Pregnant Teen Wolf: The border wars of mpreg fics

Jon Heggestad

Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Despite its reputation as a controversial fan fiction trope, mpreg (short for male pregnancy) provides new opportunities for narratives centered around reproduction and family-making, especially queer family-making. This phenomenon is perhaps best seen in the fan fiction for the MTV series Teen Wolf, which aired from 2011 to 2017. Within these works, mpreg expands whom male pregnancy is able to represent. As these new opportunities for representation increase, however, diverse audiences have responded by stressing their own stakes in the representational claims afforded through the trope. Mapping these tensions onto a framework of cultural border wars, a concept coined by Jack Halberstam nearly twenty-five years ago, not only sheds new light on the continued conflicts that arise from divergent feminist, queer, and trans readings as they shift onto new media platforms but also offers a means of working with (and not against) these tensions.

[0.2] Abstract—A/B/O; AO3; Omegaverse; Representation; Reproduction

Heggestad, Jon. 2023. "Pregnant Teen Wolf: The Border Wars of Mpreg Fics." In "Trans Fandom," edited by Jennifer Duggan and Angie Fazekas, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 39.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In Female Masculinity, Jack Halberstam observes that the representational capacities of a literary work are often limited when the interpretation of one marginalized group conflicts with another's. He frames these conflicts in terms of representational "border wars"; while Halberstam's focus is on canonical texts, the ways in which similar tensions continue to be constructed on new media platforms illustrate the value in revisiting this work (Halberstam 1998, 141). As a point of departure, this article examines the controversial mpreg (or male pregnancy) trope in fan writing from the MTV series Teen Wolf (2011–2017). In approaching these fics through feminist, queer, and trans readings, this study highlights the discursive borders that fans and fan scholars construct around whom the pregnant man is able to represent (note 1). Is he, for instance, a coded representation of women's experience, a symbol of gay men's family-making, or a fictionalized means of depicting trans men's pregnancies? Through Halberstam's work, I ultimately demonstrate how these conflictual interpretations might be held in fruitful tension with one another.

[1.2] Although "mpreg" is not a term that the general public is yet familiar with, it has steadily risen in popularity over the past two decades (Ashman 2018; Åström 2010). For fan fiction readers, this trend means that they are likely to find Sherlock Holmes rubbing Watson's pregnant belly, Captain America talking Bucky Barnes through labor pains, or Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter arguing over which crib to buy. Sometimes, male pregnancy occurs to only minor male characters in these stories; at other times, it is merely mentioned as something that could happen, but more often than not, an androcentric (male-centered) birth and the queer family structures that result are the focal points of these narratives.

[1.3] Mpreg can be dated back to the 1980s, but a general consensus among fans and fan scholars is that it garnered interest alongside the larger Omegaverse trope as a result of fan engagement with the television series Supernatural (2005–2020). Popova explains the Omegaverse as an alternate universe in which characters are categorized through Alpha/Beta/Omega dynamics (A/B/O for short), categories that create new sets of power differentials (2018, 2). Closely tied to the animal world, A/B/O labels provide a clear and visible hierarchical system through which characters operate. Alphas are generally thought of as dominant and powerful, making natural leaders; Omegas are subordinate, often exhibiting a primal need to belong to or be protected by their Alpha counterparts (a drive that is frequently accompanied by intense sexual desire, as noted below). Betas are less common in these stories, and—as in-betweens of Alphas and Omegas—are often employed only to showcase the exceptional qualities of these other classes.

[1.4] It should be noted that the Omegaverse and mpreg are distinct genres. A/B/O dynamics are not always present in mpreg works, and male pregnancy only occurs in a fraction of Omegaverse fics. Still, scholars often note the potential in both for exploring a wide array of narratives, as they range from explicit pornography to domestic stories (Ashman 2018; Popova 2018). Similarly, both provide opportunities to critique and explore traditional gender roles and sexual scripts. While A/B/O markers offer "a radically different configuration of genders and sexualities," mpreg "queers both pregnancy and masculinity" (Popova 2018, 9; Ingram-Waters 2015). Perhaps due to these similarities, the Omegaverse and mpreg frequently overlap and inform one another. An mpreg fic often cues readers that they are engaging with an Omegaverse fic, for instance, and many assume that readers will be familiar with the idea that a male Alpha can impregnate a male Omega (norabombay 2015). Within mpreg stories, these markers provide an unstated yet almost scientific basis as to how androcentric pregnancies can occur (Notopoulos 2014).

[1.5] Despite this nod to the natural world and animal behavior science, mpreg tends to be found more frequently in fandoms of series that already contain a supernatural or magical element (Busse 2013). With this in mind, the supernatural Teen Wolf series is a useful springboard for an analysis of the trope. While only one out of every fifty Teen Wolf fan fiction works uploaded to Archive of Our Own (AO3), a fan fiction repository site, is tagged (or labeled) as mpreg, the series itself also canonically highlights many of the Omegaverse's A/B/O dynamics within its own canon.

[1.6] Loosely based on the 1985 film of the same name, the Teen Wolf television series premiered in 2011 and ran for six seasons. Both the series and its predecessor revolve around—as the title would suggest—a teenage werewolf. In both, Scott (played by Tyler Posey in the series and Michael J. Fox in the earlier film) navigates high school and werewolf existence with help from his human best friend, Stiles Stilinski. The MTV series, however, diverges significantly from its predecessor in critical ways. For example, the latter series develops a much more central focus on werewolf mythology. With this emphasis, one of the first things that the series' protagonist learns after being turned into a werewolf is his status as a Beta, the wolf who bit and turned him being an Alpha (1.1 "Wolf Moon"). Although these A/B/O dynamics—also referred to as pack dynamics—are absent from the 1985 film, they create a central plotline throughout the TV series, with different characters rising from Omegas to Alphas and falling from Alpha status to Beta. This interchangeability differentiates the pack dynamics within the series from most fan fiction works employing the trope, as fan practices tend to portray A/B/O as fixed categories (if you are an Alpha, you are always an Alpha).

[1.7] Within the more niche mpreg trope, it is common for A/B/O elements from the Teen Wolf canon to be borrowed and mixed with A/B/O elements more clearly related to fan writing practices. For example, Scott's werewolf mentor Derek is primarily represented as an Alpha in the series, and this carries over into fan writing, which nearly always casts Derek as an Alpha as well. Stiles remains human throughout the show and is therefore never canonically identified in terms of A/B/O dynamics, but fan writing often depicts Stiles within the A/B/O framework, consistently assigning him the role of an Omega. Within the series, Derek and Stiles rarely share screen time, but when they do, they tend to butt heads. Despite their tenuous canonical relationship (or perhaps because of it), fan writing frequently pairs these two male characters together in a romantic and/or sexual context. Indeed, the vast majority of the Teen Wolf fandom has chosen to regard Stiles and Derek (or "Sterek") as their OTP (one true pairing), with fan fiction writers coupling the two together more often than any other characters on the show. Of the 122,980 fics written in the Teen Wolf TV fandom and posted to AO3, 65,088 feature the two in a romantic and/or sexual relationship. And in 1,929 of these stories, Derek impregnates Stiles (note 2).

2. The border wars of mpreg fan fic

[2.1] Mpreg enthusiasts of Teen Wolf won't necessarily find that all mpreg fics posted to a site like AO3 are to their liking, nor will they find that other readers are drawn to mpreg for the same reasons as their own. Halberstam's framework of the border wars thus becomes a useful tool for parsing through what diverging audiences desire. As Kelly Coogan observes, the border wars allow us to "study the battles over identity and identification" of "constituencies who feel marginalized within their own communities" (2006, 25). The claims below illustrate these concerns, navigating feminist, queer, and trans readings of mpreg fics.

[2.2] Halberstam first previewed the conceptual framework of the border wars in Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, noting that any reading of Shelley's Frankenstein is a reading that excludes other interpretations. A feminist reading of the monster as woman, for example, conflicts with the earlier (androcentric) reading of the monster as Satan (Halberstam 1995, 36). In Female Masculinity, Halberstam emphasizes that these conflicts become particularly difficult to navigate when put forth by distinct groups of traditionally marginalized readers looking for representation. In exploring this idea, Halberstam examines works like Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, sifting through readings that interpreted the novel's main character, Stephen Gordon, as either a butch lesbian woman or an FTM (female-to-male) transgender man—never as both. Commenting on this tendency, Halberstam states, "The border wars between transgender butches and FTMs presume that masculinity is a limited resource, available to only a few in ever decreasing quantities" (1998, 144). This concisely identifies both the problem and a possible solution.

[2.3] The problem is derived from an insistence on reading a text in only one way, which constrains alternative readings and, as a result, excludes other marginalized groups of readers from seeing themselves reflected in the text. Halberstam regards this problem as an unnecessary one, the result of incorrect ways of thinking about literary texts and what they can do. Reading and representation are not—or, at least, do not have to be—a zero-sum game (a claim that will be revisited at this article's close).

[2.4] Halberstam's proposal to reframe how we think about the economy of representation, however, has failed to gain much traction. Even in the realm of fan fiction, a platform geared toward participatory engagement, border wars remain a concern, as different interpretive communities develop their own (exclusive) representational claims. While surface readings of the male-male couplings and the children they produce are often celebrated as symbols of gay marriage and parenting (Åström 2010; Parry 2015; Ashman 2018), pregnant male characters are read even more frequently as "undoubtedly" female (Arnaiz 2018, 122). At the same time, another faction of readers notes that while "mpreg doesn't explicitly claim to be related to trans (or intersex) people, [...] it cannot be viewed outside of that context" (thedeadflag 2016). Different forms of representation are often pitted against one another, with readers arguing against representation just as often as (if not more often than) they do for it.

[2.5] Concerns around representation are, of course, a discursively rich topic in fan studies. As the next section illustrates, fandom has often functioned as a space for women writers to explore narratives that have been relegated to the margins. "Women are always already other as a social category," writes Rebecca Wanzo (2015), but as she and others have pointed out, fandoms and fan practices are often complicated by a tenuous politics of (un)belonging. To this point, Rukmini Pande has observed that "which fans are considered the most valued remains enmeshed in a complex matrix of identity markers, most notably of race, gender, and sexuality" (2018, 2). This can be seen in the specific erasures of black fans (as addressed by Wanzo and Pande), gay men (Brennan 2013; Coleman 2019), and trans individuals (J. Duggan 2021) from both fan practices and fan criticism. And these erasures equate to larger concerns around representation. As Kay Siebler has pointed out, when a group is granted representation, "it also has political and institutional capital" (2016, 31). This is what fuels the border wars, as traditionally marginalized groups strive to find representation, even in something as niche as mpreg fan fiction.

[2.6] In what follows, I unpack the ways in which fans and scholars have interpreted mpreg in light of distinct yet overlapping groups: women, gay men, and trans men. Approaching mpreg through these lenses, I establish the arguments put forth by each while contextualizing their highly theoretical discussions through three Teen Wolf mpreg fics. In selecting these fics, I've adapted the methodological approach modeled by Suzanne R. Black (2020) in her work with AO3 datasets. Like Black, I first drew constraints around my dataset by focusing on one trope (mpreg) and one relationship (Derek/Stiles) within one fandom (Teen Wolf). By using a web scraper created by Jingyi Li and Sarah Sterman ( alongside Tableau data visualization software, I conducted initial distant readings of this corpus to analyze the tags that fic writers attributed to these works (note 3). The resulting data visualization (figure 1) illustrates trends and connections that appear within these texts. For example, the overlap between mpreg and the Omegaverse is made visible by the corpus's most frequently used tag: "Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics." The sheer variety of these tags also illustrates the coexistence of unlikely tropes; specific kinks (like "Rimming" and "Anal Fingering") appear just as often as more domestic themes (like "Pack Feels" and "Protective Derek"). To more effectively unpack this distant reading, I ultimately conducted a series of close readings that highlight the range of these divergent dynamics. This practice follows what Matthew L. Jockers (2013) has said regarding the benefits of incorporating close reading alongside distant reading, as the former is often necessary for contextualizing the meaning of macro-level claims. In addition to addressing the diverse types of tags that were included in this dataset, the three Teen Wolf mpreg fics that are discussed below were also selected on the basis of their popularity, having garnered hundreds of comments, thousands of kudos (AO3's "like" system), and hundreds of thousands of views (or "hits").

A column graph visualizing a wide variety of tags from most used to least. The most popular tag is Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics with around 290 uses, followed by Knotting with a little over 280 uses. Fluff is third at around 240 uses, and fourth is Implied Mpreg with a little under 220 uses. Each column is divided into ratings: Explicit, Mature, Teen & Up, General Audiences, and Not Rated. The quantities vary; Explicit makes up a little more than half of the works for Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics, and the overwhelming majority in Knotting.

Figure 1. Most frequent tags in Teen Wolf (TV) mpreg fics with ratings identified.

[2.7] The first of these fics is kalpurna's "The Well of Living Waters," which is set in an AU (alternative universe). Rather than taking place in present-day Beacon Hills, the canonical setting for the MTV series, the story unfolds in a medieval kingdom, and the show's characters are recast accordingly. In this AU, for example, Stiles is a pampered prince who is forced to wed Derek, the ruler of a neighboring kingdom. As the two navigate married life, they develop romantic and sexual feelings for one another, and the story ends with Stiles just a third the way through his pregnancy. In the second story, "Cultivation," by SomeoneUseStiles, how Stiles becomes pregnant is of much greater concern, with the narrative following a series of explicit sexual fantasies. It similarly ends with Stiles's pregnancy, but only after a wide range of sexual acts have been explored between Stiles, Derek (once more cast as his Alpha husband), and several other rotating participants. "Cultivation" comes with a lengthy warning regarding its more controversial tropes, which include: "parent/child incest, sexual sharing of omegas, [and a] society where all of this is accepted and normal" (SomeoneUseStiles 2014). The last fic included in this case study is Never_Says_Die's "Last To Know," a fluffy (note 4) mpreg that is nearly the opposite of "Cultivation." This story begins with Stiles learning that he is (once again) pregnant with Derek's child, and the rest of the narrative tracks how Stiles is cared for by Derek and the rest of his pack during the pregnancy.

[2.8] AO3 is a useful platform for studying these works in that it not only hosts fan writing but also makes readers' engagements with these texts visible. While many of the observations below come out of a close reading of the fics, others stem from an analysis of their comments—the responses left by the stories' readers. The brevity of these responses allowed me to rely once more on close reading practices, homing in on the reasons that readers cited for why they were drawn to (or, at times, repulsed by) the figure of the pregnant man. By focusing on the way readers make meaning, I look to reader response and transactional theory (Rosenblatt 1985), which Ebony Elizabeth Thomas and Amy Stornaiuolo have framed as a useful methodology in fan studies—as "the rise of fan cultures have also afforded new ways for participants to use digital tools to read and write themselves into existence" (2019). My analysis of both fics and comments was again informed by Black's discussion of how to ethically study fan fiction data. I have, for example, excluded password-protected information, adopted the pseudonyms chosen by the fic writers whose works I have included, and ensured that none of the anonymized comments cited in the study can be identified through online search functions. In unpacking both these fics and their comments, the feminist, queer, and trans trajectories that emerge illustrate the often conflicting, sometimes overlapping, sides of the mpreg border wars (note 5).

3. Reading mpreg through a feminist lens

[3.1] Perhaps the most common way that scholars have read the pregnant men of mpreg narratives is to regard them as coded representations of women (Busse and Lothian 2017; Popova 2018). In analyzing this approach, it is worth noting that since the first academic studies of fan fiction (and even before), fan fiction culture has generally been framed as spaces populated by women—with fics being written primarily by women and for women. In Textual Poachers, Henry Jenkins repeats this idea, noting that he himself is "a male fan within a predominantly female fan culture"—not an anomaly but certainly "less common" (1992, 7). Since the publication of his text and with the rise of participatory Web 2.0 platforms, fan communities have continued to be shaped primarily by women, with one recent survey concluding that women are responsible for 86 percent of all fan fiction works being written today (Upham 2016). If fan fiction itself is frequently regarded as women's writing, then mpreg, as a subgenre within this form of writing, is read as a means of projecting women's experiences onto male bodies.

[3.2] Furthermore, in considering fan fiction's "unacknowledged place in this history of women's literacy," Catherine Driscoll argues that these practices operate at the unique intersection of romance and pornography, where many mpreg fics can be located as well (2006, 80). Consider, for instance, kalpurna's "The Well of Living Waters." In this fic, Stiles masturbates, develops increased emotional intimacy with Derek, has sex, becomes pregnant, makes his new castle into a home, and develops a clearer understanding of his own worth in a new kingdom. As indicated by comments posted to the fic, it is this blending of the sexual and the domestic that seems to appeal most to readers—one such commenter writing that they would read an "unending minutiae" of what these characters "eat for breakfast," "how they have sex late at night in bed," and "how when [their child is] happy, she runs to Stiles but when she's sad, she goes to Derek, buries her nose in his neck and cries her eyes out" (kalpurna 2013). This imagined montage that brings sex scenes alongside snapshots that might be found in a family photo album reflects the unique hybrid quality of slash fics described by Driscoll—what Joanna Russ refers to as "pornography by women, for women, with love" (1985, 79).

[3.3] Kristina Busse and Alexis Lothian have expanded on the idea that m/m slash holds a place within women's writing. They observe, for example, that "placing two often highly masculine men in romantic relations to portray love" allows writers to explore "the hierarchies often inscribed in heterosexual relationships" (2017, 63). According to this line of thought, slash continues to portray heterosexual relationships, yet with a redistribution of feminine and masculine traits. This exploration of gender is further subverted through the A/B/O dynamics of the Omegaverse.

[3.4] As Angie Fazekas states, the Omegaverse is "founded on a fixed gender hierarchy," able to either repeat or subvert earlier gender stereotypes (2020, 99). Similarly, Popova regards labels like Alpha, Beta, and Omega as "secondary gender[s]" that "provide a nuanced commentary on western gender roles" (2018, 7, 9). In looking to Omega-driven narratives from Supernatural fandom, for example, Popova maps the virile traits of Alphas and the gentler traits of Omegas onto more traditional depictions of masculinity and femininity. Many mpreg readers similarly form gender-equivalents, discussing "gender roles" and "gender expectations" of A/B/O characters in relation to Western gender stereotypes (kalpurna 2013). In fact, it becomes difficult to discuss the Omegaverse apart from gendered discourse.

[3.5] Mpreg has similarly been framed as both women's writing and women's experience. Busse, for instance, observes that "the focus on fertility and mating cycles in many fanfictions with male protagonists is certainly interesting when considering that a large majority of the slashers, and thus the writers who use this trope, are women" (2013, 291). If slash and the Omegaverse function as useful spaces for exploring gender dynamics, mpreg becomes a new means for exploring more nuanced narratives about pregnancy and reproduction. This can be a welcome shift, as storylines that feature unwanted pregnancy, marital concerns, childbirth, or chestfeeding scarcely appear on mainstream television, especially in male-centered series like MTV's Teen Wolf. Therefore, in reading the pregnant men of mpreg fics as coded expressions of female characters, these underrepresented topics are brought to light.

[3.6] This celebratory stance appears often in the comments of mpreg fics. For example, another reader, responding to kalpurna's "The Well of Living Waters," praises the story's reworking of gender expectations, which—the reader concludes—successfully avoids enlisting mpreg as "an excuse to turn a male character into a female stereotype" (kalpurna 2013). This, in fact, is one of the main concerns that comes out of reading mpreg characters as coded women. As Mary Ingram-Waters notes, too often mpreg "turns the male characters into whiny, feminized versions of themselves" (2010).

[3.7] While mpreg has been framed by many as a way to rethink women's experience, Ingram-Waters also states that these representations tend to clash with actual pregnant bodies. In recounting the discomfort she felt in attempting to interact with other mpreg enthusiasts at a fan convention, she posits that the reason for their apparent coldness toward her was due to her own "visibly pregnant body," noting that her own pregnancy made "the stigma of writing mpreg fiction and the lack of real, embodied experience that many of these authors had of pregnancy" unavoidably apparent (2010). This gestures to a larger concern in these works—that mpreg is not depicting women's experiences in new ways but is rather overwriting them. In other words, why must a female character be cast as male in order to warrant merit?

[3.8] In reading slash and mpreg as women's experience, many readers also take issue when concurrent tropes, like rape and nonconsensual consent or dubious consent, that appear in many mpreg works are read back into women's experience. Noting that issues of consent are magnified in many of these works, Popova observes that experiences like rape become difficult to navigate when centered in a "male-dominated society" (2018, 3). But despite the ways in which gender is blurred in mpreg fics, aversion to these controversial tropes tends to arise in specific instances, such as where male Omegas have been read as "poor girls," as phrased by a reader responding to the BDSM-heavy "Cultivation" (SomeoneUseStiles 2014). Another comment left on this work even berates the fic's author, accusing them of having "a SICK fascination with writing about sexism," taking it for granted that the pregnant Stiles in this fic is to be read as a woman.

[3.9] While repulsing some audiences, the "dark Omegaverse" appeals to other readers (Spacey 2018). According to Ashton Spacey, "the great success of dark A/B/O fan fiction is owed to the trope's fulfillment of very dark and controversial female sexual fantasies" (2018, 123). Thus, while some reject these tags or kinks (even attempting to censor what is allowed in the seemingly limitless world of fan writing), others find that the same texts offer a unique space in which questionable, dubious, or deviant narratives can be explored through the male body. At the same time, however, some readers have rejected this affordance of the male body as a means of "turning a male character into a female," suggesting instead that queer bodies ought to stay queer (kalpurna 2013).

4. Reading mpreg through a queer lens

[4.1] A hesitant reader commenting on Never_Says_Die's "Last To Know" reaches out to the fic's author to inquire "if Stiles is going to be referred to as the 'mom' of the pack as opposed to another dad." Elaborating on their concern, they state that reading mpreg through the former lens—as a coded representation of a woman—"impl[ies] that something is wrong with same-sex couples, and families with same-sex parents/caretakers" ( Before committing to the story, the reader seeks assurance that it will provide the type of queer m/m representation that they are seeking.

[4.2] Surprisingly, however, such surface readings of queer characters are less common than those that interpret m/m slash through a lens of coded heteronormativity. Yet, these apparent surface readings encompass a wide range of narratives as well. As Berit Åström observes, the "more conventional themes of love, trust, and homemaking" at the core of many mpreg texts highlight "interrelational and emotional aspects" that lend themselves to new depictions of nurturing queer families (2010). In addition to producing new origin stories for exploring queer family-making (what the reader of "Last to Know" seems to be looking for above), mpreg can also be used to showcase erotic writing and specifically queer kinks.

[4.3] Such displays, as Popova notes, are common in the hypermasculine worlds of A/B/O works. Hypermasculinity is similarly a common feature in the history of werewolves, who feature so prominently in the Omegaverse, mpreg writing, and—of course—the majority of Teen Wolf fics. Indeed, werewolves from sixteenth-century folklore to twentieth-century film have frequently been associated with hypersexualized masculinity—as uncontrollable men display insatiable urges. An older male reader of the BDSM-heavy "Cultivation" highlights his enjoyment of this hypermasculine depiction of m/m sexuality, even mapping the dynamics between Derek and Stiles in this fic onto his relationship with his own partner. He praises the author for creating the type of "Pouting Dominant" depiction he hoped to see in an mpreg work (SomeoneUseStiles 2014).

[4.4] In addition to depictions of hypersexualized masculinity, werewolves also turn out to be surprisingly apt creatures for thinking through alternative modes of family-making. As seen in the series' canon of Teen Wolf, werewolves (pro)create other werewolves through biting them, so the question of who bit whom becomes a central concern in the creation of packs and pack identity (already alternative modes of family-making), with a lineage being drawn down by pseudo-biological means (what I term "bitelines"). These alternative methods of creating kin are further enacted through the possibility of queer family-making that the male-male biological offspring of mpreg allows. These latter modes of family-making, in turn, produce their own set of new societal standards—arranged marriages, for example, as found in two of the three fics examined in this article (kalpurna 2013; SomeoneUseStiles 2014).

[4.5] Although mpreg fan fiction works offer diverse renderings of gay men's experiences, an additional layer of complexity is introduced into these narratives when one considers the demographic most often associated with the production and consumption of this trope (and with fan fiction at large). Comments like the one left on "Cultivation" indicate that at least some mpreg readers identify as queer men looking for representation of other queer men, but the statistics above reinforce the idea that these stories are written and consumed by a female-identifying majority. However, women's writing about gay men doesn't enact quite the same palimpsestic dynamic that can be observed in men's coopting of women's experiences, as many slash readers continue to read the male-male couplings in stories as male-male couplings. In this case, it is not women's experiences being projected onto men's bodies; rather, it is a coming alongside and a celebration of those queer men's experiences (at best) or a fetishization in which queer identity is reduced to an object of sexual desire (at worst).

[4.6] This reading feeds directly into what Eve Ng has called "gaystreaming," in reference to media that features gay men but is "designed to draw in a larger general audience, particularly heterosexual women" (2013, 259). According to Ng, this strategy of making gay culture more readily consumable for a wider audience ultimately de-emphasizes queer identity within queer narratives (2013, 273). As a parallel to this trend of gaystreaming, mpreg fics (and slash fics more broadly) can be seen as a means of making gay culture, gay bodies, and gay narratives more palatable for a wider audience. Siebler refers to this phenomenon, where gay characters are created and consumed primarily by those outside of this identity category, as a form of minstrelsy (2016, 121).

[4.7] Expanding on this reading, Kyra Hunting frames mpreg as "the most extreme example of the writing of heteronormativity into the source text" (2012). For Hunting, mpreg subverts gender norms but continues to reinforce heteronormative (and homonormative) narratives, which remain centered on reproductive futurity (cf. Edelman (2004)). In her pivotal work on this topic, Lisa Duggan describes homonormativity in opposition to queerness, as "a politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them" (2004, 50) (note 6). Claims of mpreg's homonormativity are complicated, however, by more recent work on queer reproduction and queer family-making, which illustrate how altering the makeup of the nuclear family must similarly alter what is perceived as normative (Andrzejewski 2018; Nelson 2015; Patton-Imani 2020). In Maggie Nelson's words, aligning normativity with reproduction in juxtaposition to queerness reproduces a "tired binary," but an inherent goal of queer studies is to unsettle such binaries (2015, 75). Expanding on this idea, Owen Parry refers to mpreg as post-homonormative, even suggesting a new term—"homonormcore"—as a means of identifying narratives that move beyond the constraints of past norms (2015).

[4.8] Then again, this narrative of heterosexual women undoing the queerness of male-male relationships needs to be reexamined, as the majority of those who are writing and consuming fan fiction reject the label "straight" (centrumlumina 2013). In the same study that found 86 percent of fic writers identified as women, only 24 percent of the more than 2,200 total participants said they identified as heterosexual (Upham 2016). In further queering this demographic, 15.4 percent used non-cisgender identity labels (Upham 2016).

5. Reading mpreg through a trans lens

[5.1] Triangulating these border wars are those who experience mpreg fics as representations of transgender men's experiences. Although these readings occur less frequently than either of the previous interpretations, especially in academic discourse, fans have been quick to point out the merits of trans readings (thedeadflag 2016). There are currently very few mainstream media offerings that highlight FTM parents' actual pregnancies, but fan fiction affords new opportunities for increasing the visibility of trans narratives. Still, while authors like L. C. Davis and scholars like Jonathan Rose celebrate these surface readings of mpreg fics, others take issue with the ways in which these narratives are commonly shaped.

[5.2] These concerns are rooted in the most common (mis)representations of trans identities in the media—what Siebler identifies as the polar extremes of erasure and scrutiny (2016, 123). Mpreg fics often reference or gesture toward trans bodies (through explicit or implicit anatomical mentions), but they do so in ways that can be interpreted as fetishistic, demeaning, or just plain inaccurate. In a Tumblr blog post that has been referenced widely across fan forums since its original posting, thedeadflag comments that mpreg moves toward these more negative forms of (mis)representation when it ignores other aspects of trans experiences: "This is deeply fetishistic in a world where there's next to no representation of trans men that doesn't include the fetishization of their bodies and the sexual use of them in ways befitting the cis gaze and standard dehumanization" (2016). Oversexualization and dehumanization are immediately apparent in a BDSM-heavy work like "Cultivation." The author of this fic refers to Stiles as a man (or a boy) throughout the text, but they also draw attention to his breasts and vagina, often in purely sexual ways that objectify the character's body, rather than offering a more nuanced depiction.

[5.3] Other mpreg works seem to lend themselves to a richer and more reparative reading of pregnant men's experiences. In "The Well of Loneliness," for example, Stiles dismisses his friends' immense concern over the state of his pregnancy by saying, "People have been doing this since Creation"—a claim that normalizes male pregnancy (kalpurna 2013). This is seen again in Never_Says_Die's "Last to Know." When Stiles, a human, learns of his pregnancy only after his superhuman friends have all discovered it, it causes him some frustration, but it also resists framing trans men's pregnancies "as exotic or medically unique"—a frustration of many FTM parents, according to one recent study (Hoffkling, Obedin-Maliver, and Sevelius 2017, 14). His companions may be supernatural and even sensational, but Stiles and his pregnancy are not.

[5.4] And while instances like this create opportunities for trans identities and narratives to be read into many mpreg fics, such readings are infrequently explored. Despite thedeadflag's comments about mpreg as a form of trans representation, no explicit reference to such an interpretative framework appears in any of the 1,500+ comments collectively posted to "The Well of Living Waters," "Cultivation," or "Last to Know." Of course, this might have something to do with the border wars that have been addressed; as some readers establish their own readings, others are edged out.

[5.5] Alicia Andrzejewski speaks to this idea in recounting the resistance she received from other scholars while presenting her work on trans masculine pregnancies: "I once had a feminist scholar tell me my project on queer pregnancy was 'skewed'; in other words, I took pregnancy somewhere oblique, sideways, and distorted. [...] The fact that pregnancy is already skewed, as both an aesthetic and as an embodied experience, is beside the point—queer people and men can and do get pregnant" (2018). This personal example, she suggests, demonstrates "the troubled relationship between feminist theory and transgender studies" (Andrzejewski 2018). Despite the fact that these approaches frequently inform one another, they just as often produce contradictions, especially in regards to gender performance and gender essentialism.

[5.6] However, Susan Stryker has also stated that transgender studies and its "new interpretation of gender diversity" have a tendency of breaking away from queer studies as well (2006, 2). According to her, "queer studies sometimes perpetuates [...] a privileging of homosexual ways of differing from heterosocial norms, and an antipathy (or at least an unthinking blindness) toward other modes of queer difference" (7). In framing transgender studies through a sense of "embodied difference," Stryker emphasizes a critical engagement that works against common media scrutiny (3). While many mpreg stories fail to portray this "embodied difference," the trope nevertheless provides a unique, potential framework for looking to the intersection of "bodies, identities, and desires" that Stryker identifies as the core of transgender studies (8).

[5.7] Furthermore, fan fiction communities appear to increasingly function as safe spaces for trans and gender nonconforming individuals. As noted in the section above, 15.4 percent of fan fiction writers prefer non-cisgender identity labels (Upham 2016). Fandom-specific studies have indicated even higher percentages of fans who identify as gender nonnormative. In a survey of Harry Potter fandom, for instance, Jennifer Duggan found that over 36 percent of a random sample identified as belonging in the "genderless, nonbinary, and trans" category (2020). Recent estimates of gender minorities in the US, however, indicate only 0.6 percent of the total population identifies similarly (Herman, Flores, and O'Neill 2022). The disparity between these percentages suggests that fandoms operate as unique sites for cultivating trans community and inclusion—themes that many fans have reported wanting to see more of (Upham 2016). Mpreg might function as one means of bridging this gap.

6. An economy of abundance

[6.1] If representation equates to power, as Siebler suggests, how can each of these traditionally marginalized groups navigate mpreg without producing a cultural border war? According to Halberstam, a cognitive shift is required, one in which borders become more porous and generous. His solution is found in the refusal to view one interpretation of a story or character as exclusionary—a solution that seems particularly applicable to fandom. While fans might also develop a greater ability to hold conflicting readings in fruitful tension with one another, fan practices, more broadly, gesture to the fact that one narrative does not need to exclude all others. Fan fictions operate as a response to, a proliferation of, or an alternative to more restrictive, canonical storylines and codex forms of storytelling. As such, they are uniquely situated to move us from an economics of scarcity to an economics of abundance.

[6.2] In his own work on cultural border wars, C. Jacob Hale reminds readers that the categories we use to identify traditionally marginalized groups are a result of reverse discourse, are prone to shift, and slip and change over time (1998, 313). Accordingly, Hale suggests that we rethink the meaning of borderlands, noting that these spaces are zones of negotiation, not lines drawn in the sand (1998, 323). This metaphorical reworking can help us to reframe the border wars that occur in online spaces, specifically. The rise of Web 2.0 platforms like AO3 has produced a means of greater participation to a greater number of participants, and many of these participants have chosen to engage with one another in contentious ways (boyd 2014). As a result, border war conversations have multiplied alongside these platforms, but the ability for different groups to carve out new and unique niches has grown as well, to an essentially limitless degree. After all, the internet is one of the potential queer utopias that José Esteban Muñoz's work on the "then and there" seems to gesture toward (2009).

[6.3] A pivotal takeaway from fan communities and the practices of fan writing is the benefit of being able to tell one's own story: weaving a new narrative and putting forth the best world imaginable—and these worlds can be many. The worlds imagined by fans of Teen Wolf alone, as we have noted, number over 100,000. "Shouting down utopia is an easy move," Muñoz elsewhere states, but it is far more interesting (and rewarding) to explore these worlds (Caserio et al. 2006, 825).

[6.4] A conversation unfolding in the comments of kalpurna's "The Well of Living Waters" illustrates this well. In the more than 400 comment responses to the fic, only one is overtly negative; without going into detail about how they find the story to be lacking, one commenter asks, "Why does this story have so many kudos?" This comment itself was critiqued in the responses that followed, with one reader coming to the defense of the fic by providing "a reminder that this is a work of fiction that the author wrote on their own time; [...] they don't need to cater to anyone's needs/experiences but their own" (kalpurna 2013). This discussion highlights that—while expansive—the representational capacities of a fic need not appeal to everyone. Yet it also seems to suggest that if readers are unsatisfied with the works that are currently available, they might create their own.

[6.5] Lastly, let me draw attention to my emphasis on the expansion of space and not the limitations of representational claims. In Jordy Jones's analysis of the 2001 film Hedwig and the Angry Inch, he credits various interpretations of the cult classic (looking to the gay/trans binary that emerges) before adopting Halberstam's framework of the border wars to discuss conflicting readings. Addressing these conflicts, Jones suggests we shift from "a mindset of scarcity towards one of becoming-abundant" (2006, 465). I repeat his call that we might cease framing representation in terms of its being a limited resource and extend it to suggest that we might refrain from using economic terms at all in our depictions of people (or our depictions of representations of people). To hold one another in tension, precarious though possible, is something that capitalism simply is not capable of. To create stories that produce these tensions is to create opportunities for resisting. As the pregnant Stiles reassures Derek at the close of "The Well of Living Waters," "The three of us are going to be world-changing" (kalpurna 2013).

7. Notes

1. In differentiating between "queer" and "trans," I follow the distinction made by Susan Stryker, whose work is addressed in the fifth section of this article.

2. These figures from AO3 reflect postings as of May 24, 2022.

3. In the corpus of Teen Wolf mpreg fics that I analyzed, over 7,380 unique tags appeared. As the outliers in this range made data visualizations challenging, skewed, and difficult to interpret, I cleaned the data so that it included only the fifty most frequently used tags of these works (excluding "mpreg," which, of course, appeared in every fic).

4. In fan writing, "fluff" indicates a general category of "feel-good" stories (

5. While the border war analysis undertaken in this article expands Halberstam's original discussion, it ought to be noted that discussing mpreg through feminist, queer, and trans approaches is by no means an exhaustive study. Angie Fazekas, for example, undertakes a study of race in the Omegaverse, critiquing how the genre "foregrounds white feelings and experiences within a specifically racialized narrative" (2020, 95). Mapping this work onto the mpreg fics identified here would provide yet another dynamic (and conflicting) mode of interpreting the trope.

6. Although Duggan is often credited for coining the term, Susan Stryker notes that "homonormativity" was being used by grassroots activists in San Francisco from at least the early 1990s in order to address "the relationship of transgender to queer, and queer to gay and lesbian" (2008, 146).

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