How Teen Wolf's transmasculine fans use online fandom to build community and representation

Ari Page

Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, United States

[0.1] Abstract—When media are unable or unwilling to provide accurate trans representation, trans fans use online fan communities to create their own representation and invent entire worlds that transgressively diverge from the source. The transmasculine fans of Teen Wolf are exemplary of this phenomenon, revealing that the foundational work within the show offers a rich (though unsanctioned) basis for trans connection through lycanthropy, transformation, and queer masculinity. This article looks at the possibilities for projecting trans experiences onto fictionalized bodies in a way that is celebratory, euphoric, and reparative.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan transformation; Fan works; Online fan communities; Trans euphoria; Trans representation; Transmasculinity

Page, Ari. 2023. "How Teen Wolf's Transmasculine Fans Use Online Fandom to Build Community and Representation." In "Trans Fandom," edited by Jennifer Duggan and Angie Fazekas, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 39.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In this article, I expand on fan studies' understanding of the queer paratextual practice of slash fan fiction, or same-gender pairings typically written by women and depicting queer(ed) men in romantic and/or sexual relationships (McInroy and Craig 2018, 3). I expand this definition to include the creative works of transmasculine fans who rescript traditional notions of masculinity in beloved media. While trans fans have often gone underrepresented in fan studies (McClellan 2014), they have unique reading and writing practices worthy of fan studies' attention. Trans fans use fandom to create and explore trans identification and experience through transformed bodies in a similar, yet markedly different, way than femme-identified cisgender fans, the demographic most often cited as the majority of fandom's makeup (Jones 2014, 117), may use fandom to articulate their sexuality. However, whereas many fan stories use "transgender realisms" as a nonliteral exploration of (cis)gender and sexual dynamics (Busse and Lothian 2014, 14–15), trans fans may literally transform the fictional body to be trans. Trans fans use paratextual expansion as a means of bringing transness into the worlds of the media properties they gravitate toward through adaptation and alteration—not by encoded signifiers of transness but through productions of the trans body itself. Dan Vena (2017) refers to this practice as "transing" a work or a character, a practice that "seeks to expose the erasures that occur and to highlight the very gaps where gender slippages are made apparent." In other words, where the source fails to provide an accessible means of representation, trans fans fill in the gaps.

[1.2] While a creator may not even consider trans people in their original work, fan creation allows for infinite possibilities that, if proliferated, take on a canonicity of their own. The trans body can become just as much a parallel equal in the lifespan of a source as the originally coded (typically cisgender) body. This kind of transformation fulfills a gap in traditional media spaces (and even fan spaces) in which the trans body is typically represented in a singular, often negative way. Trans characters will often be portrayed as self-loathing, isolated, and yearning for assimilation—that is, when they are not depicted as caricatures or villains. Charlie Ledbetter (2020, ¶ 1.7) notes how this kind of negative representation is mirrored in fan works, and society is "so transphobic" that the level of imaginative labor needed to create accurate trans representation is quite high. Trans fans, however, reveal through their creative works that there are many ways to be trans, and living a trans life is not an isolating or negative experience. Trans fan works, then, can be vital in giving trans people an avenue to express their transness positively and without censorship. These works also have the potential to generate feelings of what I call trans euphoria, wherein a trans person can feel full contentment and joy through their transness, not despite it, as so many depictions of trans bodies assume. Transness, therefore, is a source of joy itself—not through assimilation, not through transformation, but simply the feeling of knowing one's identity and finding love, community, and happiness within transness.

[1.3] To explore these themes, I look to the fan archive itself—specifically, what transmasculine fans create and what the transformations within those works say about the relationship between transness, fandom, and paratextual transformation. For the sake of this article, I have limited my scope to the Teen Wolf fandom, which first manifested online with the creation of the show in the early 2010s and continues to be active today in 2023. Teen Wolf is an American fantasy/drama television show that premiered on MTV in 2011 and ran for six seasons, ending in 2017. It follows the lives of protagonist Scott McCall, his best friend Stiles Stilinski, the mysterious antagonist turned protagonist Derek Hale, and their friends and allies as they fight monsters and uncover hidden secrets in the town of Beacon Hills, the fictional Northern Californian town in which the show is set. The show is primarily centered around Scott, who is bitten by a werewolf in the first episode and undergoes a werewolf transformation, which leads to his discovery that the entire town is filled with magical creatures. While Teen Wolf itself offers little representation of trans identities, the fandom, particularly trans fans, has been transforming its characters into trans bodies and experiences for years. I also limit my scope to transmasculinity. This is partly because I identify as transmasculine myself and therefore have experience navigating fandom in a transmasculine body. I also find that Teen Wolf is a rich site for transmasculine identification specifically. While trans women, nonbinary folks, and genderqueer folks may also identify with characters in Teen Wolf, I limit my discussion for the sake of clarity.

[1.4] I have collected Teen Wolf fan texts from Archive of Our Own and Tumblr, sites where my own fannish identity most evolved, texts that I find represent particular moves by fans toward positive and euphoric trans representation. I have consulted each fan included in this article about permission to use their work and preferences around how their identities are portrayed. Permission was given by wolfile, crimsonweeps, Ladydrace, captchaluff, and queerlyalex/alexenglish. Works are linked to directly, as requested by the fan creators, but online pseudonyms are used in place of real names. The identities of fan creators have been taken into consideration, but I have chosen works by trans and nontrans creators alike that display care for the way trans bodies are depicted. Because of this consideration of care and accurate portrayal, these works can be generative to trans identification through both their production and reception. By looking at fan fiction, fan art, headcanons, and text posts, I uncover some of the methods trans fans use to articulate, celebrate, or find novel ways to embody their transness through creative means. Combined with a look at existing scholarship on trans fan works and fan studies, I identify epistemological gaps in current understandings of how transmasculine fans shape their identity through narrative practices and fannish identification.

2. Background

[2.1] The rise of online fandom has made transmasculine fans more visible in their fan communities than ever before. According to a study conducted by Lauren McInroy and Shelley Craig (2018, 6), a subsample of fan-identified sexual and/or gender minority youth (SGMY) were found to be "significantly more likely to be trans male (13.9 percent)" as compared to their nonfannish counterparts. Because fandom has grown so substantially (Mason 2020, 155), there has been increased space for fans of many varied identities to share their creative works with a larger audience. Online sites like Tumblr, TikTok, and Twitter are now spaces where trans people can freely converse with fellow trans fans about their beloved media and engage in fan transformations that allow for our bodies to be seen in every context and situation. One form of this kind of transformation is the "your fave is trans" trope, which has gained popularity on Tumblr in the past few years. A fan usually superimposes an image of a character over a trans or nonbinary pride flag or creates a text post that uses textual evidence to support a claim that a character is or appears to be transgender. Take, for instance, this excerpt of a Tumblr post by queerlyalex (, which breaks down point by point the evidence that Stiles Stilinski, a human character and one of the main protagonists in the teen drama Teen Wolf, is transmasculine. While the poster lists a number of reasons for their headcanon, or fan-generated interpretation of a source text, below is a small portion of their evidence that Stiles may be wearing specific clothing to hide a chest binder, which signifies, for the poster and for many trans fans, transmasculine presentation:

[2.2] Season 1 and 2 Stiles wore layers. Shirts, plaids, jackets. This is a common technique that trans people use to hide their chest before they get top surgery (if they get top surgery). Baggy clothes also hide any impression of a chest binder, or a compression tank top that slims the chest so breasts aren't visible. Many binders are good enough now that they're invisible, but in 2011? Additionally, Stiles' lack of confidence about his body would make him want to wear baggy clothes even with a binder.

[2.3] Season 3 and beyond Stiles started wearing t-shirts. Assuming Stiles is 17 in this season, or even at the late end of 16, it can be implied that Stiles got top surgery, or surgery that removed his breast tissue. Scott and Stiles "barely saw" each other over summer break. In this time, Stiles would have had surgery, was recovering and adjusting to his new (properly presenting) body.

[2.4] At the heart of this article are transformations like this. "Your fave is trans" not only creates headcanons and fan theories regarding media like the teen drama Teen Wolf above but also asserts authority over that character. It is not framed as simply fan theory; it is a rewrite of the source text such that the character's transness becomes canon itself. "Your fave is trans" implies that source canon and fan interpretation have merged, and the fan assumes a sense of ownership—this is where fanon, or widely accepted headcanons that take on their own canonicity, emerge. Deborah Kaplan (2006, 136) describes fanon as "the sum of the community's shared interpretive acts," meaning a widely accepted fan interpretation of a source text. When the community of fans generates these interpretations, transness becomes an ingrained part of a character. Very often, this transformation is solidified by a kind of self-identification. A trans fan sees a part of themselves in the character and thus uses that character as a method of understanding their own identity.

[2.5] "Your fave is trans" and similar transformations are not just about the identity of a fictional character. Trans fans may use fiction and the fictional bodies with which they identify to narrate truths about their own lives, bodies, experiences, and desires. Textual evidence is not a necessary component of fan-generated transness. A fan simply needs to identify with a character and see reflections of their own transness to create a trans headcanon. Take, for instance, a Tumblr text post by captchaluff ( that, like queerlyalex's post, provides evidence for Stiles's transmasculinity (figure 1):

The text of a Tumblr post detailing evidence for Stiles's transmasculinity.

Figure 1. A screenshot of a Tumblr post by captchaluff.

[2.6] Fans like captchaluff are revealing that characters established by an original author can exist in multiple iterations, overlapping and possibly contradicting states of being, without sanctions from the source. Because trans fans may use characters that they relate to as a conduit of self-narrative (Rose 2018), those characters not only take on a secondary lifespan beyond the source but quite literally become what the fans make them to be by rewriting the characters as extensions of themselves. While considered a bad reading strategy, this affective connection and subsequent transformation of a text is something that Tyler Bradway (2017) identifies as "foundational to the norms of reading" (xxvii–xxviii). Indeed, such reading can be reparative to the trans reader and offer a revolutionary space for trans acceptance and identity. Stiles, then, is trans—not necessarily because of textual evidence (though, as queerlyalex and captchaluff show, there is plenty)—but because fan works create versions of him with the authority to assume such transformations. The trans character, here, is an extension of the trans self through a trans-oriented reading of the original text. Fan works become a conduit for autobiography; fiction is utilized to tell a nonfiction story in a malleable setting that the author can control. José Muñoz (1999, 19) describes autobiography as "a rehearsal for fiction." Here, Muñoz is discussing the disidentifying performances of queer people of color that counter the majoritarian concept of identity and citizenship, but the same practices can apply to fan works as a self-narrative tool. In this case, fan works, when written by a person whose identity is often portrayed inaccurately or not at all in popular media, act in the opposite way; fiction is the means through which autobiography is created. It is a similar resistance to the one that Muñoz describes, as the marginalized fan projects parts of themselves onto a different body in order to imagine it otherwise. Muñoz's queer disidentification is "a form of building," which takes place "in the future and in the present" in order to create "a blueprint for a possible future while, at the same time, staging a new political formation in the present" (1999, 200). Trans fan works use identifying tools to rescript expectations of what trans people may do in fiction and media broadly— in this way, fan works created by trans people are an open call to creators, a resistance to the norm. Ledbetter (2020) argues similarly that these kinds of fan works that imagine otherwise are not "a departure from reality" but decenter "the hegemony of oppressive systems that announce themselves as real and [create] space to imagine alternatives." The act of writing these trans-oriented works is an act of political resistance.

[2.7] This kind of resistance is prevalent among trans fans in a number of fandoms, but for the purpose of this article, I focus specifically on the transmasculine fans of Teen Wolf. Stiles is most frequently the transed character, as seen in the posts by queerlyalex and captchaluff. My choice to use Teen Wolf comes primarily from my own fannish connections to the show, but I find the lycanthropic figure a rich source for trans connection. I particularly locate a strong foundation for transgender transformation through the show's inherent queer themes, the connection between the trans body and the werewolf body, the overlap between werewolf pack mentality and kinship in trans communities, and the show's potential for queering masculinity. That is to say, in addition to textual undercurrents that suggest Stiles' transness, the show itself offers a world where transness has the (canonically unrealized) potential to thrive. Escape and imaginative transformation are especially possible in already altered worlds (Duggan 2022).

3. Teen Wolf's trans and queer transformations

[3.1] Derek Hale and Stiles Stilinski are the most popular ship on Teen Wolf and are one of the most popular ships in fandom widely. Their popularity as a ship could be correlated with Teen Wolf's commercial success. The show garnered several awards, including the Best Youth-Oriented Series on Television from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films in 2012, the Best Summer Series from the Teen Choice Awards on four separate occasions, and a number of awards for individual actors (IMDb n.d.). While the show was, in terms of numbers and accolades, a success, its popularity within fandom was born from an uneven and often paradoxical relationship with dedicated queer fans. Jaquelin Elliott and Megan Fowler (2018, 146) describe the use of queerbaiting as a tactic to draw fans in, keep them watching, and promise a queer outcome that will never be delivered, which results in "an underhanded courting of queer consumers that manipulates an already vulnerable subset of fans by preying on their desire for LGBTQ representation." This manipulation serves commercial purposes—by hinting toward, but not delivering on, queer identities or pairings, networks can draw in queer fans without, as Bridget Blodgett and Anastasia Salter (2019, 154) write, "alienating homophobic viewers or engaging with public controversy." The insidious nature of Teen Wolf's queerbaiting was, and continues to be, a well-known phenomenon among fans of the show.

[3.2] The majority of this queerbaiting manifested in the relationship between Derek and Stiles, as the showrunners strategically pushed the two together and pulled them apart in order to keep fans interested while still dissuading fans from shipping the couple (Blodgett and Salter 2019, 159–60). In an interview with E!, showrunner Jeff Davis seemed to approve of fans' dedication to the Derek/Stiles ship, saying that "there's always a lot of fun to be had with characters who seemingly despise each other and then have to work together to survive. In a funny way, that's how a lot of romantic comedies begin." Davis and the Teen Wolf team even seemed to encourage fannish behavior online through social media and used the actors who portrayed Stiles and Derek, Dylan O'Brien and Tyler Hoechlin, posing together in an ostensibly romantic way to persuade fans to vote for the show in the Teen Choice Awards (159). Despite using fan expectations for queer representation to promote Teen Wolf, Davis and his team ultimately did not deliver genuine representation. In total, gay and bisexual characters only had a third of the airtime of their straight counterparts (Johnson 2016, 74), and Stiles and Derek remained solely in heterosexual relationships throughout the six-season run, even though Stiles repeatedly hints at his own potential bisexuality (1.3 "Pack Mentality"; 3.16 "Illuminated").

[3.3] While Teen Wolf's queer representation was lacking in substance and often performative, there was indeed a level of queer identification possible for gay and bisexual fans. Stiles and Derek were never explicitly written as queer, but there are several queer characters who made their way onto the show. Michael Johnson discusses the "idealized queer utopia" of Teen Wolf, wherein cisgender queer men (and a few women) are equal to their straight peers and may be free to express their sexuality within a universe that holds infinite possibilities for nonnormative bodies to live, commune, and be celebrated (2016, 67). To be gay, then, is just one nonnormative identity among a myriad of mythical, magical, and monstrous identities. This removal of normativity offers a rich site for queer fans to imagine themselves "otherwise" (Butler, quoted in Lothian 2017, 248–49), to project a future in which the queer body may exist without assimilation or subjugation under hegemonic structures of gender and sexuality. The issue, Johnson points out, is the caveat of this inclusion: queer sexuality is permitted only if the queer person is normative in every other way; men must be athletic and masculine, and women must be submissive and feminine. Queerness is "feasible and possible" in this fantasy setting, yet the showrunners still encase these possibilities in a normative contextualization, which often comes at the expense of nonnormative gender expression (2016, 77). If a character defies normative sexuality in one sense, they must overcompensate in all other dimensions of their identity. Additionally, expressions of their queerness are limited only to off-screen, vaguely described private moments, or not mentioned at all. Queer identification, limited only to brief mentions and allusions, is only truly possible for a small subset of queer viewers, with no possibilities for trans identification based within the source text itself. Fan transformation, however, opens up possibilities far beyond what a source text may offer.

[3.4] When queerness is so limited in the source, fan archives offer a space for unlimited queer transformation. For trans fans, the archive can be a revolutionary space for creating and sharing trans bodies that are so underrepresented on the screen. A character can be both queer and wholly nonnormative; assimilation is not the goal of these transformations, but rather genuine identification. For example, while Teen Wolf itself may shy away from gay characters expressing their queerness in open and earnest ways, fan fiction offers the possibility for gay characters to be desirable and open in their romantic and sexual expression. Trans characters, too, have the potential to express their affection and identity in ways considered too taboo for traditional media. Fan artist wolfile often depicts trans bodies in casual settings, their transness a highlight of the scene and not a cause for tension or anxiety. A focus on transness and intimacy can be seen in wolfile's art in this piece that shows Derek administering a testosterone shot to Stiles in a bathroom (figure 2). Wolfile's art not only expresses a desire for intimacy but also a desire to see that intimacy shared with members of one's community. Very often, the idea of being in transition, which suggests that one's transgender identity is a process with a single endpoint, necessitates discontent with the body as it currently (pretransitionally) exists and is paired with isolation that rises from that dysphoria (Tacit 2020, 3). This art rejects that notion, as seen in the smiles on both characters' faces, while still celebrating the act of transitioning. Rather than the body existing in a liminal space between pre- and post transition, the body is free to exist as it is, in any state, and joy, love, and touch can thus be shared regardless of the moment of transition in which one exists (Tacit 2020, 61). Jonathan Rose (2018, 9) describes trans fan fiction as "not only interpretations of a source text" but also "expressions of support of and care for trans fans." By inserting this quotidian moment of what is typically considered an isolating and anxiety-ridden act, the act of taking testosterone, into a scene of intimate affection, wolfile expresses a desire to see trans bodies represented not only accurately but with care. Trans fans are quite often the ones who must create these reverent and initimate depictions of our bodies.

Derek, left, is pictured in a black hoodie and kneeling on the floor. He is giving Stiles, right, pictured sitting on the toilet in a red hoodie, a testosterone shot. They are in a blue-tinted bathroom and looking fondly at each other.

Figure 2. Image by wolfile (2021).

4. Lycanthropy

[4.1] Elliott and Fowler (2018, 146) describe queer readings not as "willful or wishful misreadings" but as "readings drawing upon latent content of a text." Fan theorists agree that Teen Wolf offers possibilities for nonnormative gender performance and queer-aligned positionality. One interpretation of the lycanthrope is that the werewolf itself is, as described in Phallic Panic (2005), "a feminized male monster," rendered feminine by its allegiance to the moon (quoted in Elliott and Fowler 2018, 145). Alternatively, the werewolf may come to represent a queer hypermasculinity. Magic itself as a plot device has the possibility of rearranging masculinity and femininity by reinscribing gender and the way it can be transformed alongside the body itself (Evans and Pettet 2018, 68). Teen Wolf deliberately shifts its gaze to focus on its male characters in a move that subverts heteronormative filming tropes that typically rely on the male gaze to sexualize feminine bodies, thus queering the show's inherent perspective (70). The men that the viewer gazes upon, while so often hypermasculinized, are also rendered androgynous as their human masculinity meshes with their supernatural femininity. Elliott and Fowler assert that the ways the camera and the female characters in Teen Wolf objectify Derek grants him androgyny that "incorporates [his androgyny] into the male subject's gender identity and presentation," thus erasing the supposed dichotomy of the masculine and the feminine (2018, 154). While Derek is not typically the trans character in fan fiction, his implicit androgyny and his lycanthropic queerness do offer a locus of connection for other characters who are rendered trans in fan works.

[4.2] One of the most literal connections one can make between the trans body and Teen Wolf is the similarities between werewolf shifting and hormone replacement therapy. While the effects of testosterone are more gradual than the sudden shift of lycanthropic transformation, similar outcomes can be noted: increased facial hair, the possibility of greater physical strength and increased muscle mass, a change in emotional intensity, and masculinization of the body. Evans and Pettet (2018) note "the correlation between lunar cycles and menstrual cycles" (68), as well as the "period of intense change" shared by both the lycanthropic transformation and male puberty (69), but they do not quite make the connection to hormone replacement therapy and trans identity. The werewolf occupies this space of femininity and masculinity, often with the actions of the body transgressing the desires or position of the self. This dual self, the masculine and the feminine, is not at odds. In the world of Teen Wolf, metaphorically feminine connections to the moon and the lunar cycle act as effectuation of exaggerated masculinity. The moon is a controlling force that brings about change. The change exists within the self but also alters the physical body with the addition (usually) of facial hair, increased strength, and an affect of aggression. Such changes, especially in terms of the masculinizing exterior, mimic the physical effect of taking testosterone. Evans and Pettet (2018, 69) describe the werewolf transformation as "lycanthropic magic," and such extraordinary shifting does evoke the feelings of trans affirmation through hormone replacement therapy.

[4.3] In the following art by wolfile posted to Tumblr (figure 3), we see a transgender Stiles (pictured on the top left), his transness made evident through the top surgery scars adorning his chest. He is placed next to several werewolves from Teen Wolf, including Derek (pictured top right) and his pack of young wolves: Isaac, Erica, and Boyd (pictured on the bottom from left to right). All characters shown here have their scars exposed, making them all equivalent to one another. Stiles's marks represent his transness, while the others' marks represent their lycanthropy. Here, the trans body is not othered—it is normalized in its proximity to lycanthropes. While the history behind the scarring differs from character to character, the fact that Stiles's scars are from a different experience is not highlighted in this piece. He is another body among the others, accepted by the pack whose bodies contain similar scarring.

Five characters drawn from the waist-up. All are proudly displaying prominent scars. Styles has top surgery scars.

Figure 3. Stiles, Derek, and Derek's pack displaying their scars by wolfile.

[4.4] Trans fans, or fans who make an effort to depict genuine reflections of trans realities, create the possibilities that they want to see through paratextual creativity. Teen Wolf, while not a source itself of trans representation, offers this connection between the lycanthropic body and the trans body. For transmasculine fans, Teen Wolf offers something of a magical utopia in which the body can simply become, without financially and emotionally draining intervention. In his discussion of superheroes and transmasculine identity, Vena (2017, ¶ 3.3) makes a comparison between the superhuman transformation and transmasculine puberty; puberty can be a "time when the body betrays the authentic masculine self," and the sudden transformations possible in fiction can offer an escape from the realities of occupying a body that is not in alignment with one's identity. Teen Wolf offers a very similar utopia that Vena describes in the world of Superman. Before his transformation, for example, the protagonist Scott is depicted as weak, unathletic, and nerdy (1.1 "Wolf Moon"). After this transformation, Scott changes completely, magically, and overnight. It reflects a sentiment that many transmasculine individuals may feel, where at the snap of a finger, the body can morph into something new.

[4.5] While trans fans do play into the fantastical and imagine their bodies in magical situations, fan works just as often insert the quotidian into this setting. We desire for our realities to be reflected just as much as we desire a magical elsewhere. Some fan works even insert the uncomfortable moments of everyday trans life, like this moment of coming out in LadyDrace's Teen Wolf fan fiction "The Parts and the Whole" (2014). Here, Stiles is a closeted trans man, but Derek's heightened sense of smell clues him into Stiles's period:

[4.6] Because Stiles looked, sounded and smelled like a guy. Nothing in his appearance or anything Derek's senses could catch had ever revealed him to be anything but male. But having spent his entire childhood surrounded by healthy females ensured that there was no way Derek could mistake that one smell as anything else.

[4.7] This moment, where Derek can detect Stiles's period, reads as uncomfortable and exposing, but the author takes care to make this narrative reparative in nature. While in the real world comparable situations of forced coming out could result in ostracization or embarrassment, both Derek and Stiles are honest with one another, and Derek does not make a spectacle out of his discovery. Stiles is only uncomfortable when he fears the possibility of rejection, but the narrative quickly turns into a happy one when Stiles and Derek grow closer after Stiles comes out as trans. Derek notices a change:

[4.8] In the weeks that followed, Stiles was different around Derek. It was subtle, but there was no mistaking it. He laughed more freely, touched Derek more, and was apparently a lot more comfortable in his space. Derek wasn't sure he was entirely comfortable himself, not used to much touching these days, but he didn't want to push Stiles away and risk adding to the hurt he was already carrying, so Derek just let it happen. Eventually he even began to like it, and he realized that maybe he'd needed some closeness too. Not sex, because he could get that anytime. But intimacy, friendship and comfort. Derek had pretty much forgotten how valuable those were.

[4.9] Stiles's new feelings of intimacy and openness expose him to his own positive trans feelings, which in turn give Derek similarly euphoric feelings through their comfort and closeness. This is an experience that I describe as trans euphoria. Here, transness is the catalyst for connection as opposed to something that separates the trans character from their loved one, as so many of us experience in the real world. In this way, fan-written narratives of trans experiences rescript common narratives of coming out and decenter medicalized and binarized notions of transness like dysphoria and an inherent gap between the body and the mind. In fan fiction, trans peoples' desires for intimate and close connection can be a lived reality. It is this rescripting of uncomfortable yet extremely common moments that can act as such a vital area of identification.

5. Trans and queer masculinities

[5.1] Because of the massive amount of work created for the Derek/Stiles ship, there is a deep well of different universes and scenarios that explore these two characters' relationship, including various iterations of their bodies undergoing gendered transformations. Stiles's status as a human displaced among werewolves—a normative body in a nonnormative world—offers a rich site for magical transformation and gender play outside of the connections between transmasculinities and lycanthropy. What is particularly noteworthy, here, is how often trans identity is paired with queer sexuality in these fan works. In most media that depicts transness, a character must yearn for assimilation. Kay Siebler (2012, 78) notes that assimilation can "make moving about in [the] dominant culture less fraught," but this safety can come at the cost of compromising the less acceptable aspects of one's identity. Online, for instance, some trans communities refuse the label "queer" and prioritize passing—not only as one's correct gender but as a "'typical' (heterosexual) male or female" (80). Trans characters are regularly depicted in straight or straight-appearing relationships, often in which their trans identity is masked, disguised, or otherwise downplayed in their desire for normativity. While trans people exist on a wide spectrum of sexual orientations, gay, lesbian, and bisexual trans bodies are rarely depicted. Perhaps this is because, as Michael Warner (1999, 66) discusses, trans people's "gender deviance makes them unassimilable to the menu of sexual orientations." Without clean distinctions between male/female, straight/gay, creators are hesitant to let down barriers of heteronormativity when barriers of cisnormativity have already been removed. Fan works, however, hold no such barriers. Fandom itself is one of the few media arenas where queerness is the norm and heterosexual dynamics are secondary. Because of this, there is a wide array of fan works that depict queer masculinities in myriad iterations.

[5.2] Teen Wolf packages a very specific kind of masculinity. In the first shot of the first episode, we see Scott in his bedroom working out as sweat drips down his face (1.1 "Wolf Moon"). Even before his transformation—which effectively makes him stronger, more masculine, and more athletic—Scott adheres to normative masculinity. After his transformation, his masculinity is even further inscribed through his sexual prowess. While he appears similarly to how he did before his wolf bite, Scott becomes more appealing to women and secures a date with his crush and the new girl in town, Allison. As the series progresses, we see a cementing of the ideal masculine body (the werewolf) through countless fight scenes, love entanglements, and prolonged shots of muscular, shirtless bodies. However, as previously mentioned, the show places these hypermasculine bodies in a typically feminine position; the bodies are eroticized, rendering a spectacle for the viewer's gaze (Evans and Pettet 2018, 70). While still a normative and rather singular depiction of masculinity, Teen Wolf creates the possibility for queer transformation through this reorientation of the male gaze.

[5.3] Where these two kinds of masculinities meet—the queer masculinities of Teen Wolf and the queer masculinities of fan fiction—are depictions of transmasculine bodies that defy the stereotypes so commonly seen in media. Along with an expectation of straightness, transmasculine characters are depicted as weak, frail, and feminine. Some fan works depict Stiles's transness in different ways. In this fan art by crimsonweeps posted to Tumblr, Stiles's body is proudly displayed from the waist up and looks similar to the body of the actor (a cisgender man) on the original show (figure 4). His transness is made visible through his top surgery scars and his trans pride flag wristband, and he maintains his muscularity and masculine physique. Art like this highlights the many ways that a transmasculine body may appear—it can exist without medical intervention, with medical intervention, and any place in between while still being masculine, simply by virtue of being a body owned by a masculine-identified individual.

Art of an Instagram selfie. Styles is shown from the waist up, top surgery scars and a trans pride wristband on display. Text reads feeling myself #transisbeautiful. Top comment from derekshale reads that's my boy

Figure 4. Digital art of an Instagram post picturing Stiles by crimsonweeps.

[5.4] Stiles is not the only site for queer masculine transformation. This Tumblr post dated July 23, 2021, by wolfile describes an AU, or alternate universe, in which a transgender Stiles helps Derek realize his own queerness (figure 5):

The text of a Tumblr post describing an alternate universe.

Figure 5. Screenshot of Tumblr post by wolfile.

[5.5] Not only does this AU depict a kind of masculinity that is open to transformation and multiple iterations, but it also plays from the queer masculinities inherent to Teen Wolf by asserting that werewolf culture itself has no ties to the socially constructed norms of gender and sexuality that exist in our world. Wolfile imagines a new utopia, one in which queerness is even more expansive and euphoric than the utopia inherent to the show, as described by Michael Johnson (2016). What this reveals is the immense power of fan works to not only rescript characters from a source text but also rescript common understandings of what transness is and what it looks like. One can be trans, gay, feminine, masculine, and androgynous all at once or at different points in one's life without any identity or presentation contradicting another. While traditional media rarely depicts transness in this open and complete way, fans are revealing, through transformation, the real and varied lives of trans people.

6. Conclusion

[6.1] Trans fans occupy a unique position in media culture. Quinn Miller (2014, 218) notes that "television offers things quite helpful for many trans people: gender performance, dysphoria relief, artistic expression, and queer family." Television, and media broadly, can often be one of the most vital sources of our queer connection and trans becoming. At the same time, however, our affective connection to the television shows we love is riddled with uneasiness and paradoxes in which we are forced to create our own representation. Our communities are built around television shows and media that either neglect to include us entirely or, as is often the case, make us the butt of an offhand joke. Still, despite this, we coalesce around these media sources and share our passions. Hollis Griffin (2016, 114) writes that "to identify with television is to experience feelings of validation, as well as flushes of recognition, bursts of laughter, and surges of tears." Trans people have developed affective tools to generate our own validation through fannish transformation, but we are constantly aware of the lack of attention our bodies get on the screen. Nevertheless, the transforming power of fan communities offers a utopia of representation, reparation, and joy that trans fans can seek refuge in when the shows we engage with will not offer it to us.

[6.2] While Teen Wolf is just one example of many, these fan works and the myriad others like them posted in fannish forums reveal a staying power with this particular television show, even past its run time. Teen Wolf offers a site for transmasculine fans to imagine new possibilities for queer masculinity and intimate connection. The representation is not present in the source, but there are foundational aspects of the show that offer unique and fruitful possibilities for transformation, namely through trans connections to lycanthropy and Stiles's openness for identification. Beacon Hills may not be perfect, but the fantasy setting allows for a potential universe in which all bodies are loved and accepted. If a monster can find love and community, then certainly we can, too.

[6.3] The fan works discussed here and the many others posted on fannish forums offer their own immense well of earnest and euphoric representation, but it is time for us to see ourselves reflected back on the screen itself. Moments of connection that must be parsed through and transformed should no longer be the closest we get to seeing trans bodies live happy and fruitful lives, especially when that connection can only truly be found in supernatural beings, monsters, not tied to the social binds of cisnormative gender expectations. There is value in understanding a trans connection to the monster. Susan Stryker's 1994 response to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) beautifully explains the isolation and rage experienced by trans people and the ways in which they render us monstrous in the eyes of outsiders. In a similar vein, Charlie Ledbetter (2020) notes the radical possibilities of channeling the power of trans rage to redefine, dismantle, and reassemble gender. But, as Stryker notes, we are more than our pain (1994, 254). We are capable of experiencing euphoria through our transness, and we should see those expressions celebrated rather than cast aside or ignored. Rather than finding connections only to the monster (245), hidden under subtext and confined only to expressions of pain and loneliness, we should see us—proudly, unabashedly, and explicitly us—living openly and happily trans on television.

7. Acknowledgments

[7.1] Thank you to Foster, wolfile, and the many Teen Wolf fans who shared their experiences with me.

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