A photo of an open book on a desk with a trans flag colour gradient overlayed on the image representing trans people and fanfiction
A photo of an open book on a desk with a trans flag colour gradient overlayed on the image

Smutty BL fanfiction was at the heart of me coming into my transness – and I’m proud of it.

During my late teens, I dedicatedly ran a semi-popular fanfiction blog on Tumblr (with some reposts on Archive of our Own). Over a short 5 years, I amassed over 30 oneshots, 12 multi-part series and 7 chaptered – including a near-infamous smutty fic that still gets searched to this day and a series with over 50 chapters that well surpasses the length of Moby Dick. I got to collaborate with my favourite fellow writers in the fandom, and gained an eager following that would read each week’s chapter within the hour of it being posted. And when they sent me prompts to write, I’d humbly, graciously bring them to life.

Which is, you know, a lot. Writing 3,000 words per week of how your favourite characters might fuck? (Okay and also just, hanging out, falling in love, meeting in alternative universes – it’s not all about sex.)

When I saw Helen Joyce’s tweet (which I later learnt was to save her smut-reading rear) about “the role of fan fiction [sic] in young women’s adoption of trans identities” I immediately shared it on my Instagram story with the words “okay who told the GCs about the BL-consuming girl to transmasc pipeline”. What I neglected to specify was ‘gay girl to gay transmasc’ – but even my mention of ‘BL’ null-and-voids this misreading of fanfic’s role in my pesky transing when you realise Helen’s fic of choice was straight! (Like seriously? How much straight fanfiction really is there??)

Even if we do take the BL angle seriously (as Helen’s ability to “talk for Ireland” about slash fiction tells me she totally does), the word ‘gay’s double placement in my titular pipeline exactly goes against the GCs conspiracy theory about this common queer-and-nerdy teen experience: that it’s ‘transing girls’ gay away’.

It’s well known that stories about gay men or teenage boys are popular among the female crowd. [For the uninitiated: In the anime and manga world this is called BL aka ‘Boy’s Love’ (the fluffier version) or Yaoi (the smuttier version); In the fanfic world – at least in my time in 2014 Tumblr – it was MLM aka ‘Men Loving Men’]. At the start of my fanfic career, I indeed fit into this box. Why was I – a girl who liked girls, who once tried to imagine herself sleeping with boys and fully cried in horror – so drawn to fictionalisations of my favourite YouTubers fucking?

It’s very sad, and probably shocking for transphobes to hear, but I didn’t encounter an ounce of transness during my fanfic career. Did I later see some of my mutuals come into their own transness? Absolutely. But none of us knew at the time, or even talked about it since, so there was certainly no transing going on. Nope – I did that all by myself. Of course, Tumblr gave me queer community and taught me a lot about the existence of transness elsewhere – but even the few fics I read that made a passing mention to transness were, umm, not the kindest.

Actually, fanfiction was one of those things that I looked back on once I’d realised I was trans – like “Ohhh that’s why I felt so comfortable writing men more than women!” I can say this in hindsight, but what writing fanfiction allowed me – getting into the minds and *ahem* bodies of these male characters – was a mapping: of my consciousness and male existence. Unconsciously, it let me realise that that kind of life, that kind of gender and body, was more comfortable to me than the female one I’d been trapped in my whole life. What else was going to do that?

This phenomenon isn’t new, or restricted to fanfiction: it’s actually been documented in other forms of roleplay, such as by Thom James Carter in They Came to Slay: The Queer Culture of D&D (2022).

But the greater impact that this fanfic writing had on my trans journey wasn’t in the ‘guy’ part but the ‘gay’ part – notably, my gender’s inextricable place in my sexuality.

Looking back, I’ve liked guys all throughout my formative years just as much as girls and nonbinary folk – I just didn’t see it, it felt cloudy. Midway through my fanfic career – when I’d started to realise I was, too, A Guy™ – I circled back round to the idea of me being bi – but biromantic, not bisexual. I still had a clear discomfort with the idea of sleeping with men. But I’d map out the logistics of my latest sex scene on my bed, deciding with my own body what arm position makes my character feel most vulnerable, where the breath of his top should hit to melt him most. Gradually, as my imaginings led to more and more stories, I came to realise how much I enjoyed the idea of being a guy fucked by a guy, and further still, that that guy didn’t have to be a fictional one – but me, in my own body. And finally: That queasiness I had with being fucked by a guy? Was all to do with where (as well as who I was).

It was through these revelations that I took the term Aegosexual to my chest as a proud badge: an identity on the asexual spectrum where there’s a split between the self and sexuality (specifically, the ‘subject of arousal’). [NOTE: Not a be-all end-all definition – just the one I subscribe to.] Often, an aegosexual can absolutely be turned on by sexual stimuli and  *ahem* relieve themselves, just through the lens of other people – such as watching porn, or reading smut – and maybe the creation of an alternative self; mine has been, unsurprisingly, a cis guy.

Now – while I absolutely still hold that this asexuality is true to me, I also believe that trans people generally may also briefly experience a similar detachment before they come into their gender or their body, as I did. It’s hard to enjoy the idea of being intimate with someone before you’re comfortable with who you – and your body – are. The imaginings that came with writing all those sex scenes in fanfiction gave me that alternative, which eventually closed that gap.

Fanfiction brought me to myself – as A Guy™ and A Gay™.