I have been writing a webcomic, Prince of Cats, for about five months. I’m using fictional characters and fantasy elements as a vehicle to share the story of a queer community in the early 2000s. I’m lucky (and incredibly humbled) to have really engaged readers. Fandom culture is important to me, and there are some things I want to talk about in relation to my comic.
I love to wake up to all the exciting interactions every day, and I love knowing that my story is inspiring strong emotions and empathetic feelings. That said, I want to reinforce a few things about the theme and mission of this comic, to ensure that all spaces on my website, including the comments section, are in line with this mission.
Lee and Frank’s story takes place knee deep in a queer youth culture kept ashamed and silenced. Here, the invisibility of sexual minorities is enforced by casual hateful language and micro-aggressions by peers. These are words that enforce the “worthlessness” of people acting outside of the gender binary, specifically, by degrading the feminine.
As a result, people are afraid to be openly gay, act outside of their expected gender presentations, or to be different because they are surrounded by people enforcing the idea that these things are wrong. Casual use of the word “fag,” “sissy,” “gay,” “dyke,” “frigid,” “prude,” “tubby,” and “bitch,” among a whole host of other words and phrases, keep the teenage queer community “in line,” ensuring that they will always know that they are not welcome as they are.
It’s important that all spaces on my comic’s website are free of any kind of shaming or gendered slurs, so it feels wrong to let that kind of language go unaddressed and it is completely contrary to the intention of the story.
My engagement in fandom has come – it’s no secret – from slash and yaoi fandom. The tropes of these genres are often problematic. Sometimes the fan culture fosters issues like the fetishization of homosexuality or the villainizing of women. I’ve talked about it before in relation to the No.6 fandom, a narrative in which the female character could have been hailed as a selfless hero for giving her life to save the protagonists, but instead was seen simply as an obstacle in the way of the relationship between the two males.
My story is not “a yaoi,” (a point I address on the comic’s about page) but I don’t mention that to dismiss yaoi media or delegitimize it. I say so because this is not a story centered around boys hooking up, and it’s problematic to treat it as such. It is about a culture of queerness and the problems that queer kids face. Lee, Frank, Adi, Owen, and Sam all battle prejudice in the span of this story. I’d hate to see any one of them demonized for being “in the way” of the poster couple.
I hope that as a community we can honor what we’ve learned about language in the past ten years and be considerate of the words we use when commenting. The characters may be fictional, but your fellow readers are not.