Disidentify Until You Identify
“But what if I’m not an expert on anything?” someone asks. Not an expert on anything? I think to myself. That’s ridiculous, of course you’re an expert at something! And while that statement in of itself is true – everyone is an expert at something, I realize that this thought is probably fueled by my neurodiversity. You see, I consider myself an expert on entirely too many things – on every special interest and hyperfixation I’ve gathered through my 19 years of existence. I’ve collected these large, unrelated chunks of information in the different corners of my brain, and I am only really reminded of their existence during the random 2-hour-long infodump on Captain America: Civil War or episode 7 of Shadowhunters or that one scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that I subject the people around me to at least on a sub weekly basis. So, after give and take 12 years of infodumps like this, I have grown pretty comfortable with calling myself an “expert” on quite a few things.
So, instead of asking “what if I’m not an expert on anything?” I was weirdly left picking between my subjects of so-called “expertise” for this blog post, and I had almost settled on writing out a 2-hour-long infodump on Captain America: Civil War and probably crashing the website with the ridiculous length of my post when I realized that there was a common theme within all the topics that I had been choosing between. And I know what you’re thinking: they’re all super nerdy – and no! That’s not it! (Well, I mean, that is true, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.) So, what is the common theme then? Well, for that, let’s dive into a little bit of fandom history. Or, I suppose, it’s best if I call it my fandom history.
The day I discovered what fanfiction was I was 11, back when I used to live in Armenia and made friends with random Russian teenage girls on the internet. I still remember the ridiculous amounts of excitement I had felt that day – I think part of the reason why I never want to get married is that I’ll never be able to tell my spouse that “this is the happiest day of my life” because deep down I will know that the real happiest day of my life was when I was 11 and learned what fanfiction was.
The day I realized I was gay I was 13. That day was much less exciting, yet it still somehow factors into the reason why I never want to get married. But we’re not getting into that right now, it is entirely too depressing.
The day I realized I could read gay fanfiction I was 14. If I remember correctly, it was a One Direction fanfic that one of my friends randomly sent me. “This is so good, I love this ship,” she had said. I don’t quite remember my reaction to it, but it must have been a significant one, considering I still remember the moment so well (the only way this relates to why I’ll never get married, just for the sake of continuing the theme, is probably by explaining why it would be difficult to find someone that would want to marry me, anyway).
Since then, it’s been 5 years, and I have not read a single cishet fanfic. Not one. So, you’re probably asking yourself here, Kay, are you saying that you’re an expert at… gay fanfiction? And while, yes, I most definitely am saying that – considering I’ve rewritten my gay fanfiction into original work and published it, if anyone is an expert at gay fanfiction, it’s me. Except, that’s not what I’m saying, really.
Whether you’re queer or not and whether you like fanfiction or not, have you ever asked yourself, why is it that since the Wattpad y/n x Harry Styles fanfiction era has long ended, straight people rarely ever read fanfiction, but such a large chunk of queer people still do? Why is it that cishet people associate fanfiction with cringy Tumblr posts from 2014 and pre-teens, yet many queer people think of fanfiction as simply another form of media? Well, let me tell you why, since that’s my expertise – apparently.
“Disidentify Until You Identify” is what I’ve named this blog post. You might be wondering what the hell that means. A couple of months ago I convinced one of my friends to do a Marvel marathon with me, since they hadn’t seen the majority of the movies. Within the first 20 minutes of Iron Man 1, when Tony Stark wakes up on the “operation” table with bandages wrapped around his chest (see attached image), my friend chuckled and said “Ha, trans Tony!” and I excitedly chipped back, “I know, right?”
Is Tony Stark canonically trans? Well, he’s not confirmed to be, but what does canon matter for when you’re queer, right? You see, the reason why so many queer kids read fanfiction is because it is our way of disidentifying the characters and assigning them with sexuality, gender, and ethnicity “headcanons” so that we can in some way see ourselves in them, so that we can make media at least a tiny bit indulgent for ourselves.
I used to think I hated romance movies. For a while, I thought this was a byproduct of my internalized misogyny, but recently I finally connected the dots and realized that romance movies for me are boring because I don’t see myself in them. I was vibrating with excitement when I sat, tear-stained and mascara leaking down my face, smiling so hard that my facial muscles hurt in the movie theater, watching Love, Simon. Mainstream media is self-indulgent for cishet white people, but it neglects us. It neglects to show us that we, too, deserve to be excited about romance and love. It neglects to show us that we, too, deserve to be excited about superheroes and wizards. So, we filter through the tags on archiveofourown.org, to find something that is, as the website so eloquently puts it, our own.
“Tony is Middle Eastern because I say so!” I say, taking a bite of my chocolate bar.
“Hmm… I say Persian.”
“Oh, yes, definitely. Persian, autistic, trans masc king.”
“Fantastic. I love him.”
“Well, he sucks, but I love him too, I suppose.”
“Please, like look at the way he stands, do you expect me to think he’s not trans?”
“Ridiculous. Who could ever expect you to think he’s not trans?”
“You know, literally every single person that wrote and illustrated the character and every version of the character since it first came out in 1963.” I laugh.
“Shhh, we don’t talk about that,” they laugh too.