The Eyeopener: Vol 55, Issue 8

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RECAP: 2022-23 RSU Elections in a nutshell Editor-in-Chief Tyler “Reading Eggy Fic” Griffin

By Thea Gribilas, Heidi Lee and Edward Djan

The 2022-23 Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) election saw Independent candidate Marina Gerges elected as the new RSU president, beating out current president Siddhanth Satish. Photo Gerges beat Satish by a significant Laila “Cryptobro Vibez” Amer margin, with Gerges receiving 1,408 Vanessa “Louis Girl” Kauk votes and Satish receiving 556. Jes “Bi-Friendly” Mason Gerges said in an interview with The Eyeopener that she “was shocked” Online to learn she won. Alexandra “She’s Driven” Holyk She said one of her first prioriAbby “TikTok Editor” Hughes ties once in office is increasing the number of people who attend RSU Features meetings to meet quorum. Abeer “Namjoon’s Wife” Khan “I need to address quorum. That’s going to be my main focus. Arts and Culture Without quorum, nothing we do Elizabeth “Teen Breasts” Sargeant really matters, nothing we do will really pass.” Business and Technology Quorum is the minimum number Charlize “Miso’s Mommy” Alcaraz of people that must attend a meeting in order for the meeting to continue Communities or be considered valid. Serena “Gamer Grind” Lopez Currently, 100 full-time students are required to be present at both Sports annual and semi-annual general Gavin “Recap Lyfe” Axelrod meetings for them to proceed.


News Edward “Diddilido” Djan Thea “Messagegate” Gribilas Heidi “Sweat Sess” Lee

where a story directed viewers to the union’s homepage. There was no mention of this year’s election on the page at the time. A three-line notice of election dates, including the nomination, campaign and voting periods appeared at the bottom of the “Get Involved” page.

RSU Election Appeals Committee ratification invalid At the most recent RSU Board of Directors’ (BoD) meeting on Jan. 26, only 10 of 21 board members were in attendance. Section 8.1 of the RSU bylaws states that “a majority of the voting Fun and Satire Directors shall form a quorum for “It was going to be Rochelle “Grand Slam Program” the transaction of business,” thus the same group of Raveendran quorum, which would have been 11, was not met. people that have run Media Due to the fact quorum was not in the past” Sonia “Doin’ Interviews” Khurana met, technically all motions that were ratified in that BoD meeting Web Developer Here’s what else you missed during this are invalid, including the anoynDoug “I’m Captain Now” Nguyen year’s RSU elections: mous Election Appeals Committee. General Manager Liane “Send Heroin” McLarty Advertising Manager Chris “Where’s My $$” Roberts Design Director J.D. “Freedumb Fighter” Mowat

RSU breaks their own bylaws with election announcement This year’s election started off with controversy with the RSU only announcing the nomination period four days prior to its opening. The announcement was made on the RSU’s Instagram account

RSU Debate The entire ‘Revolution’ slate did not appear at this year’s debate with the exception of presidential candidate Ahmed Ali, who arrived late. Independent candidate and incoming RSU president Marina Geges also did not show up. She told

The Eye she would rather spend time campaigning. Candidates were each asked three questions that were pre-screened by chief returning officer (CRO) Jenna Rose before the debate. At the end of the debate, an attendee asked Rose why the candidates seemed to be reading off a script and if they were given the questions beforehand. The meeting abruptly ended following the questions. Rose and the deputy chief returning officer, ‘Jash’, sent separate emails to The Eye after believing the questions came from one of the editors, apologizing for the incident. They both said it was not their intention to end the meeting abruptly following the participant’s concerns and added that questions were not shared to candidates before the debate.

dent, he was criticized for mass layoffs of equity services, including the loss of all staff at the Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence Support. Forward and Revolution candidates break election bylaws The Eye obtained evidence of both the Forward and Revolution slates breaking election bylaws. Forward and Revolution candidates both sent electronic messages to students, urging them to vote for their respective slates. This directly contradicts this year’s nomination package which states that “candidates are explicitly forbidden from campaigning via any form of electronic mail,” under RSU bylaw section 6.69.

Forward gave snack packages to students in residence The Forward slate also was campaigning in residence buildings, handing students snacks and urging them to vote for Forward. According to RSU election procedures “remunerating someone for their vote” is not permissible. The Eye contacted chief returning officer Jenna Rose about ‘Forward’ campaigning in residence buildings, to which she responded by saying that bringing students packages has been “common practice for the past few years in RSU elections.” However, in last year’s election, Rose emailed a ‘For the Students’ candidate saying that door-to-door Former RSU president endorses campaigning is not allowed. ‘Revolution’ Former RSU president Ali Yousaf Five-hour wait time for election endorsed the ‘Revolution’ slate, results headed by Ahmed Ali. Although voting for the election Yousaf posted a photo on his In- ended at 4 p.m., Rose released the stagram story urging current Ryer- results six hours later at 10:01 p.m. son students to vote for Ali and the During the wait, Rose did not Revolution slate. answer emails from The Eye and Yousaf’s time at the RSU was lit- seemed to be at a gym via her Instered with controversy. As presi- tagram story.

Q&A with incoming RSU president Marina Gerges By Edward Djan and Heidi Lee Following her victory , The Eyeopener sat down with incoming Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) president Marina Gerges to reflect on the election and what she plans to do once in office. How do you feel about your victory? I am still surprised, and even though statistically [I] had no chance compared to the past, I had a good feeling about this. I had conversations with so many students, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if I lost, but I was shocked when I found out I won.

president as an independent? I knew no one would. I knew that for sure [it] was going to be the same group of people that have run in the past. And I felt like, why not run? If anything, I lose, I raise awareness. It was a win-win for me either way.

Once in office, how would you advocate for students regarding their concerns about the university’s reopening plans? First, I want to know exactly what students feel and why they feel that way. I was thinking about making a website with different topics and each topic would lead to a questionnaire. It would allow me to make a decision. The more say [students] have, the easier it will be for me to advocate for them. As for specifics, I will do what the results are and I will do my best. I don’t know how I’m going to implement them specifically but I can’t wait to find out.

Will you address former controversies of the RSU that you are legally allowed to address? I will address the past scandals as long as it is legal and whatever I am allowed to do that won’t get me fired. I want to find out these things just as much as you guys. I think if we could find out answers to things that happened five years ago, it’d be really interesting. Answers have been edited for length Why did you decide to run for and clarity


Experiencing love through fiction and fandom doesn’t make it I’m one of thousands of fans who owe some of the best moments of my life to fandom and fanfiction any less real Words by Abeer Khan I wish I could pin-point when I started reading fanfiction. For as long as I can remember, it’s been a part of my life. In Grade 8, I would sneakily read the latest saga of a 30-chapter Larry Stylinson fanfiction on my iPad mini under my desk. When I started university, friendless and questioning whether I even belonged in my program, I read BTS fanfics to remind myself of what friendship, comradery and happiness felt like. Fanfiction has been a crutch in my life that has consistently propped me up when I felt alone. In my Muslim household, love and sex were often taboo and restricted topics; in fact, they still are. Growing up insecure about my body, the only place I felt truly loved and secure was when I read my favourite romance tropes on Archive of Our Own. Everything I know about love and sex has been through what others have written in fanfiction. I’ve never had a significant other or even tried to pursue anyone romantically, but by reading characters in alternate universes fall in love, I felt like I never really missed out. Fanfiction allowed me to experience romance

in a risk-free environment on my own terms, where I knew I wouldn’t get in trouble or be heartbroken. Vicariously, I lived through the people I adored through words written by fans similar to myself. And with fanfiction comes being a part of fandom, something I’ve known since I was 10 years old. I’m a proud Directioner, Potterhead and a part of BTS’ Army. Fandom has given me so much: new friends, new music tastes, new creative hobbies and most importantly, new experiences. I can’t think of anything that’s influenced me more than fandom has; it’s a part of my identity I will never forget or lose. As a teenager, when I used to talk about my love for One Direction, and even now at 21 when I gush about BTS, I never fail to notice eye-rolls and the quick jumps of judgement from people ready to delegitimize my love for my favourite artists and idols, calling me childish and cringey. But that’s far from the truth. Being a part of a fandom is beautiful. It has granted me the privilege of meeting won-


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Photo by Norah Kim

derful people and finding community. And most importantly, it has allowed me to feel loved—something I’ve never felt as intensely in real life. Up until this past year, I never thought there were other people like me, who also threw themselves into fandom and owed many of their most life-affirming and fulfilling experiences to fanfiction. This issue is an ode to every fan who, like

me, has experienced love, sex and friendship through fiction. I hope you read this issue and realize that just because you’ve experienced love and sex differently than others— through a screen or on pages in a book— doesn’t mean your experiences are any less real or valid. In fact, I’d argue you’ve had some of the richest experiences love and sex have to offer.

Certified stans Managing Editor Abeer Khan


Editor-in-Chief Tyler Griffin

Writers Madeline Liao Kristyn Landry Sania Ali David Cassels Heidi Lee Norah Kim

Kadija Osman Nishat Chowdhury Elizabeth Sargeant Abbey Kelly Dhriti Gupta Julia Lawrence

Alethea Ng


2 202


Doug Nguyen Kayla Zhu Charlize Alcaraz



Alexandra Holyk Abby Hughes Rochelle Raveendran

Laila Amer Jes Mason Vanessa Kauk


Copy Editors

Ranaa Akram Sowsan Amer Jayden Charles Isela Gomez Madeline Gourgouvelis Sabrina Kauk Michelle Parlevliet Berry Shi Tiya Gupta

Gavin Axelrod Serena Lopez Edward Djan Thea Gribilas Prapti Bamaniya Mariyah Salhia



Sonia Khurana

The Love, Sex and Fandom Playlist

We asked our writers to pick their favourite song for the issue. Check out the full playlist by scanning the Spofify code!


Fanfiction is forever

For these Rye students, writing fanfiction is a legitimate art and nothing to be embarrassed about

Words by Alexandra Holyk Maya Nadler got her first taste of fanfiction when she was just 11 years old. She would regularly watch shows like My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and became fascinated with their world of character building. “For some reason, it felt natural to start thinking up my own characters, mimicking the writing styles and character arcs I was familiar with at the time,” the now-second-year RTA media production student says. She adds that with My Little Pony, the show gave specific traits to each type of pony and explored why Equestrian society was the way it was. Invested in these personalities, she’d often come up with ideas to rewrite the show in her own way. In fanfiction, this is known as worldbuilding: the process of constructing an imaginary world based on an established fictional universe. Nadler would watch My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and simultaneously rewrite the episodes, sometimes introducing new characters from other shows into her work. As she started writing, Nadler quickly realized she wasn’t alone. She discovered an online community—or ‘fandom’— made up mostly of adults who also enjoyed the show and would create their own content known as ‘fanfiction’ using original episodes as reference. “Little me decided that I was going to write my own stories about other characters that I liked as ponies,” Nadler recalls. “It wasn’t the best of all time, obviously. I was very young. But I was just having a lot of fun and I was putting characters into new situations.” Throughout middle school, Nadler would “religiously” read fanfiction based around shows such as Avatar: The Last Airbender and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, a Japanese anime. In Grade 8, she came up with the idea to merge a character inspired by The Last Airbender into Fullmetal Alchemist. With the show opened on Netflix in one tab and Google Docs open in another, Nadler would carefully rewrite episode after episode with her own plot. She managed to come up with around 60,000 words—her longest piece of fanfiction ever—before she got bored and left it unfinished. Nadler continued writing and reading fan- fiction throughout high school and university for various fandoms and zines—a published collection of fanfic stories from multiple authors. Her most recent fanfic was published in May 2021 on Archive of Our Own (AO3), a non-profit,

Illustration by Vanessa Kauk open-source repository for fanfiction and other fanworks contributed by users. She says she’d write more if she could, but the pandemic, school work and burnout prevent her from doing so. Even though her life has gotten busier, she still loves writing fanfiction. She’s never been ridiculed for it, either—something that can be common growing up.

“I like to surround myself with people that are either also into fandom or who I know would not make fun of me for it,” she says. “Plus, I just don’t go around talking about it all that much to random people. I’ve mentioned it to my university friends and I don’t think anybody cares.” However, not all fanfiction writers are as lucky. In a 2017 article titled “Why fanfiction shaming is a feminist issue,” author Emma Lord recounts her own feelings of both eagerness and shame when it came to writing fanfiction— the most obvious stigma stemming from the fact that a large amount of fanfiction centres female desire. In her article, Lord cites the successful sales of 50 Shades of Grey and After—fanfictions originally based on Twilight and One Direction, respectively—as prime examples, which have received widespread mockery from their

unintended audiences. Lord also mentions that fanfiction can lend itself to mockery since many writers are often anonymous, unpaid and write with little formal training. That, paired with fanfic being primarily written by women for women, contributes to fanfiction writers and consumers facing ridicule. Stephanie Burt, a literary critic and English professor at Harvard University, says the delegitimization of fanfiction stems from issues of patriarchy. “We have all been taught to devalue girly things as weak or inconsequential or childish,” she says. “Fanfic writers…have had to find empowerment and validation horizontally, within community, rather than vertically or directly through money. Community is better anyway. But you still have to make a living.” It’s through this community that fanfiction writers often feel the most comfortable creating their art. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy calls these “affinity spaces,” which offer diverse pathways to participation and an authentic audience, motivating young adults to read, write and design. For many Ryerson students, this community within their fandoms provides them with a safe space to write fanfiction without feeling ashamed. In 2013, when Malik Wilson was in Grade 11, his law teacher took his class to the movie theatre to see Catching Fire, the second installment in The Hunger Games franchise. Fascinated by the movie’s themes and the dystopian world of Panem, Wilson began reading the books and eventually stumbled upon Hunger Games fanfiction. Later that year, Wilson began writing his own and published the fanfic on Christmas Day, but took it down because he felt as though he “was too young” and “didn’t write

it properly.” Wilson kept with his writing, and between 2015 and 2021, he finished writing two fanfics titled “House of Death” and “Metamorphosis,” which included his own characters he created through a process known as “Submit Your Own Tribute”—where a fanfiction author creates a character that would be inserted into The Hunger Games’ plot. Now a third-year politics and governance student, Wilson is currently working on another Hunger Games fanfiction called “Atonement,” which he expects to finish this summer. He says he draws inspiration from politics happening in the real world as a way to visualize the world he is creating through his fanfiction. “I think about the political situations of today and hypotheticals that some people might think of online, and I try [to put] it into my own words. I think of it and I twist it around to fit it in my world,” he says. Wilson publishes his fanfiction on his own website, but has also used AO3 in the past. He’s never used Wattpad to publish his work as he says he finds it “childish,” and believes the app contributes to the mockery often associated with fanfiction. “When [critics] think of fanfiction and think of sites like Wattpad, [they] think back to their early-high school, late-elementary years,” says Wilson. Wattpad is usually one of the first sites many fans are exposed to when they start reading and writing fanfiction. Wilson, however, says when writers first start writing, their best work can be considered “cringe.”

Like Lord, Meredith Day has also written about the belittlement of fanfiction in connection to female desire based on the demographic of fanfiction writers. She cites a study conducted in 2010 that investigated the demographics of users through the information that users provided themselves in their profiles. It was determined that 78 per cent of those who disclosed their gender were female and the vast majority of users were also teenagers. Similar to boy bands, fads and other things considered ‘too girly,’ fanfiction falls under the category of things society deems to be ‘cringy.’ This can lead fanfiction writers to struggle to prove themselves as ‘real’ authors who feel their art is legitimate. But Burt says all fanfic authors don’t have to strive to create their own characters in order to prove themselves. “You just have to write fanfic,” she says. “All you can do is try to get it in front of people and see what they say, and figure out whom you should and want to trust,” she adds. Wilson says he hasn’t felt “shunned” for writing fanfiction, but is aware of the ridicule. “I don’t really see it as embarrassing…just a personal hobby that keeps my brain jogging. Not really so much shame in it. Just, you know, something I do.” Nonetheless, when it comes to eliminating the stigma associated with writing fanfic, Burt says it’s important to continue treating it as art, rather than something critics consider ‘cringy.’ “​​Treating fanfic as an art form, publicly, in front of people who aren’t in fandom, helps,” Burt says, adding that increasing visibility of successful writers who began in fanfic and having them speak about their experiences would also be beneficial in preventing ridicule. Though Nadler hasn’t published her fanfiction in almost a year now, she says she isn’t completely done with it. She recently re-watched most of the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and says the hints for upcoming character development left by the show’s writers are even more inspiring now than they were when she was younger. “I’d really like to get back to writing fanfiction at some point or at least writing in general because I have a lot of ideas floating up in my head,” she says. “It’s a pretty lofty goal, but I’d love to be able to have characters that inspire the next generation of young writers.”

The ultimate cry-into-your-1D-pillow playlist Words by Elizabeth Sargeant Illustrations by Jes Mason The gut-wrenching pain that 17-year-olds are able to churn out on Wattpad fics is nothing short of witchcraft. Fanfic writers somehow surpass the boundaries of anguish that mainstream authors dare not cross. You could blink and suddenly Hazel Grace Lancaster is being killed off in one fatal swoop within the writer’s own John-Green-

free alternate universe. Here’s a curated soundtrack to listen to while weeping over the evil angst and betrayal Hole4HarryStyles concocted, all from within their childhood bedroom. Prepare to cry over people that don’t exist—or who don’t know that you do. To Build a Home by The Cinematic Orchestra This song is the ultimate boohoo staple for a devastating scene in any modern romance movie. If you need to mourn the inevitable death of Lily and James Potter somehow written into every Harry Potter fanfic (even when

Grab those old wired headphones, open a new hurt/comfort AO3 tab and let the music cause irreparable emotional damage!

NOT necessary), crank this shit up. The song Possibility by Lykke Li is about a couple building a life together and, Possibility is the literal soundtrack to at the end, watching it turn to dust—much Bella rotting in her room because her like Voldemort did to our fav pair. sexy vampire boyfriend ghosted. It’s the best way to set the New Moon Liability by Lorde ambience for your possibly more Liability is for every girl who feels a bit too loud, emotional fictional break up with a bit too much and far too excitable for the qui- Edward, in the self-insert y/n fic you et Zayn Malik to ever love. It’s not your fault found on fanfiction dot net—minus the you scream-cried when you saw him live cliff jumping and Taylor Lautner in an awful in 2014. Listen to this song and write fan- wig. *Cue depression time lapse* fic where you cast yourself as the shy, doeeyed, messy-bun babe he spots from across Listen to the full playlist at the stadium.

How BTS helped me learn to love myself My journey of overcoming hardship and healing through my favourite artist It was nearly 3 a.m. one night last March when I found myself shaking from anxiousness at my desk in my room, which I hadn’t left for days. I had vomited as a result of my binge-eating and was struggling to finish a final paper. On top of that, I was grieving the death of my uncle, who had passed away just three days prior. I’ve always been independent from a young age as a result of living in a single-parent household, where the need to take on more responsibilities and mature faster was essential. And because I was always alone, the ability to be vulnerable with others was always a challenge for me. The only times I truly felt safe and encouraged to do things I enjoyed was when I was with my uncle, who I no longer had. Feeling numb and too hurt to socialize, I deleted all my social media applications and barely spoke to any of my close friends for weeks; I had always conditioned myself to suffer alone as a result of my fear of abandonment. While I couldn’t reach out for help, I still needed a quick remedy to distract myself from triggering another anxiety attack. Forcing myself to take a break from writing my paper, I clicked through YouTube’s homepage and found a compilation video titled, “BTS are full time comedians.” With over 4 million views, I quickly pressed play and found myself escaping reality as I laughed at multiple clips of a group of seven K-pop idols just being themselves. Fascinated by how comforting their content was, I was curious and became eager to dig deeper into the popular boy group that some of my best friends and millions of others adored. As a veteran K-pop listener, I grew up on old-school groups like Shinee and Girls’ Generation, but BTS was never a group that stood out to me until recently. Never being able to talk about the struggles and the repercussions of living within an emotionally taxing household has always made it hard for me to come to terms with and validate my anxiety disorder. When I started learning more about BTS, a group that took eight years to reach such heights of fame and were open about their mental health and well-being, I was taken aback by their vulnerability and ability to connect with their fans on a personal level.

The idols that I looked up to as a child were merely visages augmented by the industry standard to appeal rather than to connect with audiences. But BTS wasn’t like them; they were genuine, open and welcoming. One day, during one of my daily online strolls through BTS’ videos, I stumbled across their 2018 United Nations (UN) speech. I began attentively listening to BTS’ leader, Kim Namjoon, speak on the importance of promoting self-love messages amongst youth. “Like most people, I made many mistakes in my life,” Kim had said eloquently. “I have many faults and I have many fears, but I am going to embrace myself as hard as I can, and I’m starting to love myself, little by little.” As these words left his mouth, I reflected back on my uncle’s death and finally validated the regretful feelings I had towards knowing that this was not how he wanted me to live out my life—in constant fear of trusting others and thinking lowly of myself. BTS has had a huge impact on my life and self-image. A 2020 Malaysian study that evaluated the meaning of being a K-pop fan thoroughly describes the unique parasocial relationship that exists between fan and idol. “Although fans may not know idols personally and are fully aware of that, it creates a strong personal bond and attachment,” the study reads. “Taking into consideration, the sheer amount of consumable content also makes it easy to be immersed for hours. Although it is one-sided, it is significant and proves that the K-pop fan transcends musical discussion.” I realized the connection between my mental health and the content I consumed impacted how I viewed myself. BTS’ words encouraged me to openly speak up about my mental health to my best friends. I slowly started taking steps towards caring for myself and began online counselling. While hesitant at first, I knew I had to confront my emotions head on. One day, my counsellor asked me what my interests were and suggested I indulge in them. Frankly, as someone who was falling behind in school and had begun to loathe the major that was once my driving passion, nothing else came to mind besides BTS. Unphased by what I thought was a ridiculous answer, she told me to incorporate the aspects I enjoyed about them into my ev-

Words by Norah Kim

Illustration by Laila Amer eryday life. From then on, BTS’ simple message became my motivation. It became a sudden routine for me to consume BTS-related content as a coping mechanism to counteract my constant anxiety and relapse eating states. Every time I felt the smallest feeling of anxiousness, I would listen to a collection of their songs that I found the most comforting. With much of their lyricism surrounding the journeys of struggling and overcoming obstacles throughout one’s life, the words would ease my anxiety and make me feel less lonely. If I didn’t feel like eating, I turned to “Eat Jin” videos, a series of mukbangs— also known as an online eating show—with the eldest BTS member Kim Seokjin. He would display his meal of the day and encourage fans to eat along, while reflecting on the problems he used to face being on strict diets as an idol. When watching their variety show Run BTS, I’d excitedly invite my best friends over to hang out while suggesting we do similar activities like playing an over the top mafia game or battling it out in a tag team ramyeon cooking challenge. The brotherly bond I saw amongst the seven members motivated me to want to solidify and strengthen the weak relationships I had with my friends and family members. For the first time in my life, I was able to properly open up and be transparent with not only myself, but with the people I cared for.

Reflecting back on the past year I’ve had since BTS came into my life, I find myself understanding their message of loving yourself more and more. Seeing an artist share almost all aspects of their life (good and bad) without hesistantancy provided me with comfort and a sense of belonging I never thought I’d have growing up alone. According to the aforementioned study out of Malaysia, being fans of a K-pop group can offer this sense of belonging. “Fans also learn the values that are being shared within the community and conform to it,” the study adds. Although there is still much room for growth, I’ve learned that self-improvement is dependent on your desire to continue the journey of learning to love yourself. Through watching these seven boys from South Korea grow up and go through various hardships, but still achieve such heights of success, it almost motivates me to do the same for myself. This is what makes BTS different from any other celebrity I’ve seen before. They encourage self-love through their vulnerability and authenticity, which transcend traditional values of the K-pop industry, and have allowed them to have a deep and long-lasting connection with their fans. As emulated in their song, ‘Answer: Love Myself,’ the translated lyrics: you’ve shown me I have reasons I should love myself, portrays a relationship between fan and artist that depends on one another. My growing dependence on BTS has shown me it is okay to depend on others, because once you allow people to love you, it can open a gateway of endless reasons to love yourself.

A (parasocial) relationship on your own terms How our imaginary relationships impact and reflect our real social lives Words by David Cassels Illustrations by Jes Mason


assing through Waterford, Ont. on a trip across the southern belt of the province is a fairly nondescript event. The town is home to only around 3,000 people and as long as you don’t divert from Highway 24, a road that briefly doubles as Waterford’s main street, you’ll be in and out in about 10 minutes. Waterford is also home to just about everything you’d expect from a town this size—one Tim Hortons, one LCBO, a farmers’ market and no less than seven different churches. For Jeremiah Ruiz, now a second-year creative industries student, being a child in an “intensely” Christian household meant he had no concept of pop culture whatsoever.

“It was this really intense Christianity. Music was banned. The only music I ever heard was Christian music,” he says. When Ruiz was eight years old, his older sister was kicked out of the house. He can’t remember all the specifics, but she wasn’t “following” the church anymore, so their pastor convinced his mom that letting her go was best. After this, when Ruiz would hang out with his sister, he’d visit her in Simcoe, Ont. and they would drive around the area together since she wasn’t welcome back home. One day, on one of their drives in the summer of 2011, “Someone Like You” by Adele came on the radio. Ruiz was

enamoured. “From that moment on me and [my sister] would just listen to Adele all the time. She bought me Adele CDs and I’d just sit there and listen like, ‘Who is this woman?’” says Ruiz. While Adele’s album 21 was Ruiz’s first glimpse at pop culture, it was her following project, 25, that helped him through his teenage years. “I had just started high school when the album came out. It was this big shift for me because I was just starting to explore my sexuality,” says Ruiz. His lacklustre relationship with his mother also drew him to Adele, especially in high school. His mother was not understanding of his sexuality; she believed it was a ‘sin’, and after

Ruiz came out, she was more distant in his life. He believes that it was not only his mom’s Christianity that made it hard for her to understand his sexuality, but also the cultural gap she had to bridge as an immigrant from El Salvador. “Adele kinda took over the motherly role in my life,” Ruiz explains. “When I was feeling emotions that I didn’t understand, I couldn’t go to my mom, so I would just listen to an Adele album.” Adele’s persona outside of her music also had a large impact on Ruiz. He would watch her speak in interviews in support of the LGBTQ2IA+ community and read about how she ordained a same-sex marriage in her own backyard. “I thought that everybody hated gay people and everyone believed it was wrong, except for her,” Ruiz explains. “I literally thought Adele was the only person who didn’t [hate gay people].” In an effort to feel more represented, Ruiz would deliberately re-interpret some Adele songs to make more sense in the context of his life. Where Adele would talk about her lover in her song “Water Under The Bridge” with lyrics like: Before you leave can we just pretend that we’re fine, Ruiz would feel the lyrics within the context of his relationship with his mother. “Before I came out to her, before our relationship changed, I would be like, Can’t we just stay in the moment?” Ruiz has been in what’s known as a parasocial relationship with Adele for the majority of his life. Parasocial relationships are one-sided bonds that form between fans and their favourite celebrities, internet personalities and even fictional characters. Since the term was first coined in the 1950s, several psychologists have weighed in and conducted studies on the impacts of these relationships, with differing opinions as to whether they are beneficial, harmful or both. It may be foolish to label all parasocial relations as simply good or bad though. Ruiz, for example, says there have been both healthy and unhealthy elements of his relationship with Adele, just like there would be in any other person-to-person relationship. Because they mostly take place inside a fan’s imagination, parasocial relationships offer more control than other types of interaction. Tracy Gleason, a professor of psychology at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, researches why young children create imaginary friends. In a 2019 study conducted by Gleason and her colleagues on the connection between childhood imaginary friends and parasocial relationships in adulthood, there was no found link between the two. Despite some common stereotypes that link parasocial relationships to mental illness, Gleason says this isn’t the case. Instead, these relationships are formed as a response to a person’s real-world social life. Parasocial relationships can be a healthy way to manage social anxiety, especially for younger people. “If you create a parasocial relationship you are never going to get rejected,” Gleason says. At their best, parasocial relationships have all of the benefits of a real-world relationship without any of the risk or chance of conflict, Gleason adds. In parasocial relationships you can be your true self with someone who you admire and find attractive, and in return, they’ll always find you wonderful to be around. “You can create the parasocial relationship you want,” says Gleason. “If you want a romantic or sexual relationship, that is what you can imagine. If you want a best friend or a mentor or a big sister, that’s what you create.” But while these parasocial relationships are on your own terms, they can never be fully under your control because reality can interrupt and create conflict, leading to disappointment and defeat.

ID-19 lockdown. With nowhere to go and nobody to interact with, Bijelic, now a fourth-year politics student, stayed in her room, engulfed in TikTok’s algorithm. It showed her some content she was already interested in—anime and comedy sketches—but also sparked brand new obsessions. “As someone who is a very sociable person, to not have those interactions with people in real life really was a huge detriment to my mental health,” Bijelic explains. “To go on TikTok and follow these content creators and interact with other people in the comments, that gave me comfort.” She would spend five hours or more on the app each day. Her ‘For You’ page,’ where TikTok tailors videos based on your anticipated interests, would show her K-pop content as she scrolled. Bijelic was not entirely new to K-pop, having been a “casual listener” throughout high school, but it wasn’t until she downloaded TikTok that she became a fan. It started with just one dance video, but then the app made it so easy for her to lie in bed and scroll for hours on end. Bijelic became an avid listener of BTS and ATEEZ, but it was the group Stray Kids with whom she started developing a parasocial relationship. A newer K-pop group, they consist of eight members and mostly produce electronic pop music. Stray Kids specifically make an effort to connect with their fans by responding to messages on social media and providing them with a sense of community. It was this aspect of the band that was so attractive to Bijelic. Slowly, her love for Stray Kids started to consume her everyday life. “I was consuming all of their content,” she explains. “It came to a point where I was shut in my room all day.” Bijelic stopped responding to texts from her friends altogether and rarely saw her family who she lived with. Stray Kids’ music videos, YouTube compilations and interviews had filled the loneliness in her life. In December 2021, Stray Kids were set to perform at the Mnet Asian Music Awards, one of the biggest music award ceremonies held in Southeast Asia. That year, the ceremony was held in South Korea and because of the time zones, Bijelic had to stay up until 4 a.m. to watch their performance. It wasn’t until the sun had risen in her hometown of Mississauga, Ont. that she finally went to bed. The internet allows fans to know more about their favourite celebrities than ever before, and provides them with a higher chance of interacting with them online, says Gleason. “In the past, if you had a parasocial relationship with Jennifer Aniston, she had no idea you existed,” she explains. “Now with some of these YouTube stars and influencers, you can comment on their posts and sometimes they might comment back.” It’s exactly this chance of interaction that can hurt people in parasocial relationships. In other words, as parasocial relationships become less ‘parasocial,’ they can also reintroduce some conflict and disappointment, according to Gleason. This can happen when fans interact with and learn more about their favourite celebrities. Bijelic was scrolling through her Instagram feed when she saw other Stray Kids fans accusing member Han Jisung of using a racial slur in a song he wrote before joining the group. Finding this out took a huge toll on her, Bijelic says. She lost control of the parasocial relationship she had with Stray Kids; n early 2020, Sara Bijelic finally downloaded TikTok. she was no longer able to view Han as the person she’d imagJust weeks later, classes moved online, stores around the ined him to be. “It hurt me a lot,” she says. “You feel genuinely country shut down and Ontario entered its first COV- betrayed, even though you don’t know them personally.”


Han later put out an apology for the song, but Bijelic still took a step back from the group. “You never know if it’s genuine or not. Are you saying this because you still want your fans to be engaged? Or are you actually saying this from the bottom of your heart?” Bijelic asks. Cynthia Vinney, a freelance psychology writer and researcher based in California, says when celebrities get cancelled or called out for problematic behaviour, fans are forced to find their own ways to cope. One coping mechanism is through cognitive dissonance, or creating a disconnect between reality and what a person wants to be true. “We blame everyone else for assuming something negative about the person we have formed a parasocial bond with,” Vinney explains. The alternative to being in denial is what Vinney calls a “parasocial breakup,” where the parasocial bond is severed completely. “That can actually be psychologically very similar to a real break-up,” says Vinney. “There is more control over [parasocial] relationships, but sometimes the real world intrudes. You never entirely control that narrative.” In late December 2021, Stray Kids released a new song titled, “#LoveSTAY,” an appreciation song dedicated to their fans. On the track’s chorus, members Felix and Bang Chan sing, I will never make you lonely, and you’ll always be beside me, to their fans. “I’m not going to lie, I did cry a little bit, but it feels like they are talking to you. It feels like it’s their message to us,” Bijelic says. But she’s still critical of parasocial relationships being marketed toward fans like they’re supposed to be real. She fears that managers and record labels are encouraging and then profiting off of the psychological attachment many young people have toward their favourite performers. Brands and parasocial relationships go hand in hand, according to Vinney. Froot Loops’ mascot Toucan Sam and Progressive Insurance’s Flo have been staples of those brands for years, and there’s a reason for that. “It’s because people get attached to them and they are more interested in what they are selling because of it,” Vinney explains. While Bijelic says she’s more guarded now and tries hard to stay detached from celebrities, she is still thankful for Stray Kids and other K-pop groups for filling a hole in her life during the pandemic. “You need to take a step back and recognize what it is at the end of the day, which is just a one-sided relationship,” says Bijelic.


he long-awaited release of 30, Adele’s newest album released in November 2021, has once again marked a new phase in Ruiz’s life. “I just moved to Toronto, I’m starting a new life, I’m living alone,” he says. In the future, when he relistens to 30, he will be flooded with memories of his first steps into adulthood. There is a song on 30 called “Can I Get It” that Ruiz says he hates because he just doesn’t like the way it sounds. In the past if he hadn’t liked an Adele song, he would learn all the words and pretend to like it. But Ruiz has changed over the last decade and so has his relationship with Adele. He can see more of Adele’s flaws today, but still appreciates what she’s added to his life. He can love Adele but also be honest with himself and what he appreciates about her. “I’m not offending Adele, it’s not like I’m going behind her back. I think that’s just part of getting older,” he says. While Ruiz has taken a step back from idolising Adele, he still finds comfort in the pop star’s persona—which is something he’s not interested in saying goodbye to anytime soon. Ruiz would love to one day meet Adele and tell her what she has done for him, how she has been a motherly figure in his life and helped him through his hardest moments. “It would give me solace knowing she knows, even if she’s not going to remember it, even though there are 18,000 other times that she’s heard that a gay kid felt safe in her music; I would still want her to know.”

Too good to be true:

How fictional love informs real-life romance Fanfiction allows readers to discover their romantic and sexual preferences without mess and heartbreak Words by Alethea Ng Illustrations by Laila Amer


he rattling of the subway car broke the early morning stillness as it zipped along its tracks. Inside the car, Julia Gerstein settled more comfortably into her seat and pulled out her phone. Her fingers tapped over the screen until she found the familiar red and white interface of Archive of Our Own (AO3), a website dedicated to hosting fan works, including fanfiction contributed by users. Back then, Gerstein was in her first year of fashion design, a program she describes as “really intense.” Between classes, labs and projects, she was making the 40-minute commute to campus from her home in Thornhill, Ont. every weekday. Bleary-eyed and half-asleep, she would kill time on AO3, reading fluffy fan-written stories about characters from the Harry Potter series. She admits she probably could’ve spent that time studying instead. “But did I want to do that at 6 a.m.? Not particularly.” Gerstein was a pre-teen when she stumbled across, a vault of lovingly written fan content about their favourite celebrities and pairings. The sheer volume of fanfiction on the site blew her mind. “Oh My God, there’s so many stories,” she remembers thinking. Harry Potter, Gerstein’s fandom of choice, has always been the most popular fandom by far on Right now it boasts over 800,000 separate stories, or ‘fics,’ short for ‘fanfictions.’ For the next couple of years, Gerstein threw herself headfirst into the world of fanfiction. She gravitated toward romance, mainly reading stories of a particular pairing: Wolfstar, the non-canonical relationship between Remus Lupin and Sirius Black. She likes romance, she says, because the relationships help to push the plot along and provide a structure to the story. “Either someone’s getting together, or they’re breaking up and getting back together,” she says. “It helps give the plot a bit more emphasis, a bit more drama.” Gerstein also found herself learning from the romance she read. As she watched characters communicate and solve their problems, she filed those bits of information away under what she thought a healthy relationship should look like. And although some fics showed unhealthy relationships, she says even those helped her develop a sense of what romantic love ought to look like. Those fics helped her “figure out red flags and warning signs I might have had to experience in my real life if I hadn’t encountered those first.” For Ryerson students like Gerstein, reading and writing romance has allowed them to explore their sexuality in a lowrisk environment; they can figure out what they like romantically and sexually without the mess and heartbreak that often come with real-life romance. Fictional love can set standards of enthusiastic consent and mutual respect, and serve as a wel-

come escape from the mundanity of everyday life. Romance can also afford its fans a community of like-minded readers and writers. A 2017 study commissioned by the Romance Writers of America, a non-profit organization, found that romance is the second-largest fiction genre in the United States, comprising 23 per cent of the market. Romance also features prominently in fanfiction—of all the Harry Potter fics on AO3, for instance, more than 80 per cent contain some form of romantic pairing. Despite the obviously overwhelming popularity of the genre, it continues to be stigmatized. In a 2020 study in Publishing Research Quarterly, Lauren Cameron, a master’s student from Edinburgh Napier University, writes that romance as a genre “still receives little to no respect.” The genre is considered trashy and without value—but romance is far from worthless. Farah Heron is the Torontobased author of The Chai Factor and other novels, a rom-com starring a workfocused engineer and a flannel-clad barbershop quartet singer. She says exploring the emotions inherent in romance can help readers work out their own problems or discover parallels between fiction and reality. “It’s affirming to see other people in books go through the same kind of things you go through,” Heron says. “You can use it to help understand yourself better.” In Gerstein’s case, she attributes some of her knowledge and comfort with her own sexuality to romantic fanfiction. “I would read tons of stuff about having safe sex and indulging in things safely,” she says. “I learned a lot, just through osmosis, about human sexuality as a whole.”


o Viktoriya Pylypchuk, the term ‘lemon’ doesn’t just mean a fruit. The second-year creative industries student started reading fanfiction in her early teens after being frustrated that two characters in the anime Fairy Tail, a wizarding anime, never got together on screen despite all their chemistry. Through the fics she read, she was able to see the

characters, Natsu and Lucy, fall in love in a myriad of different ways, different stories and even different universes. From there, she found herself reading ‘character x reader’ fics, stories in which a character from a fandom is in love with the reader themselves, which often uses ‘you’ pronouns in a second-person narration. “Do you know what lemons are?” a friend of hers asked one day. “You mean the fruit?” Pylypchuk answered, confused. “No, I mean fanfiction lemons,” her friend said. “OK, look up ‘Oikawa x reader lemon.’” In the early- to mid-2010s, the term ‘lemon’ was frequently used to denote a fic in which there was explicit sexual content. An Oikawa x reader lemon would be a story in which Oikawa, a character from the anime Haikyuu!!, had sex with a character representing the reader. This was a whole new world to Pylypchuk. The sex education she’d gotten in school paled in comparison to the explicit content that was freely available to her teenaged-self online. “I’ve gotten better education from all these fanfictions than I would ever get from school,” she says. “Things that should be common knowledge—they aren’t. It’s the failure of the educational system.” Through fanfiction, Pylypchuk learned about things like contraception, something taught for less than a day in her health classes. These character x reader fanfictions, explicit or not, became a staple of Pylypchuk’s reading. These stories transported her to a different world where the difficulties at home and at school were far away. She didn’t have to think about what was going wrong in her life when she was reading these fics. They even let her escape from her negative thoughts about herself. On bad days when her self-esteem was low, she would open up a fic and find a character there, falling in love with her. They would tell her sweet things like, “You’re beautiful,” “Your eyes are amazing,” and “You’re so unique.” Hearing these things from fictional characters helped more than telling herself the same thing. It made her feel loved, wanted and beautiful. “It wouldn’t always work,” Pylypchuk says. “But when it did, it was a great help.” Even when unemployment is high and budgets are tight, romance novels have seen their sales rise during tough times, like the 2008 recession or the COVID-19 pandemic. Romance and its guaranteed happily-ever-after provide a safe space for readers to escape from difficult circumstances. Heron says she believes the primary function of romance is to entertain. But that’s not to say that it has less value than any other genre. “Entertaining people is super, super important,” she says. “It gives us an escape from the world outside, which

we need so much right now.” Heron also admires how the romance genre is so broad that it can accommodate an incredible diversity of race, religion and sexuality, to name a few. All of her romances feature at least one lead who is of South Asian heritage, like Heron herself. But back when she started writing romance for the first time, writing South Asian leads “wasn’t something that I knew I could do,” she says. Racial representation was unheard of for a long time in romance circles. Until 2019, no Black author had ever won the RITA award, the most prominent English-language award for romance writing. In 2020, a study of the leading romance publishers in the U.S. found that only 12 per cent of romance novels were written by racialized authors. When Heron read a romance featuring a South Asian character for the first time, she was amazed. She started writing romances where other South Asians could see themselves in the pages of her books. Heron says representation in romance novels affirm that love is also for people who don’t fit the traditional—white, cis, straight—model of what a romance lead should look like. “People like us exist and people like us have the same kind of wants and desires,” she says. But Heron believes that it’s almost more important for people who aren’t South Asian to read romances centring South Asian characters. Reading about characters who are different from you can help correct misunderstandings, biases and miscommunications. “Not everyone has the ability, the privilege of knowing families like mine,” Heron says. “Reading stories written by people from those communities, it’s a great way to learn more and to see that there’s differences, but there’s also a lot of similarities.” For Pylypchuk, reading fanfiction about LGBTQ2IA+ characters was how she learned to be accepting of queer people in real life. Growing up in Ukraine, where gay marriage is still

unrecognized, she hadn’t been exposed to narratives about people who weren’t straight. “It definitely was something that people didn’t openly discuss,” she explains. But in the fanfiction she read, boys were allowed to date boys and girls were allowed to date girls. As she read stories featuring queer characters, she became more comfortable with LGBTQ2IA+ pairings. Now she considers herself more open-minded. “This is normal,” she says. “People do this, it’s fine. It’s nothing to be discouraged.” For herself, Pylypchuk doesn’t have a lot of experience with romance in real life, but fanfiction has let her explore what she likes, romantically and sexually, without the pressures of being in a relationship. In the fics she’s read, she feels valued and loved. As a result, she’s unwilling to lower her romantic standards and boundaries for her future partners. She knows that romance readers are stereotyped as not being able to find a partner because of the unrealistic expectations that they get from fiction. But she believes it’s a positive thing that fictional romance has helped her set boundaries. “Having seen how you’re treated as the heroine of the book, you’re like, ‘Oh, this is how I should be treated in real life,’” she says. She knows she has to be sensible about which expectations are too unrealistic. “You’re probably not going to find a Nanami Kento in real life,” she says, referencing a character from the anime Jujutsu Kaisen, whose personality and design are attractive to her. But now that she’s had the chance to explore what she likes in fiction, she believes she’s better equipped to make healthy relationship decisions in her non-fictional life. Daniella Sanader, an arts writer based in Toronto, says romantic fiction can help readers and writers come to terms with their own sense of sexuality and romance. Although she hasn’t been active in fandom circles in a while, she says writing romantic Harry Potter fanfiction was an early step to discovering her own identity. “I hadn’t totally come to terms with my own queerness at that time,” she says. Although she wrote heteronormative stories, she was more interested in writing pairings that didn’t interact much in the source material rather than the more common,

more canonical pairings. Sanader says she thinks preferring non-traditional dynamics was a way for her to figure out how “other forms of love or desire” could fit into these stories. Reading and writing stories can be beneficial to working out your wants and desires in a fictional setting, Sanader says. “You can experiment with parts of yourself by speculating about the romantic experiences of others and the stories that are familiar.”


hen COVID-19 first hit Toronto and Ryerson closed down, Julia Gerstein found herself with large expanses of empty time on her hands. The cold of March and the constant stream of negative pandemicrelated news surrounded her, so she took refuge in bed, on her laptop, skimming through fics on AO3. “I just had so much time. And I did not know what to do with it,” she remembers. “So I just kind of read fic a lot—and other stuff, but a lot of fic, because it was easy and it was there. I didn’t have to think about the world ending,” she says. A couple of months into the pandemic, Gerstein realized she needed a new creative outlet, one that didn’t require her to go outdoors or to the store and risk getting sick. So for the first time in her life, she wrote fanfiction. “And I had a blast,” she says. Online, Gerstein found people who liked her favourite pairing, and became friends with them. In the summer of 2020, she joined a Discord server for fans of a long, ongoing fanfiction series, “Shifting Lines,” featuring her favourite Harry Potter pairing Wolfstar. The series currently comprises over a million words and is not even halfway finished. In this server, she was messaging alongside her favourite author, which was surreal at first, considering she only knew him through his fanfiction. Now, she considers him a friend. Some of the other server members live in Germany, where Gerstein is going on exchange in March. “I’m so excited to meet some of them in real life, because we’ve been talking every day for like two years,” she says. Her love of romantic fanfiction and the Wolfstar pairing has helped her to learn, explore and grow creatively. It’s even garnered her friends all over the world. She’s still not sure why the Harry Potter fandom has such a pull on her, but at this point, “I’ve just accepted my fate,” she says. “If it’s something that makes you happy, I don’t think you should feel shame or guilt over it.”

More than melodrama

While queer representations in film and TV are improving, audiences yearn for authentic and nuanced portrayals of characters

Words by Dhriti Gupta Larry Krimus was still closeted and in high school when he first watched Call Me By Your Name—around the same age as the 17-year-old protagonist, Elio, played by Timothée Chalamet. Eager to engage in queer culture and understand the hype around the Oscar-nominated film, he didn’t really see any issues in the relationship portrayed between Elio and 24-year-old Oliver, played by Armie Hammer, at the time. “This is a popular movie that people online are talking about, it has to be good,” Krimus remembered thinking. “I felt like it was normal for someone that’s a lot older than you to ‘show you around’...I thought maybe this is how things are supposed to happen.” But upon rewatching the movie this January as a second-year politics and governance student, several scenes made him uncomfortable; like when Elio tries to pull away from Oliver as he massages his bare shoulders at a volleyball game, or when Oliver chastises Elio’s piano playing like a teacher would. “It really felt creepy…the way it’s portrayed in the film makes it feel like a pedophilic relationship.” Krimus isn’t the only one who’s considered the ethicality of the acclaimed queer film. Much discourse exists online, weighing the legal age of consent, predatory stereotypes about gay men, the author’s intention and everything in between. Things aren’t black and white when it comes to the representation of queer love onscreen, but some Ryerson students say it’s worth examining the impacts these mainstream portrayals have on their own identities. While for some seeing blockbuster queer representation is a means of discovery, for others the lack of nuance can do more harm than good. “The mainstream [tends to] have very limited narratives in terms of queer lives,” said Jess Murwin, a Montrealbased Indigiqueer artist, film programmer and educator. They said these portrayals often rely on queerness as a “spectacle” rather than an authentic lived experience, viewing LGBTQIA2S+ narratives through a voyeuristic lens. But for individuals like third-

Illustration by Madaline Gourgouvelis and Vanessa Kauk year financial mathematics student Charlie Dee, these limited narratives were all they had when learning about their identity. Dee was sheltered from queer culture as a child, without much exposure to different sexualities or gender identities. So when they watched Ace Ventura: Pet Detective at age nine, Dee was enthralled by Sean Young’s character, Lieutenant Lois Einhorn, who was revealed to be trans in a scene where her clothes are ripped off. While this “twist ending” villainized Einhorn’s transness by painting her as a liar, it still introduced Dee to trans and non-binary identities. “It opened up this whole world of possibilities for me,” Dee said. “She was the seductress, she was this powerful woman…it was so powerful to me [to realize] that, holy shit, I don’t have to be the gender I was assigned at birth.” Marusya Bociurkiw, a professor of media theory at Ryerson and co-director of The Studio for Media Activism and Critical Thought, says media is a two-way street—we i n f o r m media as much as it informs us. “I would contest the idea of there being a positive or negative portrayal because it really depends on the par-

ticular person watching,” she said. With a lack of queer representation in dominant media, queer audiences have often had to “read between the lines” according to Bociurkiw. “We negotiate it and we make it work for us, we take certain things and we reject others.” One of the ideas Dee slowly learned to reject was the idea that trans people are “villains.” “Where I started to embrace that I wasn’t cisgender, I kind of thought I had to become evil in a way,” they said. Beyond Ace Ventura, trans characters have been cast in a negative and dangerous light in many major horror films, like Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dressed to Kill. In fact, a GLAAD analysis of transgender characters on U.S. TV during 2002 to 2012 found that more than half of those representations were negative. While Dee sees things changing in terms of trans representation in media, they hope to see more “neutral” representations of their non-binary identity—like in the Cartoon Network series Steven Universe. They enjoy how the series incorporates non-binary identity as part of the norm, rather than relying on “non-human” tropes where non-binary characters are robots or aliens, like Janet from The Good Place. While Janet repeatedly reminds those around her that she’s “not a girl,” she’s also not a human at all, but rather an “anthropomorphized operational mainframe.” For some students, social media plays a role in their consumption of queer stereotypes. While fourth-

year media production student Morgan MacLeod noticed common tropes in popular queer films like Carol and Blue Is the Warmest Colour, she’d still find herself reblogging content about the films on Tumblr. “They became a cultural moment where you just feel like you have to like it like everyone else,” she said. While MacLeod never cared for the sort of queer portrayals that involved large age gaps, cheating plotlines and tragic endings, they still stuck with her and made her nervous to pursue actual queer relationships. “It created more stress for me, just by seeing all these extra factors come into play. It made me feel like there’s never just a happy, normal, [queer] relationship,” she said. “It probably held me back from exploring dating sooner because it created a whole other layer of pressure.” Murwin said while toxic relationships and dynamics exist in the queer community, the oversaturation of those kinds of stories is where the problem lies. “When those are the type of major queer stories that we’re putting forward, it can really mess people up,” they said. For that reason, they say festi-

vals like the Toronto Queer Film Festival have policies against programming films that can be considered “trauma porn”—media that glorifies traumatic moments of adversity. “We have to create spaces to celebrate queer joy, resistance and narratives that show you can be a queer person and be fully realized and well and loved in the world,” Murwin said. They believe diverse queer narratives will come only when the reins of movie-making power are transferred to marginalized groups, rather than white, cis male directors who try to “give a voice to the voiceless.” GLAAD’s annual “Where We Are on TV” report found that in 2021, people of colour comprised 53 per cent of the LGBTQIA2S+ characters on the broadcast series studied—the first time there were more racialized queer characters than white queer characters in the report’s 16-year history. However, this representation can be largely attributed to a select few queer Hollywood heavyweights and allies, including Greg Berlanti, Lena Waithe, Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes, GLAAD’s study reported. In 2020, 17 per cent of all LGBTQIA2S+ characters were from their 16 shows. “There are so many people who could be making amazing, beautiful, weird, cool, original films that move beyond what we’re doing right now,” Murwin said. “It’s time for something different.”

Finding sexual pleasure and representation in smut Words by Julia Lawrence

Illustration by Michelle Parlevliet

Growing up, romance and intimacy were not discussed in my household. My parents divorced when I was three, and since then it’s been a taboo subject because of the emotional toll the separation took on my family. Living in a small town, turning to my friends for relationship and sex advice was also not an option for fear of these conversations becoming selacious gossip. This made the internet my judgement-free zone, where I could read and learn about sex at my own pace. Through fanfiction and smut, I read works that didn’t centre heterosexual leads for the first time, and it was exhilarating. These fictional characters in different worlds were roleplaying every scenario I had in my fantasies, from simple romantic dates to getting my shit rocked in bed. Reading queer stories also allowed me to explore my sexuality beyond the heteronormative ideals pushed on me in movies and sex-ed classes. I finally found characters I could relate to without worrying about judgement from friends and family. I was just another reader online—I didn’t exist. The only thing the authors knew about me was that I shared their passion for smut and sexual pleasure. During my first year in university, my classmates talked openly in WhatsApp group chats about reading smut and fanfiction, sending recommendations to each other. It was very different from when I was in high school and never brought

up smut or porn with my friends. I liked the sense of openness. Since then, I’ve become more open and don’t feel like I have to hide that I find pleasure in the works I read. I also feel more represented when reading smut as opposed to watching traditional porn, which is often male-oriented. Many straight men fetishize lesbian sex, which assumes women are objects for male pleasure, according to an article from Lustery. It’s easier for me to find characters like myself in queer or general non-heterosexual self-published smut than porn produced by big porn companies. Smut is sexually explicit writing, usually in the form of erotic novels, fanfictions and even short Twitter threads. While erotica has been around since about the fifth century AD, more youth are talking openly about smut in young adult books and fanfiction because of TikTok, where many creators discuss and recommend their favourite works. Beatrice Phan, a writer and TikToker who talks about smut, says reading smut and being publicly open about it has made her feel more comfortable in her own skin. She says when she was younger, she used to mold herself into someone she wanted others to like, never discussing smut or sexuality. Reading smut allowed her to move away from repressing her sexuality. “[I feel] more like myself,” she says. Growing up, she never really saw Asian characters in books, so she’d have to imagine herself in the plots of other characters. This is why one of the main themes in Phan’s content is promoting and encouraging her followers to diversify their readings with books featuring queer and Asian representation. “It’s important to show people that they can be happy too, they can have these stories as well, it’s not just these other [heterosexual, cisgender] people.” Smut is more than just a way to indulge in your sexual preferences and kinks, but an opportunity to discover a range of diverse authors and characters not typically seen in traditional publishing and literature. In a 2021 scholarly article published in Television & New Media, author Jennifer Duggan looks at two trans and genderqueer

individuals’ experiences with fanfiction. The study found that when individuals couldn’t find traditionally published books that mirrored their identities, fanfiction became a substitute. Zara Alvi* accidentally discovered smut during her early teenage years while reading a Percy Jackson fanfiction. Since then, it’s become part of the fourth-year engineering student’s regular content consumption. Reading smut has helped Alvi understand her own body, consent and romantic relationship dynamics more in-depth. One of the reasons smut appeals to Alvi more than mainstream porn is that it’s more approachable and softer than other forms of the same material like video or audio porn, which she says can be overwhelming. “The context in which people talk about porn is so aggressive,” says Alvi. “It could be because of my program and the type of people in [it]. I find when my girls and I talk about smut, it’s definitely gentler, it’s friendlier and not as aggressive.” Alvi sees smut as a safe space for her to exist in as the writers from most of the works she reads come from a similar background and look more like her, as opposed to video porn which tends to centre white actors and be produced by white male directors. Smut has the ability to allow us to both explore our sexualities and immerse ourselves in alternative realities we may have never dreamed of being a part of. From the comfort of my bed, I’m able to read both soft sex scenes or vicariously partake in my wildest fantasies through words written on a page. I’m no longer searching for the words to describe my sexuality or preferences. I’m not hiding the fact that as a woman, I read smut and consume porn, because it’s something almost all humans do regardless of gender or sexual preferences. If you find a place in this world that fits you and you feel safe to exist in—and it doesn’t harm or fetishize anyone—that’s a win in my books, and you shouldn’t shy away from talking about it. *Name has been changed to protect the source’s privacy and security

Falling into the ‘Hallyu’ of K-drama If you’re not watching k-drama, you’re missing out K-dramas are South Korean dramas that, while diverse in genre, are often melodramatic romance shows. They started gaining popularity in Asia in the 90s as part of the Korean Wave, which was the global craze for Korean culture known as ‘Hallyu.’ With Winter Sonata—a show about first love, separation, memory loss and reunion—stealing the hearts of many in 2002, the Korean Wave continued to sweep the world throughout the 21st century. In 2020, the award-winning film Parasite stole the spotlight at the Oscars and introduced Korean movies to broader Western audiences, according to the Korean Cultural Centre. Michelle Cho, an assistant professor at the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto, says the global popularity of K-drama is a welcomed phenomenon and offers exposure to different cultures. “This means that people are getting to see what things are like in places outside of where they’re from,” she says. A lot of K-dramas also have a structure that emphasizes the emotional aspects of romance in addition to high production values and aesthetic visuals, says Cho. “There are beautiful people, beautiful fashion and beautiful places,” she explains. “Those visual elements of the K-drama create a very enjoyable fantasy space and it’s just really a form of pleasurable entertainment.” Morshed Reza’s first K-drama was Pinocchio, which follows the relationship between the main male and female leads as they enter the broadcast journalism industry. The fourth-year business technology and management student says he fell in love with the show because it showed how familial trauma and societal pressure can impact two people when they fall in love. “Unlike American dramas where there is more lust than love, K-dramas emphasize more about how people fall in love and

Words by Heidi Lee

what that’s like,” says Reza. “The build-up is huge and I like the fact that the best thing doesn’t happen too quickly, it takes time.” Reza says K-dramas make his heart flutter and he’s left craving more heartwarming moments that he sees on screen. “I value the whole aspect of falling in love and how messy it is,” he says, adding that he finds watching K-drama rewarding because they acknowledge that love is never easy and it can be a difficult journey. “There are a lot of ups and downs, back and forth. It shouldn’t be simple.” Cho says the tradition of melodrama—the strong focus on emotions and world building in K-dramas—is sometimes a surprising aspect that Western viewers have to get used to or overcome. “That’s what becomes the strong, attractive feature of Korean television shows,” says Cho, adding that this type of feeling structure is very different from Western romances that emphasize individuality. “It’s about emotion, perhaps more than just physical attraction, or there’s less emphasis on sex and more on sentimentality,” she says. When the romance focuses less on sex and physical attraction, Cho says people can find it more appealing because it feels more genuine and natural. Watching K-dramas have become more mainstream for all walks of life, especially for Asian Canadians, who don’t have a lot of options to choose from in a predominately white entertainment industry. During the pandemic, author and journalist Jan Wong started binging Crash Landing on You, which then led to her sharing her obsession with K-drama in her column for CBC’s Asian Heritage Month special. She says she objected to the blanket term of “Asian Heritage Month” and decided to

Illustration by Berry Shi

write about her love of Korean drama, instead of grouping all Asians together in one article. “I was trying to show that it was just a completely new world for me, one that I really loved.” Cho says that a lot of the time, fans of K-dramas are not ethnically Korean but are from other racialized communities. “They may not see themselves or really identify with the characters that are in mainstream entertainment in North America.” She adds that K-dramas give viewers an alternative to commonly available Western romances. Another difference Wong noticed in K-dramas is that relationships were less often sexualized. There are little to no sex scenes or nudity. The most the audience might see is “a bare shoulder or they’re wearing an undershirt,” Wong adds. She thinks graphic sex and nudity illustrated in Western media shows are not necessary elements needed to tell a good story. “What I find so wonderful about Korean dramas is the love and sex is almost ridiculously chaste,” says Wong. “I love that because we’ve gotten to the other extreme here in the West where everything is showing, there’s nothing left to the imagination.” Read the full story at

Meet me in the hallway: An Eggy fanfic Words by Arsonfu Rated R (for Ram) No Archive Warnings Apply tags: no beta here we die like my grades, fluff, Y/N, Eggy x Reader, X uni, X university, Eggy, Ramfic, plot what plot, horny (pun intended), beastiality It all started three short summers ago back in Kerr Hall. I saw their fabric ram horns disappear around a corner one day after an anthropology class and something told me I had to hunt down the beautiful buck. Follow that mascot, my aching heart said. I was a bit behind, so by the time I turned the corner the costumed Casanova was out of sight. But they were stuck in my mind. The next time I finished class, I was the first one out the door, but the last to leave the building. I had to see them again. I stood there for a while losing hope, but there they were. The hallway stretched infi-

Written for the Love and Sex ficfest

nitely between me and them. There must have Eggy walked past me. I’ve messed up and it’s with a nod. been a crowd, but Eggy was all I could see. all over, I thought. “See you in class, Y/N.” In slow-motion, my eyes panned upwards, But then, the big head turned around and past the hooves and basketball uniform and those Ram horns pointed straight at me Ghost written by Abbey Kelly right into their beady eyes. It was now or never. I needed the ram to notice me. Abruptly, I stepped forward, right in their path just as they were about to pass me and we bumped into one another. “Oh- I- I’m so sorry,” I said, flustered. I look down thinking I messed up big time. Suddenly, I felt fuzzy hands lightly touching my arms and holding me. I look up. “Are you okay Y/N?” Eggy asked. A fierce blush spread all the way up to my ears upon hearing my name. I was so close I could almost see their real identity. “Yes, yeah, thank you!” I stammered. Shit, now’s the time to say something, I told myself. But, nothing came out. I stood there gaping at them like a fish. Illustration by Jes Mason “Good,” the buck said nonchalantly.

5 POC romances to add to your reading list

Representation matters, especially in the romance genre

Words by Madeline Liao With the increasing popularity of “BookTok”—TikTok’s book-reading sub-group— young adult romance novels have become a frequent topic of discussion on social media. Creators and readers alike share their favourite books and gush over characters they’re crushing on, almost like an online book club. However, the mainstream conversation lacks books with diversity, as many popular books centre on white characters and experiences. That’s why we put together a list of five fictional romances featuring racialized main characters and relationships; because every reader deserves to see their background and culture reflected in the main character—especially when they’re experiencing some fun and raunchy romance. Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert The first of a trilogy following the lives of three sisters, Get a Life, Chloe Brown follows the titular character as she attempts to discover the adventurous side of her personality. After a close call with death, Brown—described as a chronically-ill computer geek—sets out to complete a bucket list to live life to the fullest. That’s when she meets Red Morgan, a rebellious artist who she recruits to help with her New York City whom she barely knows. On adventure. Hibbert’s other two books in the top of that, her new wife has already left Veseries, Take a Hint, Dani Brown and Act gas and is on her way back home. When Your Age, Eve Brown, are also worth Grace’s job search proves unsuccessful, exploring as they also feature Black she decides to travel to New York City main characters and interracial to find Yuki. As the book progresses, relationships. Grace’s spontaneous journey helps her understand herself as a queer Black woman, Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers as she learns to recognize and cope with her While not strictly about romance, emotions and burnout. Rogers’ debut novel illustrates love in many ways; through queer relationships, friend- Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Chrisship and self-discovery. Honey Girl tells the tina Lauren story of 28-year-old Grace Porter and her For fans of the friends-to-lovers trope, this experience navigating life after finishing her book is for you! Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not PhD in astronomy. After a fun night out in Dating features two main characters, Josh Las Vegas, Grace wakes up the next morning married to Yuki Yamamoto, a woman from

Illustration by Sabrina Kauk

and Hazel, who have been friends for over a decade and slowly begin to realize their love for each other. The story’s protagonist, Josh Im is Korean-American and his traditional Korean background is woven into the narrative through Korean culture and family details. Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali A compelling and heartfelt novel, Love from A to Z follows Zayneb, who is mixed-Pakistani and West Indian, and Adam, who is of Chinese and Finnish descent, as their love progresses. Throughout the story, their relationship is challenged by racism and personal

struggles. The book addresses Islamophobia, the mourning of lost loved ones and chronic illness while illustrating the beauty of love. Meet Cute Club by Jack Harbon Hop on this journey as we watch a relationship between the two male main characters, Jordan Collins and Rex Bailey, progress from annoyance to attraction. Jordan hosts a romance book club, and Rex, who Jordan finds “frustratingly obnoxious,” keeps nagging him about joining. The two eventually team up to revive the withering book club and Jordan discovers that maybe Rex isn’t so bad after all. Harbon’s novel incorporates an enemiesto-lovers storyline with the familiarity of a bookstore setting.

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