Every year, I set a ridiculously high reading goal. And every year, when December arrives, I’m so far behind that I have to adjust my reading goal to something more achievable, something less like 100 books and more like 50, or even just 35.
No matter how strong I start off the year, inevitably, I fall into two traps: re-reading books that bring me comfort during depressive episodes, and re-reading novel-length fan fiction that makes me feel warm, safe, and seen. Fic that is always as good as it was the first time, no matter how many times I’ve read.
One fic, in particular, is one that I revisit every year like clockwork: Kiss a Boy in Tokyo Town by Elizabeth, better known as antistar_e on Archive of Our Own or kaikamahine on Tumblr.
This one-shot, novella-length fan fiction clocks in at just over 57,000 words, and it’s by far one of the best pieces of writing I have ever read. The story takes place after Rick Riordan’s The Last Olympian, the fifth and final book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.
Set in Tokyo, Kiss a Boy in Tokyo Town explores what happens when the United States crumbles as the world’s foremost political and economic power; the gods move to Japan, and several of their demigod children move with them — after all, no one can protect the mortals from monsters if the demigods aren’t there to fight them, and the monsters travel with the gods.
Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon, leaves behind his mom in New York to live in Tokyo, where he trains younger demigods and leads an arguably lonely life outside of camp. His girlfriend, Annabeth, is still in the US with her family, and there’s tension around whether or not she’ll ever join him in Tokyo.
Then Nico di Angelo, son of Hades, shows up in Percy’s tiny kitchen and — no pun intended — all hell breaks loose. Percy and Nico start a slow, messy affair, punctuated by some sexuality struggles (Percy) and jealousy issues (Nico), plus the looming shadow of the fact that Percy has a girlfriend, who isn’t physically with him because her sister is terminally ill. Kiss a Boy in Tokyo Town is equally heartbreaking, infuriating, and romantic. Elizabeth’s writing is evocative and descriptive without being overwrought, and she manages to do what very few other writers — especially writers of m/m slash fic — manage to do.
She doesn’t villainize Annabeth.
According to the author’s note preceding Kiss a Boy, Elizabeth had two goals when she wrote this fic: “This whole thing came out of two very simple premises: what would happen to Olympus is [sic] America ceased to be the most powerful country in the world, and I was so sick of seeing the girlfriend constantly being vilified in slash fanfic, so I decided to write a fic to change that.”
Annabeth’s presence in Kiss a Boy is as important to the story as Percy’s and Nico’s. She’s a fully-fleshed character with motivation, intention, and agency, which makes her not only ring true to Riordan’s characterization of her in the books, but provides her with a stronger voice than almost any other girlfriend figure I’ve encountered in slash fic. She consistently pursues a life independent of her relationship with Percy — when she chooses not to go to Tokyo with him, when she does finally choose to visit, when she breaks things off after learning about Nico, and when she eventually forces Percy to acknowledge how incredibly selfish he is.
Annabeth is so much more than a throwaway obstacle that has to be dealt with in order for Percy to be with Nico, and that difference is staggering when compared to other slash fic.
I admit I’ve read a fair share of infidelity fic, though it definitely isn’t my preferred theme. In most of them, the half of the het ship keeping the slash pairing apart (or at least, complicating their ability to be together) is demonized to a point of being unrecognizable. That’s particularly true in m/m slash fic, which — like every subgenre of fan fiction — is primarily written and read by women.
This demonization feels like a symptom of a larger issue — that many women fetishize gay men through fandom, to the point of claiming they are “gay men trapped in women’s bodies” — a common statement that is incredibly insulting to trans people, and further reinforces societal falsehoods about gender and sexuality. I’ve read essays that pontificate on how the slash community is about “subverting the male gaze” and allowing women to explore sexuality and desire in their own ways. This argument seems like a stretch at best, and a means of justifying fetishization at worst.
I say these things as someone who reads and enjoys slash fic for multiple pairings across multiple fandoms, but who is constantly questioning how authors choose to present characters, their sexualities, and their relationships, both romantic and non-romantic. Of the hundreds of slash fics I’ve read in the last decade, Elizabeth’s fics — in particular, Kiss a Boy in Tokyo Town — are the most truly subversive, well-framed pieces of writing I’ve encountered.
The reason I re-read this story every year is that I think about it constantly. I think about it in the larger context of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, in the larger context of LGBT representation in children’s literature and its fandoms, and in the larger context of how non-straight sexualities are represented in fan fiction, especially for fandoms centered on media aimed at a younger generation of readers. Kiss a Boy in Tokyo Town stays in my head, sticks to my ribs, and invades my analysis of nearly every piece of fan-made media I consume.
We need to critically examine not only how we write about sexuality in fic, but how we approach it in conversations about the genre. There’s a lot to be said about how women are repeatedly villainized in fan fiction for daring to be love interests of men that we, as fans, want to read as exclusively gay — rather than pan, bi, fluid, or otherwise — as well as why we seem to feel threatened by these variations on sexuality when we claim to love LGBT representation and queer themes in the media we create and consume.
More authors would do well to take a page from Elizabeth’s book. And now that I’ve written this piece, I’m going to dive back into Kiss a Boy in Tokyo Town, because the need to be immersed in that world is like an itch I have to scratch. •
Read previous Fandom Love Letters here.
Samantha Puc is a freelance writer, editor, and social media manager whose work has appeared all over the web; she collects it at her portfolio site, The Verbal Thing. Samantha lives in Rhode Island with her spouse and three cats. She likes Shakespeare, space babes, bikes, and dismantling the patriarchy. She also likes vegan food. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.