Mastodon Mastodon Mastodon Mastodon Mastodon Fans and Fantasy: Shipping as... Safe Space

SpoilerTV - TV Spoilers

Fans and Fantasy: Shipping as... Safe Space

Share on Reddit

(A hat tip, before we begin, to the Mysterious Gentleman... you know why. Thanks for the laughs.)

It's hard to find a place you fit in. Just think about high school. Or moving to a new town, or starting a new job. There are some people who are able to reach out and find a group of friends no matter where they go, but others struggle for years to find those people they can not only socialize with, but tell their secrets to, and feel safe doing so without fear of judgment. The Internet has long been a haven for those people who have trouble reaching out face-to-face. And fandom has provided a haven for people to indulge their passions and share joy and interests that are not “safe” to fully indulge in non-wired life. All of us on this site and others who follow our favorite shows and other media are testament to that.

And when you drill down further, there's a specific sort of safe space that shipping itself provides. I'd posit that this is because the people you ship, the subtext you see and the way you read a text reveals a lot about your own values – what you see as the roots of attraction and love, how you feel the world could be made more equitable, what you wish for in your own life or fantasize about when nobody's around. These are all deeply personal parts of us, and they're mirrored in what we ship. So others within your same ship are likely to understand you, and allow you to explore yourself in a non-judgmental environment.

From the responses to my survey, I've found that shipping can provide a safe space in these spheres...

Personal.... The benefits of finding a group of people who share your values cannot be overestimated. When we fall or fail, when we make bad judgments, when we don't have the strength to move on our own, we need these people who see in our values reflections of their own worth. Helping one person get through a difficult time can provide benefits not just to the person in trouble but to the entire community around them. The fact that you're in a group of people who deeply care about their own is comforting knowledge. When it comes around to be your turn to need help, you know the people around you will listen.

One respondent to last week's survey says, "Shipping is sort of a private matter- well, not really private, but something one wouldn't share with parents or anyone out of the know. If you can talk about ships with someone, it's probably safe to say that you can talk with them about other things."

"I have, at times, yes, and it's always been wonderful to get needed support or feedback without judgement. People have listened when I needed to talk about family drama or friends or romantic stuff. I've gotten a lot of support for mental health issues. And at the very least, when other people were talking about their problems, it's certainly helped me not to feel so alone," says another respondent, who adds that in that ship, others have received support too. "Everything from getting crap from family, or relationship troubles, or job issues, or even computer tech support. In spaces as varied as email lists or chat rooms, we've broken down people's problems and tried to offer advice or at least a friendly keyboard. And if we can't help, someone at least usually has some resource or another we can point the person who needs help towards."

Twistedsardonic says, " I've seen people post that they are having a difficult day and have many people respond with well-wishes. I've seen communities work to get strangers out of difficult circumstances or to help sick animals. If someone posts that they are having a bad day, I try to do something to cheer them up and I love when people do the same for me back. Sometimes it's just an acknowledgment that someone read your rant about your bad day/post about depression or sickness with a 'like.' But the thing that really makes me feel better is when people send you little messages saying they are there for you."

Creative.... We discussed this already in Shipping as ... Creativity, but I want to stress again how very much a safe space shipping can be for people to indulge their own creativity. It's very hard to find a way to write or draw or create in some other way without judgment, but shippers are so very hungry for representations of their ship, often lacking in canon, that the element of gratitude just for creating is intense. That gives fanwork creators the freedom to branch out, to try diffferent things, and in general stretch those muscles knowing that even if what they create comes out less than perfect, the ship is a better place for its existence.

"I was not considering a writing career at all before shipping, but now I am," says Teenager.

Other respondents who wished to remain on background also talked about how discussing a ship, finding reasons for that ship to be valid and analyzing aspects of chemistry between characters, awakened desires in them to explore creatively their own concepts of romance, characterization and plot, leading to not just fanworks but also a more creative direction in their lives.

For more on the creative possibilities of shipping, please see "Shipping as... Creativity."

Sexual... This is, of course, part of "personal," but I think it deserves its own category because it is such a distinctive feature of shipping. Shipping in general, and specific ships, allow for a narrative that's not dictated by the whims of authority and sometimes goes explicitly against what the authority and majority (be it showrunners, parents, religion, or society as a whole) sees as acceptable.

Jen says, "Talking to someone about sex, for example, and the sexual relationship with the two characters of a ship is a lot easier with someone who 'ships' any character, and understands what it means to ship two characters than someone who doesn't even have a ship or understand the 'fanfiction', and shipping culture. I wouldn't sit on the couch with my mother, who knows nothing about the shipping culture, and talk about ... two characters on TV. She would be mortified. Sharing these things to a nonfandom-cultured individual about fandom whether that contains shipping, sexual or not, is like sharing milk to a lactose intolerant."

Says twistedsardonic, "It was actually through random fandom discussion about ... sexuality that I found a label for one alienating aspect of my existence. I discovered that asexuality or, more specifically,the ace umbrella, has wider application and meaning than I'd ever thought. I thought asexuals were like unicorns--mythical. So even though I kind of always thought of myself as asexual, I really didn't understand the reality of the term nor that I was never going to be "normal" like my friends by meeting the right person, getting sexual therapy, etc. These smaller subsets of sexual and gender identity are still relatively unknown and/or talked about outside of the internet. Fandom shipping has made these terms more accessible for people who, like me, always felt different but couldn't find a word that would explain or relate that feeling to others or themselves even. "

Jill says, "Believe it or not, shipping actually helped me to come out as a lesbian. I started shipping with a straight ship, but quickly lost interest. Then I tentatively decided to try shipping two female characters by writing fic for them, because I felt drawn to that paring. It was a way for me to explore the idea, to try to understand why I was drawn to the idea of two women together. As I wrote and posted my fic, I got positive feedback and felt a part of a community. I felt more 'normal,' and the more I wrote femslash, the more comfortable I became with my orientation. I was able to integrate my sexuality into my sense of identity in my own time and in a non-threatening way. I didn't have to say words I wasn't ready to say, but I had a medium in which to work through my hangups. It eventually made me comfortable enough to come out to a therapist, and, later, my friends. "

All of this is not to say that shipping is a totally safe environment to express any view. We talked last week about the difficulty of polarization among and within ships, whether it has to do with ship wars or the behavior of some fans that strike other fans as inappropriate. One of the biggest rifts here has to do with the question of “Do we push to make a ship canon”? And that's what I'd like to discuss next week, with “Shipping As... Activism.” I would invite both shippers and non-shippers who feel there is a deficit of representation in terms of diversity in sexuality and romance to respond to my survey, and very especially those who are activists outside of shipping when it comes to LGBT representation and rights. There will likely be a lot of differing opinions, and I'll do my best to fairly represent them all.

Next week is the last planned in the “Shipping As...” series. If you feel I've missed a major aspect of shipping, please let me know in the survey. And then we'll be moving on to a lighter series, called “Shippable Shows.” This one should be fun, as we'll look at each show and its major (and minor) ships, why the ships exist, and why the show as a whole seems to be conducive to a lot of shipping.

Let me know what shows you'd like to see in the comments. (I'll definitely need some help with some of them that I haven't seen all the way through yet!) And again, please fill out the survey for next week's column. I deeply appreciate all the honest answers I've gotten so far. Thank you so much!

Though it should really go without saying, please be respectful in your comments of the survey respondents who chose to share their personal information on the record in this week's column.

Streaming Options

Sign Up for the SpoilerTV Newsletter where we talk all things TV!


SpoilerTV Available Ad-Free!

Support SpoilerTV is now available ad-free to for all subscribers. Thank you for considering becoming a SpoilerTV premmium member!
Latest News