As we can all agree, there are a lot of really great things about fandom. The ships, the cosplay, the getting ridiculously attached to your favorite characters to the point of fighting back bouts of hysteria at the thought of their death (ahem…if Loki dies in Infinity War, I riot!).
But one of the most poignant aspects of fandom is the connections it can create when we share it with the people we love. Stories matter. They’re not just superficial entertainment. They inspire us and give us models of the kinds of people we can become. They challenge our beliefs. The best ones force us to examine our own lives and ask ourselves the tough questions. Following a character on their journey can be a powerful experience. And sharing that experience with someone you care about can be a profound way to deepen your connection (and not just in the Netflix And Chill kinda way…although you’ll get no complaints from me!).
It’s no secret that I’ve been a nerd basically my whole life. I started watching Star Trek TOS at the tender age of five, with my dad who was a major Trekker (this was back in the day when that was still a term people used). And I really got into Trek a little later when Next Generation hit the airwaves. My mom joined in on the action too, and the three of us would tune in every week together for years. I have very clear memories of gray, winter nights in Ohio spent curled up next to the fireplace in our living room, being transported (pun intended!) away into the amazing world of the Enterprise and the Federation (and admittedly crushing a little on a young Wil Wheaton). And now, all these years later, Star Trek is still something my parents and I bond over. And talking about the shows with them is almost like mnemonic for us. Or shorthand. Just the mention of Star Trek reminds us of all of the happy memories we’ve shared over the years.
I had a similar experience in middle school with The X-Files. I went to a small private middle school that had some fantastic teachers, awesome extracurriculars, and impressive facilities. But with such small classes, the cliques that formed were intense. I started at this school in fourth grade and didn’t really have a lot of friends. I was teased for being short and for not being into makeup or Beverly Hills 90210. That whole year basically sucked for me. But in fifth grade, things changed. A new girl named Hannah came to the school. And one glorious day in science class, as we were preparing to dissect earthworms, our teacher showed a clip from The Host. If you’re not familiar, it’s the season two episode of X-Files in which Mulder and Scully encounter a being that seems to be manlike but also has many of the traits of a fluke worm (so gross, but so good!). Afterward, Hannah and I started talking and discovered that we were both big fans of the show. We bonded immediately. It was amazing! We were no longer lone nerds against the world! For an 11-year-old who had just endured an entire year of being socially ostracized, finding Hannah felt pretty miraculous.
The same thing happened yet again in grad school. I earned my M.F.A. at the completely amazing Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. One of my roommates was a woman named Aimee, who is still one of my very best friends. She’s a big fan of sci-fi and fantasy, too. Our go-to hang out activity was ice cream and Buffy. And we ducked out of more than a couple lectures early to watch Battlestar Galactica. We’ve gone to Comic Con together and met some of our mutually adored heroes, like Nichelle Nichols and Ron D. Moore.
Of course, our friendship is about more than watching TV shows together. But our shared enthusiasm for our various fandoms has definitely brought us closer together. It’s like we speak the same language. We just get each other.
Last year for Christmas, I was gifted a box filled with some of my grandmother’s old recipes. Some of them were typed up or photocopied from cookbooks. But many of them had been handwritten by my grandmother. She passed away back when I was in college, but seeing her handwriting, holding those recipes for dishes I remember eating on holidays – it felt so poignant. Like I was holding a little part of her. It reminded me that there’s a little bit of her in me, too. I think sharing fandoms is the same way. When you pass down your comic books to your kids, you’re gifting them a piece of you. When you bond with a friend over a favorite TV show, you’re saying to them, “This thing you love so much, it touched me, too. It’s important to me, too.” Fandom isn’t just about Tumblr GIFs and tawdry fan fic (not that I’m complaining about that at all, though! I love me some Stucky!). Fandom is about opening your heart to the very real, very human aspects of these stories and characters, and sharing that with people you care about.