On Joining the LGBT Fandom Later in Life
From my obvious interest in media that tells LGBT stories and subsequent frustration when it is handled poorly, some might infer that I’ve been in this fandom for years, not months. But I’m actually quite a newborn when it comes to engagement with LGBT fandoms.
I was raised in a conservative Evangelical Christian home just dysfunctional enough to not provide me with the proper vocabulary for coping with my attraction to women. Add onto that layers of abuse, trauma, and mental illness and you have a very, shall we say, interesting mental cocktail. Coping with my attraction to women was far down on my brain’s list of Shit To Deal With for a long time. I didn’t recognize it for decades; quite honestly, until Steven Universe and the Clexa ship smacked me in the face (and after I’d developed healthier coping mechanisms for the other aspects of my headspace). Lexa’s death made me so viscerally upset that I had to recognize that it was personal for me.
Anyway, here I am, a thirty year old woman just discovering she’s bisexual and faced with decades worth of LGBT fandoms, discourse, fic, and communities to navigate. What’s a newborn bi woman to do but throw herself into it with abandon? I don’t do my fandoms by halvesies. I’m all or nothing.
Every experience of LGBT fandom is valid, whether you enter it at twelve or fifty-two. No matter your age, don’t be afraid to jump in. To quote my favorite TV mentor/mom Cat Grant, “In order to live, we must keep daring, keep diving.” If you’re afraid to stick your toe in the LGBT fandom waters, I’ve been there. I’m here to tell you it’s worth it.
Diving In When You’re Different
Coming into any fandom this late has pros and cons, but the LGBT fandom has unique challenges and rewards for a late bloomer. The most obvious example is fanfic. Unlike my first exposure to femslash when I was a teenager—which left me excited, confused and ashamed (see, Raised In Conservative Home and Unaware of Own Attraction to Women)—I know my tastes better now. I know what I want out of a fic and skip the rest. The benefit being I’m less likely to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of available femslash fics and pairings.
The downside is that I might be more likely to miss out on a real gem of a popular fic in the fandom if it doesn’t sound like it fits my tastes. This, in turn, can make it harder to engage with the fandom at times, because I’m interested in different things. This need not be negative, however. Sometimes it means I learn to expand my tastes by reading a fic I might not otherwise. 9.9/10 I’m happy I did. I, in turn, can recommend less popular fics that are more to my natural tastes and get other people engaged in talking about them. It’s a win-win for everyone. More fic is always better.
Language and communication style can be a barrier, though, as many of the new femslash fandom communities are driven mostly by people half my age. They and I not only have different tastes, but also different patterns of speaking and interacting. I’m pretty good at adapting my speech patterns to fit my listener, especially when it is written language, but I just can’t ‘fake’ my age. Nor would I want to. And, let’s be honest, they wouldn’t want me to either.
In my past life, I was an academic linguist, so I worry about coming off as overly stuffy or pedantic with the younger generation of fans. I have a fairly archaic vocabulary and my typing habits have been ingrained in me since I was in middle school and don’t change easily. Without too much effort, I can sound like I’m twice my age. I want to engage and be approachable, but I know my style of speaking can put people off. So I’ve adapted. It’s worth it for me to do the work, but it can feel a bit exhausting sometimes.
I end up in this weird limbo, caught between generations. My innate vocabulary and typing patterns are adult, but my excitability and interest are more on par with those teenagers that are just discovering their sexuality. In a way, I’m having a second puberty, but one where I also have this entire history of experience with other fandoms behind me to offer me a different perspective. Not better, mind you, just different. I’ve seen problematic discourse in fandoms before and know what battles I’m willing to pick based on what I’ve seen elsewhere. I’m less jaded than some of my contemporaries because I did not have to live through some of the LGBT fandoms’ darkest days with regard to media representation, but also more picky with what I consume. I want the best media has to offer because I don’t have time for nonsense or bullshit storytelling.
I’ve seen it in the other fandoms I’ve been involved in. Coming into the fandoms during the Spring Slaughter opened my eyes very quickly to the worst that our media had to offer, and I’ve already had my fill thank you very much.
Picking Fandom Battles
It’s harder to enter spaces dominated by people who neither speak nor relate to the world as you do. I can pick up on slang, emojis both ironic and honest, and grammatical constructions, but at heart we have different perspectives. My frustrations are different than theirs. I’m passionate about changing media to better represent LGBT persons, but I understand how powerful the structures within the system are better now than I did when I as younger.
I prefer to think in terms of incremental change, which can make some of my younger fandom friends angry. I sympathize more strongly with my older fandom friends who have been here for years, the ones who say, “we need to appreciate what we’ve accomplished” or “at least things are better than they were”. Joining my new fandom voice to theirs can sound like I don’t care enough or that I’m policing other people’s anger. It’s not my intent, and I understand the reaction. It’s just a different kind of discussion with different priorities.
I happen to think we need both voices working together to accomplish our goals as a community, which is a separate article in and of itself. For my part, I try to engage with those who are frustrated by my reactions. It isn’t always easy. There can be a lot of misunderstanding and hurtful engagement before an accord is reached. It’s a normal part of being online and joining a community, especially one that has been hurt and shunted aside by our broader society. I don’t always say things in the appropriate way because I honestly don’t know the language I’m supposed to use. I’m at a disadvantage because I don’t have the right terminology and don’t always know what words or experiences are problematic for my audience. I’m willing to put in the work, don’t get me wrong. I just wish I could wear a badge around online that said, “I’m new, here! I don’t know what I’m doing; help me communicate with you better!”
Having lived through other rigorous fandom discussions, shall we say, I’m less likely to engage with community wide fandom discourse unless I feel very passionately about it. When I see intra-community fighting, my tendency is to hide away in my own corner of fandom and pretend I don’t see it. I stay in my own lane. It isn’t because I don’t care, though I’m sure it can seem that way. It’s really that I don’t have the emotional energy. I have plenty of Problematic Discourse in my waking life. When I see it online in my LGBT fandoms, I want to curl up and hide, or write fluff fic.
Now this may have more to do with personality than age. I know plenty of other women my age who seem to enjoy Discourse. Every woman’s experience in every fandom will be different, LGBT fandoms included. Only for me, because I’ve been unaware of my sexuality for so long, I want to celebrate it, and I turn to fandoms to do that because they’re safe for me.
In short, I use LGBT fandoms as a way to celebrate a part of me that I haven’t and don’t get to celebrate much in my everyday life. I’m still in the closet to most of my family and friends, most of whom would not embrace my sexuality if they knew. I entered the LGBT fandom with a specific need and seek out ways to fulfill it. I came looking for ways to celebrate, affirm, validate my experience as well as learn as much as I can about how to talk with other people about it because my vocabulary for my experience is woefully inadequate.
It isn’t that I won’t engage with important conversations, or defend people being ganged up on. I’ve lived long enough in the closet to desperately want to protect my young fandom friends from suffering as I have. I feel the anger that other people do about certain shows and situations, believe me. I’ve talked about it at length on this very website. That being said, my primary draw to the LGBT fandom was to know that I have a place where I fit, where I could be myself without judgment. So if I sometimes seem more quiet online, it’s either because I don’t know what to say, I’m too worn out from my daily life to know how to engage, or I’m in need of some self care and joy.
At times, engaging with the fandom can feel like a popularity cult. Not that LGBT fandoms are unique in this way, it happens everywhere online. You have a handful of influential people who determine the course of the discourse on social media. Everything flows from those sources. It can make it a bit lonely for people like me who are trying to break in, especially if those influential people don’t take notice of you. I had to accept that since I wasn’t a part of the inner circle, I was probably going to be screaming into the social media void for a while before people started to pay attention. Again, I accept it as a natural part of being online, but it can feel lonely on the margins, especially on the margins of an already marginalized community.
In many ways, I feel like I’m entering a new culture and that I’ve missed out on key formative experiences and media. People assume I’ve watched Legend of Korra or The L Word, and I haven’t, nor do I have time to drop everything and catch up on the media I’ve missed in the decades I was so far in the closet I might as well have existed in Narnia. I ask questions and listen patiently when people explain things to me, but it can get frustrating to always feel behind or that I need to watch certain shows to be a ‘real’ LGBT fan.
On the positive side, I didn’t have to live through the absolute dearth of LGBT media from the past few decades, and the shitty representation that was present, if it existed at all. Other people have waded through the crap for me. By now, there are places I can go to get a meticulous, well crafted list of recs for fic, TV, and films. I can engage with just the good things and ignore the rest if that’s what I prefer.
Some might call that a kind of privilege, and I understand where they’re coming from. I’m learning to embrace that privilege though, as it also applies to my young LGBT friends as well. We don’t have to have lived through the harrowing years of little to no representation to understand how important representation is. The very lack of representation is part of why it took me so long to figure my orientation out. I just didn’t see myself in any of the media characters I engaged with.
I’m well aware that I’m lacking in experience of LGBT media. It’s part of why I’m engaging with it as vociferously as I am now. When I love something, I want to devour everything I can get my hands on related to that thing. My rec list is as long as my arm and getting longer every day. If I could drop everything to read, watch, and listen to all the LGBT content I’ve missed over the years, I would. But I can’t. I have other interests and things to do—work, my business, writing my sci-fi novel, writing for Fandom Following—that prevent me from dropping everything to get caught up to a place where I can speak about LGBT media with the legitimacy of someone who has been here for years.
Not that I think people believe I’m not legitimate. Except, to be honest, sometimes it feels that way, like I’m too new to have a voice. I haven’t suffered enough or experienced enough homophobia to really know what it’s like. Thankfully, only a few people online have made me feel this way (and that’s what the block function is for), but still. I’m scared sometimes that if people find out I’m a newcomer, I’ll be shamed or silenced. That I’ll be told I’m not a legitimate member of this community because it hasn’t impacted my life the way it has others. Being a bi woman married to a man only enhances the fear, as there are segments of the LGBT community who believe that someone like me does not belong.
All that to say that this is a complicated world I’m navigating, and I’m doing my best. I ‘eavesdrop’ on conversations on social media and try to really listen before I engage. I ask questions when I need to; I ask for recs when I’m feeling swamped by too many choices. I ship what I ship and write fic when I’m inspired. I don’t let people police my involvement, investment, or interests. I let it be alright that I’m on the fringes in certain communities because for me being involved and learning to better love and enjoy myself matters more to me than having the best or last words in a conversation. I keep diving, keep daring. Why? Because despite the complications, LGBT fandoms can be some of the most beautiful, joyful, life-giving communities online. I’m happy here, and I’ve made some amazing friends that I would never have made elsewhere.
A New Purpose
I’ve learned a lot in the past year, and I had a tough learning curve. I was thrown in head first after Lexa’s death, which is what pulled me in deep enough that I’m going to be a panelist at a ClexaCon on the Ethics of Storytelling for LGBT stories. I have engagements to speak to two different groups in my area about the importance of LGBT representation in media, as well as how I came to be critiquing media in general and writing about LGBT media specifically. I’m writing a sci-fi novel with a lesbian protagonist and one of my goals is to publish sci-fi and fantasy with LGBT protagonists. My first fanfic in literally years is a Supergirl femslash, and I’ve already gotten a request to translate it into Italian. Somehow, this ‘fandom’ thing got to be my life, and I love it.
I want to make space for stories I would have wanted/needed as a young person to more fully understand myself. Like Supergirl, I don’t want others to struggle the way I have. I did not have to wrestle with my identity as a teen or twenty-something. My challenge was in not even knowing myself for who I really was. It’s a shocking experience and sometimes an alienating one, and I don’t want anyone to suffer that way. That’s why I’m here and why I’m staying. For all its challenges, I’m thankful for LGBT fandoms I belong to because they’ve given me myself and a purpose. I wouldn’t change that for the world.
Coming Soon: Fandomentals+ Subscription Service
As we rapidly approach the middle of 2018, it’s hard for us to believe that The Fandomentals has been running strong for a couple of years. We owe that all to our readers, and the experience has been absolutely incredible, at least as far as we editors are concerned.
We’ve really tried to build something unique here—a place where thoughtful, and even over-zealous analysis of media is valued, and where people feel safe to engage in debating various aspects of the things we watch and read. We are truly humbled and pleased to find that others value as well, since we continue to grow every day.
We’re also well aware that we owe every drop of success to our contributors. We adore the team we’ve built and without their hard work and dedication, we’d have given up a long time ago. While we’re encouraged to see readership steadily climb, it’s simply not fast enough for us to get to a point where we can offer compensation to our writers, and that’s something we’re eager to correct.
We debated many options: do we gate popular articles behind a paywall? Do we begin pushing video content that could be monetized? Ultimately, we realized that we truly don’t want the experience for our readers to be altered in any way. So here’s the good news: if you want to keep on keepin’ in, visiting our site, reading articles, commenting, and listening to podcasts…you’ll be able to do just that, with no pressure to do otherwise.
However, we are also opening up a second tier with an optional subscription: Fandomentals+. Similar to Patreon, we’re going to have perks available to those who are able to contribute $3 each month. What are these perks exactly? Well…
- A twice-monthly Fandomentals+ only editor podcast
- 10% discount on all store items
- Your credit with the name of your choosing on our upcoming Supporters Page and a shoutout on the podcast of your choice (The Fandomentals, Ladies First, or Beneath the Screen of the Ultra-Critics)
- A once-monthly live hang-out of some kind, such as a YouTube Q&A session, a Google Hangouts voice call, a live movie viewing, or a Twitch stream
- An exclusive monthly article by an editor
Sure, this may not exactly set the world on fire, but we hope it’s fairly reasonable for the price of one small latte a month. Plus, you have the knowledge that you’re helping to support the effort behind the pieces you’ve been enjoying here.
Whether you choose to support us or not, we want to let you know that we appreciate you just coming here in the first place. We really feel like we’ve made a great home in this odd little slice of the internet, and we look forward to continuing on into this next exciting chapter.
In the coming days, we will be migrating to a new commenting system. During The Fandomentals’ time of operation, we have used Disqus as our commenting system, and our commenters have registered on their network. Due to our growth, and the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) standards, we will be switching to a locally hosted commenting system powered by wpDiscuz that will better position the Fandomentals to both comply with the GDPR regulations, as well as provide a better experience for our users.
While we are excited about our new system, we want to make you aware of the need to create a new account to comment, and also post a notice that we will unfortunately not be able to carry your old comment discussions over.
We thank you for your understanding as we continue working to make The Fandomentals experience as optimized for our users as possible.
Fandom Resolutions for the New Year
2017 is finally rolling to a close. I can’t recall making any resolutions at the time, though frankly just surviving the year was a feat in and of itself. Remember the Hollywood sign edits and Winona Ryder gifs from the SAGs? Yeah, those were both this year. Heck, “Right in front of my salad?” isn’t even five months old.
However, 2018 seems like the perfect time for renewed optimism and at least a vague attempt at self-betterment. The most popular resolutions are about saving money and getting regular exercise. But for those of us around here, much of our time is spent online, engaging with media and fandoms. So why not strive to be the best versions of ourselves we can be in this space?
Below are the 10 fandom resolutions for the coming year. Nothing is a requirement at all, of course, and this is not meant to be taken as an “all or nothing” list. Even within each point, there’s shades of grey. After all, fandom is a fun space first and foremost.
1. “I resolve to have my mind changed about a piece of media.”
On the surface, this may be a strange resolution to make. First of all, our opinions are our opinions, and our reactions to media are our reactions. There’s nothing inherently wrong with making up our minds about something.
Secondly, not everyone’s argument is going to be compelling. I’ve read essays pontificating on the massive intellect of Game of Thrones’s scripts, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be wooed. So resolving to have your mind changed by someone else’s writing, which likely doesn’t even exist yet, does sound like setting yourself up for failure.
Except…we all have to admit that we don’t have perfect opinions on things, right? That our reads of situations are heavily a result of our own unique backgrounds, and interacting with competing interpretations challenges ourselves to look outside that frame of reference? I’m not saying that in 2018 we have to start loving a piece of media we formerly hated, or vice versa. But at least once, maybe we can see an aspect in a different light. Maybe one of our judgements we made about a “useless” character will fall flat after reading someone’s case for why they were so compelled.
Heck, just the comment section alone on my last piece changed my mind about the possibility of a Kylo Ren redemption arc in Episode IX working out. Even if my underlying penchant is the same, I can at least see a path where the other direction could work.
We know and feel what we know and feel. But that’s true for everyone we interact with as well. Let’s try and listen to each other more in 2018.
2. “I resolve to read books—at least one, but more would be nifty—written by someone other than a white cishet man.”
A variation of this could also be, “I resolve to read books starring nonwhite/cishet male characters.”
This…shouldn’t be a challenge. However, I am personally an abysmal reader when it comes to fictional books, so if I’m going to resolve to read something, it might as well be by an author whose voice would not naturally be leveraged.
Gretchen is actually the reason this resolution exists, since her 2017 resolution was not just to read a book by a non-white-cishet man, but to only read books filling that criteria. (If I commit to this, Winds of Winter will have to be an exception. Resolutions need to be feasible, after all.) She was quite successful in this endeavor, and even compiled a list of Sci Fi and fantasy books by women and POC that had been recommended to her, so that we can all use it. Thanks, buddy!
3. “I resolve to differentiate between actors and characters.”
Part of the reason fandom is fun is because of the passion we feel when we’re really invested in a piece of media. However, this passion can often…get the better of us.
Championing a character can often lead to championing an actor portraying them, though it’s important to remember that the latter is a human doing their job. Likewise, the actor is not responsible for what happens to their character. Also, actors are fallible—very fallible. They have a very public platform and inherently are in an advantaged position, but to expect perfect commentary that’s completely keyed into current fandom dialogues isn’t realistic.
Hopefully, this is a no-brainer resolution. But if there’s something actionable you want to do to drive it home, I recommend some kind of positivity post about an actor. Bonus points if it’s for an actor of a character you don’t like! Just something that says, “Hey. This is a good job portraying this character that makes me feel emotions, and I appreciate having that.”
4. “I resolve to engage with a new piece of media.”
I feel like a lot of people will laugh at this one, because there’s always new media. There’s always game releases, and movies in theaters, and comic books coming out. But then at the same time, there’s pieces of media you’ve likely held off on watching, despite hearty recommendations. Even in the case of something you pick up, have you checked out its fandom at all?
Maybe you’ll hate it. Maybe you’ll hate what The Discourse™ surrounding it is. However at the end of the day, we’ll never lose out by trying to broaden our horizons.
So yes, I’ll finally check out The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in 2018, okay? Okay.
5. “I resolve to make a purchase at my local comic book shop or small-scale bookshop, if available.”
This is a very region-dependent one. I understand that there’s some places where local comic book shops simply don’t exist. Yet if you live near one, try to check it out. I know that as a woman who is new to reading comics, I was overwhelmed by the idea, especially given the gatekeepery reputation I had heard about. This was not made better by the fact that my first interaction was calling to reserve North and South Part 3, a comic for ages 8+.
But, you know. It’s a shop. The guy who worked there was really knowledgeable and actually seemed excited when I explained why it was that I was buying this volume and how I had really disliked the one that came before it. I tend towards small-talk when I feel awkward, but even this hadn’t been necessary at all. Then I got an iced coffee and called it a day.
Go. Browse. There’s sure to be something of interest there, and sometimes nothing can beat holding that physical copy. Also, if you choose a tiny bookstore, the finds are sure to be amazing.
6. “I resolve to participate in one new area of transformative fandom that I never have before.”
Transformative fandom is large and encompassing. Fic! Fanart! Cosplay! It’s admittedly daunting to wade into this if you’re new to it, but once you try, it’s surprisingly easy. For one, all you have to do is try something new. You don’t have to be good at it. It could be as minimal as relettering a panel of a comic with a silly quote, if that’s something you’ve never tried before.
Just try to make it something. For me, I know that while I’ve been writing fic for a bit, I’ve never tried AU or crossover premises. Even canon-divergence makes me break out in a mild rash. But in 2018, I’m challenging myself to at least do a one-off that fits this criteria. Unless, of course, my Legend of Korra political cartoonist career really takes off.
7. “I resolve to go to the movie theater alone at least once (if financially/physically feasible).”
I saw The Last Jedi alone. I mentioned this to someone, who gasped and said, “I could never do that.” Taking yourself out to a restaurant alone, I somewhat understand. Going to a movie? It never even occurred to me that this could be a challenge.
So go! Try it out! Hell, bring a notepad and scribble things down in the dark. You think I was able to memorize the bathroom break scenes or something? I promise that it’s actually a pretty fun experience. You don’t have to justify your movie snacks to anyone but yourself, and afterwards you have time to sit and be with your own thoughts. You can also select the viewing time that works the best for you. I personally love 9 AM showings, since that’s when I’m awake and feeling best.
It’s a completely judgement-free way to enjoy a film, and getting lost in it becomes easier when you’re not worrying about anyone else. Don’t get me wrong: going with friends is really fun. But to me, going to the movies alone is kind of like taking yourself out to dinner, only without any social stigmatization. Because it’s dark in there, so who cares.
8. “I resolve to leave a comment on the fics I read—ideally every single one.”
I know this is an ambitious one, especially since it’s so easy to consume so many fics. Also, there are times when you start a fic (or even finish it), and…boy, it was just not good. There are also times you read a fic in an incognito tab, and perhaps would rather not advertise this as your choice in material.
However, fic writers work very hard. And from what I’ve personally experienced, as well as heard from others, any comment is appreciated. So if it’s within reason for you to comment on a fic, try to. You can always offer constructive criticism if you weren’t super sweet on it, or just leave it with something shorter and more specific. “I liked the way you described X’s hair in Chapter Y.” There’s usually some aspect that would have worked for you.
My own challenge is to say something on every chapter I read, since I know when I post mine, I check my inbox with baited breath. We write fics to be read. Give a little something in 2018 towards that.
9. “I resolve to check out one new fandom podcast.”
This is a resolution that can be knocked out January 2nd, likely in under an hour.
There are no shortages of fandom podcasts. None. Is there a show or movie where you think hearing people talk about it might make a commute or workout go faster? Good. Search for that in your podcast app, and pick the one with the logo you like the best. There’s even a search engine for it if you’d rather, which can be sorted by date and by episode or podcast.
Finding a podcast that’s right for you is a very personal thing. But when you hit it, it can really make you look forward to normal drudgery. Just put one on for 20 minutes; worst thing is, you’re back to not listening to it.
10. “I resolve to walk away from at least one fandom fight.”
I don’t know if this is a resolution you need. I also think there’s a fine line between ‘fandom disagreement’ and ‘fandom fight.’ However, at least once this year, I am resolving to not engage in a situation where things are, or might get, acrimonious. It could be not answering an ask on my Tumblr, or just letting someone get the last word in a forum thread rather than crafting another response.
The real trick is to get it out of your mind. But once you realize that your input is just…not required in any way, shape, or form, it allows for online debate to feel less exhausting.
There’s the list. Now truly, the only real fandom resolution anyone needs is to listen. There’s a person behind every great—and terrible—opinion you read, and it’s important to stay mindful of that. So let’s do what we can to make our 2018 fandom participation as fun and fresh as possible.