Podfic: Queer structures of sound

Olivia Johnston Riley

University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Podfic is the fan practice of reading fan fiction aloud and sharing recordings with other fans. Podfic highlights how slash fan spaces are structurally queer, resulting in both pleasure and discomfort for various participants. The numerous identities involved in creating, sharing, and consuming podfic—that of the podficcer, the listener, and the characters in the stories—create layers of queer possibility. Podfic encourages the repetition of oblique lines of desire that refuse heteronormativity and immutable, binary gender. Listeners use podfic to build queer soundscapes, using the queer noise of podfic to drown out the dull normalcy of activities like commuting and household chores, and to create a sense of (queer, fannish) connection and community between themselves, the performer, and other listeners. Additionally, "not safe for work, don't play this out loud" warnings on podfic demonstrate how fans negotiate what is and is not appropriate for public spaces and nonprivate listening, particularly in regard to explicit queer sexuality. Podfic enhances and magnifies our understanding of how queerness appears and functions among fans, fan texts, and fan practices; it also reaffirms the diversity of genders at play in these fan spaces.

[0.2] Keywords—AO3; Gender; Sexuality

Riley, Olivia Johnston. 2020. "Podfic: Queer Structures of Sound." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 34.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Yawning on the bus ride home from work, you put on your headphones and press play on the 24-megabyte (MB) file labeled "chapter one" that is saved to your phone. A gentle, ambiguously gendered voice begins to tell you a story. It is a story you have read before, but you are too tired to read it now; you just want to listen. The sound is unfiltered, with the low buzz of an air conditioner and occasional mew of a cat in the background of the recording. For these twenty minutes, you are not alone, stuck on public transportation—you are sharing an intimate, sonic space with someone you have never met but who loves this fictional world as much as you do. The voice in your ear shapes the familiar words in ways you could have not predicted; you catch jokes you missed before, and the tragic rising narrative hits even harder as you mirror the emotion in the reader's voice. The story's familiar characters—characters from your favorite television show, reimagined first through fan fiction and now through the sonification of that story—are falling in love, right before your ears, like they were never allowed to on your TV screen. You keep listening as you arrive home, lingering at the door, the kitchen, doing mindless chores until the story comes to a close.

[1.2] This imaginary exercise has described one possible experience a fan may have when listening to podfic, gesturing to the emotional, interpersonal, and space-making aspects of the medium that will be explored in this discussion. Podfic is fan fiction read out loud—specifically, fan fiction that's performed verbally, recorded, edited, and then shared in audio format. It is also sometimes referred to as audiofic, though the "pod" prefix is more common. It can be thirty seconds long or thirty hours long. It is often performed by just one person, but it can be performed by a cast of people working together. Sometimes it has sound effects or music, and sometimes it's composed only of the performer's voice. Although some podfics are performed by the author of the story, many podficcers search out fic by others and then ask for that author's permission to record and share the story. Most podfic is shared on the sites Archive of Our Own (AO3), LiveJournal, Dreamwidth, and Twitter, usually as a linked file or series of files in mp3 (basic sound file) or m4b (specifically audiobook) format.

[1.3] Slash fic, stories that romantically pair two male characters (or two female characters, then usually referred to as "femslash"), remains the most popular genre of fan fiction today, and podfic reflects the dominance of slash. When podfic readers record slash fic they are, by definition, performing queer narratives. What role does this queerness play in the sonification of fan fic, and how does podfic in turn contribute to queer soundscapes? I argue that podfic highlights how (slash) fan spaces are structurally, delightfully, uncomfortably queer.

[1.4] Judith Butler (1990) locates possibility for subversion in the failure to repeat gender "correctly" according to hegemonic dictates. Similarly, Sara Ahmed (2006) finds it in the repetition of off-kilter, queered lines of desire that veer off from heteronormative paths. I argue that podfic imbricates all parties involved in a queer network of relations that displaces heteronormative ones, encouraging the performance of new, queered lines of desire and identification. This argument affirms a nuanced, generous understanding of queerness in fandom as rooted in opposition to normativity, not just as a quality found in bodies and same-gender attraction, though queer people and identities are naturally an essential part of this queer landscape. Podfic creates a space with so many genders and identities at play that lines of desire are by definition scrambled, and so following Ahmed's theory of queer dis/orientation, create queer potential. Fans make use of this queer potential in crafting queer soundscapes that allow them to make mundane tasks magical and feel a social connection to other fans, while also acting as a discomforting reminder that explicit queer sexuality is unwelcome in public spaces.

2. Literature review and methodology

[2.1] Downloadable sound is increasingly important to the internet landscape; in fact, a recent Pew Research Center (2019) survey determined that almost a third of Americans listen to podcasts. Aside from being popular, sonic mediums come with their own set of affordances and material histories, which must be considered in this investigation of podfic. Podfic shares a clear link to podcasting via its shared prefix; as podcasting grew in popularity because of widespread access to relatively cheap, easy-to-use audio recording and editing equipment, so too did podficcing (Sterne et al. 2008). Unlike podcasts, podfic files are not transmitted via RSS or other regular internet feeds but are posted as download links on various fan sites (Bottomley 2015). Audiobooks, another auditory predecessor of podfic, share podfic's emphasis on fictional narrative and vocal performance as well as other qualities typical to all the audio mediums so far discussed, including portability and ease of access. The comparison of podfic to audiobooks is particularly important because in my investigation I ran across numerous instances of listeners explicitly comparing the podfic experience to that of an audiobook, while only one referenced podcasts in relation to these audio narratives; thus, we must take into account how fans theorize their own texts and experiences.

[2.2] I will refer to podficcers, the fans who create and share podfic, interchangeably as "readers" and "performers," with the latter term calling to mind notions of performativity and theater. Francesca Coppa has argued that fan fiction is "more a kind of theatre than a kind of prose," with its continual emphasis on bodies and the retelling of stories (2014, 219). Podfic literalizes the theater of fan fic through vocal performance. In addition to its theatrical connotations, "performativity" relates to the construction of gender. Butler's famous articulation of gender as "performative" is both linguistic and theatrical; this use of "performance" is not meant to indicate falsity but rather the necessity of endlessly repeating gender in order to create the effect of its subject (1990, 34).

[2.3] Nicholle Lamerichs mobilized Butler's work to investigate the performativity of cosplay (dressing up as a fictional character) and its role in constituting fan identity (2011, ¶ 3.1). Podfic shares cosplay's investment in the bodily performance of a character. As cosplayers must balance authenticity via accurate replication of a character's look with conveying their unique personality through creative differentiation (¶ 4.5), so too must podficcers navigate both how best to portray these characters authentically and how that performance will or will not resonate with their own identity. Consequently, podfic's "subversive confusion, and proliferation" of gender opportunities through character performance provides space for a queer kind of "gender trouble" (Butler 1990, 46).

[2.4] Bodies, identities, and sexuality have historically been central to fandom and fan scholarship. One of the earliest works in fan studies described fan fiction (specifically Kirk/Spock slash) as being "pornography written 100% by women for a 100% female readership" (Russ 2014). Although I take issue with Joanna Russ's erasure of many other genders from fan spaces, this formulation of fandom does offer some intriguing possibility in that its structure suggests inherent queerness, being based in the transmission of desire and pleasure between women. Later fan scholars, following this line of inquiry, agree that there is indeed something "queer, going on here" (Lothian, Busse, and Reid 2007). Robin Anne Reid draws on Alexander Doty to consider queerness as "in opposition to normativity rather than homosexuality in opposition to heterosexuality," which in turn allows for "a wider and more complex discussion of practices in fan cultures and fan fiction" (2009, 480). At the same time, Reid emphasizes that this stance does not assume anything about the sexuality of fic readers or writers, nor does it assert that this "queerness is inherently connected to a progressive ideology" (472).

[2.5] Alexis Lothian, Kristina Busse, and Robin Anne Reid construct queer fan spaces as a place where "things happen that challenge the way gendered and sexual identities and practices are defined and policed into rigid categories" (2007, 109), positing slash fandom as "queer female space" (2007, 103). Darlene Rose Hampton articulates queerness in fandom by employing queer theorist Sara Ahmed's work, where queerness "refer[s] to something that is 'oblique or offline'" (2015, 161). I will further mobilize Ahmed's theory, conceptualizing queerness in the tradition of her and these fan scholars' work to be a constellation of practices and behaviors that move in directions oblique from straight paths, as an orientation towards queer objects. Vis-á-vis Ahmed, readers of podfic perform and construct a "line" (2006, 555), a medium, a practice that veers off in queer directions, and listeners extend that queered line through the act of listening and through reciprocation of positive affect via comments and kudos in support of this work. I will expand on this notion and that of queer female space, arguing that podfic fandom iteratively produces a queer, gender-inclusive space.

[2.6] This project examines the specific case of Hannibal podfic on AO3 and the subculture that has flourished around Will/Hannibal slash. Will and Hannibal are the main characters of the television show Hannibal (NBC, 2013–2015), and they constitute the central romantic pairing in the Hannibal fandom, where fans continue to post works about them with frequency despite the show's conclusion. Hannibal podfic is a useful subgenre to investigate because the fandom and its number of podfics is sizeable enough to produce useful conclusions from, but modest enough to make for an accessible sample size.

[2.7] Archive of Our Own is a fan fiction archive founded and run by fans as a safe repository for their works, where they could own their own servers and thus avoid being at the mercy of corporate site owners (Lothian 2012). Although podfic is shared in many places across the web, from personal fan sites to Twitter to Dreamwidth, AO3 represents the largest and most searchable collection of podfic available online. I will analyze the network of roles and connections constituted by the creation and sharing of podfic, looking beyond the limits of the podfic "text." Therefore, this discussion uses José Esteban Muñoz's (1996) concept of "ephemera as evidence," ephemera being "those things that remain after a performance" that can lend insight into queer "structures of feeling" (10, emphasis in original). The following sections analyze the ephemera of podfic—specifically, the performer's notes and listener's comments left on the stories—for insight into how readers frame their work and how listeners experience and react to it.

3. Voice, body, and gender

[3.1] Scholars such as Lisa Nakamura (2002) have debunked myths surrounding the supposed "freedom" from identity that online spaces provide, arguing that bodies do not disappear in digital spaces but rather have their identities digitally reinscribed. Kishonna Gray (2012) has analyzed how auditory interactions online can be particularly fraught for marginalized bodies who may face "linguistic profiling" (413) in hostile digital spaces. Therefore, the body does not disappear in digital fan works but instead remains salient, especially in podfic. In podfic, the voice pointedly reminds listeners of the bodies and identities behind the creation of fan works posted online.

[3.2] The voice conveys depth, inflections, and accents, which in turn indicate the wide variety of genders, sexualities, and nationalities held by these diverse performers. The body consistently reasserts itself in the realm of podfic: coughs, sniffs, and mouth sounds from the reader inevitably appear in podfic recordings. Readers tell listeners in their performer's notes that they had to put off recording for a while because they were recovering from a cold. A listener describes how listening to the podfic gave them physical sensations like goosebumps or warmth. At a most basic level, both reader and listener must navigate appropriate volume levels when recording or listening to podfic so that the story can be heard at a pleasant level, neither too quiet to hear nor so loud as to cause pain. Thus, listening to podfic and analyzing it requires paying particular attention to the interface of sound and body.

[3.3] Podfic renders several kinds of bodies salient in its production and reception, particularly the bodies of the reader(s), listener(s), and character(s). The performer of fic "endows the text with a body," and in so doing becomes a "mediating actor…in the relationship between reader and text…[that] in itself produces material and rhetorical meaning" (Have and Pedersen 2016, 79–80). At the same time, the characters the reader is performing already come with bodies, voices, and genders attached; fan readers "know the actors who play them, and we bring our memories of their physicality to the text, so the reader is precharged, preeroticized" (Coppa 2014, 229). This preeroticized experience is complicated, then, by the fact that podfic readers intercede in the space between listener and text, and further that readers cannot consistently or perfectly match all the genders and nationalities of the characters they are portraying. Consequently, readers act as a complex intermediary for the fan-consumer's desire for fictional characters and narratives, producing queer and sometimes uncomfortable effects.

[3.4] To chart some of these effects, we must first begin with gender. All sorts of genders are at work in podfic spaces, though women and those with feminine voices are predominant. Regardless of the performer's gender, all podfic readers are necessarily working within societal heterosexist standards of voice. Namely, women's voices in audio-spaces, because of the "intimacy of the medium and backward gender divides," have historically created discomfort in listeners of all genders (Copeland 2018, 213). Listeners and performers exist in "a society that polices and criticizes traditionally feminine vocal tonality," meaning that salient femininity can impact the listener's ability to let the sound of the reader's voice become transparent and fade into the background, to allow the story to filter through without the performer themselves becoming a distraction (Tiffe and Hoffman 2017, 116).

[3.5] We see this concern over gender raised repeatedly in comments and notes on podfic. One commenter said, "I thought it might be distracting to listen to this in a girl's voice but it's not at all and I'm enjoying it loads!" (user comment on Kess 2019). Another listener offered similar insight, saying, "Used to the voices of the actors, I never thought that I would enjoy Hannibal podfics. But you did such a great job" (user comment on dodificus 2018). A performer evidenced this concern from her side of podfic creation, noting that she was worried about how her "girly and prepubescent" voice "was gonna work out with an almost ALL MALE cast" (Aleandri 2018). Yet another performer noted that "I'm recording a prison fic, about two gay serial killers falling in love in my very high pitched female voice. It kinda [sic] a little ridiculous, but oh well. I'm doing it" (Rhast 2018a).

[3.6] This anxiety over gender mismatch between performer and character proliferates in podfic spaces for readers of all genders, and perhaps most of all for readers whose gender listeners find particularly opaque. In these cases, it's not uncommon to find listeners asking the reader if they're "a guy or a girl." These listeners are not necessarily hostile or openly biased against masculine or feminine voices, often offering compliments along with their inquiries. However, this recurring theme still prompts the question of why, when these fans find the performance compelling, they are so concerned with knowing the gender of the reader. One of Abigail De Kosnik's interviewees for her book-length investigation of fan archives "describes podfic as a physicalization of fan fiction, which she acknowledges some fans find distasteful or off-putting," gesturing to the prominence of the body and all its gendered characteristics as a source of listener discomfort (2016, 265). Specifically, I argue that the bodily intimacy and blatant sexuality of this sonic space raises concerns about queerness, particularly in regard to the listener's attraction to the characters/narrative being routed through and consequently attached to the reader's voice.

[3.7] Sound in auditory narratives "produces effects of intimacy" (Have and Pedersen 2016, 15). The podfic listener is in a highly emotionally charged space with the reader; one commenter noted that "I find this [listening to the podfic] more moving than reading it [the original textual fan fic]," gesturing to how the medium of sound affords greater affective connection (user comment on Kess 2019). This affect is particularly sexually/romantically charged due to the consistently sexual/romantic (and queer) nature of the stories. The queerness of podfic exists in the text itself, because the stories are about queer characters and relationships, and in the reader's literal performance of queerness in the act of reading these stories out loud. The reader of podfic performs everything from candlelit romantic dinner dates to highly explicit sex scenes, complete with moans and gasps, and sometimes even sound effects of kissing, licking, and other extremely intimate bodily noises.

[3.8] This combination of sonic intimacy and mismatches between the performed gender of the characters and the often-unknown gender of the performer can produce concern over potentially queer lines of desire drawn between the reader and the listener. Russ, twenty years ago, noted of her first experience with slash that she "got embarrassed (because, I think, the stuff was so female and my response to it so intense) and hid it away—in the closet, of all places!" (Russ 2014, 94). This female author felt embarrassed by slash fic precisely because of the overt femaleness of it—that is, the in-your-face queer possibility of being a woman who is sexually excited by the creative work of another woman. This is reinforced in a consequent author's note, in which Russ relayed an editor of her work saying that "readers fear their own interest in K/S will be interpreted as lesbian by friends and family" (2014, 95). This panicked reaction to queerness can be compounded by the intimacy of podfic's auditory medium as well as by the wide array of gender possibilities evoked in this fan space.

4. Queer structure of podfic relations

[4.1] The audio performances of podfic produce a queer network of relations between the performer, the text, and the listener. To begin with, the text itself is an actor in podfic. All the podfics examined for this article were explicitly queer in their content, featuring queer(ed) characters, queer themes, romance, and often explicit sexuality. The characters in these podfics carry variously transformed and reimagined genders and sexualities. These podfics are palimpsests of many texts and authors, including the fan fic being read aloud, the source text the fan fic was inspired by, the contemporary fanon and fan community that shaped the fic's production, the various music and sound effects often used in these recordings, and the labor of all the creators who made these media. Further, through the reader's performance, listeners receive a unique interpretation of the fan fic being read, conveyed through the intonations and other subtleties that emphasize and elide various textual significances. This profusion of overlapping and sometimes contradictory layers of meaning impact how a listener understands a character's gender and sexuality, refusing the simplicity of heteronormative binaries.

[4.2] Further, the performer or performers bring their own sexuality and gender as well as other salient identity factors such as race, nationality, and age to their performance. Whether the reader identifies as trans, nonbinary, man, woman, or some intersection therein, the legibility of that identity to the listener will vary according to a variety of physical, social, and textual factors (for example, if the reader's voice is particularly "high" or "low," or if they refer to themselves using gendered pronouns in an author's note). Further, the reader then performs the various genders and sexualities of the podfic story's characters, which reflect a similarly multitudinous range of possibilities. Thus, the reader repeatedly performs theatricalized genders that rarely match their own, providing a Butlerian disruption to the performance of their own gender and veering off on a queered line of gender discordance.

[4.3] For example, a cis bisexual woman voicing Hannibal and Will can play briefly in a space of fictional, queer masculinity, and as she reads, she repeats this subtly queered line of mismatched identity. For some podfic readers, this may amount to nothing more than play, but for others this may be a space for self-discovery and exploration. In either case, the reader deviates from heterosexual, binary genders, however temporarily. Further, the inherent queerness of these stories means that even if podfic readers' gender and sexuality do match the characters they're portraying, this then becomes a shoring up of queer identities. For example, a trans man reading podfic about Will Graham depicted as a fellow trans man produces a doubly queer narrative that speaks the reader's own marginalized existence into the mainstream text and to the ears of fellow fans.

[4.4] Like the performer, the listener brings to the experience of podfic their own gender and sexuality. They may identify as bisexual, asexual, demisexual, lesbian, gay, straight, questioning—the possible positionalities are limitless. Further, they are differentially hailed by the story according to the mode of narrative. If the story is told in the third person, this listener may feel placed in a voyeuristic or fluid position, whereas a story told in first or second person might directly interpellate the listener into specific character roles or gender positions. For example, in a Will/Hannibal story told in the first person from Will's perspective, the listener becomes imbricated with not only that character's masculine gender but his desire for another man, placing the listener in a queerly desiring position. Butler (1997) investigates the subversive possibilities of purposefully misrecognizing and/or parodically inhabiting the hail of normative gender. Podfic structures reorient this, providing a space where listeners may be strangely, pleasurably, playfully, and repeatedly mishailed in terms of gender and sexual identity, resulting in a productive confusion.

[4.5] These three roles—performer, text, and listener—interact along lines of interpretation and desire. All the participants share a romantic, sexual space that attaches fluctuating gender and sexual identities to their roles as reader and listener, which may or may not align at any given time with the reader or listener's own. This highlights the messy queer potential that fans enter into when they become part of this desire-filled narrative space, where the abundance of shifting gender positionalities and desire lines encourages unique formations of identity and sexuality that run obliquely to normative male/female heterosexual ones.

5. Pleasure and discomfort

[5.1] The execution of these queer tales frequently results in the fulfillment of narrative, and sometimes sexual, pleasure for the listener. Listeners frequently exhibit pleasure not just because of the sexy content of the stories but from the reader's particular performance of it. For example, one listener wrote, "I love your voice and this is my all time favorite Hannibal fic so the two together are sheer heaven for me!" (user comment on Caveat_Lector 2017). Similarly, another wrote, "I don't have the words for how much I fell under the spell of your voice, except to say that it felt like discovering the story all over again in a way I would never have thought possible" (user comment on Kess 2019). There are also a smaller number of more visceral, desiring comments along the lines of "So hot!" that indicate more explicit sexuality. Both these and the previous, tamer comments indicate that listeners of all kinds are getting pleasure from readers of similarly diverse genders and sexualities.

[5.2] Following Ahmed's orientations, this practice of podficcing repeats a queered, nonstraight path of desire that does not run parallel to traditional, clearly defined and binary gender lines. I argue, then, in line with Hampton (2015), that "slash fandom engages in queer performance when it restages scenarios in ways that undermine this consistency [of normative gender performance]" and "provide[s] fans with opportunities to perform an array of identities and behaviors that are off-line or oblique to straight orientations" (¶ 2.10). So, both slash fic and slash podfic in particular disrupt gender norms and create a space for fans to do and experience nonstraight things. This gender trouble and disoriented desire are encoded into the structure of podfic, which disallows in its palimpsest of overlapping identities (reader/listener/character) the possibility for uncomplicated heterosexuality.

[5.3] This space is one where queer possibility is always available, but that does not make it unequivocally or unproblematically queer, free of discomfort, or politically progressive. Readers describe how strange it is to read explicit sex scenes aloud, with the particular maleness and queerness of these Hannibal stories making performers feel the process can be embarrassing. Performers sometimes defuse this discomfort through humor, for example, through cheekily noting, "I hope you all enjoy me saying words like 'dick' and 'cock' out loud" (Rhast 2018a). It would appear that listeners must enjoy it, at least somewhat, because they continue to return to these stories. But the minimal number of comments explicitly linking the listener's experience of podfic to any sort of sexual/romantic gratification indicates that although they may enjoy listening to this reader's "porn," they, too, are uncomfortable with the intimacy of the medium.

[5.4] Further, we can see how these uncomfortable reactions to blatant sexuality and queerness can produce "straightening" effects (Ahmed 2006, 562). In both performer's notes and listener comments, many of these fans demonstrate an assumption that everyone involved in these conversations experiences an attraction to men, though the nature of this attraction is nebulous—it could be sexual, romantic, aesthetic or otherwise less literal. Similarly, these paratextual spaces often carry an assumption that the listeners are not men themselves. In combination, these vague but persistent assumptions have the potential to evacuate room for the queer men, nonbinary folks, and lesbians who my investigation showed are indeed present in Hannibal fandom, and tacitly reinforce the common and harmful misconception that slash fandom is made up of straight women lusting over gay men. However, these heteronormative assumptions are far from universal. Many podfic readers demonstrate awareness of gender diversity in the way they hail their imagined audience, and many podfic listeners offer support to variously non-woman-identified readers. Podfic spaces, then, are complex and contested ones.

6. Queer soundscapes

[6.1] In addition to the queer space produced in the lines between podfic's performers, texts, and listeners, podfic can queer the environment in which it's listened to. Podfic listeners create queer, fannish soundscapes when they listen to podfic, particularly in public. Scholars of mobile sonic media have previously theorized about how listening to individualized, portable sound narratives creates "a physical and cognitive bubble" that alters the listener's perception of the physical and social environment (Have and Pedersen 2016, 11–12). Personalized sound allows users to define their "experience of space" (Tussey 2018, 4, 11), to move through public settings in their own "pleasurable and privatised sound bubbles" (Bull 2007, 5). Ahmed and other queer scholars have studied how spaces are always already oriented, typically in straight directions, so that "some bodies feel in place, or at home, and not others" (2006, 563). Stacey Copeland (2018) argued that queer radio shows act "as a sonic space for the queering of societal soundscape[s]" (211). Therefore, people creating and listening to sound of their own choice, where and when they want to, is "an act of space making" wherein they remake the world around them, a practice with particular use for queering normative landscapes (Wargo 2018, 15).

[6.2] By listening to audio stories such as podfic, listeners very literally change their world; they block out external noise and replace it with a narrative performance of their choice, thus sonically creating a brand-new space (Wittkower 2011, 228). Commenters on podfic frequently share the activities they were performing while listening to the story—often dull, monotonous tasks such as commutes and chores. They further describe how listening to podfic made these boring necessities more exciting, interesting, and pleasurable, some going so far as to say they lengthened their commute or extended their household cleaning in order to keep listening. Whether sitting on the subway, browsing at the grocery store, or scrubbing down the bathroom, fans use podfic to make these mundane tasks more "magical," as one listener described the experience. This echoes Janice Radway's classic study of women romance novel readers, whose books constituted a temporary escape from demands on their time and body as wives and mothers, allowing them to "reserve a special space and time for themselves alone" (1983, 61). Podfic provides an escape from labor by imbuing tasks with a sense of pleasure and leisure, an escape from the mundane through the magic of narrative, and an escape from heteronormative gender through queer stories and characters.

[6.3] This desire for a spatiotemporal separation of self from the gendered demands of others shares political space with queerness in its refusal of heteronormativity. When a listener uses podfic to escape the monotony of the bus ride home or cleaning the house, it is the magic of queer fandom that rescues the listener from these normative spaces. That it is queerness being introduced in this process is demonstrated by the previous discussion of how podfic is inherently queer, and this is further supported by the parallels between listening to podfic in public spaces and being queer in public. Drawing on audiobook literature, we can understand the podfic listener as "in some kind of disconnection with the social environment, experiencing it within a context not available to others in that environment" because of the narrative sound flowing around them (Wittkower 2011, 229). This description resonates with queer experiences, because queer folks navigate and experience social environments differently due to their non-normative identity and embodiment. The queer person or (to a less politically charged extent) the podfic listeners enveloped in a queer narrative experience the quotidian differently than those around them, and in manner imbricated with sexuality.

[6.4] This idyllic possibility of creating pleasurable queer soundscapes in dull, heteronormative spaces is matched by the fact that these queer, fannish, sexually explicit stories are expressly not welcome in those spaces. Podfic readers and listeners alike are highly aware of the fact that podfic is not meant to be played out loud in public, nonfannish spaces, where it would likely be actively misunderstood, disliked, and rebuked, much like queer behaviors in public spaces. Fan readers frequently frame their performances through this lens of being unacceptable or dangerous for public airing through the use of warnings, such as "WARNING: NSFW [not safe for work]. If you listen in public, then I really suggest listening with headphones, since there is sexy times in this chapter. I doubt friends, family, and/or co workers wanna hear smut read out loud" (Rhast 2018b). Similar warnings reference podfic being specifically not safe for work—as in, not appropriate for spaces of employment—as well as it not being safe to be played around children or elderly family members.

[6.5] The people the potential listener may encounter in these spaces are key to why podfic supposedly should not be played out loud there. For example, listeners who consume podfic on their commute home are jokingly cautioned to remember to mute the story if they are pulled over by the cops. In other cases, performers explain that they have to hold off recording for a while because their kids or grandparents are nearby and they cannot risk them overhearing their naughty, queer performance. Multiple women listeners said they had to be careful to turn off their podfic when their husband walked in, or only listen when he was not around. All these cases gesture to a wide suite of potential heteronormative concerns.

[6.6] Are these listeners cautious because these people (police, family, husbands) would disapprove of or dislike the queer content? Is podfic threatening to these people because it indicates that the listener (usually a woman, queer person, or other gender minority) is experiencing some level of queer or non-normative sexuality, a sexuality outside of straight monogamy? Is it that these fans would simply be embarrassed to be caught listening to something so sexual, fannish, or weird? Whichever of these reasons is most salient for the individual listener, they all point to podfic as having dangerously non-normative qualities.

[6.7] Consequently, the spaces and people around which podfic listening must be carefully curtailed corresponds to those where sexuality—specifically queer sexuality—are particularly restricted, such as the place of work and family space. However, despite these warnings creating a general atmosphere of concern and need for privacy, fans still use podfic to shape their soundscapes as they please. For example, one fan shared the experience of "Listening to this chapter at work and felt absolutely filthy listening to Hannibal tell Will just what he'd like to do to him" (user comment on Rhast 2018a). Thus, the listener took pleasure in the conscious and potentially risky disruption of the nonqueer, nonsexy space of work.

[6.8] Finally, it is not just queerness, but (queer) connection invoked by podfic usage. Listeners, especially women and queer folks isolated through gendered labor and other forms of social seclusion, use podfic to produce a sense of company and community, of not being alone. Frances Dyson (2009) contends that sound is "the immersive medium par excellence," that "to hear is also to be touched, both physically and emotionally" (4). As one podficcer and fan, Annapods, explained to a journalist in regard to the draw of podfic, "it's the intimacy of it, the 'warm hug' of someone's voice" (Manente 2019). The act of podficcing implies an audience; for it to be shared creates a relationship, however temporary, between performer, listener, and narrative. Ergo, podfic allows users to forge various social, queer connections as the listener resides in the narrative space with the reader, with other potential listeners, and with the fictional characters they love.

7. Conclusion

[7.1] Podfic and the community around it expand upon and underscore the queer potential of fan works. The prominence of gender and consequent oblique lines of desire crisscrossing the rich tapestry of identities that form the podfic space make for a complicated, pleasurable, and sometimes uncomfortable palimpsest of queer potential. Through podfic, fans shape normative, boring environments into pleasurable queer soundscapes and create a sense of sociality between themselves and other fans, simultaneously cautious of how their queer sound is not welcome in public spaces.

[7.2] Queerness is an important but not singular feature of interest in podfic, and future studies of the medium could go in any number of directions, including podfic as (queer, digital) archive; fan labor in preserving these ephemeral sound files; concepts of ownership and possession in podficcing, especially regarding the community norm of asking the original fan fic author for permission to record their story; the podfic community and its self-meta about their texts and practices; podfic's educational value as a language learning tool (something explicitly mentioned in several comments viewed for this analysis); the intersection of podfic with geography, nationality, and ethnicity, especially regarding reader's accents; affect and emotion in and around podfic, potentially including a range of affects from pleasure to stress relief; and podfic and other remediated fan art forms and their relationship to disability and access. In any of those studies, however, gender and queerness can and should be present as a formative component of podfic structures.

[7.3] The queer space of podfic is not an oasis or an uninterrupted zone of non-normativity; rather, it is a fluid space that encourages queerness in its shape. This queer shape is particularly visible in the realm of podfic but can be recognized in other fan spaces and fan works. So, although podfic is a relatively small community within larger fandom structures, it is useful as a magnifying tool. As a transformative work of a transformative work, podfic amplifies fandom's creative impulses while also foregrounding bodies and desire through voice, thus also amplifying queer potential. Consequently, I have worked to delineate the complex queerness that is already extant in the structures of many fan works and communities but is made especially visible—or rather, audible—via podfic.

8. Acknowledgments

[8.1] Thank you to Dr. Lori Lopez and Dr. Kristina Busse for their guidance and feedback throughout this article's development.

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