CONTENT WARNING: discussions of homophobia & anti-Blackness
When I was in elementary school, at some small local Catholic school, one of my best friends and I were in love. We were young, so young, and the feelings are hazy now, lost in the way most of my childhood memories are. But I remember kissing her. I remember cuddling in her bed at night during our sleepovers. I remember how we used to pretend we were the main relationship on whatever CW show she was watching at that point. (If you keep reading this article, you will see the irony that we stopped whatever this was right before she got into the show Roswell, propelled by the fact that it was all available online, so we never got to play at Max & Liz.)
Just under a decade later, I was 19, almost 20, and I had just tested negative for covid-19 after a scare at my mom’s place of work. I deserved to have some fun, I thought, so when that friend reached out and asked if I wanted to go swimming at her dad’s house, in a pool we used to make out in as pre-teens, I said yes. She picked me up and on the drive to her house she bought it up, asked me if I thought about what we did before we even knew being attracted to other girls was something that happened. She asked if I was a lesbian. She told me she was bi but she could never see herself dating a woman. She told me her boyfriend thought it would be hot if she slept with a woman.
My stomach sank. But we were almost there, and it was too late for me to run in the other direction. Her boyfriend was swimming with us, I learned. She teased him, as we swam, about what happened between us as kids, lavished in the bursts of jealously it got from him. Later while we sat around and drank Mike’s hard lemonade, he poked and prodded me about my sexuality. He told me his mother was a lesbian once too, told me that all she needed was the right dick.
I left that day with one thought and one thought only: they asked me over to sleep with them, to fulfill some sort of kink or add some spice to their relationship.
Now, over a year later, I ran into her at work. We don’t talk, haven’t spoken since, and I don’t think she even knows how much I hate to think of that day, how it permeates every thought I have of her now. I’m 20 now, almost 21. She asked me if I had the same phone number, said she would get in touch so we can celebrate my 21st together. I didn’t tell her then, while I handed her the food she bought for herself and her boyfriend, that the idea of people around and even slightly intoxicated made me sick.
Roswell, New Mexico, the reboot of Roswell and based on the same book series, is a show I am slightly ashamed to admit I like. It’s messy. It makes no sense. The representation is often lacking, whitewashed and painfully liberal even thought the show has a decent amount of characters of color. But we are not here to talk about the show. Today we talking about the fandom.
In the first season, most of my focus was on Michael Guerin and Alex Manes, two men who had been in love with each other for a decade but could never seem to make it work. For me, RNM was their love story. It was cosmic. I read fanfic before I even finished watching season 1 and then I never finished watching season 1 and kept reading fanfic. The show mistreated them, used them for marketing but never really dedicated to exploring. And at that point, I wasn’t sure if their story would even be touched on in season 2.
Eventually the 2nd season aired. I had decided before that I would only watch season 2 after it aired and only if I liked how malex was handled in the season. But half way through the season a mutual on twitter called the show disgusting and homophobic. And then I learned why: Alex, a gay man, had a threesome with Michael and his current girlfriend, Maria.
And this is the crux of the issue here.
I never watched season 2 but I have been watching season 3 (note: I’m not sure if it’s a sign of good or bad writing that I can skip an entire season and not be confused at all). When I watched season 1, I never got into the fandom. I read fanfic because of course I did but that was the most I did. By then, I was long past my days of dedicating my tumblr to whatever CW show I was watching at the time, and I had stepped back from almost all fandom during my senior year of high school.
But getting back into season 3, it was much like my days of really being into fandom as a young teen. This entire year I have been bouncing between interests. I obsessively watched one segment of a twitch stream everyday until the streamer stopped doing it, and I had a break down. I watched the Big Brother live streams religiously. Then I got back into RNM, and I wanted for the first time in years to actually take part in fandom.
It was a mistake.
The discourse around shipping is a nightmare. But I’m not here to talk about it as a whole. Instead, I am going to talk about RNM and two ships in particular—malex & malexa—and more specifically, the sub-fandoms behind them.
Malex is, as mentioned above, Michael and Alex. At least in regards to AO3 fanfics, popular RNM ship. It has, at the time of writing, 3759 fanfics. It is the ship that I watch the show for, and I think the ship that a lot of the fandom is centered around. I like it, and the dynamic is just about every thing that I want in a ship except that it isn’t sapphic.
However, within the ship, there’s a decent amount of anti-Blackness. Towards the end of season 1, Michael ends up with Alex’s best friend, Maria. They are together for most of season 2 from what I can tell. And Maria is Black. If you have spent anytime in fandom spaces, especially those that are centered around m/m ships, well, you know where this is going. If you go through the ‘anti miluca’ tag on tumblr, you will find people dedicating multiple posts tearing down a Black woman in the name of malex. I have even seen someone go so far as to blame the actress for the fetishization of gay men by straight women.
The character is hated in a way that no other character on RNM is hated. Every thing she does is picked apart. She is painted as a horrible person, and no one is willing to sit down and actually unpack the anti-Blackness that is motivating their hate of the a character that there is no reason to hate beyond the fact that she is a Black woman ‘in the way’ of a popular m/m ship.
Malexa on the other hand is not a popular ship at all. It’s the ship that sprung out of the threesome between Michael, Alex, and Maria. For me, the ship is triggering. It’s the disregard of a character’s sexuality, a dismissal that not everyone has a fluid sexuality, and it calls back to the horrible summer day in 2020. There’s no way to remove this ship from the homophobia inherent to. This is a homophobic ship and there’s no way around it. When I see people talk about the ship, when I see them talk about the threesome, it genuinely makes me sick.
There’s a general attitude of “Don’t Like, Don’t Read” that is common to people in both ships. And I understand that sentiment, I do. The older I get the more the moral-panic over ships makes less and less sense to me and sometimes I just think things are compelling in fiction even if they would be horrifying in reality. Yet that is nothing but a deflection. You cannot call out anti-Blackness and homophobia in fandom without being mean, without trying to kill the fun, or without otherwise being the enemy.
I remember why I stepped away from fandom. It’s just so exhausting.