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On Fangirling and Carrying On

…Or Fandom, Nostalgia and Coming Out as a Fanfiction Writer

A lot can come to mind when the word “fangirl” is used. You may see images of rabid teenage girls; nerdy girls gushing on YouTube; or perhaps even a book that was written by Rainbow Rowell in 2013. None of these give you a clear definition of what exactly a fangirl is, though, or why it is often said with a sneer. Well, let’s go to Dictonary.com for an actual definition:

“Fangirl [fan-gurl]

Noun, Informal: Often Disparaging.

  1. An obsessive female fan, especially of something technological or from popular culture”

Wait… “often disparaging?” Well, ouch. No wonder I so often feel shame about admitting to being a fangirl. If I was not a fangirl, however, I never would have met some of my best friends. Without fanfiction and fandoms, my life would be very different.

I have been conditioned to feel shame for not only reading but also writing fanfiction. Yes, it is true. I, who am so totally cool, have written fanfiction. Not only have I written fanfiction, but I was also in an elite group of girls who wrote together. Before I go any further, though, I should probably explain what fanfiction is and why I would be hesitant to talk about it.

Fanfiction, or fanfic, is a fictional account written by a fan of a popular television show, book, movie or video game. Usually, it is used to explore themes that the original medium is not exploring. When I first started writing with my friends, it was back in the early 2000s, so we mostly wrote about what would happen if characters fashioned after us were placed in our favorite stories. Ah yes, back when original characters (OCs) were still considered novel and even encouraged.

Now, people groan at OCs, since so many of them have been written as “perfect” and/or overly magical versions of the writer. For example, my character in our Harry Potter fanfic was the daughter of Sirius Black, an American exchange student, with purple hair, who wore combat boots with her robes and ended up marrying Draco Malfoy. It didn’t seem so hard to imagine different endings for Harry Potter back then, since we were living in a magical time before the final book was published. The world was our oyster and the only thing that stood in our way was our imagination.

Our story starts, like all good adventures should, in a library. I had just begun volunteering in my high school library when a girl with curly red hair came in yelling to our librarian. I tried to hide behind a Scholastic Harry Potter display because I was new and shy (also, she was kind of intimidating, and would probably want it to be noted that she still is). I was spotted and it was discovered that I liked Harry Potter and we became friends. I hung out with her a little bit before she broached the idea of me writing with her and her friend. I looked them up online and read everything they had written. I was was more than a little nervous about the prospect of writing with two such talented people. At our first meeting, another author, who happened to be the main editor, looked me up and down like she was going to eat me for breakfast.

We added two other people to our group during the next school year. We shared a love of Harry Potter, anime, music and Anne Rice. The confidence and security I got from not only writing but also from just being with these girls was astounding. By the time I graduated, our group had grown and we had become a family. They are the first people I go to when I have a problem. They are the ones that I share the most jokes with. I am certain I would not be who I am without them. I didn’t fit in; not in the greater school or in my family at the time. I cannot discuss fandom without thinking of them. That is why I am always baffled by the flippant way that some people discuss fandom and “fangirls.” Fangirls are my family. Fangirls have saved my life.

I have been thinking about how true that last sentence is since I picked up Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell a few years ago. That book brought back so many memories; memories of my high school days, but mostly memories of college. I was a lot like Cath; so much so that I had to put the book down multiple times. At one point, a friend of mine found me with my head down, arms over it and the book slewn nearby. It was almost too much to be thrown back to that place during my Freshman year when I could hardly navigate my way through the dark and choppy waters of new adulthood.

Thankfully, I met other fangirls. I made friends with people who loved musicals and fantasy; girls who marathoned Lord of the Rings; girls who had long discussions about the values of different Hogwarts houses and where we belonged; girls who wanted to be Jedi or Superheroes; girls who loved horror movies and zombies as much as I did; and girls who loved talking history and politics.

These girls were there when I was given news that changed a lot for me. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety during my first semester. I was scared, mostly, because of the concerns of the councilor. She was very worried by the results of my test and, in a flurry, scheduled me to talk to someone. She even cleared some time to talk to me right then and there because she was that worried about me.

I had always known there was something. I wasn’t a happy kid, but I was good at faking it. Now, I couldn’t. Now, there was a real diagnosis and a very concerned professional staring at me. My friends banded around me instantly. No one said I was faking it or just told me to get over it. The fangirls became shields, shoulders to cry on and distractions, depending on what I needed. I would not have made it through this time without them. Therapy was difficult. Collage was even more so. If not for the support of fangirls and fandoms, I would not be typing this article.

I have met new fangirls since then. Some are coworkers, who have become friends and people with whom I can gush about books. Some are gamers, who have helped me evolve into a person I could never have imagined. I met two of them at a New Year’s Eve party. I walked in with a college friend to find an intimidating redhead and her good friend (who was her main editor) while I tried to find a corner to hide in. Sound familiar? Yes, I laugh about it a lot. I wasn’t even there for a half an hour before we got into a conversation about fandoms and they had decided I was their friend. Later, they invited me to take a role in their group about women gamers, which has led to so much growth.

I have a lot of fangirls who are my friends. I am lucky enough to be in a lot of fandoms. I was there when people thought that Draco Malfoy was going to be a Vampire or that Ron Weasley was the Seer*. Fangirl and Carry On, also by Rowell, had me in tears recently because of these fandoms; the memories of these fandoms; the magic of fanfiction; and how friendship and love really are more powerful than anything.  They helped me through school, they help me with depression, they helped me when my mother lost her battle with a whole slew of painful things I have gone through. I have shining memories of creating worlds and communities, some of which have been left unfinished (so sorry, Gundam Wing fanfic).

In short: fanfiction and fandoms made me a fangirl. Being a fangirl gave me ideas and worlds that I never would have had before. Being a fangirl gave me friends that I have needed in order to continue on my own adventure. Without fandom, I would never have made it to this point. Without these shiny magical things, I would never have been able to carry on.

This article is cross published with Real Women of Gaming

*Ps Ron totally should have been the Seer but that could be a whole other article.

One Comment

  1. LMcCauley says:

    Thank you for sharing your story with everyone, Bridget. That was VERY well-written and a good look at fandom life.

    I’ll be the first to admit that fandoms can be a bit scary and clique-like at their worst, so I can see how that turns some people off. I’m not proud of everything I’ve said or done myself in fandoms. But I’ve met some of my closest friends through the common interests we’ve shared in fantasy worlds like Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Kingdom Hearts, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

    Plus, I don’t think fangirls are much different than people who are passionate about sports or other interests. The only real difference is that for some reason it’s socially acceptable to yell at your television when your favorite team loses but it’s not acceptable to yell at your television when your favorite movie loses an award at the Oscars. As long as we don’t let it completely consume our lives or hurt people that don’t agree with us about something, it’s not bad.

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