If we adopted Scientologist terms in fandom I’d probably be deemed as a negative influence or suppressive person because of the way I talk about the things I’ve seen and experienced in fandom spaces.
I’ve had my opinions invalidated, my analysis responded to with condescension, and my inbox invaded by assholes. I even wound up linked on Tumblr In Action once for my racebending post (and boy was that a bit terrifying because we all know how bad things can get on Reddit) and I frequently have people talk down to me about fandom history and culture.
People regularly write me condescending and long essay responses to my posts, letting me know just how inferior they think I am and my opinions are. I’ve been insulted to my face and behind my back (sometimes by people I thought I was friendly with).
I’ve been called a fascist for talking about Hux getting an unreasonably huge amount of attention despite only having three minutes of screentime in The Force Awakens.
I’ve been told to kill myself, called a homophobe for talking about the racism in slash fandom spaces, a misogynist out to police women’s sexuality for talking about intersections of kink, sex, and shipping in fandom, and constantly have my thoughts on antiblackness and racism in fandom dismissed because I’m black in the US and there’s apparently no “skin-tone based racism” anywhere else but here.
I get a lot of shit and it’s still not even a third of what some of my friends in the same position do despite having anon on because I believe in the preemptive block and embarrassing the hell out of racists that message me or reblog my posts.
It’s tiring, but I refuse to stop.
I don’t write about racism or questionable practices in fandom because it’s fun or because I want the attention of strangers.
It’s not fun.
There’s nothing fun about having to eye your inbox in fear that someone is going to come in and insult your intelligence or tell you kill yourself over a post about Harry Potter or Teen Wolf.
There’s nothing fun about watching friends distance themselves from you because when you’re calling out oppression it makes them uncomfortable because they don’t feel like looking critically at the things that they love.
It’s not fun to have people talk shit about me, dehumanize me, put me on a wobbly pedestal so that if they find something that makes me problematic, they can knock my ass right off of it.
I don’t write posts about racism in fandom because I want attention for myself either.
If I wanted attention for myself, I’d finish writing any of the novels and novellas that I have in progress and I’d get them published. I’d go back to writing filthy fan fiction full time because there was a point when people paid me big bucks to write sexy stories for them.
If I wanted attention so badly, I’d drop all of my attempts at educating and informing and go write the content that actually got me some form of positive attention in fandom: so much glorious NSFW content that dovetails neatly with fandom’s most interesting interests.
However, analysis is my thing.
Talking about race, gender, and sexuality in relation to the media we consume is literally what I did during undergrad. It’s what I’m doing for my MA and what I plan to do for my PhD. I’ve spoken about representation in media and/or fandom at TWO conferences already (one local one and then PCAACA 2017). I’m out here writing academic articles on the things I’ve seen and experienced in fandom.
So no, I can’t engage with fandom without being aware of how bad things get. I have my problematic faves. I have ships, fictional kinks, and favorite tropes that are beyond problematic, but I think it’s important to talk about the fact that the things we like can be things that hurt people or that replicate the oppressive systems/dynamics we see in our everyday lives.
Fandom isn’t just fandom. It’s an institution where many people learn a lot about life since they tend to get into it from a young age. And if fandom itself isn’t capable of recognizing when it’s going wrong because desire is clouding the mind and clunking up folks’ critical thinking skills, maybe a little help is necessary. Conversation starters need to be had.
I write my posts on racism in fandom because I’m tired. I’m tired and I’m angry that fandom still isn’t interested in doing better.
I am tired of constantly having to defend Black characters from the fandoms that claim to love them even as they sideline, kill off, and desexualize them in fanworks or even just interpretations of canon.
I’m tired of seeing the same people who will analyze Hux’s three minutes of screentime to death and beyond, suddenly lose their critical thinking and analysis skills the second you point out that it’s a bit fishy that such a minor white character is more popular than the Black male lead.
I’m tired of the constant pining for the good old days of fandom where no one complained about -isms and just ignored what they didn’t like without critiquing it. (Which isn’t true at all.)
I’m tired of so-called “fandom olds” acting like they’re elderly when they’re really in their thirties/forties and were in the same message boards as many of the people who they expect graceful condescension from.
I’m tired of the fact that it took actual BNF Franzeska – someone who was at one point and still may be one of the people you go to in order to report ToS Abuses on the AO3 — over a year to apologize for writing her racist meta pieces (one that erased fans of color from fandom history and the other that at one point basically dismissed the racism inherent in nonblack fancreators reducing Finn to a Big Black Cock) and that she clearly only did it because it cast a shadow on her kickstarter which was a film about… race in fandom.
I’m tired of thinking about how so many people agreed with her — but still swear they’re not racist in any way.
I’m tired of the fact that everything people like me say is dismissed as wank and that the genuine desire to get people to think about the things they create will get you made fun of.
I am tired being told to be grateful for crumbs in fandom because “representation will come”, only to have Black shows, Black narratives, and Black characters completely and utterly ignored by the same people preaching peace and inaction.
Yes, fandom is doing marginally more in terms of actively seeking out diversity in our media and fanworks when compared to the darker ages of internet fandom, but we live in a world where so-called “wank” (which can range from actually pointless drama to simply wanting to show fandom that the institution is borked) can land a person like me a spot on a page where people will find (and have found) fun in making fun of everything I’ve ever done or what I look like. (But they’re the enlightened ones…)
The environment in fandom, the “we’re all people who are friends and love stuff” mentality that gets pushed whenever some article shows up about fandom and how it’s so dang empowering, is only one layer and it’s a shallow one at that.
Yeah, I’ve made some fantastic friends through fandom. I have made connections with some amazing people, connections that have lasted for years. Several of my friends have literally watched my niecelings grow up from Pre-K. A few of them actually have known me from when I was in high school or my first round of college.
I’ve gotten writing opportunities out of my work on fandom critique as well as the chance to meet like-minded academics and fellow fans of color who are tired of seeing folks in fandom walk all over them and characters of color. I’ve found people who I will be happy to know in ten, twenty, even thirty years, who get that fandom needs to be critiqued and that it’s inhospitable for certain people. I even got a girlfriend because of fandom back in the day.
I still love participating in fandom and I have fun interacting with my corners of fandom beyond my critical stuff, and that’s with my criticism and dealing with randos on the internet.
Not despite it.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s all sun and roses.
Here’s what many of those lovey-dovey “fandom is a place for female empowerment, acceptance, and exploration” posts and books don’t tell you: if you challenge the system in any way, if you question desire or kink or someone else’s interests, prepare to get the short end of the stick. Because all that mushy stuff, that unconditional acceptance for your empowerment and exploration, starts to get pretty damn conditional when you critique the things that bring your fellow fans pleasure.
If you bring up the fact that fandom has real world problems with race because fandom is a part of the real world, you get accused of policing even when you don’t actually tell people what to do. You get accused of wanting to destroy other fans’ positive experiences, their unadulterated and uninterrupted squee.
But I (and other fans of color) deserve the chance to squee too.
We deserve our seat at the table – the seat we’ve had since fandom existed as a mere concept – and we shouldn’t have to fight to get to it because it has always been ours.
But fandom being like it is, a place where nostalgia for a past that never truly existed beyond curated spaces and where the desire for unquestioned pleasure are more important than the feelings of actual people of color, means that sometimes fans of color have little fighting to do in order to remind white fans that this isn’t their space alone.
Fandom has never actually been a space exclusively at the whims of White Westerners. It’s more than white-dude slash ships and feminism so transparent that it could double as tracing paper. It’s never been a complaint-free vacuum unencumbered by the real world’s societal problems.
That’s why I write what I write.
For fellow critical fans of color: feel free to share some of your experiences dealing with fandom and fandom criticism! I’d love to hear them!