People always ask me why I participate in fandom, why fandom and (popular) visual culture inform my art-making practice, and it’s not an easy answer—but it’s easy at the same time.
Fandom—and the products created by fandom—was the first place that I saw and experienced reflections of myself. It was not the first place that I encountered a gay character (That was Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey in the Summer of 1990, I think.), but fandom was the first place that I encountered (recreated) characters that were bisexual, that were pansexual, that were transgendered, that were poly(amorous), that loved because of the person and not whatever body that they had been born in (whether that was the sex they would have chosen or not, whether it matched who they felt they were interiorly or not).
Fandom gave me this.
Fandom gave me the words to be able to explain that I can love more than one person at once, that I can love someone because they’re who they are and not what is or isn’t between their legs, that my gender expression (perceived, received and/or imposed) is not the beginning and end of my Self—long before I took a class in autobiographical theory that taught me about trauma writing, about interiority versus exteriority, about performativity.
Grad school may have taught me the terms, but fandom taught me about Othering and alterity long before—that insidious societal coping mechanism that’s really only good for allowing people to feel that they aren’t somehow “deviant” or outside the norm (whatever that is) by shoving people not like them into these categories that they don’t want to be caught in—but fandom taught me that Othering and alterity are just another mechanism of oppression.
And, that’s important. That all is very, very important.
That’s a lot for a bunch of strangers (their not strangers, not really—I really think that fandom is a place that everyone can come to and it’s safe because we all are, largely, anonymous) to have given me.
But, fandom hasn’t even just given me these first glances, first tastes, first experiences into the person I have grown into; fandom also taught me to write, to read, to think critically about situations (on the screen or the page and off of it, IRL), to put myself into someone else’s position—to think about what their situation is/was that has caused them to act in whatever way that they are acting—to not be afraid to try new things.
To not be afraid.
Sherman Alexie wrote in “Why the Best Kids’ Books are Written in Blood” that
…there are millions of teens who read because they are sad and lonely and enraged. They read because they live in an often-terrible world. They read because they believe, despite the callow protestations of certain adults, that books–especially the dark and dangerous ones–will save them.
As a child, I read because books–violent and not, blasphemous and not, terrifying and not–were the most loving and trustworthy things in my life. I read widely, and loved plenty of the classics so, yes, I recognized the domestic terrors faced by Louisa May Alcott’s March sisters. But I became the kid chased by werewolves, vampires, and evil clowns in Stephen King’s books. I read books about monsters and monstrous things, often written with monstrous language, because they taught me how to battle the real monsters in my life.
And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons––in the form of words and ideas—that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.
And, yeah, books did this for me—they still do—but (popular) visual culture does this for me too.
But, fandom? Fandom doesn’t have to go through editors (We have betas; they aren’t totalitarian dictators.) and get by puritanical ratings systems that want to maintain a homogenized, heteronormative status quo (We rate ourselves, and we tag for triggers so that readers and viewers can negotiate for themselves whether this whatever is something that they need in their lives right now.).
Fandom is anarchic creation; fandom lets us see things that we might not ordinarily see, experience that which is outside of our everyday experiences.
Fandom lets us share our lives with each other.
Fandom is a community experience, a communal reality. Fandom is participatory—hence, it’s academic name being Participatory Culture–and a place of participation where all are welcome, where everyone has a friend, where everyone has a voice, where everyone has someone to catch them when they fall.
So, yeah, when people ask why fandom is an integral part of my art-making practice, this is what I think about, this is what I want to tell them, but—usually—people don’t want to listen.
And that? Is a shame.