The first time I was distinctly aware of being part of a “fandom”, I was 12 and writing Sherlock Holmes fanfiction.
It didn’t happen immediately, and certainly not overnight. To begin with, I was always writing, and had been, as long as I could remember. I started with my old school notebooks, stories scribbled in margins and in stolen hours during school. At that time, I wasn’t aware of anyone else doing this – in my head, it was just little old me, and my notebook, and my stories.
Of course, I knew I wasn’t the only person in the world writing about Sherlock Holmes. I, however, thought I was the only one in the world writing about them like that. You know.
Yes, the most cliché introduction to the world of fandom: the queer one.
I got to the Internet late; by the time I did, most of the kids my age already had MySpace and Orkut and I completely missed that particular wave of social media. What I slipped into instead, were spaces that rewarded anonymity, but also something else: art. Writing, for example.
Richard Seymour writes in The Twittering Machine: “Never before in human history have people written so much, so frantically: texting, tweeting, thumb-typing on public transport…” I’m inclined to agree with him. Writing, the very art of text, is the bedrock of the Internet, or so I believe. It definitely was the bedrock of how I began. Because my story of being a part of the fandom is intrinsically tied with my story of being part of a fandom.
It started with Livejournal and Fanfiction.net. In 2021, it has shifted to whole new spaces, of course: Archive of Our Own (AO3), Tumblr, even spaces like Twitter and YouTube. But when I wrote and posted my very first fanfic, I was 14 and browsing through Fanfiction.net.
FF.net might seem dated now, but back in 2004, it was what most of the fandom had access to. I still remember squinting beady-eyed at the screen and blearily scrolling through pages and pages of blue links on white, early in the morning, as I checked to see if my favourite authors had updated their stories or if there were any new comments on mine.
When I began, it seemed like I was sending my writing into a void – after all, I was just a random teenager writing on the Internet – but that was soon proved untrue. I became part of a small collection of writers who wrote stories, tagged each other, responded to each other’s stories. It never occurred to me then to wonder how old they were; many years later I realised how much younger I was than them. But reading their stories was an eye-opener: stories about deep friendship, about love, about things and places and actions I hadn’t even imagined. Couldn’t even imagine.
And that was my first taste of a fandom.
I diversified, of course. Often through my newfound friends. I began to read more widely, and through that, entered different fandoms. I began to read manga (japanese comics) and immediately found a genre that has now become common parlance in fandoms over the world: BL (Boys’ Love) or yaoi. And here’s where things got, dare I say, interesting.
The stereotypical image of any fandom is probably a bunch of fangirls feverishly writing about their favourite gay romances. “Shipping” is the common term. I contest this idea, but only on the grounds that I discovered fandoms to be spaces with a great deal of diversity of thought (and infighting!). While “shipping” is hugely popular in fandoms, there were also spaces for character.
But what I won’t do is contest fandom’s association with sex and sexuality: it is true that, at least for me, for a long time the very idea of fandoms themselves were intricately tied up with not only the Internet (the space where I accessed ‘it’) but also the idea of sex, sexuality and being a sexuality.
To be clear: fandoms are a great deal more than that. They have to be, simply because of the extremely wide spectrum of people who inhabit them. They are worlds alive with possibilities: of genders, sexualities, relationships, families and so much more. And that’s just scratching the surface.
For me, in the beginning at least, my journey in fandoms was tied up in sex and sexuality. I could see myself as a sexual being, devoid (as much as is possible) of a great deal of the trappings of my life and expectations. I wrote a great deal during this time and also received a great deal back. I’m not going to pretend all of it was brilliant, but there was an exchange happening, which helped me begin to know myself: who I was and what I wanted.
It’s funny that a country like India, with the world’s largest youth population, somehow does not have space for young people to be, simply put, young. The ‘loitering’ of young people, especially young women, in public spaces like parks is increasingly frowned upon, bolstered by the increasing numbers of patriarchal gatekeepers like the ‘anti-Romeo squads’. There’s little space for young people to explore, to learn about each other, the world, about themselves. Is it any wonder that I fled and found all of these things in fandoms?
Also have to note, I have a lot of privilege here – after a certain point, I had a great deal of unfettered access to the Internet where (sadly) a large amount of such fandoms existed. And in my case, the fandoms I interacted with were almost wholly English-speaking. Just by dint of this, they become inaccessible spaces for many.
I can’t escape that. But my experience of being a part of a fandom has been exciting. For the first time in my life, I found myself in a limitless world, seemingly able to throw any question out there and receive answers from people as interested and excited about the same things as I was. As willing to stay up late in the night to passionately debate details and stories and intricacies of things I would have thought nobody else but I cared about.
And so much of this work, this art, was available so widely and willingly! So much of what we get in the world is a contract – I pay you, you give me this. I pay for a ticket, I watch a movie. I work all day, I get a salary. This contract seems to be non-existent when it comes to fandoms. I read gorgeous, novel-length stories for hours, freely available. I wrote too, simply for the joy of writing, of putting out stories about the things I and these other people cared about, unbothered about anything other than what the stories had to say. I marvel at this, even now.
Fandoms are defined by this: the joy of the sharing of art and storytelling among communities. This is not to say fandoms are perfect: just like people, they can be toxic or problematic or any number of things. But, at their core, they are created out of a sense of shared love and passion and this shows.
Fandoms nurtured my love of art and writing, lent me the space and people to explore who I was and could be, let me ask the questions I was too afraid to ask the adults around me, and just simply let me be who I was. And as cheesy as it’s going to sound, fandoms really are about love – and that simple thing, by itself, is remarkable.
Cover Image: Youtube