What fandom has taught me

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been active in fandom for half my life – by ‘active’, I mean writing fic, writing essays, doing geek crafts and interacting with other fans. Creating content almost as much as I consume it.

My level of involvement has changed over the years, depending on what’s going off in my offline life, how much I’m inspired by what I’m watching/reading, and how active other fans around me are. But fandom has been a constant, and even today as I pass another milestone on the road to turning 40, I still feel like my life would be drastically different without fandom. I’ve learned a lot from fandom, and I’d like to share a little bit of that learning today.

There is no single right way to enjoy something

Fandom bestows a degree of respect on those who collect information. The fans who can name every episode of a series and recite the plot; the fans who map out multiple plots and character arcs; the fans who own every issue of a comic or read every chapter of a manga series as it comes out. At the other end of the scale, those who don’t know much about a text because they’re new to the fandom or because they’re a casual fan who dips in when they have the time seem to get the opposite treatment. There are plenty of stories from people who’ve been intimidated by a fandom (or a single fan) for owning up to not knowing the lore and wanting directions for where to start.

Likewise, fans who create content sometimes get to be BNFs (is that still a thing? Big Name Fan?). And being someone who only writes the odd drabble or doodles characters on post-its can feel like maybe you’re not trying hard enough. But creating content requires time and skill and sometimes money, and we all have those things in varying amounts. You can write, draw, make, talk, as much or as little as is feasible for you. You are still a fan if you’ve never created content of your own, if you don’t have the time to invest in creating detailed artwork, or if your cosplay was store-bought or if you don’t even cosplay at all.

It is absolutely okay to be a casual fan. It is okay to dip in, try something out to see if you like it, and even change your mind and drop something. It is okay to wear merch if it makes you happy, just as you can be a fan without buying merch at all. Fandom will always have hierarchies, because that’s how people are, but no one should feel bad because their interest in something isn’t as visible as someone else’s.

As long as your fan experiences don’t hurt you or anyone else, you can fan however you want.

Internet friends are real friends

The relationships we find online are every bit as important to us as the ones we have offline. Positive comments on stories I’ve posted make me just as happy as compliments I may hear in person. I’ve had online friendships that have carried over into real life, and even become romantic relationships. Don’t let anyone convince you that the people you talk to about your favourite anime or book or whatever don’t count as friends.

That being said, online friendships can also have the same negative repercussions as offline friendships. Harsh words and miscommunications still hurt, and someone’s offline personality can be totally different from how they seem online. Online friendships still take work to maintain over time, and some friendships will fade away just like offline ones do. If you find an online friendship is becoming difficult to maintain, you should decide whether you want to put in the work to maintain it or whether you should say, ‘It’s getting hard to keep in touch because I think we don’t have as much in common anymore’.

You absolutely can shape someone else’s fandom experience.

Back in my earliest days of fandom, I became something of a BNF in a small fandom. I was a prolific fic writer, I was very active in our one message board, and I was one of the first to write slash fic for the fandom (this was back in about 2001 when slash wasn’t as mainstream and was still very icky for a lot of fans). About a year in, someone else joined the fandom who was quite vocal about their dislike of slash. At the time, I thought I was speaking up for LGBT+ rep, but in hindsight I know I was actually becoming a bit of a bully. Along with my friends in the fandom, I said mean things and had a laugh at that fan’s expense. Having been excluded from just about every social thing in my life before joining fandom, to suddenly be on the inside of a group with the power to exclude someone else was a thrilling experience. Looking back, I know now that this particular fan just had no prior experience of interacting with LGBT+ people and had never encountered positive LGBT+ rep, whereas my friends and I were all either openly queer or would come out later while they were in that fandom. I honestly regret the way I treated that fan, and I have made every effort to not treat another fan like that.

The things you do and say to other fans absolutely has an impact on their experience. You can be a welcoming fan who guides someone through a new fandom and directs them to helpful links and resources, or you can be the dick who bullies newbies because they don’t know their way around. Don’t be the dick.

You don’t have to monetise your joy

Some fan artists make money from their work. Some cosplayers land paying gigs. Some fic writers become pro authors. And some don’t.

If fandom is something you do for fun, you don’t have to give in to the pressure to make it your job. Sure, it can be great to make a living from something creative, but it’s not an obligation. People who have regular day-jobs and keep their fandom activities for fun are just as valid as the fans who turn pro. Fandom has hierarchies, because that’s how people are, but the fan who writes the occasional drabble or doodles characters on post-its is as much a part of the fandom as the writer who gets to be on con panels or the artist who gets recognised by the original content creators.

Your art can be your calling without being the thing that pays your bills. Your fandom can be the fun thing you take part in on weekends while you serve coffee or sell insurance during the week. You don’t have to pay rent in fandom.

Let people like what they like

So apparently the subs vs. dubs debate has resurfaced. As if people haven’t watched a dubbed anime since 2003. I’m not going to weigh in, because even though I might have an opinion one way or another, it doesn’t matter. I like what I like, and I let people like what they like.

I’ve never cared for ‘One Piece’ or ‘Naruto’ or ‘Bleach’. Yet somehow they’re still incredibly successful franchises! Why is that, when I don’t like them?

It’s because my opinion on something is irrelevant to anyone else. I can like what I like, and it makes no difference to what anyone else likes. You liking a thing does not take anything away from what I like. We can debate whether a show has good representation, whether a script is effective or whether a scene is well animated. But you can still like something I don’t, and that’s fine.

As long as your fandom activities don’t hurt you or anyone else, you can like whatever you want, and you should let other fans do the same.

Fandom should be fun

I was going to put this first because it ought to be obvious, but then I realised that some people still treat fandom like it’s life or death. People still get caught up in shipping wars, and still bully other fans for their opinions, and still risk their mental and physical health over art and fic.

We need people to call out toxic behaviour in fandom, but that’s a big responsibility. If fandom is making you unhappy or unhealthy, it’s just as okay to walk away. Likewise, if you just don’t get the same enjoyment from a fandom as you used to, it’s okay to move on to something else. Some people stick with one fandom forever ,and some people have a new favourite show every season. Your fandom experience is yours to define. Two years ago, ‘Yuri On Ice’ was the best thing that ever happened to me. In 2019, I’m living for ‘Sarazanmai’. I still read the odd bit of YOI fic and have some gorgeous fan art of it up on my wall, but my interests have moved on.

If you’re a content creator for fun, you don’t owe fandom anything. You can give up on a fic if you’ve lost interest. You can go six months between posting chapters. It’s your hobby. If it’s not paying your bills, then it’s not the end of the world if you take a break.

Equally, fandom doesn’t owe you anything. Let other creators take a break. Let them post the work that interests them. Don’t pester someone for updates or sequels: appreciate the work that people care to do, and remember that it’s their hobby as well.

Fandom can be your calling, but professional fans aren’t automatically better people than casual fans. We’re in fandom because it’s fun. If you feel you have to keep going even though it hurts, then you have a problem. When the fun stops, stop.

Fandom has been a big part of my life for the past twenty years. I’d like to say it’ll stay that way for the next twenty, but I honestly don’t know. I want to value the fandom experiences I’ve had, and I’ll keep going as long as it’s fun. Fandom has inspired me, helped me develop my creativity, kept me going when real life was getting me down, and still brings me joy after all this time. I’ll keep that for as long as I can.

How about you? How has fandom changed your life? I’d love to hear from other Fans Of A Certain Age about your fandom experiences and what fandom has taught you. Comment, or come find me on Tumblr and Twitter!

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