Envisioning queer female fandom

Eve Ng

Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, United States

Julie Levin Russo

The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Editorial for "Queer female fandom," edited by Julie Levin Russo and Eve Ng, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 24 (June 15, 2017).

[0.2] Keywords—Fandom history; Femslash; Lesbian representation

Ng, Eve, and Julie Levin Russo. 2017. "Envisioning Queer Female Fandom" [editorial]. In "Queer Female Fandom," edited by Julie Levin Russo and Eve Ng, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 24. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2017.1168.

1. Origins

[1.1] Imagine early March 2015. Julie was teaching science fiction and watching a lot of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries (ABC [Australia], 2012–15). Eve was still enjoying Person of Interest (CBS, 2011–16) and The 100 (CW, 2014–), not knowing the bloodshed that was to come. Somewhere in the ever flowing tide of social media, a fan of femslash (female-female couples) tweeted about feeling ignored and erased by the field of fan studies. Fans have had a complicated, ambivalent, often conflicted relationship to the academic study of their texts and communities. That history was part of the impetus for this very journal, as a flagship project of a fan advocacy organization. But femslashers, at least since the era of Xena: Warrior Princess (Renaissance Pictures, 1995–2001) fandom on the Web, have been perhaps uniquely attentive to the public face of their activities.

[1.2] [1997] A member of the newsgroup alt.tv.xena compiled answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ) about lesbian subtext on Xena: Warrior Princess and put it up at the new fan site Xenite.org. In response to frequent harassment by homophobic skeptics, Xena/Gabrielle 'shippers offered "proof" in the form of "interviews with the cast and crew" of the program wherein they "flatly stated…that they put subtextual scenes and dialogue in the shows intentionally" (https://web.archive.org/web/20051031202026/http://www.xenite.org/faqs/subtext.html).

[1.3] In defining the topic of this issue as "queer female fandom," we acknowledge that femslash has been paradigmatically tied to a broader concern with the representation of gender and sexuality and its social impact. It may be this general tendency among online communities around queer female media (however textual or subtextual) that can inspire tracking of academic research as a particular form of representation. This special issue, coming to fruition more than 2 years later, is for the author of that 2015 tweet—for femslashers and those passionate about fictional female-female couples who have felt that their identities and practices are marginalized. There's a certain ambiguity to the term "queer female fandom," which is sometimes used in reference to predominantly female communities engaged in queer activities such as male slash. Here, we recenter queer women as the object of fannish cathexis.

[1.4] Certainly there are exclusions embedded in the terms "queer," "female," and even "fandom" that risk flattening the discourses and demographics at hand. We don't wish to reinforce gender binaries, identity politics, tacit whiteness, Western dominance, or audience hierarchies. These limitations are addressed to some degree by the range of essays in this special issue, and the credit for that goes to the authors who have entrusted their work to this collection. In offering "queer female fandom" as an aspirational frame for new scholarship, we aimed to give form and cohesion to an underpopulated gap in the matrix spanning fan studies, LGBT media studies, online community studies, and production or industry studies (insofar as it is concerned with LGBT markets and creators).

[1.5] While there is substantial research encompassing lesbians and queer women in many of these areas—including queer representation and spectatorship, queer community formations and erotic networks in the digital era, market forces directed at LGBT consumers and corollary opportunities for independent media producers—fan communities around queer female characters and relationships, and their creative practices, have gotten comparatively little attention. If femslash anchors this topic for us, it is a genre that can have fluid boundaries, and we hope to define a field of inquiry without being overly prescriptive of its contours.

[1.6] [2015] "As mainstream representation and online platforms have evolved, fan practices around female-female couples are becoming increasingly vibrant and visible, and a proliferation of explicitly lesbian or bisexual characters in film and television has captivated fans and researchers alike. This work points the way to a productive investigation of the turbulent boundaries between canon and subtext, between femslash and slash communities, between erotic and political interventions, and between different methodological approaches to queer female audiences (broadly conceived)—boundaries that femslash itself troubles" (TWC, "Queer Female Fandom" call for papers).

[1.7] In terms of origins—when invited to collectively generate a historical lineage of queer female fandom at the second TGIFemslash convention (April 2017), literary reference points went back over 100 years (finally landing at Sappho) and media to Hollywood film from the 1930s onward. In a chapter in the 1998 volume Theorizing Fandom, Green, Jenkins, and Jenkins chronicle discussions about "female slash" that predates the Web. Writers in their apas (amateur press associations, a collaborative postal zine exchange) wrestled with the queer politics of male slash and with its exclusion of women:

[1.8] [1992] "As an experiment last week, I gathered all of the female slash I had into one pile (largely Blake's 7 [BBC/BBC One, 1978–81], since it has more strong females than the rest of slash fandom's favorite shows put together…) and read it all one after another. I realized that my distance from the material is different in female slash." —Sandy Hereld (18)

[1.9] [1990] "A thought occurs to me about the unfortunate lack of female slash stories. The majority of slash is based on characters who have a preexisting, strongly emotional relationship in the show where they appear: a lot of slash is expansion on something to be seen in the show (as the slash fan sees it). Female characters, even if you can find more than one in a given show, are unlikely to have an intense, highlighted friendship with each other." —Barbara Tennison (20)

[1.10] These fans' diagnosis underscores the watershed embodied by the 1995 premiere of Xena, an epic fantasy series centered on the intimate relationship between two female heroines. This historical moment happened to converge with a critical mass of new online communications tools (initially Usenet groups that had transitioned to e-mail lists, complemented by static Web sites, Web rings, and chat rooms) to engender the first contemporary femslash-centric fan community. Notable femslash subcommunities also existed in major ongoing fandoms, like Star Trek (NBC, 1966–69), around this time, and other points of origin such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB/UPN, 1997–2003) followed soon after. The crystallization of femslash as a unique subculture is thus intertwined with transitions in both old and new media.

[1.11] Because these first-generation platforms were topically defined, however, there was limited permeability or movement across media texts. This relative autonomy is evidenced by a proliferation of terms for F/F (femslash, femmeslash, or girlslash; subtext fic, altfic [from "alternative"], or saffic [a pun on Sappho]). With the rise of social blogging platform LiveJournal as a home base for media fan cultures beginning around 2001, an environment with more porous boundaries between fandoms (and between fan activity and other domains of life) developed, laying the groundwork for femslash to become a unifying investment that transcends any particular show or couple.

[1.12] [December 1, 2005] With the inaugural post of the LiveJournal community femslash_today (http://femslash-today.livejournal.com/644.html), fandom gained a centralized archival consciousness of the contours of F/F at large. A collaborative team posted lists of new fan works and other links of interest almost daily through 2013 (and sporadically up until the present).

[1.13] The coalescence of femslash as a metafandom unto itself may have paradoxically contributed to a bird's-eye view of its marginality. As we might glean from the primacy of slash as the unmarked term (denoting same-sex couples in general and male-male couples in particular), F/F remains underrepresented not only in scholarly research but also arguably in fandom overall (compared to M/M and also to het [heterosexual] and gen [nonsexual] fiction and art). Femslash fans often frame their experience in this way, as was the case at the "Where's the F/F?" panel at the May 2015 WisCon feminist science fiction convention in Madison, Wisconsin. The conversation took as a jumping-off point detailed statistics, compiled by destinationtoast, on fan fiction posted at Archive of Our Own (AO3; https://archiveofourown.org/).

[1.14] [February 2016] According to ToastyStats, "F/F as a whole is strongly on the rise," with about 60K fan works produced in 2015, but it still makes up only 9 percent of the total works on AO3 (up from the previous year, but dwarfed by M/M at 50 percent) (https://archiveofourown.org/works/6045463).

[1.15] Of course, it's possible that AO3 isn't the site of femslashers' most active participation—destinationtoast notes that popular archives FanFiction.net and Wattpad (not to mention social network platform Tumblr) are impossible to profile as accurately because they have no femslash category, and authors use a wide variety of tags to identify content. Presuming that femslash does lag behind other genres, the abridged history above suggests that contributing factors may include its late blooming within media fandom and the dearth of significant female relationships in popular media. (This deficit has been gradually decreasing.) Participants at the WisCon panel also cited internalized or systemic sexism as a potential barrier, and the LGBTQ tradition of separatism or "safe space" as a factor that may make femslash less visible.

[1.16] Whatever the demographic realities, however, we resist the narrative of scarcity as a framework for understanding femslash. It is the foundation of a vibrant online community that deserves to be considered on its own terms. In today's Tumblr era, the consolidation of queer female fandom as an overarching modality has catalyzed a renewed efflorescence of beloved 'ships from the past two decades (like Xena/Gabrielle). Fans (many of them youth) are engaging with the genre's history and collectively extending a critical awareness of its imbrication with the history of queer female representation. As lesbian story lines became incrementally more common in mainstream media (television, film, video games, comics, and so on), these scintillating objects were seamlessly integrated with ongoing fan communities and practices while also reshaping the terms and discourses of a femslash worldview.

2. Savior, slayer, soldier, spy

Black-and-white digital drawing of Lexa from The 100 with a long colored rainbow banner trailing from her shoulders in lieu of a cape, with a tall skyscaper behind in the distance.

Figure 1. "Non na throu daun gon ai" ("No one fights for me"). LGBT-themed fan art of Lexa by papurrcat, March 2016 (http://papurrcat.tumblr.com/post/141117599892/for-my-friends-and-followers-the-world-hears-you). [View larger image.]

[2.1] Queer female fandom is making a splash. In the first half of 2016, lesbian or bisexual characters were killed off on several popular television programs, culminating in the dramatic murder of rival commander Lexa on The 100 just after she consummates her romance with the heroine, Clarke. In response, enraged fans leveled criticism and demands not just at the show's writers and producers but at the representational system that puts queer women perpetually in the crosshairs. This outcry that originated in fandom led to articles condemning the "Bury Your Gays" trope (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BuryYourGays) in cultural news outlets like the Washington Post (Butler 2016), Wired (Watercutter 2016), AV Club (McNutt 2016), Variety (Ryan 2016), the Hollywood Reporter (Stanhope 2016), and Vox (Framke 2016). Many of these journalists emphasized fans' direct interaction with The 100 show runner Jason Rothenberg and producer/writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, and, in a broader sense, the industry's growing responsibility to understand and respect slash fans' expectations. Male slashers have made similar interventions, for example regarding characters Derek and Stiles on the show Teen Wolf (MTV, 2011–), but they are less typical and arguably less effective than instances from femslash communities. The fusion that femslash presumes between fans and characters in terms of sexual and gender identities affords it this powerful platform for literal campaigns of resistance to heteronormative structures.

[2.2] [2016] "LGBT Fans Deserve Better is a movement aiming to educate people on the importance of positive LGBT representation in the media. This website's goal is to provide information, statistics and resources to enable media creators, production staff, critics and viewers to learn about the history of representation, the tropes encountered and the current state of representation on TV…The tipping point was the unnecessary death of Lexa, a lesbian character on The 100, killed by a stray bullet, by her father-figure, immediately after reuniting with her love interest. Lesbians are not unfamiliar with dying—and dying violently—in the media…Storytellers can do better, and we want creators and viewers alike to commit to demanding better" (http://lgbtfansdeservebetter.com/about/).

[2.3] To agitate for their interests as lovers of queer women, fans have collectively developed both brash guerrilla tactics like rapid-response Twitter storms and sophisticated forms of critique, which increasingly generate enough impact to gain mainstream attention. Glee (Fox, 2009–15) was a proving ground for direct action; as one chronicler notes about the Brittany and Santana (Brittana) relationship, it "was born out of one throwaway line about two featured extras and a group of women's yearning to see themselves on TV. It was fandom willing a pairing into canon. And fandom's reason? Queer women deserve representation. The cry for representation wasn't new, but Glee fans had, at the time, unprecedented access to the creators of their show" (Cranz 2016). And yet this teleology of visibility could happily coexist with the celebration of subtextual pairings like Quinn Fabray and Rachel Berry, the winners of E! Online's TV's Top Couple poll in 2012 (where they triumphed over Brittana and popular male slash couple Dean and Castiel). Although television isn't ultimately a democratic medium, femslash fans were flexing their collective influence in ways understood as going beyond a bit of tabloid fun.

[2.4] [February 14, 2012] "The fans for 'Faberry' (Fabray/Berry) as they call themselves, set a new record high for page turns on E! Online for any single post in the entire history of the website. Umm…yeah, we are just as stunned as you. Also, we did an investigation into this voting and it showed no signs of false play among 'Faberry' fans: Just a group of hardcore, dedicated shippers who organized mass-voting times (all hours of the night), and obviously took this thing very seriously. Now, I know what many of you who casually watch Glee are thinking: What the what?! Are Rachel and Quinn even a couple? And wait a minute, aren't they straight? Why yes, yes they are, as far as we know. But the 'Faberry' fans believe these two belong together" (http://eonline.com/news/294212/tv-s-top-couple-tournament-and-the-winner-is).

[2.5] Similarly, "save our show" campaigns have been a fixture of media fandom for decades and are frequently remarked on as a baseline example of fan activism. Nowhere more than femslash is it evident that such finite demands can be strategically linked to broader political concerns. Despite existing largely on Tumblr, the Warehouse 13 (SyFy, 2009–14) Bering & Wells fandom ('shipping the characters of Myka Bering and Helena G. Wells) was exceptionally organized, as demonstrated by their extensive and witty in-character manual for new fans (http://absedarian.tumblr.com/post/47643571393/). One researcher modeled this network using data visualization to help understand "how new information travels through a small community, who were able to learn new information about their favorite shipping couple" (Krisi 2013). The information at issue was a remark by actress Jaime Murray (Helena G. Wells) about her disagreement with the program's executive producer, Jack Kenny, over the status of the Bering & Wells 'ship (she and costar Joanne Kelly [Myka Bering] were in favor of its canonicity). Said informally by Murray in an autograph line, this comment was recorded and posted to YouTube, then transcribed and circulated on Tumblr. Krisi concluded that "the nodes in this particular network are socially aware and active, they are ready to forward the message…Many of the users additionally started blogging only parts of the gifs, or created their own art about the quote from Murray." When the program's ratings lagged in season 4, these "socially aware and active" fans mounted an extremely well-informed and professional campaign to renew that hinged on gathering quantitative data, generating qualitative engagement, and leveraging the morass of television metrics in the digital era. Although the official materials strategically deemphasized femslash, members of the Bering & Wells network were the primary organizers.

Color image with all-caps text to left and image of a map of the world at right. Text is framed by catalog numbers along the top and bottom. All-caps text reads: Warehouse 13 viewership survey. Properties: Creates an unshakeable belief that major media companies are behind the times. May lead to uncontrollable desire to overturn decades-old television rating and distribution standards. Warning: Contact may lead to long-term loss of sleep, over-consumption of coffee, abuse of social media, and an urge to kick corporate executive in the shins. Legible text on map image reads: 76 countries, 34.36% outside the U.S. 45.83% online; 26.74% live; The Viewers of Warehouse 13; #renewwarehouse13. Illegible text on map reads in part: witty and clever; I watch Warehouse 13 because every aspect if [sic] it is beautiful and amazing and it's one of the most amazing things in my life; in love with the characters; strong sense of found family.

Figure 2. "Artifact" record for fan survey. Courtesy of Renew Warehouse 13 (http://renewwarehouse13.com/). [View larger image.]

[2.6] "Renew Warehouse 13"'s victory was bittersweet, as the show's fifth season was only six episodes and concluded with an authoritarian gesture toward Myka's heterosexuality (ironic, given that Kenny is a gay man). Still, by placing mainstream portrayals, independent media, and transformative works in dialogue, femslash communities have been leaders in positioning themselves as a critical counterpublic with an investment in shifting the dominant terms of representation. This stance was an organic outgrowth of fan activity precisely because of the privileged correspondence between being queer women and transforming queer female characters, which animates an imperative to see oneself reflected on screen.

[2.7] [2014] "I couldn't find enough lesbians in the media who actually got the girl and came out on top and didn't kill themselves, but on the Internet, femslash was giving me more than just a queer character who made it to the end of the story. Femslash characters got to thrive and survive and have messy beautiful love. I finally saw the happy endings I didn't know I was allowed to have…[F]emslash is written by those whose identities and personal narratives are reflected in the stories themselves…One of the great frustrations of LGBTQ media is the fact that so little of our representations end up coming from LGBTQ-identified creators, and thus we see inaccurate portrayals with limited diversity. Femslash exists because we were sick of being told we didn't exist, so we wrote ourselves into their stories." —Kate (http://autostraddle.com/femslash-can-save-the-world-if-we-let-it-246684/)

[2.8] Since the early days of online femslash, as Maris (2016) observed within Xena fandom, the themes of fans' transformative works of fiction and art have been tied to an activist engagement with entertainment media. It is important not to erase the very real presence of men and straight women in femslash communities, not to mention people with trans* and nonbinary gender identities. Nonetheless, while there are many barriers to producing good data on a large scale, qualitative scholarship (Hanmer 2014; Ng 2008), informal surveys, community self-definition, and our informal observations suggest that it is accurate to say that an overwhelming majority of active participants in femslash fandom identify as lesbian, bisexual, and/or queer women. This collective sensibility has been determining for the ways a reflexive awareness of femslash in relation to fan culture and media culture has translated into public modes of address and assembly.

[2.9] [International Day of Femslash, beginning July 2008] "The on-line femslash community is set to celebrate the…annual International Day of Femslash; an opportunity to raise its head high and proclaim to the world its delight in all things femslash…For too many years, femslash has been treated as the distant cousin to the het and slash king and queen of fandom, so this is our opportunity to demonstrate to ourselves, as much as anyone else, that we are a force to be reckoned with" (http://femslashday.com/?page_id=24). This organization has run corresponding virtual fan conventions using chat rooms.

[2.10] [TGIFemslash, beginning February 2016] "TGIF/F is a multi-fandom, femslash convention designed to build connections, encourage discussion, and celebrate the media and characters we love…We celebrate many different kinds of relationships between women, whether officially established onscreen or celebrated by fans through subtext. Together, our voices demonstrate a true demand for femslash representation in media. And best of all, the community we build creates lifelong relationships and a true sense of belonging" (http://tgifemslash.com).

[2.11] [ClexaCon, beginning March 2017] "ClexaCon provides a platform to build community, bringing together a diverse group of LGBTQ fans and content creators from around the world….ClexaCon aims to empower media creators to produce and distribute more positive LGBTQ content, providing educational resources for the community to aid in the push for better representation. ClexaCon will strive to lay the foundation for improved visibility within the media while encouraging more LGBTQ women to participate in creating the stories they desire" (http://clexacon.com/vision).

[2.12] Following fandom's language, the "queer" of this issue is closely allied with the identitarian formation LGBTQ*, and it carries with it the idea that gender and sexuality are crucial categories of being, that they can be transparently visible as essential categories in the media, and that identity and visibility are profoundly linked for individuals and for society. Queer theory has a stake in troubling these assumptions because of the hierarchies and ideologies they leave undisturbed—the unified subject, the monogamous couple, binary gender, whiteness, and capitalist aspirations, to name a few. We need the oppositional mode of queerness, but if we're interested in resistance and what it means to fans, the politics of visibility is a popular phenomenon that we should not discount. By contrast, though, if we infer that femslash equates only to an identity-based call for and investment in portrayals of queer women, then we might overlook an important dimension of these transformative communities that is not reducible to a politics of visibility. Even if queer female fandom has repeatedly talked back to mass media in these terms, demanding explicitly lesbian characters and relationships on screen from Xena to the present day, they are still also engaged in slashing—a creative intervention in these characters and relationships before and beyond their explicit visibility. This special issue surveys and straddles the tensions percolating through femslash in the current moment, when its online fan communities can claim a historical consciousness and are poised to impact our larger mediascape in unprecedented ways.

3. Previously on: Existing literature

[3.1] In an era of complex interchanges across rapidly changing digital platforms, media aesthetics, labor systems, and individual and collective viewing practices, it is more difficult than ever to say definitively how and where positive LGBTQ* images appear. The same could be said of queer female fan communities, which are becoming interwoven with the increasingly diffuse proliferation of online fan activities. Popular femslash followings of couples on programs like Grey's Anatomy (ABC, 2005–), Lost Girl (Showcase, 2010–15), Once Upon a Time (ABC, 2011–), and Person of Interest have significant intersections with groups favoring male slash, het fan fiction, or other fan works based on those shows, occupying many of the same online platforms. In some instances an explicit lesbian couple coexisted with subtextual favorites (as in the aforementioned Brittana and Faberry 'ships on Glee), just as on-screen heterosexual couples have always jockeyed with fans' queer pairings for attention. Thus, even delineating queer female fandom as an object of study—whether a particular mode of visibility or a particular online community—is increasingly (and excitingly) complicated.

[3.2] The particular inflection of women's engagement with televised women, the underrepresentation of female characters in the mass media, and the unique interpretive strategies involved in investing in femslash pairings point to specificities of queer female fandom that warrant sustained analysis within the field of fan studies. A few scholars have considered femslash directly (not merely as an aside in articles on male slash), particularly in relation to Xena: Warrior Princess (Jones 2000a, 2000b, 2002; Hanmer 2003, 2014; Hamming 2001) and other major fandoms (Isaksson 2009, 2010 on Buffy; Jones 2013 on The X-Files [Ten Thirteen Productions/20th Television/20th Century Fox Television, 1993–2002]; Kapurch 2015 on Disney). This body of work tends to foreground fan fiction as an axis that connects us with fans' community structures, or fans' engagement with media texts, or both. Today, research on femslash is gaining momentum and has included analysis of the discourses fans use to define and circumscribe the boundaries of their activities and communities (Stanfill 2013; Gonzales 2015). The contested relationship between fans and commercial television creators is a newer avenue of inquiry. The multiplication and fragmentation of film and television audiences mean that the industry is courting queer fans in ways that it previously had not, and queer fans have a corresponding capacity to impact and referee the industry via social media.

[3.3] Meanwhile, with the flowering of explicitly queer characters and narratives in popular culture, much of the film and media research has turned to analyzing the terms of these portrayals and their reception by fans looking for affirmation and visibility. Rebecca Beirne ([2007] 2012) opens her introduction to the anthology Televising Queer Women by reiterating calls "over the years [by] the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities…[for] fairer and more accurate representation of LGBT people on television" (1), and the included essays bear out this emphasis (with a particular focus on The L Word [Showtime, 2004–9]). There has been some scholarship on fan communities surrounding lesbian media, such as Candace Moore's (2009) ethnography of The L Word viewing parties and Maria San Filippo's (2015) framing of AfterEllen (http://www.afterellen.com/) as a site of vernacular media criticism. Femslash fans occupy a particularly delicate corner of this nexus of issues because of their partial overlap with traditions drawn simultaneously from creative fandom, LGBTQ fandom, gay civil rights, and independent media.

Color pulp fiction book cover titled I Prefer Girls, by Jessie Dumont, first publication anywhere. Tag line: A strange story of twilight love, jealousy and hatred. Publisher's cloverleaf logo to upper left with catalog numbers and price, 40 cents. Image shows Seven of Nine in a red dress standing upright. Janeway is reclining below on a chaise, reaching up to touch Seven's arm.

Figure 3. Lesbian pulp novel cover featuring Janeway and Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager (UPN, 1995–2001). No. 6, "I Prefer Girls," by Tenderware (2000). The artist altered an existing cover painting by Robert Maguire (1963). [View larger image.]

[3.4] Perspectives on lesbian fan formations are further developed in the film and media studies literature, which centers on screen texts and spectatorship. Alexander Doty authored some of the foundational theory on subtext and queer reading strategies, including chapters on Dorothy and the Wicked Witch (2000) and Laverne and Shirley (1993) as lesbian-inflected relationships. In Uninvited, Patricia White (1999) explores the imbrication of Hays Code–era Hollywood cinema with queer female eroticism, writing that visual systems and "stars, costuming, reception, source material, and authorship can all introduce traces of a lesbian historical presence that the narratives of the films exclude" (xvii). Lynne Joyrich (2001) offers a similar perspective on television in "Epistemology of the Console," which maps the medium's various tactics for simultaneously showing and hiding queerness (a precursor to debates about queerbaiting), culminating with the coming out of both Ellen DeGeneres and her sitcom character, Ellen Morgan, in 1997 (Ellen, ABC, 1994–98). Such scholars have analyzed with great nuance the irreducibly queer language of mass media, but they rarely examine practices or texts produced by queer or slash fans, and consequently they have figured little in fan studies approaches to the topic (though Mel Stanfill's essay in this issue builds upon Doty).

[3.5] There is a substantive body of research about queer online communities that could also intersect an understanding of femslash, and scholars of mass media have chronicled the history of LGBT representation and the emergence of a gay and lesbian market as a target demographic. Overall, we can see that academic work on phenomena contiguous to femslash has been on a divergent path from typical studies of male slash. As the next section outlines, this queer female fandom issue of Transformative Works and Cultures enters this lacuna from a fan studies perspective, offering an unprecedented collection of scholarship centered on femslash communities and practices. Nonetheless, its focus moves fluidly between slash traditions and these other lenses and sites for understanding queer female representation and spectatorship. Collectively, the essays invite consideration of how to frame femslash fandoms, scrutinize the contours of their emergence and evolution, and demonstrate a range of media texts and analytical tools that highlight the theoretical and political stakes of demarginalizing this research. 2017 is perhaps the ideal historical conjuncture for taking on this task.

4. Up next 1: Femslash histories

[4.1] Several of the essays in this issue provide historical accounts of queer female fandoms, a valuable endeavor both because these histories may be little known outside of relatively small circles and because collectively they point to how shifts in fan cultures are embedded in broader contexts of media production and representation.

[4.2] Ng historically contextualizes queerbaiting discourses, discussing how femslash fans responded to textual and paratextual suggestions about the possibility of a canonical F/F romance on Xena: Warrior Princess as compared to recent shows such as Rizzoli & Isles (TNT, 2010–16) and The 100. Whereas 15 to 20 years ago Xena/Gabrielle was mostly understood as subtext because fans did not generally expect that a canonical same-sex romance could be depicted on the show, contemporary conditions of LGBTQ representation have contributed to higher expectations of canonical queer depictions.

[4.3] In femslash fandom, Grey's Anatomy has become best known for the Callie/Arizona relationship, but Zuk discusses how the major F/F relationship that preceded that, between Callie Torres and Erica Hahn, came about through collaboration between the show's writers and GLAAD after Isaiah Washinton's use of homophobic language on set and its ensuing fallout. Zuk's account also provides a reminder of how fans have moved through different online spaces: before Tumblr, it was LiveJournal that hosted the bulk of fan interactions, which was where many Callie/Erica fans interacted.

[4.4] Cameron discusses the genesis and evolution of the Web site Autostraddle (https://www.autostraddle.com/), tracing the trajectories of two key founding members, Riese and Laneia, and how their fan practices, beginning around The L Word, built up the online community of site writers and visitors that became Autostraddle. More than simply the history of a single Web site, Cameron's analysis demonstrates how fandom around a single media text can productively proliferate in ways that eventually depart significantly from their origins.

[4.5] Finally, Friedman discusses multiple lines of cultural and political development in Japan that led to the genre now known as yuri, involving commercial manga publishers, the mid-20th-century women-centric "S" movement, smaller manga presses and self-published doujinshi works, and the increase of female and in some cases lesbian manga artists in the 1970s.

5. Up next 2: Framing queer female fandoms and the F/F continuum

[5.1] The authors within also provide several perspectives on how to approach the study of queer female fandoms. What, if any, lines are to be drawn between close female friendships and queer female relationships, and what are the implications for subtext versus canon?

[5.2] Stanfill argues for extending Doty's (1993) queer readings of women-centered sitcoms such as Laverne & Shirley (ABC, 1976–83) or The Mary Tyler Moore Show (CBS, 1970–77) to all genres, proposing that those programs "that center on or are driven by a relationship between women are structurally lesbian media, and that to locate structurally lesbian media after the Internet is to locate femslash fandoms" (¶2). Stanfill is careful to clarify that the claim is not that "the characters in these shows really are lesbians…nor that their interactions really are intended to be perceived as sexual, nor that these relationships really are queer representation" (¶3), but that a range of F/F intimacy comprises the category of structurally lesbian media.

[5.3] In this vein, Narai's essay examines the genre of fan fiction that the author labels homoaffection fic, which explores relationship dynamics between women that are not primarily sexual. In a way, this genre moves in a reverse direction to most femslash fic, which seeks to make romantic and sexual connections between female characters explicit where they are not on the canonical program. In contrast, homoaffection fic highlights emotional and physical intimacy that falls on the "lesbian continuum" that was first proposed by Adrienne Rich and that Stanfill applies to media.

[5.4] There are interesting resonances between Stanfill's and Narai's essays and Friedman's on the Japanese manga yuri genre, which currently encompasses texts differentially aimed at male readers, lesbians, and a more general female audience, and which features narratives ranging from romantic girls' love to explicitly lesbian. As Friedman notes, the yuri fandom has taken the term to mean "any narrative of love (romantic, sexual, intimate or not) between women" (¶5.1), but the different kinds of yuri stories can be partly traced back to different historical origins.

[5.5] Ng also addresses the scope of femslash fandoms in considering how queerbaiting discourses have evolved in the last few years. Whereas queerbaiting previously applied only to depictions of same-sex intimacy that did not become canonically romantic or sexual, the term has become increasingly understood to refer to any instances where what is delivered on screen fails to match viewer expectations of queer story lines if those expectations have been intentionally fueled by those on the creative or marketing teams. As such, the "slash" part of "femslash" no longer implies noncanonicity.

[5.6] In another discussion about canonical queer depictions, Serafini highlights the problematic erasures of bisexuality in science fiction shows—Orphan Black (Space/BBC America, 2013–), The 100, Wynonna Earp (CHCH-DT/Syfy, 2016–)—which are partially attributable to writers imagining their worlds as label-free utopias, even though the "lesbian" label or identity is more clearly claimed on those same shows.

6. Up next 3: The scope of queer female fandoms

[6.1] This issue also provides insight into further definitional questions. Who are femslash fans, what are they fans of, and how can we describe and theorize their practices? Baker's essay explores the usually unrecognized diversity of gender identities among fans by surveying readers of "gender-creative" works (¶1) (including in this category fiction that swaps the gender of characters or features a variety of bodily transformations). A sizable minority of respondents self-identified in a range of ways that were genderqueer, gender neutral, or "woman-adjacent" (¶6) rather than simply as women, and Baker urges researchers to attend to the "shattered surface" (¶5) of standardized terms.

[6.2] As for the fandoms discussed in the essays, the majority center on shows that air or aired on North American television networks: Once Upon a Time, Grey's Anatomy, Orphan Black, Rizzoli & Isles, Star Trek: Voyager (UPN, 1995–2001), Wynonna Earp, The L Word, The 100, and Xena: Warrior Princess. However, Zhao's essay about the fandoms around performers on the Chinese music idol show Super Girl (Hunan Satellite TV, 2004–6) and Lin's on those around K-pop and J-pop musicians offer an important non-Western perspective. In addition, Day and Christian's discussion of independent Web series featuring queer black female characters addresses fandoms associated with smaller-scale productions.

[6.3] Beyond the sexual continuum, queer female fandoms manifest a range of approaches to female-female relationships. In an essay on fan vidding that includes 11 examples of such works, Russo notes that the collection goes "beyond conventional romance to explore unrequited love, power dynamics, antagonism, casual sex, and other ambiguities" (¶1.8). In this vein, Pande and Moitra in this issue point out that many "fans invested in queer female relationships" are drawn to pairings with "antagonist/collaborator dynamics" "that do not necessarily express affectionate intimacy," such as Buffy and Faith on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Emma and Regina on Once Upon a Time (¶2.8). Similarly, Strauch discusses how Once Upon a Time fics build on Regina's canonical personal history and tensions in Emma and Regina's canonical relationship to explore issues of consent, power play, and BDSM dynamics.

[6.4] Yet fandom has always consisted of spaces where normative discourses are not challenged, and this holds true of queer female fandoms as well. Thus, Pande and Moitra also argue that problematic treatments of race and ethnicity on Once Upon a Time have often been ignored or downplayed by fans, even as a small number of Swan Queen fics do address the topic of Regina's Latina identity in complex ways.

[6.5] This significant critique leads us toward essays that highlight less commonly discussed fan formations and propose new ways of theorizing them. Russo offers us an innovative metaphor for conceptualizing the practices and effects of femslash vidding, suggesting that we think of these as akin to augmented reality (AR) headsets, which "augment their source with a layer of interpretation that wouldn't be visible to the naked eye" (¶1.3). And while alternative universe scenarios are well known in the fan fictional world, Zhao links their deployment in fics featuring contemporary Chinese characters to the writers' aspirations for bypassing current strictures on lesbian life in China. In another account of fandoms negotiating real-life inequities, Day and Christian propose that black queer fans' practices of "quaring" and shared recognition "undergird the reading practices that viewers bring to performances of black queer and femme identities in indie TV" when these representations are wrought through "the paradoxical invisibility and hypervisibility of blackness and queerness" (¶2.3).

[6.6] The issue's three book reviews further extend the possible dialogues around queer female fandom. Although the reviewed volumes do not center on femslash or lesbian fan activity, each considers phenomena that might inform our understanding of some of its facets: shojo (girls') manga (Lamerichs), feminist blogging by teens (Marwick), and youth activism online (McCracken).

7. Continuing questions and future directions

[7.1] Despite the descriptive and theoretical range of these essays, more research in these areas would be valuable and timely. Queer female fan communities oriented around sources other than major North American television programs—including the full range of television, Web series, film, music, and other forms of media and performers—especially call for further examination. On a broader level, a key goal of this special issue is to continue to interrogate how we define and approach fan studies. We have argued that the distinctiveness of femslash deserves its own focus, but it is important to consider how research terms, including this one, bring their own histories, assumptions, and exclusions. In particular, work on the Global North remains quantitatively dominant in studies of queer female fandom, but it should not therefore overdetermine future topics and debates in the field.

Digital drawing of two people who are fairly androgynous sitting intimately close together on a faded red couch. To their right is a white cat and one red and one purple throw pillow with Chinese characters. A red diamond-shaped poster with a large Chinese character in yellow is on the wall above. Person at left is wearing jeans with a brown belt, a gray T-shirt with a purple blazer over it, and a brown beanie with two red stripes and one black stripe; the other person is wearing jeans with a red belt and a white T-shirt with a white blazer over it. The artist has signed and titled the image in Chinese characters in the upper left and has provided the date.

Figure 4. Fan artist Yu Yong's rendition of China's Super Girl super couple, titled "Happy New Year." Posted on Tieba Baidu (http://tieba.baidu.com), February 17, 2007. [View larger image.]

[7.2] Queer female fandoms are especially striking in the ways they continue to negotiate shifting production/consumption landscapes, both within and beyond national borders, and could be featured more prominently in convergence and industry studies. Besides being a space for fan communities, how will social media impact other elements of fandom, particularly interactions between viewers and producers—for example, in the aftermath of commitments to the Lexa Pledge (Stanhope 2016)? The rise of streaming programming and other online content also affects queer female media, and crowdfunding has become significant for independent projects that wouldn't otherwise find financing. In addition to the Web series discussed by Day and Christian, Carmilla (VerveGirl/KindaTV, 2014–16) has been a great success among femslashers. How will queer female fandoms shape and be shaped by these ongoing changes?

[7.3] We have commented above on how femslash fandoms manifest forms of political agency. Even as we are wary, as scholars, about claiming fan practices as subversive, the relationship of fan cultures to dominant systems of power remains a key question. For example, one currently contentious issue within feminist spheres that also has resonances throughout queer female fandoms is TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminism) versus trans-inclusive feminism debates. How do discourses within femslash spaces about such topics in relation to media texts and beyond reflect and reinforce as well as challenge and transform broader cultural politics?

[7.4] Many of the questions that occupy us in this issue are taken up in sophisticated ways within fan communities themselves. As scholar-fans (Doty's preferred term), we are invited to negotiate our multiple positions as critical scholars of both the media texts we love and the fandoms in which we participate. In Eve's experience of the inaugural ClexaCon and Julie's experience of the first and second annual TGIFemslash cons, these sites of both critique and appreciation—where identities of academic and fan, content creator and viewer variously intersect—are, at their best, generative of intellectual and creative engagement that continues to energize our inquiries. We hope that some of the same synergies will emerge through this issue's traverse of queer female fandoms.

8. Acknowledgments

[8.1] It has been our great pleasure and privilege to work on this special issue of TWC, and it is not possible to properly acknowledge the depth of appreciation we feel toward the many people who have helped make it possible. They have suffered hard deadlines, late nights, and short due dates. As always, we thank the authors in this issue, whose original work makes TWC possible; the peer reviewers, who freely provide their time and expertise; the editorial team members, whose engagement with and solicitation of material is so valuable; and the production team members, who transform rough manuscripts into publishable documents. We would especially like to express our gratitude to journal editors Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson, with whom we had numerous fruitful exchanges about the details of the issue.

[8.2] The following people worked on TWC No. 24 in an editorial capacity: Julie Levin Russo and Eve Ng (guest editors); Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson (editors); Cameron Salisbury and Francesca Coppa (Symposium); and Louisa Stein and Katie Morrissey (Review).

[8.3] The following people worked on TWC No. 24 in a production capacity: Rrain Prior (production editor); Beth Friedman, Shoshanna Green, and Christine Mains (copyeditors); Claire P. Baker, Sarah New, Rebecca Sentance, and Gabriel Simm (layout); and Amanda Retartha, Latina Vidolova and Rachel P. Kreiter (proofreaders).

[8.4] TWC thanks the board of the Organization for Transformative Works. OTW provides financial support and server space to TWC but is not involved in any way in the content of the journal, which is editorially independent.

[8.5] TWC thanks all its board members, whose names appear on TWC's masthead, as well as the additional peer reviewers who provided service for TWC No. 24: Tonje Andersen, Hongwei Bao, Judith Fathallah, Julia Himberg, Melanie Kohnen, and Maria San Filippo.

9. Bibliography

[9.1] In addition to the references from this introduction, we have included further literature on femslash and queer female fan communities below. As a bibliography, this section compiles commonly cited scholarship, drawing on citations from the authors in this special issue.

Beirne, Rebecca, ed. (2007) 2012. Televising Queer Women: A Reader. 2nd ed. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Boese, Christine. 1997. "The Ballad of the Internet Nutball: Chaining Rhetorical Visions from the Margins of the Margins to the Mainstream in the Xenaverse." PhD diss., Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. http://nutball.com/dissertation.

Butler, Bethonie. 2016. "TV Keeps Killing Off Lesbian Characters. The Fans of One Show Have Revolted." Washington Post, April 4. http://washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/04/04/tv-keeps-killing-off-lesbian-characters-the-fans-of-one-show-have-revolted/.

Collier, Noelle R., Christine A. Lumadue, and H. Ray Wooten. 2009. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena: Warrior Princess: Reception of the Texts by a Sample of Lesbian Fans and Web Site Users." Journal of Homosexuality 56 (5): 575–609. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00918360903005253.

Cranz, Alex. 2016. "The History of Femslash, the Tiny Fandom That's Taking Over the Universe." io9, April 8. http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-history-of-femslash-the-tiny-fandom-thats-taking-o-1765143690.

Doty, Alexander. 1993. Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Mass Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Doty, Alexander. 2000. Flaming Classics: Queering the Film Canon. New York: Routledge.

Framke, Caroline. 2016. "Queer Women Have Been Killed on Television for Decades. Now The 100's Fans Are Fighting Back." Vox, March 25. http://vox.com/2016/3/25/11302564/lesbian-deaths-television-trope.

Gonzalez, Victoria M. 2016. "Swan Queen, Shipping, and Boundary Regulation in Fandom." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 22. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2016.0669.

Green, Shoshanna, Cynthia Jenkins, and Henry Jenkins. 1998. "'Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking': Selections from The Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows." In Theorizing Fandom, edited by Cheryl Harris and Allison Alexander, 9–38. New York: Hampton Press.

Hamming, Jeanne E. 2001. "Whatever Turns You On: Becoming-Lesbian and the Production of Desire in the Xenaverse." Genders 34. http://www.whoosh.org/news/cache/011101-genders.html.

Hanmer, Rosalind. 2003. "Lesbian Subtext Talk: Experiences of the Internet Chat." International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 23 (5): 80–106.

Hanmer, Rosalind. 2014. "'Xenasubtexttalk': The Impact on the Lesbian Fan Community through Its Online Reading and Writing of Lesbian Fan Fiction in Relation to the Television Series Xena: Warrior Princess." Feminist Media Studies 14 (4): 608–22. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2012.754778.

Helford, Elyce Rae. 2000. "Feminism, Queer Studies, and the Sexual Politics of Xena: Warrior Princess." In Fantasy Girls: Gender in the New Universe of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television, edited by Elyce Rae Helford, 135–62. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Isaksson, Malin. 2009. "Buffy/Faith Adult Femslash: Queer Porn with a Plot." Slayage 7 (4). http://whedonstudies.tv/volume-71.html.

Isaksson, Malin. 2010. "The Erotics of Pain: BDSM Femslash Fan Fiction." In Making Sense of Pain: Critical and Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 203–10. Oxford, UK: Inter-Disciplinary Press.

Jones, Bethan. 2013. "Mulder/Scully versus the G-Woman and the Fowl One." In Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World, edited by Anne Jamison, 122–29. Dallas: Smart Pop.

Jones, Sara Gwenllian. 2000a. "Histories, Fictions, and Xena: Warrior Princess." Television and New Media 1 (4): 403–18. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/152747640000100403.

Jones, Sara Gwenllian. 2000b. "Starring Lucy Lawless?" Continuum 14 (1): 9–22. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/713657674.

Jones, Sara Gwenllian. 2002. "The Sex Lives of Cult Television Characters." Screen 43 (1): 79–90. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/screen/43.1.79.

Joyrich, Lynne. 2001. "Epistemology of the Console." Critical Inquiry 27 (3): 439–67. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/449016.

Kapurch, Katie. 2015. "Rapunzel Loves Merida: Melodramatic Expressions of Lesbian Girlhood and Teen Romance in Tangled, Brave, and Femslash." Journal of Lesbian Studies 19 (4): 436–45. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10894160.2015.1057079.

Krisi. 2013. "Information Flow Analysis of a Small Community." Blank Chapters, March 19. http://blankchapters.com/2013/03/19/information-flow-analysis-of-a-small-community/.

Lamerichs, Nicolle. 2012. "The Mediation of Fandom in Karin Giphart's Maak me blij." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 11. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2012.0407.

Lothian, Alexis, Kristina Busse, and Robin Anne Reid. 2007. "'Yearning Void and Infinite Potential': Online Slash Fandom as Queer Female Space." English Language Notes 45 (2): 103–11.

Maris, Elena. 2016. "Hacking Xena: Technological Innovation and Queer Influence in the Production of Mainstream Television." Critical Studies in Media Communication 33 (1): 123–37. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15295036.2015.1129063.

Marwick, Alice, Mary L. Gray, and Mike Ananny. 2003. "'Dolphins Are Just Gay Sharks': Glee and the Queer Case of Transmedia as Text and Object." Television and New Media 14 (6): 627–47.

Maser, Verena. 2013. "Beautiful and Innocent, Female Same-Sex Intimacy in the Japanese Yuri Genre." PhD diss., Universität Trier.

McNutt, Myles. 2016. "When Fan Engagement Goes Wrong: The 100, Shameless, and the Unsustainable Dynamics of Social TV." AV Club, April 11. http://avclub.com/article/when-fan-engagement-goes-wrong-234346.

Moore, Candace. 2009. "Liminal Places and Spaces: Public/Private Considerations." In Production Studies: Cultural Studies of Media Industries, edited by Vicki Mayer, Miranda Banks, and John Caldwell, 125–39. New York: Routledge.

Ng, Eve. 2008. "Reading the Romance of Fan Cultural Production: Music Videos of a Television Lesbian Couple." Popular Communication 6 (2): 103–21. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15405700701746525.

Russo, Julie Levin. 2009. "Sex Detectives: Law & Order: SVU's Fans, Critics, and Characters Investigate Lesbian Desire." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 3. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2009.0155.

Russo, Julie Levin. 2013. "Textual Orientation: Female Fandom Online." In The Routledge Companion to Media and Gender, edited by Cynthia Carter, Linda Steiner, and Lisa McLaughlin, 450–60. New York: Routledge.

Russo, Julie Levin. Forthcoming. "From Subtext to Queerbaiting: The History and Politics of Femslash." In The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom, edited by Melissa Click and Suzanne Scott. New York: Routledge.

Ryan, Maureen. 2016. "What TV Can Learn from The 100 Mess." Variety, March 14. http://variety.com/2016/tv/opinion/the-100-lexa-jason-rothenberg-1201729110/.

San Filippo, Maria. 2015. "Before and After AfterEllen: Online Queer Cinephile Communities as Critical Counterpublics." In Film Criticism in the Digital Age, edited by Mattias Frey and Cecilia Sayad, 117–36. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Stanfill, Mel. 2013. "'They're Losers, but I Know Better': Intra-Fandom Stereotyping and the Normalization of the Fan Subject." Critical Studies in Media Communication 30 (2): 117–34. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15295036.2012.755053.

Stanhope, Kate. 2016. "Bury Your Gays: TV Writers Tackle Trope, the Lexa Pledge and Offer Advice to Showrunners." Hollywood Reporter, June 11. http://hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/bury-your-gays-atx-festival-901800.

Wakefield, Sarah R. 2001. "'Your Sister in St. Scully': An Electronic Community of Female Fans of The X-Files." Journal of Popular Film and Television 29 (3): 130–37. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01956050109601018.

Watercutter, Angela. "It's Harder to Kill Off Gay Characters When They're Trending." Wired, April 14. http://wired.com/2016/04/tv-lgbtq-characters-social-media-buryyourgays/.

White, Patricia. 1999. Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Yang, Ling, and Hongwei Bao. 2012. "Queerly Intimate: Friends, Fans, and Affective Communication in a Super Girl Fan Fiction Community." Cultural Studies 26 (6): 842–71. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09502386.2012.679286.

Yeung, Stephanie M. 2014. "YouTube as De Facto Lesbian Archive: Global Fandom, Online Viewership and Vulnerability." In "Television Connectivity," edited by Taylor Nygaard, special issue, Spectator 34 (2): 43–51.

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