My Shipping History and an Unconscious Desire For Queer Stories
I just thought it'd be cool if they kissed, that's all
When people ask me what my first ship is I usually respond with the “blow up the Gundam with me in it” Heero Yuy and “everyone loves a boy with a braid” Duo Maxwell from Gundam Wing.
I was 16 years old and had been scouring the Internet via AOL CDs, hoping to find more information on the series I’d started watching on Toonami. I found a webpage that claimed to have proof that Heero and Duo were together, and since this was back in the days when I didn’t know terms like shipping and fanfic I thought, “Holy shit. Anime characters can be gay?!”
This was the edited Sailor Moon era, okay? I didn’t know cartoons could have queer content.
I didn’t know much of anything could have queer content unless if it was the butt of the joke or ended in death.
Heero and Duo were the characters that introduced me to shipping, or rather, they’re the characters who put a name on what I’d apparently been doing for years. Honestly, if I stop and think about it, I’ve been shipping characters together since I was a kid. I definitely had moments where I would let my imagination do the talking, going so far as to create elaborate AUs via Barbie dolls and using a tennis shoe as a substitute for a car.
Gambit was with Rogue.
Goku was with Chi-Chi.
Liu Kang was with Kitana.
And they were gonna buy a house together or … something.
That means, technically speaking, Heero and Duo aren’t my first ship, they’re just the first ship where I started to get a grasp on this part of fandom. More importantly, they’re the first time I realized that stories could not only have positive queer content, we could write those stories ourselves.
That might explain why, for a while, I thought shipping (when I learned the term) was a queer thing. Even if I had heterosexual pairings that I liked (see the above list), as soon as I was introduced to the possibility of reading, and writing, queer content, I went full speed ahead in that direction. I didn’t think there was a point to create any more heterosexual stories when the established canon either already had it, or there were already plenty of pairings to choose from.
I’m over it now. I ship all the things. It’s just interesting to look back on it.
Especially when I realize what my actual first ship is.
Before I knew what shipping was, before I even knew that being queer was something you could be, I had two characters who I thought would be great together: Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.
While Batman has been an established property for longer than I’ve been alive, I really got into the Caped Crusader with Batman: The Animated Series. To this day it’s still my favorite version of him, complete with a stacked list of villains I’d tune in to watch. Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy were two of my favorite villains, mostly because I adored seeing women doing things, especially in the early 90s, the height of my GIRL POWER years.
Eventually, Harley and Ivy cross paths, teaming up to wreak havoc on Gotham after the Joker told Harley to GTFO. At that point, I thought, “Well she’s better off without him anyway,” which is the major message in a bottle when it comes to the Joker and Harley.
I thought watching Harley and Ivy take the city by storm was neat, but when Harley showed signs of wanting to return to the Joker, my response was, “Why? Just stay with Ivy.” I wanted Ivy to swap spots with the Joker as Harley’s love interest, not just because the Joker was a sack of moldy pickles, but because the two women had great chemistry together. This chemistry would carry throughout the series whenever the two were on screen, and unbeknownst to me, it would be a staple for them in other stories.
It never occurred to me to include them in my extensive Barbie roster because they weren’t canon. Harley already had an established love interest (even if he was a psychotic clown) so I assumed I couldn’t act on my “just kiss that girl instead” thoughts. I assumed you could only play with established couples, and that those established couples were heterosexual (to my knowledge, anyway, I didn’t know what gay was so I DEFINITELY didn’t know bisexual or pansexual).
Stumbling into fandom changed all of that, showing me a world where characters could be queer, furthermore, I could explore that queerness in my own stories.
And I could embrace my own.
Two years after I discovered this side of fandom I ended up coming out, using fandom as a safe space to tell the people I interacted with. I figured, at the time, that the rest of the world may have had ashy takes on the queer community, but in the fandom where I was surrounded by like-minded creatives who were either writing queer stories OR were out themselves, it was okay to say it out loud. That was back in 2001 when there wasn’t much positive queer content for me to latch onto. That’s slowly changing today, and I’m beyond thrilled that some kid can go out there and play with Barbie dolls and pretend that they’re their favorite, officially queer characters.
Still, I’ll never not be thankful to fandom for giving me something all those years ago, and continuing to let folks use fictional characters to explore all sorts of queer possibilities that established works either unapologetically state, hint at, or I dunno, you just really like Luke Skywalker and think it’d be neat if he were bi.
(Image: Warner Bros. Television Distribution)
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