never have. I don’t understand or enjoy the One Big Happy Weasley Family narrative, and I don’t see the harm in envisioning other, less hetero, outcomes. I want to read about characters who disrupt the norm. I want to read about coming out, complex sexual identities, complex identities in general, poly-relationships, non-traditional relationships, I want to read about it all! I want to read fiction that reflects the queerness I experience all around me, and when I write, I bring those experiences directly to the table.
I believe we have a responsibility to stand up and share our stories with the world. In any way, shape or form. I am beginning to embrace fan fiction as an avenue for me to do that.
In my humble opinion, the nerdier the better.
Evelyn Eisleigh is a Potterhead, Ravenclaw, and stereotypical Pisces. She is an avid reader and budding writer of Harry Potter fan fiction, and can be found trolling around Tumblr under the handle “eeisleigh.”