These Curious Times Interview with Jarrow & Leah

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Interviews by Fans
Title: These Curious Times Interview with Jarrow & Leah
Interviewer: curious
Interviewee: Jarrow & Leah
Date(s): January 15, 2017
Medium: online
External Links: INTERVIEW: CALLING ALL GAL PALS – JARROW & LEAH – These Curious Times, Archived version
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These Curious Times Interview with Jarrow & Leah ("Calling All Gal Pals") is a 2017 interview with Jarrow & Leah.

Part of a Series

See These Curious Times Fan Interviews.

Excerpt from the Introduction

Jarrow was the first and only person to rec me something on my talktome@ email alias which is set up so folks can point me in the direction of interesting things that are below my limited radar. Initially Jarrow just wanted to get something on the events calendar to help spread the word about this super cool, fan-run, gal pals convention called TGIF/F (TGIFemslash) that was taking place in April, but once I read about the event I had to know more about how this con came to be and the folks who were putting it together. So Jarrow and Leah, two of the con-organizers agreed to chat with me about history of TGIF/F, what to expect, and why you should really check it out.

Some Topics Discussed


Curious: Before we dig into all of the cool things that you’re doing with the TGIF/F con, I’d love to start at the beginning: How did you first get into fandom?

Leah: My first big fandom that I treated like a fandom instead of just being, like, into something—like I’ve loved Star Wars my whole life, but I wasn’t in the Star Wars fandom—my first real fandom was probably, Cartoon Network had this whole block of anime programming called Toonami. So, Dragon Ball Z, and Cardcaptor Sakura, and Tenchi Muyo. That was my first fandom experience, where I discovered, and looked for Dragon Ball Z stuff on the internet. I wrote my first terrible, terrible fan fiction in that milieu.

Then, there was Harry Potter, which was huge, huge, huge, huge, big part of my early childhood. Those were my first conventions, except in the Harry Potter fandom, we didn’t call them conventions, they were “academic symposia.”

My first big convention experiences were actually Harry Potter cons; I wrote Harry Potter fic. Then, I was out of the fandom for a good long while. During the second half of high school, and into college, I wasn’t really doing the fandom thing—or at least, I wasn’t writing fic. That changed when I finally watched Buffy and then Angel, and Doctor Who. Those shows sucked me right back in. Doctor Who was what really made me go, “Oh no, fandom is a thing again!” I was really active in the Doctor Who fandom. Then, Glee exploded all over my life. That’s how I ended up here.

Curious: What about you, Jarrow?

Jarrow: I always liked TV, but I did not know that it was possible for a TV show to change your life, until I watched Buffy. In 2002, I was 21, and I got caught up on the show as season 6 was airing, so I only got to live the final year of it in real time. I was absolutely gobsmacked by this show, and what it could do, and what television could mean to me. I was experiencing it mostly in isolation with my best friend. She introduced me to vids She kind of introduced me to fic, just in the way of realizing it was a thing. I did a little bit of writing on my own, absolutely terrible things, not knowing that there was a bigger world out there.

I started going to cons in 2005. I went to Buffy cons and Firefly cons. Those were my first big fandoms. Then, Battlestar Galactica, starting around 2007, and Vividcon. I was experiencing TV mostly by myself, talking about it on LiveJournal a bit, making vids and things for it, but completely oblivious to greater fandom on the internet. It wasn’t until I started talking to people at Vividcon in 2007, finding out, “Oh, this was a huge thing.” There were huge factions and conversations that were happening that I was not in.

I consider myself as being in fandom, or being fannish since 2002, but I wasn’t in the fandom, at large, until Glee, I think. Around the time, this was 2012-ish, when I started FaberryCon, I was really interacting with fan communities on Tumblr, and on Twitter a bit, and finally getting to experience some of that actually being in the mix that hadn’t happened to me before.

Jarrow: I’ve always been big on the concept of found family. Buffy is very much built on found family, as is Angel. Firefly is also more of the found family. I remember being in college and my chest aching, being so heartbroken over the fact that Willow and Xander]] and Buffy were not actual living people that I was friends with, because it felt like they were my friends. I didn’t have very many friends at the time. I wanted very desperately to belong with them, because I felt like I did or felt like I would. I think it’s similar with Glee. I wanted to be in the choir room with those kids. I wanted to be singing with them, and have them be my friends.

I think it also connects to my love of cons, because then, I could be in a room with people who also felt like they were friends with these people. We could become friends with each other. That feeling of belonging, and being a part of something, that had always driven me toward particular shows or particular fandoms.

Curious: What was your first con experience like?

Leah: Let’s see, it was Prophecy, which was a Harry Potter convention in Toronto, Canada. I was 17 years old. It was closed canon. It was months after Deathly Hallows had come out. You can’t imagine, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. I hadn’t made a ton of fandom friends at that point. Later on, Harry Potter cons became all about meeting back up with those fandom friends, but this first time I went with my best friend from high school. Both of our moms came with us, because it was an international trip. Our moms also loved Harry Potter. It was very cute.

I just remember being so thrilled and gobsmacked by the idea that I could be in the hotel lobby, and go into the little Starbucks that was attached to the hotel, and I’d be wearing my Hufflepuff tie, and I could turn around to the person behind me and be like, “So, what about Snape?” This complete stranger would be like, “I know! Snape, right?” You could have a conversation. That was what blew my mind, was that everyone in that room also wanted to talk about this just as much as I did. That was great.

Curious: How have the femslash fandoms changed since you got into fandom?

Jarrow: It’s hard for me to say, because I wasn’t in fandom at large until recently. My friends have forever been queer ladies. For me, it was just, “Well, which of my friends are watching TV?” I had my best friend, who I was watching Buffy with, and her best friend from high school. The 3 of us watched a lot of Buffy. Then after college I had a friend—she comes to TGIF/F and does the vid shows for us—she and I were in Battlestar together. It’s like, “Oh yes, here’s my queer friend who also watches Battlestar. Let’s talk about ladies being gay on Batttlestar.”

It was just kind of, where do those worlds collide already in my life? I would only meet new people at cons, really. I am not someone who can speak too knowledgeably on what the femslash fandom culture was like more than 5 years ago, but there are a lot of people who come to TGIF/F who can.

Leah: The other thing is that I think it’s very fascinating—I’ve had that thing happen to me, where all of my closest friends in high school, we all identified as straight in high school. None of us are straight now. Those aren’t even fandom friends. Those are just like, “Oh wow, I didn’t know all of my friends were freaking gay. Look at us.”

All of my fandom friends, as we’ve all grown up together, there was a very natural progression where it’s like, “Oh, shit, since when is everyone in this room bi? We all are. Okay.” It’s a priority for us now, and it never used to be. In Doctor Who fandom, for example, it’s so funny to see after the fact. The vast majority of people I know who were passionate, passionate shippers of the Doctor and Rose Tyler, are all queer women. And in hindsight, it is in some ways a queer narrative in the way the story unfolds; all of the same indicators are there. It’s all about what’s left unsaid, the subtext, the way you have to fill in the blanks. It not dissimilar to the narratives that you see for women who like women on television.

So now I can see that it was kind of the gateway drug to most of my fandom friends suddenly spilling into all of these femslash fandoms, even though it’s a het ship. Then, we kind of all moved as a flock, from one thing to another. It’s like, “Oh, it’s safe over on Supergirl! Let’s all go over there!”

Jarrow: No one’s died yet.

Leah: Once you find your corner of people who you like and have the same taste as you, it no longer feels like femslash fandom as any kind of a community experience, so much as it feels like what you and your friends are doing naturally.

Curious: What do you think of fandom’s place in the media nowadays? I think fandom and fan culture in general, has been getting so much more of a media spotlight. Now I see more articles every week on more platforms about fandom and fan culture and slash and femslash. I’ve read a lot of really insightful articles about what went down on The 100 and Clexa and the fallout, more outlets are kind of turning a spotlight on things that are going on in fandom.

Jarrow: Much like how science fiction can push the boundaries of what happens in reality, and we can kind of see, “Oh, what could life be like?” We’ll put it in science fiction. I feel like fandom is generally more progressive than the real world. I’m glad that there are conversations happening about this. I wish that there weren’t so many queer people dying on television. I wish there weren’t so many queer people dying in real life. If it means that we can have these conversations and start pushing representation in a variety of forms, I think it’s important to have those conversations.

Leah: The other thing to keep in mind, though, is that there’s this… It’s only very recently, essentially since the advent of Twitter, that it’s been a two-way conversation and not just them just spilling things out at us, and us consuming it. I think that on the one hand, in the last two or three years, you’ve seen an evolution from people kind of helplessly going, “What do the kids want these days? Is it this? Is it that?” I think they’re getting better at hitting the moving target. It seems very ironic to say they’re getting better at it in 2016, of all years.

Curious: How did TGIFemslash get started?

Jarrow: I ran FaberryCon with this lovely group of people who, for the most part, are the same folks who are running TGIF/F. We knew that FaberryCon was going to end. It had to have an expiration date, because Glee was ending. Most people had already moved on to other things. We wanted to keep the community together. We were starting to have new conversations about new things.

Two things happened at once. First, I went to visit Karyn, who was my co-chair on FaberryCon. She was driving me to the airport and talking about Xena Con. They were also ending. She had talked to some of them about wanting to carry on this tradition of getting fan communities together. Maybe we could integrate with them somehow, and do some kind of cross fandom thing together.

I must not have been completely listening, because very shortly thereafter, just a couple of weeks later, I was visiting some of my Vividcon friends. I started thinking about, “You know, we should have a multi-fandom femslash con. We should have Bitchin’ Party, but for femslash.” I’m just like, “Man, this is the thing that needs to happen. Wow. This hasn’t been done. Maybe I can do it, but I would need some help.” I called Karyn up, and she’s like, “You idiot. This is exactly what I was talking about when I mentioned the thing with the Xena people.” [laughs]

In my mind, I was thinking more of the structure of a Bitchin’ Party type thing, because I had been to that con before, so I could see in my head what it would look like. I’m a structure-minded person. She was coming at it from, “Let’s start integrating these communities, who no longer have an event of their own. Let’s create new conversations and opportunities for people to make connections.” When you take those 2 pieces and put them together, then ta-da, you get TGIFemslash.

Curious: For someone who’s new or hasn’t heard about this con, or they’re thinking about attending for the first time, what can they expect?

Leah: They can expect to feel as though they’re in the safest online space they’ve ever been in, just IRL. We get a lot of people who’ve never gotten to hang out with other queer people in person before. We get a lot of people for whom this is their first con. We’re very mindful of that. Privacy is a huge thing with us. Intimacy is a huge thing with us. We have a lot of introverts. We are a lot of introverts. Everything that we do is very much put forward so that you never have to feel like you are alone and you are missing out. You are never absent from the conversation, because you are the conversation.

All of our actual fan content panels are self-run by the people who are attending. We also, of course, have games and other planned programs and events that the staff runs, but the reason everyone is here, the conversations that we’re having, they can only be created with participation.

Jarrow: Yeah. A sense of belonging is the big thing that I want to push. Thinking back to that first night at my first Vividcon, just sitting there—again, I didn’t know anybody—but just being at a dinner table full of women who were smart and funny and knowledgeable about all of these shows, and even more shows that I had not yet heard of and just all of these fannish topics, just being around that was so validating. Just that a space like that can exist, that there was a reason in the universe to bring all of these people together. And feeling all of a sudden that you’re important and that you can be in a majority instead of feeling isolated and like the world is outnumbering you.

There’s safety in numbers, and when we go into the hotel room space, when we’re inside those walls, the rest of the world melts away. We create our own reality in a way, where these conversations are the norm. And whoever you are, you are safe and valued, and you’re not going to be judged or questioned. You’re going to be celebrated for who you are.

People choose to participate in different ways. We love when we have outgoing people who throw themselves in for games that they’ve never heard of and whatnot, but we do have a lot of people with anxiety, social or otherwise, who choose to lurk and to just be present. That is absolutely okay, too. It’s whatever you feel comfortable with. It’s always fun for us to hear on the very first day people walking in and going like, “Oh my god. This is amazing.”