Fan perspectives of queer representation in DC's Legends of Tomorrow on Tumblr and AO3

Rachel Marks

University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida, United States

[0.1] Abstract—DC's Legends of Tomorrow (2016–2022) is a television show with an ensemble cast of existing characters from other DC TV shows, formed into a single, time-traveling team of antiheroes. The show is known for its inclusion of multiple queer characters, particularly Sara Lance, the show's long-running central character and captain of the Legends team and an openly bisexual woman. Fans use Tumblr and Archive of Our Own to discuss queer characters, canonical same-sex pairings, and noncanonical slash pairings. Queer representation in television matters to the show's fan community, and users are appreciative of and invested in canonically queer characters and pairings. Beyond the canon content, users are perhaps equally invested in noncanonical queer pairings and utilize manipulation of the source text in order to appreciate these pairings. Fans simultaneously enjoy watching and blogging about the show while also forming their own interpretations of queer characters and relationships. However, the central canon queer couple of the show is still by far the most popular with fans, and fans pay more attention to white characters and relationships, regardless of canonicity, than to the show's characters of color.

[0.2] Keywords—Canon; Fan practices; Race; Sexuality; Social Media

Marks, Rachel. 2023. "Fan Perspectives of Queer Representation in DC's Legends of Tomorrow on Tumblr and AO3." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 40.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Since the premiere of Arrow in October 2012, the CW television network has developed a line-up of multiple shows adapted from DC Comics. Four of these shows—Flash (2014–present), Supergirl (2015–2021), Arrow (2012–2020), and DC's Legends of Tomorrow (or Legends) (2016–2022)—tell stories set in the same universe, with overlapping plotlines that span space and time, as characters travel through time and navigate between multiple Earths. These shows share some writers and producers and had two four-part crossovers. While these shows are certainly popular, or at least valuable to the CW, as they continue to be renewed for additional seasons and take up a large chunk of the network's airtime, an intriguing point of interest for many viewers is the inclusion of queer characters in these shows. This began with the kiss between Arrow characters Sara Lance and Nyssa al Ghul in episode 2.13 "Heir to the Demon," which, when it aired on February 6, 2014, introduced Sara Lance as the first superhero from major comic book companies to appear on television as explicitly queer.

[1.2] Since then, an increasing number of queer characters have appeared in the Arrowverse shows, with various levels of exposure, screen time, and discussion of their sexualities. Producer Greg Berlanti, who works on all four shows and is himself a gay man, has expressed the importance that he places on including LGBT characters on the shows. Preceding the coming-out storyline of Agent Alex Danvers, sister of Supergirl Kara Danvers and arguably the second-most major character on that show, Berlanti stated, "I think it's important that people know we want to include a character who happens to be gay in the show…when we were planning this season, we said to the network and studio that it was a priority for us" (quoted in Bentley 2016). Legends, which premiered in 2016, is a show with an ensemble cast of existing characters from other DC television shows, formed into a single, time-traveling team of antiheroes. This show has become known for its inclusion of multiple queer characters, particularly Sara Lance, the show's current central character and captain of the Legends team, who is an openly bisexual woman.

[1.3] I first investigate fan activity on Tumblr, specifically focusing on fans' discussion of queer characters, canonical same-sex pairings, and noncanonical slash pairings. I also investigate paratextual information from fan fiction published on Archive of Our Own (AO3). I use Tumblr and AO3 in order to investigate the fan activities around superhero television and queer representation. By studying the fan interactions relating to these specific shows, I explore the following: In what ways do fans interpret queer characters and queer representation in an already queer source text like Legends? In a show with significant canonical queer representation, how are fans' reactions to canonically queer pairings different from their interpretations of noncanonically queer pairings? How is the popularity of particular ships affected by the characters' race and canon sexualities? In answering these questions, I have found that although queer representation has become increasingly common in mainstream media, fans refuse to let queerness be limited to the few canon representations. While fans appreciate these steps forward in diverse representation, they maintain their own queer fan practices and continue to critique shows' remaining shortcomings in representing queer characters. Fandom continues to campaign heavily for representations of sexuality while simultaneously overlooking diverse representations of race.

[1.4] While these types of interactions and conversations on Tumblr that discuss queer characters and same-sex pairings relate to many different television shows and popular media interests (Glee, Once Upon a Time, and Supernatural have all been investigated previously) (Stein 2015; Gonzalez 2016; Hautsch 2018), Legends is a particularly intriguing focus for my analysis. Early fan studies research largely focused on transformative works where queerness and slash ships are written into shows where queer representation wasn't explicitly present, because that was fans' only option for enjoying queer narratives. Now, there is significantly more queer representation, as well as some scholarship that focuses on slash fandom in shows that have queer characters (Ellison 2013; Hunting 2012; Day and Pennell 2020). In response, there's been a shift in shipping practices that both continue earlier fan traditions and find newer ways of interacting with the text. Fans now simultaneously ship noncanonical pairings while appreciating canonical ones. While Legends certainly isn't the only modern television show with canonical queer representation, because the show has multiple queer characters in its ensemble cast and showcases a canonical queer couple as two of its central characters, fans see the show as a queer text where any ships, canonical or noncanonical, are possible. Further, fans' concerns regarding queer representation and canon have shifted from simply wanting queer couples to be canon—as evidenced by fan campaigning for a simple acknowledgment of the popular ship SwanQueen from Once Upon a Time (Gonzalez 2016)—to considering how already queer texts can be made queerer. Fans of shows like Legends appreciate the opportunities for seeing queer relationships on screen made possible by increased canonical queer representations while continuing the fan traditions of noncanonical shipping and advocating for more and better representation.

[1.5] Queer representation in television matters to the Legends fan community. Fans have generally positive reactions to the show's queer characters and are appreciative of and invested in the multiple canonically queer characters and pairings featured in the show. Further, users care about seeing same-sex pairings in the canon of the show and are particularly invested in the relationship between the show's main character Sara Lance and her partner Ava Sharpe. Fans showcase the romantic and sexual relationships between queer characters in their posts. Beyond the canon content of the show, users are invested in noncanonical queer pairings and utilize manipulation of the source text in order to appreciate these pairings even in a show with substantial queer representation. Fans use these noncanonical pairings to form their own creative interpretations of the characters, highlight characters that have less screen time, and explore queer narratives outside of the show's constraints. However, the central canon queer couple of the show is still by far the most popular with fans, and fans pay more attention to white characters and ships, regardless of canonicity, than to the show's characters of color.

2. Background

[2.1] Important to understanding Legends as a queer text is seeing how we understand queer representation in media. Maria San Filippo (2013) notes that when queer representation occurs in mainstream culture, it explores nonnormative sexualities within the boundaries of social norms, negotiating the "unfamiliar terrain" of "queer female subcultures" through the more familiar route of a "primarily heterosexual subculture" (6). This reflects the downsides to representation and visibility, as queer characters are often misrepresented, stereotyped, or tokenized. Scholars have focused on media's tendency to use queer or bisexual characters, especially LGBT characters of color, as the umbrella token minorities in order to make shows more diverse while only having to write in one nonwhite, nonheterosexual character. Stereotyping of these characters then becomes twofold, as these characters have multiple cultural assumptions influencing their portrayal at once (Glenn and Spieldenner 2013; Meyer 2015). While the presence of these characters can work to decenter the "dominant discourse of identity," their position in the show also may work to perpetuate stereotypes and keep these characters on the outskirts. Queer women of color often serve as the Other to the white, middle-class values of the show and serve as a way to "recenter" whiteness and straightness (Meyer 2015, 901).

[2.2] While queer characters and queer readings of texts exist in almost every area of popular media, researchers have looked specifically at how marginalized characters are built into science fiction and superhero worlds (Schalk 2018; Amy-Chinn 2012; Barnewitz 2016; Sawyer 2014; Cox 2017). The genres of fiction lend themselves in many ways to the portrayal of marginalized identities, and the way race, gender, and sexuality are portrayed in works of speculative fiction can also work to change real-world perceptions. As Schalk claims, the "nonrealist conventions" in speculative fiction allow authors to reimagine what's possible for marginalized characters (2018, 11). Conversely, speculative fiction can also have limitations for representing marginalized people, because speculative texts can "create a world in which certain realistic oppressions and/or social identities have been erased" (Schalk 2018, 30). While recent reconsiderations of the comic book audience may suggest that the creators are attempting to diversify their audience through more inclusive narratives, Elliot Sawyer (2014) notes that popular culture "by pushing feminism into the past…employs different, but equally troubling, female stereotypes to reinforce the idea that change has been made" (8). Further, early science fiction, mostly written by white men, attempted to create a hopeful world in which racism was a problem of the past, but instead created worlds where racial difference was ignored and marginalized people were excluded (Schalk 2018). However, recent comic book adaptations are attempting to diversify their audiences by including more queer characters and characters of color, giving fans renewed opportunities for self-expression and reflection of their own identities (Burke 2021; Cox 2017). Speculative fiction, while it can sometimes produce representations that don't do queer people and people of color in the real world a service, can also have affordances for portraying queer and other marginalized characters through reimagined worlds.

[2.3] Fans often take notice of queer representation in media and appreciate seeing queer characters in television while also being critical of the associated issues. Representation is clearly of importance to television viewers on Twitter, who use hashtags to critique the representation of queer characters in media, particularly when queer characters of color are killed off as a plot device (Navar-Gill and Stanfill 2018). Other fans have been angered when the industry downplays the importance of representation or mocks queer interpretations of texts (Navar-Gill and Stanfill 2018). Lack of quality queer representation in media leads fans to form communities around queer characters and pairings, particularly through slash fiction and femslash (Russo 2017; Flegel and Roth 2010; Pande and Moitra 2017). However, it has been questioned whether slash fiction, as a representation of queer culture, can be problematic when heteronormative ideals are placed upon homosexual relationships. As Flegel and Roth (2010) explain, male/male slash fiction tends to "simply (replace) heterosexual narratives with homosexual versions, while simultaneously erasing both women and gayness in a seemingly queer text" (¶ 4.4). This can lead to homonormativity, which Duggan (2012) identifies as identity politics in which "'color-blind' anti–affirmative action racial politics, conservative-libertarian 'equality feminism,' and gay 'normality'" are prioritized (44). In fan fiction, the default identities of pairings are often white, middle class, and seeking monogamous domestic relationships. According to Coker and Viars (2017), this reflects a recurring pattern in fandom of "valorizing and fetishizing white male bodies at the expense of all others."

[2.4] Other authors have discussed subtextual and paratextual queer readings of texts as a form of resistance (Russo 2013; Russo 2017; Ng 2017). Even as canonically queer characters have become more frequently portrayed in mainstream television or in the main text, fans still value and discuss subtextual readings of homosexuality. These interpretations are "critical and activist responses to the mainstream media industry," particularly for queer female fans (Russo 2017, 156). Because these interpretations are almost always subtextual, however, this raises the issue of "queer baiting," in which "those officially associated with a media text court viewers interested in LGBT narratives…and encourage their interest in the media text without the text ever definitively confirming the nonheterosexuality of the relevant characters" (Ng 2017, ¶ 1.2). These squandered opportunities for the canonical representation of sexual minorities further render these identities as subordinate and highlight a growing dissatisfaction with alternative readings—although still a popular creative outlet for fans—as sufficient queer representation (Ng 2017). Therefore, texts like Legends with significant queer representation have become increasingly appealing to fans.

3. Methods

[3.1] Data was collected both from posts on Tumblr and fan fiction paratexts on Archive of Our Own. Tumblr was a unique space for investigation due to its distinct difference from other, more traditional, blogging sites. This is due to its temporal, antiarchival, and image-focused nature. Because "Tumblrs typically consist of a long chain of uncontextualized short entries," posts are created within particular communities and subcultures in which context is already established (Fink and Miller 2014, 612). Tumblr has become, in addition to being a popular fan space, a space for a wide variety of interest-based groups to form, particularly queer ones. According to Anselmo (2018), "Tumblr brings together strangers through shared ideologies, causes, aesthetics, and media preferences" and therefore "bloggers came to perceive the site as a 'queer ecosystem'" (90). The platform therefore lends itself to ongoing conversations about fannish interests, temporally attached to premieres of television episodes and public comments from actors and producers, and to discussions about queer representation on both the level of popular media and fandom and on the level of personal identification. While Tumblr continues to be a blogging site used by many queer fans, the ban on adult content in 2018 disenfranchised and censored much of its LGBTQ+ user base (McCracken et al. 2020). However, it remains to be seen how Tumblr's November 2022 changes to policy (, which allow for creative depictions of the "naked human form," will affect queer fan practices.

[3.2] For my Tumblr data collection, I followed "#legends of tomorrow" over the course of a month from mid-August to mid-September 2021, collecting all the posts I saw using hashtags that depict an LGBT identifying character; depict a same-sex pairing, whether canonical or noncanonical; or interpret a character as LGBT. It was not my goal to collect all relevant posts during that time but rather to collect as many as feasible and view enough of a sample to find patterns I could interpret in a meaningful way. Additionally, due to the diversity of fan activities on Tumblr, I restricted my search to texts, pictures, gif-sets, and fan art, as more in-depth fan contributions like fan fiction and fan videos were too complex and lengthy to be coded and analyzed in bulk. However, this didn't prove to be a restrictive limitation, as the types of posts that were most common were brief posts like gif-sets and text responses. Although all the posts collected from Tumblr were publicly published, users did not assume when they created these posts that they would be used by a researcher. Therefore, when specific examples of posts have been used, the words "poster" or "user" replace specific usernames, as to not give a direct link to individuals' blogs.

[3.3] The second site used for analysis was AO3. AO3 exemplifies what Abigail de Kosnik (2016) defines as a rogue digital archive, in which amateur archivists preserve internet texts and artifacts to form their own communities and keep a history of their creative work and interests. AO3 is an online space by and for fans and presents opportunities to better understand their creative work and how they interpret queer narratives in popular media texts like Legends. I specifically focus on the titles, tags, and descriptions of fan fiction works to better understand which characters and pairings the Legends fandom most cares about and how they interpret queer representation in the source text through their creative work.

[3.4] For my investigation of AO3, I collected the titles, tags, and descriptions of the hundred most recent (as of August 16, 2021) fan fiction works tagged with "DC's Legends of Tomorrow (TV)." This allowed me to see patterns in what characters and ships fans were focusing on and get a general idea of how fans were interpreting the source text without conducting a close reading of the fan fiction works. This also allowed me to analyze fans' metadata to discover which characters and ships appeared most frequently. Additionally, I collected metadata for the ships that were most often tagged in works, as well as how many times ships of interest (same-sex ships that included characters of color) were tagged. Similar to my Tumblr investigation, I redacted the usernames and profiles of fan fiction creators to protect their privacy.

[3.5] The framework for my analysis emerged from the discovery of themes and patterns in the data itself. After collecting the applicable posts from this time period until I reached a point of saturation, I parsed and coded my data by first identifying what I was seeing in pictures, art, gifs, text posts, and fan fiction summaries. This helped me to see patterns across these different types of posts and platforms, such as queer characters, queer pairings, noncanonically queer pairings, and noncanonically queer characters. After grouping these descriptive codes, I analyzed broader themes in the posts, and considered how these posts reflected the values of users. Since my goal was to understand what Tumblr and AO3 posters valued about the queer representation that users were seeing and discussing and what kinds of interpretations they were forming, these themes reflect the cultural and social values of my participants that they express through their experience and actions online.

4. Appreciation of Legends as a queer source text

[4.1] My Tumblr investigation found that fans show a general appreciation of canonically queer characters in Legends and have positive reactions to the way those characters are presented, particularly the show's leading lady Sara Lance. Sara is the most established queer character in Legends and has the most screen time and storylines around her sexuality. Users featured Sara in their posts frequently and generally had a positive reaction to Sara as a representation of a queer character. Fans are attracted to Legends because it is an already queer text. Fans are invested in queer representation in the source text, frequently using the tag "#lgbtincomics" in their posts, and care about the continued existence of LGBT characters in the show. One gif-set pointed directly to the show's metacommentary on representation in television. In the scene featured, one of the show's straight white male characters, Nate, gets cast in a TV sitcom. The post shows Nate asking, "Is this for the CW?"—the CW being the network on which Legends airs. It then shows Zari, a woman of color, stating "Finally…a win for a straight, white man." In the comments of the post, the user writes "#and that's the tea." The fan implies that Legends is calling out the CW's track record for casting mostly straight white men in lead roles. The show directly addresses the general lack of representation of marginalized people in television. This is important to fans as evidenced by this and other posts that emphasize the representation of queer people and people of color in the show. Another post that tagged several shows, including Legends, uses a common meme of a white woman angrily screaming at a cat that features straight people as the angry white woman. The woman asks, "Are you not gonna be satisfied until every character is queer?" and the cat, labeled "queer fans," answers, "Yes." In a show like Legends where several characters are already canonically queer, it then becomes a joking request that every character should be queer. Fans are not only appreciative of the queer representation that already exists in Legends but also are continuing to view queer media with a critical eye.

[4.2] Many posts appreciate the canonically queer characters and their friendships with one another. In AO3 posts, canonically queer characters are tagged and featured in fan fiction stories more often than most of the other characters. Sara Lance was the most popular character included in fan works, tagged in seventy-five of the 110 posts analyzed. Ava Sharpe (canonical lesbian) was tagged fifty-seven times and John Constantine (canonically bisexual) twenty-nine times. The only straight character tagged with similar frequency was Zari Tomaz, tagged forty-four times. This female character, while always shown dating men, was a popular character for fans to ship with other members of the Legends team, both men and women. While this shows the prevalence of queer characters and ships in fan works, it is worth noting that the three canonically queer characters most often tagged—Sara, Ava, and John—are all white, whereas the characters of color in the show, with the exception of Zari, were tagged less often.

[4.3] Sara, a long-standing queer character in DC television, is a frequent feature of fans' Tumblr posts. In one post, a user showcases a recurring theme of Sara's character, the fact that she has died and been resurrected multiple times in both Arrow and Legends. The post also highlights Sara's dedication to her partner Ava. Sara states, "I die about once a year. And my girlfriend is a clone. Now I'm gonna get off this planet. And I'm gonna propose to her with that ring." In another post, fans show appreciation for Sara's friendship with John Constantine. In the gif-set, John, who is normally not a very empathetic character, tries to encourage Sara to propose to Ava. Sara, knowing John, asks, "What's it to you?" and John responds, "What? I just love love." The user captions the post with "John's failed attempt at some bisexual solidarity." Here, the user emphasizes that John and Sara are both bisexual and appreciates the humor of John's attempt to bond with his other queer friend. Several posts appreciate Sara's personality. One post, referring to a scene where the team is playing a roleplaying murder mystery game, uses a hashtag under a gif-set of Sara, stating "that feeling when you killed your future wife two minutes into the game because she would have exposed you right away and you have to act innocent." This highlights the playfulness of Sara's character, and this is something fans appreciate seeing in a main queer character.

[4.4] Several posts showcase John Constantine as a representation of a bisexual character. One gif-set post in particular shows John discussing the intolerance he experienced growing up, stating "Where I'm from, being normal is being crushed by the boot of capitalism and blaming it on anyone with brown skin. It's being told that only degenerates can fancy men and women." John points to the racism he observed as a white man who grew up poor, watching poverty be blamed on the people of color around him. He also points to his experience growing up as bisexual and being labeled as a degenerate. Alongside this, the user includes the hashtag "lgbt in comics." By highlighting this scene as significant, the user emphasizes that Legends is willing to tackle these issues of prejudice within the show. Another user points to how the show embraces queer themes, stating in a text post "Tonight on Legends: A bisexual socialist magician kills a bunch of fascists in a bisexual neon lighting LSD trip all while dressed as catholic priest." Fans appreciate the show's willingness to feature gay characters and embrace the show's off-the-wall situations. However, some fans were understandably upset when John was killed off at the end of the season. One user posted a meme titled "Producers deciding what to do with a queer character." The picture then shows a series of files labeled with negative events like "trauma," "mentally ill," and "KILL THEM." This distrust may stem from the frequently criticized killing of the canon lesbian character, Lexa, from another popular CW show, The 100. Lexa's death highlighted the "longstanding trope of LGBT representation" in which lesbian sex and happiness and character death are linked (Ng 2017, ¶ 9.6). There was widespread backlash to the incident in which "an unprecedented level of viewer discussion produced many accounts situating Lexa's death in the longer history of 'Bury Your Gays'" and spurred the viral spreading of the hashtags "#LexaDeservedBetter" and "#LGBTFansDeserveBetter" (Ng 2017, ¶ 9.6; Navar-Gill and Stanfill 2018, 90). While this type of critical post is rare, it's worth acknowledging fans' concern with becoming invested in canonically queer characters, particularly due to the CW's (and other networks') track record for unexpectedly killing off queer characters.

[4.5] Fans showed appreciation for the abilities of the queer characters depicted in the show. One post showcases Ava, predicting that her fiancé would be the beast in the roleplaying game the Legends team was playing. The gif-set depicts Ava's guess being revealed to be correct, using the caption "Ava 'gets nothing wrong ever' Sharpe and i would trust her with my life." This post appreciates her know-it-all personality and her playful relationship with her partner. Many posts featuring Ava appreciate her romantic relationship with Sara, which emphasizes fans' appreciation of queer romantic and sexual relationships. Overall, these posts reflect fans' interest in queer characters that they view as having complex personalities and backstories in which characters are featured for their queer identities but also for their other character features, like humor, heroic skills, and dedication to their relationships with other characters. Further, it is important to fans that nonstraight characters continue to be prominently featured in the show and not killed or written off. Additionally, although fans appreciate that the show features multiple main queer characters, they continue to ask for more queer characters and representation in the show.

[4.6] However, despite fans' investment in queer representation, there is a tendency for fans to overlook issues of race and the representation of people of color in media. According to Rukmini Pande (2018), "which fans are considered the most valued remains enmeshed in a complex matrix of identity markers, most notably those of race, gender, and sexuality" (2). Fandom, often overly focused on the axes of gender and sexuality, "is complicated by a problematic whiteness that forgets and excludes the experiences of queer fans of color" (Navar-Gill and Stanfill 2018). This bias extends into how fans interpret popular media, valuing white queer characters over both straight and queer characters of color. Although fans continue to ask for more and better queer representation, they often overlook that queer representation in media is still most often of white characters. This is evidenced by the three most popular queer characters in the show, Sara, Ava, and John, all of whom are white, being the most prominent both in the show and in fans' posts. Sara, as the fan-favorite character, is considered more central to the plot than the women of color in the show, despite its ensemble cast. Fans' tendency toward whiteness is also reflected in their shipping practices.

5. Interpretations of canonically queer pairings

[5.1] Tumblr posts also reflected fans' investment in on-screen representations of same-sex relationships, and the most frequent posts collected showcase romantic relationships between queer characters. Most posts of this nature appreciate Sara Lance's long-time romantic relationship with Ava Sharpe, coined by fans (and once by the show itself) as "Avalance." Posters use certain scenes repeatedly in their picture sets and gif-sets in an effort to emphasize special moments between these characters. While this kind of repetition also occurs in posts addressing noncanonically queer pairings, where certain scenes were interpreted to be significant, scenes where the romance or sexual moments were direct were particularly exciting to fans. Fans develop an interpretive lens for discussing particular pairings by repeated use of the same scenes, which become significant in the context of the fandom because everyone in that community recognizes their context, regardless of how much of the scene is shown in the screenshot, gif-set, or text post. This is similar to how fans make meaning through the use of scenes that are significant to the fandom in fan vids, as Turk and Johnson (2011) explain in their ecological view of fan vidding: "Repetition is thus one of the key ecological processes by which a group of fans comes to some consensus about which moments and visuals are critical to their reading of the show. This consensus is likely to influence a vidder's choices about how best to arrange her narrative or present her argument to that interpretive community" (¶ 3.13). Fans on Tumblr perform a similar practice when posting gif-sets that showcase the same scenes repeatedly, using the same frames but with different styles, colors, and text to add meaning. This emphasizes that these scenes are particularly exciting or special to fans.

[5.2] One example of this type of repetition is scenes featuring Sara proposing to Ava. Multiple gif-sets featured the scene in which she proposed, particularly her kiss with Ava that featured fireworks going off in the background. Fans also posted videos of the scene and featured other scenes in which the ring and Sara's proposal were discussed. There was also a recurring theme in which fans referred to Ava as Sara's future wife, or vice versa. This trend appeared once again later in data collection when the pair got married. Many posts featured scenes from their wedding, including their vows, their kiss, and them calling each other "wifey." These posts emphasize joyful interactions between the couple. Fans seem to get pleasure and enjoyment out of seeing these moments and therefore made multiple posts emphasizing those scenes. This didn't necessarily have to do with representation or political concerns but rather a passion for the pairing. Fans enjoy getting to see two women get married and be in a committed relationship with one another. This is emphasized by one text post in which the user looks forward to Sara and Ava's future together, musing, "Okay but now that Avalance is getting married and Ava's already talking about loving their family when are we getting their future daughter coming from the future to mess up the timeline like her moms." Fans are invested in the continued monogamous commitment of the couple to one another, emphasizing homonormative assumptions of marriage and family. While this push for queer characters to get married and have children can reinforce homonormativity, it also reflects fans' excitement about having long-standing queer couples represented in media.

[5.3] Mentions of Sara and Ava, or Avalance, were also predominant in the tags and descriptions of AO3 fan fiction. Forty-four of the 110 collected posts tagged with "DC's Legends of Tomorrow" also featured the tag "Sara Lance/Ava Sharpe," and many of the works of fan fiction center on that couple. Sara and Ava were also the most popular ship on AO3 overall at the time of data collection, with 2,453 works. While Avalance was emphasized most and appeared to be the most important ship to the fandom, there were other canon couples featured. Many posts pair Sara with her previous one-night stand, Alex Danvers from Supergirl, as well as her ex-boyfriend Oliver Queen. On both Tumblr and AO3, fans share posts about John/Zari, a canon ship comprising a queer white man and a woman of color. John/Zari was a popular ship on Tumblr, particularly around the time of data collection. The ship, coined "Hellstar" by fans, was admired for their witty banter and flirtation, as well as Zari's support of John during a difficult time. Although my data collection and analysis is mainly focused on same-gender ships, Zari/John is an interesting example due to John's bisexuality and his popularity in the fandom as a queer character. There were 173 works tagged with the John/Zari pairing on AO3—not one of the most popular ships overall but more popular than other noncanonical ships observed in this analysis. Despite these examples, the prevalence of Avalance and the ship's importance to the fandom is clear, as it's valued over other canon ships like Zari/John or over noncanon ships like Charlie/Zari where characters of color are featured. In a show with queer representation, fans value the most prevalent canon queer couple, Avalance, over others. While this may not be the only ship fans pay attention to, the shows' core canon couple is the default. However, noncanonical pairings were still common, with other characters from Legends also featured in the tags, many of whom were either not explicitly queer in the show but were paired in same-sex relationships or who were queer and were being paired with characters they hadn't been with in the past.

6. Shipping of noncanonical pairings and interpretations of characters as queer

[6.1] Even in a text with canonical queer representation like Legends, fans still choose to push for additional representation and transform the text to make it queerer. While showing appreciation for Legends prominently featuring several canonically queer characters and a same-sex couple, fans also choose to ship outside of the source text's limits, using fan posts on social media and in fan fiction to interpret characters as queer and to ship noncanonical pairings. Because the show already has a canon queer couple, users could have stayed within the strictures of canon ships while enjoying queer narratives. As Hannah Ellison (2013) explains, fans of Glee (another source text with significant queer representation) created works that showcased canon couples, deferred to the canon text, and reinforced canon (109). However, despite Avalance's apparent popularity over other ships, fans of Legends were still invested in noncanonical pairings, utilizing manipulation of the source texts, alternate universes, emphasis on particular scenes, and memes/humor in order to appreciate these pairings. The earlier cited distrust in the network to consistently represent queer pairings may be one reason for this. Another reason may be that "fans' creative communities hold value and pleasure outside the mass media's limited repertoire" and that fans want to utilize "the scope of texts, interpretations, and relationships that the web can support" to explore outside of the limits of canon (Russo 2013). Fans will likely, even with an increase in representation of canon same-sex couples being shown on screen, still have a creative and personal desire to continue interpreting the source text how they see fit, continuing to see paratexts and subtextual elements as opportunities to make the shows they are watching, discussing, and critiquing more their own and, further, more queer.

[6.2] For instance, on Tumblr, fans were particularly interested in the fan pairing of Esperanza (nicknamed Spooner) and Astra, two female characters introduced relatively recently into the show's often revolving-door cast. While neither character had discussed their sexuality in the show or had a romantic interest thus far (note 1), fans showed a vested interest in the two characters becoming a couple. In one example, the poster shows a gif-set of Spooner saying that the only person she currently trusts from the team is Astra, and Astra responding "Likewise." The poster also includes a bonus Instagram post from Lisseth Chavez, who plays Spooner, that shows Spooner and Astra lying dead together and says "Gals who get slayed together." The caption of the post then reads "They are sooooo GAYYYYY!!!! Esperastra is REAL!!!!" The poster pulls from the subtext in the show, the paratextual commentary by the actress, and their own interpretation in order to portray a burgeoning romantic relationship between the two characters. This theme recurs throughout posts that mention Esperastra, with users taking subtle moments between the two of them and interpreting them as flirtation. Even while Legends depicts a queer female couple on the show, fans are retaining their queer critical practices by refusing to be limited by canon.

[6.3] Evidence collected from AO3 shows users shipping several other characters from Legends and other DC television shows in same-gender romantic or sexual relationships. One example is the Legends characters Charlie and Zari, who many fans shipped together when both characters were still on the show and read flirtatious moments between the two of them. On AO3, several posts include mentions of this ship, including one fan fiction work in which Charlie owns a tattoo shop and Zari comes by to bring her flowers. Another fic depicts Legends character Mick Rory and his previous partner in crime, Leonard Snart, attempting to start a BDSM relationship with one another. This shows the range of how fiction writers depict relationships between characters, portraying both more platonic meet-cutes in creative alternative universes as well as more explicitly sexual relationships between characters that would not have been shown in the source text. One fic series reflects the overall emphasis that users place on the queer relationships and characters in Legends and other DC TV shows. This series is about Central City College's LGBT+ club, which includes tags for relationships across multiple shows, both queer and straight, and includes ships with the same character with multiple different people. In the fic, characters have usernames like "oliverqueer" (instead of "Oliver Queen") and "bilance" (combining "bisexual" and Sara's last name Lance) as a way to show the club members communicating online with each other over summer break. This reflects users' overall emphasis on queer themes in fan fiction works like this one and that fans combine both canonically queer characters and relationships in their creative works along with interpretations of canonically straight characters as queer. Fans of DC TV take advantage of the shows' ensemble casts and the wide range of characters depicted in the shows in order to create fan fiction with a variety of pairings. These shows, particularly Legends, feature fairly diverse casts with both women and men leading the cast and with several characters of color being featured members of the team. This allows fans the creative freedom to pair characters together in many different combinations and interpret their sexualities as they see fit for that particular story.

[6.4] While Sara and Ava were certainly the most tagged pairing, noncanonical pairings appeared fairly frequently, such as Charlie and Zari, tagged nine times, and Mick and Leonard, tagged five times. Other pairings only appeared a couple of times, like Gary and John, tagged twice, and Spooner and Astra, tagged twice. This might indicate a larger pattern, however, of these being recurring pairings in the fandom that would appear more were a larger sample to be taken. However, this also reveals a pattern in which white women and white men tend to be the most popular fan pairings. Sara and Ava are both conventionally attractive, feminine white women and appear significantly more than any other characters or pairings on both Tumblr and AO3. This may also be reflective of the amount of screen time these characters get, and the fact that the series in its latest seasons has revolved around Sara. However, while Charlie and Zari are both women of color, they appear significantly less often on both platforms and are only one of several noncanonical pairings featured, including Mick and Leonard and Gary and John, all of whom are white men. Spooner and Astra, however, seem to be a pairing of increasing popularity on both platforms, and both of these characters are women of color. So while fans seem to be interested in noncanonical pairings and those featuring a diverse collection of characters in their posts, fans tend to gravitate toward canonical pairings and pairings featuring white characters.

[6.5] Metadata collected from AO3 further demonstrates how ships are valued differently on the basis of their canonicity and the identities of the characters. The central canon ship of Avalance is focused on more than any other, being by far the most popular on AO3 and noticeably most popular on Tumblr. Additionally, ships with white characters, regardless of whether they're canon, are focused on much more in general. According to the total relationship tags on AO3, Sara and Ava are the most popular ship, followed by Sara and Leonard (noncanon straight ship of two white characters) and Leonard and Mick (noncanon m/m ship of two white characters). Notably, none of the most popular ships on AO3 include characters of color. Ships with two women of color were significantly less popular than others, with the ships Charlie/Zari having just eighty works, Spooner/Astra eighty-five, and Amaya/Zari 197. This is in stark contrast to Avalance with 2,453 works. Overall, fans do pay more attention to ships with white characters. While this could be explained by several factors, including the fact that Avalance is canon and Sara is the longest-running main character of the show, other noncanon ships with white characters—Sara/Leonard with 1,757 works and Leonard/Mick with 1,517—were almost as popular. The show's revolving-door cast inevitably impacts these numbers, but considering Leonard was only in one full season of the show, length of tenure on the series is not a primary factor. Further, when compared to canon female pairings from other DC TV shows, such as Grace Choi/Anissa Grace from Black Lightning or Alex Danvers/Kelly Olsen from Supergirl, Avalance is by far more popular. Both pairings feature characters of color and have significantly fewer tagged works than Avalance, with Grace Choi/Anissa Grace only having 166 works on AO3 and Alex Danvers/Kelly Olsen having 1,470. Therefore, while Legends fandom is a very queer one, invested in both canonical and noncanonical representations of same-sex relationships, fans tend to gravitate toward white characters in their shipping practices and don't prioritize the representation of people of color.

7. Conclusion

[7.1] In sum, Legends fans show their appreciation for canon queer representation in television by frequently featuring canonically queer characters in their posts, highlighting the positive qualities of those characters and their relationships. Fans appreciate seeing multiple LGBT characters represented on television and get enjoyment out of seeing same-sex couples being couples on screen. However, this is not all they focus on when blogging or writing fic about their favorite characters or ships. Fans want to enjoy viewing canonically queer couples and queer characters on television, but they also want to enjoy alternative interpretations in which noncanonical ships are read for their subtextual elements. Fans simultaneously enjoy watching and creating content about a show that has canonical queer representation, while continuing the queer fan tradition of forming their own interpretations of queer characters and relationships.

[7.2] This demonstrates that fans refuse to let queerness be contained to a few canon representations, even as queer representation has become increasingly common in mainstream media. While most fans seem satisfied with the LGBT representation featured in Legends, they still argue for the continued existence of queer characters on the show and show interest in having additional representation of queer characters and queer relationships. However, even as fans campaign heavily for diverse representations of sexuality and fight for more queer representation, fans' emphasis on whiteness and overlooking of race is still evident. Fandom therefore needs to expand its range of what counts as diverse representation. Further investigation could be made into other shows with canon queer representation, particularly others in the DC TV universe, such as Supergirl and Black Lightning, and how fans of those shows handle issues of sexuality and race in their creative fan work.

8. Note

1. After the data collection for this paper was completed, the character Esperanza came out as asexual and Astra became a love interest for Behrad, a male character.

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