Sometimes, I do wonder how it feels like to have someone writing about you; appreciating you in ways you’ve never even consider yourself to be. Piling one paragraph after another as if you’re the most interesting person in the world. Noticing everything; the mid-length strands of your eyes lashes, the weird but sharp curve of your jawline, the mystic visibility of your collarbone that completes your chest.
I wonder how it feels like to be appreciated even up to the most slightest detail like even if you cover yourself in three layer of clothes, you’d still feel naked in the presence of that person as if they knew you not by body but by your soul.
But then again, I know that will never happen. Because I will always be the one who will be writing about them. I will always be the one who will patiently admire them from a far.
I want to talk about this a bit because I’m not sure if everyone realizes, but
this is absolutely a thing that can and does happen.
It happened to me, in fact. Rewind to something like 2002, 2003-ish. I was 12 or 13, and have been raised in an extremely conservative, very religious home. I wasn’t quite violent about sexuality; I’ve never had enough hate in me for that. But baby!me thinks it’s “gross” and “weird”. Not enough to lash out at anyone for it but enough to be condescending and avoidant.
Some days after school, I would go to the local library to use the internet, because we didn’t have it at home. But I did have a cheap clunky laptop, so sometimes to give myself more to do at home, I would download whole fanfics to a floppy disk (yeah) and wait until I got home to read them.
Then one day, while trying to get Yu-Gi-Oh! fics for my beloved OTP, Kaiba x Ishizu, I accidentally ended up with a Kaiba x Yami fic. I was several paragraphs in by the time I realized this, which prompted two reactions. The first was “D: WAIT is this a GAY FIC? Ewwww!” The second was “…sigh. I don’t have much else to do at the moment, and I guess it’s just a one-shot. I may as well finish what I started… :/”
.. I ended up crying so hard, it was beautifully written.
And literally in that instant, every ounce of homophobe just dissipated right out of me, because of a short fanfic. I was i n s t a n t a n e o u s l y unable to feel ‘grossed out’ by a gay ship just for being gay ever again, because that short but moving piece unlocked a realization in my brain that love doesn’t know boundaries. It just exists.
Notably, I understand I’m neither straight nor cis myself, now. But that’s perhaps even more important. When would I have realized or come to terms with those facts if not for this pivotal moment in my childhood? What if instead of this shattering my sheltered world view at a young age, I’d spent so many more years feeding those flawed ideas and letting them grow?
And it’s not just me. I’ve seen someone before talk about a pastor who previously hadn’t been very supportive of gay rights end up changing his views because he found himself desperately shipping Sherlock x Watson. [Greatly paraphrased here, but that was the general idea.]
This all might sound silly on a surface level. “They’re just fictional characters!” some cry. “There are REAL PEOPLE at stake here. Shouldn’t they be more compelling?”
Ideally, perhaps. But actually? Not necessarily.
The beauty in fiction – be in in the form of books or cartoons or movies or what-have-you – is that we lose the boundaries of perspective to which we’re limited in real life. In our own daily interactions, there is us, and there is everyone else. When we get to know others very well, sometimes it feels like we can practically read each others’s minds, but ultimately, the only thoughts and feelings we truly experience are our own.
That’s not true in fiction. We see through each character’s eyes. We understand what they think, we know what they feel, more than we would for real people, especially strangers. In many cases, the audience even begins to imitate traits of their favorite character(s) to varying degrees, with or without realizing it. It’s strange, but also powerful.
Through this phenomenon, fiction can take a thing that exists in reality, but present it in a way that invests the audience more readily. By getting them to care about it in one capacity, it has gotten them more open to caring about it in others.
It’s perhaps a little “oversimplified”, and on some level sad in the long run, if/when people are more readily moved by “Wait! This thing is a lot like X, and I love X!” than they are by real people suffering. But if it enacts change? If that’s what it takes to get people started on a path to caring about and working toward ending that suffering? I really do feel the results matter more than the catalyst.
And that is yet another on a long list of reasons why representation is so important. At worst, it gets people more used to seeing things, desensitizes some of their most primal reaction to shun anything Different, if only by creating too much of it for them to keep up with lashing out at every instance. But in other cases…? Not only is it validating reassurance for those who are themselves in the portrayed groups, but full-on break-throughs can happen, both for people who aren’t those things and for people who haven’t yet realized or accepted that they are.
And that’s not limited to original content.
I mean… Getting into “shipping wars”, starting fights over it, etc? Yeah, that’s still awful. Don’t-… Even if your thing is very important, you’ll ultimately do more good by ignoring the opposition than by giving it more exposure, not to mention saving all the time and energy you’d have spent arguing. So don’t take it that far.
But the act of shipping itself? Or headcanoning characters as marginalized groups in whatever way? Trans headcanons, disabled headcanons, what-have-you? Never let anyone tell you that’s “dumb” or “doesn’t matter” or “would never be canon anyway”.
I would be willing to bet there are kids right now who are watching Ruby and Sapphire’s story progress and having the same sort of reaction that I did to that fic half my life ago. Kids who have been raised in homophobic environments, watching these two adorable space rocks and realizing, “…Is this really so different from any other romance?” and “How could something so sweet and pure really be so bad?”
And how many people have a better understanding of autism due in large part to the prominence of the Autistic Pearl headcanon in the SU fandom? More than a handful just that I’ve seen.
And you never know. Perhaps one day– perhaps without you ever even knowing– some compelling fic or particularly well-done fanart or even just passionate rambling post you make of/about your favorite ship or headcanon will inspire such a reaction in someone. Will tug on their heart in a way that reality hasn’t, and spark a change that ends up extending to reality as well. Will grab their attention and get them to listen, because understanding some random person’s experience doesn’t call out to them like understanding their favorite character does, but has them listening and learning all the same.
It could be the least canon thing you’ve ever supported, but if it changes one person’s heart for the better? If it gives one person that Peridot-esque “OHHHHH” reaction?
Well. That’s certainly not dumb, and most absolutely does matter.