“By shipping your favourite couple you take part in the resistance – you’re subverting heteronormativity”
BY FELICITAS SOPHIE VAN LAAK. IMAGE NETFLIX.
Lesbihonest, we have all watched that TV show that had us losing sleep over two characters who simply should be together, albeit the writers do not think so. Luckily, there is fanfiction.
Also referred to as femslash, many fandoms ship female characters, although their romantic relationship is not explicit in the canon universe. A few examples for bespoke non-canon couples are Pitch Perfect’s Beca Mitchell and Chloe Beale, Supergirl’s Kara Danvers (Supergirl) and Lena Luthor, as well as Yara Greyjoy and Daenerys Targaryen from Game Of Thrones.
As shipping is anything but ageist, Grace and Frankie from the series of the same name also have audience members rooting for their romantic awakening. After all, their ex-husbands already set them a good example and Lily Tomlin is a lesbian IRL.
Interestingly, fans of series that already include LGBTQI storylines still find a way to queer the remaining heterosexual characters. Glee’s Rachel Berry and Quinn Fabray, for instance, are shipped and referred to as “Faberry”.
When discussing a show with fellow fans, we sometimes have to bring up the big guns to defend our femslash couple only to be told that it is not part of the canon and therefore “not in the show”. However, in poststructuralist literary criticism, one always starts from the premise that the author is dead – a phrase coined by Roland Barthes.
In this case, this means that the show’s creators have no say in the audience’s interpretation; they don’t get to decide whether a character is queer or not. Everything you read into a text is in the text. Now, bear with me, while I introduce you to the basics of queer theory…
If you ever had to explain the word “queer” to somebody, you’ll know that it is not that easy. Luckily, David M. Halperin offers a quite comprehensible definition of the word, “Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence.”
To this, Jack Halberstam adds that, “A queer methodology, in a way, is a scavenger methodology that uses different methods to collect and produce information on subjects who have been deliberately or accidentally excluded from traditional studies of human behaviour.”
Eventually, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick understands queer theory as the “resistance to treating homo/heterosexual categorisation … as a done deal, a transparent empirical fact about any person.”
As with all oppressed stories, you sometimes have to focus on the smallest incidents to turn them into narratives. This can be two characters making intense eye contact and shaking hands (Yara and Daenerys), or the captain of an acapella choir walking in on the protagonist singing in the shower (Beca and Chloe).
“But Rachel Berry and Quinn Fabray hate each other!”, you might say. Well, internalised homophobia is a thing, right? And what could be hotter than a heated argument that is fought out in a passionate duet?
There are no limits to interpretation – actually, the application of queer theory is a political act. One of Halperin’s listed strategies to resist homophobic discourses is appropriation and theatricalization, reversing the oftentimes alienating gaze on queer people in the media.
Thus, by shipping your favourite couple you take part in that resistance, because you are subverting heteronormativity by appropriating seemingly heterosexual characters for the queer ga(y)ze.
Your non-canon ships are highly political and subversive, so you better keep up the good work!
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One thought on “How to reclaim queerbaiting: A guide to professional shipping”
Can’t forget #swanqueen – Emma/Regina, Once upon a time..