Fan Fiction Comes Out of the Closet

Though some fan fiction writers may question whether Willow/Tara stories qualify as “slash,” given the fact that their relationship was in the text, rather than in the subtext, other fans have argued that it does qualify as slash. On the Kittenboard in 2002, Dumbsaint explained why she began writing sexually explicit Willow/Tara fan fiction:

They are unique in that they are the first longterm, serious, passionately in love lesbian couple that anyone has ever had the opportunity to see on TV. But even still, their desire for one another had to be relegated for two years to metaphor on a show that has only been too happy to push the envelope with showing sexual situations in prime time. And while ME pulled off the metaphors with more grace and creativity than usual, and while I loved the metaphors for the way Aly and Amber played them- they were still metaphors. We still never saw their first kiss. Never knew for sure when they made love for the first time. That's kind of infuriating in comparison to the way developing relationships between straight characters are portrayed. I fell in love with Willow and Tara, and I wanted to figure out for myself how desire worked between them, in a more physical kind of way- because I was denied seeing that on the show.

On The L Word, one can’t very well argue that sexuality between lesbian characters is not portrayed, but like any other show on television, The L Word provides numerous entry points for fan fiction writers seeking to flesh out their favorite characters’ lives. The fact that most of the characters on the show are openly lesbian or bisexual simply removes the initial shift away from heterosexuality that slash fiction historically has required.

Fan writers can immediately dive into stories about how Bette and Tina first met, knowing that later on in their fictional lives, these characters will actually be gay.

It’s All Coming Together

The L Word‘s recent announcement of its contest to construct a fan-created episode is actually just the latest in a growing trend. Although producers in the past have resisted fan-created fiction and films, citing copyright violation problems, the boundaries between fan production and “official” production have increasingly become more porous. For example, Xena fan writer Melissa Good, a fan favorite, went on to write two episodes of the series, “Legacy” and “Coming Home,” which both aired in 2000.

In addition, after X-Files fan fiction writer Leyla Harrison died of cancer in 2001, X-Files producers named character named after her in two episodes that aired later that year, as a tribute to both Harrison and to X-Files fans.

In 2001, scholar Henry Jenkins acknowledged to Intensities that “I think to some degree what’s happening is a media industry being forced by an interactive age to become more accountable and more responsive to its audience than previously.” Reflecting this change, cofounder David Williams told Media Week shortly after the Showtime contest was announced, “Clearly when you take something that might have generally been regarded as a free-for-all, and you build certain controls around it, that's obviously more appealing as it makes it safe for the marketers.”

This raises the question of whether fan-created texts will be limited or freed by these collaborations with the media producers themselves. Obviously, fans of a program like The L Word are likely to be excited by the prospect of working with writers of the show. However, by enacting the “controls” that Williams mentions, fans’ abilities to take the series’ characters wherever they want are certain to be restricted.

It seems, then, that this coming-out for fan fiction is a double-edged sword. Producers are clearly giving fans a level of respect that they have long wanted, but that respect comes with some limitations. In this particular contest, for example, producers will make decisions about which story arcs merit inclusion in the hypothetical episode—a weeding-out process that will undoubtedly eliminate fan storylines that producers would never consider (e.g., moving Jenny to Antarctica permanently).

Which means those viewers who want to watch a Jenny-less L Word will still have to comb through the stacks of fanfic websites — or learn how to write those stories themselves.

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