Note: The section on RPF and whtiewashing deals pretty plainly with real person fan fiction – where a real celebrity is treated like a character in fan works – but from the POV of “stop whitewashing them” rather than a judgement call on the fandom itself. I’d suggest skipping this section, scrolling down to the solutions section of the piece, and waiting a little bit for me to finish writing my actual RPF-focused installment of What Fandom Racism Looks Like later this year because it’s been in the works for a while and will tackle K-Pop RPF, Hockey fandom, and the One Direction fandom’s endless racism towards Zayn.
The Fanlore page for Migratory fandom describes it as, “the most recent term used to describe the idea that slash fans are always on the lookout for the next shiny, new juggernaut pairing”.
First seen in fandom discussions across Fail_Fandomanon – one of many multi-fandom anonymous memes – the term is a reference to this idea that slash fans are constantly moving to the next fandom that’ll provide them their dose of slashy goodness.
On the surface, there’s nothing even remotely wrong with moving to another fandom because the one you’re in is running dry on content. Honestly, I’m right there with folks because when a fandom I’m in is dried up entirely or the fan content it’s creating has been done to death before… I always feel like jumping ship at least for a little while.
So I get the motivation.
But this is “What Fandom Racism Looks Like” and you know that means that there is something I find frustrating about migratory slash fandom that falls under this series….
What makes Migratory Slash Fandom a prime example of what fandom racism looks like?
The sad fact that for the most part, these fans are largely just moving from one white dude slash ship to another. Migratory Slash Fandom is, for all intents and purposes, only capable of migrating to fandoms where the dominant slash ship is a white one.
Or, in the event of characters of color being prominent in a piece of media and serving as one or both parts of a popular slash ship, one of three things happen:
- White prioritization: Fandom decides that actually, a minor crackship between two white characters with zero meaningful interactions or chemistry is more interesting and worth playing with than a ship involving even one character of color. (The overwhelming popularity of Kylo Ren/Hux over Finn/Poe in the supremely racist Star Wars fandom.)
- Racist Stereotypes: One or both members of the slash ship are written in stereotypically racist ways (Latino characters as Lusty Lotharios, Black male characters with giant genitals, Asian characters as submissive flowers) and meaningful characterization tends to take a backseat to any white or, in the case of an interracial pairing involving a Black character, non-Black character present (see any Black male character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that’s part of or adjacent to a white dude slash ship).
- Whitewashing: Characters of color are culturally whitewashed across the content that becomes popular in the fandom (see BTS real person slash fic where the Korean members of the group are often stripped of their Korean-ness even in stories set in Korea).
In this installment of What Fandom Racism Looks Like, we’ll be unpacking the role whiteness – and a fixation on white male characters in particular – plays in the powerhouse ships that dominate slash fandom.
We’ll be talking about the ways that the migratory slash fandom phenomenon fails characters of color – going into detail on each of the three examples above.
I’ll be reaching back into relatively recent fannish history to talk about the excuses white fans make to dodge criticism for their predictable patterns of fannish migration and lastly, we’ll talk about ways that fans can make the effort to make those migratory patterns a little less predictable – and far less white than they currently are.
Note that when it comes to data here, I’ll be referring back to Centrumlumina’s “AO3 Ship Stats 2019: Overall Top 100” list from July 2019. If Lulu provides a 2020 version accounting for the latter half of 2019 and part of 2020, I’ll update my post accordingly once I am notified.
In July 2019, when Lulu posted her 2019 ship rank post cataloging the most popular pairings on The Archive of Our Own, all ten of the most popular (by volume of fanworks) ships on the platform are Male/Male pairings. Of those ten pairings, only two involve at least one character of color: Voltron: Legendary Defender’s Keith/Lance (where Lance is confirmed Cuban and Keith’s human heritage is never unpacked) and Yuri!!! On Ice’s pairing of Victor Nikiforov/Yuuri Katsuki.
Victuuri, by the way, is the only canon pairing in the top ten of Lulu’s list. All of the other ships are fan-made pairings largely unsupported by their respected canons.
So what drives fandom to look at two white dudes that don’t have a romance and go “they should smush mouths and other body parts”?
Well… I think it’s time for us to talk about the fanon ghost again.
We talked about the idea of the fanon ghost – this spirit that folks in slash fandom basically summon to inhabit dudes in their new fandom – back in Beige Blank Slates while linking to a post from tumblr user wildehack who unpacks it. In that installment of the series, I wrote that:
The fanon ghost is never capable of possessing someone like Riz Ahmed’s Carlton Drake (Venom) or John Boyega’s Finn (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) or Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost (Ant-Man and the Wasp) or David Ramsey’s John Diggle (Arrow). It’s never a person of color that fandom sees value in reviving as the ghost of fanon fussiness and it’s very rarely a white woman.
Ghost status, being infected with that immortal archetype and subsequently being seen as the most popular dude in a given fandom, is something that only happens to white male characters.
The fanon ghost haunts migratory slash fandom.
Shippers summon that ghost to inhabit one or both members of their favorite slash ship every time they move fandoms and need a new focus to zero in on. The fanon ghost only ever finds its homes in white characters – and some Korean boy band members, as you’ll see in a little bit – and everyone else has to kind of… hope that their canon characterization is interesting enough to work against fandom’s fixation on white men.
In a thread on FFA, some of the platform’s anonymous users went over the tropes assigned to the different ships that fandom becomes popular and for me, something stands out about some of the examples.
Steve and Bucky (Stucky) is popular because it fits a Best Friends trope and appeals to fans who like to see friends to lovers as a trope.
But in the same fandom, Steve/Sam and Tony/Rhodey aren’t anywhere near as popular.
In fact, despite the long-standing friendships on display across both of those pairings in comic history, fandom kind of… doesn’t care about them in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Even though Rhodey/Tony Is a close friendship in the franchise from the first Iron Man film, fandom has actually chosen to not only repeatedly #NoHomo their friendship, but vilify Rhodey and decide that he is the reason the relationship wouldn’t work or isn’t shippable.
(The same thread mentions the Military/Genus and BBC’s Sherlock series and it’s important to me to note that Tony (a genius)/Rhodey (in the Air Force and a genius) would absolutely fit that archetype – but then it doesn’t. For fandom.)
The people in the thread I’m looking at calls Migratory Slash Fandom the “Any Two Guys crowd” referring back to Fanlore’s article on it (which stemmed from The Fanfiction Glossary), but of course, they don’t exactly brush against the idea that it’s really Any Two White Guys. Like, I checked.
The word “white” is used once in this thread once in the phrase “whitecock” on the way to saying that while Clint/Coulson is that, it’s not “Any Two Guys” in practice.
Which is hilarious considering that Clint/Coulson is a ship that sparked from literally nothing. I used to read fic for that ship and I still cannot tell you that they’ve ever had a meaningful interaction in canon or that they know that they’ve ever actually spoken directly.
Clint/Coulson, with its ten thousand, eight hundred and three stories on Archive of Our Own and nearly non-existent screen time together across the Marvel Cinematic Universe, literally defines “whitecock”, “Any Two Guys”, and any other way you can say “That Thing Fandom Does Where It Zeroes In On Two White Dudes At The Direct Expense Of Any Other Potential Ship”.
And let’s be real here, whoever handled the edits for the fanlore page for “Two White Guys” put Clint/Coulson as a Two White Guys pairing that has little/no interaction in canon isn’t “taking the characters away from a more obvious pairing” despite the fact that:
A pairing involving a character of color – especially a Black man – is never slash fandom’s “more obvious pairing”. (So Coulson/Fury isn’t a “more obvious pairing” even though that friendship fuels a lot of the decisions that Coulson makes in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
The idea of a “more obvious pairing” not existing prioritizes white fans and white pairings really obviously because even in slash fandom, I could think of pairings just as crack-y that didn’t get half as much of the attention as Coulson’s left eyebrow.
In the above screenshot, the person who put together the list listed Bond/Q from the Craig set of films and the fans of that ship literally took Bond away from the Moneypenny/Bond ship and took one of their actual steamy moments for Q in the process of reducing her to a Sassy and Sexless Black Friend.
Anyway, these powerhouse ships (Clint/Coulson, Shawn/Lassiter, Mike/Harvey from Suits, Arthur/Eames) are only the most obvious pairings out there because fandom literally refuses to see characters of color as potential partners for their faves or a fandom focus outside of a few fandoms.
Outside of anime fandoms and East Asian music and drama fandoms (to an extent), fandom’s focus tends towards the #FFFFF type.
They wouldn’t notice a “more obvious pairing” with a person of color if it was a life or death situation.
Because we don’t fit into archetypes. We don’t get haunted by the fanon ghost.
There are literally situations where – like with the popularity of Shawn/Lassiter over Shawn/Gus where Gus and Shawn are childhood best friends and they’re basically mad married – folks in fandom bend over backwards to absolutely remove the potential for romance. (Like with Shawn and Gus, it was that they were “like” brothers to fandom, but considering many slash fans happily ship incest pairings, the excuse never holds water for me.)
And on that note, I think it’s time we talk about the ways that Migratory Slash Fandom’s nearly single-minded focus on white male characters and whiteness sets up in ways that are disrespectful to characters (and performers) of color and harmful to fans of color.
The last time we talked about “white prioritization” it was August 2018 and I wasn’t yet fed up with fandom at the level I am now – understandable considering all that I’ve been through since then.
When it comes to Migratory Slash Fandom’s white prioritization, I mean it on two fronts when it comes to (largely) Western-based media:
1. MSF literally deciding that the only characters worth shipping are white dudes in a given media property.
2. If they deign to ship a character of color with a white dude (or more than one white dude) the ship revolves around the white characters’ needs.
White characters are pretty much the only characters that matter in transformative fandom. I get that people don’t like to admit that because it makes them look bad, but –
We’ve seen the numbers. We’ve seen what fandom actually focuses on.
And it’s not characters that look like me.
If there’s a super diverse show with lots of well-written characters of color and white female characters, fandom will always focus on the white male characters in the show.
The Black Panther fandom didn’t actually zero in on ships focusing on the Black characters – outside of the cousins Erik “Killmonger” Stevens/T’challa. In fact, the fandom focused on the white men in the film to the point of zeroing in on Bucky and Steve because they just had to finish that thread from Captain America: Civil War.
Folks were out here writing “Bucky and Steve go to Wakanda for vacation” stories like that was ever an option for those characters, colonizing Wakanda for Stucky with zero shame.
They were also zeroing in on Martin Freeman’s character and on Klaue, a character who embodies white South African antiblackness. (He literally calls Wakandans savages and is pissed because they, the people using Vibranium as the backbone of their brilliant society, apparently don’t know how to use their own resource appropriately.)
We got a film that was entirely about Black people, Black excellence, and Black creativity and folks didn’t just center their fanfiction and shipping experience on white dudes… they centered it on white guys who weren’t even in the main film or the minor characters that weren’t a focus for a few reasons.
Fandom here, as it does in many other places, made the decision across the board to prioritize the first white dude that is relatively attractive to them. No one ever pauses to think about the fact that the default for fandom is… that.
And this is a thing that fandom does:
Fandom constantly decides that a minor crackship between two relatively underdeveloped white characters with zero meaningful interactions or chemistry (see Hux/Kylo, one of my villain origin stories in fandom) is actually more interesting and worth playing with than a ship involving even one character of color (Finn/Poe)
Back when Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out, one thing that I noticed almost immediately in the fandom was how the folks creating content for Finn/Poe as a ship could not stop reaching for the racism.
Across the first few months of wild racist fanworks, I saw things like a story where Finn was a dog (or hybrid) adopted by Poe, a story where Poe had to explain Finn’s dick to him because he wasn’t sure how it worked, and lots of stories where Poe was reduced to a Lusty Latino hungry for cock while Finn was basically a set of walking genitals that provided therapy to Poe.
Neither character really was a character to a very large portion of the fandom.
They were racist stereotypes about what men of color were like in bed.
They fullfilled fantasies and fetishes.
And when Black and Latino fans complained – rightfully so – about what their fandom was doing with these two nuanced and interesting characters of color, what did a whole huge chunk of fandom do?
They either doubled down on their racist crap and create racist content –
Or they jumped ship to Kylux.
Hux/Kylo’s popularity versus that of Finn/Poe – and the fandom’s really wild response to Black and Latinx fans pointing that out – honestly marks a turning point in how I actually “did” fandom.
Because it was wild. People – like Franzeska, my semi-nemesis – were out here making all kinds of excuses for why the ship isn’t popular all without acknowledging that slash fandom and their fandom in particular… really just wanted some good ole whitecock.
Which is… whatever.
At the end of the day, the Star Wars‘ slash fandom told us what mattered.
They showed it by claiming (to this day) that Kylux’s popularity versus Finn/Poe’s… lack of it was because Finn and Poe fans kink shamed them or hated villains/their fans and drove the fans off towards Kylux.
They showed it with the support for Franzeska literally rewriting fandom history to exclude fans of color and snottily explaining why fandom wasn’t focused on writing for Finn/Poe – in case you missed it… she basically dismissed the role race and racism had to play in order to link the drop in attention to… kinkshaming.
I can’t make this up.
Here’s the summary for 2016’s Why Isn’t Stormpilot Staying Popular? where Franzeska writes:
Destinationtoast posted some meta showing Stormpilot’s meteoric rise and then sudden fall in popularity, and now we’re all wondering why. If it were just fandom gravitating to the white guys, there wouldn’t have been that initial spike in popularity. If it were just a movie fandom burning itself out, most of the ships would show the same pattern. So what the heck is going on?
It’s probably no surprise that in the actual piece of meta itself, Franzeska literally opens it (after where she regurgitates the summary paragraphs) by dismissing the very potential of racism influencing the fandom’s shift to whiter pastures, writing that:
Three main theories have been advanced:
· Racism scared people away.
· Kinkshaming scared people away.
· Boring fic chased people into Kylux’s dirtybadwrong arms.
Personally, I think two and three are much more likely than one, but all are hard to substantiate beyond an individual person explaining why they personally lost interest.
Please understand that if I ever meet Franzeska’s incredibly antiblack ass, I’m going to have to challenge her to a duel. Like it’s 1850 and I’m Alexandre Dumas, but more full of rage and prone to fighting.
Because Franzeska’s Finn/Poe meta – literally posted two days after her other incredibly racist meta Your Vagina is a Bigot; My Vagina is a Saint – actively dismisses Black and Latinx fans’ concerns. It ignores the fact that people were writing racist content because it got them off and instead is like “oh well actually kinkshaming and boring stories are the villains here”.
She’s lying by the way.
She has always lied about the landscape of fandom.
She has never actually apologized for writing meta that I know actively contributes to the sorry state of discourse in fandom across the past few years.
And both pieces of her racist ass meta are still up on the Archive of Our Own – although the Finn/Poe hasn’t been updated since. Probably since you know… in the time since she’s posted it, Black and Latinx fans have made it clear that we’re done with that dreck and that we’ll band together to make her really wish she hadn’t tried us.
Again, this is normal for fandom.
Folks are out here writing characters of color in slash ships in stereotypically racist ways (Latino characters as Lusty Lotharios, Black male characters with giant genitals, Asian characters as submissive flowers) and meaningful characterization tends to take a backseat to any white character – or, in the case of an interracial pairing involving a Black character, non-Black character present (see any Black male character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that’s part of or adjacent to a white dude slash ship) –
And when we critique it or just go “hey this isn’t cool”… folks act like we’ve just taken their guns or something.
But they’re out here, again, writing Mandingo 2020 in fandom and getting mad when Black fans don’t bow down.
At the end of the day, no one has to write characters of color.
But slash fandom loves to do this thing where they write characters of color along obviously racist stereotypes and then blame pissed off fans of color for why they can’t be bothered to create content for or care about those characters anymore.
Perhaps, if y’all didn’t treat writing characters of color well like the “joyless slog” Franzeska described it as and didn’t gravitate towards openly racist tropes for then, maybe fans of color wouldn’t get so pissed?
a: to portray (the past) in a way that increases the prominence, relevance, or impact of white people and minimizes or misrepresents that of nonwhite people
b: to alter (an original story) by casting a white performer in a role based on a nonwhite person or fictional
(You can see the specific examples they use at the link!)
Here’s a thing you probably didn’t know about Migratory Slash Fandom:
When the fans do deign to give a shit about some characters of color (who are usually East Asian or “White Passing” Latinos), they whitewash the hell out of them.
Mind you, they don’t literally whitewash the characters and performers the way the 2017 Ghost in the Shell film whitewashed uh… many of the Japanese characters from the original franchise by casting White American and Europeans in key roles.
However, in the process of making these characters or performers culturally accessible and relatable, they rewrite (or represent) them in ways that make them more palatable to an audience that’s assumed to be white (or, more specifically non-East Asian Westerners) themselves.
The most visible and frustrating example I’ve found in my deep dive into slash fandom spaces in 2019 and beyond – and what this section is about – can be found in the Western-dominated portions of East Asian media fandoms for live action properties like The Untamed or for Korean pop and hip-hop groups like BTS, Monsta X, and EXO.
No joke, a lot of the modern Korean pop fans that create and consume content? Came from various fandoms underneath the umbrella of Western migratory slash fandom. So, they came from things like One Direction real person fic (RPF) or from other “dead” slash fandom spaces because they’re being “given” new content in these fandoms.
What draws in Migratory Slash Fandom to a new franchise first and foremost?
New and attractive vessels for the fanon ghost to possess that interact in ways that can be read queerly – or like… at all.
And the actors of The Untamed, the characters they’re playing, as well as the handsome young men in Korean groups that bring in massive audiences to their concerts and other events?
Are really fucking attractive.
And, to many of the people in these fandoms? They’re still new and shiny enough for the fanon ghost to come a haunting.
The thing is that… while we know these aren’t white dudes and the fandom (more or less) registers that they’re not white dudes, it doesn’t quite compute? And it definitely doesn’t show in a lot of the fanworks that exist in the various fandoms for these three fandoms.
I know that part of the legend is that RM/Kim Namjoon learned English via watching Friends with his mom as a kid. It’s like… incredible considering everything I know about Friends makes it hard for me to understand why folks lost their shit at the idea that it would’ve been removed from Netflix a few years ago.
But there’s still nothing wilder than going through some Korean pop Real Person Fiction and being jarred out of the setting because the writer has these people fixating on like the white and western literary canon. Like flat out salivating over the chance to get their hands on like a first edition of Pride and Prejudice or fixating on a White Feminist ™ text rather than on uh… anything else.
(And for the latter note, it is absolutely wild to see someone be like “Namjoon, noted feminist, keeps a copy of Mary Wollstoncraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women on his nightstand to remember that women have rights” as if it’s not even remotely likely that there are actual facts feminists writing shit in Korea.)
While I’m not saying that there’s zero value in Western literature (with my entire ass English Literature MA, I can’t do that), it is wild that people in these fandoms can’t be bothered to google what Korean people are consuming and creating when it comes to media.
For BTS RPF in particular, there’s this preoccupation with focusing on Americana in Seoul? Like the members of the group are frequently written solely consuming fast food more common in the United States. They’re frequently written with childhood ripped from US Suburbia, neatly separated houses with big lawns in cul-de-sacs and brownstones ripped from Brooklyn. The shows they watch in these stories – like the Great British Bake-Off or Keeping Up With The Kardashians – and the books they read –
Quite focused on the Western Literary Canon.
Like it stood out to me at one point that it’s actually rare to read these stories and see the characters – or performers-as-characters – actually engage with cultural aspects from their own countries or even neighboring ones?
Everything is Troye Sivan this, Ikea that.
I’m a queer person in the United States and I can tell you that I have never once in my life listened to a Troye Sivan song. (Which brings up another thing about how the queer experiences on display in many fanworks revolving around East Asian media or celebrities… are queer white experiences of a certain age that don’t just Not Apply to the majority of people in fandom, but we literally do not have time for this.)
Y’all… it is ridiculous that for fandoms revolving around characters and real people who cannot be divorced from their heritage… when it comes to transformative fandom’s take on them? They do just that.
Let me tell you how wild it is to see BTS real person fic where these seven Korean dudes are largely stripped of their Korean-ness even in stories set in Korea.
I’m not saying that y’all need to go out there and badger Chinese, Japanese, and Korean members of fandom for sensitivity reading sessions.
Honestly, I’d say… don’t do that –
Especially if you’re writing RPF – because at the end of the day, RPF does involve turning real people into fantasies and when it comes to actual people of color that is… something that, rightfully, many people don’t approve of and don’t like to engage with.
But if you’re writing stories set in Korea, Japan, or China (whether or not you’re writing RPF for bandom, tackling the hottest new anime pairing, or focusing on those Ancient Chinese Gays I hear so much about these days) and you make negative effort to figure out to write these people as they are or in a way that highlights and doesn’t erase their cultures?
You… probably shouldn’t be writing these stories to begin with.
(Edit Note 5/7/21: I wanted to clarify that the jab at Ikea and Troye Sivan in fic and this section is two-fold: a) it was fueled by then-frustration at how English-language Korean RPS writers were layering their experiences onto these celebs without knowing “hey, these WOULD be great queer signifiers” AND b) I actually just don’t like either Ikea OR Troye Sivan very much, and kind of needed to be goofy-petty about that in a fit of pique)
Lastly, let’s talk about ways that people in Migratory Slash Fandom can make a successful effort to make those migratory patterns a little less predictable – and far less white than they currently are.
I have a handy list:
- Interrogate yourself: why is it that you’ve gravitated towards the same-looking white dude slash ship (dark haired white dude + light haired white dude) for your entire time in fandom? Don’t give yourself an out with “I like villains” or whatever, actually dig deep.
- Inspect your output: have you looked at what you’re actually creating to see what content you’re creating about male characters of color? If they’re just background characters to your main ship or living out incredibly racialized (and often racist) fantasies in fandom… yikes.
- Invest in research materials: Yes, I know I said not to go looking for sensitivity readers for your fanworks but if someone’s offering or you’re writing in a fanbase, dear god please take the help. (And pay them for it in some way even if it’s “just” in returning the favor with a solid beta reading session.) But also, read up on the cultures and communities you’re writing in. Especially if you’re writing modern or college stories for your favorite East Asian franchise. Watch some local television, read some local books, and please stop putting people who live in various East Asian countries with high population density in sprawling cul-de-sacs like they live in South Florida or something.
- Prepare to be bruised: the thing is that not everyone will approve of what you’re doing. Either way, someone’s gonna get annoyed. Either because you’re “getting woke” and “bending to the SJWs” in fandom or because you’ve tried your hardest and it’s still not good enough. You can’t please everyone, but you can do a little to make fandom less… single-minded.
But here’s the biggest way Migratory Slash fans can be better about the patterns their fandom-ing falls into:
They can stop gaslighting fans of color about what we’re seeing in fandom and when it comes to these pairings.
They can stop rewriting fandom history – and supporting the people who do it, like Franzeska and like Kate McCort or whatever her name was in the Star Wars fandom – to excise and excuse transformative fandom’s unending and unchecked racism.
That’d be nice.
Because I am far from the first person to note these patterns. I may be the loudest right now, but I am not the first. Not even close. The stuff I got a bunch of folks pissed off about in 2019? Fans of color were talking about it in 2009.
This is not new.
We are not new.
Migratory Slash Fandom was called something else when I was a teenager. It’ll be called something else in the future. But the one thing that has never changed is that people will bend over backwards to center what they love most –
And it’s not what they keep telling us it is, that’s for sure.