Hello, darlings! Happy April Fool’s Day. The date, however, is merely a coincidence. A red herring, even.
This project? 100% for reals.
I promised you it was on, and it is. A combination of factors have led me here, in fact, but it really clicked into place when, last autumn, I taught a seminar in which we discussed some things I’ve blogged about here: female autonomy and agency, power and consent, and how you can’t just gender-flip a story and have it be the same story. Succinctly put, taking a feminist critical approach reveals that the elements in girls’/women’s stories do not usually appear in the same way in boys’/men’s stories. Attempting to do so results in, to use some critical quotes, ending up with a “Hero in Drag” (Lissa Paul) or “welding brass tits on the armour” (Anna E. Altmann).
My students were discussing agency in YA lit, and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books came up. Several of the students in class had read them when they were pre-teens and younger teens, and were able to now question how much agency Bella had in her own life, body, and future, if all she wanted was to be with Edward. Fifty Shades, too, came up, and I even heard one student go “Daaaaaaamn, yes” when I pointed out that Ana actually has LESS agency at the end of the books, because she is now emphatically “Mrs. Grey,” and is emotionally, physically, legally, and biologically subordinated to Christian as his wife and the mother of his children, and makes no active or independent steps other than “I want him to love me” to construct this identity for herself.
We’ve already heard the jokes about how, now that Meyer published Life and Death, James is going to scramble to finish Midnight- er, Grey, so she can do her own gender-flipped version. And I’ve been pretty vocal with saying that I hope she does, because doing so would actually make clear that the abuse is abuse when the gender dynamic is made less “acceptable” by the alpha being a woman and demanding a man’s submission to her in all things, much in the same way how Meyer is completely blind to the ways flipping Bella and Edward to Beau and Edythe revealed certain things grounded in sexism.
Meyer’s intro to Life and Death proclaims:
“You know, Bella has always gotten a lot of censure for getting rescued on multiple occasions, and people have always complained about her being a typical damsel in distress. She’s also been criticized for being too consumed with her love interest, as if that’s somehow just a girl thing. But I’ve always maintained that it would have made no difference if that human were male and the vampire female—it’s still the same story.”
But, as I’ve said in class, Meyer is oblivious to the effects of gender in her own story and characters, and in reality, gender-swapping Twilight does more to reinforce gender stereotypes than dismantle them.
- The male interior voice is different. Some of the changes, she says in her foreword, were made because Beau is a boy, and because “he’s not nearly so flowery with his words and thoughts” — which isn’t a great way to describe an attempt at defying gender roles.
- There are several threats of rape, both covert and overt, in Twilight that disappear in L&D. When the two biggest instances of female sexual assault are completely left out when you swap the genders, oy, that’s an issue. It only becomes about sex because there’s a woman as a victim involved.
- The ending shows the most difference, with Beau being turned at the end of the first book, and no supernatural, life-threatening pregnancy involved. Meyer said, “I literally can’t do Breaking Dawn,” and “Renesmee can’t exist” because neither vampire Edythe nor male human Beau can get pregnant. The changed ending suggests that, unlike for the female Bella, having a baby is not a definitive part of the male human experience. Unlike the original Twilight, things like a long courtship, a love triangle and making a choice between partners, having a fancy family wedding, pregnancy and childbirth or parenthood, and biological versus supernatural bodily changes aren’t considered necessary for Beau’s happily ever.
So, you know, what Meyer didn’t get is that CHANGING GENDER CHANGES EVERYTHING.
You can’t just switch a male or female character and have every other element of the story stay the same. Try it and see. What if Huck Finn or Holden Caulfield was a girl? What if Anne Shirley was Andy Shirley? What if the the rumble between Greasers and Socs was two rival girl gangs? We can see that Little Men is not the same story as Little Women.
If gender changes, it’s not the same story. And that’s not bad or pejorative, mind… just an awareness that gender effects how a character relates to others, to society, to the environment. How they think about themselves. They have different perspectives.
Add into that things like nonbinary, trans, genderfluid, asexual, queer, pansexual, and elements get even more complicated.
But I digress, as I often do.
So, ah, yeah, what I’m saying is that, in order to test out ideas of gender, Alpha traits, abuse, and all of the stuff I’ve been banging on about here…
I’m going to write a gender-flipped Fifty Shades-esque fanfic.
Yes, I’ll switch roles, but will attempt to make as few changes re: gender as possible, in part for the purpose of testing gender ideas for myself. But obviously, I’m testing Alpha Male ideal, too. Does it look like abuse when it’s a woman doing it to a man? (Would it if it was a M/M or F/F relationship?) And what if my MMC really is as insecure, unworldly, and “innocent” as Anastasia Steele? What if my FMC really is as cold, entitled, and in need of the love of a pure, sweet soul, as we’re told Christian Grey is, to heal her of her demons?
I’ll have to make some alterations, I’m sure. I need to push the sexual “kinks,” since really, Ana and Christian’s “deviant” activities were already pretty damned vanilla when the books came out, and only look moreso now that everyone is soooooo “kinky!” (And the Dominatrix thing has been done a billion times.) As usual, I want to mess with tropes. I want to see what things I keep doing, no matter how I try not to. I want to see what makes me uncomfortable. And what makes you as readers uncomfortable, too.
(Please insert the necessary qualifiers that this fictional experiment in no way endorses the behavior of the fictional characters.)
But this is new territory for me in a lot of ways. I’ve never really written Fanfic, although some of my best buds have been doing so for 20-30 years, in some cases. I’m going to stick to a more fanfic-like format, posting, writing IRL, not outlining (well, for me, a hardcore plotter, outlining as little as possible) and pantsing as much as possible. I’ll be writing in the first person, which have never done before with fiction. I won’t be doing more than a cursory proofreading/very light editing. I know that means there will be problems… but I’m hoping that will lead to realizations. Or, at the very least, mimic the sloppiness of EL James?
Not only that, but I’m going to tap into my earliest writing-self, when young, pre-teen Emily first started scribbling down her stories, awash in details and descriptions, and just have some fun, too. Worries about marketability? Genre? Show v. tell? Not here. Time to decorate some houses, describe sunsets in full-blown urple prose, and screw logistics!
So, darlings! What happens when you map a gender-flipped kinky erotic romance onto FSOG? Let’s find out…
… and get ready to meet Bash Stone and Lark Blackwood in the first chapter of My Beautiful Obsession!