My black, queer, fangirl heart openly wept over not being able to attend Flame Con. I'll be able to make it out there some day, the distance between Midwest and New York be damned, but since I couldn't go this year, I lived vicariously through social media posts detailing what was going down at New York's LGBTQ+ Comic-Con.
One thing that caught my attention was the queer fanfiction panel that took place over the weekend, which delved into the history of the art and why it's so important.
It got me thinking about my own relationship with fanfiction, the hours spent reading a novel-length fic of my favorite ship, the number of fandoms I've written for, the fact that I'm still writing fanfiction today, and, more importantly, how fanfiction became an outlet for my queer, creative self.
I was 16 years old. Gundam Wing was my latest anime obsession — the uncensored, nighttime version where characters could say "kill" and "damn." I'd spend my nights in my dad's basement, using AOL disc number 57 to disrupt our phone lines and get on the Internet. 1999 was a hell of a year, y'all. Y2K was fast approaching, and apparently, Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell were gettin' it on behind the scenes of the anime I'd tune in to watch late at night. At least, that's what this one website said. And another. And another. There were even stories written about the two Gundam pilots, analysis of what episodes to watch to get undeniable proof of their love.
I soaked it all up like a sponge.
Eventually, I'd discover a page called Fanfiction.net, and, later, joined a mailing list dedicated to Heero and Duo (after I turned 18 since there were age restrictions for adult content).
At the time, I didn't realize the impact all of this had on me. On the surface, fanfiction is where I met my partner, who I'm still with today. It'll be 17 years together this October, our relationship officially older than I was when I discovered this part of the geek community. We're both still fangirls, too. We both have accounts over on Archive of Our Own (AO3) and have series we love to write for. We're both self-published authors and we'll tell you, without any hesitation, that fanfiction helped shape us as creators.
But after hearing about that panel at Flame Con I realized that fanfiction not only helped me career-wise, it helped me come out, comfortably, and at my own pace.
Meeting my partner in the fanfiction community gave me a safe space to explore my sexuality. I was 18, off on my own in college, and while working on a fic together I realized that I had feelings for my coauthor. I freaked out because at the time, I didn't think it was possible for me to be attracted to a woman. To my knowledge, everyone around me was straight, and the expectation was for me to be the same way. Even worse? I didn't really have many examples of queer content in 2001 — especially as a black woman.
But when it came to fanfiction? Queerness was everywhere around me.
That alone gave me the nudge out of the closet because seeing a community cheer about queerness — even if the characters weren't canonically queer — was more positivity than I'd ever seen for the LGBTQ+ community at the time.
Honestly, before fanfiction, the only representation I can remember is this: 1) Ellen coming out and all the backlash, 2) being used as a caricature in comedy sketches, 3) random character in the background serving up that sass, never to be seen again after two minutes, 4) being killed off to further the narrative, and 5) the girl down the street from my house labeled as "confused" because the only words used were "gay" and "straight," so bisexuality was off the table. You can argue that some of these are still an issue, but in 2001? They were a staple.
Are Heero and Duo queer? Who knows. But fans were excited about it, creating stories and art that explored it, and that gave me the impression that they'd be OK with me being queer, too. Of course, there were the hypocrites who shipped the gay boys but weren't comfortable with gay people — they're still out there, but that's another article entirely. However, there were enough positive folks creating the representation they wanted to see for me to take it as encouragement.
Over the years, I'd go on to write fanfiction for many other fandoms, but I'd also write original fiction since my aim was to become a writer. At some point, the characters in my original work began to, well, not be straight. I found myself writing queer stories, something I hadn't ever done before fanfiction. Every book or short story I've ever published has queer characters, and with my most recent release, the main cast of black women are queer — and not just in one aspect of the spectrum: one is asexual, one is bisexual, one is lesbian, and one is transgender.
I don't think I would've ever developed such a story had I not had fanfiction as my positive introduction to the community.
It's interesting to look at fanfiction now and compare it to what I had back in the day. I'd be lying if I said the community was perfect. We could talk all day about the fetishization of queerness because it was definitely a thing in fanfic before and I know it still lingers now, but I'd say there is a bigger push for honest, respectful representation these days.
I hadn't written fanfic in a while, but My Hero Academia pulled me back in. I got myself that Archive Of Our Own account and, wow, there are so many tags, so many categories, and so many ways people are exploring the queer community.
When I first got into fanfiction it was pretty simple: gay or straight? Just like it was outside the community. But now there are stories that reflect more than one spectrum in the rainbow, and those stories do so with respect to those communities. Fanfic writers are out here doing research, y'all. They're out here developing queer characters and making sure those characters are more than cardboard cutouts meant to check that representation box. The end game isn't always that sex scene you know your teenage self shouldn't have been reading; the end game is, well, good storytelling and well-rounded queer folks.
Since we are in an age where #RepresentationMatters, I feel like it's making its way into fanfic — or, on the flipside, fanfic is helping fill a demand for better stories period. Because we shouldn't have to rely on our own imaginations to dig for queerness in the media, it should be visible to everyone, and not just that 16-year-old in her father's basement.