When I was younger, I was incredibly shy about how much I loved fanfiction. Ashamed even. Reading and writing fanfiction were solitary activities, and I hid anything having to do with them from all but my closest friends. I became more open about my love of fanfiction and began to blend my identity as a writer and reader of fanfiction with my identity as a person outside of that realm once I got to college, but even now I keep those two sides of my life somewhat separate, though more and more they are melding together.
While many people consider fanfiction a solitary activity, there are many vibrant fanfiction communities online. I have struggled to find myself a place in these communities for a variety of reasons, the original being access. As I was growing up, I did not always have the consistent, unrestricted access to the internet that I needed to balance a secret online life with my offline life, and the maintenance my online personae was iffy at best. The result was that I existed on the periphery, reading a lot of fanfiction, uploading a few pitiful chapters here and there, but never exactly gaining traction. There were a few people that I had somewhat meaningful conversations with, but I grew tired of lying to them, and so I let those connections fade. Fanfiction became a solitary activity, online and off. I would watch from the outside as people collaborated and competed, as projects and groups came together, thrived, and died. I observed drama from afar, half wishing I knew the details and half thankful I was not involved. And yet, while there was a certain amount of yearning to be involved in a community, what I was most thankful for was the fics themselves, and I was simply happy to have such a plethora of incredible content to read.
Since I was a kid, I have always been a reader, but as I grew into an adolescent and became more cognizant of the uncertainties in life, I withdrew from original works and shifted to reading fanfiction instead. There is a safety in fanfiction. It is in the repeated tropes, in the deep character work that is possible when the world stays the same, and the intriguing world building that happens when you take the same character and put them somewhere else. There is an anchor in the familiarity; while an author takes you on a new journey, you are walking down a familiar path. In the chaos of my teen years, that familiarity was a sorely needed comfort.
Later, in college and graduate school, I became surrounded by the pressures of academia and higher learning. Fanfiction was a pressure release valve that I could use to let go of everything that was weighing me down and get lost in the stories that I knew like the back of my hand. I discovered the joy of text-to-speech, and had my phone read me some of my old favorites to help me fall asleep, giving my brain the opportunity to forget about syntax trees and Shakespeare, and instead get lost in a Harry Potter/ Doctor Who crossovers.
Fanfiction has been there for me in the most difficult parts of my life. It has been an anchor for me in the years that I have struggled with anxiety and depression, particularly in high school. Furthermore, while in college it served another important role aside from a form of general release from the stress of university life. In the spring of my sophomore year, I suffered from a series of terrible concussions just as I was recovering from a bout of mono. I had to end the semester early, and I was forbidden from any excess of screen time. My screen reader app, and fanfiction, were the only things that kept me sane in the months it took me to recover, sequestered in my bedroom with light darkening curtains, barely able to bear the sight of the sun or a lamp and unable to read or write. I can barely remember a decent chunk of 2016. What I do remember is that fanfiction was my lifeline.
Fanfiction has influenced me as not only a reader, but as a writer. Before I started writing and sharing my fanfiction, I had no idea what it meant to write stories that mattered to other people, or that I was capable of such a thing. I began writing my most ambitious fanfiction in 2017, which I am still working on to this day. There is a part of me that has lost the will to write, primarily because it is a Harry Potter fanfiction, and Harry Potter is a tough series to love right now, especially as a trans person. At the same time, I feel like I owe it to my readers to finish the story, precisely because people care about it. The care that people have shown my story has given me confidence to write other works, and I feel that not only do I owe it to them but also to myself to finish it out and prove that I can.
Fanfiction, and in particular Harry Potter fanfiction, being what I read the most of when I was younger, was a large part of how I figured out I was trans and how I came out to myself and to others. Fanfiction has been a huge factor in how I explored my queerness, including both my gender and my sexuality. For better or for worse, fanfiction was my first exposure to many different concepts regarding different sexual orientations, gender identities, and relationship models. The first time I ever read a story from the perspective of a trans character was in a Harry Potter fanfiction, and the same goes for gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters.
Other than Harry Potter, the fandom I am most well-versed in is Doctor Who. As a series, Doctor Who has grown increasingly queer, but the fanfiction created around it, particularly the fanfiction that I read, is even more so. Reading fanfiction set in a universe as expansive as Doctor Who — which has a reach even farther than Harry Potter — helped me open up in ways that I find hard to articulate. These two universes, and the way that I explored them both separately and together in crossover fics, were foundational in helping me figure out parts of my identity I am not sure that I would have otherwise.
Today, I have distanced myself slightly from Harry Potter and I have been reading more fanfiction set in the Good Omens universe. The characters of Aziraphale and Crowley are delightfully and canonically queer and bend the rules of gender to suit themselves. I appreciate the fact that their relationship can be interpreted in so many ways, and how people have been able to continuously mine this material for more and more creative works.
Thinking and talking about fanfiction conceptually, and exploring how others do the same, is one of my favorite pastimes. I also simply enjoy recounting my favorite fics to other people. To that end, I have started a new project related to fanfiction; a podcast called Into the Archives. I started this as a podcast because fanfiction, and all storytelling, is a retelling at its core, and that is something that I enjoy sharing with other people, for all that my original forays into fanfiction were solitary. Storytelling as an oral tradition is the original fanfiction, and so a podcast really is the best medium for it. The episodes I have recorded so far have been an utter delight, and I have really enjoyed getting to speak with the guests I have had on the podcast. I would love it if you would give it a listen.