Originally a different editorial was in the works for this week. However, when the internet recently exploded with the hashtag #BundyEroticFanfic, the sexual and gender politics of this crowdsourced, fandom-inspired internet satire frankly begged for further immediate commentary.
First, a bit of background. The hashtag was apparently started by Colin Meloy, front man for the musical group The Decemberists.
"They huddled together for warmth. The cold of Ammon's Ruger 22 against Brian's naked thigh sent a thrill up his spine." #bundyeroticfanfic
It references the current occupation of a US federal building in Oregon by a group of armed, right-wing militia men, including Cliven Bundy’s son, Ammon Bundy.
This protest, such as it is, has invoked a fair amount of mockery, alongside a cadre of more serious political commentary, particularly on the rather blatant white-privilege at work in all of this. However, this specific brand of mockery – gay erotic fanfiction inspired by the on-going situation — is one the fans of the world, and people in general, ought to have a more critical disposition towards, in my opinion.
The basis of the humor in these tweets, as far as I can tell, seems to rest upon the speculated homophobia and fragile masculinity of the men that are being referenced in them. It is designed to make those men uncomfortable by publicly intimating that they are gay (or same-sex inclined). The problem, of course, is that the hashtag ultimately ‘works’ as mockery by making the fact of being queer into a joke, albeit under a very particular set of circumstances.
A person being an admitted, open homophobe is the one circumstance in which it is apparently still “okay” for queerness to be weaponized as an insult/threat; the #BundyEroticFanfic hashtag seem emblematic of this mentality. Your general homophobia makes my strategic rhetorical use of homophobia okay, so the logic seems to go.
Admittedly, I do understand the inclination to mock these men, and particularly to take aim at the inflated, fragile masculinity that is the barely concealed subtext of a lot of US right-wing politics and bluster. The American ethos of rugged individualism, which this type of “protest” often imagines itself to be defending and preserving, is heavily predicated on a long-standing power-fantasy of grandiose (implicitly white) masculinity, one which does warrant lambasting, oftentimes. But strategically tapping into that homophobic masculinity, and using the legacy of fanfiction to do it, is a deeply questionable way to go about this kind of critique, I would suggest.
Indeed, from a historical perspective, the invocation of fanfic here is pretty ironic, all things considered. Much of the legacy of erotic fanfic – particularly slash – was to take the queerness that mainstream pop culture treated as a nonentity or a joke and say, this is real and it is valid and it is not a joke at all. Erotic fanfic was threatening precisely because it made things queer while adamantly refusing to render queerness as a punchline, or treat it as a threat. M/M fanfics frequently took great pains to expose the societally imposed ‘threat’ of queerness to conventional masculinity as tragic and stupid and wrong-headed. Erotic fanfiction has traditionally been a quite earnest and sympathetic exploration of men learning to overcome this kind of internalized homophobic masculinity.
To then use fanfiction’s legacy to subsequently joke about a group of men doing that – as in the case of the Oregon occupiers – is a complete undermining of what was valuable and politically subversive about erotic fanfic in the first place. While fanfiction’s gender and sexuality politics have not been without their own questionable politics and pitfalls, whatever else erotic fanfic has done to queerness, it has never made it a joke.
Using the legacy of fanculture and slash fic in particular to level what is essentially a “you’re gay, hahahaha” type of dig at anyone is a pretty odious misappropriation of the practice. The #BundyEroticFanfic hashtag is designed specifically to invoke a gay-panic response, and then implicitly mock that response. But for the presumed fear-of-being-queer to be mocked in this scenario, the fact-of-being-queer has be rhetorically weaponized first, which is what the hashtag is set up to do.
Gay panic deserves mockery, that I will stipulate without equivocation. But the fact, or possibility, of someone being queer should never be leveled as a threat in pursuit of such mockery. Traditional erotic fanfic has often been politically subversive precisely because it refuses to concede to premise that queerness is any type of threat, or that it ought to be treated as such.
Suddenly transforming erotic fanfic into a means of leveling the very ‘threat’ it has so often work to undermine is a deeply unfortunate misuse of its broader cultural legacy.