As a nerdy millennial, fanfiction is a rite of passage. Like teenage boys of yesteryear hiding copies of Playboy under their beds, geeks of all genders are hunched over their phones, keeping a “decoy page” on their laptop in case anyone walks in on the smuttiness of Destiel or Johnlock on Tumblr or fanfiction.net.
I, a professional nerd girl, am a part of this culture, having been both a reader and writer. I stumbled upon it by accident in a Harry Potter fansite. I had re-read the series (again) and was re-processing my grief over the death of my favorite couple when I found the fanfiction by accidentally right clicking on something while the page was loading. Thank you slow internet.
It all started out light and fluffy, and then I was consuming each story with a passionate hunger that only a young woman can have for a love story. Slowly, I worked my way to the “M for Mature” section of the site, because what teenager can resist the lure of the “M”? That’s when things, as they say in the fanfic world, really heated up.
The content that I gobbled up like candy was, in hindsight, not all that smutty — but as a young girl developing her sexuality, this was an awakening.
As I got older and into more fanfiction sites, my taste in pairings also expanded. Soon I read Bella/Carlisle (Twilight), Sherlock/Molly (BBC’s Sherlock), and many others. I even threw my hand in and wrote some Sirius Black/Original Character fics (deleted, don’t look for me).
I was sixteen when it happened, searching for the archives for a Bella and Carlisle fanfiction I haven’t read when a new fanfic caught my eye. Its name I have long forgotten and can no longer find on the internet; it was an Alternative Universe (AU) High School fic featuring Bella, Carlisle, and Rosalind. Sold.
But it wasn’t what I expected. It was so much more.
Chapter after chapter, I read the slow burn of shy, new-girl Bella Swan who butted heads with the beautiful and popular Rosalind Cullen until something between them sparked and engulfed both them and me into unavoidable lust that turned into love.
The fic was sweet, dirty, and one of the best things I ever read. But it left me very confused. All my life I thought — or at least assumed — that I was straight. But this fanfiction and my strong attraction to its gorgeous characters left me questioning.
To test my sexuality, I read a lot of male on female pairings (also known as m/f) to prove that I was still straight. Yup, still turned on. Then I read a lot more female on female pairing (f/f), to prove that it was just a onetime thing. Nope, still turned on. So what was I?
Luckily, the very same fanfiction that had given me this question also provided me with an answer. In the story, Bella had called herself bisexual. Bisexual? What’s that? Why hadn’t I heard of it?
I hadn’t heard of it because no one on TV or movies had ever uttered the word “bisexual.” It was always “I don’t believe in labels,” or someone who's “attracted to everyone,” or all the other worn out bi tropes.
To this day, there are very few shows that actually use the word bisexual, even though they drop so many hints that a character is attracted to more than one gender.
I eventually had to do a Google search to find out what bisexuality was, which told me plainly: “a person who is sexually attracted to both men and women.”
And that’s how I discovered I’m bisexual.
There’s no shame in fanfiction, be it reading or writing it. Commercially successful writers like Cassandra Clare and E.L. James have launched their careers from fanfiction.
I have developed long lasting friendships from discussing fanfiction with people. I’ve told people about my love of Remus/Tonks or Sherlock/Molly. Hell, I even recommend Hermione and Lucius fanfiction to many people — and trust me, that gets a stare.
Yet I’ve never been brave enough to share my Bella/Rosalind pairing, or any of the other f/f pairings I have grown to love over the years.
Because admitting that I love reading f/f might lead to admitting I am bisexual, something that I'm still uncomfortable doing, even though I've accepted my sexuality. I grew up in a homophobic small town in upstate New York, which lead me to be too nervous to bring it up. In fact, up until six months ago, the only people who knew my sexuality were a few ex-lovers, a friend who follows my Tumblr, and a former best friend. Even my best friends who lived with me didn’t know. Don’t ask, don’t tell.
In actuality, my experience isn’t all that different from other fanfiction readers. According to a study done in 2016, surveyors found that 34.8% of the fanfiction readers who partook in the survey were bisexual, the highest percentage, followed by heterosexual at 24% and homosexual at 18.8%. In the same study, a little over 50% said they have learned a lot about their own sexual preference through fanworks, and a little under 50% say that fanworks have influenced their understanding of their own sexuality.
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So if there are so many people like me who also discovered their sexuality through fan fiction, and I wasn’t ashamed, why did it take me forever to “come out”?
It’s 2018, and the media is still bi-phobic as hell. To this day, there are very few shows that actually use the word bisexual, (I’m looking at you, Orange is the New Black), even though they drop so many hints that a character is attracted to more than one gender. This biphobia leads to a lot of queerbaiting.
Queerbaiting, according to Wikipedia, "is the practice (mainly in film or television writing) to hint at, but then to not actually depict, a potential same-sex romantic relationship between fictional characters."
This is very prominent in the Harry Potter fandom, as J.K. Rowling seems to be hell-bent on destroying the magical world she created. First, by baiting us with an Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy love story in Cursed Child that never happened. Or by going on-record to say that Sirius Black and Remus Lupin (a popular fanfiction ship known as Wolfstar) was not canon. She's in hot water again for having her canonly gay character Albus Dumbledore not have his sexuality explicit stated in the upcoming Fantastic Beasts movie, a storyline involving the character Dumbledore had an intense romance with according to Rowling herself.
And let's not forget Autostrattle’s famous Dead Lesbian infograph showing that women are often punished with death and tragedy if they are not tools for men's satisfaction.
Maybe that's why fanfiction has such a devoted following. In this fan-created world, you can find the representation you've long been denied. It's the Burger King of media: you can have it your way. If I want a story about bisexual characters living happy lives, I either have to write it myself or read a fanfiction. We as a culture want better from our entertainment. And if the gatekeeper won't give it to us, we'll create it ourselves.
I hope that one day we’ll have a mainstream outlet that will give us real, canon representation of bisexual couples. And a young girl won’t have to sit alone on her laptop wondering what’s wrong with her.