Shippers, and Tumblrs, and GIFs! Oh, my!

This is how I put it two weeks ago, over on Tumblr.

Oh, fandom…

…you sucked me in so hard.

I feel like I hit on something that I didn’t even know I missed and it keeps waking me up on so many levels. And I’m so, so late to the party, and the conversations that happen don’t involve me, and when I say stuff it goes unanswered, and I feel like I need to do some spectacularly awesome shit to get noticed and welcomed, but then what do you do when other people have had years to do the spectacular and awesome stuff long before you (and have indeed done it in ways that blow my mind and crash my heart again and again), and really I’m just terribly impatient because I want to belong so hard.

So I spend hours and hours and hours trying to gobble up enough knowledge of fanalysis and meta to be able to understand what people are saying, to see the connections, to learn the new language that is fanspeak (and Tumblr-speak), to offer a comment here and there that I so hope is not stupid and yawn-worthy in the hope that someone might notice it, to enter into a dialogue where someone actually says something back to me.

And I know it takes time and that doing the work is just how it goes. But you know how it is when you found something that makes you say YES YES YES OH MY GOD YES all over, and it just slammed smack into that soft place you almost forgot you even had, and it hurts but in a good way, and it makes stuff pour out, and you can’t sleep because of all the THOUGHTS (and let’s not forget the FEELS. Let’s not ever forget the FEELS), and you just want to jump into it and hold it and not be mature and sensible and wait until later?


That, fandom, is how I feel right now.

But there’s more to say, of course.

Because only a few days later, conversations were happening. And I didn’t do any crazy spectacular shit to make that happen, except tell a few people they hit a nerve or sparked a bunch of brain cells with what they wrote and keep putting my own thoughts out there. Apparently, it’s not that difficult to be welcomed into the Glee/Klaine fandom.

So now I’m thinking about being a fan. Because, you see, I’ve never been one before. At least not in this way, as part of a fandom.

Sure, during my teens in the 1980s I had some popstar posters up on my wall, and eventually a few punk band t-shirts in my wardrobe, but I don’t remember ever being seriously all over anyone or anything. On the contrary, the kind of fan behavior that was described to me in youth magazines (screaming, fainting, holding up signs that said “I love you, [celebrity name]!” or collecting autographs) seemed pretty silly most of the time. Perhaps I saw through the whole media machine around stars very early on. Or perhaps I was just a bit more cynical than others my age. At any rate, I never wanted to meet a star for a minute or three just to be able to say I met them. My fan relationship to the stars I liked was very solitary and all-in-my-head, and it mostly consisted of fantasizing that the male stars I liked would be my boyfriends and dreaming that I would one day be as cool and desirable as the female stars I liked (because apparently there wasn’t a single real boy around who thought that I was girlfriend material).

Things changed at age sixteen when I became majorly obsessed with The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show, an obsession that lasted for several years (and I still have flare-ups of it quite regularly). I have recently told the story about being in the Rocky Horror Show when we did it as a school play in 1989 and in another Rocky Horror production that ran for almost a year at a semi-professsional theater about two years later. The entire Rocky Horror experience turned out to be basically the foundation upon which I built an idea of my body as an erotic and powerful thing (instead of an awkward and undesirable one) and a rather early, matter-of-fact acceptance of many strange desires (even if I only discovered most of my own strange desires much later). This fan experience was a little less solitary than the previous ones because I had a best friend who shared my obsession at a slightly lesser degree and who found Tim Curry as Frank N. Furter as hot as I did. And I had a bunch of fellow actors who also spent a lot of time with that story and these characters in our minds and bodies. Thus, shitloads of improvised role-playing went on among us between arriving at school/the theater to put on costumes and make-up and going on stage, or after the show before we had fully transitioned back into our everyday selves. There was a lot of blurring of the boundaries between characters and people, and it was exciting, melodramatic, hot, silly, heartbreaking, and probably rather unprofessional. And I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

But, see, we had no Internet. We only had libraries and footnotes in books and a little bit of merchandise like librettos and comic books and trading cards that had found their way to Germany. And the first Rocky Horror Picture Show VHS came out in 1990, when video was still very expensive and having a VCR was still the exception. So we had to wait for the movie to be shown at a cinema (and there were no weekly screenings anywhere near where I lived) or student club, aired on TV and otherwise make do with the vinyl record that had the entire film complete with audience participation callbacks (there are some RHPS quotes that remain part of my active vocabulary to this day). That meant that learning all the nuances and tidbits and details that fans obsess about happened rather slow, but it also was a huge event to find (out) something, anything new back then. Since I was really very obsessed, I even dreamed of joining the RHPS fan club, but it was based in New York, and what was the point of that when I was in Germany, so I never sent in my application letter with my lovingly handdrawn RHPS title font on the envelope. In short: this fan/fandom experience was slow, and very local, and still rather solitary, especially after the plays had ended.

The next relevant fan experience happened when I came across Tribe 8 and other queercore bands in my mid-twenties, which resulted in yet another mostly solitary fixation. This one was mostly about keeping me sane in an environment that kept telling me that people like me didn’t exist and that I therefore couldn’t exist, either, at least not as what I declared myself to be then. It also helped with the intense loneliness I experienced during some of those years due to being “the only one like me.” At times I felt like I existed solely on a few records and a handful of zines. And even years later, when I heard Tribe 8 were splitting up, I cried my heart out like I had been suddenly left by an enourmously important soulmate and seriously considered flying over the Atlantic solely to see their last show with money I didn’t really have.

After that, I got a taste of secondhand collective fandom when my Beloved started writing Harry Potter slash and spent a lot of time interacting in the respective fandom. I did a bit of beta-ing on some of his stories and ended up liking all things Harry Potter a lot better than I originally did (which only goes to prove that things often get a lot more interesting if only you look at them closely enough). In fact, I even started to find Alan Rickman as Snape hot because of the way my Beloved had written him (okay, that and Rickman’s voice). And I say that as someone who usually doesn’t count (cis)men among the objects of her desire. Anyhow, that’s when I learned about the fanfiction community, and fanvideos and fanart and GIFs and all these things. My punk-grown, DIY heart was of course delighted about all of this, even though I didn’t participate in this community myself (apart from reading some great stories that only deepened my fascination for Snape and Snarry and enriched every subsequent reading of the books or watching of the movies).

And now, after a long break from anything even remotely fannish, there’s Glee. Over which I stumbled by way of an email with a YouTube link to “Teenage Dream” sung by the Warblers. Without any previous awareness of the existence of either Glee or the song, I immediately read it as the beginning of a love story that I just knew I had to find out more about. So I started watching the old episodes and kept doing so, mostly for Kurt (and Blaine). At first, Glee was just something nice to watch after long and frustrating work days. After a while it started nudging that dream of overcoming my fear of singing in earnest when someone else could hear me. And then I somehow stumbled across Letters from Titan with its brilliant and detailed fanalysis of Glee in general and Kurt and Blaine in particular, and had my mind blown wide open by it. Then there were other thinky blogs about Glee (such as Deconstructing Glee or Don’t Turn It Off! or Biyuti) that blew it open even further. And then there was Tumblr and I started participating by reblogging other people’s posts with my own comments or publishing little bits of my unfinished thoughts and random observations as I watched the whole series for a second time.

So, in the last three weeks, I obsessed about several scenes involving Kurt and Blaine, watched them over and over again, examined my multiple identifications with Kurt, searched for details of wardrobes and set dressings, read lots of thinky posts that made me think in return, and was extraordinarily touched moved by all of it. Which was much intensified by finally having an actual fan community that was accessible for me in real-time (if only virtually) to share these things with. There were other people who shared my obsessions, people who liked my posts, people who reblogged my stuff and started following me, people who told me they appreciated my thinking. There was communication, and exchange, and I was floored by the effect it had on me. Because, as you have seen, this is totally a first for me (did I mention I’ll be forty next year?). And then Ryan Murphy got Twitter and released the Kurt/Blaine box scene and I was there to witness all the madness of fandom that went with it. And it was glorious.

I still feel very late to the party, especially since some people seem to be ready to de-obsess about Glee already, now that season 4 is around the corner. While I am still giving myself a learning-by-doing crash course in using Tumblr (next lesson: how to be at peace with NOT reading every single new post on my dashboard), catching up on all most many of the wonderfully thinky blog posts that have already been written about Glee, and slowly exploring the world of fanfiction to see what kinds I click with and why. In other words, I have only just started as a fan in this fandom, although I can tell that the first surge of madness is ebbing a little. Which is probably good because there are things I need to do, and I can only keep up such intense emotions for so long before I need a break. And they usually return pretty soon anyway.

And this is really what fandom, to me, is all about: unapologetic, shameless emotionality. Squees and feels and asdflfdkgjdljig. Unrestrained gushing, squealing, and flailing. Sitting in front of a computer screen, watching/reading something, crying about it, and telling the world. And I finally get why this is such a glorious thing. And of course that’s also why fan culture of this kind is so often so much ridiculed and assumed to be something only teenage girls engage in. But that’s sexism (and ageism) for you, and people who have no idea what they’re missing. And I’m soooo glad that I’m not one of them anymore.