Sometimes Boys Are Hot: Fandom and Misogyny from a Trans Perspective
That gentleman to your left is Benedict Cumberbatch, an English actor who plays Sherlock Holmes in the BBC’s Sherlock series, and he’s at least in part to blame for inspiring this post. I’ve written before about shame in girlish pursuits, and how we’re taught to push down artistic expression as we age to avoid being considered arrogant. I want to look at a similar phenomenon today, one that revolves around fandom and excitement about male bodies and celebrities.
First, a confession. I am active in fandom. That includes fanfiction, the phenomenon that more and more mainstream writers are starting to touch upon, and it also includes good old fashioned squeeing about actors and characters and musicians. These other writers have already covered the importance of fannish community and fanfiction’s power as an outlet for sexual desire, but I want to talk about excitement over male characters and celebrities more broadly, and how misogyny fits in.
A few facts: I’ve been involved in fandom to some extent, mostly secretly, since I was quite young. Through various stages of sexual orientation and gender exploration, I’ve found certain male characters and celebrities attractive. Under a pseudonym, I’ve “squeed” with friends over these characters and celebrities, often for no reason more intellectual than “oh my God look at how well he wears a suit.” When I have let fandom seep into “real life,” I’ve usually tempered the interest by focusing on a more acceptable element of my fannishness, whether that be a literary interest in Tolkien’s works or a geeky sci fi love for Star Trek. I haven’t found that being a fan, in and of itself, is necessarily embarrassing. But the idea of people in my personal and professional life finding out about this girlish “squeeing” was intensely frightening, to the point that as a lesbian-identified college student I assumed that I would have to consider suicide as an option were I found out.
Why so ashamed, you ask?
Intense excitement over male celebrities is by no means rare in our culture. But it is associated with femininity, and in particular an immature femininity that is often scoffed at. It’s assumed that freaking out over an attractive man is the exclusive domain of teenagers, late-to-feminism women who subscribe to Cosmo, and gay men. This excitement isn’t just female or femme, it’s “girly.” And that’s not something we celebrate–hedonism, flamboyance, girlishness, and fandom are all relegated to a certain place in our society that stands in opposition to intelligence and success.
Of course this is problematic for a number of groups, but my perspective is as a non-binary trans femme who is usually assumed to be either a cis or trans woman, and that’s the perspective I want to speak from here. I’ve discussed the struggles I went through in finding a proud femme identity, and for the most part I’ve come to be very comfortable with femme and feminine things as a non-binary person. But attraction to men–and in particular this fannish, squeeful attraction to men–has been a sticking point. What would the queers say if they caught me swooning over dear Benedict up there? “I swear, it’s just because his character is scientific! The show has good writing!” And, he looks good in tight shirts.
Honestly, I don’t know what I’m afraid of. I don’t really think a queer mafia would descend upon me and declare my attractions null and void. But I still have noticed that on Pinterest I keep a Fandom: Sherlock board where I post witty Sherlockian quotes, but I always take out other fans’ comments about the male actors looks. Any image that suggests a voyeuristic desire to see the male main characters hooking up in Season 3 I’ll “like” but never repin. Making comments about sexy Irene is fine, but say the same about Rupert Graves and I’m bordering on sixteen-year-old obsession.
Is there some big broader meaning to all this? Who knows. I’m sure I’ll be writing more on the subject in the future. But for now I’m going to try to push past that shame and remember that “girly” is not an insult, that making fun of others is more immature than admitting attraction to a famous person, and that the ways I kick back and relax aren’t any less valid than a guy my age playing video games. After all, joy is good for your health, and having a great big grin on your face isn’t any less healthy if the reason for it is a pretty boy.