Navigating Catholicism and queerness in Daredevil fan works

Alexandria Griffin

Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, United States

[0.1] Abstract—In Daredevil (2015–18) fan works, fans confront the character of Daredevil, who is portrayed in the Netflix TV series of the same name as explicitly religious, namely Catholic. This means that fan works seeking to explore sexuality, especially same-sex sexuality, must confront Catholicism's prohibition on extramarital sex, including same-sex sexual relations. I examine how fan works use Daredevil as a site from which to debate Catholicism and queerness.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan fiction; Marvel Cinematic Universe; Religion

Griffin, Alexandria. 2019. "Navigating Catholicism and Queerness in Daredevil Fan Works." In "Fan Fiction and Ancient Scribal Cultures," edited by Frauke Uhlenbruch and Sonja Ammann, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 31.

[1] In 2015, Netflix released season 1 of Daredevil, an adaptation of the Marvel comics series of the same name. This was followed by two more seasons of the show (2015–18), as well as The Defenders (2017), a series tying Daredevil to other Marvel characters. The Netflix series and its spin-offs introduced a new audience to Matt Murdock, a blind man with an almost supernatural ability to sense his surroundings through the reflection of sound off surfaces. He takes on the persona of Daredevil to patrol the streets of Hell's Kitchen, New York City, as a justice-dispensing vigilante. During the day, Murdock practices as a lawyer to protect Hell's Kitchen in a different way with his friends Foggy Nelson and Karen Page.

[2] As in many other fandoms, people rushed to write fan fic, create fan art, and engage with the series in other ways. However, one aspect of Daredevil made it special compared to other television shows and other Marvel properties: Matt Murdock is explicitly portrayed as a Catholic, and a fairly observant one at that. He is depicted as regularly attending church services, maintaining a close relationship with his confessor, Father Lantom, and wrestling to reconcile his faith with his vigilantism. Many fans who were interested in writing slash fiction (fiction in which two male characters are portrayed as being in a romantic or sexual relationship) or creating other romantic or sexually oriented fan content were in the unusual position of having to confront a character's overt religiosity, which is generally not a factor in many other television fandoms or contemporary superhero franchises. Specifically, they were forced to confront Catholicism, which preaches sexual abstinence outside of marriage and does not condone same-sex romantic or sexual relationships.

[3] Catholicism's official stance on these matters does not mean that there is not or has not been extensive discussion pushing back against such prohibitions. In particular, in looking at Catholic discussions of same-sex sexuality, numerous groups exist for queer Catholics and their family and friends. Most recently, James Martin, SJ, made waves with the publication of Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity (2018). But fan works are also a site for thinking through issues of religion and sexuality, and people use Daredevil fan works as a way to interrogate the intersections of queerness and Catholicism in particular. My examples come primarily from the "Daredevil (TV)" tag on the Archive of Our Own fan fiction archive ( I am particularly interested in fan works tagged with "Catholicism," "Religion," or similar tags, or specific fan works tagged with the character of Father Lantom, a Catholic priest and Murdock's confessor.

[4] One story from the Archive of Our Own, Sanctuary_for_all's "Hymn" (2015), depicts Father Lantom, Murdock's confessor, endorsing Murdock's pursuit of a relationship with Foggy Nelson, drawing on Catholic social teaching and emphasizing a message of love. The story unfolds from Foggy Nelson's perspective, assigning him a background as a rather lax Unitarian who is perplexed by Matt Murdock's fierce religiosity but who attempts to understand it out of love for him. He volunteers to meet Father Lantom, Murdock's confessor and spiritual guide, in an attempt to better understand him. In a conversation with Foggy, Father Lantom is clearly presented as having a positive attitude toward Matt and Foggy's relationship, and thus Matt's religiosity is reconciled with his queerness. Father Lantom functions here, as in other stories, as a symbol of Catholicism more broadly; his approval signifies Matt's ability to stay connected to his Catholic faith while also pursuing a same-sex relationship.

[5] However, in another story, Eustace (Sibylline)'s "Caro, Carnis" (2015), Murdock pursues an ascetic style of Catholicism in an effort to distract himself from thoughts of same-sex intimacy. We are told that he learns as a child that "the flesh is weak. The body is an obstacle to be tamed." Carrying this ideology into college, Matt develops an eating disorder as he feels that hunger heightens his other senses—something he discovered through fasting for religious purposes. Matt feels Foggy's face to "see" what he looks like, and experiences deep shame after feeling desire for him.

[6] In these examples, we see very different interactions between religion and sexuality; they are opposites in terms of how they approach the intersection of Catholicism and queerness. In the first story, Catholicism is invoked as all-loving and embracing of Matt's queerness, with approval channeled through the figure of Father Lantom. In the second story, Matt's Catholicism gives him a language of deprivation and renunciation that he uses in an attempt to starve out his queerness. These fan works demonstrate the two predominant approaches to Catholicism and queer sexuality in Daredevil fan works: either the two can be reconciled and Matt Murdock can embrace both a Catholic identity and a queer identity, or one must supersede the other. In Eustace's "Caro, Carnis," Catholicism supersedes queerness. In other fan works, queerness may supersede Catholicism. However, most writers seem bent on a reconciliation, and Father Lantom frequently functions in fan works as a mechanism through which Matt's Catholic and queer sides are reconciled.

[7] "Hallelujah Is Our Song" (2017) by moonyloonylupin is tagged with both "Inaccurate Catholicism" and "I haven't been to Easter mass or any mass since like 2005." Despite the author's protestations, the story is an interesting case study in how fan fiction authors navigate the intersections of Catholicism and queerness in the world of Daredevil. In "Hallelujah Is Our Song," Matt goes to Easter Mass after a night in bed with Foggy and is surprised when Foggy decides to come to Mass with him. Foggy becomes nervous waiting to meet Father Lantom after Mass, not knowing how Matt will refer to their relationship in front of Lantom. Matt introduces Foggy as his boyfriend, and Lantom is friendly, inviting them to stay and talk for a while. Matt's attendance at Mass is initially seen as a stress point for the relationship, as Foggy is uncertain how to behave with his lover in a religious space perceived as homophobic. Father Lantom is used as a vehicle through which Matt and Foggy's romantic relationship is defined. Moreover, Lantom functions as a representation for the Catholic church writ large; his approval of their relationship represents the reconciliation of Matt's Catholic identity and his sexual and romantic relationship with Foggy.

[8] Sometimes Father Lantom's interventions are more direct. In NotQuiteHumanAnymore's "By Omission" (2016), Matt repeatedly goes to confession in an attempt to reframe his attraction to Foggy as mere friendship. It fails, and he admits to Foggy that he discussed their relationship with Father Lantom, who helped him to realize that he was in love with Foggy. It is Father Lantom's interjection that allows Matt to recognize his affections for Foggy, and vice versa. Moreover, his tacit acceptance of their relationship once again reconciles Catholicism and queerness for Matt.

[9] In many stories, Lantom directly rejects Catholic teaching on same-sex relationships, allowing Matt to reconcile religion and sexuality. In one, Matt confesses his love for Foggy to Lantom, hoping for a rebuke, only to be told, "I don't serve a God that would give humanity such a profound capacity for love and then punish people for loving each other, no matter who they are. That's my personal stance on the matter" (Sir_not_appearing_in_this_archive, "A Definitive Proof," 2015). Here, Lantom's rejection of the church's rejection of same-sex relationships allows Matt to embrace his feelings for Foggy.

[10] In some stories, Lantom's acceptance of homosexuality goes so far as his officiating a wedding for Matt and Foggy. Fan writers usually recognize that this would not be possible for Lantom to do in his function as a Roman Catholic priest, so they create circumstances in which it seems more plausible for him to do so. In "For Which the First Was Made" by spacenarwhal (2018), Lantom is positioned as having been retired for four years. Because most Catholic priests do not usually retire in the sense that they are no longer considered Catholic priests, it is not entirely clear what the author envisions this to mean. Lantom performs a non-Catholic ceremony for the pair, and Matt reflects that while it is not the traditional Catholic wedding he would have hoped for, he enjoys it nonetheless.

[11] But not all Daredevil stories are stories of reconciliation. Sometimes Catholicism and queerness cannot be balanced, and Catholicism is left behind in favor of an embrace of queer desires. In "Devout Catholic" by AcesofSpade (2017), Matt's Catholicism leads him to deny his attraction to men for years. When he finally accepts that he's gay, he expresses a series of worries, including a concern that he has disappointed God. Foggy reassures Matt that he hasn't disappointed God or his father, and Matt's Catholicism falls by the wayside as he and Foggy begin dating.

[12] In another story, Poisonivory, returnsandreturns, and Werelibrarian's "When Your Heart Beats (Next to Mine)" (2017), tagged with "Catholic guilt" (among other things), Matt tries to battle his attraction to Foggy through incessant praying and reminders of his vow as a Catholic to remain celibate until marriage. He finally gives in to temptation when Foggy confesses that he loves him and would willingly marry him: "'I vowed to save myself for the person I wanted to be with forever,' Matt says, unable to keep his voice from shaking. 'I'd still be keeping that vow if you touched me.'" In this way, Matt's Catholicism is accommodated in an almost sideways fashion; though they haven't had an actual wedding, the intent is there, and that's enough to satisfy his requirements.

[13] Fan works are a site in which fans think about the relationship between religion and sexuality and draw conclusions regarding whether the two can be reconciled or whether one must inherently be lost for the other to prevail. This has real-world implications; the questions asked in these fan works about the relationship between religion and queerness, especially queer sexualities, are real-world questions. Fan works may provide a safe space for thinking about these issues, especially in a time where many religious denominations are grappling with their stances on homosexuality and related issues. Queer religious expressions and the queer navigation of religious questions are not limited to the walls of religious buildings or strictly demarcated theological inquiry; they expand beyond this into everyday spaces, including fandom and fan works.