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What gets me into fandom?
Once upon a time, it was simple: I was lonely, and fandom was the place where there were people like me. I remember stepping into my first ever Star Trek convention (Creation Con!) and finally, for the first time in my entire junior high school career, truly not being afraid of being mocked for my interests. Fandom was a dream come true, a space where I could be myself, and getting into it was the most natural thing in the world. I went from attending cons to consuming other fannish activities pretty slowly; this was back when the interblags was still in its tube infancy. My first fanfic was an OTT Crusher/Picard PWP, pointed out to me on a friend’s computer: “Oh, you like them, right? You should read this, it’s hot.” I may have blushed then (tender college first year that I was, it was probably a lot of blushing) but it was the first step in a larger world of self-acceptance. (I was allowed to think about characters I liked without mockery, and about sex, and plot stuff that happened off screen. A revelation!)
Those early, heady days of fandom were dominated by my real life friendships and the fandom that came along with that. We were really, really into X-Files. We would pile into my friend Q’s room, hope that the pirated cable connection to her battered TV was working and watch the show, with strict rules about how to behave during episodes. (No squeeing while the show was on; wait for commercials; no yelling advice or criticism at the characters; wait for commercials; no yelling at Chris Carter during the show; wait for commercials.) My friend J would squeeze my hand during the exciting or imperiled parts of the stories, often cutting off my circulation. We collected the cards, toys, and posters, and I read and read and read fanfic, with very little filter for quality or purpose. I just wanted to know more about the characters during cliffhangers and between seasons, and I was really curious to see how fanfic writers went in the directions that the show stubbornly refused to (namely, getting certain characters together.) I loved anime, too, and with the help of several awesome friends, I made a costume, watched a ton of fan-subbed anime (and had snobbish opinions about it), lurked on rec.arts.anime, and absorbed as much as I could. I was a fannish sponge, basically. X-Files, Star Trek: TNG, a million animes, I loved them all. Fandom gave me a warm sense of belonging and camaraderie that I couldn’t seem to find anywhere else at the time.
(As a side note: I now understand that my participation in fandom started right around the time that religion left my life in a dramatic and hurtful fashion. But that’s another essay for another time.)
Fast forward more than a few years past an overseas job (and more fandom) and more international education (and slightly less fandom, grad school will do that to you) and another move and a child (which meant, ironically, more fandoms than ever before but little to no time/energy to get as much out of them as I wanted) and I’m back at the same question: why do I join fandom? What am I trying to get out of it? I’m now on the production side of things, more than ever before, writing of fanfic of my own. I have Real Life friends now who are and aren’t fannish; my social groups aren’t dominated by fannish activities, although fandom is a great facilitator for many of things I get to do. I don’t have as much time as I did when I was a young pup in fandom, so I have to be pickier with my fannish activities. Here’s what makes me get involved with a fandom at (almost) 40:
1) A strong desire to see the characters in a show, movie, comic, manga, or other narrative in more detail, whether it’s relationships that the writers won’t touch, or expanded background for one or more of my favorite characters. A subcategory of this is crossovers, which are almost impossible in most of the media that I follow, and fandom—whether in art or writing, either is fine—is where it can finally happen. It’s also particularly strong characters, or one character I want to know more about, one whose past or future there doesn’t seem to be time for in the main narrative.
2) A chance to make more Real Life friends. Fandom is a great unifier, and I’ve made friends over the years because of fannish key chains, t-shirts, and blog activities that lead to Real Life meetings.
3) A desire to create material for the medium at hand. I’m getting into Person of Interest fandom right now because I really, really want to create a story where my OTP happens and because it will be a good challenge for my writing projects, to write a story where characters who are the exact opposites of my original characters exist and do things I would never, ever do in real life. Writing (and writing fanfic) is a chance to practice empathy, and a test, one that I gladly relish attempting.
Thanks, fandom. You’ve made my (almost) 40 years on this planet much more pleasant, and I look forward to at least another 40 more.