Sunday, August 11th, 2013 08:24 pm
I've seen a lot of people talk about slash fandom as a queer space, but I'm not sure I've seen anyone talk about femslash fandom as one.

When I started out in online fanworks based fandom I identified as straight and had extreme difficulty finding femslash for anything I was interested in. Figuring out where the femslashers are at and figuring out my sexuality have to some extent gone hand in hand, and hanging out with other femslashers has been a hugely positive experience.

Now for me joining "femslash fandom" wasn't like joining, say, Homestuck fandom, where I signed up for the right forum(*) and bam, there was a group of people all talking about Homestuck. If there's a cohesive group of people constantly talking about and creating femslash for fandoms I'm into I haven't found it, though Homestuck fandom comes close. Those who are into femslash more consistently (it's only about 25% of my output) or are into fesmlash dominated fandoms like Xena may have different experiences.

What I have found is loose collections of friends with femslashy tastes, and femslash themed communities like [community profile] girlgay. "Joining" the fandom (such as it is) has meant slowly getting to know and connect with these people via posts, discussions, comments and the creation of my own femslash.

And pretty much every one of these people is queer. Not all are lesbians, despite fannish cliche: not only are there bi/pan women like me, there's also lots of asexual and aromantic women, non binary gendered people of various sexualities and a few queer men. There's also straight men and women, but they're definitely the minority, at least in the circles I usually move in (I have occasionally stumbled into spaces where femslashers are mostly straight men, and I stumbled out again as quickly as I could)

Femslash fandom is so queer that queerness is taken for granted. I found this a bit confronting: One of the main reasons I took so long to identify as bi is that I didn't want to do so until I was sure the label fit, but I couldn't be sure how it fit until I tried it. But now here were Actual Queer Women accepting me as one of their own by default! For the first time, rather than being assumed straight and having to imagine what it would be like to tell everyone I was queer, I was being assumed queer and had to go out of my way to tell people I was straight. Which I did, and people were fine with it, but that moment of "being" queer felt tantalisingly comfortable.

The advantage femslash fandom has over all the other queer majority spaces I could have gone but didn't (like my uni's LGBT room) is that I had an ironclad answer to the question "but if you're straight, why are you here?". A combination of social anxiety and not fitting my subconscious ideas of a Proper Queer Woman means I still get a little paranoid in explicitely queer spaces that people will point and hiss "SHUN THE HETEROSEXUAL". In femslash fandom, as long as you like femslash, you're welcome.

And then of course there's the femslash itself! Stories about women being with women written (mostly) by women for women, something I have craved for as long as I can remember. Like slash it's queer stories that usually aren't bogged down with Serious Business. And through other femslashers I've been introduced to new femslashy or explicitely queer canons, and am now working with other queer women to create our own f/f visual novel. All of this has helped chip away all my internalised heteronormative "But how does a girl with another girl even work?" and has helped me deal with all the erasure and attacks I experience because of my sexuality in the world at large (including in fandom, which even when it's trying to encourage social justice has an unfortunate tendency to equate the sexualisation of women with the male gaze)

None of this is to say femslash fandom is perfect. I imagine it's unpleasant for trans men or non-binary gendered people to be assumed female. We can be smugly superior towards those with less "progressive" tastes (eg anyone who prefers slash (sexist!) or het (homophobic!) or gen (prudish!)) which is pretty unpleasant for all the fans (queer or otherwise) who happen not to be into fictional f/f. I sometimes feel guilty for making "too much" het myself, which is silly. There's gatekeeping within femslash too.

There's also the uncomfortable relationship with f/f aimed at men. I encounter a lot of male femslashers on deviantArt and while they've all been perfectly nice and some of their art is great it still feels a little weird. There's also all the femslashy canons aimed at and/or created by men, which can cause vicious disputes between fans and detractors about whether the work is creepily fetishistic.

And then there's the typical misunderstandings between Western media femslashers, anime/manga femslashers and video game femslashers etc etc.

But for me, creating femslash and hanging out with other femslashers has overall been a really positive experience, and I felt like talking about it. So, now I have :)

If anyone has different experiences I'd be interested to hear about it! Though preferably not just pondering the unpopularity of femslash (either with yourself or with others), I'm kind of bored of that subject and it tends to take over femslash discussion.

(nb I've used "queer" to mainly mean "not straight" since that's the way it's usually used in these discussions, but I don't mean to erase the experiences of straight-but-still-queer trans people. Also I just sat and typed this out in one sitting so have almost certainly forgotten obvious stuff)

(*)shakes cane at newer Homestuck fans who have no idea what I'm talking about ;)
Sunday, August 11th, 2013 06:09 pm (UTC)
My entry to fandom was in the mid nineties, through Usenet Star Trek fandom, where 'slash' meant "presumptively-heterosexual characters having same-sex relationships/sex." It meant men or women.

The term 'femslash' came about later. And there was this period where I kept seeing people spell it 'femmeslash'. And even as 'femslash' I don't like the term, but as 'femmeslash' it's actually kind of triggering. It reminds me of the sort of woman/girl I'm 'supposed' to be and can't be and don't want to be but hate that I've 'failed' at being.

I remember some ten years ago having this argument with someone (Kanna Ophelia, maybe?) about terminology, and she was arguing that calling f/f slash was like saying "mankind means women too," whereas I was arguing that needing a special term for slash with women was like using 'pilotess' instead of 'pilot' when 'pilot' was gender neutral to begin with - making women into the distaff gender. We never found common ground.

I am not a femme. I am not a soubrette. I am not flirty and cute. Those things feel like a terrifying cage to me. (But of course I will take to the streets in support of women and girls - and men and boys - who do want to embody that gender identity.)

So while I still like reading fic about women being awesome together, I need to tread kind of carefully to avoid that. To avoid fic eroticising the concept of 'female' in a way that directly defines me out of that category. Because while I am kind-of sort-of genderqueer, not just plain cisfemale, that is my decision to make, not theirs.
Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 07:40 am (UTC)
So while I still like reading fic about women being awesome together, I need to tread kind of carefully to avoid that. To avoid fic eroticising the concept of 'female' in a way that directly defines me out of that category. Because while I am kind-of sort-of genderqueer, not just plain cisfemale, that is my decision to make, not theirs.

Ohhhh yes, that's my experience too, and I'm rather glad I'm not the only one. I love f/f slash but actually read much more m/m slash, because that avoids that all-too-frequent awful awful feeling of being somehow "not enough of a woman".
Wednesday, August 14th, 2013 06:19 am (UTC)
My mother tongue has no gendered pronouns, and I've noticed I still get a little start when someone refers to me as "she", even though I'm a cis woman. It feels weird to be reminded of the category I'm put in; not a person, but a woman-person. That's just me, I know for some people this is pleasant, a reaffirmation of a gender they love having.

I love women and femaleness and the many incarnations it can take, and I don't really need the characters to be like me (the most important thing is that there is some emotion in them that I recognize), but I don't like gender being the point of a character. I recognize there are different dynamics between different gender combinations, like between different combinations of social or economic status, but I'm there for the dynamic, and it had better be something more interesting (in f/f, f/m or m/m) than "two hot people find each other hot because of their gender". Luckily I haven't come across a lot of that, or shitty tropes about female characters, in f/f fanfic.

One of my favourite things with lesbians is Monica Nolan's Lesbian Career Girls series of novels. Plenty of very feminine women in a 1960s constrained sexist setting, but the sexism is brushed off and the focus is on all kinds of different women who don't really think about dudes much, ever, and it's the most satisfying thing. The characterization might not be deep, there might not be any woman like me there, there might be some queasy 1960s gender stuff, but it's so dude-free it's like coming home after a storm.
kmo: (claudia)
[personal profile] kmo
Wednesday, August 14th, 2013 05:57 pm (UTC)
One of my favourite things with lesbians is Monica Nolan's Lesbian Career Girls series of novels

i JUST started reading Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary the other day and i absolutely looove it. i had no idea there was a whole series- now i definitely have to check out the rest! have you read any of Mabel Maney's Nancy Clue and Jane Bond books? Very very similar in spirit to Monica Nolan. and yes, there is something about them that is just SO refreshing. it's almost like stepping into a Mad Men era AU where everyone is pretty much assumed to be queer. i'd love to read more f/f written along those lines. i see it a lot in m/m slash.
Wednesday, August 14th, 2013 06:22 pm (UTC)
There are only three books in the series and the latest one just came out a few weeks ago, but they are delightful, and her co-authored short story collection, The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories, is much in the same vein, but spanning more decades of light girls' fiction tropes.

I should have mentioned that a lot of the attraction is everybody being queer! Everybody's female and everybody's queer. You don't notice how often you're picking up scraps until someone hands you a feast. <3

I will check out Mabel Maney, thanks for the tip!
Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 08:58 am (UTC)
Interesting. Having come at slash via DC Comics, it became utterly necessary to identify my writings as femslash or f/f, because the norm for 'slash' there is Batman/Superman male oriented.

But my days on Usenet were spent on misc.rec and a couple of spots. +g+ The only place I encountered 'slash' was in 'zines, and eventually on Yahoo groups.
Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 04:23 pm (UTC)
I had a similar problem, with my first active, community-oriented fandoms being X-Files and Forever Knight. You really couldn't write femslash without labeling it, or it was going to be utterly unfindable. And I was always glad the Trek authors labeled their femslash as such for the same reason.

Usenet was great for fic, except that finding the actual fiction I liked was tough. I spent a lot of time trawling the archives looking for Bev/Deanna - and I found the occasional Chapel/Uhura too, which was an unexpected, yet pleasant, surprise.
Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 09:50 pm (UTC)
(Hmm. That explains why I started seeing 'femslash' instead of 'femmeslash' after a certain point. I never realized that 'femmeslash' could be interpreted in a way that might be deemed offensive. Thank you for the clarification.)
Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 05:08 pm (UTC)
I remember some ten years ago having this argument with someone (Kanna Ophelia, maybe?) about terminology, and she was arguing that calling f/f slash was like saying "mankind means women too," whereas I was arguing that needing a special term for slash with women was like using 'pilotess' instead of 'pilot' when 'pilot' was gender neutral to begin with - making women into the distaff gender. We never found common ground.

I've had that same debate! To be fair, I'm not sure there is a resolution to it, since both sides in the debate have valid points. It's so frustrating. Why can't we have one right answer that will resolve everyone's problems? ;)
Sunday, August 11th, 2013 06:52 pm (UTC)
This. All of this. I had things highlighted to quote, but I just want to quote everything you've said about femslash because you've said it so freaking well!

My only issue is the femslash community at large has been a reluctance to accept a wide variety of kinks, but I think that's something that's changed a lot in the past few years. I think as a community of (mostly) women, there's a tendency to shy away from non!con and dub!con and in some instances just good ole Ds and/or BDSM maybe because we are so aware of the issues with sexual assault and sexual harassment of women and how our culture(s) still don't take these things seriously combined with a widespread misunderstanding of these kinks especially. But it's been great to see more of this in tons of femslash fandoms in the past few years. And it's been even better to have a bunch of queer (and lesbian and bi/pan and non cis genered etc. etc) women/people talking about it together.

I just wanna hug femslash because a love for lady on lady action has brought me close to so many people who don't fit in boxes, who I relate too. And as you've said, there are problems too. But I'm super happy to be creating and engaging with femslash.

And I'm so glad you wrote this!
Edited 2013-08-11 06:53 pm (UTC)
Sunday, August 11th, 2013 10:01 pm (UTC)
Femslash was pretty much what softened me up to accept my sexuality also; at the time I was still in high school, convinced I was a straight girl, and scrambling to reconcile my family's Christianity with my personal views. But it wasn't so much a panfandom thing as it was sort of a group of people WITHIN a megafandom, a very loosely-knit subfandom of sorts a la Homestuck's ~femslash brigade~. And yeah, the fact that it was women with women (in a male-dominated canon to boot) was a big motivation for me too.
Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 07:46 am (UTC)
I don't really feel like part of the femslash fandom (yet) for various reasons, but this line really resonated with me:

Femslash fandom is so queer that queerness is taken for granted.

That's one thing I've really experienced in the parts of fandom I usually hang out in, too, and it is part of the reason I love fandom so much. It's just such a relief to be in a space where the default *isn't* cis straight heteronormative, where I can just live all my odd little identities without having to explain them every single time they come up.
Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 08:56 am (UTC)
Well-said. And thank you. Gender-fluid here, and some days it is very rough to be assumed as female, but for the most part, the solid femslash crowd is kind and considerate.
Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 04:47 pm (UTC)
I was guilty of that until you said something, for which I do apologize. But I find that many femslashers try not to assume too much these days. (Or maybe it's just the femslashers that I hang out with.)
Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 08:43 pm (UTC)
Hey, it's totally okay. Hard to know which way the frog will jump when it's still looking for its own fur... and that's kinda how I was very early on here at DW, trying to finally be comfortable in my own skin.

You rock, and most of the femslashers I know on this site are cool.
kmo: (claudia)
[personal profile] kmo
Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 08:32 pm (UTC)
i really enjoy this post and wholeheartedly second much of what you've said. i've also had a really positive experience being in femslash fandom. i think one of the most heart-warming things for me as a queer-identified woman who is partnered with another woman in real life is to meet such a diversity of mostly women writers who are drawn to femslash. women in relationships with women, women who identify as bi or queer but who are in LTRs with men, women who identify as straight but love female characters and are secure enough in their sexuality not to be afraid of getting lesbian cooties from femslash. maybe i am close minded in my own way- or just cynical based on past experiences- but seeing the latter group especially is something that really warms the cockles of my heart.

i also struggle some times with male femslashers. part of me is like "if you love femslash or this pairing, come on down! everyone is welcome!" but there is baggage, you know, especially from how f/f pairings are portrayed in the media at large as something for the titillation of straight men. and sometimes i feel like their investment in the characters lines up with mine, and yeah, sometimes it feels like they are objectifying them in a way that makes me uncomfortable.
Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 03:59 pm (UTC)
I think, for me, it depends on the male femslasher. The ones that do it out of prurience, or who are solely interested in the male gaze? They bother me. I think it's a matter of not necessarily checking one's privilege. (I'm a little sensitive to male privilege in a community that has come together and bonded over telling women's stories.) The ones who want to write about queer women in relationships or living their lives, those male femslashers are the ones I have no problem with. I find they've tended to be self-aware of their privilege and try to be part of the community instead of being the leader of the community. (I also don't think femslash has any sort of leadership structure. Which is one of the things I like about it.)
Thursday, September 5th, 2013 12:49 pm (UTC)
a reaction to the f/f romances in Dragon Age

Thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis. I tend to avoid DA fandom because what I have seen of it is full of the batshit, but the weirdness around f/f pairings (also, still not over my grudge that the backstory queer pairings are both *traumatic as hell*) makes me incredibly twitchy. Especially once mods start getting brought in. Not to mention the slut-shaming with Isabela.

*hunkers down with her f!Cousland/Leliana*
Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 09:54 pm (UTC)
*thumb's up*

A lovely article made of many good points. :-)

I kind of stumbled into femslash, or, rather, it came looking for me. It turned out that I liked to write it, and I had several friends who were already involved with it that were interested in reading it and eager to get other people to join the party. Can't really go wrong when people are actively recruiting and showing that there's a demand, if you ask me.

I'm a bi-pan guy (with a bi-pan wife and two bi-pan adult children, to boot), and femslash has been very welcoming to me in a way many other 'ficdoms have not been.
Wednesday, August 14th, 2013 10:43 pm (UTC)
Hi, can we link this at metanews?
Friday, August 16th, 2013 09:13 am (UTC)
Homestuck femslash fandom is interesting, because Homestuck has a higher proportion of canon f/f relationships and female characters than many other large fandoms (Avatar: the Last Airbender, DCU, Avengers), so you get popular femslash exchanges like Ladystuck and an AO3 output that's 12% femslash instead of the AO3 average of 5%. Still kind of a low percentage, but, hey, pretty good.

+1 to your point about femslash fandom being majority queer & the bit about "not being queer enough". There's this thing where I feel guilty because I'm writing something that there's a lot of (het, slash, whatever) and not something I don't see often enough and wish there could be more of (femslash).
Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 05:06 pm (UTC)
I've been trying to formulate a response to this post since [personal profile] cleo linked me to it, which was pretty much the day you posted it. Femslash fandom is totally where I started to feel comfortable with my queerness, and in a way that I hadn't been even when I was in relationships with women. We should blame my Catholic education for that. Even with my determined commitment to being accepting, there was a certain underlying homophobia in my Catholic education that I had to overcome. Which is what happens when you go to a combination of either Sunday school or daily religious ed for thirteen years. (And by "you," I mean "I," because certainly my experience of religion and Catholicism is potentially different than anyone else's.)

So anyway. To make a long story short (too late), femslash fandom is where I grew to feel comfortable with being queer, because there were other queer people who had interests in line with my interests - stories about women.

I don't know that I could have felt at home in m/m fandom. While I know there are queer women who are m/m slashers, the majority of my early exposure to m/m writers and readers were straight women, so I got the sense (incorrectly, as it turns out) that m/m was all about a sort of prurient voyeurism. Also, stories about men aren't what I'm primarily interested in reading or writing. So, let's face it, m/m fandom isn't for me as a primary fannish home anyway.

There are very few times I haven't felt welcome among femslashers. The times that really stick in my craw are the occasional posts that have become vanishingly rare over the years: The "You're not a real lesbian/femslasher if you're in a relationship with a dude" posts. Also called, at least by me, the "bisexuals suck" posts. I've seen these from people I don't care for, and occasionally from people I once respected, but whom I still like, even if I discount their opinions. I'm not eliding myself from the ranks of queer women by being married to a man. Still queer!

I've proceeded to ignore most of those posts, and most of those opinions, because the thing I've really learned about femslashers is that most of them? Most of them do not care if you're not enough of a lesbian, nor femme enough, nor even female enough to be a femslasher.

Do you want to tell stories about queer women? Or read about them? Or draw them? Or create or consume some kind of creative fanwork about queer women? Are you a yuri-centric shipper who doesn't understand why Western femslashers don't dive into the possibilities of Eastern f/f pairings? Doesn't even matter what fandom you're in. You could write (for example!) Babysitter's Club kink, and even though I haven't read a BSC novel since grade school, femslash is a rare enough commodity and our general interests are convergent enough that we can overcome the different fandom conundrum. If you fit any of those bills, or even if you don't and you're hanging out on the margins? Then you're still a femslasher.

Or a femmmeslasher. Or a ladyslasher. Or yuri fan. (Is there another name for that which I'm not aware of?) Or an f/f shipper. Or whatever you want to define yourself as. That's how and why [community profile] girlgay got its name; I wanted a tongue-in-cheek, non-100%-Western-centric (I tried, anyway) resolution to the unsolvable problem of what we call ourselves, without trying to posit One True Name for everyone.