To the uninitiated, fan fiction can seem a little bit like Pandora’s Box — open it at your own risk. However, as the popularity of fan fiction as a form grows, so its influence begins to leach out into the world, with shows like The Crown, Riverdale and American Gods all taking on the world-expanding characteristics that make fanfic so appealing. When it comes to who qualifies for the fanfic treatment, the net grows ever wider. That means characters from books and TV are joined by pop stars, Hollywood heartthrobs — and, more improbably, politicians.
This maybe isn’t as surprising as it first seems. Over the past couple of years, there’s been a strange eroticization of politicians from both supporters and detractors, on both the left and right. In the U.K. you’ve got Conservative activists and MPs referring to Theresa May as “Mummy”; Milo Yiannopoulous and other alt-right bros calling Trump “Daddy”; the ongoing suggestion that Trump has a “bromance” with Vladimir Putin; and the mass fawning over Justin Trudeau when he’s pictured canoeing down a creek or wrestling bears or whatever. You don’t have to extrapolate these scenarios terribly far before you get the kind of kink you might expect in fan fiction.
But fanfic writers will always surprise you. Before poring through the reams of political fan fiction on sites like Archive of Our Own, I had assumed that stories would be erotic renderings of real-life meetings, cack-handed dialogue and pregnant pauses at G8 meetings and the like. What I wasn’t banking on were stories that were earnest, tender, romantic — and had absolutely nothing to do with politics.
Many of Theresa May’s portrayals in fan fiction are of an overworked woman-having-it-all type character. In this flash-fiction piece, “An Unexpected Cup Of Tea,” a stressed May is comforted by her doting husband with a hot mug of milky Earl Grey and a neck massage before bedtime (fair warning: it’s mildly erotic).
In this 17-chapter opus, May and her husband Philip adopt a child after Jeremy Corbyn brings up the alarming lack of access to abortion in Northern Ireland. And here, we are transported back to 1981 with Theresa May grieving the loss of her parents but taking solace in the love of her husband. She is caricatured, sure, but in an almost universally positive, apolitical light:
“If we trust the polls.” Did anyone who had lived through 2016? She took a long drink. “And either way, we don’t need this conversation right now. It weakens our negotiating position. The EU knows we’re not united.”
“What the EU knows is that you’re a bloody difficult woman. Juncker and Tusk don’t care about the Scottish midget.”
This exchange from “An Unexpected Cup of Tea” refers to May’s own self-given “bloody difficult woman” moniker to bolster her negotiating power. Her bullishness is portrayed as strength.
Conversely, this short conversation between Theresa and Philip — which touches not only on their lack of children, but also her inability to conceive at all — uses a stick that’s been occasionally used to beat May to make her vulnerable and sympathetic.
It’s also interesting to consider May’s portrayal in stories involving Donald Trump. In reality, May and the rest of the Tories have been far more supportive of Trump than other world leaders. IN fan fic, they are rarely cast as allies. A story entitled “Fuck Donald Trump”, which actually centers on Melania wanting to get revenge on Trump for his philandering, ends with Trump sexually humiliated by Theresa May, her husband and the Royal Family.
Another one, “Make America Great Britain Again,” begins in the Emergency Room, where Donald Trump lies with Nigel Farage, both of whom Theresa May has been beaten up. Yas queen. Slay. Etc.
“You are paying for your own medical fees as well. Besides, you and Donald are wealthy enough to pay for your treatments anyway.”
And just like that, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom walked out of the emergency room — like a boss as her young supporters, her Mayllenials, would put it.
Alice Tarbuck, a writer and defender of fanfic, believes “you’ve got to ask fanfic all the questions you’d ask any other literature. Who are you helping? Is there any morality? Is there any integrity?”
It’s worth remembering that fan fiction’s origins are quite subversive. Fic as we know it began in the 1970s, when many Star Trek fans wrote stories about Captain Kirk and Spock being in a romantic relationship. However, one of the consequences of the increased popularity of fan fiction is a dilution of this original countercultural spirit.
It’s not as if these politicians are trying to push through their retrograde beliefs behind closed doors — you don’t have to look very far to see what their agendas are. Since the U.K. general election ended with a minority Conservative government, thanks in large part to a large number of young people engaged and galvanized by Jeremy Corbyn and his unashamedly socialist politics, Theresa May has propped herself up thanks to a confidence and supply deal with the Irish DUP — a party with even more archaic, nasty policies than the Tories (creationism, homophobia, opposition to public breastfeeding, you get the picture). She also initially refused to meet any survivors of the horrific Grenfell Tower tragedy in West London. Fan fiction that ignores these political failings in favor of painting a more neutral, apolitical picture betrays the roots of the genre.
There is a great irony here too. The universes that seems ripest for fan fiction — Harry Potter, Divergent, Star Trek, etc. — are often seen as left-leaning political allegories. It’s only when actual politicians enter the world of fan fiction that end products begin to sit on the fence; that disclaimers stating “no political bias” have to be included.
So why do it at all? If fan fiction is all about expanding worlds beyond the text, then it makes sense that in the case of political fanfic we are shown more domestic, intimate, humanizing scenes, rather than State of the Unions addresses or rounds of Prime Minister’s Questions. In the case of Theresa May, there may also be a desire to address some of the ways criticism of her has been unnecessarily gendered — and it’s much easier to present Theresa May as a feminist hero in these stories in comparison to Trump’s villainous sexism.
But a woman who is in power does not a feminist make. The danger in writing these politicians in an apolitical way is that doing so effectively removes their political agency, and makes the policies they implement tangential to their character, rather than the foundation of it.