They say you never forget your first. I remember the exact moment I was sure: it was like I was all lit-up inside, excited and a little nervous. Mostly, though, it made me utter these weasel-sounding little squeals whenever I thought about it.
Yes, I’m talking about baby’s first OTP.
I was ten or eleven years old. The X-Files had been on for almost a decade, but I’d only just gotten to the point where I could stay up late enough to watch it. If I was lucky, I’d catch an occasional marathon on TV of earlier seasons. I was enamored by Mulder and Scully. Positively mad about them.
I wanted nothing more to dye my already-bobbed hair red and took up snacking on sunflower seeds. Over the next few years, as dial-up internet became a facet of my everyday life, I went to the you must be at least 13 forums of the internet to talk about theories and angst. I read fanfic, wrote fanfic, blushed at the smutty ones and stayed up late laughing in the dark over crack fics.
I’m in my mid-twenties now and I’ve watched a lot of TV, but I’ll tell you; I’ve never felt the magic of another show the way I did with The X-Files.
What I’m saying is — I’m a fangirl, through and through. And when I first began this journey it seemed like I was the only fangirl in the universe.
I tried not to talk about my passion for The X-Files because it wasn’t like any of my friends were into it. When I would slip up, I inevitably got made fun of. It didn’t deter me, though, because slowly, through the marvel of the internet, I learned that other people like me existed. I might not ever meet them, but they were out there, typing away under screen names like tRuStNo1 and Xphile4evah.
Maybe you know the feeling.
One person who does (and I mean she really, really gets it, like, at a psychosocial level) is Kathleen Smith, fellow fangirl extraordinaire and author of The Fangirl Life, which is out today from Tarcher Perigree.
Kathleen’s an internet-made friend of mine and she let me chat her up about the book — and I asked her (much to her chagrin) to name her OTP.
“You mean I have to choose?!”
The struggle is real.
When did you first discover fandom and realize you were a fangirl?
I like to tell people that I came to fandom as an old lady. I was 25 when I jumped headfirst into the Glee fandom. Why did it take so long? I think I was fortunate to have little pocket fandoms at school growing up. We traded Star Wars books, and we shipped the same couples, so it never occurred to me to search elsewhere. I was crying about many actresses in college, but I must have thought I was the only girl sitting in her dorm room crying about Shelley Long. If only I had known! But my lack of awareness probably helped me get more work done. Every day I thank the gods that Tumblr didn’t exist when I was in college [Abby’s edit: same, girl, same!]
How did you training in psychology inform your evolution as a fangirl (and vice versa!)?
I was really diving into fangirling online when I started grad school a million years ago, so I think it’s always influenced how I think about counseling.
As a therapist I’m sort of hyperaware of all my neuroses on a day-to-day basis, so I try and distinguish between when I’m fangirling for fun and when I’m fangirling to manage my anxiety. The second option isn’t bad, but it is data. That awareness can help me pay attention to what might be making me more emotionally reactive and figure out how to take care of myself.
Being a fangirl also connected me to counseling theory called Narrative Therapy. It’s sort of a fuck-you approach to more traditional theories that attempt to neatly explain why we are the way we are, and it gives people authorship over their problems and their solutions.
As a fangirl I feel that I’m able to make better sense out of a challenge if I turn it into a story. Is a bad day a story about me beating myself up, or is it about choosing self-compassion? It’s easier said than done, but I always have a better chance if I look at the broader narrative.
Who is your OTP?
How much time have you got? When I was a kid, I loved Frasier, and wanted Niles & Daphne to get together so badly. I was raised in the Bible Belt, so I remember feeling super pissed at the idea that Jesus would come back before my TV couples got together.
I went through a heavy Han Solo/Princess Leia phase in my tweens, but I think in the end I usually end up rooting for the comedic will-they-won’t-they pairings. That Sam and Diane formula. It’s less fun once people actually get together.
Right now I’m crying about Phryne Fisher and Jack Robinson from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, but again I’m not sure that I actually want them to end up together. She can’t be tamed!
I think we all have that one fanfic. . .what angst!fic or crack!fics of yore do you remember?
I’m all about the angst. One of the best favorite fics I’ve read was a Rizzoli and Isles AU Western called Calamity Jane meets Dr. Isles, Medicine Woman. There are about 50 chapters of pining and sexual tension before they EVEN KISS. I never watched much of the show, but I always thought it was obvious that those two were in love, so they were fun to angst about.
What was the most rewarding part of writing The Fangirl Life?
Without a doubt it’s the people I’ve to gotten to know. Because the audience for the book lives on the Internet, I am constantly promoting on social media. I was so worried about annoying people that I didn’t realize that I would make so many new friends in the last year.
My absolute favorite thing about fangirling is finding those people who love the same shows and ships that you do. Friends you can text the most painful head canon at 2am while you sit back and cackle. And I’ve found that they’re not transitory friendships like the ones that sometimes fade when you finish school, move, or simply grow apart. A lot about being a fangirl requires a level of vulnerability that is less common in offline friendships.
So I know that I’m going to be crying about fictional people with these ladies when we’re geriatric fangirls. Books will fade out of popularity, especially books about pop culture, but I think the friendships are what will last. These women are my endgame.
I was lucky enough to receive a galley of The Fangirl Life and I can promise you that with chapters like, “All The Feels”, “Going Down with the Ship” and “Death and Stuff,” this is a must-read for any fangirl.
More than that, it’s an important read for anyone who loves a fangirl. Smith legitimizes fangirling beyond the obvious tropes. She introduces us to a league of extraordinary young women (and men, but mostly women) who are passionate about delving into the most personal, humanizing aspects of popular culture. The fangirl does not wish to dissolve into fantasy completely; what fascinates her oftentimes is what makes fiction feel so incredibly real at times.
Smith also doesn’t stop at merely talking about fan culture; she really dives deep into what makes us fangirl in the first place and offers advice for those who might be toeing the line between fun and not-so-fun fanaticism.
One of my favorite passages — which obviously references The X-Files but is also an early beacon of hope in Smith’s book — reads,
“Moving forward is about embracing both the Mulder and the Scully inside of you — you need the believer to reach for what seems impossible but you also need the skeptic to be practical and help you move beyond road blocks. Like any good ship, these two sides of you will conflict for a few seasons. But eventually they’ll realize that they can accomplish the most when they work together, and when they make out. Mmm, make outs. Wait, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, life changes.”
While this might be directed toward the fangirl approaching a crisis of self, I’d say this is pretty solid advice for anyone growing up and wondering what it means to go full-adult. Smith’s book is packed with these little gems and it’s so incredibly accessible and fun to read that you’ll feel like you’re hanging out with her, just chatting about your OTPs and your NOTPs .