Fan Art Empowers Queer Women

Once upon a time, writing fan fiction — stories written by fans of a popular TV show/movie that incorporate characters or story elements from the show — was a pretty fringe activity, something that small groups of dedicated fans enjoyed as a hobby.

Then fans of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer began branching out into other forms of fan art, including wallpaper and drawings.

Artwork credit: Andrea Chapman

Now, in 2009, fan art (encompassing written stories, music videos made from show clips, and works of visual art) is as much a part of mainstream fandom as episode analyses and debates about characters. Fan sites in general are now as much creative communities as they are “just” groups of fans.

It is lesbian fan fiction (often called fanfic, check out Malinda Lo’s feature on the subject for a fantastic primer), music videos and other fan art that hold the most lasting fascination for many viewers, gay and straight alike. There’s something particular about lesbian fan art — a sense of gung-ho self-discovery and a sense of ownership over a given property — that’s readily apparent with even a casual glance at the work.

And while producers, authors and studios have all reacted to fan art in different ways — some embrace the concept as a good way to keep fans happy, while others shut down fan efforts, fearing copyright infringement — fan art is absolutely here to stay. It has become an important way for the queer community to create stories that speak to us. And it’s incredibly fun to be a part of.

Who can say they watched a few episodes of the campy classic Xena Warrior Princess without thinking that the titular hero was a bit more than a friend to her faithful sidekick, Gabrielle?

Who among us wouldn’t want to make a few storyline changes to The L Word’s many twists and turns (and radical, unlikely character transformations — i.e. Helena Peabody, season 3)?

Who hasn’t at least momentarily wanted to make icons out of their favorite moments moments between Spencer and Ashley on South of Nowhere?

icon by phonycx4icon by room4602icon by yepitstamaraicon by yepitstamara
Credit to‘s phonycx4, room4602, and yepitstamara

Fan artists highlight what they see “between the lines,” or often, what they’d like to see happen among their beloved characters. They literally take a property and make it their own — and share their hard work with communities of other enthusiasts.

Many see that as the greatest and strongest draw to the whole fan art enterprise.

Amy Thornley is an award-winning artist who makes music videos based on Xena characters, editing show clips in a way that highlights the love story between the two female leads. “I think making music videos allows me to express my love of the show. Without it I become a little out of touch with the ‘Xenaverse’ and the fans,” she told in a recent email interview.

We spoke to a number of lesbian and queer-friendly fan artists, hailing from both the booming Xena and The L Word fan communities. All of these artists agreed that fan art is an important part of participating — and that lesbian fan art is the best way to be proactive and make our own stories out of established fiction.

Artwork credit: Jenna

It’s especially important for lesbian and bi viewers who have so few options to create entertainment that speaks to us. While The L Word is supposedly “our” show, and the only major TV program to feature all lesbians, all the time, that doesn’t mean it speaks to every queer woman.