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storytellers

So here is where we discuss sexuality in fan fiction.

In case you're wondering, the quote is from the LM blooper reel on youtube. http : // www. youtube.com/watch?v=Thsl50Fd3RA

To start us off with what seems to be an unpopular opinion in this fandom: chances are that the majority of the Amis were heterosexual males. And don't get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against gay Amis. I write them, I ship them and if someone was unreasonably attacking them I would be defending them. However, as far as I am concerned, in the book Grantaire and Joly/Bossuet are the closest things to maybe-possibly-at-least-bisexual-if-not-gay that we get. Which means it can easily go either way for all of them but it tends to go one way rather than the other. So here's an interesting psychological question: why are girls obsessed with gay guys? I'm not saying that anyone who writes gay couples is necessarily writing them because of some 'squeeee' factor but you can't argue that girls in general do tend towards that persuasion and it's curious.

I am actually quite fond of the idea that Grantaire may not in fact be gay and his admiration for Enjolras may be only just that. It's a much less explored idea and I'm having great fun with it. That is not to say I don't also enjoy E/R or R/anyone really. But Grantaire's relationship with women has the potential to be very interesting. Most would not find him particularly attractive or at least not immediately. What features or qualities does he have that may actually attract a woman? Does he resort to prostitutes? Has he ever wanted a family? Does he objectify women? Does he feel depressed that they are not attracted to him? Is he trying to find a mistress? What kind of woman would he like? What was his relationship with his mother? Grantaire is highly intelligent - a quality which certain women would actually find quite attractive. A stupid loud ugly drunk would be kind of hopeless but a very smart loud ugly drunk may actually stand a chance...

More from me later :)

5/31/2012 #1
ColonelDespard

I love the title :)

It's a very difficult question, attempting to write the sexuality of this group of characters in this era. Statistically speaking, we know at least one or two would probably have been gay, and given that their activities take place in a group already marginalised and "outsiders" it might be higher. However, we're talking about an era in which ideas of sexuality were less rigidly constrained, prior to the clinicalisation of homosexuality, and when the "rules" of conduct within these groups were quite different to our own. That can be very difficult to write for a contemporary audience...often there's a suspension of disbelief, and the characters talk so openly about their sexual orientation and relationships that, as one person told me, it resembles an 1830 episode of Queer as Folk. I don't have a huge problem with that, though - it goes rather in hand with a lot of the anachronistic depictions of life in that era we see in fics, from language to social customs. If the rest of the fic is well written, that is - usually it's the author consciously playing with social and sexual customs.

I'm not really obsessed with gay guys...I often gravitate towards these relationships as I dislike OCs in general if I can avoid them, and because there are certain parts of the text that can be intepreted or adapted to facilitate a romantic relationship. Taking Enjolras as an obvious point...if I had to be pinned down on it, I'd say he's asexual homoromantic. He has an easy intimacy with his friends - a physical intimacy in communicating with Combeferre with a touch, or Courfeyrac feeling close and confident enough to whisper in his ear (and the Courfeyrac - Enjolras intimacy is even stronger in earlier drafts). I also can't see him with a woman not just because Hugo relates how he responds to any unwanted female advance, but because I can't see him forming a strong relationship, let alone a romantic relationship, with anyone who is not his equal and who does not share his ideals. By equal I don't mean he thinks women are inferior (he regards everyone as equal) but someone of deprived economic, educational, political and social status. I think he'd find it exploitative on top of the lack of other appeal in such a connection. So in order to create an OC to appeal to him, you'd have to have this remarkable creature who is so far out in advance of her time - a Mme de Stael or Olympe de Gouges - that she is an exception, and in danger of becoming a Mary Sue with all her canon warping tendencies. I have toyed, however, with the possibilities of writing Enjolras in a relationship with one historical figure...I think I can finesse it in such a way that it makes weird, canonical cracky sense and actually fits in with a few little odds and ends of Hugo and with what was happening historically in Paris and Europe at the time. I just need to work out the details.

I have a weakness for Courfeyrac/Enjolras as, for me, it works from a philosophical as well as a personal chemistry angle. Illumination and warmth combined, as so exquisitely written in AMargeurite's "A Passion for the Absolute", make for a beautiful fire. I adore that fic - the way in which she extrapolates from Hugo's powerful works on the marginalised and abaissed and works in the Romantic zeigeist and how their challenging of artistic and political norms can be extended to the personal (a wonderful example of the personal being political, in fact), all combined with a solid grounding in a realistic and highly nuanced reaction from Combeferre and a solid understanding of how such relationships could exist in that time and place. It's brilliant.

I don't write much romance myself - most of my fics don't have sharp demarcations between friendship and romantic love, as I don't think they need to be clearly defined in most cases. These boys love each other very much - it doesn't need to be sexual. It can be in some instances, but perhaps they don't even know sometimes. I've never been a huge fan of requited love between E/R (although I've loved some fics written by friends along those lines)...I had to essentially rewrite the history of 19th century France in Etoile to the point where I could get the two of them to connect in that way, and even then I knew it was a reach. It was fun writing, though!

I think the story of Grantaire and Irma Boissy needs to be told :) What is he doing with the prettiest shoe binder in Paris anyway? What does he do that makes her decide he is "impossible"? It seems to be his physical ugliness from the context, but perhaps he has absolutely charmed her and then done something ridiculously annoying. He doesn't seem to interact well with women when we see him in action around them (contrast him with Courfeyrac in talking to the same "invisible" women, waiting staff and servants...Courfeyrac is cheeky, but there's affection. Grantaire grabs you or roars insults from a window) but that's probably because we only see him in drunken flight. The text says he was frequently drunk - not that he was drunk 24/7 (how else is going to get in the batons if he doesn't have some bouts of sobriety?). I can see him charming women if he puts his effort into it - if he's able to convince Enjolras he was a radical Republican at one stage (or at least be convincing enough that Enjolras agrees to let him try - I doubt E entirely bought that story), I'm sure he can muster the charm to convince a grisette to come dance with him. The problem is, of course, when one of those manic swings comes along - an OTT high or a deep low. That's going to deter a long term relationship.

Another interpretation, of course, is that those women he tries to convince his friends he could get if he just tried are a cover - perhaps he doth protest too much, covering up his romantic/sexual attraction to other men.

Courfeyrac...I just wish the slut-shaming of Courfeyrac would stop, poor darling. He loves women. He notices even the women that to a man of his class and station in life should be invisible. And they're not women he's sexually attracted to, either. I think Courfeyrac just loves women, period. Of course, he particularly likes ones he finds attractive...there's too much Courfeyrac to be contained, baby.

5/31/2012 . Edited 5/31/2012 #2
storytellers

To be clearer, I used the word "obsessed" with slightly humorous overtones. Obviously I don't think anyone is really obsessed but I have noticed a tendency in all fandoms I've been in for girls to write gay men couples and much fewer straight or even gay women couples. It's very curious because I am actually included in that group. My mind also tends to jump in that direction if left on automatic and I find it difficult to explain why. If I have to analyse it, it is probably because I find a strong friendship (or at least a strong close relationship of _some_ sort, be it friends or frenemies or whatever) to be a requirement for a good romantic relationship and if it isn't already part of the original work, you have to build it from scratch, which is, of course, difficult. Within the fandoms I usually frequent and, dare I say in a huge portion of movies and literature, there are more compelling depictions of male friendship than female friendship. Naturally, there are a number of exceptions but in general I would say strong friendships between women are somewhat underrepresented. Which is one of the reasons why I love "Wicked" but that's a completely different story. Either way, as you said, what already exists between the characters gives us a convenient starting point.

I understand what you mean about OCs and I think _everyone_ or at least nearly everyone instinctively detests OCs, myself included. I have to consciously make an effort to give them a chance but since that sometimes proves quite rewarding I have more or less gotten into the habit of doing it. ACtually, many of the things that I seem to challenge here are in fact things that I myself do and I challenge them within myself as much as in other people.

Now, nobody is compelled to make the effort to read anything they don't think they'll like. But I have personally found it rewarding on many occasions. Case in point - I'm not a huge fan of Balzac (maybe I just haven't been in the right mood) and when I started Abelarda's fic I had read "Courtesans" but nothing of Lucien's previous adventures so most of the characters in that story felt to me pretty much like OCs. I imagine that contributes a lot to why it doesn't have enough reviews and I keep telling every damn person I meet to find a way to read it even if it's with google translator (which I have to be pretty desperate to use after a few hilarious occasions). And since I sometimes write OCs and can imagine how many people would skip over a story because of that, I try to stop and take a look. But that's a personal thing. I have no particular problem with anyone avoiding OCs -there are plenty of issues with them.

Canonically speaking, I'm inclined to agree with you on Enjolras' sexuality - it's the most _probable_ answer. Of course, that doesn't make it an absolute truth. Being a frequent visitor to your gallery (even if I find the time to comment once in a blue moon so you get comments that are years late) I know which female historical figure you are talking about and I would love to see that fic someday. Not being a very good historian myself and being more inclined than you are to read and post absolute and complete silliness, I fully intend to write something like Enjolras/Cosette at some point and attempt to make it readable. Naturally, readable will not mean overly plausible in this case but for me that doesn't automatically mean it shouldn't be attempted. It's an exercise, it's an amusing challenge and trying to make an elephant fly tickles my brain. I am tempted here to make another detour that will somewhat dilute the discussion so I will instead make two more threads, one on Enjolras and one on comments and criticism.

I completely agree with you on Enjolras and women, so much that I had the poor chap actually try to explain himself recently. He doesn't mind women. He minds some of their manner and he can find no common ground with them. Yes, in order to interest him, a woman would have to be a big exception and yes, then we run the risk of having a Mary-Sue, absolutely. However, I do think if we (the fandom) were attempting it more - and not just with Enjolras - we would have a bigger chance of eventually writing some better quality female characters. I'm not saying this because I think there's a quota of females a fandom should have but it might actually help the overabundance of Mary-Sues all over the internet if there were more healthy alternatives on offer.

On that note, I think the term is overused. Of course, if your character has sparkling blue eyes and hair like a waterfall, knows how to fight with a sword, can talk to animals, absolutely every male is in love with her and is dazzled by her smart and helpful opinions even though when you read through what you've written she doesn't seem to have said anything that smart, chances are she's a Mary-Sue. But that doesn't necessarily mean every female who isn't an old hag who smells of fish and has any sort of romantic interest in any male character is automatically one, even if she sometimes acts like - what a surprise - a girl. We're creating prejudice.

On Courfeyrac - I also absolutely agree that he just loves women. Unlike Enjolras, he finds them interesting and he finds that he does have common interests with them. I can imagine conversations Courfeyrac would be intrigued by which would not necessarily require too much education or social status to participate in so he could easily have those with women and they would probably give him a different and interesting perspective. As a scientist and one who has studied neuroscientific subjects in between my genetics courses, I do believe there is _generally speaking_ a difference in the way a man and a woman's brains work. That difference was more obvious back then than it is nowadays and I think Courfeyrac probably found it interesting. I'm not finding it very easy to see him as exclusively gay - I've seen him depicted so - just because of too much evidence in the text to the contrary but I can imagine him having relationships with both sexes. My headcanon tends to gravitate a little more towards the idea that given the chance - by which I mean staying alive for long enough - he would ultimately end up with a girl and just have what would be considered a regular family life for the time period but that's only a notion that doesn't get in the way of me reading completely contrary ideas. I also - for some reason I will have to analyse more in order to explain - tend to ultimately see Combeferre with a wife. The rest of them could go either way for me.

I see where you're coming from with Courfeyrac/Enjolras. There is a certain appeal there because Courfeyrac's carefree and fun-loving nature would go a long way towards softening the effect of Enjolras'... let's say sharper edges. Enjolras/Combeferre makes for a tender and well-balanced relationship but Courfeyrac would just add more sparkle to it. I have to squint a little bit to see Enjolras and Courfeyrac as a sexual/romantic couple but then the same goes for Enjolras/Combeferre. From the top of my head I find it easier to see them as very close friends without involving sex and romance into it but that doesn't mean I can't be convinced by a well-written fic. (Yes, "A Passion for the Absolute" is indeed wonderfully written.)

"Etoile" does a wonderful job of making E/R plausible and has what I would consider the right idea of how it would go if it were to happen. I'm not fond of Grantaire-is-a-doormat depictions because what Enjolras in his right mind would allow that?? I also agree that it does take rewriting of history to make it happen because it just isn't there before and in '32. Of course, that's why we have AU but I do prefer to see it in fics which go beyond the uprising. In any case, E/R almost always has to wander off into fluff territory because Grantaire is just begging for it so it's a sort of a guilty pleasure. Not that there's anything wrong with fluff. If I have to look for plausible reasons for why it might work, I would say that Enjolras' strong personality is a point in favour. I'm not sure anyone else would be able to give Grantaire a hard enough kick in the right direction so that he would tidy his act enough to be a reasonably dependable partner. The biggest problem to solve with E/R is of course why on Earth would Enjolras be interested. There can be reasons. I strongly identify with Enjolras' desire to get that man out of his little hole. I don't think it's that strange he gives him a chance at the Barriere. Enjolras is practical but he is also passionate and he is willing to take risks for the sake of his beliefs. His beliefs include the idea that any man can rise to a higher level and should be given the chance. The risk here isn't really very big and nothing horrible will happen if Grantaire fails. Perhaps he is merely trying to show Grantaire that he is not in fact prejudiced towards him. So some small things throughout the book suggest some level of involvement from Enjolras in this relationship, even if his involvement is not romantic in any way at that point. I do think Grantaire is a pet peeve of his and he does pay attention to what is happening to him. He sees in him something that is not right with the world and he would probably like to correct it. It takes some work to get things from this to a romance but once again I think Grantaire's intelligence is his biggest asset as I think ultimately in his personal relationships, be it friendly or romantic, Enjolras would put most value on a person's mind. For me, the most plausible way to develop a romance would be something like this:

1. Enjolras has the spare time (meaning no upcoming revolution) to play a more serious role in solving some of Grantaire's problems - as a friend. Or if it isn't Enjolras - perhaps even better - there has to be another factor, maybe Grantaire himself for whatever reason has decided to turn his life around a bit.

2. Once that initial change is in place, Grantaire can exhibit qualities - preferably ones he himself is proud of and confident in - which may actually be attractive and since Enjolras has the capacity to be fair and patient with him and both firm enough to prevent relapses and reasonable enough to forgive them if they happen, the relationship may have a chance from then on.

And I don't mean that Grantaire is exclusively wrong in everything and Enjolras is exclusively right. Both of them would have to change and adjust and both of them would be equally valuable in a couple - otherwise what's the point. But one of my favourite quotes goes something like "In order to say 'I love you' one has to be able to first say the 'I'" and it is Grantaire who has bigger issues with his persona.

On that note, while I don't mind reading them falling into each other's manly arms - which happens a whole lot - I don't particularly agree with it. I have very strong ideas about equality in relationships and the importance of being an independent individual within a couple probably installed in me by my extremely wonderful parents whose relationship I would not mind recreating in my personal life. So I would much rather have a Grantaire who has gone through the journey and reached the point where he can be an equal to Enjolras and an Enjolras who is at a moment in his life when he would place enough value and importance on said relationship and not go "I love you but I love France more" or some such which... I just find no basis for comparison. What does one have to do with the other and why do some authors find the need to put that there? It's like "I love my friends but I love my boyfriend more" or "I love Les Miserables but I love my dog more". Why is it impossible to love them equally much and why does it even have to be measured since all of these emotions are in many ways different in nature. I also happen to think that Grantaire wouldn't be as accepting of such a claim as he is sometimes portrayed to be. If he sulks because Enjolras hasn't sent him a message he sure as hell will sulk and complain if he is told he has to take second place. Okay, he might tell this curiously insensitive Enjolras that he is fine with it but I doubt he will actually be fine with it. Then again, that's just my two cents.

Curiously, I haven't really noticed Courfeyrac depicted as a slut _that_ often but I believe you if you say he has been. I do think he's a darling and I don't think he would knowingly cause harm to anyone or treat women like tissues. I can believe that he may not want a long-term relationship at this point but I'm sure he would make that clear to his partner beforehand. I did recently put him in a Tholomyes-like "the girl I slept with is pregnant" situation to show what I think he would do and yes, for a moment there he was justifiably freaked but he didn't pack his bags and leave for England and the girl was anything but a poor victimized soul. I think Courfeyrac has an easy charm and natural friendliness which allows him to maintain a great variety of relationships. In most cases he will instinctively find the right words or tone to avoid offending the other person which will give him a lot of freedom in what he could talk about and do with his friends and lovers. And ultimately, he can be a very responsible young man when he needs to be. All of this is what makes him so universally lovable that even I can't bring myself to envy him for having so many qualities I lack. ;P

And oh, let us please put it in out "to do" lists to tell the story of Grantaire and Irma Boissy :)

6/1/2012 . Edited 6/1/2012 #3
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