I have been reading and writing fanfiction since I was 13 years old – I am almost 20 – and I am unashamed of that fact. I believe in the power of this medium. Middle-aged white men may not see the value inherent in fanfic, and the rest of the world may ridicule fangirls and our “creepy/obsessive/weird” hobby, but I know that doesn’t mean anything. After all, aren’t some of the best things about the modern world widely misunderstood and undervalued? Aren’t selfies seen as proof of the ‘fact’ that young women are shallow, vapid creatures? Isn’t YouTube culture deemed as evidence that entertainment is in decay? And yet, think of the brilliance and importance of these things, of how selfies can promote self-love, and of how YouTube allows anyone (with access to a computer – still a massive privilege, of course) to be a creator? Fanfiction has similar value. Trust me, it’s played a significant part in shaping my life and who I am.
As a young teenager, I felt incredibly isolated. I had friends at school, but for several years I was unable to be honest with them – about my emotions, my sexuality, about anything substantial. Thankfully, there was the internet. More specifically, there was the One Direction fandom. It was whilst the band were on The X-Factor UK in 2010 that I found a community for myself, and I am immensely grateful for that. I remember very clearly the evening I went on Twitter, as usual, and one of my mutual followers posted about wanting to write a fic featuring female characters based on herself and a bunch of her fandom friends. I ended up being one of them – the fic concept being of us, as a girl band rivalling One Direction on the X-Factor (but being super close friends with them all, of course!). Each of us in that group ended up writing our own fics, and we all included each other in them. I remember feeling like I belonged, like I finally had a place. That circle of friends – and the stories we created together – was integral to my survival at that point. I was more than a bit miserable at school, but I knew that at the end of every day, my computer was waiting for me. I had something to escape into – the latest chapters of my friends’ fics, and the chatter that followed reading. And I had a purpose – I had my own fic to write, and people who wanted to read it, people who wanted to know my thoughts. Although it was fiction, my group all inserted real life issues into our stories – I remember vividly how one of my friends wrote my character’s body image issues, and finding so much comfort in reading it. The comfort that ‘I’ was given in this fictional world translated into real life. I eventually lost touch with those girls, but I never lost what they gave me. I will always value their friendship, and I will always value the way that fanfiction brought us together.
Fanfiction has not only helped to connect me to others, it’s helped me to connect to myself, too. I have never been comfortable in my sexuality, never really sure of ‘where I fit’ in regards to labels. Bisexual is the word I used to define myself for many years, but it was never quite right, and that always inhibited me considerably. This discomfort only intensified as I began to surround myself with queer friends, people who were out and proud and sure of their sexuality – as I became more and more immersed in queer culture, the more of a fraud I felt. Fanfiction was the thing that began to change that, because it was through fanfiction that I first came across the labels that I felt a true connection to. It was in fanfiction that I came across the concept of asexuality, and suddenly there was a possibility in the back of my mind that I wasn’t ‘failing’, that my general disinterest in sex did not necessarily mean that I was inherently lacking. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I ‘fit’ asexuality, because I did not 100% ‘meet the criteria’. For a few months, I was more confused than ever before, and it was immensely distressing. I began to strongly believe that I was defective – sexuality being one of many things that I felt I did not have ‘a fixed place’ in, one of the many things that left me in a grey area. And then came the fic that changed my life. I’m not even exaggerating. This was a high school AU, and in this fic, the two main characters – Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson – defined as grey-ace and demisexual, respectively. I had heard of the latter, but not fully understood what it meant, and – having a friend who defined this way – I wanted to. The former, on the other hand, was a term I had never come across before – intrigued, I looked it up. The results of my Google search were like a slap in the face. Except, pleasant. It was the first time I had sighed with relief at a simple word, the first time that I did not feel like I had to reach for a label and clutch desperately at it. It was the first time I’d latched onto something – not only in regards to my sexuality – that felt natural, easy. It was the first time I realised something important, that I am not defective, and what I feel (and don’t feel) is completely valid. It continues to amaze me that something so monumental in my life was a result of reading fanfiction, and serves as a reminder that doing what you love can have some huge results, beyond anything you could possibly imagine.
Fanfiction has been many things for me over the years – a place of community, of creativity, and of self-discovery. But perhaps the simplest and most important thing that fanfiction has done for me is given me a place to call home. Of course, that’s fandom in general – in the worst of times, One Direction have always been my retreat, my safe place – but fanfiction is perhaps a particularly special extension of that. As a life-long book nerd/story obsessive, it is the part of fanfiction that matters to me most because it encompasses all of myself, and it provides me with an escape of multiple dimensions. I will never understand why the rest of the world can’t see the beauty in that, but I’m not too bothered about that anymore. I know that I am never on my own in what I believe in and care about, and the proof is in this fandom.