Theory

Queer as Folk and the trouble with slash

Kyra Hunting

University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, United States

[0.1] Abstract—The Showtime TV series Queer as Folk (2000–2005) brought same-sex relationships and sex scenes to prime-time television, putting the stuff of slash up on the small screen. Despite incorporating many slash tropes into the canonical text, Queer as Folk troubles many of the traditional assumptions about how fan fiction and slash operate, particularly the association of slash with subversion. The intertextual relationship between canonically queer texts and their attendant fandoms requires new frameworks for exploring traditional fan fiction subgenres such as slash. When the canonical text itself is queer, gestures and genres that have generally been considered subversive can in fact be more conservative than the canonical text itself. When the political stakes of a canonical series are clear and explicitly progressive, the intertextual relationship between canon and fandom can be particularly important and uniquely problematic, as this case study of Queer as Folk demonstrates in its assessment of the complexities that arise when the canon itself is queer.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan fiction; Queer as Folk USA; Queer theory; TV

Hunting, Kyra. 2012. "Queer as Folk and the Trouble with Slash." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 11. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2012.0415.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In a discussion of the final episode of the Showtime TV series Queer as Folk (2000–2005) on the Television Without Pity boards, fan writerPTL (2005) talks about his disappointment that one of the program's central couples did not end up together (http://forums.televisionwithoutpity.com/index.php?showtopic=3129326&st=1050) (note 1). However, he adds that he liked that the marriage was called off and "appreciated the show acknowledging its trend towards its recently acquired homo-hegemony," describing "the marriage and monogamy anvils" that had proliferated in its final season. The fan, who identifies himself as a 16-year-old gay man living in Texas suburbia, here unwittingly articulates what has emerged as the central tension within Queer as Folk fandom: an emotional desire for the series to provide a traditional "happily ever after" for one of its most popular couples that is often in tension with the queerer, less traditional politics frequently articulated in the program itself. Although some fans specifically engage with this tension, the dominant trend in fan fiction has been to favor the "happily ever after" over the messy, sometimes unsatisfying queer politics of the Queer as Folk canon.

[1.2] Stories featuring same-sex romantic and sexual relationships written within fan fiction communities, a genre known as slash, has long been considered subversive, a reflection of the fact that only recently has it been plausible for an original source text to itself be explicitly, perhaps even politically, queer. Slash foregrounds homoerotic subtext. However, as the images available on television screens shift, the politics of same-sex fan fiction become more complex. Although most fan fiction writers still favor what writerPTL describes as "Ross-and-Rachel-together-at-all-costs" in their stories about Queer as Folk, some fans are beginning to specifically question the politics of these stories and how they are understood as part of fan, and more specifically slash, history. To the extent that many of the fans who critique these fan community norms are self-identified as LGB individuals while many, although certainly not all, of the writers who uphold these norms are heterosexual women, the debate inevitably intersects with a variety of complex power relationships, not least of which is the power that scholars have to define the terms used to describe fan writing and to shape how the relationship between a canonical text and the fanon (that is, fan-created canon) produced from it are discussed. As programs like Queer as Folk, Glee (2009–present), and Exes and Ohs (2006–9) begin to profoundly shift the available queer canon, it is important for scholars of fandom to begin to explore how this affects the sociopolitical dimensions that emerge in relationship to it.

[1.3] The prolific Queer as Folk fan writer Xie, who self-identifies as a lesbian, wrote in response to a post on male slash, "I can't stand the terms 'slash' and 'femme slash'" because "slash has always been fiction about non-canonically queer characters being turned lesbian or gay in fan fiction" and adds that "when writers include it in their WARNINGS? it makes me want to kill" (2010). Her impassioned argument for the inapplicability of the term slash to canonical same-sex pairings is a powerful indicator of how significantly both available canon and the status of slash and fan fiction have changed. In the early 1990s, Henry Jenkins found that the self-consciousness surrounding slash was so extensive that when he ordered a slash zine, the vendors were so surprised to have a male reader that they sent a letter "assuring [him] that [he] can receive a refund if [he was] offended" (1992, 197). At about the same time Camille Bacon-Smith found that slash fiction was usually relegated to its own zines and that many writers involved with slash "wanted to avoid showing the work outside of the community" (1992, 212). Two decades later, slash is only a few mouse clicks away, available to everyone with an Internet connection, and is such a mainstream part of fan fiction that even archives like FanFiction.net no longer separate it out as a distinct category.

[1.4] As Xie notes in her comments, slash is increasingly becoming a term that fan authors selectively choose to use in categories and warnings. As a contested term debated and interrogated by fans and scholars alike, the political dimension of slash becomes increasingly important. However, slash and the term's political implications are affected not only by changing norms in fan culture, but also by changes in LGBT representation in the media. Xie and many of her fellow fans argue that same-sex erotic representations in fan fiction need not necessarily be slash, preferring to retain the term for noncanonical same-sex representations. The problematizing of the language used to discuss same-sex depictions in fan fiction points to a larger shift in the assumptions that can be made about these depictions. As depictions of same-sex relationships and erotics move from slash zines to television screens, the intertextual relationship between fan fictions and their source texts needs to be reconsidered to account for canonically queer media texts. We can no longer assume that a story depicting two men in love tells a story that a fan cannot find on screen. Now the story may be retelling a scene a fan caught on network TV before the nightly news. Rather than reflecting simply an issue of the language used to discuss fan works, this shift affects the potential meanings of stories fans write about two characters of the same sex.

[1.5] Historically, fan scholars have not shied away from the idea that fan products can have sociopolitical dimensions. Henry Jenkins embraces this potential in his formative work on fandom Textual Poachers (1992). Susanne Jung (2004) articulates the potential political intentions of fans in a self-reflective essay that recounts her own experience as a fan writer. She explores how fan work can be a communal critique of the binaries and hegemonies of gender and sexual norms. Work written in the tradition of Textual Poachers has often presumed a subversive or resistant tenor to fan works (Busse and Hellekson 2006, 18). In recent years scholars have nuanced (Driscoll 2006; Woledge 2006) and even questioned (Åstrom 2010; Scodari 2003) claims of subversiveness and resistance as a presumed attribute of fan fiction.

[1.6] In light of this scholarship, we can certainly say that the form and content of fan fiction may be subversive or political, but it also may not be. Case studies like Berit Åstrom's of male pregnancy (mpreg) Supernatural (2005–present) fan fiction demonstrate that fan fiction can even be conventional, noting that "what may at first seem like resistance may in the end reinforce heteronormative structures" (2010, ¶1.2). My study builds on this important claim to explore how seemingly subversive fan fiction that depicts same-sex couplings can reinforce heteronormativity. This becomes particularly important in cases where the fan fiction is written about explicitly political entertainment products. Television programs and films with narratives about LGBT individuals and same-sex relationships at their center are often political in their dealing with a controversial subject with sociopolitical implications. The writers and producers of these works often explicitly claim that their products have progressive goals.

[1.7] The creative products made from politically charged canonical story lines, characters, and relationships cannot be neutral, regardless of the intentions of fan writers and artists. As a result, when analyzing fan works written about texts with canonical same-sex pairings, it is important to consider how these pairings are specifically used by fan texts. Further, in cases where the canonical work has explicitly progressive political intentions, it is profitable to analyze how fans' creative products support the canon's political goals and where the fans alter them. This is particularly true when fan works take the canon's text and politics in more conservative directions. Åstrom describes "an impulse within academia to valorize the slash author as a resistive force, a force that challenges both the commercial culture of big corporations, and the patriarchal, heteronormative structure of romantic/erotic relationships as expressed in a popular television series" (2010, ¶1.3). This impulse has brought about tremendously valuable work exploring the subversive political value of fan works. Although the impulse to valorize has rightly been challenged, including by Åstrom herself, insufficient work has been done exploring this impulses' mirror image: the way that fan works can function as a heteronormative conservative force on queer political commercial products.

[1.8] To explore the dynamic between queer canon and a potentially heteronormative fanon, I look at fan fiction about the popular US television series Queer as Folk. In this case study, I demonstrate the necessity of dealing with the canonical text's political claims and narratives when dealing with fan fiction written about media texts with same-sex representations. Politically loaded source texts require a different approach to interrogating the intertextual relationship between the canonical source text and the fanon created around it, one that accounts for the shift in subversive potential when traditional slash narratives and techniques are applied to texts whose main characters are already queer—and potentially queerer than many of their rearticulations in fans' creative products.

2. Canon and fanon: The importance of intertextuality to the study of fan fiction

[2.1] Julia Kristeva observes that "any text is the absorption and transformation of another" (1980, 66). This process of absorption and transformation is laid bare in the workings of fan fiction texts: their relationship to the primary media source text is made explicit in the conventions of the form. Further, fan fiction is inherently dialogic, using Bakhtin's (1986) variation on the concept. Most fan fiction scholars acknowledge and discuss the ways that fan fiction is intertextual. Some fan works may spend little time looking at the canonical texts, but others attend to the specific attributes of the canons that they write about. Building on this, we can interrogate the specific kinds of ideological transformations that take place in the intertextual move from canon to fanon.

[2.2] Many early works on fandom (by which I mean the fan communities that develop around a media text) emphasized the subversive aspects of slash (Busse and Hellekson 2006, 20), tracing how a canonically patriarchal or heteronormative text is made resistant in fan works. This approach became common enough that some works explored the subversive aspects of the fan fiction without detailing the canon's own ideology. Later work has tempered this celebration of subversion by noting the ways that the romantic aspects of the genre can smuggle heteronormative narratives into what is often thought of as a queered writing and reading space (Åstrom 2010; Flegel and Roth 2010; Gwenllian Jones 2002; Tosenberger 2008). Åstrom notes that "slash may…rewrite dominant scripts and subvert heteronormative tropes, but it should not be assumed that the genre automatically produces resisting narratives" (2010, ¶1.3).

[2.3] However, few scholars go beyond this acknowledgment that slash is not necessarily resistant to fully consider the ways that fan fiction can transform canonical texts in conservative ways—although this may be because many fandoms are created around programs that are not particularly progressive or subversive in their narrative content. In other words, while scholars have successfully sought to destabilize assumptions of subversiveness on the part of fan works, little work has been done that details the way progressive or subversive media narratives are conservatively reimagined by fan writings. Nor has scholarship applied fan fiction themes and theoretical frameworks to canonical texts that are not only homoerotic but also self-consciously queer (note 2).

[2.4] A careful investigation of the intertextual conversation between a queer canonical text and its fandom permits an extended consideration of the political implications of fan fiction. These canonical texts remove the originary act of subversion, making ostensibly straight or undefined characters explicitly gay. Here I attend to the ways our assumptions about homoerotic fan fiction and the genres associated with slash can become problematic in the context of a queer text. At its core, this case study inverts Catherine Tosenberger's statement that "in a heteronormative culture, any depiction of queerness, by definition resists cultural norms" by claiming that not only are "not all source texts…created equally heteronormative" (2008, ¶1.3), but also that all depictions of homoerotic pairings in fan fiction are not equally queer.

3. Case study: Queer as Folk

[3.1] In selecting a case study for this project, several issues came into play: the prevalence and availability of the fan fiction, the relationship of the source text's producers to the text's fans, and the particularities of the source text itself. Queer as Folk fandom quickly emerged as the most reasonable choice. In addition to a large number of Queer as Folk–specific fan fiction archives, this fandom had the largest number of fan stories about an explicitly queer text on general sites like FanFiction.net. The issues that I identify here could just as easily apply to any of the increasing number of media forms that prominently feature LGB characters. While these findings best apply to programs that substantially center on LGB characters like The L Word (2004–9), Exes and Ohs, and Noah's Arc (2005–6), or programs that explicitly politicize the narratives around their LGB characters, like Glee. However, it can also apply to any text that provides images of canonical LGB sex and/or romance, like Grey's Anatomy (2005–present) or Modern Family (2009–present). However, the issues I raise are not as applicable to the decades of (often spotty) LGB representation in the United States, which dates to 1963. In the years between the first appearance of a gay character on The Eleventh Hour (1962–64) to the high-profile coming out of Ellen DeGeneres in 1997, most LGB depictions focused on marginal rather than main characters—often characters who appeared for only one or two episodes. Even when LGB characters were front and center in the late 1990s in such TV programs as Ellen (1994–98) and Will and Grace (1998–2006), the traditional norm of not showing LGB characters in lengthy relationships, and certainly not in sexual situations, was more or less maintained; some analysts have even argued that Will and Grace was an intensively heteronormative text (Battles and Hilton-Morrow 2002). It is only in the later seasons of these two series, long after Queer as Folk's US premiere, that Will and Grace began to tackle relationships among gay men, even superficially. Given the significance of both relationships and sex to fan writing, the fact that the canon of Queer as Folk embraced these elements explicitly lent itself well both to this case study and to the outpouring of fannish interest that is evidenced by its higher profile in most fan writing communities than similar work at the time. Most importantly, the canonical text itself is heavily invested in issues such as the distinction between same-sex attraction and queerness, the problems of heteronormativity, and the political context of same-sex relationships—concerns inconsistently addressed in fan communities (Jenkins 1992, 226). As depictions of LGB relationships continue to grow on television in both queer and heteronormative ways, the politicized relationship between canon and fanon, as well as the acute difference between writing about same-sex canonical couples and slash, becomes increasingly relevant to the media landscape and the scholarship about it.

[3.2] Key to both Queer as Folk's canonical context and my argument is the distinction between homosexuality and queerness. The former focuses primarily on people who primarily desire and engage in sexual activity with those of the same sex. This desire may take forms associated with traditional monogamous heterosexuality. Termed homonormativity by Lisa Duggan (2004), these forms privilege monogamy, reproductivity, and mainstream culture. This is exemplified in the public sphere by figures like Andrew Sullivan (2004), who advocates for traditional values, monogamous marriage, and child rearing in the gay community. Queerness, on the other hand, questions not only heterosexual norms but also many of the norms associated with it, including monogamy, traditional sex, and an emphasis on marriage and reproductivity. Lee Edelman in No Future (2004), Michael Warner in The Trouble with Normal (1999), and Judith Halberstam in In a Queer Time and Place (2005) are key examples of queer theorists whose work looks at how heteronormative structures can be destabilized. Richard Fantina and Calvin Thomas's Straight Writ Queer (2006) explores how queerness may even apply to heterosexuals when their behavior or identities resist heteronormativity.

[3.3] It is important to note both the difference between gayness and queerness, and the difference between heterosexuality and heteronormativity. I use heterosexuality to refer primarily to heterosexual desire and to people who identify as heterosexuals. In and of itself, heterosexuality is a politically neutral term. Heteronormativity, on the other hand, as used by Michael Warner, refers to the cultural and institutional systems that make heterosexuality "seem not only coherent—that is, organized as a sexuality—but also privileged" (1999, 548). For example, it is heteronormativity that leads most people to assume that a person they just met is heterosexual unless otherwise informed. However, heteronormativity goes beyond just the issue of sexual practices; it also refers to the set of values, privileges, and life stages associated with heterosexuality, such as monogamy, marriage, and child rearing with biological parents. Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner (1998) argue that "heteronormativity is more than ideology, or prejudice, or phobia against gays and lesbians; it is produced in almost every aspect of the forms and arrangements of social life: nationality, the state, and the law; commerce; medicine; and education; as well as in the conventions and affects of narrativity, romance and other protected spaces of culture" (554–55). It is therefore embedded not just in cultural values, but also in forms of expression and storytelling. Queer as Folk, as a text, regularly engages with how gayness and queerness may be at odds within the LGBT community; its narratives explore how heteronormativity may be in play even in pro-gay contexts. Arguably, this focus on queerness as it exists in tension with gayness and heteronormativity is what distinguishes Queer as Folk from the two American programs that preceded it as television programs with LGB main characters, Will and Grace and Ellen. How this tension plays out in works written by fans about the series provides a good perspective on how heteronormativity may function in creative works.

[3.4] Queer as Folk, which aired during a period of intense political debates about gay marriage and rights, regularly features episodes focused on issues touched on by queer theorists. Lee Edelman (2004) discusses the dangers of reproductive futurity; on Queer as Folk, Brian and Michael consider fatherhood "to piss off straight people" (episode 3.3) as well as to fulfill the maternal desires of their lesbian friends. Michael Warner (1999) and Andrew Sullivan (2004) debate the desirability of gay marriage for the gay community; on Queer as Folk, Brian and Michael have a falling-out over Michael's decision to get married, adopt, and settle down to a relatively homonormative life (episode 5.3). And while students and scholars were reading Samuel R. Delany's Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (2001), Brian and Justin struggled to find a place to have sex that did not force them to "stay home and fuck in [their] beds" like "straight law-abiding citizens" (episode 3.11). The series regularly staged debates about what it meant to be gay versus queer. As a result, Queer as Folk as a series was consistently explicitly political and progressive, making space for not only pro-gay perspectives but also specifically queer voices, particularly through the character of Brian. Indeed, on the director's commentary of the season 1 DVD set, the series producers described Brian as "the voice of the show," valorizing his specifically queer perspective. The fact that Brian's voice is a white, male, upper-middle-class one is far from irrelevant, making the voice of the program just as hegemonic in terms of issues of race and gender, and Queer as Folk is quite legitimately subject to critique on the grounds that it reifies these particular norms of LGB representation just as significantly as more heteronormative forms of LGB representation like Will and Grace and Modern Family do. However, I have bracketed this issue within this particular analysis because it is sex and sexuality, rather than race or class, that has been the traditional distinguishing factor in the discussion of slash and because the observations I make here apply just as effectively to more racially diverse programs like Noah's Arc and The L Word.

[3.5] The queer and subversive political orientation of the canonical text makes the content of the fiction written about its political tone more complicated and leads to tensions surrounding fiction and its articulations of queerness, gayness, and heteronormativity. I track and analyze this dynamic in order to better understand how queerness is retained in fan fiction or, more frequently, how the often queer canonical text is looked at in fan works through a heteronormative lens. It would not necessarily be notable for a Twilight (2005–12) fan fiction story to focus on marriage and children, although of course it would still be heteronormative. Nor would I say that a Pokémon (1996–2004) fan fiction story must have some political content. There is nothing universally preferable about a queer-oriented fan fiction compared with one that is not or a politically tinged fiction compared with one that is more neutral. However, this dynamic is changed by an originally queer or political canonical text. Critical analysis of fan fiction about a canonical text that articulates a subordinated cultural viewpoint requires an analytic lens that accounts for the way it may rewrite the canon in a way that assimilates it to a more dominant cultural viewpoint. Fan fiction of this kind does in fact have a political dimension, no matter how naturalized those viewpoints may appear to be. It is through representation that cultural engines of ideology like heteronormativity function, and thus these transformations require analysis that recognizes the power relations and political implications that are at play.

[3.6] A clarification needs to be made here about the difference between the individual fan writer versus the sum of fan works and their major trends as objects of scholarly analysis. Of course I am not attempting to censor or direct the writing of individual fans, who write for a variety of reasons, many of them personal and idiosyncratic. Nor does fan fiction inherently have or need to take a political stance. The issue I am concerned with here is the cumulative impact of fan texts in terms of heteronormative versus homonormative representation. Fan fiction texts are often circulated on a large scale and thus are often read by fans en masse. Many readers will engage with several different stories and fan authors in a single sitting. Like any form of representation, it is not a single instance but rather the repeated image or idea that has the greatest impact. Thus I focus not on individual fan fiction stories but on trends across fictions written within fan communities centered on Queer as Folk. I have identified these trends by reading about 50 fan fictions by many different authors whose work is publicly posted at a number of archives. I attempted to ensure diversity by selecting fictions from general archives (FanFiction.net), program-specific archives (Across the Pond at http://www.qaf-fic.com), and even shipper-specific archives (the now-defunct BJFic.net). I also made an effort to sample fictions from writers who identified themselves as gay or lesbian as well as those who identified themselves as heterosexual.

4. The slash lexicon on screen

[4.1] Queer as Folk was the first major American television series to regularly include many of the key elements associated with slash fiction in its canonical on-screen presentation (note 3). Although Will and Grace preceded Queer as Folk as a series focused on gay characters, it is resoundingly nonerotic in its on-screen presentation. Queer as Folk, in contrast, includes quite a bit of on-screen sensuality: it shows eroticized same-sex sex in every episode for five seasons. Previous work on fan fiction, even work that argues that the same-sex relationship is present in the text's subtext, frames explicit erotic depiction as the thing always imported into the fan metatext by fan fiction. Bacon-Smith observed that "sex, as defined within the canon of the episodic television series, is an intrusion into the world of work and male companionship" (1992, 103). This remains true for many canonical texts, which relegate both straight and gay sex to symbolism and insinuation. Queer as Folk is one of a very few programs that foregrounds explicit sex scenes with a frequency and complexity of purpose that is consistent with its depiction in fan-written slash. The first episode of the series starts with the sentence, "The first thing you have to know is it's all about sex." The rest of the pilot is spent proving this thesis. Sex scenes are deployed to indicate emotional bonding, to move forward narrative goals, and to provide sex for sex's sake (known in the fan world as PWP—porn without plot). Scholars have differentiated erotic fan fiction from pornography on the basis of the role sex plays in these texts: establishing intimacy between characters, serving narrative functions, and expressing elements of the characters' personalities. For example, Jenkins explains that "characterization is not suspended during sex but rather sex becomes a vehicle by which character emerges in particularly sharp detail" (1992, 197), and Kristina Busse explains that "explicit sexual descriptions in slash resonate on some level as metaphors for close friendship and intimacy between the slashed protagonists" (2006, 212). These remarks, written over a decade apart, illustrate the ways that scholars of fan fiction have differentiated porn from slash erotica because of the role that explicit sex in these stories plays in conveying information about characters and their relationships.

[4.2] Queer as Folk deploys a number of its sex scenes for similar purposes. Often small changes in characterization or relationships are conveyed first in a sex scene, and as a result, the fan-produced creative works surrounding the show express a similarly subtle understanding of sexual gestures and can react strongly to them. For example, after episode 2.14 aired, in which Justin (the more feminized character of the show's most popular pairing) tops Brian, the fan boards erupted in a discussion that amounted to an intense analysis of a few seconds' worth of air time. Did he or didn't he? Why did it happen? What did it mean? Years after the episode aired, forums like "For the Brian/Justin Fans" on TV.com (http://www.tv.com/shows/queer-as-folk-american/forums/for-the-brian-justin-fans-2332-805539/) continue to parse the exact dynamics of this moment—and most of these fans are not part of the fan fiction community. Their continuing obsession with this moment indicates the extent to which the show places an emphasis not simply on the act of sex, but on the details of that act in relation to the narrative. The complex dynamics of forms of sexual intimacy—topping and bottoming, public sex in the context of romantic relationship—are explored within the fan fiction community, but this exploration takes place in relationship to a canon that has already placed value on these kinds of interactions. For example, Burkesl17's undated fan fiction "Disarmed" focuses on the unusual instances where Justin tops Brian, his embarrassment about this becoming public, and how he comes to accept this as part of accepting a more intimate, vulnerable relationship with Justin. This narrative evokes and refers to the single brief instance in the series where it appears that Justin does canonically top Brian—a moment that fan reaction has clearly considered to be significant to the characters' relationship—and extrapolates complex character development from it.

[4.3] The series canonically addresses many of the conventions associated with slash fan fiction. Jenkins draws attention to the first-time story as a "dominant subgenre of slash fan writing" for the slash community (1992, 212), and the pilot of Queer as Folk similarly evokes the first-time story by introducing one of the show's most lasting pairings, Justin and Brian, through Justin losing his virginity (episode 1.1). The hurt-comfort story (Jenkins 1992, 178; Bacon-Smith 1992, 53), common in fan fiction in general and not specific to slash, focuses on one character gaining greater intimacy with another character while caring for him or her after an injury or a difficult time. This particular theme occurs repeatedly in Queer as Folk canon—when Justin is violently bashed, when Ted gets out of rehab, when Brian gets cancer. In both Queer as Folk and fan fiction, sex is sometimes presented explicitly as a necessary form of comfort. Resuming sex after a lengthy hiatus is used in the series explicitly as a form of healing, as when Justin is unwilling to be touched after being bashed (episode 2.2) and when Brian struggles after cancer surgery to deal with the loss of a testicle (episode 4.9). Even marginal subgenres of fan fiction are evoked by a brief scene or joking exchange in the show's canon: spank fic can be tied to episode 2.13, in which Brian jokingly spanks Justin while having dinner, and mpreg can be tied to episode 3.3, in which Ben and Michael talk about Ben's desire to have a child and Michael jokes about carrying it for them. Although these scenes do not have the central narrative importance of the kind afforded by hurt-comfort or first-time fan fiction, they indicate a potential for a broader range of exchange between the canon-fan intertext.

[4.4] Although this set of themes and images associated with the canonical text certainly expands the number of ways that a writer in the Queer as Folk fandom can draw on elements common to fan fiction, particularly slash, and remain within canon, I do not intend to imply that the narrative of Queer as Folk ultimately is consistent with fan fiction, slash or otherwise. Instead, it is in the ways that the series deviates from these conventions that highlight the tension between queerness and heteronormativity that pervades this intertextual relationship.

5. The conservative impulse in rewriting canon

[5.1] Returning to the first-time narrative, we can see the importance of the specifics of canon coming into play. Of the first-time slash narrative, Jenkins explains, "If the characters have been causal [sic] about their previous sexual experiences, moving from one female lover to another, the discovery of the ideal male lover forecloses further promiscuity" (1992, 222). With this in mind, a reasonable reading of Queer as Folk could define Brian and Justin as one another's "ideal male lover" in both canon and fanon, but the discovery of this pairing certainly does not foreclose further promiscuity, assuming that we accept the traditional definition of promiscuity as having many sexual partners. In the source text, this first-time sexual experience does not result in immediate love and commitment. Rather, the show struggles for several episodes over what this sexual encounter meant, if anything, and spends several seasons exploring what kind of commitment the parties involved might choose to establish. Ultimately, commitment still does not foreclose promiscuity; instead, it incorporates nonmonogamy into the kinds of sexuality that increase intimacy for the pairing.

[5.2] Fan fiction works written about Queer as Folk do not usually embrace this version of nonmonogamous commitment. Instead, they reject the canonical narrative that the characters have chosen and develop their own rules for a relationship that privileges monogamy and traditional romance. This is the first of many areas in which fan fiction works tend to be more normative and traditional than the canon they transform (note 4). There are two primary approaches to exclusivity in Queer as Folk fan fiction. One stays reasonably close to the canon and primarily deals with the couple's multiple sex partners by ignoring them but not claiming exclusivity. Occasionally fiction in this vein will directly address a sexual encounter with another partner. However, this type generally focuses on instances in the canon where the specific extrarelational sex has negative connotations and generally casts these stories in terms of jealousy or pain. While not explicitly denying the sexually nonexclusive nature of the relationship in the canon, this strand of fan story minimizes or pathologizes nonexclusive sex, emphasizing a more exclusive version of the romantic pairing (note 5). One fan fiction writer, Vamphile, jokes about this noncanonical turn in her undated story "A Rainy Saturday Afternoon," in which Brian and Justin read fan fiction about themselves and mock it mercilessly, particularly the kind of noncanonical sentimentality that I am detailing here. This story particularly engages with the fan writer's tendency to privilege monogamy, discussing a story in which Justin is crying because Brian had sex with someone else. When Brian asks Justin why he is supposed to be crying in the fic, he replies, "Because stupid people think everyone wants to be hetero" and that they "can't believe we'd be happy fucking other people" (Vamphile, n.d.). This unusual fan fic demonstrates that some of the fandom in fact recognizes, and even critiques, the incongruity between part of the canon and significant trends within fan fiction. The second approach generally does foreclose the possibility of promiscuity in a way that the canon does not. Sometimes these are AU (alternative universe) stories in which the characters are recast in entirely different situations, and thus they need not adhere to canon. In other cases, these stories follow the canon's narrative and situation but write the main characters, most often Brian, in a way that emphasizes a more traditional monogamous romantic love (note 6).

[5.3] This variation of fiction is more likely to use discourse related to families and use romantic language (the characters may call each other pet names like "baby" or "sweetie"), and is not always accepted within the fandom. It is not unusual for an otherwise canon-consistent story to be marked in the summary or warnings with "OOC Brian" (out of character Brian), which most often indicates a hyperromantic sentimentality inconsistent with the canonical characterization. This variation of fan fiction almost always inscribes monogamy onto the characters. What is extremely rare in fiction created by fan writers is work that reflects the source text's tendency to use sex with individuals beyond the primary pairing to convey the same kind of narrative and intimacy that canon and fanon attribute to sex within the pairing.

[5.4] In "Intimatopia: Genre Intersections between Slash and the Mainstream," Elizabeth Woledge finds that "many slash writers feel that existing self-consciously gay fiction does not represent intimacy at all; instead, it denies intimacy through its depiction of casual sex" (2006, 103). In response to this perceived lack, much fan fiction puts a premium on depicting intimacy through sex—but it often, although certainly not exclusively, does so by assuming monogamous sex. Queer as Folk instead demonstrates both the pleasures available in sex for sex's sake and the myriad ways that nonmonogamous sex can breed intimacy (note 7). The series includes the couple picking out tricks together, topping others side by side, or receiving oral sex while they are kissing each other or locking eyes. Within canon, these scenes are used as significantly as exclusive sex between the couple to convey intimacy and narrative information; one such scenario is used to signal that the couple is likely to get back together after a breakup. However, these scenes do not receive the careful treatment more exclusive sex scenes do among fan writers; rather, they tend to be erased, creating a disjuncture between canon and fan texts as fans rewrite the original text in more heteronormative ways.

[5.5] In an essay examining love and heterosexuality without women, Monica Flegel and Jenny Roth observe that "dealing with homosexuality does not necessarily signal a break from heteronormative narrative of romance and partnership" (2010, ¶1.4). They share with Åstrom (2010, ¶4.4) concerns about the ways the use of the romance genre can result in heteronormative or conventional narrative arcs. They are by no means alone in their recognition of ways in which heteronormativity is written into stories about same-sex couples. What this previous work has not addressed, however, are the political consequences of this move, particularly when it is made in relationship to a text that struggles to insist on varying ways of conducting a romantic and sexual life. Fan readers and writers seem to be particularly concerned about an OOC tone for the character of Brian. This may be because he is the character who most strongly upholds the distinction between gay and queer. Whenever a character begins to participate in or request markers of a heteronormative romance narrative in the text—buying flowers, becoming monogamous, adopting—Brian evokes the specter of heterosexuality. In arguments with Justin, he often resorts to the defense that they are not straight or that they are not like their parents, and thus Brian insists on establishing their own rules. The canonical source text consistently struggles to find a balance between including more traditional versions of relationships and families—versions that numerically dominate the series—and resisting falling into the same trap that much slash does in showing "male/male monogamous love as the same as men's sexual, romantic, and marital relationships with women" (Flegel and Roth 2010, ¶4.2) or equating monogamy with love.

6. Tensions within the fandom

[6.1] This struggle, and the way that it is often negotiated around Brian and Justin's relationship, produces a tension in the fan fiction written about the series. In the majority of the approximately 50 fan stories I read for this study, fans impose a romance narrative, and sometimes its heteronormative trappings, onto their stories, regardless of the pairing they focus on. This push toward a more traditional romantic narrative than the distinctly nontraditional romantic narrative provided in the Brian/Justin canon story arc is generally accepted among fans. How far from the canonical characterizations of these characters a writer can go is a much more hotly contested issue. Although some fans embrace hyperromantic portrayals of the characters without labeling them as OOC, other fan writers choose to place an OOC warning on texts that attribute even a small amount of sentimentality to Brian's character, even if this sentimentality is within a range reasonable for the canon. Often this is simply an expression of the diversity within a fandom. Some fans enjoy writing texts that are entirely within canon and even specialize in stories that fill gaps. Other fans enjoy writing AUs that radically rewrite the characters' situation; crossover stories with Queer as Folk UK are particularly popular. However, the particularities of the source text lead to very different ideological results for the stories written closer along the continuum to traditional romance. We can see these issues play out in several ways; three significant spaces are het fiction, post-513 fiction (that is, fics written after the series finale, episode 5.13), and the contested genre of mpreg.

[6.2] Interestingly, although the issue of heteronormativity is not often addressed specifically—though it is reflected on by the show's significant number of lesbian fans, some of whom question their attraction to a male/male pairing—fan writers appear to be very sensitive to the portrayal of opposite-sex sex (and I avoid the term heterosexual here because most male/female pairings in the fanon do not stem from or result in heterosexuality). Despite the presence of a few straight pairings and three male/female sex scenes in the canon, very little het fiction is written in the fandom. Although noncanonical same-sex pairings are reasonably common in the fandom, fan writers often approach canonical opposite-sex pairings with caution. The canon has multiple references to occasions when Brian and Lindsay had sex in college, as well as a few other opposite-sex pairings. This pairing is occasionally written in fan fiction, but stories centering on it are extremely cautious in their depiction of an opposite-sex pairing.

[6.3] DeviKalika's fan fiction story "After All" (2009) takes up the Brian/Lindsay pairing for a brief story. DeviKalika begins the story with quotes from the first episode of the series that reference the characters' sexual past, thus situating the pairing in relationship to canon. However, after establishing this opposite-sex pairing through a series of romantic and sexual scenes, it is dissolved by establishing Brian as unquestionably gay. The final lines of the story are then used to reinforce the greater authenticity of the show's ultimate pairings: Lindsay/Melanie and Brian/Justin. Rather than lingering on the possibility of Lindsay and Brian as a couple, even though the series plays with this history, the story instead passes through this canonical reference in order to ultimately reify the canon's pairings as inevitable. The self-censorship evidenced in the scarcity and careful treatment of opposite-sex pairings in Queer as Folk fan fiction is one area of creative fan production where we can see a successful undermining of compulsory heterosexuality and heteronormativity. Arguably by dismissing and containing alternative opposite-sex pairings in favor of canonical same-sex pairings, these writers uphold the norms of the canonical text's romantic pairings and the fandom's norms of same-sex erotics, which evoke the traditions of slash. The fact that opposite-sex pairings are treated fundamentally more carefully in the fanon and canon is telling. By depicting opposite-sex pairings in careful, limited ways, these fan writers are not only upholding the norms of the canon and its fan writers, but are also shutting down the fluidity of queerness, evidenced in the canon particularly in the character of Lindsay, in favor of a more rigid gayness. At the same time, these writers consider opposite-sex relationships as volatile, as something that must be treated cautiously and carefully framed. This may uphold the norms of particular fan communities, but it does so by destabilizing the norms of the culture at large. Opposite-sex attraction becomes the thing that is repressed, that must be explained away. This is an inversion of the "gay for Spock" trope and fundamentally makes both readers and writers aware that heterosexual desire is not the automatic default.

[6.4] Fiction set after the series finale evidences even greater tension within the fandom. Jenkins identifies part of the motivation behind fan fiction that expands the series time line as a response to situations where "series stop abruptly or conclude unsatisfactorily" (1992, 167). Most fan fiction writers seem to have found the ending of Queer as Folk unsatisfactory. In its final episodes, the series seemed to be steadily moving toward Brian and Justin getting married—a direction fan fiction had been moving in since the first season. At the last moment, this narrative is derailed by having the couple lovingly agree to go their separate ways for their mutual benefit. This was not the ending many fans wanted; many discussion boards called for a Queer as Folk movie to provide the traditional romantic ending of a marriage that the series intentionally denied them. This lack of contentment has resulted in a large amount of fiction written to provide a more satisfactory ending to the series. The ways this ending is provided tellingly represent tensions within the fan community. Post-513 stories tend to fall into three major categories. One prioritizes the Brian/Michael relationship, which is neither canonical nor strictly noncanonical, and I do not address this category further. Two variations prioritize the Brian/Justin relationship; I explore these further below.

[6.5] Post-513 stories tend along three major fault lines. There are two variations that prioritize the Brian/Justin relationship and one that prioritizes the Brian/Michael relationship, something that is neither canonical nor strictly noncanonical. Those stories centered on the Brian/Justin relationship follow two major trajectories that are similar to the divide evidenced in the ways fan fiction deals with the lack of monogamy in their relationship. Although both variations end with the couple together, they differ in terms of how traditionally romantic or heteronormative the relationship is when reworked in fiction. The first major device is to simply deny the ending entirely and write fiction in which the marriage goes forward as planned, and the couple begins a fairy-tale life together. Consistent with this approach are stories in which the couple realize their "mistake" immediately and quickly get back together. Both of these variations explicitly reject the intention of the canon and insist on a heteronormative romantic ending. The second direction taken by fans writing post-513 fiction is more consistent with canon but still pushes the characters toward romantic closure. This variation, exemplified by Xie's Only Time (2007) series, gets the couple back together, but only through a lengthy and complicated process of secret visits, sex, hesitation, and angst that follows the patterns of the various breakups and reunification of the couple in the actual series. These fictions generally end in the same place as the other variation—with Brian and Justin together—but they usually do so with greater complications and with a cynical, tongue-in-cheek tone consistent with the characters in the series, rather than the romantic comedy tone that characterizes the former version. The latter version may or may not have a wedding as part of the reunification and is far less likely to feature children prominently.

[6.6] Almost all post-513 stories written by fans who favor the Brian/Justin relationship get the couple back together. There is a logic to this choice that is consistent with the source text; the series certainly establishes a clear foundation for love between the couple. I don't want to imply that emphasizing this relationship as something that could reoccur in the future is inherently heteronormative, or even inconsistent with canon. The final episode of the canon does not foreclose this possibility. Rather, it carefully forecloses nothing.

[6.7] As a result of the series' refusal of a clear resolution, a fan fiction with any variation of an ending for the couple that moves toward closure would be inconsistent with the canon's own ending. How canonical or legitimate it is to reunite the couple is beside the point. Instead, what must be examined is how closure is achieved, and the extent to which the relationship is restored by either a traditional heteronormative wedding or by the much more complicated and volatile variation evidenced in series like Xie's. These differences illustrate the difficulty fandom has in resolving some fans' desires for a traditional romantic ending and a desire to be consistent with canon, even when rejecting the canon's ending. The fact that most fan writers choose an ending that is more heteronormative than the canon's ending demonstrates the extent to which fans can produce work that is more normative than the canon they write within. Further, the canon's refusal of closure is in itself queer (Roof 1996), so any final resolution, however complex, moves the narrative in a more heteronormative direction.

[6.8] How traditional (often translated into domestic) the fiction skews is something that many fans are aware of; this is explicitly rejected by segments of the fandom. Some fan writers are invested in how canonical their versions of the characters are at the expense of the traditional, overt romance favored in other areas of the fandom. One 2007 thread on FanForum explicitly requests fiction without the word baby in Brian and Justin stories, expressing a distaste for stories that have Brian using traditional romantic pet names (baby, angel) that he would not have used in the canon. Although to some extent this may just be an issue of staying in canon, which provides its own set of pet names, the thrust of the stories that are included and excluded by this formulation seems to move away from fiction that adheres to scenes of idealized romance. The title of fan writer Tinkerbell's Web site, No Domestic Shit, similarly emphasizes a move away from the more traditionally domestic versions of the romantic pairing. To get across the point that this particular collection of fiction is intended to be explicit and nontraditional (and in a play on her name), Tinkerbell redirects individuals not old enough to read it to Disney's Web site. The tone cultivated by these fan writers sets them in opposition to members of the fan fiction community who write the couple, in Brian's words, to be like "your parents"—in a traditional love story. It is more than just a matter of being in or out of canon; the nature of the canon that these stories use makes these decisions vital in relation to how heteronormative the series' explicitly queer pairings are written. This tension extends beyond the fandom, reflecting a larger concern about the articulation of heteronormativity via a queer text.

[6.9] The most extreme example of the writing of heteronormativity into the source text, and perhaps the most problematic, is the mpreg story. Constance Penley discovered male pregnancy stories in the Kirk/Spock community; she describes them as an "extreme retooling of the male body" (1997, 131). Penley sees a lot of subversive potential in this narrative, particularly as achieved through technological marvels in the fiction she studies. Åstrom's study of male pregnancy in Supernatural fandom is more cautious; she extensively considers the ways that male pregnancy stories can bring with them "female-gendered features" and can lead to "quite heteronormative stories" (2010, ¶5.1, ¶1.1). Åstrom ultimately concludes that "the theme of male pregnancy has the potential to produce narratives that challenge our notions of gender, identity, sexual, and social practices, as well as parenthood" (¶7.1). This conclusion highlights a particularly complicated issue for studies of fan fiction that mpreg themes in Queer as Folk fandom throw into sharp relief. A text can subvert gender norms, particularly the norms of masculinities, while at the same time reinforcing traditional heteronormative narratives. A reasonable argument could even be made for mpregs being gender queer in their fundamental form without necessarily functioning as queer in contrast to heteronormativity. As Edelman has demonstrated, heteronormative culture has made the ability to reproduce and the prioritization of children an unquestioned good. The rhetoric throughout heteronormative culture, particularly conservative religious rhetoric, associates sex and marriage with the ultimate (if not sole) goal of reproductivity. Indeed, homosexual sex and relationships have historically been denigrated or classified as deviant precisely because they cannot produce children. Queer theorists like Edelman have rejected this prioritization of reproductivity and child rearing as an unquestioned good, although certainly many individual gays and lesbians choose to parent. As a result, while from a feminist point of view placing pregnancy on a male body is subversive, inscribing natural (often accidental) reproductivity onto homosexual sex works to assimilate the queer characters and their sex acts into the traditional heteronormative goals of sex and into what Edelman calls a culture of reproductive futurism.

[6.10] Unlike many fantasy- or science fiction–based fictions that use technological or alien interventions to permit pregnancy, Queer as Folk mpregs usually follow traditional story arcs. One character, usually Justin, gets pregnant naturally because of a broken or forgotten condom. The character is usually surprised (although not as surprised as he should be, considering his biology), confirms the pregnancy with a traditional pregnancy test, and then usually comes to be happy with the pregnancy. The pregnancy often directly follows or precedes a wedding between Brian and Justin, who choose to happily raise the child together, although there are some tragic variants of this where Justin sneaks away to have the baby in secret. The pregnancy often becomes part of an intensely heteronormative version of a love story. Indeed, pregnancy and marriage are so strongly linked that in the final season of the series, when Brian and Justin decide to get married, the character of Debbie remarks that Brian "must have knocked up" Justin (episode 5.12). Like any subgenre of fan fiction, mpregs in the Queer as Folk fan community are not universally heteronormative. Xie cowrote an mpreg parody, "Assbaby!Jesus: A Brian/Justin Christmas Story" (2006), that skewers both the biblical nativity story and the more naturalized versions of the mpreg story. This story, written with a group of other fan fiction writers (Alicesprings, Happier_bunny, and Vamphile), doubles as a critique of the mpreg convention: it is itself an mpreg, but one that subverts rather than reinscribes normative cultural scripts. However, the majority of mpregs I surveyed follow the more common pattern of heteronorming the characters and situation. One typical example is "A Beautiful Mistake" (2011) by WhatIMustWrite, in which Justin gets pregnant as a result of a condom failure the first time he has sex with Brian. When Justin tells him, Brian instantly wants to help with the baby, although he does not initially want a relationship. As the story unfolds, the writer uses many scenes word for word from the early episodes of the series but reinterprets them through the lens of the pregnancy. As a result, Jennifer goes to the art show in part to see the father of her grandchild, Justin is kicked out partially because he was knocked up, and Brian invites Justin to move in largely because he is pregnant. Even Brian's growing feelings for Justin are entangled with their march toward partnership and parenthood. This story is particularly problematic from a political perspective by making the homophobic response of Justin's father, Justin's pursuit of Brian, and Brian's opening his life to Justin all the result of a teen pregnancy. By incorporating chunks of the series word for word, the story takes queer content and reimagines it through the lens of traditional reproductive futurity. The effect of many of these fictions is to strip away all of the particularities of Brian and Justin as a gay couple, until a not just heteronormative but a nearly heterosexual couple remains. This is a particularly powerful heteronormative gesture because it removes many of the specificities of queer experience written into the show and rewrites the motivations of the characters in line with a heteronormative life arc. Where the canon depicts an undefined relationship based on sexual desire, friendship, and growing affection in the first season, stories like these place the characters back in the traditional heteronormative narrative of sex leading to reproduction and the formation of a traditional nuclear family.

[6.11] Taken together, the trends in fan fiction I have laid out indicate a strong shift toward heteronormativity as many fans reimagine the canon. Berlant and Warner (1998) identify some of the key values central to heteronormative culture, including coupling, private intimacy, and the formation of nuclear families. Queer as Folk's canon creates spaces for these forms of heteronormativity for their gay and lesbian characters, but it also debates whether these values should be privileged in the gay community. The series regularly pushes back against the automatic prioritization of these values through individual characters, particularly Brian and Justin. Fan writers often restore these values as central in their own stories about these characters, privileging coupling and monogamy, tending to downplay spaces of public sex (like the baths that are featured in the series), and reinstating the nuclear family through an emphasis on eventual marriage and parenthood, even to the point of writing normative reproductivity into the same-sex relationship. Scholars like Berlant and Warner have ably demonstrated that heteronormativity is woven into the fabric of our society. The images that are produced in the culture, the values that are privileged, and the laws that are written regularly reinforce heteronormative values. Early slash was celebrated as subversive because it represented one of a only a few representational spaces that questioned heteronormativity. As LGBT and queer voices and perspectives have gained visibility, a small but increasing number of images that question heteronormativity have become more publicly available; yet heteronormative values remain the norm, even in depictions of LGBT individuals. Given this fact, it remains important that the pervasiveness of heteronormativity as the privileged values and life choices in our culture is explored and critiqued. When heteronormativity is articulated in liberal, pro-gay spaces and uses queer cultural products, its functioning becomes more complex. For scholars who seek to understand the reach of heteronormativity in our culture and how its influence exists outside of homophobia, understanding what fan writers—who are largely heterosexual women—do with same-sex media characters and whether they represent them as queer or as heteronormal ("just like everyone else") is key to understanding fan fiction's representational power. For the fan scholar, the challenges represented by originally queer characters in their fan translations present new opportunities to explore different dimensions of how fan creativity (often unintentionally) engages with political and ideological issues.

7. Subverting subversion: Why canon matters

[7.1] Academic articles written about slash largely acknowledge that not all slash is subversive. Many seem to agree with the general sentiment expressed by Jenkins: "Not all of slash is politically conscious; not all of slash is progressive; not all of slash is feminist; yet one cannot totally ignore the progressive potential of the exchange" (1992, 227). Although I agree with Jenkins, my study of the case of Queer as Folk fandom has led me to believe that it is not enough to acknowledge that fan fiction and slash are not necessarily subversive. We cannot ignore the conservative potential of the exchange between canon and fanon. This is particularly imperative in cases where canonical texts have their own political goals. The ways that fan fiction can actively work to reinscribe normative or traditional values onto works that struggle with or resist these values are important sites of analysis.

[7.2] Some texts written in the Queer as Folk fandom work hard to retain the subversive sentiments of the canon and succeed in writing same-sex erotica that is queer and rooted in the social and political situations of the characters. However, a great deal of work done in the fandom subverts the subversion of the regular text, reinscribing heteronormative language, story arcs, and behavior onto a couple that resists them in the source text's canon. This is not to say that this kind of fan writing is not legitimate as a form of individual expression. It is not my goal to declare some work in fandom as legitimate and other work as illegitimate or to reinstate "the teacher's red pen" that Jenkins warns us against (1992, 25). In fannish contexts, canon is not inherently more authoritative than the work of the fandom; nor is it better, if such a general term could be applied. Heteronormative stories are valuable within the fan community; they may even be subversive in other ways. To ask whether these fan fiction works are right or wrong or better or worse would be to fall into a dangerous trap.

[7.3] Yet it is not only appropriate but crucial to question the extent to which these fan texts import heteronormative structures into a queer text. These transformative texts need to be considered from queer politicized perspectives, particularly by those who still treat fan fiction as ultimately, if not unproblematically, resistive. "Resistive of what?" is the question we might ask. A text, like a male pregnancy narrative, may be resistive on one level (resisting gender norms) while being extremely conservative on another (reinscribing heteronormative life arcs). Rewriting the macho Starsky and Hutch as a happily married couple may very well be an act of resistance, but marrying off Brian and Justin can just as easily serve a disciplining function on a queer source text. The extent to which it is heternormativity, rather than gender norms or compulsory heterosexuality, that is so often preserved allows us to investigate the impact that this ideology has on our culture even in pro-gay, reasonably progressive fan communities.

[7.4] As I have demonstrated, the contexts that can be provided by a specifically queer source text like Queer as Folk can radically change the effect of fan fiction that uses traditional tropes from the genres of slash and romance. If we ignore the impact of the growth of explicitly queer texts and characters in media and the fandoms that surround them, we may ignore important ways to reconceive the attributes of fan fiction genres. Failing to do so may result in ignoring the ways that the assumptions we make about fan fiction and its genres reinforce heteronormativity.

[7.5] On her fan page, Brian and Justin Love, Xie exclaims, "And in our fandom it's CANON!," rejoicing in the idea that it is possible for same-sex erotica and romance to be written in a fandom where both the sexualities and the actual sex is canonical. For a writer like Xie, who only works with same-sex canonical pairings, this exclamation indicates an opening of creative possibilities and an important step against the queer invisibility that Ika Willis laments when she notes "the lack of a sustaining fictional world within which queer desire can be recognized and read by the characters themselves" (2006, 160). However, I too want to exclaim that in this fandom it's canon! and insist on considering how our language, our assumptions about resistance, and our approach to genre categories must expand to accommodate these fictional worlds where queer desire is canonical, even central, to interrogate the ways that subversion, conservativeness, and valences of desire are contextually and intertextually situated. Adjusting our assumptions about subversion in fan fiction is necessary to account for changing media representations of homosexuality. Doing so will allow scholars of fan fiction and queer representation alike to account for the ways that fan fiction can be regressive and conservative as well as resistant—as both a site of queer reading potential and a site for the reinscription and reinforcement of heteronormativity.

8. Acknowledgments

[8.1] I would like to thank Jonathan Gray and Ashley Hinck for their invaluable advice and contributions.

9. Notes

1. The Showtime Queer as Folk is also known as Queer as Folk USA, to distinguish it from the originary British series known as Queer as Folk UK, which aired for two seasons in 1999–2000.

2. In this case I am using Alexander Doty's definition of queer as something that is nonstraight or nonnormatively straight (2000, 129–31) and taking it in a slightly different direction by indicating an oppositional or troubled relationship with heteronormativity.

3. I am not claiming that the writers for Queer as Folk thought of these elements as slash or derived them from slash, but rather that for a variety of reasons, including shared cultural references, the same elements appear in both contexts.

4. I have avoided the term heteronormative here because monogamy is valued by many in the LGBT community and is rejected by many heterosexuals.

5. Although it is true that in its final three episodes the series allows for a more exclusive canonical pairing, exclusivity in fan fiction was a consistent feature from the beginning.

6. In these works of fan fiction, monogamy may gain privilege for many reasons, particularly to prove romantic love, to support the raising of a family, and to gain access to unprotected sex—something that the series forecloses as a reason for and product of monogamy through Brian's insistence that Justin ought "never let anyone fuck [him] without a condom" (episode 2.7) and through having one of the series' key monogamous pairings include an HIV-positive partner.

7. This most frequently is used in the depiction of Brian and Justin's relationship, although the device of a threesome was also used to reignite the relationship between two lesbian characters, Melanie and Lindsay.

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