Portrait of the Slash Author as a Young Man? Tolkien Fanfic Genre and Writer Demographics

A couple weeks ago, on my post We’re Not Just Teenagers: Tolkien Fandom Participant Age, I noted that the oldest group of participants tended to respond most conservatively to the statements “It is important to keep my stories consistent with Tolkien’s moral beliefs” and “Writing fan fiction helps me to correct problems with race, gender, and sexuality that I see in Tolkien’s books.” This caused quite a stir! Obviously, saying that more members of one group answered a particular way slightly more often than members of the other groups doesn’t mean that, upon turning 37, Tolkien fanfic writers button their  frumpy blouses up over their collarbones and become Dana Carvey’s Church Lady (to borrow Oshun’s memorable way of describing the high-handed moralistic tone reminiscent of both our early years in fandom). But I think most people want to see their demographic groups reflect beliefs and behaviors that match their own; I’ll cop to experiencing a little thrill of satisfaction when I saw the middle group–to which I belong–was the most progressive on the question about Tolkien’s morality (although we came in beneath the whippersnappers on the question about fixing problems with race, gender, and sexuality). This is also why one of the few comments to drive me to spar in comment sections is negativity toward millennials, even though at age 34, I’m barely one myself. We want “our” groups to make positive contributions in ways that matter to us.

That’s why, when genre was chosen as the topic that people wanted me to look at first and I knew that a post about demographics was the logical next step after last week’s post, I shuddered a little bit. I wasn’t sure my followers–I wasn’t sure that I, to be perfectly honest–was ready for more sweeping demographic statements about who does what based on age and gender. But–it really is the logical next post, so here we go.

However, this is the first set of data that I’ve yet run that honestly doesn’t show much in some areas of analysis. I’ve definitely observed effects based on gender, but age doesn’t have much of an impact at all on what genre a person writes, nor does the number of years the person has been writing. This week’s post is going to look at the four genres (femslash, genfic, het, and slash) and how authors identify as writers of those genre based on three demographic variables: gender identity, age, and years writing Tolkien fanfic. (I will cover readers another week. This week’s post involved a higher-than-usual amount of data-crunching, so I’m just beginning to write the post when I’d usually be polishing it up and scheduling it.)

Genre and Gender

The author’s gender identity definitely correlates with the genre they write. (This is a good time to say those words that I think I heard in every single social sciences course I took as an undergrad: Correlation is not causation! It is possible that gender causes a person to identify as the writer of one genre or another, or there may be other factors at work.) Some of these correlations I expected. In other cases, they’re more surprising.

This week’s data is resisting distillation into friendly little pie graphs (unless I have a dozen little pies, which is also not friendly, especially to the person who has to make those pies–me!), so I’m going to present the data in a chart, highlighting in red those numbers that I’m going to discuss below. For simplification’s sake, I’m combining Strongly Agree with Agree, and Strongly Disagree with Disagree; anyone who wants the more granular breakdown can let me know in a comment, and I’ll email the complete charts to you.

Responses to “I identify myself as a femslash writer” by gender.

Agree/Strongly Agree 14.6% 40.4% 18.5%
Disagree/Strongly Disagree 65.3% 33.3% 55.5%
No Opinion/Not Sure 20.4% 26.2% 25.9%

Responses to “I identify myself as a genfic writer” by gender.

Agree/Strongly Agree 38.5% 40.5% 37.0%
Disagree/Strongly Disagree 26.2% 23.8% 18.5%
No Opinion/Not Sure 35.2% 35.7% 44.4%

Responses to “I identify myself as a het writer” by gender.

Agree/Strongly Agree 30.3% 11.9% 29.6%
Disagree/Strongly Disagree 37.9% 54.7% 48.1%
No Opinion/Not Sure 31.7% 33.3% 22.2%

Responses to “I identify myself as a slash writer” by gender.

Agree/Strongly Agree 45.9% 54.8% 48.1%
Disagree/Strongly Disagree 35.3% 23.8% 37.0%
No Opinion/Not Sure 18.7% 21.4% 14.8%
  • Authors who identified as nonbinary were most likely to also identify as authors of slash and femslash. This was particularly pronounced for femslash, where 40.4% of nonbinary participants agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I identify myself as a femslash writer” (compared to 14.6% and 18.5% for female and male participants, respectively). For slash, the difference was not as pronounced, but nonbinary participants still identified as slash writers at a slightly higher rate than their gender-binary peers.
  • Pretty much everyone identified as genfic writers at the same rate. Males were slighly more likely to choose No Opinion/Not Sure. Male-identified participants, however, are a small minority of total participants; only 3.61% of participants overall identified as male (see the post Gender in the Tolkien Fan Fiction Community for the full breakdown and discussion). This means that any single male in this group exerts more influence over his group’s results than the other two groups. Just two guys not choosing this option would have brought these results in line with the results for the female and nonbinary groups. The small sample size means that we have to take all the male data with a grain of salt.
  • All the same, hopping out of order a bit, the data on slash writers challenges the conventional wisdom about women and slash. Yes, we have to be careful about the male numbers because the sample size, but this data shows that men also write slash at a high rate. More men identified as slash writers than as writers of any other genre (48.1% for slash compared to 37.0% for genfic, the second-most popular category for male writers). As noted above, however, nonbinary participants wrote slash at the highest rate so, yes, the women whose slash-writing has been subject to so much analysis, criticism, angst, and pearl-clutching actually write slash at the lowest rate of the three groups. (Is it overkill if I point out again that the men’s sample size is small enough that only a couple of men are able to exert a big difference on the data? Still.)
  • Also, women do identify as slash writers more than they identify as writers of other genres: 45.9% agreed or strongly agreed compared to 38.5% for genfic, the second highest for female participants.
  • Men and women identify as het writers at similar rates. Women, however, are much less likely than men and nonbinary participants to disagree or strongly disagree with the statement, “I identify myself as a het writer.” (Women instead chose No Opinion/Not Sure at a higher rate than men did.) Women, therefore, seem to feel more positively toward an identity as a het writer than the other groups did.
  • Nonbinary authors, on the other hand, tend not to identify as het writers. For the other three genres, at least 40% of nonbinary participants identified as writers of that genre, but only 11.9% identified as het writers.

Genre, Age, and Years Writing

The results were far less interesting for age. My big takeaway is that age has very little effect on what genres authors most identify with. In some instances, there are slight differences–“slight” as in a year or two.

Median age of Tolkien fanfic authors by genre

Femslash Genfic Het Slash
Strongly Agree 24 28 30 25
Agree 22 25 25 24
Disagree 26 27 26 28
Strongly Disagree 28 28.5 25 27
No Opinion/Not Sure 23 24 24 24
  • Slash and femslash writers tend to be slightly younger than those who disagree that they identify as writers of those genres.  Femslash writers had median ages of 24 (Strongly Agree) and 22 (Agree), while those who chose Disagree had a median age of 26 and those who chose Strongly Disagree of 28. The same pattern holds for slash writers except that it is even less dramatic, if that is even possible: Strongly Agree (median age 25), Agree (24), Disagree (28), and Strongly Disagree (27).
  • Het writers had the most dramatic results. (Fair warning: They’re still not dramatic.) Writers who strongly agreed with the statement, “I identify myself as a het writer,” tend to be older than those who chose other responses, with a median age of 30. Those who agreed were 25, disagreed were 26, and strongly disagreed were 25.
  • The only consistent pattern in the age data was that those who chosen No Opinion/Not Sure tended to be younger than those who chose other responses (with the exception of femslash, where the No Opinion group had a median age of 23 compared to the youngest group, who agreed with the statement, at a median age of 22). This suggests to me that maybe perhaps younger and less experienced writers don’t see the historical divides between the genres in the same way and, therefore, don’t identify with certain genres over others. These writers may also lack the experience writing various genres, e.g., a writer might be open to trying femslash but hasn’t been in the fandom long enough to give it a go. Such a writer might be reluctant to commit to any of the options.

I mentioned experience, so this is the time to note that I also looked at genre as it relates to years writing Tolkien-based fanfic. As I noted in the post on age, age and years writing are understandably correlated. (A 15-year-old is highly unlikely to be writing for 10 years, for example.) The data related to years writing were even more of a muddle than the data related to age. The only pattern that shows up is that, for all genres except for slash, the participants who selected Strongly Agree tended to have more years writing Tolkien fanfic than those who selected the other options. This suggests a couple of possibilities to me. One is that people who remain in the fanfic community longer develop stronger identities associated with a particular genre or genres. Another possibility is that a number of these writers entered the fandom when questions of genre were most contentious–around the release of the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies or earlier–and so formed strong connections to the genres they wrote.

Anyway, here is the data on years writing by genre in all its uneventful glory. Maybe one of you will see something in it that I don’t see.

Median years writing Tolkien fanfic by genre

Femslash Genfic Het Slash
Strongly Agree 6 8.5 9 3
Agree 3 4 5 3
Disagree 5 6 4 5
Strongly Disagree 5 3 4 5
No Opinion/Not Sure 3 3 3 3

The No Opinion/Not Sure data again suggests that less-experienced members of the Tolkien fanfic community haven’t yet formed identities around the genres they write, or perhaps came up in a fandom culture that didn’t encourage this.

The main takeaway from the data on genre, age, and years writing: People of all ages enjoy writing (or don’t care to write) all genres. Likewise, authors with varying levels of experience in the fandom also write all of the genres. One’s identity with a particular genre doesn’t seem attached much–if at all–to one’s age or the years one has been writing.

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“Tolkien Fan Fiction Survey” by Dawn Walls-Thumma is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

You may use, share, repost, or reprint the statistics and information in this post in any nonprofit project. If you do so, you MUST credit me with my name (Dawn Walls-Thumma in academic/professional contexts or Dawn Felagund in fannish contexts) and link to the Tolkien Fan Fiction Survey category on my blog: http://themidhavens.net/heretic_loremaster/category/tolkien-fan-fiction-survey/

For permissions not covered by this license or any questions, email me at DawnFelagund@gmail.com.

See the Tolkien Fan Fiction Survey masterpost for more information on this project, permissions, et cetera, et cetera.


6 Responses to “Portrait of the Slash Author as a Young Man? Tolkien Fanfic Genre and Writer Demographics”

  1. Himring says:

    I think one of the issues affecting the het figures is hesitation whether writing fic about canon couples with low rating and/or low sexual content counts as gen or het.

    • Dawn says:

      I agree! I remember those discussions about when one “had” to label a het pairing, especially one that was in the books, and what actually made a story het.

  2. Amy Fortuna says:

    I identify really strongly as a millennial, despite being two years older than you, Dawn! And my husband does not even though he’s six months younger than me. We’re all on the generational cusp, and it’s a matter of individual identification and choice at that point. But it probably explains why I feel like everybody’s older sibling! :)

    I’m trying to recall which options I would have chosen. I’m sure I would have said I identify myself as a slash and femslash reader and writer – I absolutely do very strongly. Slightly less strongly, I’d identify myself as a gen reader and writer – I really like writing, from time to time, things that explore Arda in a way that isn’t focused on romance and sex, as well as of course, things that do. And I read everything – I love it when people come up with unique perspectives or ‘takes’ on canon – it’s as delightful as reading really good smut!

    I think where I’d struggle is identifying myself as a het reader and writer. For reading, I don’t seek out many het pairings, certainly not really any non-canonical ones. I’ve read some Haleth/Caranthir that I liked, but I don’t really ship it. I do ship Finrod/Andreth, but not in a romantic sense, more in a friends with benefits sense (and it’s super rare, in any sense!). And I’ve written a bit of hetsmut – mostly when people have asked for it. But when I look at my stories in terms of het pairings, they are nearly all background – the stories don’t tend to be ‘about’ the relationship itself.

    Now, when it comes to poly fic, I haven’t written /much/ of it – but I do feel like I’ve put a lot more heart into those fics, especially because they are somewhat more complicated than writing a relatively straightforward single pairing. I would absolutely define myself as a writer of poly fic, and an avid reader as well. It doesn’t matter the genders of the people involved – I’ve happily read and written f/f/f/, m/m/m, various combinations, and moresomes all the way up to 8 characters in the grand ship called the Fëanorian OT8 (and I wouldn’t object to yet more).

    What I’d really love to find out is what genre would my male character/non-binary character series fall into? None of the above seem to work quite right! I mean, it’s partly also slash because there’s a background Fingon/Maedhros pairing, but they don’t appear in all the stories by any means. At some point the genre definitions kind of break for certain things, and that’s probably how it should be!

  3. Spiced Wine says:

    I’m pretty sure I identified very strongly as a slash writer and strongly disagreed I wrote anything else – because I don’t. I’m almost certain it was the same with reading. I seek out slash although preferably set within a big story arc.

    There’s definitely het and femslash goes on in my ‘verse, and somewhere in there is gen – gen is the ‘general’ story, for me, but since I don’t explore them I don’t identify as writing them.

    If there’d been a ‘poly’ option I think I’d have identified with that strongly too, as it’s fallen out that there are no real ‘couples’ in what I write, characters can and do have multiple partners and sometimes (though not always) at the same time. And they’re not necessarily in relationships, just sexually free.

    But threesomes and moresomes are complicated to write, as Amy Fortuna says so I don’t have as many of those scenes as M/M sex scenes.

  4. Independence1776 says:

    The only pattern that shows up is that, for all genres except for slash, the participants who selected Strongly Agree tended to have more years writing Tolkien fanfic than those who selected the other options.

    The third possibility is that people who started off writing gen and het during the contentious years have branched into other genres in recent years. (That’s me for femslash and poly; it was around 2009 that I started writing those two.) But I’m not sure how– or even if– that’s represented in your data.

    One is that people who remain in the fanfic community longer develop stronger identities associated with a particular genre or genres.

    I think that’s true: the longer you’re in fandom, the more you know about what you like and dislike reading and writing.

    It does seem to me that genre is more of a muddle now with background pairings behing het or slash or femslash in a fic where the main pairing is [insert genre that’s not the background pairings’ genre]. There’s less of the “everyone is gay”-type fics and more fics that acknowledge the wide spread of relationship types. That may account for some of the uncertainty: if people write het, slash, or femslash pairings as background only, well, they still write it but they may not identify as femslashers, etc.

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