Geeking Out in a Vacuum: Life Before Fandom

If you were into the X-Men in 1988—like really into the X-Men—you’d be lucky to find one person at your school who also cared about them.

Or one person who even knew about them.

And even if you found a few other X-Men fans, they probably wouldn’t care about the X-Men in the same way that you did. They probably wouldn’t want to talk about how dreamy the Beast was, and whether it was pervy to have a crush on somebody with blue fur…

I spent my junior high and high school years getting really, really excited about books, comic books, movies and music—and then geeking out about these things all by myself. Inside my own head.

Sometimes, if I was lucky, I could geek out with my best friend, Jennifer, who basically agreed to love some of the stuff I loved out of solidarity. I tried to return the favor. Our friendship was founded on being girls who were obsessed with Star Wars, and we piled a dozen other fandoms on top of that.

“Fandom.” That’s a word we didn’t have in 1988. That’s a word we would have loved.

Fandom is the only thing that makes me wish I could be a teenager again. Or still. I feel like fandom could have changed my life.

Almost nothing in my life was good at 15.

I wish I were just being melodramatic about that. In retrospect, it’s not surprising that I spent all my time fantasizing about the X-Men and reading Beatles biographies.

I had friends—I had a best friend. But I still desperately craved connection. I felt out of place everywhere I went.

Which, I know, is just part of being 15. Every 15-year-old feels disconnected and misunderstood.

But if you’re 15 today, and you feel passionate about something—you can go online and instantly find other people who are passionate about it, too.

You can reach out to them. You can be one of them. You can join the fan community.

Or you can not join the fan community, but still get on Tumblr, reblog a hundred fan posts and add “OH MY GOD, THIS!” to every one.

That’s all you need sometimes. To find someone else whose heart skips the same beats as yours. Someone to capslock “THIS!” back and forth with you.

“THIS!” can be so fulfilling.

I get that fulfillment out of fandom as an adult. When I love something now, I immediately seek out fan art and fanfiction. I find the party online and throw some confetti in the air.

I can’t even imagine how reassuring it would have been to have access to that world as a teenager…

I would have found other people crushing on the Beast. And analyzing Sgt. Pepper’s lyrics. And writing Wham! fanfiction. I would’ve found the ten other people who were devastated when Beauty and the Beast got canceled.

I’m sure I still would have felt like a miserable weirdo from 1986 to 1992.

But I wouldn’t have felt so alone.


Read an excerpt from Fangirl and check out a review!

Rainbow Rowell writes books. Sometimes she writes about adults (Attachments and Landline). Sometimes she writes about teenagers (Eleanor & Park and Fangirl). But she always writes about people who talk a lot. And people who feel like they’re screwing up. And people who fall in love. When she’s not writing, she’s obsessing over other people’s made-up characters, planning Disney World trips, and arguing about things that don’t really matter in the big scheme of things. You can find her blog at and follow her on Twitter!


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