Today I had a mini-kerfluffle on the internet. The topic doesn’t matter, really. But in that kerfluffle I was accused of not being a “real” fan because I hadn’t watched all of a particular show. I found myself bristling at the accusation even as I acknowledged that the opinion of some person on the internet as to the realness of my appreciation for a certain thing was a non-issue.
The contrast between the feeling of having to defend one’s fandom and the knowledge that it shouldn’t matter is something that I see myself and other fans struggle with all the time. Recently I even had a friend tell me that she was nervous to start watching the Star Wars franchise movies for the first time because she worried that she “wouldn’t like them right.”
I was aghast.
What is the “right” way to like something?
Listen, I know that there are a lot of people who froth about this thing or that thing not being canon and not really wanting to deal with certain aspects of a fandom. I have been guilty of doing that. I hated the treatment of the second trilogy of Star Wars films, for example.
But even I acknowledge that things change. And that people who did not grow up with the Star Wars films of my childhood are not going to bond with them in the same way that I do. That’s just the nature of the beast. It’s the nature of time and childhood and loving things differently than other people do.
And here’s the thing that I have learned over the last couple of years: It’s really awesome when other people love things in a different way than you do. Because I would never think of publishing a cook book based on a fandom that I love. I would never think to make little plushies or dress in costume or do any of a number of other awesome things that other fans do. And the fact that they do those things makes me endlessly happy.
Even more than that, when I introduce someone to a new thing that I love, I’m guaranteed to find out something I never knew about the person I’m introducing. I’m also guaranteed to be introduced to a new way of looking at something that I love. And that’s a GOOD thing.
The pressure around being “real” extends beyond just fandoms and nerd culture and what have you. Take it from someone who took forever to figure out her sexuality. For a really long time, I wasn’t sure if I was a “real” queer person. Even now there’s a whole lot of baggage that I’m sorting out around being a “real” lesbian. It’s hard. And it only gets harder when other people call your identity into question.
So here’s what I’m going to say.
You’re real. You are whatever you feel like you are. And don’t let anyone tell you any different.
P.S. Being creative this week has been super hard. So thanks for reading. Struggling with the whole “real” writer thing over here. Sigh.
I used to joke when I was younger that all of the things that I love have something like one degree of separation from each other. When I stop to think about it, it turns out that the whole flow chart of my fandoms centers on one dude: Neil Gaiman.
When I try to explain it I wind up sounding like a rambling lunatic, so here’s a quick flow chart I did on computer paper to make sense of it if you’re interested.
Anyway, for years I joked about my one degree of separation with all of these wonderful humans and then, a few years ago, the whole thing got even more complicated when Neil Gaiman married Amanda Palmer. Because the conjunction of the two of them drags in a whole other slew of artists from Palmer’s fabulous (and wide!) circle of people. So now my flow chart is basically undrawable? But that’s a good thing.
Amanda has had a rocky go of the media generally. From the overwhelmingly criticized success of her Kickstarter back in 2012 to her marriage to Gaiman and her badly received Poem for Dzhokhar, she has caught hell basically every time she turns around in the world.
I, personally, have always found her to be a beautifully genuine person. As well as complex and problematic one. But who among us isn’t problematic, right? I don’t really think that the things we love should be things that we do not also feel free to criticize. It has always been my motto that you cannot truly say you love something unless you feel like you can poke it until it cries (I would be a great roast host!). And I stick to that belief. The world is a problematic place. And nothing in it is ever going to be 100% fine and acceptable.
I am totally open to criticism of things that I enjoy. I have heard it said of Gaiman in that he tends to write from the perspective of white everymen. I have heard that Amanda is a narcissist. There is some truth to both of those things – and more, I’m sure – about these two people who I admire. But there is some serious beauty that has come out of this pairing, not the least of which being their artistic collaborations. Their Evening With Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer tour was brilliantly conceived and the recording of it is just… a delightful way to spend several hours. It’s not something that Neil would have done without Amanda. And it remains one of my favorite ideas of ways to spend time with an artist or a pair of artists.
This past week, Neil and Amanda guest edited an edition of The New Statesman. The idea that they decided to tackle was “The Unsayable.” They asked artists and writers and critics for their thoughts on what they are not allowed to talk about and received really interesting responses.
The topics that arose ranged greatly in scope. Stephen Fry talked about legalizing drugs and the continued strife in Israel and Palestine. Erika Moen spoke out about the ways in which progressives dogpile on one another when we make mistakes. Laurel K. Hamilton talked about her polyamorous relationships. Some of them I had difficulty agreeing with, while others seemed so vital. And that’s the thing about the Unsayable Thing, it is Unsayable because you cannot predict the reaction of the public. It is Unsayable because you do not know whether you will be censured for it. There are times when saying the Unsayable Thing means that you will be shouted down by those around you. And then there are times when saying the Unsayable will lead to an ocean of “yes” that lifts you up above the morass of chatter around you and validates everything that you have been feeling.
One example of an Unsayable Thing that resonated deeply with me was by Rose George, a British writer and author of “The Big Necessity” and “Deep Sea and Foreign Going.”
…For something so red and vivid as menstrual blood, it is very, very quiet.
Behind the silence where menstruation lives are some other figures: the 23 per cent of girls in India who leave school at puberty because they have no toilet or privacy; the countless rags, newspapers, straw, dried leaves, ash or old socks that girls use because they can’t afford sanitary pads; the girls who prostitute themselves for sanitary protection (it’s called “sex for pads”); the many schoolgirls who start bleeding and think they are dying because they have been told no differently.
Menstrual Hygiene Day is 28 May: laugh at that, by all means. At least laughter is noise. The quiet has gone on too long.
For me, and for many women living in countries where our menses are at least somewhat acceptable if still broadly shamed, speaking out about the realities of what happens to our bodies in the process of menstruation is a topic we can easily embrace. But it is one that is hugely taboo to talk about openly with anything resembling joy or directness. I, personally, have had a complicated relationship with my period. But that is a topic for another time.
I think that the conversation about what is taboo to discuss is a deeply important one. What we consider off limits and what we are afraid to speak of are vital parts of who many of us are as artists and writers and people moving through shared spaces. I think the fear of retribution and censorship is a very real fear. And I think that having these conversations in a safe space like the one that Gaiman and Palmer created in the New Statesman is a great way to generate those conversations and to work through our fears of speaking difficult things aloud.
Like the topic of Unsayable Things, Neil and Amanda remain complicated, problematic people. But I love them anyway. Or love them because of their complications and their problems. Which is really why I love anyone. Or anything. Because nothing is perfect. And I truly believe that what they add to the world is big and important and, for the most part, good.