I never did the “fangirl” thing at the point in your life when it’s normal to do so. Never had a subscription to Tiger Beat as a girl (more about that in a second), never hung posters on the wall or hugged my pillow and pretended to kiss some singer or t.v. guy. Maybe it’s because I started performing when I was about four years old. Nothing national. I was never on a show anyone outside of the area would have heard of. My biggest shows were a local Bozo The Clown/kid’s show sort of thing and one stage show with Cantinflas, a comic actor from Mexico. But I grew up with people putting on makeup and costumes, so I knew the people on television were playing pretend.
And yet my first crush was on Mr. Ed, the talking horse. Go figure.
We tended to live at a distance from other people. I couldn’t just have a friend over, although there were a couple of kids I would hike to meet halfway (both were boys). It wasn’t until almost junior high that I had a close female friend, and she did buy teen magazines and put up posters, of Donny Osmond. Every wall, the ceiling, there might have been some on the floor. Every surface bore his smiling, wide-eyed visage. I went into the closet to change, hoping to change into my pajamas without eyes staring at me, only to find out she lined her closet with his posters, too.
That was my introduction to fandom. In high school, I had some fans of my own. Acting in a traveling theater troupe, performing at schools, hospitals and events, I found out that my most popular role was a bigger hit than I knew. While trying to buy a new bra in a department store, a little boy testing a Big Wheel found me in the lingerie department and squealed, “It’s The Donkey! The Donkey is buying a bra!” I was a shy kid (how I ended up performing is a whole ‘nother story in itself), and the last thing I wanted was a lot of attention in public. No, the *last* thing was to be noticed while buying underwear.
Kids flocked to the lingerie department, all happily talking very loudly about how The Donkey was buying a bra, what kind of bra was dangling, forgotten, from my limp hand, and begging me to sing. I asked them please to go back to their parents. I begged them to just let me shop. But fans don’t hear things like that.
It took me time to understand that in that moment, I was no longer a person. I was no longer a teenaged girl trying to buy underwear. I was something different, set apart, both more and less than the people around us. I think I finally did sing a song (and friends will tell you that I don’t usually sing in public, “public” being where anyone can hear me). I seem to remember doing a little dance. Then I ran away and hid in the changing room.
So I went through my teen years without ever sighing dreamily over Mark Hamill (and if I were going to sigh dreamily over someone at that point, it would have been Mark Hamill). I didn’t buy teen magazines and read and re-read them. It’s just a developmental phase I didn’t go through.
When I started writing a novel that included fame as a component, and identity, it just seemed natural to explore fandom. Luckily, there were some very nice people, some of whom became friends, who were willing to lead me around and show me the landscape. I even participated, joined some fan Facebook pages, created fan art, even wrote part of a fan fiction that will *never* see the light of day (it’s awful).
I went into chat rooms to talk about a band I was a huge fan of as a kid (and still like). Went to concerts. All that stuff. And it was fun.
Every so often, I’d run across someone who was clearly taking it too far. It had assumed more importance than it could support the weight of, and eventually it was bound to collapse. Often that person would attack (not physically, thank God) someone else. Or try to befriend someone only because of a perceived connection to the object of desire. Why? Because of a perceived threat to a fantasy or idea. People will kill to defend an idea. Occasionally I found myself saying, “If this is important enough to you to get this angry, you need to set it down for a while and do anything else.”
Like most things we say to one another, this was something I needed to tell myself. At some point, my own involvement started to matter to me. I let myself have that adolescent experience but neglected to keep my adult perspective on it. I never went off on anyone, but I got my feelings hurt in a very adolescent way (no offense meant to actual adolescents. Being an adolescent is just a point in the journey, unless you insist on sleeping on the benches in that train station long after your train has left it).
My initial reaction was an emotional one. It was only when I took it out and looked at it that I realized that my emotional reaction was more fitting for someone far younger than I am. I’m an adult, with adult responsibilities and an adult’s life. Fandom, which had been sometimes fun, sometimes surprising, always quirky, had started to matter. Finding out that I wasn’t really part of “the group” the way I thought I was mattered.
See, as a kid, we lived far enough away so that I couldn’t really just have kids over to play, or hang out easily. I usually had someone to eat lunch with if I wanted to, and got along fine with most of my classmates, but I didn’t have close friends, partially because my family had too many secrets (secrets I don’t bother hiding any more, but at the time? Our lives revolved around the dysfunction at home). I didn’t hang out with friends. I participated in organized activities.
Now, I do both. I have actual friends (some of them also “fangirls,” some not) and see them or chat with them when we can manage it. I also participate in events and activities, like art shows. Being in fandom too long took me back too far, past the enthusiasm and enjoyment of adolescence and into the emotions and over-reliance on “the group.”
I’m a weird old lady, and I was a weird young lady, and a weird kid. Some people are designed to belong to a pack and some, like me, aren’t. Also, I’m an introvert. More people are extroverts and while I do like some of them, I’ll never fit in to a pack of extroverts. I was not just okay with that, I was comfortable with it, until I tried to fit in again.
Now I’m back to writing and sculpting and being a happy introvert. I matter to the people I matter to, and the rest don’t matter (at least to me). And my journey in fandom is over. I’m an enthusiast, and I still like the music, but I’m not a fan. I’m just not cut out for it.
But boy, it was interesting while it lasted.