For me, 2015 has been the year I seriously took the plunge back into fanfic and fandom. I was never fully disconnected, but in recent years I haven’t had much to do with it; I was focused on other things. I was inching in already, thanks to the MCU in general and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but movies don’t come out often enough for me to go full-blown, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn’t the show most suited to it either(at least at first). But then Daredevil landed, and I took the plunge back in. I’ve written more in the past six months than I did during some years, and what I put on the backburner in favor of trying to become a published novelist, I now feel differently about. For better or for worse, I am a fanfic author, that is my identity in life, and I’m learning to embrace it, once and for all. I’ve never been ashamed, but now I’m proud. Let the world scorn me or dismiss me for not being a respectable published woman(though I still might self-publish a book that is essentially Jane Austen fanfic anyway); I don’t give a damn.
And I’ve discovered, much to my delight, that the world I came back to isn’t the world I drifted out of half a decade back. Indeed, when I think of the fandom I first found when I was a teenager, it amazes me how far we’ve come. I think even the medium of fanfiction itself has developed and matured. The so-called “classics” of the so-called “Golden Age” of Harry Potter fanfic that happened when I was 16, and the alternate Ron/Hermione fics on fanfiction.net I read instead because of my shipping preferences? Now very dated; they can’t hold a candle to the better Daredevil fic I’ve spent the last half-year reading on AO3. Although even those first HP fics had been a huge step up from what I saw heavily read and praised in the Star Trek fandom. Those first Star Trek fics were actually pretty shallow most of the time, with no real attempt to really capture the nuances of the characters involved, the prose cliche, and often any threats to the author’s OTP were turned unrecognizable.
That’s another thing, actually. Back when I was a teenager, it was considered perfectly acceptable to shamelessly bash any such characters, to make up a zillion ways to kill Worf if you shipped Jadzia/Julian, to scorn Seven of Nine as the “Borg barbie” after the Powers That Be pulled off the stunt they did at the end of Voyager, and that was nothing to the way too much of the Harry Potter fandom went after poor Ginny Weasley after Half-Blood Prince was released, slut-shaming her for having a normal teenager dating life. But now? I’ve never seen a single Clintasha shipper go after Laura Barton, even those that will never forgive Whedon for creating her. On the contrary, I’ve seen fans worry about her getting fridged. They don’t blame Bruce either. And even more recently, even when I’ve seen my Twitter timeline lament the Jemma/Will love story, not only do they still not hate Will, some of them even took to him. Once upon a time, as soon as the possibility came up he might have been Hydra, all the Fitzsimmons shippers would’ve immediately decided he must be, and even hope for it and rejoice at it, and gleefully plan his painful death. Now? I see more expressions of dismay from my timeline, because they might not want Will to be with Jemma, but that doesn’t stop them from getting protective of him as a character in his own right. Once upon of time, they probably would’ve have condemned her too, for sleeping with anyone other than her One True Love. Now, they’re quick to say they don’t blame her. Hell, it makes me happy that the night “4,722 Hours” aired, I saw one use of the word “friendzone” on my timeline, and that was from someone who wasn’t in fandom(I unfollowed him later for unrelated reasons).
In fact, I’ve seen fandom get more careful especially about bashing female characters. I think fandom’s always been at least a little more feminist than the mainstream, hardly surprising, since we’re mostly female, but in my teenager years, that still wasn’t saying much. We still focused on the men, and we bashed a lot of female characters for doing what we would’ve given the male characters a pass on or even praised them for. It’s not gone entirely; I’ve seen people go after Karen Page for her recklessness and occasional foolishness. But that’s nothing compared to what she would’ve been in for once upon a time, when the majority of fandom might have hated her, found her annoying at best and often far worse, possibly even hoped for her to meet the same fate as her 616 counterpart. Now? People regularly call her “awesome.” People love her for her aggressiveness against the bad guys. Even fans who focus in on Matt and Foggy to write about them all the time acknowledge her as awesome.
Speaking of which, that’s another thing I’m happy to see changed. When I was young, you were either a shipper or a slasher; people who shipped some people together who were of the opposite sex and some people together who were of the same sex, depending on who the characters were and whom they seemed best with, were the exception rather than the rule. Het shippers were often downright homophobic, finding slash gross and flaming it until slashers bragged about the flames they got. Meanwhile, the slashers often got grossed out by het, to the point of misogyny, and of course female love interests got themselves bashed the hell out of(see above comments, re: Karen Page). This thankfully started to change during the heyday of the Harry Potter fandom, when Remus/Sirius started to become something everybody shipped, but still there was that divide. Now? Even the word slash is starting to fall out of use; everyone gets referred to by the same equal terms, and if you want Matt and Foggy to be together, you can simply declare yourselves as shipping them, because it’s really no different from wanting Matt to be with Karen or Claire, and just because you shipped Coulson with May instead of with Clint Barton doesn’t mean you can’t ship Fitz with Mack instead of Simmons, or you can ship Coulson with Clint and still ship Fitzsimmons. The two things aren’t seen as having anything to do with each other anymore, when once, that wouldn’t have been the case.
But perhaps the most gratifying improvement I’ve seen in fandom is how much we’ve become aware of real world issues, and especially how they apply to the things we love. As well as having a nascent feminism, the slashers, at least, have always supported gay rights, because really, they couldn’t not do so, but once, that was about it. Now? I’ve watched fandom be far more aware of racial and gender issues than anyone in the mainstream. I’ve even seen young fans talk about how they’ve become educated about them through fandom, far more than school has taught them. I love how everyone understands not only the importance of Joey Gutierriz, and the need for him not to be killed off, and not even just as confirmed-onscreen-as-LGBT character, but as one of colour as well. We’ve certainly come a long way on the female characters. Once, we were happy to have all the white men and not care about anyone else. Now? We demand our due of good well-written female characters and ones of colour, and we are not happy when nonwhite characters get whitewashed or killed off. I’m especially proud at how much fans were willing to call out Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for the racially problematic casting, to the point that Rowling was forced to address the issue.
This is the community I’ve come back into, and I’m proud to call it home. No matter how much certain corners of it still drive me crazy, this year, I am most thankful for fandom.