When I posted about Chaz Bono a while back, I said I don't read the comments to online news stories, but now that I've said it I must confess I totally do. I've realized it's more accurate to say that I don't read the comments unless I am prepared to cope with the absolute worst of humanity.
A second confession: I have a Google Alert set for Lea Michele. So, when the PR folks (his? hers? I don't know) announced that she and her boyfriend had broken up a few weeks ago, and it echoed through the gossipsphere, I got a lot of emails. And, I was a) curious what the response would be and b) prepared to see people being awful . . . so I took a look.
And the Internet surprised me.
Well, at first it didn't. I went to the comments fully expecting to see a deluge of suggestions of who Ms. Michele should hook up with next—which were definitely there.
I also assumed that the Real Person Fiction (RPF) shippers would be there, pouncing on the opportunity to say that she would either soon be dating one of her castmates or secretly has been the whole time. And indeed, the story went up at 6:42 and at 6:50 someone commented "MONCHELE LIVES!! " followed at 6:51 by "Achele is end game" and 6:54 by " Achele* fixed it for ya **" A decoder ring: "Monchele" refers to Michele paired with her Glee costar Cory Monteith; the "Achele" portmanteau indicates a romantic relationship between Michele and Dianna Agron (who, as avid P3 readers may recall, likes girls, but not in a sexual way).
I was, particularly, expecting the Achele shippers to be out in force, because they're a vocal bunch. (Confession 3: I also happen to think they make a pretty compelling argument. Not that the relationship between the two is necessarily "real," but I can see how it could be. I know that social norms for friendships between women allow some latitude in terms of acceptable levels of physical affection, but those girls are SNUGGLY. One of MANY videos, if you're curious.) And, indeed, Achele was a pretty substantial presence in the comments.
I was prepared for the response to the Achele shippers to be somewhere between dismissive and ugly: A commenter named Emily said, "If I read one more comment about 'achele' I'm gonna flip Dianna and Lea aren't gay Dianna has a boyfriend, respect people's sexualities please."
This kind of thing is pretty standard in how we make sense of sexuality. It's got "straight until proven gay." It's got a complete lack of recognition that sexuality exists beyond a 100% hetero/100% homo binary, that Agron and Michele could have boyfriends today and girlfriends tomorrow, and that one needn't "be gay" to date someone of the same sex. So, the greatest hits are all there.But then the Internet surprised me.
Allison: "@Emily The Mo[n]chele/Lark comments are JUST as insulting...Lea has NEVER said anything about her sexuality for one thing, so if you complain about Achele complain about the other ships, because yes, your comment's exclusive nature to only Achele is homophobic" (Ship, short for "relationship," refers to advocating a particular coupling within a fan object, either of characters or actors)
Wow. Okay, some random person commenting on a gossip story the internet—a place usually chock full of venom, hysteria, and general inanity—has calmly and rationally pointed out that being offended at the suggestion that an actor might be in a same-sex relationship is homophobic. Maybe this is just my academic snobbery (of which I'll admit I've got plenty), but I don't usually expect that kind of sophistication in online comments. And who knows, maybe Allison is actually an academic herself and my snobbery needn't be challenged.
Commenter Nicola replied, "@Allison Insinuating that Dianna and Lea are gay are just as insulting as saying that gay people should go straight." And she had a relatively complex and valid point too, though I may be putting words into her mouth in my interpretation of it.
That is, to enforce an ideal sexuality on another person isn't okay no matter what direction it goes. One ought not to police other people's behavior and insist that they belong to a particular category that they haven't chosen to join regardless of what category that is, as I argued with Marcus Bachmann.
Now, the thing did go off the rails after that.
Allison shot back, "@nicola...when exactly did I insinuate they had to be gay? I didn't, my point is we have NO idea if they're gay, straight or bi...It's not fair to exclusively bash Achele just because it's two girls. It's not okay to ship Lark or Monchele any more than it is to ship Achele. "
And I think it's absolutely right to resist default straightness. I also think it's right to resist the erasure of the middle of the Kinsey scale—we're not all zeroes and sixes.
But, as a queer theorist, a fan studies scholar, and a fan, I'm uneasy about throwing out the RPF shipping with the bathwater, which Allison does by saying that no shipping is okay. That is, I would argue that it's perfectly acceptable to interpret people's behavior selectively and subversively for one's own pleasure, whether that person is a fictional character or a real human.
However, one should not then impose that interpretation on the body of that actual person and demand that they comply with it, which is where I draw the line with some of the more enthusiastic and dogmatic Achele shippers.
But that's because one shouldn't impose and demand in general, not because it's somehow wrong to imagine what kind of sex other people have.
Or, rather, not because it's wrong to admit we all routinely imagine what kind of sex other people have, or would have if they did. Sometimes in great detail. (If you're curious, check out http://archiveofourown.org/tags/Glee%20RPF/works -- but read the tags carefully. You’ve been warned!)