On a recent night I was lying on my bed in total darkness while scrolling through the timeline of my secret Twitter account, or, more precisely, my Kpop fandom account. I was laughing at some memes, when one tweet piqued my interest. It was by a Kpop group fan fiction writer that I follow – let’s call her “Lyla”.
The tweet goes something like this; “Imagine coming (under attack) by a fan fiction writer for ‘fetishizing gay relationships’, while (they) write about non-consensual relationship.”
Apparently, Lyla was being accused of fetishizing gay relationship because she wrote fan fiction about same-sex pairing. The person who accused her of doing it, meanwhile, writes non-con (short for non-consensual), which is a relationship built without consent of the other party, a popular but problematic fan fiction theme.
A little note, before I go further: This article uses several terms that might be foreign to those who aren’t familiar with fandom culture. I’ll try my best to explain some frequently used terms.
Fan fiction (or fanfic) are stories written by fans, sometimes with different plots than the original or contrary to things that actually happen in the original work (hence, an Alternate Universe or AU). But a fanfic story does not always have to take place in an AU; it can be just a minor alteration from the original plotline or premises. These stories are published on websites such as Fanfiction.net or Archiveofourown.org (AO3). The Indonesian government has blocked Fanfiction.net, so let’s pray they won’t do the same with AO3.
Next is ship, which comes from the word “relationship”. Ship occurs when fans pair a certain character with another character. Sometimes from the same fandom, sometimes not. Those who ship are called “shippers”.
Now let’s go back to the tweet.
After reading it I immediately check the responses to find out what happened. I want the “tea” or gossip: who is fighting who. Of the replies, I found two that were interesting. One of them said that people who accuse a fanfic writer who writes about same-sex pairing of fetishizing are, in fact, homophobic. The other asked, sarcastically, “Are gay people not allowed to be written in fiction and the media because it’ll be fetishizing? It is odd to think that being gay is worse than non-con”.
This made me think: Is writing or reading gay relationship fan fiction the same as fetishizing it? And is calling out someone as fetishizing a homophobic behavior? I tried to find the answer, but this is sensitive topic to talk about within the fandom – so sensitive it can actually cause a fight.
Internalized Homophobia and Misogyny
Not long ago my friend Cat and I talked about fetishizing gay relationship in K-pop fandom. Fetishizing gay relationships has always been a debate, not only in K-pop fandom but in almost every fandom that has ever existed. The core question: Is it fetishizing or not?
As we talked we found a rather interesting pattern. Often those who like to fetishize gay relationships are heterosexual girls with homophobic tendencies. Sometimes we’ll find them on Twitter or any other social media platform (if you look closely and hard enough). You would find, for example, some fans saying something like this; “Oh, I love this ship. Recommend me some good fanfic of them, please.” But when you asked their comment on the LGBTIQ they’re going to say “Oh, I hope my idol isn’t like that. I want them to be normal.”
The same people who appropriate gay relationship also have internalized homophobia. For them, a gay relationship is nothing more than mere entertainment to satisfy their fantasy.
That behavior mirrors the way heterosexual males objectify lesbian relationship because they think it’s “hot” and only exist to satisfy men’s sexual desire.
Those shippers represent only the bad side of the fandom. Not only is it harmful for the fandom and the LBGTIQ+ community, it also shows blatant misogyny.
For example, last March a female celebrity got into a dating rumor with a rapper from a very famous K-Pop group. The rumor created an uproar within the fandom, which is kind of funny because the fans started the rumor itself.
One half of the fans supported the rumored relationship, saying, “It’s okay. Why would we hate them if they’re dating? It’s their rights to date someone.”
The other half, however, went: “Don’t you dare date him, abominable hussy.” They sent hate messages to her social media account, and nothing to the man.
The agency later denied that they were dating, and the frenzy died down. But an interesting turn of event happened around the second and third week of July. The same male rapper gave a present to his male friend and fans started to ship them.
The reaction to the ship were different than when a female was involved. Instead of sending hate messages the way they did to the female celebrity, they expressed their love for the idea of the male celebrity being in a same-sex relationship, solely because it feeds their sexual fantasy.
They prefer their idol to date male than female because it suits their fetish. Or they would rather have their idols date men than women who aren’t them.
I want to clarify that this is not the face of shippers. We must understand not all them have these traits. There are differences between fetishizing shipper and non-fetishizing shipper. Those who fetishize belong to the toxic part of the fandom. They can’t distinguish what’s fantasy and what’s real. They would push their own agenda to objectify gay relationship to other people.
Those who don’t fetishize know which is reality and which is fantasy. They belong to the healthier part of the fandom. They will support their idols regardless of their sexual or romantic orientation. They ship not to objectify them, but because they like the pairing’s chemistry. Therefore, they understand the boundaries and know when shipping has become toxic and must be stopped.
There is nothing wrong with shipping same sex relationship and reading fanfic, as long as it does not harm other people. The problem lies with those who do it to satisfy their fetish. This applies to the writers as well as the readers.
For me, ship and fan fiction gives me the feeling of finally being represented as a queer. I always find TV shows, books, or movies force unnecessary heteronormative plots and relationship. They rarely show queer relationship, or if there is any, it would be either tragic or sad. I’ve had enough with the lovey-dovey hetero stuff. What I need to see is representation of happy queer relationships. Fan fiction gives me exactly what I need.
But just because someone ships same sex relationships it does not make them an ally. Being an ally is much deeper than just shipping inside a fandom.
This is an important discourse to be disscussed inside the fandom without having to yell at each other, so we can stop problematic behavior, and support our favorite idols in a healthier fandom eviornment.
Many times I saw non-toxic fans tried to educate others through “tweet threads” about pratices that are offensive to the LGBTIQ+ community, but often their voices get tuned out because rather than educating themselves, fans prefer getting into petty fights with other fandoms. Still, I think they’re fighting the good fight, informing those toxic fans that their behavior is wrong and unacceptable. It is something fans must keep doing: the more we talk about it, more people will learn and understand.
Tabularasa is an avid fanfiction reader who dreams about adopting 16 cats and knitting sweaters for them.