What Fanfiction Reveals About Society [1]

Looking at how much progress has been made in regards to gay and lesbian rights in the United States and other places around the world, it can be difficult to fully understand other perspectives, honestly. For example, same-sex marriage was legalized in the US when I was fifteen – I can barely remember a world without it. Especially as a young person, it's all too easy to convince yourself that what life is like now is how it's always been. That's why it's so important to read primary source documents, to maintain the memory of people's experiences and their contributions that led to the world we live in today.

There's a reason why these stories are so easily forgotten: due to fear of societal rejection and even legal prosecution, gay people have had to try to fly under the radar. For example, in the 1950's, the first gay and lesbian-themed newsletters were published independently and distributed through a combination of mailing lists and simply passing your copy along when you were done reading it. Still, it seems many women were concerned about having their names tied to such a thing and editors had to constantly reassure potential subscribers that their mailing lists wouldn't be released. Contributors and editors alike often used pseudonyms. In The Ladder, there were also frequent articles about what to do if you were stopped by the police and advising lesbians to do whatever they could to assimilate into heterosexual society.

Aside from these newsletters, there was an explosion of gay and lesbian fiction in the 1950's, in the form of pulp novels. Cheaply produced and sold with little regulation, these stories featured prominent homosexual relationships. It seems that today they are mostly just remembered for their cheesy, provocative covers, poor quality writing, and horrible, tragic endings, which I think is really unfortunate. In the introduction of The Beebo Brinker Omnibus, Ann Bannon talks about how she wrote about her characters as if she were visiting her imaginary friends, fantasizing about a different life surrounded by other gay people. She also mentions how much these stories meant to other women:

Then the letters started pouring in. Those from the men were often propositions; those from the women were cries of the heart. The female readers wrote from little towns all over the country. Such was their isolation that many of them were grateful to me for reassuring them that they were not totally alone in the world. They wanted me to tell their stories, they wanted me to give them advice, and they wanted to meet me. They were sweet, tentative, grateful, scared, and even needier than I, if that’s possible, of education and support.

I wish I had those letters still—they were lost in one of many moves over the years. They would astonish the far more knowledgeable readership of women today in their ingenuousness, their yearning, their sense of exile, but with it all, their good humor, their sheer guts and perseverance. These women lived in a world where they thought themselves to be painfully unique. The bottom line was, they imagined themselves doomed to solitude in their yearnings for the rest of their lives and sadly, deservedly so, since they had no positive role models to contradict such self-prejudice.

I think it's so sad that something like this that has so much personal meaning is just considered trash by the general public and not worth any further consideration...

And that brings us to fanfiction, which fulfills a similar purpose and is viewed in very much the same light. Specifically, for the purposes of this essay, we're going to be looking at Sailor Moon fanfics and sites from the early to mid-2000's and comparing them to the present day (which, for the record, is 2022).

The first point to establish is that it seems like many of these authors naturally gravitated towards and / or projected onto Haruka Tenoh. In the words of Greenbeans, a prominent author of Sailor Moon fics back in the day: [2]

When I hear about what a following Xena has from the lesbian community, I can only chuckle. Think of it this way: You like to play basketball, it is your dream to play in the NBA. Who are your heroes? Michael Jordan? Larry Bird? Same thing. People tend to gravitate towards people and things that are 'familiar' to them. This is part of my reason for liking Haruka.

To this day, there is still a piddly amount of butch lesbian representation in media, so it makes sense why women would flock to Haruka and her relationship with Michiru. I think this is particularly noticeable in Niya Zifu’s “Misunderstood” (1998), which starts like this: [3]

Ten’ou Haruka had grown up resenting her gender— no, that wasn’t true, she didn’t actually mind being female. It was the way her parents expected her to be the stereotypical girl that bothered her. They’d given her dolls and toy make-up rather than the cars and mecha she’d wanted. Her wardrobe consisted of dresses in dainty prints and pastel colours— she wasn’t even allowed to wear pants. She had to take piano lessons every Thursday, practise every afternoon, so they could dress her up and show her off at stuffy recitals. They worried that she wasn’t maturing fast enough because at thirteen she had yet to notice boys.

In spite of all that, Haruka didn’t hate her parents. She was their only child, and they lavished her with gifts and attention. She knew they loved her. They just couldn’t understand. So Haruka led something of a double life— when her parents were around she’d do her best to be the kind of daughter they wanted, but with her friends she let her natural tomboyish personality out. If her parents had known their daughter was the fastest runner in her school, could take any boy in her grade in a fair fight, held all the top scores on the race games at the arcade, and was actually beginning to notice girls

In this short story, Haruka convinces a friend to lend her his uniform and cuts her hair so she could pretend to be a new male transfer student for the day. She happily flirts with all the girls and makes a good impression in her first meeting with Michiru, but is quickly found out. The principal then makes her apologize to the whole school in an assembly; midway through, she explains she’s not sorry for anything and that her flirting was completely serious. It ends with this:

Haruka ignored the rude comments as she was taken from the auditorium toward the principal’s office on the promise of a long suspension. She hadn’t done anything wrong. It was their fault for being ignorant and homophobic. Haruka had sworn never to apologise for being herself again, and she wouldn’t.

For a bit of context, as Haruka's backstory was never revealed in the anime or manga, it was a popular topic of speculation for fans and, apparently, often very angsty. Meanwhile, this story is subtitled, "The First Positive Theory of Haruka's Childhood?". Here's the comment given by Immora on her recommendations page: "One of the first stories of Haruka's past that's actually happy! *gasp!*"

I find this so weird, honestly… Like, her parents are supportive and she stands up strong to homophobic hate speech and stays true to herself, but the scenario is still incredibly upsetting! Being forced to apologize to her whole school for "disgracing them" by being gay?? Obviously, this isn't literally based on a true story, but it still shows how homosexuality was viewed back then. Similarly, Greenbeans has posted multiple essays on her site, including one that compares homophobia to, for example, not liking Oreos: it's totally fine to not like Oreos, she explains, but if someone offers you an Oreo or even just has a package of them near you and you throw a fit, then you're a giant ass! Even this view seems strange and foreign to me: in the modern day, we don't really have the idea that it's fine to hate gay people, as long as you aren't violent about it, y'know?

For comparison, in 1999, the year that Greenbeans' essay was written, a Gallup poll showed that only 35% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. Now, when the poll was redone in May 2022, 71% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. Another Gallop poll from 2001 showed that 35% of Americans were satisfied with "acceptance of gays and lesbians in this nation," with 26% wanting less. Comparatively, in 2018, 56% of Americans were satisfied with the level of acceptance for gay men and lesbians, and of those who were not satisfied, 23% wanted more. So much has changed in such a short amount of time!

Next, we have Ilana Tavan’s “The Kaioh family comes for a visit? An unexpected revelation” (I'm not sure exactly when this was published, but presumably circa 2000). In this one, Haruka and Michiru are already a couple, living together happily, and Michiru's family is coming by for a visit. The issue is: they don't know she's a lesbian, so their plan is to pretend that Haruka is her boyfriend, instead.

Everything starts off really well and Haruka easily charms everyone, but, after leaving to attend to Sailor Scout matters and coming back injured, the family realizes she’s actually a woman. Michiru’s mom is furious and goes off into a homophobic rant about how Michiru is “filth” and that Haruka’s a “devil” and “corrupting” her daughter, etc. Here’s how it ends:

“Well, when my mother threatened to take me home to deprogram me from liking women, you flung open the door and tried your hardest to beat her up.”

“I tried to beat up your mother? I don’t believe it. What really happened?”

“After you grabbed her, she realized the error of her ways. She says she’d never seen any man defend his girlfriend the way you did, and that your devotion must have come from somewhere. That somewhere, she decided, was her daughter’s charm and good looks, which had bewitched you, and made you desire me so much that you wanted to become a man. This explains the cross-dressing and male mannerisms in your speech. There we have it. Keiko was in hysterics. She thinks the whole thing is some cosmic joke or comic book.”

“I want to become a man? That’s some rationalization your mother has created for herself.”

“As long as she’s not threatening to kill either of us and leaves us it peace, it’s fine with me. She can think anything she wants.”

“She won’t bring up the operation, will she?”

“I told her it was too expensive for you right now.”

“And she offered to finance it?”

“How did you guess?”

While pretending to be a man and woman, Haruka and Michiru's relationship is seen as perfect and ideal. When it's revealed that Haruka isn't actually a man, it's disgusting and a sin. But when Michiru's mom gets the idea that Haruka may be a "man inside," she's back to being fine with it and even offers to pay for Haruka’s sex change operation herself. To reiterate: she’s fine with her heterosexual daughter and her trans boyfriend, but is beyond disgusted with her homosexual daughter and her girlfriend, even though nothing material has changed.

I wrote about similar things already (and even mentioned this exact story and quote) in another essay I wrote, about how and why homosexuality is demonized because it goes against established cultural norms in the West, specifically the idea that men and women were 'meant to be together,' with women being subservient to men.

In these cases, appearances are more important than the reality of the situation, and, as a result, someone who can comfortably "pass" as the opposite sex is free to have same-sex relationships, without drawing public attention. This led to the rise of butch / femme relationships in the 1950's and other forms of gender non-conforming presentation, but, even within the community, gender non-conformity was and is still often greatly looked down upon and punished. Lavendar marriages were a related phenomenon where gay men and lesbians (or other couples of mixed orientations) would marry each other to "avoid suspicion," especially between actors in the early 20th century who would be barred from acting if outted.

And, again, in two different fic recommendations, this story is labeled as “Quite amusing :)” and “humorous”…

The ending omake of harukaze’s Her Protector (2007) deals with a similar situation: Haruka and Michiru are on a vacation to Hawaii with their parents. While in a museum, they realize they’re being stared at and people are making all sorts of homophobic comments, with one lady literally shielding her daughter’s eyes as they walk by. They’re confused and Haruka wonders if she somehow looks "girlier" than usual. Like I was just saying earlier, as Haruka normally passes pretty well as a man, they generally don't attract much attention.

It turns out their fathers had made shirts saying “My Daughter’s Out of The Closet. Is Yours?” This is apparently a reference to old PFLAG campaigns (prior to 2014, known as “Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays,” but now stands for nothing, according to Wikipedia). This dialogue follows:

“Isn’t there anything you can do Okaa-san?” the violinist asked and clasped Haruka’s hands in hers yet again.

“Gah…well I guess this is the price you pay for having overly understanding parents…” the blonde grunted from beside her.

Yuriko laughed and gave the blonde a pat in the back.

Again, this was only 15 years ago, but this section is also very strange. I guess it shows how homosexuality has become a bit more accepted compared to earlier stories, where previously being outed meant death threats and potentially being disowned, but now characters are outted as a joke? And you’re still being looked down on and hated?

There was also a part where a character (as well as people in the comments) said, “God, I wish my parents were like this!” I just can’t really wrap my head it! I haven’t come out to my parents yet, just out of privacy’s sake, I guess. It makes me sad, but I’d much prefer them not knowing to them treating me differently like this, even out of support…

Also, in the chapter where Haruka and Michiru come out to their parents, there’s this author’s note:

AN: I’m a little worried that some of you will think that, that talk went too smoothly…but I can’t, for the life of me, make the parents bad…I like them XD. I’m tired of fics making the parents the ultimate bad guys so I won’t do it here. They’re actually probably the only OC’s that won’t get tossed around by me in this entire story…so for all who thought that talk was a little, for the lack of a better term, fake…I’m sorry. Personally my family’s fine w/ me and my preferences, but yeah…I guess everyone’s experience is different.

This is particularly interesting because…

In modern day fics, it seems like homophobia is almost non-existent. Aggressively so.

This next example isn’t actually a Sailor Moon fic, but this is just really noticeable in TheRealKateKane’s Four Walls (2021). It’s set in what is effectively a parallel to Medieval Europe (Fire Emblem: 3H’s Fodlan). The story follows two women, Ingrid and Mercedes, who run away from home to avoid being forced into marriage by their families and continuing their noble bloodlines. Meanwhile, they're still haunted by what they did during the recent war, and decide to open and orphanage to try to atone. Literally, the major plot is that they're forced to have kids… but, in the first chapter:

Ingrid watched as the king kissed his new husband, and a raucous cheer erupted from the crowd. The bells of the church echoed the announcement across the whole city: the king was married, long live the kings! No one would be sober in the capital tonight. She glanced over to Sylvain, who whistled and hollered while Felix rolled his eyes, the faintest of smiles cracking his stoicism. She wondered how long it would be before they too married.

Women are treated like livestock, like broodmares, to carry on their families' bloodlines, and we can acknowledge that! But the whole kingdom cheers for the king and his husband? There’s a major contradiction here, isn’t there? Since these women are basically forced into exile in their attempt to avoid heterosexual marriage and the subjugation it entails and how they're punished for this (ex: harassed on the streets and restricted from using major trading posts), you would expect anything that restricts noble bloodlines from continuing to be heavily despised and punished, right?

Yet, literally every named character is gay. At one point, many characters are referenced by name alone, without actually appearing in the story, just to point out that they’re also gay:

Goddess, how could she be so dense? It was not as though she didn’t know other friends, classmates that had friendships that blossomed into couplings. Felix and Sylvain. They had known each other since childhood but it was only midway through the war that they became lovers. Hilda and Marianne. Caspar and Lindhardt. Lysithia and Edelgard. And while she was not completely certain, there were others, surely?

Our happy little gay friends are all living their best happy little gay lives! …But, again, this is set in (what is approximately) a Medieval European setting, with a heavy emphasis on bloodlines, to the point of women being abused, blackmailed, kidnapped, hated to continue these noble bloodlines, and this is all explicitly shown in this same text! This isn’t a happy little world!

It's just such a strange point of internal logical inconsistency! If society as a whole inexplicably accepted homosexuality – if every women could just opt out of being baby-machines by claiming she was a lesbian and their families would just accept it – there would be no point in the story, at all! But, even that isn't what happens. Like, at one point, Ingrid talks about how she was trying to avoid thinking about romance entirely because she thought she’d just be married off to some random dude she didn’t care about and, as I've said repeatedly, forced to birth his children, and that’d be the end of that. She just assumed that she wanted to be really close friends with certain women and completely dismissed the possibility of being attracted to them.

So, it's fine if men are homosexual, but not women? Even the King? I don't think that's what the author was trying to imply – I think they simply didn't put that much thought into it.

Which, again, is strange, compared to everything else we've looked at today! Honestly, I’ve thought about this story a lot, and I think this approach to homophobia (ie: completely denying its existence) is the saddest of all. Repeatedly throughout the examples I’ve provided above, the world is shown to be a horrifically homophobic place, but the characters fight against that: no matter what anyone says, I’m not sorry to be myself. I’m not sorry to be a woman, even an unconventional one. I’m not sorry to love women. There’s nothing wrong with me – the only one with a problem here is you, society, who tries to say any different!

But, in this story, the characters can fight the sexist belief that women are only good for being baby-making factories. They can fight against their traumatic, bloody pasts and rise above it. But they can’t fight against homophobia – because homophobia doesn’t exist!

…But it does! Ingrid is obviously suffering from internalized homophobia throughout the story, like this bit in chapter four:

“I think I’ve wanted to be close to you for a long time, and just didn’t realize it. I thought that maybe I was a pervert or…” She pressed her lips together tightly to prevent any more words from escaping, her face burning even hotter.

“Why in the name of the Goddess would you ever think you’re a pervert, my love?” Mercedes sounded truly bewildered. When Ingrid took too long to respond, her voice sharpened just slightly. “No matter what you say, I will not think any less of you. Desire is a gift of the Goddess. There is nothing about it to be embarrassed of, I give you my word. Answer me, please.”

If Mercedes truly believed it to be a gift of the Goddess, no wonder she experienced none of the shame or reticence that Ingrid did. Blessings of the Goddess were to be honored, celebrated. And while she was not as devout as the bishop, she at least believed that. She licked her lips, still staring at her lap. “I… there have been times where you’ve done something… said something, and my body reacted on its own. I didn’t mean it to happen. It just does, and I know it shouldn’t happen but…”

These sections about internalized homophobia are very relatable, but, strictly in the story’s context, they don’t really make sense? Mercedes tells Ingrid that it's ridiculous for her to feel "perverted" for being attracted to her, and, in the context of the world she lives in, it is, right? There’s nothing weird about her being gay. All her friends are gay. In fact, everyone she knows is gay! The king is gay. Being gay is completely normal! And, here, Mercedes, a Bishop, tells her that "Desire is a gift of the Goddess" – even their shared religion apparently respects and uplifts sexual attraction of all forms! And, yet… she still feels guilty!

So, rather than it being called “internalized homophobia,” in the text, it’s considered “internalized submissive-phobia:"

“There is no shame experiencing arousal when you express your submission. Because as much as it turns you on,” Mercedes breathed, inhaled sharply as Ingrid moved her fingers. “It turns me on too.”

What the fuck?

I think this, too, comes from the cultural hell that we’ve cooked up for ourselves in the last couple of years. In our little bubbles on social media, it seems like everyone around us is gay. Like, as said before, gay marriage is legalized, gay people have legal protections, and public acceptance of homosexuality has risen substantially – so much has improved! Yet, despite this, we still live in a society that is deeply, structurally homophobic, no matter how much it tries to pinkwash itself. And we can feel this! But, our ‘rational’ minds try to say that homophobia is fixed (because society says it’s fixed!). So we end up with this sort of contradiction, where we’re unable to even say its name, let alone fight against it…


  1. By the way, this essay is a partially rewritten version of an essay previously posted on my Tumblr. So if you happen to be one of the two people who have seen it and think this seems oddly familiar, that's why. I just thought it was an interesting topic and wanted to slightly expand on it.

  2. I would really recommend looking around her site, honestly! It was last updated in 2003 and (besides Sailor Moon, of course!) she talks a lot about her experience coming out and accepting herself as a lesbian, about Christianity and homophobia, and other little bits about what fandom circles were like in the late 90's and early 2000's.

  3. The links for the first couple of fics can be found here in zip files. I'm also going to add the stories I mentioned in this post to this site, just in the interest of preserving history – so, here are the txt files of Niya Zifu’s "Misunderstood" and Ilana Tavan’s "The Kaioh family comes for a visit? An unexpected revelation." I'm scared of these stories being lost like countless others!