Charlotte Moore (she/her)
Existential Bi-sis is a monthly column about bisexuality, by a bisexual. Join Charlotte as she tackles taboos and myths, recounts personal experiences and looks to the future.
At the age of sixteen, I got the bus to an LGBTQ support group.
Akin to AA, we each perched on a plastic chair in a cold village hall, revealing our names and sexuality. I’d caught two buses in the pouring rain, but, I was willing to make the journey, hoping this could be a safe space – a place where I could quietly meet other LGBTQ people. But as I stood, I locked eyes with a boy across the room. I knew his face. He was in the year below me. And, now we both knew something about each other that we weren’t supposed to. He didn’t hesitate. He picked up his bag and left without saying a word. I never went back.
Around this point in my life, I’d firmed up the idea (even if it was just in my own head) that I was bisexual. And, while there were two girls that I would eventually come out to, I was painfully aware that wider friends wouldn’t be so accepting. Luckily for me, there was a place I could be out. Where I could easily meet other queer people anonymously and comfortably. That place was the internet; specifically AO3, a non-profit, open source hub for fanfiction and fanworks.
“In fanfiction, I found more representation than I’d ever been able to find anywhere else.”
I found fanfiction in the same way most people find things on the internet – accidentally. I was a huge Harry Potter fan and as the final book approached, I’d been hunting out a very specific Marauders Map question and, while I didn’t get my answer, I did find a fanfiction about Ginny Weasley and Hermione Granger.
Over the next few days, I consumed reams of queer Harry Potter content. While we might not be represented in our favourite books, queer and trans writers carefully retold their favourite stories to make sure we not only existed but thrived. In fanfiction, I found more representation than I’d ever been able to find anywhere else. It’s fair to say I was obsessed.
From the outside looking in, I was straight, with the sort of boyfriend everyone had in high school: a perfunctory kiss behind a bin and declarations of love after three days of holding hands. But, online, I was openly bisexual. And, while a part of me hated myself and felt shame, another part felt the sort of joy that can only come through being exactly who you are.
“I could literally rewrite stereotypes I had learned to hate about LGBTQ people”
I was rapidly engulfed in the community, meeting more openly queer people than I could have imagined and others, who like me, were in the IRL closet. Fanfiction became a way for me to rationalise my own ideas of queerness. I could literally rewrite stereotypes I had learned to hate about LGBTQ people, shaking off the idea that to be interested in women, I had to present a certain way.
I met a girl called Amelia. She was in exactly the same position as me and we quickly developed a friendship. She was based in Cambridge and we became each other’s editors and sounding boards for ideas. But, more than that, we became each other’s support. There was an irony in the fact that a girl, whose surname I never learned, was my first and biggest ally. But, by the time I was seventeen, my real life started to become more exciting than my online life. I started logging on less and less.
The writing challenges that I’d previously stayed up all night to complete lay unopened in my inbox. Two of my closest friends now knew that I was bisexual. And life, as it does, rolled on.
“While it’s easy to trivialise the impact of fanfiction on wider culture, it’s harder to critique the fact that we as LGBTQ people had so little representation that we had to write our own.”
But that wasn’t the end of my love affair with fanfiction. Just the start of a more grown-up relationship. My teenage obsession had blossomed into something different. Every year, I’d log in and reply to comments, check my inbox, catch up with other writers and their work. One had finished law school, the other was an award-winning writer by the age of 22. And, bar one, our madcap group of sad closeted teens had become joyfully out adults.
When I was 25, I moved back to my hometown. My partner and I had embarked on a long-distance relationship and I’d never felt so lonely. I posted in our group forum, one that hadn’t been used in over a year. Within half an hour, I had an inbox of messages and support. Ash, based in Texas messaged for help with her fanfic novel. I began editing straight away, feeling that I once again had a purpose.
My small queer corner of the internet kept me going through a terrible job, my boyfriend’s absence and lack of a support network. I started writing again and Ash pushed me to draft an article, which became my first published piece.
While it’s easy to trivialise the impact of fanfiction on wider culture, it’s harder to critique the fact that we as LGBTQ people had so little representation that we had to write our own. That in a world created for straight people to always be the hero, LGBTQ teenagers were tired of being villains. We wanted our own complicated love stories, life-affirming coming of age books and fanfiction gave us a way of doing that, safely. And, as the fanfic writers of the 2000’s begin to approach their 30s, many of them are getting published themselves – with original stories that feature people just like them.
Ultimately, it was a sanctuary then and will always remain so. Whenever the world feels less welcoming, I know that there’s a place I can retreat to and be embraced. Even if it’s just for a little while.
Aurelia Magazine is self–funded. We rely on reader support to secure our future. If you enjoyed this article, please consider becoming a member on Patreon, or donating a couple of quid to our PayPal. Thank you!