I'm not sure what V meant to us, but it meant a lot. Seventh grade was the year Elyse spent hundreds of dollars in pursuit of the perfect Faye Grant haircut, and it was the year I decided I wanted to be a war reporter when I grew up. It was also the year we became friends with our science teacher, Mr. Krupka.
This is a funny thing, because I know it's the sort of thing that would never happen now. Men are so suspect around children in our climate of fear, and there are so few male teachers anyway, that it's hard for me to imagine a girls' school hiring one.
But be that as it may, Mr. Krupka was our friend because we were good students and he liked V too, and Elyse and I would visit the chem lab during lunch with toy ray guns and play pranks on him. In turn, he'd make show references in class that really were just for us. No one else got it. No one else cared. No one else thought we had any business being anything other than what we were -- ugly twelve-year-olds. Mr. Krupka was different, though, and so was the world of science fiction fandom.
Elyse and I joined a V pen-pal circle. We both wrote from her home as my parents would have pitched a fit (I'd already gotten in scads trouble some months before for obtaining a pen-pal in the British navy through the back page of a gothic music magazine. That was when my father told me all military men were vile and asked me if I wanted to be a whore. I don't like that story. I never wrote back to the boy -- he only wanted to talk about The Cure and my father ripped the letters up; I still I feel guilty about it). No one knew we were twelve, and people drew us fan art.
We wrote fan letters, asked for celebrity autographs and bought Starlog magazine. I eventually discovered the idea of cons, and Elyse got a new good friend who didn't like me because I picked my nose.
In a year or two, we'd gone off to different high schools and a change of venue didn't really improve my social status very much at all. I found new friends, but mostly they didn't like me much or weren't very nice. I was less alone and more miserable than I had ever been, and even in a specialized math and science high school, being a science fiction fan was a bit like wearing a kick me sign to a soccer match.
I didn't get to my first con until university, and when I went, the world upended itself a bit. I went from being at the bottom of the hierarchy to somewhere near the top, just because I was young or thin or could look people in the eye.
It felt great, and like I might one day get to lose my virginity, but it also felt like something I didn't deserve, and I fretted a lot, because it was so easy suddenly to feel like I was better than other people, to feel like I could be one of the monsters from which I'd spent my life hiding.
But attention is addictive, and so is being told you're beautiful, and so it was easy to wear skimpier and skimpier clothes and to engage in awkward conversations with people I didn't like, because it meant that I was good, better even, than someone, somewhere. And if being fannish was still a secret, still a sin in the rest of the world, I didn't care.
All of this, of course, is a pretty common experience. People find a home in science fiction fandom. They find out it's okay to be supposedly atypical on any number of spectrums. Neurological deviations are as common as those of gender or sexuality, appearance or social presentation.
Who talks about coming of age in fandom without remarking on the wonder of being able to make a friend, or get a date or have sex for the first time?
Of course, all things change, especially places of miracle and wonderment. And somewhere between then and now -- and I'll lay this squarely on the doorstep of Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings -- it became okay to be a nerd. It became great. We were no longer exiles, and our small pond turned into an ocean where we were very tiny fish.
Some of us thrived in the legitimization of what had sustained us. But others of us found that our awkwardness was no longer as overlooked in the broadening science fiction community or that suddenly, we were no longer the most beautiful girl in the room by the sheer virtue of there finally being other girls in the room. Status started to mean more, became harder fought for, and home meant something else.
Now I, I managed to hold onto my privilege and my shame.
It embarrasses me that I'm prouder of my community today than I was of it fifteen years ago, not because I'm more confident, but because we're more functional, more normal, more mainstream, more typical. This doesn't reflect well upon me, and I know it.
It embarrasses me that when I go to cons as a B- or C- or D- or Z- list celebrity (depends on the con), I feel jealous of the girls who are younger and thinner and dressed in skimpier clothes than me that get invited to all the parties, that get to have drinks with the guys who are actually on the TV. Christ, a lot of them are younger than me now, too. Kids. Beautiful kids.
And it embarrasses me that I'm still too shy to go up to some actor or other and say, "You know, when I was seven years old, your show meant the world to me. Thank you." Or "Hey, I totally get a kick out of your program, thanks."
I should be better. I should be less covetous. I should be grateful that I have a home and a family every day, not just when I'm at cons. But it's not always easy. The wounds of twelve are hard to heal.
Sometimes, though, what shocks me the most is all the ways in which I'm not alone.
Because it used to be that science fiction was the ghetto every actor dreaded winding up in. I mean, just watch Galaxy Quest.
But now David Tennant (back injury aside) is Hamlet, and John Barrowman goes on and on about how much he loves that Jack is the Face of Boe. Battlestar Galactica somehow wound up the most politically relevant (and revered) show on television for a couple of seasons; Heroes and Lost rearranged people's weeks, and if it's an event of a movie, it's probably a science fiction or fantasy flick.
And these actors come to cons and talk about their own fannishness now!
Which means they're just as pathetic as us. Which means we're just as good as them.
It should fix everything.
For some of us, I think it does, more even than the first time we had friends or kissed somebody or paraded down to the pool in a bikini and heels or realized that we really were sexy enough to invite somebody back to our room and get a yes.
But for some of us, it doesn't fix anything, because now we fight and snark over which celebrity paid more attention to who at what con and debate whether a given interaction was sincere or "fan service." We plan how to get attention and make it clear that we only associate with the right sorts of people at cons.
We feel jealous and alone.
We remember not getting asked to prom.
Mr. Krupka was a funny looking man with a wife and a kid who was nice to my friend and I when we were twelve. Maybe he knew how alone we were, and maybe he knew science fiction could save us. Maybe he just had no one else to talk to about the television show he liked. I don't know.
Elyse is, as far as I can tell from Google, a lawyer now and married to a man. She wasn't a lesbian, and I wonder if she even remembers what it was to want to be Juliet Parish and spend all her money on hair care products.
I never became a war reporter or a chemist.
I never wrote back to a British boy on a boat.
And it's been a long time since I was the most beautiful girl in the room at a con.
Mostly, I am grateful. But it is sometimes a beauty of sadness gratitude, that now that we -- the nerds, the freaks, the geeks -- are acceptable, it is perhaps harder for us to be glorious.
The wounds of twelve are hard to heal, and I've lost sleep at night pondering the ways in which the stars we aren't apparently have them too. I have witnessed it in drink and smiles and bashful hope as surely as I've known it in my own envy.
It's a beauty that had I grasped the shape of, I suspect I would not have asked to see.