Praxis

Swan Queen, shipping, and boundary regulation in fandom

Victoria M. Gonzalez

Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, United States

[0.1] Abstract—There are a number of fan activities and practices that are subject to regulation. The mechanisms of regulation in shipping, however, are not always clear. Shipping, the fan activity of romantically pairing two fictional characters, has become a popular and contentious facet of fan interaction. The case that will be examined in this article is that of the Swan Queen ship, which pairs two female characters from Once Upon a Time (2011–). The lengths that fans have gone to support and promote this ship led to rather intense discussion and infighting among members of the Once Upon a Time fandom. I utilize comments and posts made on Tumblr to examine the mechanisms that dictate inclusion and exclusion in shipper communities. In doing so, I hope to identify the kinds of shipper activities that are subject to regulation and the kinds of boundaries that this regulation establishes. Shipping is dictated not only by fans' imaginations but also by boundaries that are performed and regulated on digital forums.

[0.2] Keywords—Canon; Contention; Fan practices; Fanon; Once Upon a Time (2011–); Popular culture; Sexuality; Tumblr

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.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Shipping, or the pairing of two fictional characters into a romantic relationship, can be a highly contentious fan activity that leads to disputes within fandoms as shippers attempt to regulate ships and the ways in which fans go about shipping them. Fan scholars insist that shippers are members of interpretive subgroups (Bothe 2014) that are treated as a different and geekier type of fan (Busse 2013) and are often on the receiving end of fan hate or wank (mocking comments) by other nonshipping fans (Larsen and Zubernis 2012). Leora Hadas's (2013) research even goes on to identify the shipper as one of the two types of fans who suffer the most open condemnation on fan forums. She observed that they are described as being "rabid shippers" because their "interest in the show is dependent on and limited to a single romantic pairing portrayed therein" (Hadas 2013, 336-37). The generalizations made about shippers obscure the fact that within fandom communities not all ships or shippers are created equal and some are in fact deemed more rabid than others.

[1.2] The evidence for this can be found in the arguments, negotiations, and discussions of shippers as they attempt to grapple with the relative merits or demerits of romantic pairings according to both canon (the television show or film text and plot as scripted by creators) and fanon (the interpretative body of work "developed by the fan community as an integral part of the process of interpretation of the original text" (Stasi 2006, 121)). One of the most popular forums for these deliberations is Tumblr. This study analyzes the shipper discourse of members of the Once Upon a Time (OUAT, 2011–) fandom on Tumblr, specifically in regards to the Swan Queen ship. The OUAT fandom is made up of many different kinds of shippers, and as a result the discourse includes interactions between those who ship the Swan Queen ship, those who accept the ship but do not ship it, and those who oppose it. Those who oppose this ship often find it problematic because of the characters involved in the ship and how the fans ship them together. The Swan Queen ship pairs two female characters Emma (Swan) and Regina (Queen), and the narratives, stances, and activities of many of the fans are identified as going beyond the purview of normal shipping behavior. As a result, the discourse reveals the ways in which certain regulatory mechanisms establish boundaries according to preferred and discouraged shipping practices.

[1.3] The first episode of OUAT aired on October 23, 2011. This television series is one example of a vast number of films and television shows that attempt to reframe, reexamine, and reboot fairy tales (note 1). The premise of this fantasy drama is that an evil queen, Regina Mills, has cursed all fairy tale characters by transporting them to a land without happy endings: the state of Maine. The relationship between the characters Emma and Regina is very complicated according to canon: Emma Swan is the biological mother of Regina's adopted son, Regina was briefly married to Emma's grandfather, and Emma is the savior who will break the evil queen Regina's curse. To Swan Queen shippers, the subtext of the story indicates that these two characters, who appear to be fighting over the affections of their son, are actually in love and will one day realize that they belong together. To other OUAT fans and shippers, however, this ship and the actions of its fans must be regulated. Attempts to regulate Swan Queen shippers often come in the form of comments that urge them to accept the fact that "Swan Queen is not canon and it will never be. It's nice that you want to ship it, but if you want it to happen so much, start writing, read fanfiction, or roleplay! DON'T attack the people in the show" (withahook) (note 2).

[1.4] The above statement hits on several of the major themes that are apparent throughout the fan discourse on Swan Queen. The most prominent of these themes suggest that fans are particularly concerned about the strictures of canon, what is considered proper communication with television producers, and the limits of fan fiction (how seriously it should be taken and where it should be shared). The overall connotation of this statement is that Swan Queen shippers have taken their shipping activities too far; this has led to conflict among the fans and even conflict between the fans and the people involved with the program. Fans like the one above propose that the way in which to eliminate such conflict is not for Swan Queen shippers to stop shipping entirely but for the fans to limit themselves to several specific shipping activities. The elimination of conflict then hinges upon the use of particular inclusionary and exclusionary boundaries within the shipping community. The literature on fandom most frequently identifies and analyzes these boundaries when they are between fandom and the mainstream, between other fandoms, and even within fandoms but does not explicitly address how they form as a result of the regulation of boundaries through inclusionary and exclusionary practices. Therefore, this study attempts to examine the ways in which discussion of canon, fanon, and what fans do or are encouraged not to do when they want their ship to "happen so much," to use withahook's phrase, reveal the existence of shipping boundaries and regulatory practices. This analysis complicates current understandings of shipping and the types of regulation that occur within fan communities.

2. Regulation in fandom

[2.1] Fandom, according to Henry Jenkins, is dictated by "a common mode of reception, a common set of critical categories and practices, a tradition of aesthetic production, a set of social norms and expectations" (Tulloch and Jenkins 1995, 144). Though this is not explicitly developed in the literature on fandom, these common modes, practices, norms, and expectations result in the formation of boundaries by those who share these common traits and those who do not. This is in part demonstrated by the great emphasis placed upon distinguishing between what constitutes fandom and what constitutes the mainstream. According to John Fiske (1992, 35), the boundary that serves to separate these two modes of media engagement is "strongly marked and patrolled" on both sides. The primary regulatory practice that ensures the maintenance of this boundary is the tendency for fans to "discriminate fiercely" between those who qualify as fans and those who do not. There are other scholars who suggest that it is actually the discrimination at the hands of those in the mainstream that forges this divide, for ostracism from the mainstream is often cited as one of the reasons why fans seek each other out (Jenkins 1992; Hills 2002; Holmes and Redmond 2006; Larsen and Zubernis 2013).

[2.2] Another example of a boundary that fans identify as crucially important in their everyday fan activities is that which distinguishes the members of the fandom from the creative body responsible for the media production, such as the writers, producers, and actors, often referred to as The Powers That Be (TPTB). In the past, this boundary was an intrinsic reality of fandom because fans generally did not have many methods of direct communication with TPTB. This dynamic has changed dramatically since the introduction of social media technologies, which both fans and TPTB embrace as a frequent and generally acceptable method of engagement. Recent discussions of the influence of Internet technology on fan interaction and "tele-participation" led Sharon Marie Ross (2008, 254) to conclude that the growth of this technology has "stimulated a likely already-present desire among viewers to participate to a larger degree in the experience of storytelling–whether by influencing narrative decisions, or by understanding the process of creation more fully, or by sharing thoughts and feelings with both creative professionals and fellow TV viewers." What Ross is implying here is that the expectations are shaped by more than just a desire for communication but also by the desire for fans' critical engagement to be respected by and accounted for by TPTB. Clearly, these expectations, when shared by many different kinds of fans, result in a number of fans with vastly different perspectives of a media narrative and ideas about what constitutes viable plot options. Furthermore, these expectations prove to be a double-edged sword for fan interactions because this freedom, when exercised by countless members of a fandom, results in the sharing of content that some fans love but other fans deem problematic. One of the ways to filter such content is to correct the fans who produce it.

[2.3] The Twilight fandom, for example, became highly stigmatized because of the source of their fandom (the Twilight book series, a series that many other fandoms love to hate) and the actions of many of their fans, which were perceived to be extreme. As a result, the members of this fandom are regularly censured by other fandoms. Matt Hills (2012) discovered this when observing the behavior of other fandoms like those of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) and the band Muse, both of which went to great pains to distance themselves from members of the Twilight fandom who wanted to claim membership in those fandoms as well. In order to distance themselves from Twilight fans, the Buffy and Muse fans engaged in the "repurposing of negative fan stereotypes" (Hills 2012, 126). They dismissed the Twifans as being obsessive, immature, and crazy. These actions indicate the existence of a fandom hierarchy, where some fandoms are more established and respected than others (Busse 2013). A tendency to organize fans hierarchically has been observed not only within fandom generally but also within individual fandoms, as fans attempt to organize themselves according to the most established and respected fans. Fan scholars identify certain characteristics that inform the location of fans within fan hierarchies: knowledge of the media production/fandom and length of time spent in fandom (Tulloch and Jenkins 1995). In science fiction fandoms, knowledge of the show and the amount of time spent in the fandom serve as barometers that determine a fan's power and influence (Tulloch and Jenkins 1995). The appraisal of other fans' power according to these standards encourages the emergence of "senior" or "executive" fans" (Tulloch and Jenkins 1995, 150). The understanding is that these fans have the ability to serve agenda-setting functions by exercising their "discursive power" to "establish and control an important reading formation" (Tulloch and Jenkins 1995, 150). This means that the fans not only have power over what aspects of a program are being discussed but also how they are to be read and interpreted by the fandom.

[2.4] There have been several articles written about the ways in which such discursive power has been exercised and at times contested within the Doctor Who fandom. It has been noted that fans within this fandom are highly concerned about the prominence of certain thematic topics (Booth and Kelly 2013) and certain genres (Hadas 2013). The overall theme of these observations is that romantic topics and the romance genre broadly are dismissed as being the concerns of inauthentic fans. A study conducted by Leora Hadas (2009) found that the interactions within the fandom appear to be influenced by a profound ideological divide, but this divide is in fact reflective of two distinct generational experiences with the program and the fandom. The two opposing discourses that lead to clashes within the fandom are the "fandom-as-organized-community view," which relies upon guidance from particular "norms and standards" and the "fandom as a safe, equal opportunity creative and didactic environment" (Hadas 2009, 1.2). The former view is that which resonates the most with the generation of Doctor Who fans who have been fans since the early iterations of the program, while the latter view is shared by many of those who have been brought in as a result of the increasing popularity of the newer versions. The most apparent difference between the two generations is the attitude about the role of gatekeepers within the fan community, with the former deeming gatekeepers necessary and the latter deeming them a burden because of the belief that they stifle fan creativity and expression, especially on fan fiction forums.

[2.5] The types of regulations that are more apparent in the literature on fandoms do not often feature prominently in analysis of fan forums. In fact, there are a number of studies that characterize the Internet in general as a safe space for fans, where they can experiment with media texts and different aspects of same-sex relationships personally and narratively (Tosenberger 2008, 202; Collier, Lumadue, and Wooten 2009, 598). Other scholars have corroborated this position by claiming that fan creative endeavors, such as fan fiction, serve many purposes such as providing people, young people especially, with the ability to explore writing, narrative (Jenkins 1992), and identity in collaborative and supportive environments (Thomas 2006). Even when faced with evidence to the contrary, the depiction of fan spaces as free spaces prevails, as seen in Catherine Coker's response to "Uhura Racefail" of 2009, a fan dispute that involved a segment of the Star Trek (1966–69) fandom strongly opposing the decision to cast a black actress to play the role of Uhura, the love interest of Spock. Coker (2012, 93) states, "As an aca-fan myself, I thus find these readings to be both interesting and discomfiting since science fiction fandom in general and Star Trek fandom in particular have traditionally been safe havens free of intolerance."

[2.6] This, however, was not the experience of fans of the romantic pairing of Kirk and Spock, two male characters from the original Star Trek series. In the 1990s, the community of fans that wrote and read fan fiction featuring this couple were "relegated to the odd corner of Star Trek conventions, and shunned, sometimes cruelly, by many in the broader community of Trekkers and writers of fan fiction" (Falzone 2005, 244). A similar behavior occurred in the Xena: Warrior Princess (1995–2001) fandom, which experienced conflict resulting from the number of fans who adamantly shipped Xena and Gabrielle (Helford 2000). More recently, fans who attempted to share sexually explicit fan fiction featuring the two biologically related male lead characters of Supernatural (2005–) with the producers of the show were vehemently criticized for their actions (Larsen and Zubernis 2013). These conflicts are primarily the result of differing interpretations of canon and subtext. Subtext, or the underlying meaning of a text, is a source of such conflict because there are fans who utilize evidence in subtext to support the ships that do not exist in canon, like those mentioned above. There are a number of fans who contest this practice and dismiss subtext as inconsequential or incorrectly interpreted. Alexander Doty (1993, xixii) claims that the labeling of such information as subtext and even the fact that it is regarded as categorically different than canon suggests a heterosexist reading of the text. Such is the case in the Swan Queen discourse as those aspects of the show that are most often relegated to subtext are those that would lend any credence to the possibility of homosexual feelings or actions between two major characters. As the analysis of the Swan Queen discourse will show, the regulation enforcing a heterosexist reading of canon, not dissimilar to that experienced in the Star Trek community, suggests that fans are still attempting to negotiate where homosexual pairings and fans of those pairings belong in fandom.

3. Collecting the Swan Queen discourse: Method to the Tumblr microblogs

[3.1] Shipping wars are now a familiar aspect of media fandoms (Arachne 2010; Larsen and Zubernis 2012; Hawk 2014). These wars involve competitive voting for fans' preferred couples, the results of which are viewed as a source of validation and bragging rights for the fans who are able to turn out the highest number of votes. These numbers, however, do not reflect the arguments that are made by fans for why their ships exist, should exist, or why they are important to them. These kinds of arguments are present on Tumblr. Tumblr is one of the newer fan technologies such as Twitter and Facebook. Despite such relative newness, Tumblr has 420 million users (as of October 23, 2014), 217 million blogs (as of January 2, 2015) and 113.6 million posts on average per day (as of January 26, 2014) (Smith 2015). The research design of this project involved the archiving of fan discourse on Tumblr about shipping generally and about the Swan Queen ship specifically. The terms that were used to guide the content search were the hashtags #swanqueen and #antiswanqueen. The search results included gifs (short moving videos), images, links to other Web sites, and the comments, remarks, and arguments of different kinds of OUAT shippers. However, because the primary concern of this paper is how members of this fandom debate about shipping and about the existence of the Swan Queen ship, text-based posts were the primary focus. It is in these kinds of posts where fan attitudes about shipping and about the relative merits or demerits of the Swan Queen ship are best articulated. After omitting the gifs, images, links, and doubles, a selection of 1,250 posts were analyzed for themes. This body of posts includes messages from fans as early as October 2011 when the program first aired to November 2014 when data collection was completed. This is because results from the search engine are presented in order of recent reblogging (or reposting) as opposed to in order of original post date.

[3.2] The names of the individual fans who are cited below have been altered in order to avoid potentially committing "a cardinal fannish sin," which is to reveal the identities of fans and link names either pseudonymous or real to fan activity that some would rather keep secret (Busse and Helleckson 2012, 39). However, there are many Swan Queen shippers who have started to post their own names and pictures on Tumblr in order to display how serious they are about their ship and their desire to have this ship recognized and realized. The content of the microblogs, in general, is underestimated for its potential to reflect and also to problematize current conventions in fan behavior, which show that attitudes about the linking of fan and personal identity are changing. The findings here recognize that there are certain inner workings of fandoms that should be brought to light and treated with a seriousness that is often not given to shipping activity or fan interactions online.

4. Sailing in murky waters: Swan Queen and shipper boundaries

[4.1] The first signs of the Swan Queen ship appeared on social media soon after the airing of the first episode. Many fans perceived the chemistry between Emma and Regina from the first moment that they met. Fans of Swan Queen often bring up this fact when defending the ships' presence among other popular ships. In response to a challenge from other fans, one shipper writes, "Need I remind you that SQ has been there since season 1 episode 1? CS didn't even come along till season 2 and OQ didn't come along till 3" (homosexualtigers). The other ships being referenced here: Captain Swan (Captain Hook and Emma) and Outlaw Queen (Robin Hood and the Evil Queen) are the relationships that the characters are involved in according to the canon of the television show. This statement is appealing to the most conventionally accepted tenet of the fan hierarchy that determines a fan's placement according to length of time spent within the fandom. According to this logic, the Swan Queen fans who have been a part of the fandom from the beginning should be regarded as a type of senior fan. Yet, the Swan Queen ship and fans continue to be challenged, primarily because of different interpretations of canon and subtext.

[4.2] Another shipper whose allegiances lay with other OUAT ships went on to suggest that Swan Queen shippers have no respect for canon at all. They are not just incorrectly interpreting canon but ignoring it completely. "SQ (and its shippers) is something I will never understand. Especially the crazy ones. The psychotic ones. I mean, what freaking show are you watching to get that ship and steadfastly ignore the canon? Are we even viewing the same show?" (asyouswish). In one fell swoop, this fan dismisses the creative efforts of the Swan Queen shippers by labeling them as crazy. The implication here is that shipping Emma and Regina together is so thoroughly illogical that it is the stuff of pure fantasy and completely ignores any consideration of the OUAT canon. This also insinuates that abiding by canon is the primary way in which normal or sane shippers function within fandom.

[4.3] Other comments have more explicit appeals to normalcy, especially when attempting to mark certain fan activities as normal and others as deviant. One fan goes on to apologize to the normal shippers when they write "Im really sorry for the nice swanqueen shippers that get the bad name because the biggest part of their fandom is a bunch of douchebags." The apology is followed by a clarification: "i am reffering to the normal fans, the ones who don't send hate to the writers or actors/actresses, the ones that don't jump on other fandoms throats for no reason, and the ones who simply enjoy their ship and are greatful to the show and its creators for making them passionate about something" (captain-always).

[4.4] The writer uses the nice and "normal fan" as a point of comparison to paint the actions of other Swan Queen shippers as disrespectful. The conception of normal fans established here suggests that they must pay deference to the creators of the program and that doing so entails passive engagement and enjoyment of said program. They are allowed to be passionate about the program but not so passionate that it leads them to "send hate." The actions that have therefore been identified as those which are only perpetrated by the opposite of the normal fan, or the deviant fan, are sending hate to writers and actors and attacking other ships.

[4.5] The hate that the shipper is describing here includes comments and inquiries that Swan Queen shippers make about the potential for this ship, whether or not the subtext is intentional, and how TPTB feel about the existence of this ship and its shippers. Some fans believe that these inquiries and critiques are the root causes of the aggression being experienced in the OUAT fandom. The following are two examples of statements that reflect this belief: "It bothers me that SQ essentially labels itself the victim yet takes no responsibility for a lot of the drama that they cause/are involved with. You have seen the hate that writers and actors get over SQ. It's the only ship that has caused actors to issue statements shutting it down" (Anonymous comment to SQ shipper wildchild)."Cheers for anyone who's not throwing hate at Adam, Eddy, the entire cast, regulars and guests" (rendezvous).

[4.6] These comments further validate the idea of the normal fan as being one who does not send hate. They also expand this concept by implying that deviant fans, like Swan Queen shippers, cause drama within the fandom by forcing TPTB to negatively engage with the fandom. Clearly, the concern here is informed by the desire to maintain open communication with TPTB, which explains why such emphasis is placed upon positive reception and communication. These comments indicate that the targeted types of shippers in the case of the OUAT fandom are not Hadas's (2013) rabid shippers but rather shippers who are critical of canon.

[4.7] Swan Queen fans admit to thorough dissatisfaction with canon, yet there are also a number of shippers who express concerns about TPTB's ability to adequately manage the Swan Queen romance narrative. They fear that TPTB would essentially change the relationship as fans have imagined it or ruin it completely. One fan posed the following question to another: "Have you ever worried that if SQ ever became more than (ridiculously potent) subtext, and A and E actually tried to write it explicitly canon, that they would mangle it so badly that we'd actually look back to now as 'the good ol days' of SQ fandom?" (anonymous). The response they received was:

[4.8] No, not at all … But canon is canon. However crappy it may be, it counts for something huge. It's representation, recognition and validation. Fanon is important, fandom makes a difference, we won't be entirely lost to history, but fan works are the raw scraps we've been tossed … while canon is being cooked and served a fresh, homemade, full course meal. (tabulaic)

[4.9] In addressing this subject, this shipper inexplicably taps into the issue at the heart of the canon and fanon divide: legitimacy. OUAT shippers who have spoken out against Swan Queen wonder: "What makes SQ so special? Why should the cast have to talk about a ship that isn't happening in a romantic way?" (against-sq). Both types of comments, those supporting and those dismissing the ship, acknowledge that the only way for Swan Queen shippers to be viewed as legitimate by the rest of the OUAT fandom is through introduction into canon. All of these fans seem to share the understanding that canon and TPTB are infallible, inflexible, and not something that fans control. Fanon by comparison is identified as an important aspect of fandom but not as something that has much influence outside of the realm of fandom. A narrative when solely located in fanon is not thought to be worthy of representation, recognition, and validation.

[4.10] In response to the comments that attempt to regulate and delegitimize the Swan Queen ship, a number of shippers have been trying to establish their cause as an issue that is crucially important in media generally. They are doing this by linking this ship to the fight for more lesbian representation on television. Swan Queen shippers proclaim that they are "so tired of almost canon lesbians. Tired of the tease, tired of the denial, tired of almost enjoying books or t.v. or movies. Tired of loving characters and seeing their lesbian potential and then witnessing the oncoming dick parade" (colorandstones). This sentiment is tapping into the conviction of Swan Queen shippers that by limiting the amount of LGBT representation on their programs, TPTB are actually forcefully closeting certain characters. Another shipper expresses concern about how this lack of representation and the closeting of characters who appear to be gay affects and influences the audience:

[4.11] LGBTQ* kids are still not the ones their favorite stories are about. They're forced to remain a passive audience for television shows that cater to their bullies. It's not explicit, but the message is clear: We're nothing…I wonder: When exactly are things going to get better? I need Swan Queen, Sleeping Warrior, Red Beauty and/or any other same-sex pairing. I need Mulan, and my other childhood heroes, to be like me. I need LGBTQ* characters on television. I need them as individuals. And I need them in relationships. (real-vision)

[4.12] The writer indicates the introduction to canon of the Swan Queen ship or other ships like it is not just about pleasing shippers but about indicating that such relationships are possible, which is an important message to send to both adults and children who are LGBT. Other fans take issue with the way in which Swan Queen shippers have been introducing LGBT representation into the shipper discourse. Under the guise of a "fun fact," one such shipper remarks, "asking for LGBT representation should be about asking for LGBT representation, not harassing writers and cast members to make their straight characters gay so your crack ship can happen" (captainswan). The perspective shared here treats the sexuality of the characters as an aspect of canon that cannot be altered. According to this fan's logic, more LGBT representation on television should not take the form of altering a character's established sexuality but can only be brought about through the introduction of characters that are already LGBT. This suggests that shippers would find it less problematic if the ships that featured homosexual pairings were composed of canon homosexual characters. This fan also categorizes the Swan Queen ship as a "crack ship" or one that is so utterly ridiculous that people ship it solely because it is humorous and ironic to do so.

[4.13] According to one Swan Queen shipper, the type of vitriol found in this comment is a reflection of the power and popularity that the ship has achieved. The evidence for this, they claim, is in the fact that the Swan Queen ship is not just treated as an illogical fallacy but is treated as something that needs to be dismantled:

[4.14] So people like me, who are used to noncanon ships, are happily and adamantly shipping SwanQueen. And we don't fully understand the tension with the canon het [heterosexual] ships—to us, they're nothing new, just things to work around in fic [fan fiction]…Almost all het pairings COULD happen, in a way that queer pairings almost never do. By fighting us, however, they unwittingly give our ships a legitimacy that we wouldn't have otherwise. We're used to being ignored, but suddenly we aren't anymore. Suddenly we have power. (bookland)

[4.15] The tension within the fandom then is portrayed as something that originates with the critics of Swan Queen, for by engaging the shippers they have unwittingly legitimated their claims and their efforts. This person speaks from the position of being a fan for many years, not just of Swan Queen but also of other queer ships. Fan fiction, in their experience, serves a dual function. The first function is that it allows those interested in exploring certain narratives the ability to do so, and the second function is that it allows those who have a problem with such narratives the ability to remain ignorant of them.

[4.16] This is a sentiment shared by many non-Swan Queen shippers who contend that if Swan Queen shippers are intent upon exploring the narrative of their ship, the proper venue for it is in fan fiction. "I think it's perfectly fine to ship SQ," one fan states, "do fan-fics etc. but to constantly pester and insist despite being told it's not happening, it's just uncalled for" (bigmac). Though Swan Queen shippers produce copious amounts of fan fiction, they have largely refused the request that fan fiction be the only medium where this ship should be realized. This has resulted in the ship being referred to as its own fandom. It is difficult to say at this time whether this is because the ship has been thought of as separate since the beginning of its existence or if the contentiousness has resulted in the creation of a boundary between the Swan Queen shippers and the rest of the fandom. The general sense that non-Swan Queen shippers share is that the Swan Queen ship is a fandom predominantly made up of problematic fans, with only a minority of normal fans. Though the boundary between this ship and the rest of the ships in the fandom appears to be clearly established and recognized by many shippers, other comments also explain that separation from the OUAT fandom proves to be a complex proposition because "every time SWEN complains about the general disrespect we and other queer ships are treated with we were told to just stop watching. And when we do just that we get told we aren't true fans and are being pathetic" (cheshire). What the fan is expressing here is a desire to be separate from the fandom while maintaining the ability to still call themselves fans of certain characters and premises of the show. Other Swan Queen shippers, however, embrace this disconnection because, as one Swan Queen shipper argues, "we've been a separate fandom for a good long while now really. And we can continue to be a fandom til the end of our days" (mills).

5. Conclusion

[5.1] The Swan Queen discourse proves that the role of the shipper within fandom, though often portrayed as one-dimensional (as in the rabid shipper) is more nuanced than it appears. The description of fandoms put forth by Henry Jenkins can also be extended to shipping. Ships, just like fandoms, share "a common mode of reception, a common set of critical categories and practices, a tradition of aesthetic production, a set of social norms and expectations" (Tulloch and Jenkins 1995, 144). In this case, what is deemed common in shipping is determined by the regulation of shipper activities that enforce boundaries dictating how fans should interpret canon, how fans should communicate this interpretation to TPTB, and where such interpretations should be shared. The expectation of these fans is that a shipper must remain respectful by accepting canon completely, engaging with TPTB positively, and restricting extreme dalliances in fanon to fan fiction. The fact that such boundaries exist suggests that shippers within an individual fandom also form hierarchies not just according to popularity but also according to the strictures of idealized fan behavior. In this case, the problem is not simply being overly interested in a romantic pairing but being dedicated to a romantic pairing that will never happen. Objectively speaking, all fan creations are fictional; however, some are subjectively deemed more fictional than others. This complicates the notion of how far is too far when it comes to fan fiction. Is portraying a character in a queer relationship more of a violation than portraying them in a heterosexual relationship that is not canon? According to some fans, the answer to this question is yes, absolutely.

[5.2] The interactions observed above suggest that claims that the Internet is a safe platform for nuance and diversity are only talking about one part of the fandom story, a part that is not necessarily applicable to shipping. When engaging in shipping activities, fans have employed discursive mechanisms that foster a model of normal fan activity by which fans are judged and compared. This model reflects the tension between those who want to embrace diversity and those who think that doing so comes at the price of destroying what fandom is/should be. Additionally, the self-proclaimed arbiters of legitimacy on Tumblr are not those who have been fans the longest but rather those who remain the most faithful to the program, as deference to canon is serving as a proxy for superior knowledge and understanding. Because of the emphasis placed upon deference to canon, the regulation of deviant groups of fans such as Swan Queen is serving the purpose of stripping the ship of legitimacy and the status that comes with it. Legitimacy then becomes a mechanism to determine inclusion and exclusion.

[5.3] Fan fiction, when discussed in this case, becomes a place where problematic shippers can exert their creative efforts, that is, as long as the stories are confined to this realm. This is identified as a way to maintain order within the fandom, to respect canon, and also to shield other shippers from such controversial content. The treatment of the queer ship in this way shows that fans are creating boundaries between varying degrees of fictional possibility, where queer ships comprised of what are supposed to be heterosexual characters are treated as a kind of hyperfictional creation put forth by overzealous fans. Therefore, fans described in this paper are making sexuality into a narrative construction that is less flexible than are other aspects of a story or of a character, especially once sexualities have been established through action, pronouncement, or connotation in canon. This is displayed by the fact that even the possibility that the characters could be bisexual is openly disregarded or dismissed, playing into the notion that sexuality only exists according to the binary of heterosexuality and homosexuality.

[5.4] The fact that there are an increasing number of openly gay and lesbian characters on television would lead one to assume that queer ships would not experience such regulation and relegation to fan fiction. Though there are no comments above that explicitly discuss whether it is right or wrong to be a homosexual, this concern lies in the subtext of the conversation had about canon, character's sexualities, and the desire of shippers to change these sexualities. In this way, it is not the sexuality of the fans themselves per se, since not all Swan Queen fans mention theirs, but the desire to portray some characters as having different sexualities that is structurally affecting the ways in which these shippers are treated. The regulatory practices displayed in the case of the Swan Queen ship allude to an unspoken but palpable desire for homogeneity in fandom, which would allow for the positive aspects of fandom to continue unabated and the only negative tendencies that remain would be those that serve the gatekeeping function of maintaining peace. Further research is needed to assess how this desire to maintain boundaries within fandom excludes certain fans, activities, and even communities of fans from engaging equally on digital platforms.

6. Notes

1. Some examples of the many productions based on fairy tales are The Princess and the Frog (2009), Tangled (2010), Red Riding Hood (2011), and Puss in Boots (2011).

2. The pseudonyms are loosely based on those used by fans in the Once Upon a Time fandom. They reflect specific aspects of the program that are recognizable to other fans.

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