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What Are Fen Afraid Of? What Am I Afraid Of? And Why Does metafandom Hate Me? - Mo's Journal
May 3rd, 2006
10:14 am

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What Are Fen Afraid Of? What Am I Afraid Of? And Why Does metafandom Hate Me?
This was prompted by a really interesting survey partly_bouncy conducted recently and the ensuing discussion, mostly on an email list. partly_bouncy has been considering the oft expressed fear that certain fannish behavior – if publicly known – could adversely affect the sales of canon texts. She came up with several scenarios of fannish behavior and asked people who do not consider themselves to be involved in fandom if knowledge of those scenarios would affect their buying decisions concerning the related canon. She (very cleverly, I think) included both scenarios that would generally be viewed as positive acts (e.g. fans contribute to charity) as well as those where there’s concern that the public at large might have negative reactions. I think her results are interesting and thought-provoking and I’ve been discussing them with her. I’m not going to discuss them here. I found that thinking about her survey and the fear underlying it took me to a more general exploration of fear in fandom. I’d like to post about that.

I’m relatively new to fandom but in the few years I’ve been involved I’ve heard a lot of fear expressed - fear of exposure of fannish activities to non-fen. It seems to be very common among fanfic writers and readers, and particularly so among those involved in “adult” fanfic. (I’ve never really understood using the word “adult” to refer to sexual activity; I always felt it should refer to monitoring cholesterol or calculating mortgage interest or having impacted wisdom teeth, but I digress.) I’ve seen a few distinct types of fear of exposure. I thought it might be interesting to my f-list if I described them as I see them, as well as describing my own level of fear with each one. I’d be very interested in others’ opinions (particularly dissenting opinions) on both the types of fears and the sources of them.

Fear of Personal Exposure - a number of fanfic readers and writers make clear that people in their day-to-day lives don’t know about their fannish involvement. Fen express (both overtly and through their actions) various levels of fear that the fannish activity will become known. Many people write under pseudonyms. Some disclose their real names to all, some to a select few, some to no one. Fanfic writers express fears that knowledge of their fannish activities could lead to personal problems with family and friends, to loss of employment, and/or to a general negative feeling among their associates.

mofic and this fear – very minor. I did feel this fairly acutely when I began writing. I thought it was a weird hobby and people of my acquaintance, if they knew about it, would conclude that I am a weird person. I worried about the explicit sex in the stories and about the creepiness. I over-identified with my characters, I think, or at least I feared that others would over-identify me with them (e.g. “She writes about characters having a lot of sex; she must be sexually obsessed” or “She writes about people doing creepy things; she must be a creepy person.”)

When I first began writing slash it was a Deep Dark Secret (DDS) because of those fears. The problem with keeping it a DDS, though, was that it’s such fun to do and I wanted to share the fun with my friends. So, I started telling people, one by one. And I found that no one expressed – at least to me – a negative feeling about it at all. Some people were interested; some weren’t; some feigned a slight interest out of politeness or kindness; some told me that they too write or read slash. By far the most common reaction was surprise that I find the time to do this. I think the reactions of my friends and family were typical of reactions to hobbies in general. My fear receded and eventually disappeared. I write under a pseudonym but I don’t hide my real name in fannish circles or my fannish activities in other circles. I no longer live in fear.

Fear that Fannish Behavior of Others Will Reflect Badly on Them – A good example of this (and unfortunately I don’t remember the specifics – perhaps someone else does) was recent discussion of an incident where a fan gave a gift to a popular actor: a box of sexually related materials. I was surprised at how strong fan reactions were to this in many venues. People seemed to take it very personally that someone would do this, felt that this behavior reflected badly on fandom as a whole and on the people discussing it in particular. They expressed anger, but it seemed motivated by fear to me. It reminded me of my grandmother who would react to any publicity of untoward behavior by a Jew with “What will the goyim say?” I found it more understandable in her case, I think. Where are the anti-fan pogroms that lead people to fear opprobrium or danger because of one fan’s behavior?

mofic and this fear – none. I file this kind of incident under Crazy People Doing Crazy Things. I don’t feel affected by it personally at all. Maybe I don’t identify strongly enough as a fan to feel threatened by other fans’ behavior. Maybe I don’t feel personal stigma for my fannish activities enough (see above) to feel reflected stigma. At any rate, it was all just shrug-worthy to me.

Fear that Fannish Behavior Will Cause Decrease in Purchase of Source Text Material – that’s where I came in on this one. The argument (and I fear I can’t do it justice since I don’t really buy it) is that if a product becomes associated in the public mind with behavior considered taboo or even just distasteful, that distaste will translate to distaste with the canon material and adversely affect sales. So, for example, if the public at large were to realize that some Harry Potter fen write sexually explicit fanfic featuring child characters, then parents would be reluctant to buy HP books and movies for their children.

mofic and this fear – very minor. I just don’t think it works that way. IME when people have negative reactions to fannish activities like slash and sexually explicit fanfic those negative reactions manifest themselves as hostility towards the fen, not towards canon. In fact, they often manifest themselves as a kind of hostility towards fen that the hostile individual views as protective of canon. So, those who disapprove of X-Men slash (which is what I write, so I’m most familiar with the hostile reactions to that genre) get angry that anyone would impose homosexual desire and/or activity on what they see as “innocent” comic books or movies. The anti-slash folks often also see themselves as protecting the “innocent” consumers of canon from what they see as the perversions of slash (e.g. the argument that canon text is aimed at children, who might inadvertently come across slash and be corrupted).

I won’t say it’s out of the question that someone might choose not to buy particular canon texts because of fannish activity. In fact, partly_bouncy’s survey found some who said they would make such decisions. I just don’t see it as something that would happen enough to affect market share of a popular commodity like X-Men or Harry Potter.

Fear that Behavior of Certain Fans Will Cause the Creators of Canon Material to Take Action Against Fans in General – This one was also discussed in a lot of meta recently, when a woman named Lori Jareo was found to be selling her vanity-published novel-length Star Wars fanfic via amazon.com and bandn.com. There was an outpouring of anger in many venues, and a lot of the angry writing expressed fear very directly – fear that Jareo’s actions would cause Lucas et al not only to clamp down on her, but on all Star Wars fanfic. “She could ruin things for all of us” was an often expressed sentiment.

mofic and this fear – none. I file this one under Stupid People Doing Stupid Things. I know Lori Jareo is not the first stupid fan to come to the attention of canon producers and I dare say she won’t be the last. Star Wars fandom and Star Wars fanfic have been around as long as Star Wars has. I think most canon producers tacitly approve of fanfic, since it generates interest in canon (I realize that there are exceptions. I’m told Anne Rice is a notable one). I think even should Lucas (or JKR or Marvel or DC) decide they disapprove and are going to clamp down, they couldn’t kill fandom. If they close down one site or if a popular one no longer accepts a particular kind of fanfic (like when ffnet stopped taking NC/17 stories) people will find other venues. When Yahoogroups deleted the Master-Apprentice list for supposed TOS infractions, it was recreated within days – as another Yahoogroup. If that hadn’t worked it would have gone elsewhere. Fandom and fanfic associated with very popular source text is just so large, multi-faceted, multi-located and resilient that I firmly believe it can’t be killed.

Okay, so all those fears of exposure I hear about apply to me very little or not at all. What am I scared of, fannishly? A few things:

- Running out of ideas for fanfic. It hasn’t happened yet, and in fact, if I ever finish the series I’m working on I have two in the hopper with a basic plot and notes. I hope that X3 will give me more ideas. I might write in another fandom, as well, if I run out of things to say about the X-Men. Yet I find this to be a salient fear for me. Why? I think it’s just because I enjoy it so much that I worry about it ending.

- Running out of readers. I do write for myself, in the sense that I write what I want to, but I love that people read and enjoy the stories. I worry every time I publish that the story or series will just sink into an abyss, that no one will read it or comment on it. Again, hasn’t happened yet, but the prospect frightens me.

- Running out of steam. Sometimes I can write 5000-10,000 words in a week; sometimes I go weeks without writing any fiction. I’m in the middle of a series now, and it’s slow going. I've got five stories and 14,000 words written. It’s an X2 one and I had hoped to have it done, beta’ed and published before X3. That seems unlikely now. I’m pretty ready to accept that, and will still publish it. Hell, I’m still publishing X1 series years after the second one came out. I do worry, though, that I won’t finish this one. I’ve worried that at the half-way point with all of them, I think. Again, it hasn’t happened yet. But does it scare me? As Logan says to Rogue when she asks him if it hurts when the claws come out, “Every time.”

Last topic of this very long post: Why does metafandom hate me? I love metafandom. I’ve found interesting discussions and interesting people through that community’s posts. I don’t really think a community of over 700 people could all hate me. Still, I don’t understand why I’ve been rejected by metafandom. ::sniff:: They used to pick up my meta posts. In fact, that’s how I first heard about the community – I got a bunch of people commenting who said “Here via metafandom”. But they haven’t used any of my meta for months and months. I think I still give good meta, but they’ve deserted me entirely. Ah well, I guess my love will have to be unrequited.

If anyone has gotten this far, I’d love to hear your views on –

Fears you see among fen
Fears you experience in connection with your fannish activities
How to make metafandom love, or at least notice me again?
Anything else this post makes you think about.

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From:mofic
Date:May 3rd, 2006 03:57 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the explanation. I should learn not to take such things personally.
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From:dodyreads
Date:May 3rd, 2006 02:50 pm (UTC)
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How to make [info]metafandom love, or at least notice me again?

This is, unsurprisingly, a frequently asked question. And so a quote:

How do I get listed on metafandom?

You need to host an interesting discussion in fandom on LiveJournal, or the beginnings of one, and send us a link. The content of each post is up to the individual compiler, as they have to read each post, quote it, code it, put their name to the [info]metafandom update and receive the comments, so it might not go in. [info]dodyskin will probably sling it in eventually though: she's easy.

You didn't list my/my friend's post. Why not?

Most likely because you didn't tell us about it. Otherwise... Because it wasn't an interesting discussion in fandom on LiveJournal. Because it was about your cat. Because there are only so many hours in the day. Because we never promised you a rose garden.

Love and kisses and a link in the memories

metafandom

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From:mofic
Date:May 3rd, 2006 03:58 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! I hadn't realized that one can recommend oneself to metafandom. In the past I've just been magically anointed, and then it stopped...
From:inathunderstorm
Date:May 3rd, 2006 02:55 pm (UTC)
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I'm just confused how anyone could *not* like X-Men slash. *g* Maybe I'm biased!!

I have the same fear about running out of ideas or interest. Harry Potter fandom, which is huge and sometimes very wanky, is becoming of less and less interest to me. Of course, that could be because I've discovered a new fandom with *so much* more canon--there are movies, a million comics, a cartoon--and, in my humble opinion, better developed characters. I write the adults in HP mainly, though, and usually pretty minor characters. So that's a difference too, I suppose.

Enjoyed your meta. I can't imagine why metafandom wouldn't notice and/or love your meta. They should!! *waves fist at them*

Enjoyed this. I always like your meta--brings up some really interesting thoughts.
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From:mofic
Date:May 3rd, 2006 04:02 pm (UTC)
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I'm just confused how anyone could *not* like X-Men slash.

It is a hard concept to grasp.

As to HP fandom, it's the hugeness that makes it hard for me to get into. I don't know how to find what I might like. I'm a fan of the books and the movies, in the sense that I've read the books multiple times with my kids and have seen all the movies at least once, but I'm not part of HP fandom.

X-Men definitely has huge potential. As you say, there is so much canon. That can be good and bad, since the sheer size can be overwhelming as can the inconsistencies. I write movieverse with comicverse elements. That makes it more accessible to me as a writer, since my only canon is the movie or movies, but it gives me lots of characters and plot elements to borrow, as well.

I'm glad you liked the meta. It turns out that metafandom can be courted; I thought one had to wait to be asked to the dance.
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From:jane_sehrn_ta
Date:May 3rd, 2006 04:24 pm (UTC)
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Of the four fears you've discussed, the only one that concerns me at all is number one (personal exposure). The others, like you, I put in the category of "Crazy People Doing Crazy Things" and frankly, I don't see that fannish activities are going to decrease sales of canon texts one whit... if anything, the raised interest is going to sell more texts. There are a lot of purists in fandom who like to buy every single piece of canon and stay faithfully true to each item... not me, sorry to say.

Maybe it sounds odd, but the only reason that fandom is my DDS is I'm not comfortable enough with my sexuality or myself yet that I'm able to be that authentic, but I'm working on it. My wife knows and reads all my stuff, but that's about the extent of it. Unlike you, I haven't shared the fact of my writing slash with my kids. That's tied up with personal embarrassment and shame about sex (which is part of my historical baggage). My kids, for their part, are very open and natural about sex, and I'm learning a lot from their relaxed views. I'm confident that my fear of discovery from them is now minor, and that's expanded to include the fact that I have dissociative identity "disorder". If they asked me, I would tell them all about both (but they're generally at a self-focussed age and it hasn't come up... yet!). Indeed, I know they would be very enthusiastic about the slash and would want to read it, and both being over 17, and having been active five and two years respectively, I don't think I could say no, but I'd be jittery! A large part of that is from grwoing up within a family where my parent's personal life was a mystery and they certainly never had sex!

I enjoyed your definition of "adult" fic. Indeed, for my part, I'm not worried so much about defining something as adult, but for spoiling for particular content. This works for and against me. For instance, I had a story that included self-mutilation as a theme. Some said it intrigued them to see what I would do with it, others were repulsed but, I think, read it like rubberneckers at an accident scene, and I'm sure others didn't read it at all. Out of respect for others struggling with particular issues, I consider such warnings much more important. It's slash, it's probably gonna have sex, for goodness sakes! However, if someone is actively having issues with, say, self-mutilation, I don't want them to "trip" over that in the middle of my story and perhaps precipitate a personal crisis because it happened at a vulnerable stage of their personal journey. To me, that's just being respectful to my readers.

Now as for this fear of personal exposure, I feel that I'm on a journey overall in my personal life to be more authentic, and lately I've been thinking... it's not too hard to connect the dots between my fannish name and my real name (apart from those who do know both and could possibly be bribed LOL!). I suspect that with time I am going to become more relaxed about that. I know I have already relaxed a lot since I discussed pseudonyms a long time ago, some of that with you. I think due to my dissociative experience, I am used to existing in the world in layers, but as I get physically iller, and my cognitive processes dimmer, I worry less about maintaining the gaps and I believe in time I will reach the level of transparency about fannish activities that you have. I'm just not there yet.
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From:mofic
Date:May 3rd, 2006 04:55 pm (UTC)
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Hi, Jane. Nice to hear from you.

Indeed, I know they would be very enthusiastic about the slash and would want to read it, and both being over 17, and having been active five and two years respectively, I don't think I could say no, but I'd be jittery!

My kids don't read my sexually oriented stories and I'm not comfortable with the idea of them doing so. I see it as a boundary violation. I have no problem with them reading sexually explicit material at whatever point that interests them, just not mine. I read them excerpts of the stories and talk about plot points and characterization, but I skip over all the sex.

However, if someone is actively having issues with, say, self-mutilation, I don't want them to "trip" over that in the middle of my story and perhaps precipitate a personal crisis because it happened at a vulnerable stage of their personal journey. To me, that's just being respectful to my readers.

I know a lot of people feel that way. I disagree. I feel the responsibility is on the reader to avoid material s/he has issues with, not on the writer to anticipate what those might be and offer warnings up front. I don't warn for much of anything. I do say that my stories have explicit sex and deal with adult themes, but that's it (and not a spoiler). If a particular plot point is traumatizing for someone, s/he can stop reading when s/he gets there. If even getting to that point would be traumatizing, s/he can limit herself to pre-approved stories rec'ed by trusted friends. I just don't see this as authorial responsibility and I do feel it's a spoiler to say there's death or rape or whatever in a fic. That said, I would certainly answer any individual reader's questions if someone were to write to me and say s/he wanted info before deciding whether or not to read a story of mine, but no one ever has.

I think due to my dissociative experience, I am used to existing in the world in layers

I think that's very interesting! I'd never thought of it that way. I wonder if there have been any studies of disassociative identity disorder among fen and how it relates to pseudonymous behavior.

I think I have a very unyielding sense of self and it makes it hard for me - well nigh impossible - to affect a different persona. I started off with a pseudonym, but from the start everything but my name that I said in fannish circles represented my real life. I do think some people find fandom (and other internet pursuits) as an opportunity to be someone else, or just tweak reality a bit. They're a little more successful in their work, a little more popular, a little more affluent in representation than irl. I know that's not what you're talking about at all, but it just made me think of cases I know of where that's true.

it's not too hard to connect the dots between my fannish name and my real name

I would guess someone who really wanted to know could find it out.
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From:jane_sehrn_ta
Date:May 3rd, 2006 04:25 pm (UTC)
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continued...

It's true that I do write about a lot of personal issues and work them out in my fanfiction. Most of them have to do with what psychiatry would regard as mental disorders, but over time I have come to regard as just different ways of being. I do have a SW novel in the works that deals with dissociative identity "disorder" explicitly, and a year ago I would have been terrified of it being connected with "me". I guess that's why it's been held up for sooo long! But now, I don't have that same fear. I know I'm not crazy, whatever the differences between my mental life and anyone elses, and frankly I don't want to be friends with someone who'd treat me differently because of it. While I think it self-indulgent to come out in the headers of a novel and say this is based in personal experience, if a reader came out and asked me in feedback now, I'd never deny it, but I'd certainly hope that I had made the situation believable in terms of the characters that they could believe the characters were dealing with it too and that it wasn't out of character.

As you mentioned, I think I have a couple of big fears about writing slash. One is not getting the time... the kids' crises do take up a lot of my time. The other one is my autoimmune stuff progressing to the point where my cognitive processes are so interrupted that I couldn't write and (perhaps more importantly to me) edit as well as I would like. As it is, everything takes much longer for me than it used to, and I guess the progression of that is a scary thought for me.

As always, thanks for the thoughtful discussion. Where it comes to *your* writing, I still hope that in a few months my (and my family's) life will be in a much more stable place financially and emotionally, and I'll be doing a lot more reading. As I've said before, I then want to do more reading, including your work. I hope you're not going anywhere! ;)
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From:mofic
Date:May 3rd, 2006 04:56 pm (UTC)
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The other one is my autoimmune stuff progressing to the point where my cognitive processes are so interrupted that I couldn't write and (perhaps more importantly to me) edit as well as I would like. As it is, everything takes much longer for me than it used to, and I guess the progression of that is a scary thought for me.

I can imagine! I'm wishing you good health.
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From:eveningblue
Date:May 3rd, 2006 08:44 pm (UTC)

deep dark secrets

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The problem with keeping it a DDS, though, was that it’s such fun to do and I wanted to share the fun with my friends. So, I started telling people, one by one. And I found that no one expressed – at least to me – a negative feeling about it at all. Some people were interested; some weren’t; some feigned a slight interest out of politeness or kindness; some told me that they too write or read slash.

I've had exactly the same experience! At first, I thought people would think I was weird or nuts or a sex fiend. But I wanted to tell people, and so my inability to keep my mouth shut about myself overrode my shame. And surprise, no one thought I was a freak! The only person I'm close to that I haven't told is my sister, and maybe I will eventually, but she is very weird and closed about sex, so I don't know.

As you say, for some the writing of slash could be a professional problem, and as an aspiring high school teacher, I am one of these people. So I keep my true identity hidden until I get to know people and trust them, because I don't want to put my career in jeopardy.

I am also not that involved in fandom, and I am trying to be less judgmental of people who I would have previously thought of as freaks, because now I realize I am one too! :-) I mean, who cares if people want to dress up as their favorite Star Trek characters, as long as they're not hurting anyone!

[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:May 3rd, 2006 11:40 pm (UTC)

Re: deep dark secrets

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As you say, for some the writing of slash could be a professional problem, and as an aspiring high school teacher, I am one of these people

I think it can be a problem for teachers (at a variety of levels) and also for those with aspirations as mainstream authors. I think you take a good middle course - don't hide your Sekrit Identity from everyone, but wait until you feel a level of trust.

I am also not that involved in fandom, and I am trying to be less judgmental of people who I would have previously thought of as freaks, because now I realize I am one too! :-) I mean, who cares if people want to dress up as their favorite Star Trek characters, as long as they're not hurting anyone!

Word! When I start thinking that someone else's avocational pursuits are strange, I remind myself that there are some people who think that writing stories about comic book superheroes who have sex with each other is a strange hobby. I don't know why anyone would think that, but apparently some do.
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From:mofic
Date:May 8th, 2006 01:30 am (UTC)
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LOL! Yes, that's a fear I'd never thought of. Do let me know how it turns out.

I've talked about my fannish pursuits on parenting lists as well.
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From:melty_girl
Date:May 6th, 2006 06:03 am (UTC)
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Here thanks to metafandom!

Very thought-provoking post. Thank you -- it made me feel like less of a freak!

Fear of Personal Exposure - ...Fanfic writers express fears that knowledge of their fannish activities could lead to personal problems with family and friends, to loss of employment, and/or to a general negative feeling among their associates.

Uh, yeah. This is really the only fear I have, but it's major. I've long been an obsessive fan of various pop culture things, but it's only been a year since I ventured into the online world of fandom (my friends kinda know) and months since I started writing smutty fanfic (nobody knows).

Ah, my DDS. Ahem. I really wish I wasn't embarrassed about it. Even if I wasn't, I would probably still maintain my pseudonym because I'm an artist, and I don't really want to mix my more serious, original creative identity with my fannish, smutty secret creative identity.

But I just can't deal with my real world friends finding out. The thought makes me panic. My assessment is that most would mercilessly mock me and/or judge me harshly as an extreme weirdo and I can't bear the thought of either one.

One good friend is very porn-positive, and I wish I could reveal my DDS, but I can't quite bring myself to, because I think the fannishness would induce mocking -- god, I'm such an oversensitive wuss! And actually, in the case of this friend, I think I'd be less embarrassed if I was writing slash or femslash not het, but I'm in my first series and haven't yet. I partially/almost accidentally revealed myself recently, and I was initially beside myself with panic... that was followed by extreme amusement at myself. More on this hilariousness here and here (f-locked posts, but I've added you as a friend).

BTW, I do share your fear of running out of steam.
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From:mofic
Date:May 8th, 2006 01:29 am (UTC)
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Well, I hope it doesn't sound heartless to say that your predicament was very interesting! I won't go into detail about what was on f-locked posts, but they gave me a window into lj as a community in ways I haven't seen before. Anyway, your fear of your DDS being found out did bring back lots of memories. I'm not saying that all such fears are unfounded, but mine really turned out to be.

I also think that - whatever the true consequences of revealing one's involvement in fandom - the imagined ones are bound to loom larger. It's a little like coming out that way. I've always been out everywhere, but I find for people who are closeted at work, or with their parents, or whatever, the costs/risks of coming out are magnified in their minds while the costs they experience everyday by being closeted (which are considerable) are not even noticed. Once they come out, though, they realize how much of their energy went into hiding and worrying. It's in no way an exact analogy, but there are some points of commonality.

I was intrigued by this part of your comment:

, I think I'd be less embarrassed if I was writing slash or femslash not het,
Would you say why?

Thanks for dropping in and for friending me. I friended you back - I hope that's okay.
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