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Transfic: A History

Transfic, a fast-growing genre of fanfiction, refers to stories about transgender characters who do not usually identify as trans in canon. Unlike its precursor (genderswap) or parent (genderfuck) genres, which often gloss over sex and gender issues through the use of problematic tropes, transfic foregrounds the materialities of sex and gender transitions and strives to account for a full-range of transgender experiences. Looking at the archival history of this genre can help contextualize its emergence as a direct response to what many trans fans consider inadequacies in the genderswap genre.

Transfics represent a relatively new genre of fanfiction, and until recent fan-led initiatives, there was no tagging system in place to archive them. A significant turning point occurred in February 2008, when a fan named Kyuuketsukirui created the first collection of transfics on LiveJournal. This established the first known archive of transfics, which, in true fandom fashion, has since migrated across several online platforms: from Dreamwidth to Delicious and finally to Pinboard. Kyuuketsukirui’s original mandate was to encourage the visibility of transgender characters in fandom. In a 2008 post on LiveJournal, Kyuuketsukirui describes what types of fics qualify for the master list:

The list includes fics with both canonically and non-canonically trans characters. […] The character must be either the main character or one of the main characters of the fic. Mentions or walk-ons don’t count. In terms of non-canonically trans characters, I am only taking fics that are explicitly about trans people. Traditional “genderswap” fics don’t count, nor do “always a girl/boy” AUs. Despite the name of the list, I also accept fics about characters who are (canonically or not) genderqueer or intersex.

From this description, the original intention behind transfic archival work is clear: the transfic tag must only be used for fics explicitly about trans, genderqueer, and intersex people and the specific issues of sex and gender that come with those identities. If the comments on Kyuuketsukirui’s list are any indication, fan reaction was overwhelmingly positive, including this remark by fan Juliandahling:

OHMYGOD. I am like so glad you are compiling this. I’ve spent the last couple days being super depressed about all the various offensive gender!swap bandom fics out there, and how much random transphobic crap there is in a lot of fanfiction these days, and then someone referred me here […] and I feel way better. You have no idea how nice it is to find writing that validates my experience.

Seven months later, Kyuuketsukirui launched the “Transfic” page as an independent entry on the Fanlore wiki. This action, coupled with the aforementioned creation of the transfic master list, helped legitimize transfic as its own genre of fanfiction. Not only did this wiki page put forth the first concrete definition of transfic (“a term to denote fanfiction about transgender characters, usually characters who are not transgender/transsexual in canon”), but it also established several other facts about the genre. One, it pinpointed the earliest known transfic story: Jane Sehrn-Ta’s Changes (2004). Two, the wiki positioned transfic as part of the larger genderfuck genre, but importantly, distinguished it from the genderswap genre. And three, the wiki suggested the transfic genre emerged as a direct result of transgender fans’ dissatisfaction with the ways trans bodies and identities were being represented in traditional genderswap fics. The wiki also linked to the transfic master list where in a series of comments, Kyuuketsukirui suggested that the genre was gaining popularity:

I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of transfics this past year, so hopefully that’s a new trend. (I’m certainly doing my best to pester encourage everyone I know to write more!) […] I’d definitely like to get the word out about the list, not only to let people know they can link here if they write/read something, but to hopefully encourage more people to write trans characters if it’s not something they’ve thought of before or if they considered it, but thought there wouldn’t be an audience.

Since the founding of the master list and its subsequent entry on the Fanlore wiki, the total number of archived transfics has rapidly increased. In an email I received in January 2014, Kyuuketsukirui remarked, “When I started the list there were less than twenty fics on it (when I first started keeping a private list a year or two before that, there were less than ten), now there’s so many I completely gave up on the master list.” Indeed, the increasing volume of transfics became so unwieldy that when Kyuuketsukirui relinquished the project in August 2012, there was already an archive of 584 transfics. Now, Kyuuketsukirui directs fans to the “Trans” tag on Archive of Our Own, which currently houses a whopping 7671 works.* This growth is significant, because as recently as 2007, three years after the first purported transfic was written, the genre was still little known even among genderswap fans like Thepurpleswitch: “I’ve never ever seen a ‘genderswap’ fic where Character A actually wanted to be female before the swap occurred. That might be kind of neat.”

As we have seen, the emergence of the transfic genre has directly resulted from the individual archival effort of Kyuuketsukirui and fans who submitted transfics to the master list. Looking at the history of transfic not only helps delineate this genre from the often troublesome genderswap genre but offers insight into how marginalized groups of fans are able to express and respond to criticism within fan communities. This model of fan production, where grassroots initiatives propel the emergence of new genres, is the modus operandi of fandom. These fan-led movements embody a powerful form of fan activism, and in the case of transfic, a necessary intervention in the genderswap genre.


*Editor’s Note: Today, there are over 10,000 fics under AO3’s “Trans” tag.

Originally published at fanslashfic.com on February 24, 2016.