ext_841: (john double (by monanotlisa))
ext_841 ([identity profile] cathexys.livejournal.com) wrote in [community profile] the_comfy_chair2007-04-09 07:43 am

gender and sexuality in three SGA stories

I'm really interested in the way fanfiction uses, changes, and inverts tropes that are readily available in popular culture as well as the ones fanfic itself has created. I've argued elsewhere about fanfiction being repetition with a difference1, and looking at narrative tropes offers one way to instantiate both the repetition (in the way tropes repeat basic plot structures, archetypal characteristics etc.) and the difference (in the way every story fleshes out the trope but even more so in the way the trope gets altered and shifts in a given story but also over time).

One trope I'm particularly interested in is WNGWJLEO (We're Not Gay, We Just Love Each Other), which to me is the archetrope of old skool slash (i.e., I'd argue that the underlying structure is one that can be found in a large number if not the majority of traditional slash narratives even if the trope itself is not actually visible). I've recently talked at length about WNG and the way I think the underlying motivations have been updated to rid the trope of much of its homophobic sentiments (though I'd maintain that even as some of the stories were indeed violently homophobic, the trope itself never has been as I read it).

Three stories that came out recently illustrate to me the way in which this trope does and does not function. In the following, I want to look at [livejournal.com profile] thingwithwings's always should be someone you really love and then briefly at [livejournal.com profile] trinityofone's You're Pretty Good Looking for a Girl and [livejournal.com profile] toomuchplor's Straight As a Circle. The reason these three stories struck me as interesting (beyond all three being meaty, well written, longish McShep romances :) is the way they ultimately are *not* what I'd expect them to be given a brief plot summary, and each one uses versions of WNG to challenge and subvert the trope in interesting ways.

Always Should Be as inverted WNG
always should be someone you really love (ASB) not only announces its WNG thematic in the title (the emphasis on love as the driving and overwhelming feature is something that I consider central to WNG), it actually, literally, employs WNG in its plot, i.e., John and Rodney are straight, get genderswitched, start having sex as women with one another, get switched back and, after a time, realize that they do want to continue/return to being involved with one another. On the surface, this evokes the basic WNG premise: two seemingly straight guys realize for one reason or other their deep and abiding love for one another and decide to express that love physically even though they were not/are not/still do not consider themselves to be "gay." It plays with some of the common WNG subtropes, i.e., the virgin to sex/gay sex/penetration, and does so twice over as both John and Rodney are literally virgins in their female bodies and (to gay sex) in their male bodies.

community belonging vs individual transcending love
And yet ASB is exactly the opposite of WNG. WNG is built on the overwhelming force of individual attraction/love overcoming societal/cultural expectations and constraints (and here I'd also include stories where the lovers defy external prohibitions for the lover that they previously had obeyed, i.e., John knowing he was gay all along but only for Rodney deciding to risk DADT or Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon defying the Jedi prohibition against overly deep emotional involvement or Bodie and Doyle risking being torn apart as partners because their love is stronger than their responsibility to CI5,...). ASB, on the other hand, is less about individual love than about community and finding one's own, one's tribe, people like oneself. This is what ASB is for me as John and Rodney do not overcome their "wrong" bodies for their deep love as much as they actually retain their desires for long sections of the story. In a way, then, it is the story's focus on bodies that makes it so very queer. In terms of WNG the problem for me here is that there's little emphasis as to why John desired Rodney specifically and their love is incredibly bound to the bodies they actually inhabit and have sex with rather than being a love that transcends (and thus, in a way, ignores) bodies and orientations. Of course, many slash stories use external situations (AMTDI, drugs, bonded) as a means to make the OTP realize that their strong affection is something more indeed. But I would contend that the emphasis is less on becoming aware of the other as potential mate as it is about both of them sharing an experience. The emphasis throughout is on the way they themselves are changing rather than the way their relationship is (i.e., much of the internal growth and increased awareness is about themselves rather than their responses to the other).

"Two men can defy the world."2
This reading is clearly the most contentious part of my argument. [livejournal.com profile] trobadora read a first draft and commented how she read the story as a fusion of the fuckbuddies and WNG trope - the "against our normal orientation" part of WNG with the "coming together through sex" part of the fuckbuddies trope. She suggests that the shared experience changesand sexualizes their relationship but that it is not the *basis* for it. I'd argue that given the fact that fan fiction tends to foreground and emphasize the friendship, that we tend to accept the OTP as clearly meant to be together, ASB seems to work *against* that easy acceptance. Clearly community is not all there is; they are close friends and everything that always seems sufficient to make me accept that they fall into bed together in any other slash story. The fact that there is no discussion of their changed sexual object choice yet a lot of discussion of their shared experiences makes me read this story against a more typical slash reading. Finally, the fact that's it's only two of them seems sufficient to me to argue for a community reading--because two men *can* defy the world :)

loving (as) women
At the beginning of the story, when John and Rodney become women, they retain their male identity and female object choice. In fact, during their first sexual encounter, John says you are really gorgeous as a woman and Rodney responds You’re completely my type. Sex initially is described very much in terms of having sex *with* a woman, though their experiences clearly queer them in interesting ways. As they masturbate their female bodies they become both subject and object. This is hinted at in the very beginning when John describes his ambiguous feelings in regards to his new body: He can’t tell anyone, not even McKay, how much he loves this, this body all new for him, beautiful and unworn. But he’d been almost glad of that; it stays his secret, delicious and perverse. And as they move towards fucking, they seem to fully accept their sexuality as becoming something that's not binary any more, i.e., whereas before they seem to primarily have sex *with* a woman, they're now fully having sex *as* a woman. So when John fantasizes about having a cock to fuck Rodney, Rodney agrees with him I mean, what the hell, this body seems to like having, uh. God. Having things inside ii, thus accepting the cognitive dissonance in both of them between their physical and intellectual desires. [Or, to reference Wittig,3 they define themselves as lesbians, and thus, in a way, as *not* woman--though, of course, neither are they not *not* woman :)] What the story does then, is mix and merge and twist sexual identity and sexual object choice; but any sense of straight or gay requires a certain stability in both. Neither John nor Rodney have that and their sense of identity as sexual beings is constantly changed as they remain in their female bodies and as they begin having sex with one another. Whereas the beginning is them noticing one another as attractive females (thus retaining their initial straight object choice), their own bodies clearly make their sexual encounters "gay," but it is the awareness of their bodies as these multi-erogenous zones that can give and receive various forms of pleasure that complicates any clear position for identity or desire at the end of their tenure as women. In fact their discovery of their own "polymorphous perverse sexuality,"4 functions as a mirror, disrupting the genital obsession binary as their changed genders disrupt traditional gender binaries: the acceptance of the spectrum of gender identity is doubled in the spectrum of the bodies as sexual zones in toto.

no return
So we have the very queer male lesbians and then they get their bodies back. And it is the second violation, the second shift that moves both of them completely into territory where noone can connect with them fully, where they only have one another to relate to. They have been both male and female, have had desires and experiences as both male and female, and the disconnect (a little heavyhandedly symbolized via the vertigo that follows the identical phrasing of both changes) is repeted in the second switch, which suggests that they're not just back in their bodies without having been affected. John's masturbation scene was quite problematic for me at first. I read his trying to fuck himself and not enjoying it as a weird way to bring in that deep Rodneysexualness that WNG sometimes implies (a reading that the rest of the story didn't support, however). [livejournal.com profile] thingswithwings suggests that the reason he couldn't enjoy it was that he tried to replicate the penetration and enjoyment of his *female* body: I'd say that it's more about the melancholia, the feeling of loss. No one who puts a dildo in their ass and wants it to feel like vaginal intercourse is going to enjoy it. And John is still in that place where he's getting used to his male body again [source].5 This would further suggest that his change created an identity that could never fully return to only male but would always retain an aspect of female desire. So if he was trying to have sex as a female getting fucked, trying to recapture what he'd lost, he couldn't enjoy his male body and ass but instead was trying to regain the feelings and sense of self he'd gained as female, was experienced his loss of his vagina. The fact that he'd want that penetration as female is a wonderful way of showing how much he'd already changed, how much his identity and sexuality already had changed.

doubled bodies
When they finally get back together, their doubled identities and desires get represented in the overlaid image: John is overwhelmed by double-vision: Rodney’s strong masculine jaw shadowed by the gentler curve it’d held two weeks ago, his broad, furry chest reminding John of his beautiful soft breasts.. So rather than the very detailed focus we had when they were loving each other's female bodies, we're getting a mix of the body and the person being desired, the doubling of their sexual identities both in themselves and their lovers. Looking at the sex scenes and the conversations between the two, I read their connection less about the deep transcending love of WNG as about multitudes of desire, about the coming to terms with sexual bodies being multiple and a polymorphous perverse desire where all parts of the body become erogenous zones. I'd like to think that that's what they learned as women--the story very much emphasizes breasts and other non genital parts of the bodies they touch and inhabit. So, if they as men suddenly realize the entire body as a canvas of potential desire then their male bodies, suddenly rediscovered as they're as alien as their recent female bodies have been, can become a more plural playing ground. The author in comments describes John and Rodney as "fairly uncritical middle-aged heterosexual men ho think in terms of gay/straight, at least for most of the story" [source] ; nevertheless, both have already understood in their behavior much more than they could possibly articulate. So they may *think* that they're not gay but just love each other, but we see a different story. Just before they get back together, for example, John smells Rodney's familiar smell, thus suggesting that his senses are way ahead of him in terms of what he does or doesn't want: It’s heartbreakingly familiar: Rodney’s smell, and his blue eyes, and his warm body against John’s.. It is the emphasis on familiarity that most suggests a reading that foregrounds their love, the sense that Rodney and John are still the same underneath their bodies, but most of the body descriptions to me suggest that in this story they *are* their bodies, that it is exactly the vertigo and doubledness that brings and keeps them together.

alien queer radical gender terrorists and tarin
One of the most enjoyable meta aspects of the text is the way the author doubles herself into the text: clearly she violates John's and Rodney's genders in writing the story, thus becoming the alien queer radical gender terrorist she creates. Moreover, she offers an ever so brief history of queer life and the importance of community in the figure of Tarin as [livejournal.com profile] heyiya observes, I want to know Tarin's life story; he's such an interesting, enigmatic character, and I hope I'm not wrong in seeing a nod to all the lonely passing/ftm/butch stories of lesbian literature [source]. It is in the figure of Tarin and hir loneliness that we can see the community of two that John and Rodney have created. After all, much of John and Rodney's initial relation is about finding someone who understands (and it's telling that they go to one another rather than the women they know, that they help each other through their first menses rather than asking Teyla etc.), who shares this unstable and complicated sense of self.6 So to me, Rodney and John deciding to become lovers after the second genderswitch is as much about being with the one person who is both male and female and who understand being both male and female as much as it is about some imaginary "love" that they've discovered when sleeping together. (And, of course, the question then becomes what "love" actually is, with love getting constructed somewhere between desire and identity and community and that nebulous thing we call attraction :)

physicality: metaphor or not?
Likewise, ASB's excessive emphasis on physicality in and for itself is in direct rejection of one of the more typical WNG aspects: WNG, after all, foregrounds the emotional intimacy and transcending/transcendent love over physical embodiments. The reason the partners may not consider themselves "gay" is often expressed in their realization that they are not attracted to other guys or, at least, that they wouldn't be willing to defy whatever rules or norms they're defying were it not for the love of the other. I'd suggest that a crossover trope of WNG is the way sex and physicality per se mark intense relations in their intellectual and emotional intimacy [and I say crossover, because even though most WNG employs it, I'd argue it's even more pervasive, b/c a lot of fuck buddies falling in love also uses it, where we begin with (possibly even anonymous) sex and make our way to the emotional intimacy, where the sex begins as just sex and then morphs into something altogether different, i.e., the *quality* of the sex functions as metaphor]. Interestingly, it's not even only sex which figures utterly central and carries much of the metaphoric weight but simple physicality that stands in for other things.7 ASB does not follow that pattern. Its physical focus (and there's plenty) rarely ever function metaphorically (i.e., John contemplating Rodney's breast as a symbol of his growing love for him) but tends to be very much *about* the bodies (and female ones at that :). There's no transcending awareness and *knowing* the partner's desires before/better than the partner does but instead experimenting and curiosity and a fair share of just plain desire in/of the female body. The sex scenes are erotic and sexy but they stand in for themselves rather than their growing love. In fact, the final scene we have is of the non-erect penis, which works nicely as a a deemphasis of the phallus as the center stage of their identities and desires, as the primary means of pleasure. If their female desires are multiple and not as genitally focused, then their doublegendered/multigendered new identities and desires should exceed the phallus as well.

noone's gay as genderqueer utopia?
So, if there is any way to read the story as WNG, I'd suggest it's rather a version of NIGWAJLEO (Noone Is Gay; We all Just Love Each Other), which, of course, is one underlying aspect of WNG, i.e., the ideal that we (should?) love people and not the bodies in which they come. Read like that, the trope does posit a near utopian space that could maybe be read as very genderqueer, i.e., where the individual rather than the sex is loved. In that sense, the story is doing that, though it's not something specific to Rodney and John's love but it is very specific to Rodney and John's particular experiences. In that reading, the ancient device that forces every ancient to experience both genders might have created a society of intersexed/multisexed/multidesiring subjects, but in the story, only Rodney and John have had that experience and that sense of understanding, of belonging, is a strong aspect of searching one another out, of their love!

You're Pretty Good Looking and the vicissitudes of bodies
"You're Pretty Good Looking for a Girl" presents us with another double gender swap, this time Laura Cadman and Rodney get stuck in different bodies. The most interesting response to me is Cadman's who seems to adjust to the change with a certain ease not exhibited by Rodney: She had no problem with it: her movements were easy—had been, from almost the beginning. This could simply be the author's focus on Rodney as point of view character, but I'd suggest that Cadman might simply be more genderqueer, more at ease with her male side even before the switch. She's an explosion expert in the Marines, a predominatly male area in a fairly male field. Unlike Rodney who's invested in his masculinity and mourns it, Cadman adjusts more easily (which also might suggest that changing "up the social ladder"'s easier than down?). Rodney's concerns are both the different (i.e., female) body as well as his apparently biological responses to John: He was aware of Sheppard—or rather, he told himself frantically, this body was aware of him. So in the figure of Rodney we see an emphasis on biological determination as he suddenly seems to find John attractive in ways he previously didn't (or didn't let himself acknowledge?). Sadly, once John and Rodney get together, we see less of Rodney's issues about having sex with a man than we see about John, whose identity and orientation issues are central to the last parts of the story.

We're Not Straight and John's queer identity politics
In the discussion to the story [livejournal.com profile] cesperanza coined the term We're Not Straight, We Just Love Each Other (WNSWJLEO) to describe the moment where John decides to be with Rodney even though Rodney's gender is not John's preferred one (i.e., Rodney's female and John gay) and in the way bodies and their centrality are configured in the story: conventionally, bodies both do and don't matter in the characters' worlds--WNGWJLEO insisting that the characters, while straight, love each other enough to "get over" and "come to love" the "wrongly gendered body"--just as you did here, which is why it's a WNSWJLEO; but on the other hand, the bodies in slash matter very much to the largely female audience who is frequently drooling and noting the [actor/characters] bodies in obsessive detail [source]. Just like in traditional WNG, Trin's characters love one another so deeply that genders and physical embodiments become secondary to physically expressing this deep love. In fact, the emphasis is on what's really inside that body, separating body fro identity in certain ways: Sheppard stared at him, into him, like he was searching for the last remaining spark of light at the center of a black hole; Rodney didn't break the gaze as with a sigh he stepped forward into the palm Sheppard instinctively uncurled, cupping it gently around Rodney's breast. "This is me." Moreover, one could argue the story's even more complicated insofar as John's hesitancy to sleep with Rodney as girl is as much grounded in politics and community as it is in John's same sex desire: [Rodney] closed his eyes. "It wouldn't mean..." He opened them again; he had to look, had to see Sheppard's face. "Wanting me, like this—it wouldn't mean giving into your father, or society, or...or The Man. It would just mean..." He shrugged, helplessly, giving up. "It would mean whatever you want it to mean.". His gayness and ultimate willingness to have "straight" sex thus is already complicated as not only being about biological desires but also about community allegiances. Meanwhile, however, Rodney's not-gay narrative (i.e., the fact that at the beginning of the story he self-identifies as straight yet in a woman's body desires another man) ends up getting oddly elided in a mixture between his body desiring males (thus leaving him oddly straight) and him desiring John (which would return to WNG territory, i.e., his love for John overcoming his straight desires in not wanting to sleep with other men). You're Pretty thus plays with WNG by embracing it (in Rodney), inverting it (in John), and rejecting it (in the way John is troubled by betraying his hard-won queer identity rather than the actual sex with Rodney).

Straight as a Circle as gay romance
Likewise, "Straight As a Circle" draws on the WNG trope yet complicates and inverts it in really interesting ways. Here we do not switch genders as much as orientation in the subversion of yet another trope, namely the "X woke up gay" one. John, happily gay and partnered with Rodney8 encounters an ancient technology that makes him straight. Here biology overrides their love, but it is the juxtaposition of the two that evokes WNG in this story. If the underlying impetus for WNG is indeed the true love that leads to them having sex even as they may have not thought of other men/may not have found somone who was worth it before, in "Straight," we find a John who loves Rodney so much, he desperately wants to overcome the biological impreative that keeps him from Rodney. In fact, he has sex with him a few times even as it repulses him, *because* he loves Rodney. The disconnect between love and sexual desire undermines WNG whereas the love that makes John willing to overcome it moves it closer. In fact, in the sex scenes it's made very clear that the only thing that potentially begins to overcome John's non-reaction to Rodney *is* his love: he comes, for example in their first "straight" encounter when Rodney tells him he loves him and the comfort he takes in it being Rodney who blows him: a blowjob is a good thing, no matter who’s giving it. // And it’s Rodney, John thinks brokenly, reaching down to pat at the short soft hair, all his instincts flooded and submerged. It’s Rodney, thank fuck. Moreover, it is his separation of emotion and bodily responses that makes him more aware of his own and Rodney's feelings: Rodney obliges, determined now. John closes his eyes shut and feels a great warmth blooming in his chest, struck suddenly by how much Rodney wants to make John feel good, how important this is to him. How had he never realized it before? In fact, much of John's realizations are indeed about the depth of his feelings: Then it strikes John that he never has kissed Rodney’s jaw, not the way he wants to now -- just a touch of lips, careful like the placement has to be perfect, holding Rodney steady with John’s hand carded through the hair at the nape of his neck. Three years, and John is only now realizing that he never took as much time as he should have..

community and identity
At the same time, just like in Trin's story, John's gayness is not just about biology but is also a cultural identity. Unlike Trin's John, who is well aware of the fact that he purposefully, consciously, and happily self-identifies as gay, this John only comes to understand that his identity truly is *his* when he gets a chance to experience "normal" desires, to not have to hide any more. There's a strong motif of secrets and hiding throughout the story, and it is both John's sense that he's still hiding a secret (albeit a slightly different one) when turned straight as well as his relief and acknowledgment of himself and his love for Rodney when turned gay again that functions as an interesting symbolic inversion. And the dream becomes a nightmare, both because it is on some fundamental level not him but also, it seems, in part because of Rodney. So while sexuality here is almost exclusively biological, identities and desires are a bit more complicated, and love is transcendent even when it's counter to actual biological responses. As such, "Straight as a Circle" is not truly WNG, but its foregrounding of John's love above and beyond biological and social demands draws from similar underlying tropes, which made this story immensely satisfying for my WNG taste :) In fact, in response to my reading, [livejournal.com profile] graycastle suggests that "Straight" ilustrates a powerful description of where-the-queer-goes in those narratives of choice and fixing, AND of where-the-queer-goes in those narratives of biological determinism. Which is to say, it doesn't go away, it keeps leaving troubling little remnants behind. As a recovered Lacanian,9 I love the fact that possibly the remainder/reminder of the Real of what gets excluded in a thoroughly constructivist model of choice may be the very things that haunt John in this story.

we've come a long way, baby
While these three stories explore different aspects of sexual identity and object choice and situate themselves in different places in regards to the role of biological hardwiring vs constructed desires for either, what they clearly share is a sense of awareness that none of these things are simple, that bodies and desires, gender and sexuality are more than binary and rarely simply constituted. Moreover, what all three stories share is an awareness and an engagement with fannish history and fannish tropes, a playful repetition with a difference that to me testifies to the vibrancy of fan fiction, where even the most tired cliche doesn't need to get dismissed but instead can be taken up and reinvigorated, and where stories participate as much in meta discussions as theoretical analyses do. WNG gets rediscovered and inverted; waking up straight gets played with; gender and body swaps become the premise on which these fascinating explorations into our characters' identities and sexualitis takes place. [livejournal.com profile] thingswithwings's male lesbians, [livejournal.com profile] trinityofone's genderqueer Cadman and politically queer John, and [livejournal.com profile] toomuchploor's John who ultimately chooses his queerness as much for himself as for Rodney all are examples of queer identities that do not align neatly along gender and identity lines, that are not biologically predetermined exclusively but always already exist in the interplay between nature and culture, sex and gender, bodies and cultural constructions--they are truly queer subjects!

1 I take this concept of “repetition with a difference” from deconstruction, in particular, Jacques Derrida’s notion of the inherent non-identity of repetition. See, for example, Signature, Event, Context. go back to text

2 [livejournal.com profile] graycastle quoted this line from E.M. Foster's Maurice, and it perfectly illustrates to me that two indeed *is* already a community, defying the loneliness of one. go back to text

3 Monique Wittig famously has declared that lesbians are not women, See, for example, One is not Born a Woman. go back to text

4 I'm referencing the author here, because claiming this interpretation of that particular passage as my own would be plagiarism. The mod has okayed this "due to the essay format, the link to the source and the prior approval of the author who made the statement." go back to text

5 This Freudian concept describes the state of the infant before focusing on genital sexuality. It describes a sexuality in which the entire body is a canvas for sexual stimulus. Whereas in Freud this is a state to be superceded by the more mature genital sexuality, consequent critics have questioned such a bias. See, Freud's The Infantile Sexuality. go back to text

6 And I'm following here the latest generation of queer scholars who are much more willing to embrace queer identity in part at least as choice, so that same-sex over opposite-sex is not just a biological imperative (as traditional gay studies tended to posit) but a conscious cultural and political choice. In that sense, choosing a same sex partner becomes in part a function of community, of identities and sharing those identities overriding biological desires. go back to text

7 One story that strikes me as exemplary is Ellis Ward's Pro AU Harlequin Airs where Bodie and Doyle are trapeze artists; their meant to be togetherness is clear even before they ever have sex, think of one another sexually, before they even *know* one another, by the way their bodies fit together! We see it in the way partners in fic read each other's bodies, know each other by sight, sound, smell..., and mind bonds and mind reading is a trope found in just about *any* fandom, whether canonically supportable or not. go back to text

8 For an interesting discussion of how happy and how self-identified John may be at the beginning of the story, see here. go back to text

9 Jacques Lacan's concept of the Real is immensely complicated and contested: it can be understood as the plane which resists both the mirror fantasy of the Imaginary as well as any attempts of formalization or symbolization of the Symbolic. It thus can never be reached because we are always mediated through our fantasy space or though language, and we only experience it indirectly in terms of ‘left-overs.’ Another way to think of it is to understand the Real as the places where the Symbolic fails to cohere, the ruptures that then, in turn, are filled out by the Imaginary. For a summary of Lacan, see here. go back to text
ext_150: (Default)

[identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com 2007-04-09 01:41 pm (UTC)(link)
This was really interesting. *tracks post* I have all three of these fics bookmarked to read, but haven't done so yet, so I can't really comment any further. I know what I'll be reading next, though.
trobadora: (SGA Genderfuck by liviapenn)

[personal profile] trobadora 2007-04-09 01:42 pm (UTC)(link)
Pulling this out of my earlier comments:

ASB clearly invokes the literal meaning of WNG - two straight guys wind up in a relationship with each other - and turns it on its head by the way they wind up together, not in spite of their bodies but because of them. I read the story as a fusion of the fuckbuddies and WNG trope - the "against our normal orientation" part of WNG with the "coming together through sex" part of the fuckbuddies trope. But I don't think the shared experience is all there is; it highlights and changes the existing relationship between and makes it sexual, yes, but their messed-upness isn't their main point of connection to me.

The way I read it, neither of them desired the other specifically at the start - they start out as fuckbuddies because of their fucked-up situation. And during the story their sexual identity goes through the wringer, is twisted and turned around, but not their orientation, if that makes sense. The way I read it it was about transferring what they learned about sexual identity to sexual orientation - they're learning to transcend their orientation because they've learned that their own identity is fluid.

Maybe I'm misreading this due to my OTP goggles, but the way I read it was neither that they are together because no one else is like them, nor that they discovered love; it's that they did love each other, but platonically, and that their experiences have messed with their identities to the point where sexual orientation becomes fluid as well.

[livejournal.com profile] thingswithwings suggests that the reason he couldn't enjoy it was that he tried to replicate the penetration and enjoyment of his *female* body

Yes, that is how I read it - as John trying to replicate the sensations of a female body with his male body, which (naturally) was doomed to failure.
trobadora: (Default)

[personal profile] trobadora 2007-04-09 02:05 pm (UTC)(link)
I think there's definitely a strong predisposition to read things that way

Yes, absolutely. I agree with you that the story undermines the usual OTP readings where of course these two would wind up together, the "Big Love" ideal that permeates WNG - to my reading the story clearly implies that without this experience, there would be no (sexual) relationship. But at the same time I still believe that the political aspect of their relationship is only possible on the basis of the personal - the way I read it, the one strand in all of this that holds steady while sexuality and identity and circumstances are being twisted around is their personal friendship.

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[identity profile] norah.livejournal.com 2007-04-09 05:58 pm (UTC)(link)
I loved Straight As A Circle for finally letting someone in a genderswap story be really, really on one end of the Kinsey scale or another in a way that was not mutable. The plot almost always requires that the protagonists be bi enough to live happily through and ever after, and it was great to see that fucked with. There's a SPN genderswap that's really sad - Dean falls in love with girl!Sam and then when Sam changes back, it's not ... he doesn't feel the same way, and Sam does.

As a bi person myself, I'm fully there with the "oh, bits, whatever," school of sexuality, but I like to see Kinsey sevens in stories; something about it is very satisfying to me.

BTW, this wasn't offputting theory-wise (I just skimmed the names), just long and I'm hung over, so I'm not parsing.
copracat: dreamwidth vera (music)

[personal profile] copracat 2007-05-17 08:32 am (UTC)(link)
There's a SPN genderswap that's really sad - Dean falls in love with girl!Sam and then when Sam changes back, it's not ... he doesn't feel the same way, and Sam does.

There is a Pop fandom story like that. It's just heartbreaking and I can't re-read it very often. be able to stop JC/Joey
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Modly note to Plor and other commenters

[identity profile] carolyn-claire.livejournal.com 2007-04-09 07:17 pm (UTC)(link)
The rules do ask that authors of stories not join in discussion of their work in the comm--it's all explained in the rules posts, so I won't go over it all again, here. After giving it some thought, I'm making some exceptions for Cath's post--I'm also allowing her to reference an author's words (after okaying it with me, first), as explained in her notes. This post is an essay on a topic that's informed by references to stories that illustrate Cath's points, rather than a review of the stories mentioned. This isn't a summation of Cath's thoughts and feelings about these stories in and of themselves, thoughts that can be 'trumped' by a writer's refutation of the readers' thoughts through sharing what her intent was; the authors' intent in these stories is, in large part, what the essay is about, along with the tropes and conventions we use in fanfic and how some stories can turn them on their ears, etc. Plor, I'm not going to ask you to remove this comment because of the different nature of this post, though on a regular review post, I would. If anyone has any issues or questions about my allowing certain things in this post that generally aren't, they can let me know in my journal (on any post) or through email.

[identity profile] umbo.livejournal.com 2007-04-10 12:47 am (UTC)(link)
Awesome post. Um, that's all I've got at the moment, but I wanted to say it :-)

[identity profile] gaudinight.livejournal.com 2007-04-10 12:56 am (UTC)(link)
Earlier today when I saw this essay, I quickly re-read the stories. Then I read the essay twice. I am delighted because I enjoy this kind of analysis the most of all fannish conversation—analysis which compares and contrast stories with similar elements. It takes a lot of work to do but it enhances the enjoyment of stories, which already have brought a lot of pleasure. I’ve always loved the way themes/clichés are used and re-used in fan fiction. It is one of the great pleasures of reading fan fic.

I find the language of theory and literary criticism hard to follow. It’s outside of my field and strikes me as an obscure and specialized language. I had to look up trope and re-read the essay carefully. That said --I have found literary theories of sexuality (as best as I understand them) to be very helpful in understanding both my own sexuality and the politics of sexuality. So I’m willing to work harder when I read such things. But I have the feeling when I read essays which use theory talk, that I’m getting only about 46.7% of what is being said.

I think of theory as haute couture. The fashions on the runways of Paris and Milan are so alien to what we find in Target. Yet we know that in a few years, the essences of this year’s hot haute couture will be distilled into ready-made clothes which are made practical in the process. That’s how I feel when I read an essay like this. My eyes are wide and my brain is scrambling but I know that ideas are trickling down. It’s okay if I don’t get it all, it’s just a taste of what is to come. Some day it will be distilled for civilians.

I have always wondered if there is biological desire, hard wiring. I always thought of myself as straight but as I age and read more fan fiction and think about sexuality, the more I think of desire as being philosophical and psychological. My own desires have broadened from being exposed to non-determinist ideas of sexuality.

At the same time, I used to discount the importance of the body and the physical when I was younger. I have become both more sex positive about the actual body and more expansive in my ideas of attraction in the mind in recent years.

And I think the ASB for me is a metaphor for my own self-understanding and I love the story for that reason. It seems true at its heart. It captures the shock and liberation of new discovery so perfectly. John and Rodney come to have more expansive ideas about what is possible for them because of a very strong physical experience. They take desires they know and understand—being attracted to women—as a path into a more expansive idea of attraction.

I love this idea that being open to possibility can uncover true love and fulfillment. If they hadn’t been turned into women then they wouldn’t have found each other romantically. And as we readers with our OTP goggles on would have regarded that as a tragedy.

I think the point you made that the fiction contributes Meta as much as discussion does is so right. Fiction is so powerful that if done right, it teaches us truths that we couldn’t internalize without the strong emotional response to ease the learning.

Mostly good fan fiction is just enjoyable but every once in awhile the story is more than that. All of these stories, by playing with notions of gender and desire actually stretch us and our imaginations and ideas.

Anyway, thank you so much for taking the time to write this, it was great and made me think. And re-enjoy and re-appreciate 3 great stories.

[identity profile] carolyn-claire.livejournal.com 2007-04-10 01:32 am (UTC)(link)
I love stories that play with tropes, especially those that can make me rethink those I've come to dislike--Astolat's kidfic, for instance, and ltlj's elf story, and now Plor's WNG story that isn't, as well as the other two. Just when you think that no one and nothing could make you go for kids/elves/WNG in fic...someone does. And I love it. I seldom enjoy being proved wrong so much. *g*

I was tickled, too, when I was going on about how Plor's story was such an effective twisting of the trope and you said, "and ASB, too!" and I had that great, "But it isn't! But it totally is! But it's not!" moment. Because these stories both are and aren't examples of the tropes, or, more accurately, they use the tropes to better effect while playing with them (and with our minds)--wonderful. For me, Plor's story was immediately recognizable to me as a trope-twister, while Wings' story was so twisty and took my head in so many directions--totally a wow, dude! kind of a trip--that it didn't hit me, originally. As you lay it out, here, it's very clear; they're straight guys who get turned onto each other's bodies as women, who then begin to feel as much like women, during sex, as they do men, who then become men again while retaining echoes of the women they were...boggling. Dude. *g*

And, really, as I think about it, the character arcs in those two stories are nearly opposite; John learns in one to understand and appreciate the emotional beneath the physical, and in the other (along with Rodney) to understand and appreciate the physical beyond the emotional. And they still end up in the same place--together in all respects, but not because of an overwhelming love that was so great that it crossed physical/societal boundaries, but through a process that taught them things about themselves. Very cool.

It's been long enough since I've read Trin's story that I can't comment about it with any confidence as to accuracy, so I'll re-read that one with an eye to how it fits into that 'journey to greater sexual/romantic self-knowledge' idea, which I know it does but I can't remember specifics, at the moment. I'll add to my comments once I have. Actually, I think I'll re-read them all with your essay in mind, the better to comment further. It's a tough job, isn't it? *g* Thanks for posting.
ext_2208: image of romaine brooks self-portrait, text "Lila Futuransky" (queer rainbow)

[identity profile] heyiya.livejournal.com 2007-04-10 06:01 am (UTC)(link)
I'm kind of too tired for serious meta, but I just read Straight as a Circle and it made me so happy! Now that's my kind of WNG, let me tell you. These three stories together are just such a happy place of queer fanfiction for me. They all cover both the painful things and the joyful things about negotiating a complex relationship with identity and sexuality – the sex and the way the sex interacts with the way you see yourself and others see you, playing out in the difficulty of negotiating the fissures in an identity based around chosen dissidence, in the opposite of that when dissidence is chosen over the actually available option of biological normativity, and the mutual realisation of dissidence that becomes the choice of a mutually constructed new identity.

I'm kind of too tired to do more depth right now and I need to put my mental energies into my work right now... but this essay and these stories make me immensely grateful for fandom right now. Because the best thing about all of them may be the way they perhaps could have been written without the fannish context and infrastructure, but they would only have been a tiny fraction as good.
ext_2208: image of romaine brooks self-portrait, text "Lila Futuransky" (queer rainbow)

[identity profile] heyiya.livejournal.com 2007-04-10 03:03 pm (UTC)(link)
I loved it! I love that it's an alternative way to look at OTP through the lens of communit and solidarity... I think it describes a lot of my pleasure in the stories where the couple will get together and then deal together with everybody's horrified or homophobic reactions (and now I'm thinking about Snarry for some reason...)

I think the genderswap as central trope works lovely if we can find the room to explain the trope's historical function in fandom and then move to the way it's played against the family of choice tropes and queer critiques of biologism in these later versions...

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[identity profile] ceares.livejournal.com 2007-04-24 07:08 am (UTC)(link)
Just wanted to say thanks for this-not only was it well thought out and documented, but some how I had missed all of these stories. I started reading the essay 1st and stopped and went to read the stories. Came back and read the essay again and it was like putting my glasses on. I felt a little like I was in class, and that's always a fun thing for me.

WNG is one of my favorite tropes, so I really enjoyed the dissection of the stories and how they fit or didn't into that mold.

[identity profile] crinklysolution.livejournal.com 2010-04-24 04:33 pm (UTC)(link)
This was very interesting and thought-provoking, though I've only read one of the stories you mention here "Straight as a Circle." I thought that was unexpected and liked it the more for it. Now I'll have to catch up with the rest...