Guest Journal / Journal / Visual Culture

Anonymous Kinky: Glee and the Real Online Spaces of Erotic Fanfiction

Hannah Ellison.

Anonymous Kinky: The Real Online Spaces of Erotic Fanfiction

The sudden success of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey has got everyone and their mother talking about fanfiction, mostly in a rather ill-informed way.

In a representative review in the Guardian, Jenny Colgan wrote: ‘Originally evolving through online slash/fic (fan-published erotic writing at the creepier end of the internet, where Ron Weasley and Harry discover their true feelings for one another and so forth) between Edward and Bella of Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey is now a fully realised trilogy’. This description not only conflates Slashfic and fanfic (slash being stories depicting male homosexuality) but it continues to paint the work and its authors as ‘creepy’. What these kinds of stories ignore, in an attempt to supposedly ‘educate’ those unaware of the existence of fanfiction, is that it is not a unified genre, but rather a medium comprised of multiple forms of writing with multiple purposes. Erotica is only part of it and even then there are distinctions.

One of the most interesting of these is the kink meme, a space far more complicated than mainstream journalists have even attempted to decode. Kink memes are a fandom specific request-based mode of mostly anonymous interactive erotic fanfic. Existing generally on Livejournal, kink memes are split into two types of posts: requests and fills. Users write requests for stories they would like to read and then authors fill those requests. These stories are then archived through a system of tags related to the characters involved and the sexual acts depicted. For example, ‘Quinn/Puck or Quinn/Finn – Noncon/dubcon, beastiality, rough sex, slut shaming, dp’ or, ‘Kurt/Blaine – bp!Kurt, oral, at work’.

These stories rarely have titles and tend to only be a chapter long. Moreover, as the examples illustrate, the world of the kink meme is one filled with codes and terminology that are often far from self-explanatory*. Kink memes are at once spaces of inclusivity and exclusivity. While all of them operate on policies of non-judgement, or as it’s called in memes, ‘kink shaming’, they also utilise a language very specific to their needs. Almost anything may be permitted (there have been controversies over the writing of racist and misogynist work), but by the very virtue of the way the work is housed it is possible to only ever be aware of prompts and fills which cater to specific interests. Were a user wanting to only read stories about characters X and Y engaged in act Z, then the whole of an archive can be filtered to only display those results. The general operational basis for these spaces is ‘if you don’t like it, don’t read it’. In the guidelines to the Glee Kink Meme their fourth rule is ‘Your Kink is not my kink (and that’s OK)’. This emphasis on acceptance, or at least active ignorance of that which does not please you, creates an innovative space where something championed by even the smallest minority can flourish without fear of having to appeal to the masses. They are worlds of infinite and unexpected possibilities yet oddly they tend to conform to self-policing tropes.

Interestingly, considering its target demographic and the narrative of the show, one of the most active kink memes belongs to Glee. In my research into the Glee Kink Meme I have discovered a place where almost anything can be eroticised, yet stereotypes of gendered power dynamics still prevail. There may be dozens of stories in which a female character also has a penis (known as girl!peen) yet in almost every one the character with the penis sexually dominates the one without. In the narrative of the show Kurt is continually feminised while his boyfriend Blaine does not befall the same fate. In the Glee Kink Meme Kurt is usually a sexual submissive and the most frequent recipient in stories involving sadist acts. Kurt is the Glee Kink meme’s perpetual victim, Santana and Quinn (the show’s bitchy cheerleaders) most likely to possess male genitalia and Rachel (a child of adoption) the only female character consistently cast as the ‘child’ in infantilism stories. Kink memes may be accepting of anything, but rarely do they stray from the structured gender/character dynamics put forth by the original text. Despite their content they are perhaps some of the most faithful fanfic spaces online.

As journalists continue to paint fanfiction as a world of ‘creepy’ anonymous erotica, despite erotic work making up a small percentage of stories, they ignore the fact that though these stories may unashamedly portray acts of bdsm, intersexuality and even bestiality, they have yet to escape the ever-present force of dominant gender paradigms. If the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey is to bring light to the world of fanfiction, and more specifically erotic fanfiction, then what should be being talked about is not how ‘weird’ those involved are, but rather that even in the most unlikely of places conservative gender ideology still prevails. ■

For a detailed list of the range of kink memes currently running see 4theloveofkink where you can find anything from Tintin to Metal Gear Solid.

*If you want to know what those particular terms meant, dubcon/noncon stands for dubious or non-consensual and bp!Kurt means Kurt has a vagina.

Hannah Ellison is a doctoral researcher and associate tutor in the department of film and Television studies at the university of East Anglia. Her primary work focus is on gender and knowledge in US procedural crime shows. However, she satiates her lifelong love of TV with other interests, such as genre, online fandoms and teen programming, as well as writing about it for the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @hanellison.

Also by Hannah Ellison:

Girls Just Want to Have Fun: Glee and the Myth of Inclusivity

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2 thoughts on “Anonymous Kinky: Glee and the Real Online Spaces of Erotic Fanfiction

  1. What would be more interesting is *why* conservative gender and certain sexuality paradigms prevail. It’s part of the kink, to be able to engage with certain taboo subjects seen as sexist or not feminist (like rape or female submission fantasies) freely. That is part of letting your freak flag fly, to be able to, say, imagine g!p and engage with size obsession and domination (g!p are almost always threateningly large). We are constantly subjected to these sexual myths, norms, fantasies and paradigms–larger penis is better in every way, people with penises have a sexual drive that will not be denied, etc. and it is not at all surprising that many develop sexual fantasies that take up those concepts. It can also be embarrassing for women who say that size doesn’t matter, who say they aren’t interested in penises, or who are staunch feminists to admit to having certain fantasies that take some explaining before they can be understood and judged less harshly. We like that Foucault warned us against essentializing the prevailing myth of the dangerous male sex drive (once they start, they can’t stop, so if you tease, you’ll get what’s coming and it’s your own fault). But we are constantly reminded that men’s sex drives are so powerful that men really shouldn’t be held accountable to them, and the myth is framed as so compelling, it is not surprising they are played out in our sexual fantasies. Hence the kink. Lots of women like dildos, including lesbians. But give a girl g!p, and obviously those lesbians secretly desire men. Well, no. But people who judge don’t usually have the interest or patience to understand it. And lesbians and people into bdsm are really done with being misunderstood.

    There are g!p Brittany fics, although not as many, and that makes some sense to me. But it is particularly fascinating to see how Quinn is in nearly every case portrayed as being a femme top. In many non-LJ fanfic discussions it’s almost a joke that Quinn, more than any other character, so clearly will not be dominated. Why is that? Why is Quinn, who was portrayed on Glee as out of control and crazy for most of the last two seasons, who could not catch a break, so clearly a top? Because her character is simply perceived as being that way, and she veers into on out-of-character when she’s not. It is unsurprising, then, that the characterizations adhere fairly faithfully to those on the show. If they lose the traits that make them those characters, we simply lose our association of them with the character on the show.

    • GOOD COMMENTARY. I want more.

      Why is erotic fanfiction considered creepy? Is it because the characters on which they are based are a run-away version of a character, with the body and looks of a real person, an actor? Or is it considered creepy because of the erotic kinks that are written about? And if so – a large number of people find (very telling) anonymously satisfaction in this kind of written erotica – how important is the aspect of this (written, anonymous, internet-accessible) medium? Is a kink accepted and satisfactory when written, but “too much” if displayed in “actual” pornography? Then it becomes important to stress that this written kinky erotica – is a shared written archive of fantasies, and not always realistic sexual desires (for example, to state it lightly, rape fantasies). And then of course we need (most importantly) commentary in terms of sexual desires and our society’s perspective (and our internalizing of society’s norm) on that – including traditionally encouraged/allowed/considered gender roles and sexuality. Especially if you consider that there’s A LOT of erotica written online – a lot of erotic fanfiction writers are in fact teenage (and older) girls (even when the erotica in case is male/male) – which you can actually easily differentiate from “original” written erotica (e.g. on Literotica, or Nifty) written by and for another public (age, gender, and sexuality in consideration).

      I basically mean I want to read more about this subject. Anyone who can link me to honest and thorough research/commentary/discourse?

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