Hey, everybody! Today’s post is about authenticity and being true to yourself. I’m going to share with you my Fangirl Secret to Happiness number three:
Love What You Love, Even When It’s Hard
Especially when it’s hard.
I know that sounds simple, so simple that you’re probably wondering why I’m even bringing it up. Because, let’s face it, there’s never been a better time in history to be a nerd/geek/fangirl. Major studio movies are made about superheroes who, quite frankly, would have been laughed off the screen a decade ago—I’m looking at you, Aquaman. If you can’t find merchandise for your fandom (and that’s a pretty big ‘if’), it’s never been cheaper or easier to make your own. The ubiquity of the Web all over the world means that you can connect to other fans any time of the day or night.
However, I understand the impulse to hide your Spider-Man comics inside your calculus textbook and tape the book jacket of James Joyce’s Ulysses on top of your paperback copy of Watchmen, especially if you’re still in high school or college. There are definitely still pockets of society in which “childish things” such as superhero comics, space movies, and boy bands are openly reviled and insulted.
But, I’d like you to hear me out. Because I believe that, at the end of the day, hiding what you love, what brings you joy, in the service of “fitting in” with closed-minded, short-sighted people, is not going to make you happy. I truly believe that choosing to love what you love openly, freely, and joyfully will bring you more fulfillment over the long run than burying your true self under an avalanche of half-truths and outright lies.
Every fangirl has at least one fandom object of affection (FOA), which is your favorite book, TV show, movie, comic, anime, manga, video game, superhero team, band/singer, sports team/athlete, actor, or franchise character (e.g., Harry Potter or Batman). You might be monofandom, meaning that you tend to stay in only one fandom for many years before moving on to another, or multifandom, meaning that you are part of many fandoms at once.
Your FOA is meant to bring you joy. You wouldn’t be a fan of it if it didn’t, at least on some level.1 But there are some FOAs that tend to be looked down upon by certain segments of the population—I’m looking at you, Star Trek and Hanson—so that being a loud and proud fan of them brings a certain amount of social pain and suffering.
Believe me, I understand what it’s like to be bullied for loving a particular FOA. When I was in middle school, I fell in love with Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), which I’d started watching with my dad while it was still in first-run syndication back in the late ‘80s. I bought all the TNG books I could get my hands on, including the official TNG Companion guide, which listed all the episode titles, cast & crew credits, synopses, and other production information, and I practically memorized it.2 I also loved the Nitpicker’s Guide series of books by Phil Farrand, looking at continuity and production errors in various sci-fi TV series and to this day I have good chunks of the Nitpicker’s Guides to TNG and The X-Files memorized.
As you might imagine, this did not make me very popular in school. I earned the moniker of “Star Trek Girl” because I wore a TNG communicator pin on my shirt on every single day of sixth grade. “Star Trek Girl” was not welcome at any lunch table except the one in the back corner, and she was always the last one picked in gym class. I stopped wearing the communicator pin the next year when I got really into The X-Files and started wearing XF shirts instead, but that didn’t repair my reputation at all. I still had to eat lunch in the back corner, but at least I had a couple other XF-shirt-clad friends to sit with, and we passed printouts of XF fanfic from Usenet back and forth during our lunch periods, which was actually fun. I’m not going to go into why I was so into these shows other than to say this:
I had a small group of friends (very small—there were exactly four of us, counting me) in school that were also into these two shows and it gave us something to bond over beyond simply complaining about the bullying we endured. We all would have been bullied anyway—I was too smart, K was too smart and too immature, and T and J were both too poor and too weird—so at least we had something to discuss, something to share, something to base our identities around that was positive and gave us joy.
All this is to simply say that I’ve been there, and I don’t regret my choice to be open and proud of what I loved and who I was. I wasn’t ashamed of my FOAs then, and I’m not ashamed of them now, either. I’m not even ashamed of how much of my identity is based upon and centers around TV shows and fictional characters—and it’s a lot.3
My current FOA is Supernatural (SPN), otherwise known as The Longest-Running Show that No One Has Ever Heard Of™, and it’s been my primary FOA since 2006. It’s the show that dominated my postgraduate academic career: I attended its conventions so I could write papers about them, one of which is cited as a source in a book called Fandom at the Crossroads; I presented one of those papers at the National PCA/ACA Convention in San Antonio in 2011; and I wrote the second chapter of my Master’s thesis about both the show itself and my fanfiction based on it. I’ve been to several conventions, I have a crap-ton of merch, and when my teenage coworker showed off her SPN earrings and asked me if I’d brought any SPN stuff to work, I showed her my necklace, ring, hairbow, shoulder bag, and three keychains—and that was just what you could see. Thank goodness my coworkers (mostly teenagers and retirees) don’t make fun of my SPN wearables the way my classmates did, but you know what? Even if they did, I wouldstillwear them!
Wanna know why?
Because it’s better to be open and proud about what you love, and risk being bullied for it, than it is to be ashamed and hide what you love in order to gain the approval of people who don’t like your true self. I promise you, you do not need those people in your life. You have two choices: you can be true to yourself and feel good inside even if you feel bad on the outside for not fitting in, or you can reject your true self and feel bad on the inside while you still feel bad on the outside because you know the belonging and acceptance of “fitting in” is all fake.
So yes, I am saying that it’s better to have no real life friends at all than to have toxic friends who force you to lie about or hide the real you.4 This will not make you happy right now, but it will make you happier in the long run, I swear.
Because here’s the thing: It’s 2019. There are people in literally every inhabited continent on the planet who have internet access. If the people around you don’t like your FOA, you can do this amazing thing that you couldn’t do when I was in middle school in 1996: you can open up Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or a hundred other smartphone apps, and you can find new people!
If you can read this, you can go on the social media platform of your choice at literally any minute of any day and find at least one other person who
a) is awake,
b) speaks English, and
c) wants to talk about your FOA.
I fucking guarantee it. I’ve had multiple 4AM Instagram chats with teddy bears in England and Australia. I’ve sat at LAX at 5AM with my laptop Skyping with my best friend on the East Coast and her fiancé in Iraq. No matter what you’re into,5 there’s at least 1 person out of the 7 billion people on this planet who knows enough about it to squee with you.
So squee about what you love. Go on Twitter and squee on your FOA’s hashtag until your fingers cramp up into gnarled claws. Record yourself squeeing about your FOA and turn it into a podcast or vlog. Wear FOA merch to a mall or a movie theater or an amusement park and squee to everyone who notices what you’re wearing. Go to a fan convention and squee to other fans for three days straight. Find a Discord group or Skype chat about your FOA and squee with fans in Australia at 2 in the morning. Get a plushie, dress him or her as your favorite character, and squee to them! (This will sometimes work with cats or dogs as well.) Get a notebook with your FOA if you can—or if you can’t, get one that’s your FOA character’s favorite color—and squee in there IN CAPSLOCK FOR SEVENTEEN PAGES. Write fanfiction. Write poetry in character as your FOA. Write a spec script. Write an insane massive multiplayer crossover. Make a FOA-themed craft project. Knit your FOA character a beanie and then donate it to charity. Write a twenty-page letter about why you love your FOA and then mail it to the creator. Make a scrapbook of photos and letters and give it to your FOA at a convention. Make 25 GIFs from your favorite scene/episode/music video/cutscene and post them on Tumblr. Do literally anything that expresses the joy and delight your FOA gives you. Because life’s too short to do anything that doesn’t bring you that kind of joy.
So, when the hundredth person you’ve talked to that day stares at you blankly when you tell them that Supernatural is a TV show that’s managed to make it to its fourteenth goddamn season without their knowledge, you should do what I do: sigh, roll your eyes (hopefully after they’ve walked away, but I can’t blame you if you don’t wait that long), get out your phone, and vent your frustrations on the #SPNFamily hashtag on Twitter with a Sam Winchester bitchface GIF. And then you wait for the Winchester hug GIFs to roll in and smile because you live in this beautiful technological utopia where you never have to be alone if you don’t want to be.
I’m not saying that bullying doesn’t hurt. Bullying sucks, and if you’re being bullied, please reach out to a responsible member of adult society and get some help with that. But if you’re hiding or lying about liking your FOA because other people are making you feel bad about your FOA, you have two options: change the feeling, or change the people. The latter tends to be much easier to do, but if the former is your only option, there are therapies that don’t so much change the feeling itself as change your response so the feeling is less painful. Check out this page on ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy)for more info on that.
And if all that fails, watch this video.