This is, as the title suggests, an open letter to the editor of teen.com about their recent homophobic, all-around disgusting article mocking slash fanfiction and those who read and write it. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to write a letter as well. (Thanks to Tess Sharpe for leading the charge.)
Yesterday, your site posted an article (http://www.donotlink.com/h4b2) that is actively dangerous to teens, particularly queer and questioning teens, in a number of ways.
We should really not have to tell you that it’s homophobic and NOT OKAY to say that queer kissing is “nasty as fuck.” And yet, here we are. I want to do more than that, though. I want to explain why it’s not okay. I want you to understand the harm your article could (and very likely did) do.
Not too long ago, I was one of the teens reading fanfiction that your article mocked. With one crucial difference: I didn’t read slash. I didn’t click on it. I wouldn’t even let my eyes linger on the pairings listed in summaries as I scanned for safer, cleaner fic with straight pairings. I didn’t dislike slash, but I dreaded seeing any hint of it. Just knowing it existed scared me because it was so clearly wrong, and if I shared any space with it (even virtual space, scrolling as fast as I could past it) might make me wrong, too.
At the same time, I was fantasizing about girls. I told myself if was just because I knew what girls looked like and felt like since I was one myself. I wasn’t imagining kissing girls because I liked them. I didn’t like girls. I liked boys. I wanted to kiss boys, like in the fic I read of my favorite straight couples. (You know what doesn’t seem possible when you only read hetero stories? Wanting to kiss boys and girls.)
At the same time, I was masturbating at night. I’d cry after, every time. Silent, heaving sobs that twisted in my stomach and lower, because I knew I shouldn’t be doing it. Because I knew it was wrong and I still didn’t stop. So I was wrong, too, right? (Het fic with more explicit sexual content existed, but I never read it. Sure, it wasn’t quite as wrong as slash fic with sex, but it was wrong enough. Nasty enough, one might say.)
It wasn’t until later that I realized I was so scared of slash fic and of sex in fic because I was curious. I wasn’t just afraid—I was ashamed.
Later, in college, I let myself click on some of those shameful titles before hastily closing the window. Even later, I finally let myself read them.
You know what I found? Stories where I could explore and engage my queerness and sexuality without judgment. I found stories that showed me sexual pleasure was possible and wonderful. I found characters who wanted to kiss people of all genders. I found out there were more than two genders to want to kiss!
I found myself in slash fanfiction.
It can be so hard to figure out your identity, to accept yourself, to love yourself, to recognize that you deserve a place in this world, that you deserved to be loved.
How dare you make that harder? How dare you mock the spaces that queer people and women and trans people have carved for themselves? When you tell teens that these stories are “nasty as fuck” or “inappropriate” (which is the language used after the initial reaction), you’re telling them that their desires and their questions and their creativity and their curiosity and their very selves are nasty and inappropriate.
Words matter. They have consequences. You should have known better than to publish that article at all, but since you didn’t, you need to fix it. You need to take it down and issue an apology. (Note: “I’m sorry if anyone got their feelings hurt” is not actually an apology.)
Of course, there were other issues with this article as well. Tess Sharpe has done a wonderful job explaining them here. In short: you linked children to sexually explicit content without any warning for them, and you used peoples’ writing without their consent (many of whom are teens and have since been harassed and bullied because of this violation). Read her letter as well.
You exist for teens. Presumably you care about them. If that’s true, address this. Acknowledge you were wrong and why you were wrong.
And never ever ever invade and/or mock teens’ safe spaces or interests or creativity or identities ever again.