comScore Shannon Purser Comes Out as Bisexual Post-clash With Fandom | The Mary Sue

Shannon Purser Comes out as Bisexual After a Clash With Riverdale Fandom



Shannon Purser earned a lot of fans after her turn as Barb in Stranger Things, and we’ve loved seeing her as Ethel Muggs on Riverdale. Recently, Purser discussed the importance of being comfortable with your sexuality, but hadn’t spoken openly about her own. That changed last night, after she ran into some of the trickier elements of online fandom.

Fandom can be a wonderful, supportive environment to celebrate and create work around the topic that you love, but in my experience, there’s always a darker side. Fandoms can become toxic, infighting hornets’ nests that tear each other apart; within a single fandom, ship wars and thematic debates can turn people who adore the same movie or TV show into sworn enemies. Creatives, who were once not party to the audience’s instantaneous reactions and emotions, now have to navigate 24/7 minefields.

As a veteran of the days when fandoms lurked in dark corners of the Internet, I love that the concept has gained mainstream awareness, that actors cheerfully Tweet about ships and writers write in winks to popular obsessions. But while creatives can forget how emotionally important and fraught fandom issues feels for fans, some fans also cross the boundaries of what’s appropriate, directing their ire or frustrations at actors who don’t really get a say in the development of the characters. Here’s what happened with Purser:

In the first episode of the CW’s Riverdale, there’s a kiss between Betty and Veronica, initiated by Veronica during their cheerleading tryout for some “sizzle.” Riverdale is self-aware enough to have another character then observe, “Check your sell-by date ladies. Faux-lesbian kissing hasn’t been taboo since 1994.” Yes.

The kiss seemed to have been received one of two ways: either fans were upset that the show was engaging in cheap, LGBT-for-performative-shock-value, or they embraced the kiss as emblematic of future non-heteronormative possibilities for the characters. (It’s also possible to have thought both things of this scene).

Even before the show aired, fans were shipping the good ship “Beronica.” The Beronica shippers are a vocal lot, and the actors have referred to their zealousness before. Last night, in a now-deleted Tweet to her costar Cole “Jughead” Sprouse, Purser mentioned “angry Beronica stans.” (A stan is a fan even more engaged than your average, run-of-the-mill fan. Think fan-fan.)

The Beronica stans were then, in turn, even angrier, and accused Purser of engaging in the show’s queerbaiting, a rallying cry in some segments of fandom that can be equal parts a perfectly valid criticism of some properties and also a silencing accusation to shut down debate.

Purser did, I think, attempt to backpedal from the drama quite well and reasonably:

I literally want this tattooed on my forehead and pasted to the top of Tumblr dashboards everywhere.

A ship is meant to bring joy, my friends, and exquisite angst, and hurt/comfort, and coffee shop AUs, but for the love of Loki stop using it to harass others, especially the actors who have no say in the matter.

Listen, I get it. Last year was a horrific one for the depiction of LGBTQIA women on television, and spinning the whole Betty-Archie-Veronica triangle that has existed for time immemorial in the comics into a Beronica relationship would be exciting and new and groundbreaking. The show’s just getting started, however, and the creatives are aware of the enthusiasm for this pairing. They haven’t set fire to the Beronica ship and sunk it.

But harassing the actors, as Purser seems to imply has happened to her, isn’t a great way to start. And of course, it’s not just the Beronica shippers who are vocal and sometimes nasty, as Purser then tried to clarify:

Not to mention:

The hubbub and outpouring of reactions clearly had an effect on Purser, who reappeared on Twitter a few hours later with a heartfelt longform note explaining that she was bisexual, but had only recently come out to her friends and family and is still very much learning how to navigate the waters. She explains that until the Twitter run-in with fans, she’d never even heard the word “queerbaiting.” The note is worth reading in full.

I’m thankful to Purser for her honestly, and also glad to see that in the wake of the note, the responses she’s received from fans have been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. I’m uncomfortable that she may have felt pushed to take this kind of public stance in the face of unnecessary criticism and outcry, and out herself in a fashion she had not anticipated.

It reminds me of innumerable fandom debates I’ve witnessed about how you shouldn’t write or draw certain kinds material unless it’s a coping mechanism or you’re a member of that particular category, and then you have to prove to the crowd that you’re a card-carrying member until the circling wolves of judgment decide you’re valid enough to leave alone.

Purser shouldn’t have had to feel that the way to prove she wasn’t queerbaiting was to demonstrate that she was queer. We shouldn’t have to be held accountable to the mob. But I appreciate her candor, and I think in the end her frank embrace of LGBTQIA sexuality could have a greater impact on the community than any ship ever could.

(via Refinery29, Jezebel, image: The CW)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.