Community is a word that is floated around constantly when we talk about queer people. The ‘queer community’, the ‘LGBT community’ – these are large umbrella terms for people that are often times only linked through a shared oppression. Maybe it is the feeling of utter isolation that leads us to create these imagined communities. For the longest time, I didn’t know any queer people, there was no one who I could look to that would make me feel less alone. Perhaps that it why so many of us go to fiction to find solace. Even in fiction often it feels as though each morsel of representation is wrestled out of the hands of those who would keep it from us. But for me, there was always a home where I could find the community I craved.
I remember the first time I read fanfic. I couldn’t tell you how I came across it but somehow my incessant googling of the “Supernatural” resulted in me finding some of the steamier slash fanfic that fanfiction.net had to offer.
At the time I didn’t have much access to a computer. Though we had one around the house as far back as I can remember, my parents were always careful to limit both my brother’s and my contact with the wild world of the internet. They were under some impression that it would corrupt us (if only they knew how right they were).
Once I had gotten a taste of queer fandoms, I couldn’t get enough. It was as if a thirst I had never known had pervaded my life and could only be filled by one thing.
I managed to find my way back to fanfiction as I reached 9th standard and my parents determined I was in need of a phone. It had to be a basic phone, one incapable of doing much more than making a call and playing the occasional game of snake, but this was a small barrier for the truly desperate. Necessity is the mother of jugad and I quickly found that I could read text documents on its 5×5 cm screen. This was more than enough to send the cogs in my head turning.
So, every week after tuitions, rather than go back home, I would use all the coins I had collected and book a half an hour session at the local internet café. There I would go online and meticulously collect all the fanfic I could find and paste them into text documents and put them on to my phone. All the while sweating like a criminal on the lam.
This continued for some time and I grew more attached to this fantastic other world that only I seemed to know about. It was the queer playground of my dreams, where everything was allowed and everyone was nice. My understanding of fandom has evolved considerably since then but I can still clearly remember the euphoria of having found a place of my own even though I could only interact with it in a limited capacity.
It was only after I left to start college and I got my very own (hand-me-down) laptop, that I was really able to engage with fanfiction.
All my interaction with queer culture to that point had been purely observational. I was perpetually behind the glass, at times laughing with them, and sometimes commiserating, but always unheard, unseen. For the first few years of being given the freedom to connect, I didn’t know what to do with it. On an intellectual level, I knew I could reach out to people and form the connections I had dreamed of but somehow, I didn’t quite believe it.
Eventually, it was envy that made me make the first move. After having spent years looking at other fans interact with each other and with the writers themselves, I began to wish that I could be one of them. Why couldn’t I join this group of people that loved the same things I did?
I can’t remember what I thought when finally, I typed down that first comment in 2014. It was, all things considered, fairly mundane. I complimented the writer’s ability to keep me hooked for a colossal 100,000 words, all while adopting the serious tone of someone who fears being seen as immature.
I told myself that I didn’t care to receive a response, that it was simply a one-sided demonstration of my appreciation. That didn’t stop me from checking my inbox every other day until eventually there was one.
I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Most fanfiction writers enter the fandom space with a sense of gratitude. Until recent years. there was very little in the way of satisfaction for a fan of something so niche. You could spend years simply wallowing in what-ifs, with no official canon solution or development of your head canon pairings. Because of that, fanfiction writers approach others in the fandom with the same level of incredulity of someone living in an isolated alternate reality finding another companion.
It was incredibly gratifying to have someone acknowledge my existence as a fan in general but there was also an underlying understanding that I was in some way queer without having to explicitly state it. We were all here, celebrating an unabashedly queer presentation of characters that are canonically (allegedly) straight, so it was understood that all of us where the same. Different shades maybe, but somehow unified.
There is much that fandom and the queer community have in common. The act of creating without the desire for remuneration or reciprocation creates links that are more powerful than just those of circumstance. Just pure love for the art and those who love that art is something that cannot be tainted.
Connections across the internet are as tangible as you believe them to be. There is nothing but zeros and ones holding them together, faint strings across an unimaginable expanse. Most of the time, I wouldn’t even know where those strings would go to. Sometimes I would play a game, trying to figure out who wrote the stories that were having such an impact on me. Were they a man, a woman? Neither? Who did they love? Did they feel the same connection to those uncountable zeros and ones masquerading as people?
A lifetime has passed since 2014 and I am far from the person I used to be. Now, media is eager to capitalize on a overarching liberal consensus, but I still return to the comments I made over the years just to relieve that connection that was free of the strings of capitalism. I try to remember the emotions, 2567 days ago, 2280 days ago, still fresh to me as if I was there. Fandom has become one of the only constants in my life because it was the first time I had reached out across the vast and unknowable void and someone had reached back out to catch me.
Benedict Anderson’s “Imagined Communities” was a concept developed to critique the tenuous links that hold groups together, or rather the powers that sought to abuse these links. But what about the people that needed these imaginary links? We may not be in the same geographical location but we share pain and love. That is enough for me.