You don’t need permission to be a (FILL IN THE BLANK) fan

The first time I remember someone actively trying to tell me I shouldn’t be a fan of something was in the second grade.

My teacher was letting us self-select into small reading groups. I was electing to be part of a book group that happened to be made up of all boys. If I joined, the book group would be at capacity. And there was another boy who wouldn’t be able to join the group.

The class was in mild-chaos as the teacher went around recording groups. The boys sent a delegate over to convince me to be in a different group. I felt embarrassed for picking the wrong group, and absolutely unwanted. I still feel that sad, sour feeling in my stomach, tinged by anxiety.

So, I told the teacher I wanted to be in the Black Beauty group. Black Beauty? I do like horses, but I didn’t want to read about them. I like magic! Space! Weird, googly-eyed trolls!

I don’t remember what the book was that I was so swiftly ushered away from (because I never read it) but it was probably cool. After all, it was the one that attracted my true interest.

This has happened again and again in my life, and I’m sure in yours.

I wasn’t sure if I was the type of student to take an art class.

My friends didn’t like anime, so I didn’t—though I watched Inuyasha and Cowboy Bebop late at night on Toonami.

Even now, though I talk about science fiction and fantasy literature every day, I double check the spelling of character’s names for fear that an internet troll will call me out: Hey! This chick doesn’t know how to spell Vrematnetaladon! She’s not a true fan like I am!

And it does happen. It happens online but IRL too. Someone forgets a long ago mentioned subplot and is suddenly being told they’re not a real Star Wars fan. Or they’ve only watched the Game of Thrones TV show, not read the book, so they’re not a true fan. Or they haven’t read all of an author’s work (pick an author, really, any author at all) so they can’t possibly *actually* like that author.

Books, movies, fandoms, sports, music, makeup, art, basically every interest area comes with a few die-hard defenders that feel like they need to fight back the masses trying to steal their special thing.

And if we’re not them, then we let them. We think, gee, I guess it doesn’t really matter that I’ve invested four years in this series. What was I thinking?

Why is that?

It’s almost like when you have a crush on someone, and you’d just die if anyone found out. (I’m married eleven years-long so it’s been a while, but I remember the red cheeks that followed accusations of liking someone!!).

Why? If you think someone’s so awesome, wouldn’t you want to tell everyone?

No. Because it’s not about them, it’s about us. You’re not worried if they’re good enough or not. You’re worried whether you’re good enough.

And that’s how it is when you discover a new graphic novel, or hang a poster up on your apartment wall. It’s not that you don’t think it’s cool enough, but whether you’re cool enough.

And what about the flip side?  Why are some people so eager to beat others back from something they hold up so high? Again, it’s not about the thing. It’s about them. They’re special for many reasons, one of which is that they like this thing. But if you like it too—if everyone watches it, reads it—maybe they’re less special than they thought.

So let’s all agree. Like the thing. Let others like the thing. And be a first-rate fan because you like the thing, not because you sleep with the entire series under your pillow or you’ve memorized the author’s home address (don’t do either of these things).

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