The year must’ve been 2012, when I had finished my first Percy Jackson series and logged into my Tumblr account to look up fanart or quotes I could use as wallpaper to prove what a hardcore “Fangirl” I am. Tumblr back then used to make me feel pretty hipster because no one in my class knew anything about it, except maybe for the fact that it existed. It was then, that I came across a whole new, exciting world of paratext, a world with infinite possibilities, and a world of unlikely and loveable “ships” or relationships that people cared about more than the ones the real author had ordained as a couple. The world of alternate universe with its whole new universe of nautical terms seemed more real to me than the one created by the author herself. While widening my imagination and giving me fierce motherly instincts to defend my “OTP” or ‘one true pairing’ at all costs, it was also the first place that introduced me to homosexuality in a non-trivial and non-hostile way.
I remember the problematic gay jokes from Bollywood, of course, that introduced a heavily powdered, pink jacket wearing urban dandy in the middle of their plot, just to make nonsense stereotypical jokes about him which were completely unrelated to the main plot line. Going to all this trouble to apparently add comic value to their already trash movie, I think? As a child, I took this in unquestioningly, without thinking much of the joke or its stupidity. It was through this haze of ignorance and indifference that the world of fan theories and Tumblr pierced me. When my favourite characters who used to be great friends with an adorable banter in the books were shipped as romantic interests, I remember how easily and rapidly stereotypes about homosexuality faded away.
Looking back, I don’t remember even one lesbian OTP of mine. It might have to do something with the fact that not a lot of women characters lead important characters in the books I read or shows I watched. But gay OTPs I would still fight around for, made me accept homosexuality easily as a child long before I would understand how exactly everything the society taught and represented it was thoroughly problematic and defensive.
From the deep, deep world of fandom and AUs, gay couples made their rounds as the side story of many YA books and Wattpad fiction I devoured as I grew up. I still remember when a classmate called our science teacher “gay” because he didn’t seem “manly” enough to this kid, and I remember how angry that made me and the confused and angry argument that ensued. It was through this intense, lesser known fan-world that I was acquainted to queer fiction, a source not every person followed.
More than the main romantic interest of the fiction, which was always a heterosexual couple, it was the homosexual ships that taught me about love, relationship, and “feels”. This fixation with the fan-world started with Percy Jackson and progressed towards Harry Potter with Drarry (Draco and Harry) and Wolfstar (Remus and Sirius) as my OTPs. I remember the wildly famous ships of Supernatural (Destiel), Sherlock (Johnlock) and the ever-growing ships from the music industry with people shipping members of One Direction, Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, and Twenty One Pilots.
But the one thing that gives me hope for the future is the increasing and impressive representation of queer couples in mainstream books and movies, especially as the protagonists of the story. With movies like Call Me By Your Name, Love, Simon, Boy Erased capturing attention in the mainstream media and the upcoming release of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, the younger generation will not have to go look for acceptance or understanding of homosexuality in lesser known Tumblr blogs or covert fan-fiction. It gives me hope and joy to see that kids of the following generation won’t have to look around for alternate spaces to introduce them to queer characters and pairs and that this acquaintance won’t be limited to a few. With the coming-of-age stories and passionate, sob-inducing love stories of queer characters in the mainstream, I am glad that stereotypes and hostility of the older generation would not easily be carried forward by the younger ones.