My life in slash, and BNFs

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Title: My life in slash, and BNFs
Creator: Sandy Herrold
Date(s): March 9, 1994
Medium: mailing list
External Links:
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My life in slash, and BNFs is an essay written by Sandy Herrold about BNFs that was posted to the Virgule-L mailing list in 1994. It is quoted here with permission.

The essay is a reflection on how the BNF status sometimes remains invisible to those who attain it. That because many fans enter fandom already marginalized by mundane society they may, even among fandom, see themselves as outsiders. And that this shapes how they create friendships and how they perceive themselves.

For additional context, see Timeline of Slash Meta and Slash Meta, as well as Meta Essays, List Surveys and Notable Discussions on Virgule-L.

The Essay

Sandy's essay, begins, in a somewhat typical roundabout fashion:

"I've been a slashfan since 78-79, but I only knew a couple of people. I was on the end of a pipeline, so I didn't have to buy much, and Lezlie, I think it's time to admit that though I *loved* Out of Bounds (and still, even though k/s is (virtually) dead to me, I still occasionally reread my copies) I have Never Seen a legitimate copy--i.e., not only is my copy a ripoff, but the people I was copying from had ripped you off. Sorry. But on with my tale.

Those early acquaintances of mine gradually faded away, and my slash involvement went down, but I saw an ad for Cali-con. I couldn't go, but sending them a flyer got me on their mailing list, and the second year, I said--ha! I'm going. I convinced 3 other friends who'd been casually reading my slash, but who wouldn't have called themselves real slashfans to come too, and we all went to San Diego.

We were there 3 days, and we didn't really make any friends or contacts, but it didn't really matter: we saw our first song vids, and we found multi-media! We bought Man From Uncle, and came home with our first Pros vid (Blind Run--nearly put us off the series permanently!), I came home to Seattle, where I still didn't know any fans, except wickedwords.

Even though we felt that slashfandom was a little stand offish, we'd scored so much neat shit, that Rache and I decided to go to the next CA con that came up: Reunion Con, aka the Starsky and Hutch 15 anniversary con. We had a wonderful time, met Megan Kent and Charlotte Hill, and finally, sitting in a hotel room 25 driving hours from home, met a Seattle slash fan.

Whoo! Yippee! We exchanged addresses and phone numbers, and planned to meet back in Seattle. She soon introduced me to other Seattle slashfen, none of which did I seem to have anything in common with...sigh...

So, I found the net about then, and gradually started finding virtual slashfen friends. Once I realized I had written virtually the same thing to 4 or 5 people, and that I could save a lot of time if we just formed a mailing list, I mentioned the idea and (*THANK* *GOD!*) *Betsy* ran with it.

All of the preceding, is just background for my real points, still to come.

Gradually, I met (or created) new slash fans here in town, and instead of introducing them to the existing slash types, I just introduced them to the other new people I had found. I shared my library with them, and gave them buying recomendations until they knew enough to shop for themselves; encouraged them to come to cons; encouraged them to join the e-mail list.

We started having monthly meetings--disorganized except for picking a time and place (having most of us on e-mail did make it easier to make sure we weren't duplicating potluck items ;-)

We started, very casually, buying as a group; someone would say, "Is anyone buying this? Or, I'll buy this unless someone else is planning to, or I'll buy this if you'll buy that...

Slashbashes after cons were a chance to show off our loot, and make arrangements to share.

I, blindly, stupidly, thought I was just lucky in getting 'the good stuff' getting to read the stuff I was most interested in without having to wait for it to go all around the circle first. Instead, it was 'group policy' what ever that means, that I should get to read things first; as a thank you I guess, but I felt stupid when I realized that I had never noticed... Now I wonder what other Queen Bee shit I was getting away with that I hadn't even noticed I was doing...

All of this rambling to get this far.

I'm not sure what this all had to do with BNFs. I certainly am not one, but feel that I perhaps created a pool small enough...sigh."


Sandy's essay sparked a round of discussion. Some people argued that the "unknowing BNF" was a fallacy because part of being a BNF was the knowing and proclaiming of one's elevated status:

"It also isn't time in fandom alone that makes a "BNF." A "bad" BNF is one who decides *for herself* that she is one, and goes about making sure she informs the world... or controls whatever it is that she thinks gives her power in the first place... a "good" BNF is somebody who's just a good person, a normal, content, friendly type who makes contributions of her time or energy or whatever else to her fandom. Marian Kelly is my favorite sample of a great "BNF". She'd also be the first to deny that title, and I'll bet that plenty of people on this list don't even know who she is.... oh well....

In short, "BNF-dom" isn't a THING. It's an individual person who decides that somebody else has done something valuable... and then another person, and another person... Nobody comes down from the sky and taps somebody on the shoulder saying, "YOU'RE granted BNF-dom! Celebrate!"

Calling somebody a BNF could be--and often IS--a compliment. It means they've done a lot, hopefully very well. It means they've made an active contribution of some sort for a long, long time. The only crime is when the "BNF" herself takes it seriously....

And that's my penny's worth."[1]

Another factor in recognizing BNFs may have to do with your relative newness in fandom:

"I realized yet another key ingredient in being a BNF: you have to have been in fandom longer than I have! I'll bet that's why BNF-dom can be a problem for neo's, and (true or not true?) less of a problem for veteran fans. There are fewer people we consider "above" us--we think of most people as our friends and peers, after so long....[2]

Or, as others argued, a BNF lies in the "eye of the beholder":

"It's an "eye of the beholder" thing. I mean, if you define "BNF" as "somebody whose name EVERYBODY will recognize (well, most people, anyway)"--then somebody like Jean Lorrah would qualify. If you define it as "someone who's been in fandom longer than I have and knows a lot more," then the question of who is a BNF and what difference it makes, becomes a very individual thing. Actually, to be really precise, I think the term "BNF"

is closer to that sort of "celebrity" thing, and has a meaning distinct from "experienced or veteran fan, but not necessarily a prominent figure in the community." And then whether one is a BNF or not depends on the circles one is moving in. In slash fandom, MFae could be considered a BNF. In, say, generic B7 fandom, most people have probably never heard of her. (Poor benighted sods.)

I know veteran fans whom I consider friends and peers because they act like friends and peers, even though I'm years behind them in fandom. I also know people who got into the social phenomenon of fandom around the same time I did, or shortly before, who are insufferably arrogant and cash in all the time on that "control" thing Linn mentioned a while back."[3]

Others had a more succinct definition of a BNF:

"Bjo Trimble is a BNF. Everybody else is "somebody I think I heard about once". :)"[4]

This then led one fan to create her own taxonomy of BNF-dom:

"My impressions about the BNF phenomenon are:

I think the ones that are perceived by others as BNFs don't necessarily notice that they are. It's like at a party: if you are the center of the party you rarely notice it; it just appears to you that everyone is having great fun (including yourself of course); only the people not in the center of the attention notice that there is a structure.

I think that BNFs can't directly create themselves, they are created by other fans. One becomes a BNF if there is a sufficient number of other people who lavish their attention on this person, i.e. talk to them more than to other people, listen more to their recommendations, mention them more frequently (that would link to what someone else posted about - was that FMF (Frequently Mentioned Fan)?) etc. My impression on this list is for instance that the people who I perceive as BNFs on the list get more follow-ups to their postings than others.

I think there are three kinds of BNFs:

  • those who don't perceive themselves as a BNF and don't know that others do
  • those who don't perceive themselves as a BNF and are surprised (and flattered or annoyed) that others do
  • those who are aware that others perceive them as a BNF and think they are something better because of that

I think there is a kind of BNF jargon, a certain way to make jokes, mention anecdotes, a certain 'tone' in how people say something.

People do this because it is the way they are used to talking with their friends who are also into slash, because of their long history in fandom, because it has become natural to them. And it's as natural as with any other kind of group that concentrates on a certain topic (listen to how computer people talk!). Some people probably aren't even aware that they use a kind of 'jargon'; some appear to use it consciously in order to show they really *are* a Queen Bee (again, same as in other kinds of groups, too. Computer people are a very good example for this as well...).

I think in order to become a BNF one has to:

  • edit (good?) zines or
  • write good stories or
  • write many stories or
  • have been very long in fandom, know a lot of people,
  • and talk about it a lot
And I think that all this is hardly surprising because it's very much like any other more or less close-knit society (computer wizards, students in a class, musicians, etc.)"[5]


  1. ^ Charlotte Hill's post to the Virgule-L mailing list dated March 5, 1994, quoted with permission.
  2. ^ Charlotte Hill's post to the Virgule-L mailing list dated March 5, 1994, quoted with permission.
  3. ^ Post to the Virgule-L mailing list dated March 9, 1994, quoted anonymously.
  4. ^ Post to the Virgule-L mailing list dated March 9, 1994, quoted anonymously.
  5. ^ Post to the Virgule-L mailing list dated March 9, 1994, quoted anonymously.