Do you ever worry about what it might be like to be an older woman involved in fandom, or that once you reach a certain age you should stop being a fangirl all together? If you do, worry no more, because the “Fangirling Over 30” panel at GeekGirlCon in Seattle last weekend showed attendees that you never have to stop being a fangirl and that fangirling over 30 is as awesome as fangirling at any age!
The panel featured four women of a range of ages above 30. Berlynn Wohl, age 35, moderated the discussion with panelists Mickey Schulz (45), Pleiades McRae (42) and Sergeant T (62). Each first shared what they do in real life, what their first fandom was and what their biggest fandom currently is before moving on to examine who participates in fandom and how. To Sergeant T, it doesn’t really matter anymore who participates and how, though in the past it used to.
“It used to be very, very important. Who you were and how you presented yourself, and I think that’s one of the greatest things I’ve noticed changing. I had to suppress my fandom for many, many years as a member of the military and worker for the government because it was just considered too immature and degrading to be a fangirl,” she said. “That’s why I think in today’s fandom everybody has the opportunity to rise to whatever level or stay at whichever level and participate as much as or as little as you like.”
Schulz sometimes sees posts making the rounds on Tumblr stating everyone thinks we’re all under 14, post your age if you’re over 14, and the replies include people in their 30s and older. There is "the idea that fandom is a youngster’s thing” and it makes her sad to meet someone who might say they used to be into an area like comics, but outgrew it when they got older, because to Schulz “Why would you quit doing something that makes you happy?” When she asked someone she once worked with why he stopped reading comics even though he loved it and he answered "I don’t know," she told him where a comic shop was and he began reading comics again. Wohl wonders who those that think fandom is just for kids think is taking care of the executive functions of fandom and doing such things as paying for domain names and server space, organizing conventions, and performing other duties, because it’s not children.
The panel didn’t shy away from how being involved with fandom can change as you grow older either. For McRae, things are different now that she has a child. She said she’s less active in fandom than she was before having a kid and a child impacts how much time she can spend consuming media. However she’s also more open about being in fandom now than she used to be.
“I’m less active, less than pre-child when I actually was one of the people running the mailing lists and putting up the archives, performing those executive functions, but I’m more open about it,” McRae explained. “More people in my regular everyday life are aware of my fannish tendencies up to and including the fanfic piece. I’m a lot more open about the cosplay than anything else because pictures of me show up on the internet sometimes, but that would be the biggest difference. Less time, more openness.”
Schulz mentioned less time as a factor as well due to jobs and the possibility of everything from cats to partners as you get older, but she also expressed that she’s more open now than she used to be.
“I think a lot of the hierarchy of fandom has disappeared which makes me happy. I think [for] fanfic writers and fan artists especially, there’s not near the stigma that there once was and that makes me incredibly happy,” Schulz said.
Before the panel concluded by answering questions from the audience, the panelists each touched on how they are navigating contemporary fandom culture as older fans. Wohl, who returned to Star Wars fandom after losing interest due to the prequels, noticed non-male identifying people have a more powerful voice and are coming up with and discussing ideas past male dominated fandom never did.
“Now people are having arguments about 'Is Luke gay or is he bi or is he ace?' Let me tell you, 20 years ago there was not a single meta discussion on the internet about any character being canonically anything other than straight,” she said. “So in that respect navigating fandom has become way more enjoyable for me because it’s showing me things about the canon that nobody was showing me before.”
She concluded by bringing it all back to the idea of having to quit fandom once you reach a certain age.
“If I had quit when I was 20 or 25, I would have missed out on all these new fans with these new insights and new perspectives so staying in fandom has enriched my life by showing me these new ways of looking at things that I’ve loved for years,” Wohl said.
The panel was all the proof anyone should need that no matter your age, you can always be a fangirl.