Whoosh! Issue 46 - July 2000


By Rooks
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
3159 words

Dude Looks Like A Lady (01-05)
"I Heard That There Were Lesbians Here" (06-11)
The Erotic Eye (12-14)
Where The Girls Are (15-16)
"You Write Like A Girl" (17-20)
Sexual Mechanics (21-24)
It Is All About Love (25-27)

The Other Side: Writing Alternative Xena Fan Fiction from a Male Point of View

Dude Looks Like A Lady

What's this 'uber' thing all about?  Sounds kinky!

Things are not always what they seem in HERE SHE COMES... MISS AMPHIPOLIS.

[1] I have done it myself. When I have read pieces of fan fiction, whether they be alternative, general, or uber, I have drawn conclusions about the author. It is hard not to. Writing fiction can be a deeply personal venture and most authors have a tendency to put much of their own values, philosophies, and attitudes into their writing. Some stories contain events that speak to the author. Others contain characters that may be drawn from people the author has met. I like to think that during the reading of a piece of fiction the reader connects, in some small way, with the writer.

[2] When it comes to stories involving two female characters, characters who are often portrayed as confident lesbians, then perhaps the most understandable assumption to make is that the author of the story is female. Indeed, it would seem that this is not an unreasonable assumption, considering the demographics of Xena: Warrior Princess' fan base. But there are fan fiction writers out there, bards as they are called, who are male, and who write the gamut of genres, ranging from "safe" general stories to outright, and explicit, alternative stories.

[3] I have no idea how many men are writing Xena fan fiction. I can make a guess based on names, but these days there are many more bards than there were three or four years ago when Xena stories started appearing. There are too many for one person to track easily. More importantly, most of those bards use pen names when posting their stories, and often these pen names give no indication of that person's gender. It is a relatively simple matter to determine the gender of Melissa Good or Tim Wellman. When the bard's name is Scout, it gets a tad more difficult. Even Jamie Boughen is not crystal clear. This difficulty is compounded by the possibility that a bard may choose a generally gender-specific name that does not correspond with his or her own sex. One can only know that Melissa Good is indeed female through having seen her in person or having seen an authenticated picture.

[4] However, the purpose of this article is not to name names. As a man who loves alternative fan fiction, I am most interested in how men fit into the fan fiction culture. There is little doubt in my mind there are more women than there are men who both read and write fan fiction, but what of those men? What is it about fan fiction, including alternative fan fiction, that those men find so appealing? Why do they write fan fiction? Why erotic fan fiction? Given that these are female characters, how, if at all, can they carry it off convincingly?

[5] These are all questions that continually lead me to deep soul-searching. I have chatted with male bards before, gleaned their insights about writing, but I certainly cannot claim to have spoken with every man who has ever written about Xena and Gabrielle. In the end, all I have is my own experience to go on. Whether I am an unusual or typical male, I hope I will be enough to do my gender justice.

"I Heard There Were Lesbians Here"

[6] There is a stigma, of which I am sure most adults in North America are aware, that men are attracted to lesbians purely for titillation. There has always been a predilection for lesbian images in pornography, but this is an extreme example. Pop magazines that are targeted at men typically further this attitude. Or consider the following paraphrased exchange from a Seinfeld (TV 1990-1998) episode:

Elaine: "Why are men so obsessed with catfights?"
Jerry: "Because men think that if women are groping and clawing at each other there's a chance that they might kiss."

[7] The joke is that men see lesbians purely as sexual objects. Of course, this sort of attitude is highly sexist. What makes things harder is the fact that many men you meet perpetuate the attitude themselves. As a man, try telling a buddy that one of your favorite movies is the lesbian thriller Bound (Andy & Larry Wachowski, 1996), and you will immediately have a dozen preconceived notions formed about you.

[8] I have a friend, a female, who told me once that while reading a piece of lesbian Star Trek fan fiction, she knew immediately that it was written by a man. She felt this because the story featured a great deal of phallic imagery, with very little emphasis placed on descriptions of feelings. While I am sure this sort of thing does exist in Xena fan fiction, I have yet to run across such a story about Xena and Gabrielle.

[9] I would posit that Xena fan fiction, by its very nature, is less concerned with the sex than with the relationship. To be sure, there are many "Plot, what plot?" (PWP) stories out there which involve nothing but a romp in the sheets, but even those tend to involve a very strong emotional connection between Xena and Gabrielle. PWP stories are never about cold, mercenary sex. They almost always end with a declaration of love. Overwhelmingly, alternative fan fiction contains the theme of soul mates: two women who share a connection that is deeply intimate and sexual in a way that the series has never shown us.

[10] It is fairly clear that it is this connection that makes fan fiction so appealing to so many. It is this connection that appeals to both men and women. The first story I ever read was "The Eleusinean Mysteries" by Baermer, and I wish I could go back and read it for the first time again. I still vividly remember my heart pounding, and the feelings of anticipation and catharsis that accompany any sort of declaration of emotion. These sort of feelings are universal and independent of gender.

[11] In fact, I would say the lower number of men writing fan fiction has nothing to do with the nature of the stories, but more to do with the actual demographics of the fan base. The men who do enjoy Xena fan fiction, I have found, enjoy it for the same reasons that women do.

The Erotic Eye

[12] However, to talk about alternative fan fiction without talking about the sex itself would be doing it a disservice, because the sex itself is an attractive element of fan fiction for both women and men alike. In her article "Lesbian Erotica Without Apology: The Erotic As Power" (Whoosh #25, October 1998, Rebecca Hall writes:

The lesbian fan fiction written about the characters of Xena and Gabrielle illustrates the use of the erotic as a source of power and information. It reveals the depth of the connection that can exist between women. It provides a model for the existence of a powerful intimacy between women that is emotional, physical, and spiritual.

[13] Her point is that erotic fiction is important and empowering to lesbian women. The definition of the word "erotic", Hall notes, stems from the Greek for "love", and is far-removed from the concept of pornography. Pornography, by nature, embodies an attitude, the idea, that women are sexual objects. Erotic fan fiction does not contain this attitude. It is this outlook that is ultimately responsible for why erotic fan fiction can be appealing to men as well as women. Cornball as it may sound, loving sex is a beautiful thing, no matter who is involved. Individuals, male or female, looking only for pornography will be ultimately disappointed by erotica.

[14] I am not suggesting that lesbian fan fiction is as empowering to men as it is to women. Men do not really require this sort of empowerment, being already surrounded in the media by numerous sources of male sexual power. But the characters of Xena and Gabrielle stand for many different ideals. Feminism is certainly one of these, as is a positive depiction of a lesbian relationship. Also, though, is the idea of a deep and profound love between two people. Sex in this context can be a great turn-on, even if it takes a preternaturally romantic man to appreciate it.

Where The Girls Are

Where graphics editors go after they die


[15] The fact that the characters of Xena and Gabrielle are characters in a fantasy broadens their appeal to all genders. Not always, but typically the world in which Xena and Gabrielle live contains no discriminatory barriers to their relationship. Often Xena and Gabrielle settle in Amazon Lands, where every woman is gay. Other stories have Xena and Gabrielle on the road, with no society to fit into, per se. Stories make the statement that Xena and Gabrielle love each other, period. Although I am sure they exist, I have yet to find a piece of fan fiction that focuses on the political and social factors in "coming out" as a gay person. In the world of fan fiction, homosexuality is refreshingly accepted everywhere. As a heterosexual male, I understand love, but I am sure there is no way I can fully understand the depth of emotion that accompanies the "coming out" process, at least not beyond the level with which I have experienced it with my homosexual friends. The fact that Xena and Gabrielle's love does not involve these constraints makes it easier for me to relate to it.

[16] This aspect of fan fiction is changing, with the prominence of Uber fan fiction. Still, I find that even Uber stories tend to focus less on the issue of "being gay" than they do on the dynamics of the relationship between the two main characters. In doing so, this creates stories that anyone can enjoy.

"You Write Like A Girl"

In another cost-cutting move, Ted Raimi will perform all roles in at least one episode next season

Jayce is... different.

[17] I came across some bards posting on a message board once. The conversation went something like this:

"Have you been able to tell the sex of the bard/author by the way they write their X&G sex scenes, without fore knowledge of said author?"

"I have dived right into stories without noting the bard's name and somewhere along the way said to myself, 'I do believe this woman on woman thang was not written by a woman.' I am often right. I do not think the sex of the author matters if the story is well written. It is just curious the different perceptions that will come from the minds of male or female."

"I have this nice gender non-specific name. I have written half a dozen stories from the male perspective, and I still get called 'her' right away? Why is that?"

[18] It would seem that some of the time it is possible to determine the gender of the bard, other times it is not. The question presents itself though, how easy is it for a man to write a believable female character? The fact that most male bards who use gender non-specific names are assumed to be female seems to say that it is not as difficult as one might initially think.

[19] First of all, I would say the archetypical qualities of Xena and Gabrielle affect a writer's ability to grasp their characters in a large way. Their qualities in fan fiction differ from the actual show of course, but that is beside the point. In fan fiction, Xena tends to be much more taciturn than she is on the show, and Gabrielle tends to be much more touchy-feely. They occupy relative roles as emotionally-bottled-up and emotionally-open people. There are minor variances between different stories, but these are gender non-specific qualities. In other words, a man who identifies with "fan fiction Xena" is most likely identifying with the fear that comes with emotional vulnerability, not the fact that Xena is an aggressive female, dominant, or "butch". Similarly, a man who identifies with Gabrielle is not necessarily effeminate, but perhaps is responding to her enthusiasm and curiosity.

[20] Therefore, the old maxim, "write what you know" is not being completely thrown out the window. That particular proverb was never intended to mean an author should only write characters identical to himself or herself. It means to apply one's own experiences to the story one is writing. Men know what it feels like to fear opening up to another person, to feel guilty for past misdeeds, and to long for true love. If a writer considers these bare essentials, the characters become believable whether they are male or female, and the reader's own experiences will take them the rest of the way.

Sexual Mechanics

[21] Sex, on the other hand, is a different matter, because everyone experiences sex differently. It is also fair to say that men have a vastly different experience of sex than women do. Setting aside the fact that sex in fan fiction is primarily about the emotions involved, accounting for all the arms and legs can sometimes be a bit difficult, or even harder, the specifics of what a person's body may be feeling, inside. For the most part, I imagine men, like most bards, obtain inspiration for sex sequences from a combination of their own experiences, talking to others, and reading other stories. It does not always work. On Nancy Amazon's Fan Fiction Sex Euphemism Hall of Fame, two of the top examples of bad sex euphemisms are held by men. Of course, two of the top examples are also held by women, so that does not necessarily prove anything.

[22] What it boils down to is experience. Just as with any other aspect of writing, the more experience you have writing erotica, the better you get. On the Internet there are plenty of erotic stories, ranging from terrible to excellent, and written by both men and women. Sometimes a man will write erotica very well, sometimes not. Sometimes either a man or a woman will choose not to write erotica at all. As a female friend of mine, who is also a bard, once told me, "I can't write anything past PG-13. It comes out hopelessly dumb."

[23] The point of all this is that it is equally difficult for men and women to successfully describe the "mechanics" of lesbian erotica. At the very least, the argument that women have an inherent ability to write good erotica, where men do not, is flawed. The poor erotica one may find on the Internet is probably more a function of the amateur nature of fan fiction than the gender of the author.

[24] For me personally, I am always concerned that what I write will be respectful to women, gay women especially. I also hope, as I think most people do, that what I write will be enjoyable to people regardless of their gender. In the end, my final test for a sex scene is if it "feels" right to me, and I have to hope that is good enough. There really is not any more I can do, although throwing the story by a few female beta readers, and ensuring that it "feels" right to them too, definitely helps.

It Is All About Love

[25] It is hard for an author to know exactly how his or her stories touch others. A man who writes alternative fan fiction can never be sure if his story is "empowering" to lesbian women who read it, or if his story has the same impact as an erotic story written by a woman. But no writer can be certain of these things, can they? At a very base level, I do not believe either men or women write for others anyway. Sex is something that every human being, regardless of preference, understands. It is something that can take two characters into areas of intimacy that they would not be otherwise able to attain. If you believe, or want to believe, that Xena and Gabrielle are in love with each other, the question of, "Why would you want to write an erotic story about these two women?" is academic.

[26] My experience with the world of fan fiction has been unique and rewarding. I have made new friends and have definitely become a better writer, but there is more. I am gradually learning how to write erotica and what my own limits are in doing so. The first story I ever wrote contained a declaration of love, a kiss, and a fade to black. The most recent story I have written contains a fairly explicit sex scene, and the stories in between those two have sex scenes that fall somewhere in the middle. In writing two lesbian characters from a male perspective, I have challenged myself to see things from a different point of view. I have grown to understand that a piece of writing can be erotic because it is written that way, regardless of the gender of the characters. Most importantly, I have learned new things about my attitudes and myself.

[27] I wish there were more men writing fan fiction. Not only have I seen stories written by male bards that I have found genuinely inspiring, but I believe that trying to learn and write female characters can be a very healthy way to dispel stereotypes and attitudes about "appropriate" male behavior. Is not bringing new perspectives of love and romance to the Xena/Gabrielle relationship the whole idea of fan fiction? Why not male perspectives? On the inside, Xena and Gabrielle are not so different from us, really. In any event, men can definitely understand and appreciate beautiful erotica. They can be touched by it. I hope more men choose to take up the quill along with those who already have, and join them in creating romantic stories of uncompromising wit and heart.


Rooks Rooks
Rooks is the pen-name of a twenty-something Canadian, who by day pretends to be a computer scientist. He is currently backpacking across Europe, in a valiant attempt to continue avoiding real life, but in September will be back in Toronto at a small Internet design company. In his spare time he enjoys Racket Sports, Canadian beer, and writing movie reviews. He has also written some Xena fan fiction and episode reviews.
Favorite episode: THE QUEST (37/213), THE PRICE (44/220)
Favorite line: Gabrielle: "Whatever he did, I'm sure he didn't do it." THE EXECUTION (41/217)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS (105/515)

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