Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days?

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Title: Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days?
Creator: actualvampireang and many, many commenters
Date(s): January 2015
Medium: Tumblr
Fandom: media fandom
Topic: Fanfiction, We're Not Gay; We Just Love Each Other, History of Slash Fandom, History of Media Fandom, History of Media Fanzines, Women in Refrigerators, The Good Old Days, Misogyny in Fandom
External Links: Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days? at Tumblr
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

In early 2015, some Tumblr fans were in an introspective mood, and discussed the good old days and how fanfic has, or hasn't, changed. This discussion was start in response to the ask "was fanfic any different in the Olden Days", submitted by asiangreyjoys[1] to actualvampireang[2] and answered on January 17, 2015. The ask and its response spawned a huge and wide-ranging discussion among Tumblr users, with more than 8,000 notes (likes and reblogs) accumulated in the first two weeks.

As of December 2018, the post has more than 22,000 notes.[1] The ensuing discussion covered everything from the typical length of fanfiction through the ages to distribution platforms, misogyny, internalised homophobia in fic, wank, ship wars and much more besides.

Similar Essays/Posts

The Original Reply

actualvampireang responded to the original Ask with their own remiscences of entering fandom in the late 90s, and their personal experiences of late 90s fan culture. The points they touched on included:

  • Slash fandom and the relative lack of characters written to be explicitly queer
  • Fic distribution via mailing lists and not archives, and how that influenced fandom
  • The differences in aesthetic
  • The differences in fic conceits and themes in late 90s and early 2000s fanfiction
  • Story length: measured by file size, and not by wordcount
  • The existence of, and attitudes surrounding, RPF


actualvampireang's post sparked a huge variety of responses - many replying directly to their points, others simply containing the poster's own experiences of entering, and participating in, fandom.

Below is a sampling of the thoughts contributed the discussion from Tumblr users and the points they raised, including those raised by actualvampireang in their original post. They are sorted by common topic and not by date.

a word cloud created by Naked Bee from this discussion: "This post (and all the marvelously fascinating anecdotes folks have shared in reblogs) have brought me a lot of joy today! I tracked down and read as much of the commentary as I could (grumble grumble Tumblr, having to click “show more notes” over and over again when a post has upwards of 5,000 of the things is tedious and even though I tried to be thorough I’m sure I missed some) and then used the text to make a word cloud. I’ve been in fandom since the early 2000’s and I still haven’t gotten tired of hearing the myriad paths people take as they experience fandom. Hooray for fandom history! [2]

Olden Days, Well, It's All Relative

So I am not So Much Of An Old that I was around when print zines were the thing. I got into fanfic-type fandom through the internet. [3]

I came into fanfic in 2003. I remember because I was 12 and my first fanfic read was on the Kirk/Spock archive (thyla.com, yo). All ages… if you’re 13+. I asked my mom if it was okay because I wasn’t 13 yet and she gave me A Look and said it was probably fine. In retrospect she should have looked into that because look where it got me. Yikes. Also: oh my god that was a dozen years ago. Time flies. [4]

Oh my god I’m so old, I know about ALL OF THESE THINGS. I’ve been lying about my age for YEARS. [5]

came into fandom around 1982, and wandered in and out for a couple decades. [6]

Admittedly, I haven’t been in fandoms on the internet that long (2005 is when I started finding about all this stuff and holy shit did it open up a whole new world for me, thanks Harry Potter). [7]

Makes me miss the old days…if anyone wants to know how old I am, I was happily & hornily gobbling up Highlander & BtVS smut (Methos & Spike respectively owned my soul) back when that shit was still originally airing. I knew mailing lists & webrings well. Maygra de Rhema & Susan Zahn were my absolute fav fanfic authors ever. [8]

I love love love hearing about our history. (I’ve been around in fandom for twelve years now, too. Came in around 2002-2003. Not quite a vet, but some of this certainly sounds familiar.) [9]

I’ve got about…shit, twelve years under my belt. Sweet mother. [10]

I am old enough to remember when fan fiction was on zines. Lovingly typed. And when personal computers were more prevalent, people used what would now be considered insanely primitive word processing programs that everyone thought was so high tech. USENET for all its hell was a godsend. Then email listservs and ha, I remember when geocities was like the place to put your stuff. [11]

I’m about to hit 40 this year and I’ve been reading since my early 20s. Wow. [12]

Age Statements, Disclaimers, and Warnings

Oh lord, and DISCLAIMERS on EVERYTHING. Every fic on FF.NET was all **DISCLAIMERRRRR* I don’t own these characters or *insert show/franchise name here* but lol, I wish I did!" People genuinely feared the copyright gremlins and way back in the early days, once in a while you stumbled across websites or such that could genuinely be confused with something official, especially in tiny fandoms. Because lets face it, EVERYONE’S website on Geocities looked like wonky shit. [13]

Oh man, I remember the hilarity of elaborate disclaimers, but the threat of being sued/approached by TPTB/sent to jail (Shut up! I was a dramatic youth >.>) felt real. Everyone “knew” one person who knew someone who’d been sent a letter from TPTB about their fiction, or had been sued for copyright infringement (which adult-me realizes wasn’t as much of a problem as it seemed like at the time, but it WAS a problem. The relationship between fans like us and TPTB was NOT GOOD.). [14]

Let’s not forget citrus!... Back when I first started reading, the rating was sometimes referred to as ‘lemons’ if there was explicit sex going on and ‘limes’ if it was more mild sex scenes. And the ship names weren’t all jammed together, you used a slash mark to separate them (ex. Ginny/Draco). [7]

Really aggressive disclaimers on slash fic (GAY STUFF IF YOU DON’T LIKE DON’T READ etc), and a general terror of homophobia. So many people were genuinely frightened of what would happen if their story about Trowa and Quatre kissing got into the “wrong” hands that it seems unimaginable now. [15]

Fanfiction.net then quickly became a thing. The individual disclaimers…were so annoying… some websites never got over them (adultfanfiction.net deleted one of my fics because I didn’t write a serious disclaimer, I’ve hated it ever since, though for more reasons than that). They made no sense though because if someone wanted to sue you, they still could, though to my knowledge no one has ever been sued. [16]

There was a transition period in, I think, the early 2000s or so, where the lengthy headers were still de rigueur and part of demonstrating that you were a respectable fanwriter, but the disclaimer got SNARKY AS FUCK. I reckon people had gotten progressively more jaded/tired of writing “I own nothing, I am nothing, please dear god nebulously defined copyright holders don’t sue me.” The disclaimer started turning into lurid descriptions of what you’d do with the characters if you “owned” them, the many ways in which canon would be better if you controlled it, etc. Some of them were like, two words long - “Not mine” - while others were masterpieces of invective. Ultimately, I guess fans either got wise to how ineffective and indeed counterproductive this would be if you ever did get hit with a C&D, or the lengthy headers just didn’t make the transition over from LJ fandom - you could probably write a scholarly thesis just about how and why it happened, actually - but still. Good times. [17]

My aunt has fanfiction of Star Trek pairings in the form of zines from the mid seventies when she was at Madison. They have disclaimers saying the only money involved was for postage. One story was of Uhura ranting for three pages. It was great. [18]

Then there were those warning pages saying something like, “this site contains ‘slash’, blah blah, enter at your own risk.” And when you clicked “enter” it said, “Wrong! Go read the warnings properly!” So you had to go back and hunt for the small text that said, “if you agree you are over 18 click the second star to the right and straight on till morning,” or something, and only then would you get to the actual archive. Which shit me because I actually was over 18 and I resented being treated like a naughty child. And everything was treated as adult content if it wasn’t 100% heterosexual. I don’t miss those days. [19]

In order to get an adult zine, one with explicit content, or even one that contained slashy subtext, you usually had to mail an age statement to the publisher, for them to keep on file, so they didn’t get in trouble legally. There was no way of knowing if the person saying they were over 18 was actually 18, or under, but at least there was the proof that they had SAID they were overage, so people weren’t knowingly distributing porn (or what might be considered porn) to a minor. [20]

Faking ages to get access to the adult stuff (which could get complicated depending on what country you were from and what country the admin(s) were from). This sometimes involved emailing an age statement to the owner of a mailing list and them deciding whether or not to trust you (or how much they actually gave a fuck) before giving you the password to an archive or authenticating your whatever to access the whosit, I wasn’t entirely sure how it worked. Because I was fifteen at the time. Of course. [21]

Everybody on the smutfic side being hilariously blasé about the fact that everyone involved was underage. Snarky preambles to the effect of “it would be hypocritical of me to tell the under-18s to get lost when I’m only 15/16 myself, so have fun, kids” were practically de rigueur in some circles. [22]

[I] am sorry I lied to so many host of fanfic rings, but really if you couldn’t think “Lilsnicketpotter” or “xXpottrFanXx” could be an adult? I am sorry that was a pre-teen who wanted in all that delicious, delicious Drarry fan-fics. But there was barely any on FF.net and I have yet to discover the stuff on livejournal. And oh g-d I was still learning how to navigate angelfire and geocities shrines for Fanfics. But you know what it just meant that my baby queer ass wasn’t alone and that felt fine, because my library only had “oranges are not the only fruit”, “Maurice”, and “Rubyfruit jungle” for gay literature and I used to have to go to borders for reading those Alison Bechdal comics. And really my librarian who was an awesome old butch just felt bad there wasn’t anything available for young gay kids at the time except for those so you think your gay kind of books. Ahh good times. [23]

and dont forget the shitstorm that hit when ff.net got called out to change the policy regarding nc-17 fanworks banning them then the mass exodus that ensued. i remember living with huge amounts of anxiety about my mom finding my search history seeing as how i was 14 at the time i first discovered slash fic and i wasted no time making a beeline for the explicit stuff. [24]

I remember faking being of age just to get on a m-mslashaholics mailing list, later I managed to mutually friend the owner of that mailing list on LJ and I spent a year worrying she would realize I’m not as old as I was supposed to be. Talk about trauma. [25]

Mmm, I’m having flashbacks to all those fic archives and personal sites that used splash pages to warn you you had to be 18+ to read the slash, and sometimes they would just let you click some “proceed” link, but sometimes they would hide the link in some random pixel at the bottom of the page, so you’d have to read their whole screed to find out which one it was. And you’d do it, even though you got annoyed, because goddammit no one was going to keep you from the lemon-rated stuff! [26]

Also nowadays we use trigger word warnings. It’s the standard thing to do. That’s really a comparatively new convention. I was on a listserv where someone wrote a rape fantasy thing (godawful story too). People objected because it was a PG-13 listserv and she’d not only written what we’d now call an E fic, but also that there had been no warnings about the subject matter. And there were some rape survivors who really would rather not have been forced to see that. There was a ton of back and forth and there were people who didn’t get the concept. And I don’t think the mod thought it was a big deal. In fact, I think that was one of the main reasons I unsubbed. [27]

the first (italian) web archive I joined was started in 2000 or 2001 and I remember that at the point where I left around 2007 the rules were: - the rating system was changed to green-yellow-red because apparently they were forbidden to use the one used on ff.net - M/Nc17/Red rated stories that featured incest (even if it was canon in the fandom itself) were forbidden and I think that even if you wrote an AU where the two characters were not related, it was still forbidden. - RLF ships were allowed only if the people weren’t italian. (I think there might had been the Nc17 ban on those, too). [28]

This is really interesting. I got into fic in 2002 or 03 (? I think), and pretty much the only thing I could tell you about is the difference in tropes within the Harry Potter fandom pre- and post-OotP. I do remember G-rated fics being given R ratings for even having ~gay thoughts~, though - and then, grudgingly, the required rating being lowered, but there still being ‘slash warnings’, which were wayyyy more important than what we’d call trigger warnings today. [29]

Remembering all this stuff makes me feel old. Hell, I still remember how people would get all prissy if you didn’t “warn” them about there being gay people in your fics. [30]

Story Length

Overall, fic tended to be longer, but also more uniformly long. There weren’t really many of those 200k monsters either.... In our headers, we used to measure story length in file-size, not in word length. I think this change came about in the early 2000s. [3]

I think we have fewer monster fics these days too (oneshots and short stories are really popular right now) but that might be one of those things that comes around again. I don’t know if people follow fics as exclusively as they used to either. Now it’s more casual. That’s not positive or negative, just a difference I’ve noticed. [31]

It’s often claimed fics were longer or more “epic” back then, but it ran the gamut from novel-length to drabble just as it does now. [32]

Heh, people remember the good old days when all fic was the size of LotR and no one posted WiPs, and all. But no one remembers the fad for 25 and 14-word stories! [33]

People may not have tended towards 200k epics, but I could easily expect to find works in the 50-100k range for all of my ships and fandoms. Whereas these days, going through AO3 by length feels like and endless mantra of ‘read it, read it, read it twice…’ (although AO3 is amazing - being able to sort by more than just fandom, two characters length, genre and pairing! So cool!) I also really miss the slow build romance. It’s not that it’s gone necessarily, it’s just that I keep stumbling across works tagged “slow build” that only take me 5-10 minutes to read. Part of the advantage of the average length being 50-100k was that I could be kept on tenterhooks for hours or days. I don’t know, I think that’s a general (and tumblr driven) trend in fic these days full stop. [34]

Bashing Women

Lest we get too crotchety and wallow a bit too long in the damn-kids-get-off-my-lawn vibe some of us have going here, let’s drop the rose-colored glasses for a moment and remember that fandom also had some pretty terrifying issues with internalized misogyny for a long time. We’re still not perfect (looking at you, Sterek fandom) by any means, but back in The Day, characters like Peggy Carter would have most likely been demonized as the evil bitch from Hell who’s trying to get in the way of Steve’s One True Big Gay Love with either Bucky or Tony, depending on what your preferred pairing was for that character. There’d be “tongue-in-cheek” fic-a-thons that reveled in writing about horrible things happening to her to get her out of the way, there’d be entire webrings of hate sites dedicated to her. One of my older fandoms had legit fan sites that were dedicated to torturing the most prominent female character in canon. She’d be called a Mary Sue at best, villain at worst. The best that the rare Peggy fangirl could hope to find would be fic that portrayed her as a supportive best friend that was only written in to encourage Steve to acknowledge his love for [Insert Male Character Here]. If she was lucky, she’d get put in a Consolation Pairing with [Insert Male Background-Character Here]. Bisexuality was semi-acknowledged, but almost never really discussed; it generally got treated more like a period where the character was fooling themselves about their ability to be with the opposite sex. Asexuality might not have even been part of most of fandom’s vocabulary, and most of us didn’t even know how to refer to trans folks, much less have any awareness at all of trans issues. So, yes. As an older fangirl who’s been around the fandom block for the better part of two decades at this point, there are definitely parts of old-school fandom that I miss. (LiveJournal. ‘Nuff said. WHY?!?! *broken sobbing*) But there are more than a few aspects of old-school fandom that I bid good-riddance to. We don’t need that bullshit anymore." [35]

this is so incredibly interesting. especially as i can literally watch the misogyny drain from my own earlier works (from 2006 on) till today. i would even write the main character having emotionless sex with a woman to later contrast it with the passion he feels when with his male love interest. today i’m like “yes he is married… but he loves BOTH his wife and his male love interest THE SAME! they both complete him” because i’m so protective of women now. [36]

(And, oh WOW the Relena [in Gundam Wing fandom] hatred. There was a site devoted to killing her in so many ways) [37]

oh my god, gundam wing fandom was so, so bad for the girl-bashing. I remember this site, heero is not toast, that had a game solely dedicated to torturing relena. [38]

This is actually really interesting to me because I came into fandom and fanfic probably around 2006, but I didn’t socialize and Livejournal’s setup, for the most part, confused me. Most of my ships were het anyways, because i’d go into slash pairing fics and they’d be ripping on whatever girl could get in the way of the ship, or in some way destroying her characterization. Generally, these were characters I really liked, and everyone seemed so gleeful about it, it was kind of really terrifying. Of course, all of this led to me bouncing around the edges of fandom, avoiding conversation and telling people that I didn’t like [insert slash ship here] because it ~wasn’t canon~ like the special little snowflake I thought I was. I missed all of the blowups and things because I was very distinctly not paying attention to the parts of fandoms they were happening it. It’s weird to think that all this stuff was going on only, you know, one ship over, and I remained mostly ignorant of it until 2011-ish. I probably wasn’t the only person driven off like that, too. [39]

Any female character from canon who was shown with the male character you were slashing was going to have “find out” fic wherein they’d be demeaned and/or killed off in order to make way for the author’s OTP. [40]

Female authors openly posting stuff under their real names, because console JRPG fan-authorship was almost exclusively female in those days and nobody had to worry about being harassed or doxed by creepy dudes. (So much for the myth of the male gamer, eh?) [22]

Gosh, I remember a lot of this stuff. I think I’ll always have a little nostalgia for early 2000s fandom. Well, except for that bit about never loving previous female partners. That used to drive me wild back in my Gibbs/DiNozzo days. It wasn’t that Gibbs had stopped mourning Sharon and moved on, it was just that he’d never really loved her in the first place. I always thought that was kind of horrid. [34]

i joined fandom in 2005, so i saw the rise of female-positivity. afaik it started with a trend of pushing female characters into a side-role as a fellow shipper. instead of being a potential threat to the slash ship, she would become either a passionate fangirl who was just as excited over the ship getting together as the writer or a yenta who actively helps them get together. i still see it every now & then, but tbh i’m glad it seems to be dying out. it helped to prevent girl-bashing in fandom, but it was still divisive (“non-shipper” f chars) and the f char generally no interests outside of her desire to see men find love. i feel like there’s a lot more fic now where the female characters don’t revolve around male characters, whether as love interests or shippers. [41]

Oh my God, the girl-character-X hate squads. I mostly remember the big banners people put on their LJs and Geocities pages and whatnot saying “Kill X! We hate her!” or occasionally “Protect X! She doesn’t deserve the hate!” People still hate female characters, of course, but when they do they don’t say “X is a bitch and she should just die” or “X isn’t good enough for her boyfriend,” they say “X is problematic because of Y,” even when Y is something male characters get away with all the time. I mean, of course there are legitimate reasons to dislike a character, but there have always been people who totally unreasonably hate a character for reasons that boil down to misogyny (internalized or otherwise). I agree that fandom in general has gotten better about it; if someone just put up big pictures in their side bar saying “X is a bitch and should die,” people would call that out as misogyny. But there are still people who - for example - say that Feferi was horrible and unfair to Eridan and it’s her fault that he started killing her and their friends. But then there are also people who will call out misogyny when they see it, so that is some improvement over what fandom was like in the past. [42]

fandoms were often less dominated by ship wars than they were by girl hate. Gundam Wing is the classic example, where you could find hundreds of fics about Relena being tortured and killed, but I also recall a lot of hate for Yui and Elly over in Xenogears. [43]

Poly relationships are a lot more common in fandoms with well-written and complex female characters who have just as much screentime as their male counterparts. (See the White Collar fandom and its almost overwhelming refusal to break up Peter and Elizabeth’s marriage in fanfics, and just include Neal as a third to their relationship.) I’ve also noticed them happening much more often in recent years, compared to when I joined fandom in like, 2007 or so. More awareness of internalized misogyny in fandom about female characters. Still not enough femslash, but that’s a work in progress. [44]

We're Not Gay, We Just Love Each Other, and Other Sexuality Issues

[While] those early I’M NOT GAY I JUST CRAVE BENTON FRASER’S PARTICULAR MANDICK stories were not great at: 2015-acceptable portrayals of gay men, though when you compare them to other concurrent portrayals of gay men they’re pretty in-line. What they were good at: soothing the soul of youthful bisexual ladies on the internet. They were SUCH A GOOD psychological mechanism for soothing the fevered brow of teenage girls like me who were simultaneously anxious about our gayness levels and anxious about our attraction to men. Ray Kowalski stares out bus windows and angsts about touching Benton Fraser on the butt and what it means for his life: a four-hundred part epic. [45]

So glad to see the back of cookie cutter Gay Freakout scenes. If fic has Gay Freakout scenes now they tend to be much more character based. (So much fic would now get ‘internalised homophobia tags’. [46]

What I remember the most about Ye Olde Times when I first got into fandom (2003, when I was a prudish thirteen year old) was the epic hurt/comfort that were Totally Not Gay. You’ve not read h/c until you’ve read some early 2000s Jack/Daniel h/c fic. I remember one fic in particular where Daniel is struck down with some illness which makes him sick and hallucinate/regress (think Lifeboat, if you know SG-1 - canon did it too!), and Jack literally cradles him in his arms and nurses him back to health. But they Were Not Gay. [47]

In 90s fanfic, there was also a lot more emphasis on which character was the “top” and which was the “bottom” in slash fic. Some fandoms had a preference that was more popular, and if you wrote the reverse you were pretty much guaranteed to be flamed (I’m looking at you, Sentinel Fandom). The “bottom” was expected to behave more or less like a (misogynistic version of a) woman: usually had to be rescued at least once, prone to bursting into tears and other emotional outbursts, had to appear as more emotionally vulnerable in the relationship, etc. There was actually a lot more non-con and rape scenes, or a history of abuse, that made the submissive male figure vulnerable and in need of the dominate one taking care of him (which is what usually lead to the relationship). A lot of this had to do with the influence romance novels had on the way fanfic was written at this time (compared to the more mainstream influence fanfic has now). [48]

Oddly, you didn’t get much of the aforementioned “not gay, just in love with a man” rationalisations [in the Chrono Trigger fandom] - most authors were totally down with presenting Glenn as gay. I sometimes wonder whether that had anything to do with the average age of the fandom. [49]

As everyone keeps saying, the WNGWJLEO thing was extremely prevalent. There were often several chapters of internal struggle, and/or a “coming out” chapter that included like all of the in universe characters making a big to do about how they still loved and accepted their friends. Or a huge deal was made about how their love was so magical because it was in the face of adversity, effectively fetishizing lgbt struggles and discrimination. [50]

re: the ‘wngwjleo’ - I read a bunch of the 80s The Professionals fic in the early 00s and seriously, major gap in attitudes of the writers … [51]

These days, writers are also more aware of healthy vs unhealthy relationships. There was a disturbing amount of “I love you, so I can’t help myself!” basically rape!fics going on in a lot of fandoms. There were a whole lot of “girls with dicks” characters, where stories were basically written like straight romances, misogynistic stereotypes and tropes included. So one character was very clearly “the girl” while the other was clearly “the guy”. There’s way less of this now (outside specific kinks or tropes, I suppose should be added). [52]

IMO, MOST RPF back in the early 2000s was self-insert and very little included slash, and the slash element was really the part that “wasn’t talked about in polite company.” This was back when it was genuinely seen as an insult to acknowledge queerness, especially in boys/men, so there was a lot of social pressure in RPF spheres not to be “a slasher” “if you were a REAL FAN.” [53]

While (in Western media) openly queer/trans/etc. characters still rarely or never happened in the actual source material, openly queer and gender-nonconforming fans began to challenge the formerly unquestioned primacy of straight fans, which caused, shall we say, occasional tensions (I haven’t forgotten, or forgiven, how many straight fans were happy to explain that stories involving canonically queer characters weren’t “really slash,” and thus inferior by definition, and also slash couldn’t possibly be sexy if the love weren’t forbidden and thus so much more exciting). This was also the beginning of the end of slash being enshrined as the default “quality grownup” fic, thankfully, as well as being the beginning of the end of we’re-not-gay-but! slash subgenres like smarm (intensely homoerotic h/c where the author keeps shouting “WE’RE TOTALLY STRAIGHT HE’LL JUST DIE OF HYPOTHERMIA IF I DON’T CUDDLE HIM NAKED! KINSEY ZEROES RIGHT HERE, SAVING LIVES!”). That said, by 1999 or so “We’re not gay, we just love each other” was already widely derided, and I remember many, many slash stories where nobody agonized about their sexuality at all (or if they did, it was specifically “How can I, Mulder, want to fuck this EVIL NASTY BASTARD Krycek when that sexy hunk Skinner is waiting back at the office?”), they just fucked, as now. [54]

A specific category of fic called “smarm” was pretty popular though the actual term “smarm” didn’t completely take off in all fandoms. Where it was used, it was used … affectionately, not meant derogatory much like we tend to use the word “smut” to categorize erotic fanfic. “Smarm” was used for fic where two characters of the same gender had a very close friendship that was not sexual but there was a lot of touching, cuddling, even sleeping together. Hurt/comfort elements were common. Often the relationship was described in heavily romanticized terms: if the word “soulmate” wasn’t actually used it WAS implied. Like I said, “smarm” was not a term adopted by most fandoms but I always felt it kinda fit. It’s pretty easy to recognize and pretty much usually male/male … though I recall reading some “Facts of Life” fic once that I would have classified as female/female “smarm.” “Smarm” was popular with 70s and 80s TV shows … and “The Hardy Boys.” “The Hardy Boys” fanfic was EXTREMELY smarmy but very rarely slashy. In fact, back when I was actively reading/ searching out fanfic, I only ever found two incest/slash fics and I was looking for it. The fanfic for the brother PI duo “Simon and Simon” in contrast had a HUGE slash/incest element (I mean several paper fanzines exclusively devoted to it.) with the rest of it being pretty heavily smarmy. [55]

They had a fucking name for this shit in The Sentinel fandom. If you ever dig up an old archive for ‘smarm’ RUN, do not walk, away from it as fast as you can. It’s like the Lord King Badfic version of Totally Not Gay. To be fair, the actual show had some of this also seeing as the two main characters lived in the same FREAKING APARTMENT. They’re TOTALLY NOT GAY! Jim brought Blair back from the dead with the power of their ~totally platonic~ mystical bond (REALLY!) [56]

I belonged to a Sentinel fic list so old it predated Web mailing groups, it was run on someone’s personal server. No one mentioned slash and there was gen and overwrought smarm friend fic where Jim and Blair were a couple in everything but name and didn’t have sex. Sleeping together in the same bed, though, of course. Then some lady mentioned she had a story where they *gasp* had sex like gay men. The list was in uproar and then it was decided that if we wanted the story we would privately send her our mailing addresses and it would come off list. Then we couldn’t discuss it on list. My copy came in a plain brown mailer with no return address, typed up neatly. About a month later there was a separate Sentinel slash list, and smarm fic slowly died out. [57]

my god you don’t understand how much smarm is my favorite bizarre oldschool fanfic thing. [58]

...here are some changes from the late 90s to today: - In slash fandom, there were a lot fewer main characters written as expressly queer. There was a lot of (in retrospect) very teeth grindingly annoying “We’re not gay we just love each other” type romances. [3]

there was also an enormous amount of time spent on characters agonizing over being attracted to other men. like, i was reading something a while back that was actually written in 2003 but by someone who’d been in fandom for a long time and obviously hadn’t changed their aesthetic much, and the first time the pairing started making out, one of the guys suddenly had to stop—and i thought it was gonna be like, traumatic memories, or just general intimacy issues, or whatever. but it was because it was ~all too new~ and he had to take a few more days to adjust to the whole gay thing. [59]

you had guys running out to try and have sex with women and fail, or have sex with women but find it so unsatisfying, before ultimately admitting that they wanted this particular dick. also, considering the prevalence of WNGWJLEO, it was oddly mandatory to point out at great length how much each character never really loved his previous female partners. basically fandom now, at least the well-written part of it, is a million times less homophobic and biphobic and, believe it or not, misogynist. obviously there were always exceptions, especially with the really good writers, and especially as you move into the late nineties. but as a rule, so much improvement. oh, and every love confession required a full name. Firstname Middlename Lastname, I love you. where does that even come from, seriously? [59]

"considering the prevalence of WNGWJLEO, it was oddly mandatory to point out at great length how much each character never really loved his previous female partners.” This is a really important point for me because I think this trend actually significantly contributed to my internalised biphobia. Honestly, when I think back to a lot of the discourse from ten years ago, it was SO much more misogynistic. [60]

Swear to god every story [in Starsky & Hutch fandom] was a WNGWJLO fest of sexuality angst and outright hatred of Hutch’s ex-wife. [61]

There were people who were very adamantly ‘gay stuff is okay in fanfic but immoral IRL.’ Don’t ask me how that worked out logically, but it was a thing. [21]

In the vein of fandom’s old weird homophobia, there was also a lot more outside opposition to queer couples. Lots of “NO ONE CAN KNOW” and people’s careers being on the line and evil ex-girlfriends trying to destroy them and literal gaybashing and so on. [62]

I recall a lot of Gundam Wing fics in my circle being actually overly idealistic about how people will treat homosexuality in After Colony 195, to the point that someone said, “Hey, why can’t we have a fic where the nurse is an asshole about the lovers are being cute in the hospital room like in real life?” [63]

the weird thing is now i LOVE het smarm. can’t get enough of that shit. and it’s so tragically hard to find. why must everyone SULLY these beautiful platonic yet intensely physically intimate male-female friendships?? why, i ask you???? IS NOTHING SACRED IN THIS WORLD. [64]

there was a HUGE homophobic contingent in western anime fandom that would aggressively deny any canon gay couples, even to the point of making up information about the “original version” to prove that nobody was gay. Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune were big targets (Google “prince Uranus” and you might still get some examples) but I remember the No Homo Brigade coming out for Card Captor Sakura and Tokyo Babylon too (the latter of which is literally a gay romance?) IT WAS WEIRD.[43]


I suspect this might be an artefact of the fandoms I was involved in, but I seem to remember more femslash? I mean, it’s always been the least popular type, but I do remember the ratio being sliiiiiightly less skewed? Looking at my current big fandom, about 8% of AO3 fic is f/f. I also remember a surprising large number of openly, actively homophobic people who fetishised gay sex and gay relationships, particularly when there was a bit of ‘forbidden love’ or tragedy. They seem to have mostly gone away now, which is nice. [65]

Fandom and the Underground

It was much more clandestine, very hush hush. You got your packet of stories (which you copied and sent back the originals) taped to death because God forbid that the it come open and the mailman see you getting pornography. Also, I know women who lost jobs and were divorced because they wrote m/m fic. I had a friend whose husband threatened to take her children because of it when she wanted a divorce. She stayed with him until the kids were teens then got out. So many today forget that its still considered pornography to most people and the law can screw you up. [66]

I just wanted to add on one thing as a fan from the early 2000s - THE META. Fandoms at the time were all separate and list groups were a thing. You got on a mailing list for X-Files fic, for Comic Bat’verse fic, for Gambit/Iceman Slashfic, for such-and-such BNF’s fic… The groups - at least, the one’s I was in - were small enough to recognize names and get into regular group chats and discuss all sorts of geeky shit. Getting to know the groups and talking about all manner of stuff in the fandom led to quite a lot of self-insert (or friend insert!) fics where they dropped into the ‘verse and had to play along or breaking-the-fourth-wall ones where the characters knew they characters being made to perform in any number of fantastic scenarios (and bemoaning it). It was a time when fandom was still underground and it was a world we, the audience/fans, felt we could only escape into as opposed to bring out for the masses. Since comics and “nerds” have gone mainstream I’ve seen those fics give way to ones where the characters find out about their own fandoms (usually falling down the rabbit hole of reading fic about themselves or meeting fans via social media who blurt out popular headcanons). Watching technology progress and the global community truly connect via fandom for the past 15 years? It’s been WILD. [67]

I came into a fanfiction scene that was part fanfiction.net, part message board, and part archives on individual website (an author might contribute their fic to varying people’s websites). Not sure how much I can say, but I know I have a “we don’t talk about that in polite company” attitude, while my sister openly talks IRL to family about reading and writing fanfic or drawing fanart (heck, my dad admits to finding some fanfic for her to read on a tablet and I was just sort of internally screaming). Not sure if that’s a sign of the times or our personalities. [68]

Wank and Shipping Wars

I remember when I first found out that it was possible to ship two characters that were not canon and I was like, WHAT IS THIS??? [7]

oh my god i just had memories come flooding back SO HARD, i remember having to hunt every webring for sailor moon stuff and being SHOCKED as a tiny mammal that there were LESBIANS in the bits that didn’t make it to america, and people FIGHTING SO HARD because their fan sailors wound up with the same name, like knock down drag out internet fights because there were two “Sailor Cassiopea”s, and dont get me started on bandfic when that hit, god damn. [69]

I came into Blake’s 7 fandom in the mid-90’s, and everyone there was still kind of shell-shocked from the B7 Slash Wars. It was important, if you were a slash fan, to ‘stay under the radar’, so you wouldn’t get labeled as a pervert or worse. Many slash authors were incredibly secretive about their identities. People getting outed as slash fans was a Big Deal back then. There were quite a few fans that feared very serious consequences if their hobby became publicly known. I had a ringside seat and very minor involvement in the tritorella/honisoit/EvilSmurf/logophilos/Ann Somerville fan wank. That was, to put it mildly, some very fucked up shit and the skill with which this sociopath managed to manipulate events to put herself in a good light is terrifying even today. Modern fans are incredibly open and trusting by comparison. [70]

I miss the general (writing) quality of fics from 10+ years ago, but more than that, I miss the lack of entitlement regarding content. Battles over who topped and/or bottomed? No where near the scope of battle/anger/rage I see today. Anger and subsequent capslocky-rage comment about how your fic doesn’t fit a reader’s personal headcanon? WAY more common today. Like, woah, slow your roll, readers. JFC. [14]

The Ray Wars (of which I am also a veteran) were bad, but they were nothing compared to the Classic/Third Season split in Beauty and the Beast fandom (the 80s one, starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton), and the Blake’s 7 fandom war was worse than that. I wasn’t in B7 fandom, but I was on a mailing list with several people who were, and they had some pretty horrific stories. I’ve got some doozies from BatB my own self; people walking into a room and seeing me and a couple of other Third Season folks and turning around and walking out again, or actually being called a monster because I didn’t hate the third season, for instance. [71]

I am SHOCKED that no one has brought up the Ray Wars. When I was first in Buffy fandom, people told me stories about the Ray Wars that made it sound like ‘Nam. You could practically see their thousand-yard stare through the messageboard. [72]

let me TELL you about the recurring firestorm of wank that would rush through every goddamned fandom for at least a 5- to 10-year period there where someone would be like “all same-gender shippy stuff needs an NC-17 warning because that stuff is not okay for kids” and other folks would be like “can we not equate handholding to explicit PIV intercourse solely based on the genders of the participants” and holy jesus it was the EXACT same ugly nausea-inducing merry-go-round in at least six of my fandoms, which is why I am zero percent impressed with ‘family’ networks caving to that bullpockey because My People already hashed that out, get with the times, thanks. [73]

I also kind of feel the flamewars and fandom drama have gotten a lot less ridiculous. Or at least, more focused? Maybe I’m just old now and don’t pay attention, but one of my earliest formative fandom experiences was a flamewar about taps. [74]

Also pairing wars could be a whole new ball game - if the mod didn’t like your pairing or thought it was Not Safe For Kids because it was gay, they would ban you. That’s what eventually read to the Don’t Like Don’t Read disclaimers, and later, endless arguments about warnings. (One thing I will never miss: the people who thought queers should warn for all slash content, but noncanon het pairings were aokay.) [75]

I definitely remember the mailing lists and the bbs. There were ones for specific pairings in one particular fandom that I belonged to. Some people belonged to multiples, but it was a strangely segregated experience. If you shipped couple A/B you seldom subscribed to the listserv for couple A/L. I always did and that became problematic. [76]

Nobody called them ‘ships or gen or OTPs. I think this was why those terms confused me so much when I plunged into asoiaf fic. I mean, people shipped things, but those terms didn’t exist. [77]

Ship wars were actually worse than now, though it may be hard to believe because some people were so obsessed with only writing cannon compliant fic. Like Cannon Compliant was God. All my early work is still over at UCSL which was an archive for an egroup that was considered Super Edgy because it was only for non-cannoical pairings in the Buffy fandom. Including het here, btw. Spike/Willow? People would flame you for that shit on regular lists. Seriously. [78]

I want to underline how divisive slash was at the time too. We were eating on the outer edges of fandom there. I think it’s why I have such a strong reaction to the posts talking about how wrong it is that fandom concentrates on m/m pairings ( I also agree with them to a point because you have to evolve) because once upon a time it was sort of a Huge Fucking Deal that you dared to ship Angel/Spike. Which in retrospect, I’m pretty sure was shipped by the show creators. [78]

I remember the trolltastic wankfests over the quality of ‘zine fic versus online fic. (I published zines and I still have a drawer full of age statements people had to mail me before I’d send them one of the slash zines.) Battling over whether online fic could/should be included in ‘zines (and oh my god if you did then you had to LABEL IT.) I think the other big scandalous topic not listed above is slash/erotic fic with underage characters. OH GOD THE WANK OVER THAT. I lost the co-mod to one of my large slash mailing lists over an argument on this topic back around 1999-2000…I wanted to allow it, with warnings, on the mailing list but not in the archive I maintained. She stormed off in a huff over that and I never heard from her again. [79]

Changes in The Fourth Wall

You could find zines at fan-run cons, but not that often at professional cons where the actors might be wandering through the dealers' room. Some actors were genuinely offended by seeing artwork of themselves and a co-star, even in character, in the nude or in a graphic sexual position. Really, think about it… do you really WANT to know what the actor who plays your favorite character thinks about it? Well, before the internet, it was generally agreed it was best to keep fanfic and fan art AWAY from the actors or writers, because most of them DID NOT appreciate it, and some were really scandalized. The time an actor was walking through the dealer’s room with his wife. She pointed out some artwork on the cover of a ‘zine. “Oh, look, dear. Here you are in a dress.” She was somewhat amused; Mr. Actor was outraged. If you weren’t around in the 1960’s, ‘70’s or ‘80’s, you might not realize how much more homophobic many people were. Sometimes, an actor might not be homophobic, but to see yourself (even in character) as someone’s sexual fantasy version of you, was quite a shock. Not that it never occurred to them people fantasized about them, but it was kept much quieter then. [20]

I came into fandom via alt.fan.pratchett in the late 90’s and though that fandom has never been particularly fanwork-heavy, one of the biggest changes I’ve seen is the degree to which it’s become common for the originators to be publicly aware and supportive of fandom’s creative endeavours. I remember it being completely and utterly verboten to even mention the existence of fanfic to anyone involved in the creation of the canon, whereas now it’s a bit déclassé at most. Particularly in book fandoms, I think it was somewhat tied up in a couple of lawsuits that I don’t remember the full details of - a fan saw the author use ‘their’ ideas, and sued them. Add in a huge scoop of weird homophobia and the reactions thereto, and that’s when the first rule of fanfic club becomes… [74]

Also, there was waaaaay more fear involved. You definitely never wanted the press or the show creators to know about your work because you could get sued! We had disclaimers in every single header of every fic making it clear that we didn’t own the characters and weren’t making any money on writing. [78]


Real Person Fic was like, not even discussed. It had its own mailing list where we kept basically all of it, and you didn’t mention it in polite company. Then suddenly in 2000-2001 all these legitimate people got into NSync fic. But before that, it was pretty taboo in a lot of fannish circles. [3]>

As was mentioned above, real person fic really was a taboo, and something you definitely wanted to keep the actors from knowing about. Some, when they found out, laughed. Some, perhaps not as often the center of fantasy as their co-stars, might inquire why there wasn’t more fic written about them. Others would demand that the fans stop doing that. Now, depending on how much they respected the actor, some might actually stop. Most just went deeper underground, and were more careful to not try to display or sell their zines and artwork anywhere the actors might be. Few outright ignored it and tried to deliberately upset the actor because of it. [20]

I joined Western media fandom in the late 1990s, and while I wrote slash, het and gen most of my friends were deeply emmeshed in the slash subculture. Keeping in mind nobody ever remembers these things with perfect accuracy, it feels to me like a lot of big sea changes happened in fic around 2000-2001. The widespread, strong taboo against RPF (still then more often called RPS, because back then the word “slash” was still the “understood he” of fic parlance) blew up and melted when 'NSync fic became The Fandom That Ate Fandom. (Many formerly militant anti-RPFers spun on a dime and took refuge in, “It’s DIFFERENT when WE do it because YOU’RE writing about the PEOPLE which of course is still DISGUSTING but WE’RE writing about a PERSONA!”, which sophistry still makes me laugh to this day.) [54]

The RS-X was where I first dipped my toes into that ~scandalous~ thing known asReal Person Slash/Fic…which has now been the only thing I’ve generally written since 2003. [79]

Print Zines, Mailing Lists, and Other Platform and Delivery Systems, Finding and Archiving Fiction

Gather round the fire, kiddies. Gramma’s gonna tell you about the Bad Old Days. Oh, and zines. Physical zines that you bought via mail order, or at a convention, or once from this lady’s car in a supermarket parking lot (I ended up going back to her rather nice apartment for another one, though) - we chatted via email and discovered we lived in the same large city. That normally never happened. Not to mention the fact that some of us didn’t get email until we were legally old enough to vote, no lie. [80]

I remember webrings! Bless The Gossamer Project for being so fucking awesome. It set the standard for fanfic sites for me. [81]

Every now and then I’ll revisit the Gossamer Archive which is ***THE*** X-Files fanfic archive. It’s actually still up and running, as is Ephemeral which is a submission website that auto-archives to Gossamer. I also actually had a fanfic published in a print zine back in the mid-90s when they were still fairly rare, but around if you knew where to look. But no. I found fandom through message boards on AOL. From there I eventually ended up on a few Yahoo message groups for X-Files and then followed on to livejournal and then tumblr. There was also that foray into the tv.com message boards. The Before Times were ROUGH to find fanfic. I sometimes feel like I should be in a rickety rocking chair talking about how easy these young whippersnappers have it. But at the same time I’m interested in seeing what the next evolution of fanfiction/fangirling will be. [82]

I remember the first time I stumbled on fanfiction.net and thought it was the most glorious thing ever. [7]

I can heartily recommend reading Nancy’s Reminisce With Me. Nancy was around for the early years of zine-based Star Trek Fandom, pre-internet. Snail mail! Finding addresses of fellow fans in zines you bought on cons! Typing zine contents on typewriters! Finding a printer willing to print your gay porn! Manually sorting the printed pages for the binding process! [83]

OH MY GOD I STARTED LAUGHING AT “WEBRINGS.” Yesssssss. I believe I was even in one once! [84]

Oh, goodness, yes. There’d be the occasional fangirl collective where a prolific handful of fans of a given franchise (Highlander comes immediately to mind) would put a website together for hosting all their fic. And you’d get the impression that they were all betaing each other’s stuff, and if you liked one take on the canon you’d probably like everything on the site so it would be a total “jackpot!” moment. [85]

Fanfic writers having their own dedicated website too, especially if they did fan art or web graphics. No one-stop shop for fanfic, onoooo, you had to go around all the URL houses. and sitting reading those LONG fics online? AHAHHA no. NO. You were on dialup and your family wanted the fucking phone, never mind it being expensive, so you had to rush and find all your fanfic and COPY IT TO MS WORD OR SOMETHING and then save it to your computer to read offline. I think that’s why fanfic writers were constantly like READ AND REVIEW PLEAASSE because a lot of people had to actively remember to log back in and go back to the site and find the comment section or e-mail and actually comment on the fic. Effort. [86]

I was never knew about mailing lists, but I do remember personal websites. There were a lot of them too. Often called “Shrines”. I remember specifically three of them. One for Ronin Warriors, which I don’t remember there being fics on, and two Rorouni Kenshin sites. One of them was a modern bodyguard AU and had a button to skip the lemon chapter, and the other I don’t remember specifics other than the author going by Madam Hydra. [87]

DO NOT FORGET THE BEFORE-TIMES when there was no google and there were scattered archives everywhere, from ‘archive of [specific mailing list]’ to authors’ personal archives to pairing- or fandom-specific archives and the way you found a lot of them was like hoping aol or yahoo search would turn up something new? But on the other hand you had a fair number of folks who were twitchy about having webcrawlies being able to find their porn because fanfic was already kind of side-eyed and porny stuff even moreso. - there were archivists who actively trawled mailing lists and authors archives and such to compile their own interest-specific archives, sometimes asking the authors if they could host a fic… and sometimes NOT asking. Cue: wank. - OR you navigated WEBRINGS (which are like tumblr ‘networks’ I think? I don’t grok tumblr networks but ya’ll have fun with them, I’ll be over here in my rocking chair mmk) where there was essentially a master list of websites catering to a specific interest, sometimes with details but sometimes it was just a name and a link so you had no idea what you were clicking on half the time, you just knew it fell under category [thing the webring was about]. (…tbh, this was probably how I found out about slash, because of some X-Files or Pretender or maybe early SG1 webring, I don’t even know. I just saw “[fandomname] slash archive” and was desperate for new fic in [fandom] and hey presto “boys?? kissing?? [73]

fanfic archives without search functions, where everything was just listed by date posted and sorted by pairing IF YOU WERE LUCKY. One sentence summaries with no tags, no warnings, sometimes no ratings. Sometimes no lengths (see above regarding length measured by filesize). Because everything was coded in early html and some folks just didn’t want to (or knew how to) code all that. This is why I give money to ao3, people. I REMEMBER THE BEFORETIMES. - oh, and finding That Reccer whose tastes ran similar to your own and posted like 10+ recs a week? Like Santa and Baby Jesus came down from on high and showered glitter all over you before kissing you gently on the forehead and then disappearing in a double rainbow. (You think recs help you filter wheat from chaff NOW, it was all the moreso when you had to do all this hunting just to find stuff TO sort though) - yes this was also before lj and wordpress and basically any kind of rich text editor-enabled blogging platform. [88]

I remember fic authors having their own sites (for a long time, my primary fandom interaction was as an archivist, running a character-centric archive. I handcoded everything. Both ways! In the snow!), which made finding new authors a bit of an effort, particularly pre-lj. Some authors couldn’t/wouldn’t code their fics when they posted them on the mailing lists or on their own sites, so you got a lot of /emphasis/ and *strong* rather than italicised or bolded text. [74]

Finding a forum dedicated to your fandom on ezboard like HALLELUJAH because you KNEW they’d have a fanfic sub-forum with a bunch of links and you’d all cluster there like frantic meerkats swapping recs, which sometimes you’d just end up typing the whole URL for because Noobs couldn’t HTML working links. [13]

I can’t really remember how I discovered fanfic in the late nineties, but it was probably through websearches and links that people compiled on their recommendation pages. I wrote some really bad fic back then, but I never wound up posting those because I didn’t yet have a site or place to put it. It just was fun for me and I still have the Word docs somewhere. When I entered fandom officially, it was through the (then) Sci-Fi Channel’s fan messageboards on their website for different shows. Those became entire communities where you could start threads on posts or post fics and so help you if you wanted to dig back far enough to try to find older fics/topics/etc. Unless someone had a separate site to archive their fics, most of those were buried in the mountain of back-posts. Then the members of the fandom I started in (Farscape) started their own fan-run messageboard-style site. (Looking it up out of curiosity, I just found it still exists! :D I have to go explore this again, but you can see how fandom was when I first got involved. http://terrafirmascapers.com/) This style had the advantage of extreme levels of organization. Everything was sorted into sub-category boards so if you wanted to find fics or episode analyses or off-topic random fun, there wasn’t much hunting involved. We still eventually had to start making masterlists of links for particular authors’ fics since the search abilities were pretty weak, but it was pretty user-friendly overall. From there I went to LiveJournal, but still hard to find backposts and older fics unless you know where to look, so I’m very grateful for archives like ff.net and AO3. Finding fanvids (I guess people call them amvs now?) was still tricky and I’m still not sure if there are archives for them as well? I kind of miss messageboard style. It felt the most organized, you didn’t have to worry about your personal information getting seen when you just wanted to talk fan stuff, if you had good moderators trolls could be kept well under control and disputes settled sensibly, most drama kept behind-the-scenes… The downside was that most boards were limited to one fandom, at most a handful of ones related by common actors or universes. So it had limits, but that still feels like home more to me than Tumblr or Twitter. [89]

holy shit this all brings back memories of my early days in fandom. back when pairings werent talked about as slash they were yaoi so they were listed by who tops/bottoms with an X in between instead of / and things were rated via reference to citrus fruit. and once in a long while you would be lucky enough by some divine windfall to find an author/artist who could not only afford to run their own website but KNEW HOW to run it! *sigh* the good ol days. i think the last archive/mailing list i was subscribed to shut down just last year. kind of the end of an era. [24]

One of the great things about landing in Buffy first is that I kind of inherited a lot of this knowledge specifically re: Buffy, so I came in in 2008 during the LJ heyday, but there was still tons of Buffy fic hosted on geocities or personal websites, nearly all of which are gone now, or on pairing-specific sites, a few of which are still hanging on. And O, the mourning when you found a rec for a fic that sounded perfect, but the link was broken, and every google search just turned up more recs to the same broken link. There was a Spike/Buffy fic by Elisabeth written in S4 - which I cannot recall the name of for the life of me right now - that I looked for for for probably a year before I finally stumbled across a copy on a random multi-author archive. In general, though, we Spike fans had (and have) it ridiculously good. I think All About Spike was the second fanfiction website I found, and that place kept me busy for MONTHS. [90]

I didn’t have the internet in high school and Usenet required subbing to groups through an email program like Outlook, so for the first year I just hung out on this one tiny message board I found by typing “The X-Files” into Altavista on the school library computer. I read fic by saving the text files onto a floppy disk and using my laptop at home (which I would haul backstage during school plays — no one had any idea I was reading porn). [91]

All the mailing lists were kind of siloed and got pretty crazy after a while. I was actually on a list at one point where the sole purpose was to write Xander as Wolverine’s son. And pairing identification- this always amuses me. Because your lists were specific, and even if they weren’t, fandom was listed first in the standard header, and it was all done by initial. J/B, P/K, M/K, etc. And they were pretty standard. M/K was Mulder/Krycek and K/M was Kronos/Methos. I don’t think using portmanteaus became a regular thing until Harry Potter. [92]

And THIS is why I give money to AO3, because godDAMN! The old days were hard, and I say that as someone who started reading fic in 2002 and caught just the tail-end of the webring difficulties. [93]

I’d forgotten about the webrings! They were such a gift when you were trying to find your way around everyone’s Geocities pages. [94]

I remember the first time I heard of fanfic was with X-Files fanfic posted to a listserve in the form of self-extracting archive files, and I finally gave up and went to my university’s computer support guy to ask how I open a self-extracting archive. He was like, “Sure thing, just send me the file,” and I must have looked shady as fuck with my, “Oh, no need for that, just tell me how to do it… [95]

I remember digging through Geocities for Xena fansites because all of the mailing lists I was on dried up and that was the only way to find fics-posted as individual pages on someone’s neon green background with whatever terrible ‘in progress’ gif/jpg they liked best at the bottom. Sometimes, there was a Guestbook for feedback. And then there was Gossamer, where i had to tread carefully through really terrible Scully depictions because of how intense people got about Mulder/Krycek. [96]

Oh gosh. GEOCITIES SITES (I got into fandom in 1998-2000). The graphics and sparkly font! Odd coloured fonts and backgrounds! Following odd trails of links to find fic and then completely forgetting where you found it! Web browser based bookmarks a mile long! Printing fic out to read it because you could change the font to be readable! (I actually recall the first time I found femslash. IT WAS AMAZING. Also alt.startrek.creative and The National Library for TWW. And Britslash (I was in a lot of British crime drama fandoms in my life). /27 year old fannish dinosaur. [97]

Good god, I still remember going to people’s individual websites to find fic. Once in a while you’d find a small archive but there were no big ones. If you wanted an update and a fic seemed dead or the website wasn’t updating, you had to email the author for that shit! Also, church of lemon’s y’all. That was right around the time archives started to be a thing a bit later. Kazaa or napster for amvs and other videos. I didn’t even attempt movies. That would take hours. [98]

And oh god. The big mailing lists. Where you’d get either like several hundred emails in a day (from just that one list, good luck if you’re into more than one pairing or fandom) or this really long daily digest with everything from that one day (I still want to travel back in time and murder people who replied to a story and left the whole thing as a quote in there. Or the previous 30 replies in a thread.) You think the gazillionst reblog of the same thing is bad? x10. I also remember much more of a community feel though. fandom these days is a much more amorphous open wriggly wobbly fluid thing. And yeah, some people find each other and group together according to common interests. But I think it was easier back then, when you could just walk into a comm or list that was designated as the crackship, rare pair, serious about writing or the hardcore OTP placer. you didn’t have to assemble blogs and filters or carefully sort through tags. And I could let out different sides of myself in these various places as I picked and chose, without like, creeping out, boring or offending some sensibilities of half my online friends. I feel like things moved from a more topic/object oriented to a more individual-oriented place? (not a bad thing, mind you, just different?) [99]

Interesting. My fanfic history was a lot more slash-friendly, but then, it was also more rooted in anime fandom - and instead of mailing lists, it was mostly Usenet, which made being multifandom a lot easier. [100]

Fic was mostly distributed via mailing lists (email), not by web archives, although some mailing lists also would web archive their stuff. People tended to be more monofannish because you would just participate in the list — people are more multifannish now because we follow specific people through their blogs and get introduced to their other interests, but this didn’t happen as much back in the day. People were definitely still multifannish, though. I’ve always fandom hopped. [3]

[A friend] had printed Star Trek zines she loaned me, produced by fan editors and writers, as well as photocopies of stories not in those zines that others had written. A group of her friends and she had also produced some stories from something they called Late Night Discussions - mostly Mary Sue TOS self-insert het fic (which at the time was just “fanfic”). At that time you would find some printed zines with porny fanfic at conventions, but largely the zines at those were gen fic - the racy ones were often just known in fannish circles and you had to know where to order them from, at least in my experience. I subscribed to two zines in the 90s for TNG, Data Base (run by the late Mary Urban) and Data Entries (run by Melody Rondeau). I had a couple of stories published, which entailed submitting by snail-mail and waiting a few months to hear if you would be published in it … and then maybe waiting another few months to see your story in print. The zines came out every 3-6 months and had fanfic, essays, and a Letters section in which fans would debate fan theories, plot holes, and character - with the fans who had written letters in the prior issue(s) of the zine. It was like a reeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaallllllllllly sloooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwww version of the LiveJournal comments section, LOL. I paid like $12 or $20 a year for these subscriptions; I still have every issue of those two zines too. [101]

usenet! usenet was a super important venue for many fandoms. this actually continued well into the 2000s for certain fandom circles—not slash-focused media fandom in general, but there was a lot of overlap. i was reading alt.tv.angel during season two, and there were fic writers i recognized posting there. and of course earlier on, the alt.startrek.creative.* groups were central. [59]

I think BatB was one of the last primarily dead-tree fandoms. The internet was just getting started, and a few of us found online discussion groups or bulletin boards, but most of the fic was in print zines. X-Files fandom was just getting started, and that was the big crossover—there were a fair number of print zines, but the majority of XF fic was published online. [71]

In the days before the Internet, when most fanfic was printed out in fanzines, the author had to pay to get their novel-length stories or short-story collections published. Sometimes an editor would publish a zine asking for contributions, in your fandom or multi-fandom, and they would bear the cost. Your payment as contributor was a copy of the printed zine. Sometimes people had really nice, expensive covers with artwork, or different types of binding styles. But if nobody could FIND your zine, you were out perhaps several hundred dollars. Some people sold zines by mail, advertising in a comment-zine. That was a whole ‘nother thing, where people could post their comments about various fanzines in one fan-run zine, which had to be paid for by the editor, as far a printing. The participants, or anyone buying the zine, had to pay for a copy. Some zines didn’t cost much, others were pretty expensive. The idea was to sell it for about the same amount it cost you to print it. There were people who made money on zines, and a lot who lost money, but generally, the idea was to sell it for cost. So a novel-length zine might sell for $10-$15 each, so as a reader, you really had to like the plot, or be willing to buy anything with that pairing, or like the author. So please think about that, when you read a novel-length story and feel like you wasted your time. Imagine if you’d paid $15 for it and hadn’t liked it. Very much like you do when you buy a professionally printed book, in fact. [20]

we also used to index fanfiction on private websites. sort of like having a blog, but on your own (paid-for) domain, not like a wordpress or tumblr or livejournal. so if you wanted to read Buffy fanfiction you looked up some Buffy fansites, and checked their links page for fanfic archives/”shrines” (remember when we called them shrines, guys?) for specific characters, specific pairings, and so on. if you wanted to publish a fanfiction you would submit it to the webmaster for a particular site, and if they thought it was good they’d put it up and host it, and then maybe some other fansites would email you to ask if they could archive a copy of it on THEIR page, or email just to say “hi, I added a link to this on my reccommended reading page, link back to me if you like my shrine!”. there was no centralized hub, no Main Index - everyone just linked to each other a ton, and you link-hopped your way to the Good Stuff by chance and by word of mouth. so it was a Big Deal when “the Pit”/fanfiction.net started gaining ground and becoming popular. like - a huge deal. everything was all in one place. prior to the rise of the Pit it was impossible to search by pairing, popularity, rating, and so on, which is why oldfics have those clunky headers. (title, rating, wordcount, etc - just for convenience.) lots of people still write out full fic headers that include a “Disclaimer: I own nothing” section because you had to have one, back in the day. you skimmed that header when you browsed a rec list. anyway, to get back on track: i think a lot of the aforementioned progress in both quality and social consciousness came about because ff.net and lj put everybody in the same room, and we all had to look at each other, and the tropes and trends In Fandom were suddenly a lot more obvious. [102]

I’m old enough to have a few Blakes 7 printzines. Back then there was the mainstream zine then a separate one for erotic fic called Alternative 7 which you had to declare you were 18 to get. I was heavily involved in X Files fandom - in fact my homepage on Netscape Navigator was the X Files Specialised Archive list page which does actually still exist. Most of my fannish activity took place via that page of links and through usenetnewsgroups which for the uninitiated basically worked like very long comment threads. There were newsgroups just for fic. And I completely agree that people tended not to be fans of several things but part of that, at least, was that an awful lot of us were still on dial up at that point. That meant going online during the day was prohibitively expensive (in the UK) and you were still paying a penny a minute in the evening and weekends, so you tended to download fic to read offline onto floppy discs or diskettes which held all of, ooooh, about a megabyte! I filled about ten… Slash was looked down on as being somehow more obscene than het porny stories and I’m very glad that’s changed, but I see a similar response to het ships now from slash fans and the feeling that somehow slash is both hotter and less nasty and that’s not something I consider to be a step forward! And, while I totally agree that the, “I’m not gay, I’m just into you,” trope is thankfully dying, I think we’ve got to a stage where in slash homophobia frequently doesn’t exist which I don’t like. One thing 90s slash was very aware of is that homophobia was a thing the characters had to negotiate - especially if, like in Due South or The Professionals, or Muncle, the characters worked for an organisation that might not be friendly to the idea of two men in a relationship. [103]

I hand-coded one of those geocities pages - that’s how and why I learned to code. (And yes, it was on a webring!) There was a subgroup of us from alt.tv.highlander that split off into our own private mailing list (you needed an invitation to get on) and for that I rented space on a university server and learned the unix commands to run it. I think this is the fandom equivalent of walking five miles uphill - both ways! - to school. [21]

This is so cool. I’ve been in fandom for around 11 years but that means when I first got into it (pretty exclusively through Star Wars), I wasn’t really old enough to be critical and self-aware. I do remember mainly that the fic I had access to was much more curated than the anyone-can-post cultures of ff.net and ao3 that are the norm now. TheForce.net rejected multiple submissions of mine, and there was a Han Solo-centered archive whose name I can’t remember that only posted fics that had previously been published in zines. It wasn’t for a couple years that I discovered livejournal fandom communities and smaller sites like LOTRFanfiction, Azkaban’s Lair, and the Spuffy Realm and started posting my own stuff. I was also pretty oblivious to other areas of fandom - for instance, I was completely unaware of the huge Harry Potter ship wars so many of y’all survived because I was so firmly ensconced in Marauder-era fandom only. [104]

Right around 2000 I started watching Starsky & Hutch re-runs. But unlike when I watched it as a kid (first run) I now had slash goggles! I went looking for the fandom, only to find it was mostly hide-bound to print zines and slash was still a dirty word. OMG the kerfuffles I got in to with the old BNFs trying to pull that fandom, kicking and screaming, into the digital age. I did have one digital compatriot, and she photocopied several old slash zines for me. [105]

I’m about to hit 40 this year and I’ve been reading since my early 20s. Wow. :D Everyone had their own websites in those day (geocities, anyone?) And yes, there were messageboards and yahoogroups and then along came LJ. LJ was great, but now AO3 is The One for me... I miss participating in fandom, giving elaborate feedback, offering up story banners and stuff for writers. I miss sharing the fannish love. LJ was the easiest platform to communicate, I think, compared to message boards and emails (though that didn’t stop me from emailing fanfic writers) [12]

When I got to college the next year, I got a spot on the closed Scullyfic mailing list and I’m not lying when I say I don’t know what my life would be like without that list. 500 smart women (and like, one gay dude) who were mentors and editors and peers to me during the dumbest years of my life. We talked about the show and writing and books and everything else. I am so, so sad for today’s fans that they don’t have the experience of a small community like that where you don’t have to go hopping around from journal to journal or blog to blog and there usually isn’t one central discussion area where you could easily send a private email to someone you hit it off with, then make an AIM chat date with when things were really going well. I have older friends from that list who never went onto another fandom but we still follow each other’s lives on Facebook 15 years later. - Email. Feedback. Best. Someone saw your story come across the list, hit reply, boom, private conversation (and, uh, no public shame if you let it hang a little longer before you go to it). Also exciting was when they sent the reply to the whole list to rec your story. I made most of my friends through sending email feedback to each other. - Man, I was spoiled in X-Files fandom. We had Gossamer, a great archive, a couple fic-only lists everybody was on, character specific lists, one for slash, one for darkfic, etc. When you posted fic, you sent it to one of those fic-only lists, which then automatically posted to alt.tv.x-files.creative. Then a site called Ephemeral scraped all the fic and it would sit there for, I think, 30 days, and people could hit “recommend” and you could follow how many recs and hits it had. Finally Gossamer picked stories up from Ephem and permanently archived them. And it was all automated! I have no idea who programmed all that or paid for the web hosting space, but god bless those people (and the two websites are still around and still being posted to, I believe). Then Livejournal. Which I used to rail about, and now miss. Heh. Salient point: for the first year or so, said fannish BFF and I actually shared a journal. I think there’s something interesting to be said about the movement of fandom from public spaces where someone’s handle wasn’t even linked to a profile, to everybody having a corner of the internet with a personalized visual design, URL, and reading list/feed, just from a conceptual POV [91]

Early fanfiction.net was the flakiest thing ever. It went down frequently and there was no twitter page to check when it would come back up. But I used it anyway because it has a rudimentary sort and search function. In some large fandom’s you could even sort by pairing. The could be a lot of tension between the slash and het sections of a fandom. Many archives didn’t allow slash or didn’t allow explicit slash. People would proudly proclamation that they only read het. I once had someone try to convince me that reading even a hint of slash was immoral, but explicit underage teacher/student fic was totally fine because it wasn’t real. [106]

I entered fandom in 1997 through bandom (though it wasn’t called that yet.) RPF definitely existed pre-NSync, though the NSync fans definitely altered bandom. It was egroups and webrings and using AskJeeves to find different fansites. Then I got into Buffy, and then I became a multi-fandom person. When egroups became yahoogroups I think I belonged to about 80 different mailing lists. [107]

If I’m remembering right, webrings were like… you’d join a webring and put a link on your homepage that, when clicked on, would send you to the next URL in the webring. I don’t remember if you had a set place in the queue or if it was random? But it was like a way for people to navigate similarly-themed sites. And it was another “cool” graphic to stick at the bottom of your page. To go with like, your animated burning torches and shit. Mailing lists were a totally different thing — those were basically like several big ongoing emails that everyone on the mailing list got ccd on. [108]

Dude, DUUUUDE, I remember Kazaa! Musical episode of Buffy was over 500Mb and it took be a week to get, all the while worrying that it’s porn. It wasn’t. In retrospect I’m not sure if I shouldve been relieved or disappointed. [25]

I swear like 75% of the pages you ended up on had a “night sky” background with blue and red text. And a MIDI file of the theme song (or other “relevant” music that you had to either hunt around the page for the tiny pause button or turn your speakers off to stop. [15]

...slash meant same sex. Exclusively. And if you dig into fanfic history—you can find academic articles about it and dissertations, btw—you’ll find that it was primarily written by women and that the Star Trek fandom had that going on for years possibly even before USENET and definitely before the internet. Like I said, in zines. Which you had to know about or go to a con to hunt down back issues. Or maybe if you were lucky and you had a current address, the author would be kind enough to send you a back issue if you sent a check or a money order—I think that was the standard because checks could bounce. What’s coming back for me was how hard it was to find this stuff. And by stuff I don’t mean just slash, any fic. There were listservs, but not only did each fandom have its distinct flavor, but each listserv did too. Good listserv mods had to be dedicated, rational, and infinitely patient. I tried to co-mod a listserv and I think I lasted maybe a month and a half. We didn’t call it porn, by the way, we called it smut (it was porn). But the listservs were problematic. Especially if you were on digest. [27]

And then after a while you had to create headers, very specific headers that would explain the characters, the ratings, the subject matter, etc. but that took time to establish. There was no Google. There were a bunch of different search engines that worked better or worse than each other. (It’s funny. It’s kind of like Google is now, except back then they just sucked. Now it’s Google trying to be “helpful”). I remember the webrings and the excitement when someone in your fandom would put up a page where GASP you might be able to find things.I used to post a lot of stories on the SciFi Channel bbs and those disappeared after awhile. I remember printing out a lot of stories, because otherwise they did just vanish. It really was the wild west. [27]

Oh man, the beforetimes. To be honest, I can’t even remember how I found out that fic was a thing. Like, searching for fic in the early Noughties was so difficult and hit-and-miss; how did I even stumble on it in the first place? I have NO FUCKING RECOLLECTION. And man, yes, I was on a few hotmail and yahoo mailing lists. Also fics that had their own websites? That was a thing I remember from long fics in the early 2000’s. They weren’t just hosted on archives, they had their own separate pages, often with autoplay music and super rudimentary gifs/bad photoshop jobs in the background on on the sidebars. [109]

Oh man, and mailing lists could be horrible if there was a major ship war. Luckily, I got into Oz after their giant ship war, so I didn’t have to deal with it directly. (Beecher/Keller was so dominating the fic output that the B/K fans ended up creating an entirely new mailing list, which is what I joined.) And fandom-specific archives were okay, but it was hell if one of them disappeared. One day, the Sports Night was just gone, due to some dispute over whether the fees had been paid, IIRC, and so dozens of stories have been lost to the ages, if the authors didn’t repost them on LJ or FF.net or AO3. (I’ve been cleaning out my closet, and found several giant three-ring binders full of printed-out Sports Night and Smallville fic, and I’m sure for a portion of those stories, my 14-year-old printouts are among the very few surviving copies.) [110]

*opens and closes mouth* I think this make me an elder slash fan since I remember doing some of this shit. Omg mailing list, having to email age of consent stuff and pretend to be 18+. Hah. Oh damn *has flashes like some kinda veteran* oh man I remember slash having a higher rating than anything equal to straight. Holy shit. Ya have it so easy now (I think I wouldn’t survive the zine era though. Holy shit. That is also why I am scare of reading any of those really old spirk fics cause of the homophobia et al.). [111]

Sounds nightmarish having to track stuff down. I can’t even imagine, that just sounds … awful, to be honest. And some of this is reminding me of earlier when I’d read really cheesy manga because it was the only stuff with pretty boys getting intimate I could find as a 14 or 15 year old, what with my dial-up internet making internet usage for anything other than text stories a nightmare. Like, I’d take what I could get, even if it wasn’t especially good quality, because it was all I could find. [44]

not gonna lie, i do miss having a general idea of where to find recs (like delicious tags or community blogs or a reccer network). I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE TO FIND STUFF ANYMORE. [112]

Hmm I came in later (and wow I really do need to donate to AO3 sometime because finding what you actually want to find) but along with people not being as multifannish, fandoms were more monolithic, I feel like? Like there’re these legendary fandom scandals and they’re legendary because they were SO omnipresent in the fandom. Since there were only a few channels through which you could find fanworks, there was no real way to avoid drama; even if you didn’t participate, you inevitably ended up seeing a lot of it. (vs. even just on Tumblr it’s pretty easy now to only follow one chunk of a fandom and stay almost entirely away from the problematic parts). [113]

Exposure to a Bigger World

I had my first unsupervised access to a computer in 2004, and the very first fandom website I came across was a Lord of the Rings sockpuppet theater page. I would read their chat logs for hOURS at lunch and my entire understanding of the internet is based on that one sockpuppet website, I have no idea how it worked. [114]

I’m surprised I don’t see a mention of how it was pretty obvious that not a single author knew how gay sex (anal sex in particular) worked, basically. These days, writers know a lot more about how sex works, seems like. [52]

I just saw “[fandomname] slash archive” and was desperate for new fic in [fandom] and hey presto “boys?? kissing?? GIRLS? KISSING?!! YOU CAN DO THAT?” That is *exactly* the story of how I discovered the existence of gay people. [115]

I got involved in fanfiction at the end of the nineties. It was a golden age of Ranma fanfiction: the stuff was everywhere. Of course, looking back on it a lot of it was kinda cringeworthy but you know how it is. Then as now I was largely disinterested and a bit bemused by the smut stuff, but there was a lot of non-smut to read. Most of what I’d say has changed between then and now is my own awareness of Japanese culture and as such my weirdness with a lot of stories being more than slightly acultural. [116]

AHAHA I REMEMBER MINOTAUR. Yes!! He had the best page ever. Hmm in retrospect that was about the best first sex education I had where it was laid out (heh) intelligibly-catholic school, not the best sex Ed, although I did have a high school teacher that did try. By that time I was already in fandom, so I was like HEARD IT. [117]

I started reading, and posting, on Usenet, before the web. There may have been gopher sites of fanfic, but if they were I didn’t know, and they must have been really short lived once we all downloaded Mosaic. Usenet had length restrictions per post, so you carved your pieces up even if they weren’t chapter fics. And then when you read things, you had to make sure you found all the pieces and read them in the right order. Archives? Without the web, there were no stinkin’ archives! Find it and read it while you could. Usenet felt ephemeral, because it was propagated server to server and older posts sort of disappeared. And once it was in the wild, out on Usenet, there was no recalling it. You lost control. You couldn’t pull or edit (at least, as far as I ever figured out). And at the same time, no one was archiving anything and there were no search engines, so many of us were doing this under our real names. Which made the Dejanews archive site in 1995 a bit of a shock. Because people you knew would search your name and find your fanfiction. And fanfiction was, back then, widely considered highly mock-worthy. Even if it wasn’t porn. Suddenly, there were searchable archives of stuff you wrote under your own name, or with your email address attached (which, prior to hotmail and Yahoomail, was generally issued by someone who used your real name to create it). Fun, fun times. The internet simply was much less available to anyone who wasn’t a college student, college grad, or a tech geek. Connection software wasn’t designed with regular people in mind, dial-up services were proprietary communities. I’m sure that AOL and Delphi had fanfiction communities, but AOL didn’t offer Usenet access until 1993. I can’t think of anyone younger than college age in any of my early communities. There may well also have been more carryover for us from the pre-epublishing traditions in which “final copies” were really final, and had to be print-ready. [118]

I didn’t even know about slash until the mid-90s, when I saw a piece of Riker/Data kissing artwork from the great fan artist Jean Kluge [119] - from across the room I remember thinking *wow, Troi sure looks pale* … until I got up close to it. It took me a little bit to get used to the idea, and another few years before I tried writing any myself. I never had a problem with gay relationships, but I grew up in the very rural Midwest and just wasn’t exposed to it very much as a kid. I shudder to think what kind of verbal abuse I might be subject to on the internet NOW for my ignorance, if I were 20 years younger and with that background. On the other hand, there’s almost no stigma in fandom now for producing slash - back in the 90s, when it was new online (I can’t tell you about print), ANY same-sex relationship story had to be rated NC-17 on lots of websites and usergroups that hosted a variety of fanfic. Even if there was no porn and the characters were just romantically involved (which was not equally applied to heterosexual relationship stories). [120]

I remember reading Geocities- and Tripod-hosted Newsies fanfiction (my very first exposure to fandom in general) where I had to highlight the whole page in order to be able to read the text at all. lol. And oh god webrings! [121]

Admittedly, I haven’t been in fandoms on the internet that long (2005 is when I started finding about all this stuff and holy shit did it open up a whole new world for me, thanks Harry Potter). [7]

Style, Aesthetics

I really miss those late 90s/early 2000s experimental writing styles… And the homegrown kinky weirdness of a lot of that era’s fic in general. Trigger warnings and content notes and trope tagging is great, but sometimes the fic Nowadays feels a little impersonal and… safe. Like a lot of stuff I read now feels like it’s been written by committee, following all the right and acceptable bullet points. Then again, I don’t miss all the casual misogyny. Eh you win some you lose some. I’ve tried to read some of the older fic I used to love and much of it is genuinely horrible, so maybe a lot of my wistfulness is just blind nostalgia. [122]

Does anyone remember fanlistings? My crappy standalone website with shitty iframes belonged to like 50 of them. I loved the little animated buttons. [50]

someday I will actually write that post on how a lot of the current style of fic comes directly from popslash. like, were it not for NSYNC your fannish landscape would actually look very different. [123]

oh god I also remember like, lines of asterisks or dashes to mark when “”sexytimes”” started, especially for ‘lemon’ scenes. yahoo groups galore, some very basic html websites with very bad summaries and no way to really find fic at all… I totally remember all of this. wo. [124]

I was the head librarian for the Sci-fi/Fantasy library that belonged to the nerd club at my school and we had a box of old Star Trek zines. I was DEEPLY into the Trek fandom at the time and I had a really awesome sense of holding history in my hands. They were so neat, but the stories themselves were a little too harlequin for my tastes. [125]

It was more common for the author to be “present” in the text, through comments in parenthesis and a bunch of other fourth-wall-breaking stuff. These days, the ideal seems to be for the author to “disappear”, and for the fourth wall to be firmly in place (outside perhaps winks towards genre-savviness or fandom in-jokes. They’re still played straight by the characters, though). [52]

something that I know has been mostly lost, however: hyper-realistic black and white art as zine covers. there is a specific style and it’s not one I see now that digital art and better printing is a thing. [126]

I was also just talking to tilathebun today about how fic on ff.net back in the day was a lot more literary, whereas ao3/tumblr fannish culture is much more visually based. Not just in terms of a greater visual art presence, but in terms of how fic is written and interacted with. Modern fic is written a lot more like tv (I read an article once that described its use of techniques like zooming in and out, but alas don’t have the link handy) whereas in the wild west of ff.net we had all sorts of styles, but most of the good ones were written like, well, books or creative essays. I think even today you can see something of a stylistic divide between ff.net and ao3, and while ao3 has drawn people away from ff.net it’s really more the successor of lj, and I’d be interested to do a side by side comparison of fic from a fandom-specific website, fic from lj, and fic from ff.net during the same time period. [127]

This is all really interesting. I also got into fandom in the really early 2000’s, but kept to Gen for a long time. What I mostly noticed was that, since I was finding it on fansites (remember fansites?), you’d get a lot more shared universes. Either the site runner or one of their friends would set up the idea for a universe and people would submit stories. X-Men had Shifting Sands - this post-apocalyptic universes colliding thing (that was also really closely related to ‘The Twelve’, a comics plot that doesn’t seem to make any sense?) - and The Common People - an AWESOME look at regular humans and non-superheroic mutants - for example. And you’d get all these really well written, unrelated stories that all fit in these universes. There seemed to be more plot-heavy fic, but that could just be the fandom shift I’ve made since then. I now read a LOT more drabbles and stories without climaxes, that just meander through small moments. Fanfiction seems more relaxed? Maybe because we get notified as soon as a story updates now, instead of having to remember to check various fansites, so it’s not as important to be done-in-one? Or maybe it’s just grown up. Isn’t mimicking published story structure as much. I’m not sure. I found more fic aimed at older readers back then. Like, over 40, with kids, older readers. LOTS more self-insert fic, which I’m starting to miss now. I KNOW that’s nostalgia, because it was mostly terrible. Definitely more monofannish. Also, it was a lot easier to find new writers, in a weird way. Well, if you’re as picky about writing style as I am. Like, you’d search by your favourite character on Google (after Google came) and find a fansite. Then you’d follow their links to other blogs until you found one who’s creater had good taste. BAM, hours of fun reading their story archives, and when you’re done their links will probably lead to other good blogs. If you found you had searched through a whole network, googling another character in the fandom usually opened up new possibilities. Theoretically, Tumblr should work in the same way, but it’s actually a lot more egalitarian. I miss the snobby fandom cliques that didn’t link any writers other than the very best. Then Fanfic.net [128] showed up and EVERYTHING changed. Multichapter stories no longer needed separate links for each chapter - that changed how chapters were structured. There was no arbitration on who could post to the site - people had to judge writing based on the first few paragraphs and that changed how people wrote too, I think. And you had to follow individual people, instead of favorite archivers - so it was a lot more difficult to find stories by tone or style instead of by character or rating. It’s just a really different experience now. [129]

Formatting’s and writing’s improved vastly too. For a few years, a load of my fandom’s fics went through weird formatting like having fancy page split bars to tell you everything below is now in ˆˆ—ˆˆ— John’s POV —-**ˆˆˆ or —-FLASHBACK—- or the flashback was all in italics but not specified as a flashback anywhere else in the fic except maybe in the author’s note. Or there’d be different formatting for different characters speaking in different ways and instead of the author just telling you as you went along using discourse markers, you’d have to look for the key at the top of the fic to figure out what specifically bold meant in contrast to italics. I mean, some fics do this still but nowhere NEAR as many. [13]

People these days post so many snippets, which didn’t used to be common. In some ways it’s really cool to see all these ideas, in other ways it’s super frustrating because the format is basically “Character A has a secret! Character B finds out! Character B is accepting. Character A and Character B kiss/fuck! The story ends.” rather than “Character A has a secret! Character A goes to great lengths to hide their secret. Over several chapters, Character A’s friends start to become suspicious and concerned. Eventually, Character B finds out and is sworn to secrecy. Their discovery changes the entire dynamic of the relationship between these two characters. Characters A and B kiss and/or fuck! External event happens creating friction between these two characters! External event is resolved in a way that requires revealing the secret to everyone! Character A’s friends experience emotions! Their emotions are resolved. Everyone is happy and accepting. The story ends.” It’s an A-B-C…X-Y-Z progression, rather than an A-Z progression which seems more common in a lot of fics these days. It’s a decent enough format which lends itself really well to short works, and the short works themselves are often cute and/or funny, but I do miss that journey some days. I mean, it’s not that it’s gone, it just sometimes seems so damn hard to find. [130]

The aesthetic, though, dear God, the aesthetic. If I had discovered fanfic five years earlier, I probably would have run screaming and never looked back. As it was, I came in just as the monolith was starting to crack, and so got to help HULK SMASH. [131]

The aesthetic was very different. A lot of older fanfic reads in ways that were more influenced by profic romance novels, whereas modern fanfic has sort of its own, more realist style. (TBH there are also a lot more realistic/pomo style romance novels these days as well.) The stuff from the early 2000s, in comparison to 90s and earlier fic, and in comparison to modern fic, tended to be more experimental stylistically. [3]>

Not a lot of postmodern type fic conceits (i.e. stuff like the one where steve and bucky watch all the movies made about captain america while steve was in the ice, or SGA fic told through excerpts from academic papers, etc.) Early 2000s fandom went through this weird magical realism phase, also. [3]

Songfics too, seem to have more or less lost their popularity. I haven’t seen any of those in a while. Drabbles, basically, interspersed between the lyrics of a song. or Songs! some of those covered like whole MIXTAPES! and no 8tracks or itunes or shit like that so you had track each and every track down by yourself if you wanted them, which was awful if the author forgot to tell you the name of the track and the artist. And if it were music from an anime or something, you’d find the track sans words, as an 8-bit midi file, which you then hoarded on your secret stash of floppy disks.... Oh my god and SCRIPT FICS. They were a thing. At least, I remember it being a thing. Whole casts of characters put on The Jerry Springer Show or something, with the Author appearing to make funny comments (usually none of it was really that funny). I don’t even know. [13]

I was JUST talking about this with folks in the past few weeks. They were going back through old fic in a particular fandom and just basically *horrified* by the sheer amount of misogyny/homophobia saturating everything…not to mention the blatant air of corset-ripping in stories where it didn’t really fit. [132]

elaborate ascii headers/footers/dividers on fic, which were mostly txt files (or bare-bones text-only pages to save archive space) I think? [21]

I bought “HTML For Dummies” and created a geocities page over a weekend for the purpose of displaying my fanclub badges and maybe later archiving my own fic. Did anyone else join mailing lists that required you to display badges to prove membership and once they verified your site they would give access to chat rooms and archives? I’m just glad I didn’t have any fic posted yet when my Dad decided to PRINT MY WEBPAGE and show it to the entire extended family. The shame of it all. [133]

those bare bones html and .txt fics and posting the file size were as much about the fact that everyone was on fucking dial-up as it was about saving space on archives and people not really knowing how to code. [134]

Hand-coded html pages hosted on geocities with terrible font color choices and pixellated blinky tiled gif backgrounds, aw yus. [21]

I started reading fic in the ’90s and posting in 1999-2000, so I was right there for the shift into a more modern writing style. For a while there was a trend called “intellislash”, which was basically pretentious experimental literary writing, but also slash fic. (I will own up to writing second person James/Snape with Tori Amos lyrics.) One thing that was around when I got into fic: really good resources on writing. Stuff like, don’t change tense, don’t switch POV with every sentence. The things you don’t really learn at school — well, I didn’t — but which form the building blocks for solid, readable prose. (Which is not faint praise!) [135]

For reasons I don’t know about since, at one point, I was almost literally the only person I knew not writing ‘NSync slash, its meteoric rise seemed to coincide with some new fic trends: second-person POV, present-tense verbs, a stripped-down, terse, sometimes frankly colorless-as-a-beige-wall writing style (if you compare stories in older slashzines the melodramatic, purplish floridity and turgidity is startling, and I say this as someone who happily defaults to florid in my own fic), the first inklings of acceptability for all those coffeeshop/high school/fashion designer etc. AUs that are everywhere now. It feels as though, barring “Everything goes better with Superwhobondlock!” exceptions, completely improbable/impossible crossover fics were much more acceptable back then; those seem as unpopular now as mundane AUs once were. [54]

AW, JEEZ. THE MEMORIES. FUCK. Granted I didn’t really get into fandom until the late 90s/early 2000s so I can’t specifically speak to usenet or mailing lists - by that time, people were hosting their own archives on Geocities or Angelfire, and they were usually indexed in a search engine. But the proliferation of “IT’S NOT GAY, WE’RE JUST IN LOVE” was still very much present in the fandom. I feel like the misogyny ticked up hard in the late 90s when anime fandoms started to really explode on the scene. I was in Gundam Wing fandom forever and had to actively search for fic where Relena was not a shrieking harpy or where there was not an epic fuckton of baggage surrounding the ship. I’m also really glad the “rape as tragic backstory” trend seems to have fallen out of use, because that was very prevalent in fandom for a long time. Fic also used to be pretty formulaic, and you could tell what kind of fic you were about to read pretty quick just based on the opening pages. EDIT: I think the point where things honestly started getting a lot better was when Livejournal started to become THE place to find fan fiction, and of course the whole business with Strikethrough ‘07 that prompted the foundation of the Organization for Transformative Works (and subsequently, AO3) is a huge part of fandom history that I lived through. [136]

A lot of crossover fic. Tons. In fact, there was one Dark Shadows (original 1960s show)/Rockford Files/The Guiding Light story that I would kill to find again. It sounds horrible, but it was a ton of fun. [11]

Oh God, children, gather round. People have talked about the writing styles and stuff like that but here’s my own “up hill both ways in the snow” history with the more technical side of things. When I first found fanfic on the internet in ‘95, (when I was 32) it was on the USENET group asfs (alt.sex.fetish.startrek). There was an archive but it was an FTP archive and all you got was the first 8 characters of the title of the fic, which you had to download and read later because you were probably on AOL where time was money and if you spent more than 20 hours on line, your credit card exploded. Mostly the group was a fairly small bunch of active participants who wrote and talked about stuff. It was like a mailing list or an LJ/DW comm…tumblr isn’t really set up for that kind of conversation, but people seem to find a way to talk. :) In 96, when asfs got overrun with spam, I created and co-modded ascem (alt.startrek.creative.erotica.moderated) and yes, as a matter of fact, I said that, if it was same sex and had any sex in it at all, it had to be listed as NC-17. I also banned RPF, because that was what you did. I never even thought about it—RPF was bad and that was that. Also my co-mod and I literally modded by hand—we’d take the days posts, sift through them for the real posts and post the real stuff. We’d get hundreds of posts and on a busy night maybe 30 of them would be real post and the rest would be spam. We were a sub group in the alt.startrek.creative hierarchy and almost as soon as we got off the ground there were people on ASC who insisted that, since there was now a moderated newsgroup for TrekSmut, they should ban it on the parent newsgroup. That was the spring ‘97 and good God, the flame war was incredible and I was right up in it, wanking away. I was a genuine (and pretty obnoxious) BNF and wow I want to bury my head in the bed and never come out when I think of some of the posts I made and some of the shit I said. There was an actual format you had to use for the subject line header on a fic because at that time there were four incarnations of Star Trek (five if you counted the animated series, which which we didn’t). To keep things straight (hee!) your subject line included the title of the story, whether it was new or not, the show it was for, the main pairing and the rating. Also which part it was. So your subject line looked like this: NEW: His Beloved Pet 1/7 (TNG, P/Q, NC-17). At least at that point, we were on unlimited time and so you could read stuff online. But with no smart phones or tablets and hardly any lap tops, you either had to read fic off your screen or print it out. My ex and I had binders full of fanfic all over the place, most of it printed on paper she grabbed out of the recycle stack at work. When I got my rocket e-book in ‘98 it was a fucking miracle. I could read fic on a fucking device! After all that, when mailing lists came along they were pretty much the best thing EVER. That was one social media upgrade I really got behind fast. LJ on the other hand…I kind of yelled at clouds about that one for a while. The one thing that mailing lists did was to splinter fandoms especially multi-pairing fandoms. So there would be one big Buffy list and then for example, there was a Spike/Buffy list. But then there would be a fight and suddenly the Spike/Buffy Dark Fic list would show up. Harry Potter started out as a mailing list fandom and it was seriously splintered like that because there was a ton of wank. I was lucky because my mailing list fandom was SW: The Phantom Menace and it was pretty much OTP fandom. [137]

Good good the Pit used to be and still is full of it. Back before the pit we used to write, oddly enough, on a quiz site called Quizilla for some really strange reason. I’m not sure why it happened. There would be a lot of chose your own adventure type fics on there where you chose what kind of Mary-Sue you are, what you name is and all sorts of perfunctory crap. [138]

So many stereotypes. The blond always gets tortured. The shorter member of the pair is the bottom or the one with curly hair. Oh, my, what a revelation it was when you found a fic where Blair topped Jim. And there would be mailing lists for that level of specificity. That was a wank at some point, in the Sentinel fandom. [92]

I too recall the convoluted I’m Not Gay But There Is This One Guy trope, which does unfortunately still persist in some circles. Still, at least it’s not inevitable anymore. mission has also hit the nail on the head by pointing out how modern fic is written more like tv, which I applaud and my mother deplores. Things you also don’t see anymore: sex scenes ripped straight from het romance novels (“her womanhood was like a quivering rosebud, and her desire gushed like a waterfall”), CRACK!!!!1!!! OMG YOU GUIZE SO RANDOM SQUIRREL TACO (I poke fun because this was one of my own vices, and honestly I think it’s an important stage for young people to go through </old>), and of course a lot of the old terminology (lemon/lime, flame, R&R). There was also the Art of Copyright Dodging, which really was this intricate and creative thing where you put just as much effort into drafting each fic’s Do Not Own blurb as you did the fic itself. Ahhhhh, to be young again. [139]

Didn’t pairings used to be called slashes? Like, now people call slashing just gay pairings, but earlier on it was all called “slashing” because you’d write, say, Kirk/Spock or Scully/Mulder. They were slashes. I think people are just calling it all “shipping” these days, but for a while there “slashing” was a way to indicate gay shipping. I don’t know if that’s falling out of favor or what, full circle I guess [140]

But if I have to list one thing that annoys be about “kids these days” is how they call a “drabble” anything that only has one chapter. It could be like 2K ficlet, but no, they be like “oh, I love this drabble!” And I’m left in the corner, muttering “drabble if fucking 100 words and not a fucking word more, you heathens”, all “get of my lawn” style.[25]

and don’t forget that weird period in like 2003-2004 where we wrote everything like movie script style. that was such a thing. [141]

Changes in Feedback

And I was around for the final years of alt.startrek.creative’s heyday, and it was wonderful. Mostly because there were annual awards — and yes, fic awards were terrible, but the ASC awards were different. A system was set up where people would send feedback for each eligible fic, and that was collated, and the fic with the most feedback won. But they also sent out all the feedback for all the fic — so even if your fic didn’t win, you’d usually get some really thoughtful (because people wanted to offer substantial feedback and hence get their favourites across the line) comments. Back in 2000, the most contested category for Voyager fic was Janeway/Chakotay, and miracle of miracles, I won. And that was amazing, but what I still treasure to this day was the things people said about my winning fic, and also the (many) fics that didn’t win. [135]

I used to get some lovely, sometimes lengthy, handwritten letters or cards from people who enjoyed my fanfic. People who took the time to write it out, and mail it to my P.O. box. But most of the time, that was the only way to find out readers’ reactions. It’s easier to comment now, and it doesn’t even cost anything. So please, support the authors you read by commenting on their fic, or at least liking it or reblogging it, so more people might find it. If you don’t want to write a lengthy comment, even writing that you loved it is great. It’s always nice to get some idea of why someone likes your story, but even “thanks for writing this” is encouraging. [20]

There was kind of a shift in the comments/feedback people would or could give, too. On the mailing lists, you could only reply to the post (usually through email), and you could choose to reply only to the OP or to the whole mailing list. On fanfiction.net everyone could see your comments, but only if they chose to go look, and it was more cumbersome for the OP to respond to comments. On LJ, comments were out in the plain sight by default but the OP could choose to screen or hide them (or turn off anonymous commenting), and most people replied to the comments they got. As it is now on tumblr, you see less comments (and more frequently people will put their comments in the tags to keep them private). [142]

Technical Changes/Editing

Oh man, webrings. Mailing lists! I had a crappy geocities website, once upon a time, painstakingly hand-coded in html with blinky text and horrible picture backgrounds. “Under Construction” gifs. Guestbooks. Oh, yeah. Good times. [143]

Do you remember the game change that it was when you suddenly got websites where you could plug in your fic, tick boxes, and it would add it to the archive and -and this was the big thing- split it up into email-sized chunks and send it out to the mailing list for you! No more having five or six email windows open while you tried to figure out how many your fic would take! [144]

Everyone, EVERYONE, used a beta. [50]

i will give them this—there was a lot less badfic that was technically bad, like, unreadable and full of errors. shit got edited back in the day. someone was gonna pay money to print five hundred copies of that and they did not want your terrible spelling to fuck it up. [59]

Oh, jeez. I just went back in time. Seriously, tho, the first proper fanfic I ever read was on a site linked off the Sci-Fi Channel Website. Because that was in the days when no one knew WTF to do with this whole ~interweb~ thing, and HTML was hella new and if you didn’t know WTF Gopher and Winsock were, you were not online. Seriously, you guys, I remember the exact date I started reading fanfic (October 22, 1994) because I was home sick from school and did web searches and remembered thinking “Oh, this archive updated they day I started looking online, and that was two days ago, October 22!” And yeah, there were somethings I miss (omfg, the editing. Y’all who just post what you write? No. Your ass would have been grass and five separate people would have emailed you with a line-edited copy that included notes on pacing, characterization, grammar, and fifteen questions drilling you on motivation. This is also why I don’t beta for people because it takes me, like 20 hours, and I tend to do line edits by hand, and typing them in again makes me want to beat my head against a wall) and somethings I really don’t miss (trigger warnings and content info is GREAT), but man. It was a different time with a lot of different tech. Hell, I taught myself HTML and CSS and Photoshop so I could run an archive, and JFC that was a lot of work. I will stan for FF.net until the END OF TIME, especially with the super simple “basic” interface because I spent DAYS formatting stories and text for my archive (which I offered basic .txt files and .html files, I AM GREAT), and being able to just upload files? *praise hands* And I will fight anyone who wants to read my ass on not having a search function on my old archive. I spent a shit-ton of time indexing stuff by title and author. It’s seriously the difference between card catalogs and a computer search of a library database. Just. Man. FLASHBACK. [145]

I remember coming across the term “beta” back in the day and being confused. But we had betas even if we didn’t call them that. Track changes was non-existent. I was involved in a virtual series, and a woman who was a professional copy editor agreed to beta read for us (first time I had ever heard the term). I would email her the draft and she would have to mark it up by hand and snail mail it to me. [76]

as someone who has been in fandom for a longass time I can confirm most of this as true history facts. except the thing about there being less technically badfic, tbh. [146]

And what still blows my mind: Early vidding fandom. You had to have two VCRs and know how long they’d take to react to a button press because it takes a while for the mechanical parts to start moving and actually recording. [83]

…ah, the days when you didn’t dare post anything without a beta and anyone who did was considered really brave. [147]

Being multifannish was weird to me! I didn’t even know other fandoms EXISTED for like, two years. Then when I was starting to shift to Buffy fandom because TXF got awful, my fannish BFF and I co-modded one of the first multifandom lists, where I got exposed to lots of other things. RPF was BIG DRAMA there, because it was 2001 and popslash was just starting, and after a lot of wank the list vetoed having it. I also used to handcode the story archive for the list, which, oh my god what an insane pain in the ass, and add the line “warning: contains slash” because oh noes the childrens. [91]

I had just discovered the joys of downloading, so I would leave myself logged on all night (remember: phone modems) and in the morning I’d have maybe a song and 2-3 text files downloaded. Turned out I’d picked the wrong area code when I set it up and my dad wanted to know why there was $50 in long distance charges on the phone bill. (Credit to dad, he was very understanding.) Phone modems were also why you never ever put images in an email, and you limited them on your web page. Even the good sites had a separate place for screen caps and art work, because it could take 10+ minutes to load and destroy the bandwidth allowance for the servers. [15]

Not even joking, do kids today still learn how to code (not that I ever did)? Like I know so many fangirls that got into coding and eventually tech jobs after starting with their own websites or archives. [148]

Closing Statements

Always remember our history. [4]

Do you guys ever think that one day we will be telling this stuff to our kids? Like how people talk about walkmans before the time of ipods and such? [149]

I love seeing fandom history written down. Someone needs to make a book of the growth and evolution of fandom, if it hasn’t been done already. [150]

Yes, people didn’t just come in with the assumption that the infrastructure should already have been built for them, for free, goddammit, and what do you mean the server’s going to have some downtime??? With the increasing mainstreaming of fandom, some younger fans have surrendered the sense that fandom is *our* thing, made by us, rather than something given to us by capitalism. [131]

fanfic is not, and never HAS been, the exclusive landscape of horny teenage virgins who have no lives. Not to say they don’t exist, but they’re not even the majority of fanfic writers, and never have been. My mom was a happily settled, fully grown, lovingly married mother of two, and she was writing sappy love stories about a blonde Captain, known to be a ladies’ man, who nevertheless falls head over heels for his tall, dark, and mysterious friend who is as emotionally distant as he is brilliantly intelligent, and teaches said friend about love and humanity. My mom is now an even more grown adult whose youngest child is in their 30’s, and she spends her idle time writing sappy love stories about a blonde Captain, known to be a ladies’ man, who nevertheless falls head over heels for his tall, dark, and mysterious friend who is as emotionally distant as he is brilliantly intelligent, and teaches said friend about love and humanity. Only instead of Starship Captain and Science Officer, they’re retired army Captain/blogger and Consulting Detective. Fandom is forever, and fanfic is forever, and don’t let anyone forget it. [151]

Reblogging because this is HISTORY, bitches! And to add that I don’t see much difference in story content over the last 20 years except that there’s a lot more mpreg and crackfic. I also don’t see much difference in quality. There have always been astonishingly great fic and appallingly bad fic. The only difference is that the appallingly bad fic keeps getting published! [152]

I just want to say that, the old day were not all terrible. Fans rolled their own websites and helped each other and hosted each other, and there was a coming together and a can-do and a generosity that was special; IMO it was because of the can-do, build it ourselves ethos of the old days that fans were able to build things like the AO3 in the first place. [153]

given that mine is one of the meaner comments (jfc when did this [Tumblr post] get a thousand reblogs, what the hell), i just totally want to second this? like, yeah, there was a lot of fucked up shit that i am SO GLAD is mostly gone, but also fandom was my life and it was awesome and i learned html and made friends and people put SO MUCH WORK into it. like, remember that page someone kept—karen? anderson? idk, something like that—that linked to every single archive? or possibly every single author’s page, or some combination, but it was like—mid-nineties, no google, no delicious, whatever fandom you were looking for, once you found that page you were fucking set. and almost every author who had their own website kept a list of links and recs—i found SO much great stuff from torch’s recs page. the sheer amount of labor fans put into fandom was really amazing and i was too young and annoying to be impressed at the time, but it’s really impressive. just, you know. i’m glad we’re more okay with the gay these days. and i’m glad our house style is no longer “offensive romance novel.” probably i should put more weight on the former than the latter but man, those full name love confessions really bug the crap out of me. [154]

Has anyone worked on an archive of fic zines, physical or digital? I’ve never even seen one (a fic zine) and it just seems so like, culturally important and also I would probably end up with a special interest in pre-00s fic zines if given the opportunity. [155]

Oh wow memories.. I’m not so old that I’ve ever read much ff outside ff.net or lj, or on a dial-up connection for that matter. I started in 2005 when I was 13. Lemons and limes and watching hp fanvids by ariel333lindt on youtube and reading terrible fanfics on Mibba and one other huge archive I can’t remember the name of… The quality has gone up so much since those days but I kinda miss them :) [156]

The fandom was also much smaller and much more intimate. Everyone kind of knew everyone. It was cozier. [157]

Just the entitlement in general, I think. It makes me sad, because as a writer I’m writing for me, but NEGL, I’m writing for you, too (or I wouldn’t publish). Sending me a hate-filled comment complaining about how X would never drink hot chocolate or eat buttered popcorn or bottom for Y? So fucking ridiculous. If you hate something that much, read something else; there’s certainly enough fic these days. Mostly, I think we were just grateful for the fics we did have. Because there were so few of us (comparatively), I found the community to be super supportive and welcoming of my friends and I, even though we were shit writers and about 10 years younger than the rest of the community. Several of the older fen took the time to edit my stories, taught me how to write better (better, not well LOL), and were all around generally awesome. HOWEVER!! All that tl;dr shit said, I would never go back. The general visibility and ‘acceptance’ of us, massive quantities of fic/fandoms/flavors, the people, ARCHIVE OF OUR MOTHERFUCKING OWN — it’s the best. Instead of a community, fandom has grown into a city, and I’m so proud to be here. [14]

I’m always fascinated by early online fan culture... I feel like I someone needs to make a Space Channel type “We salute those who make a difference” video about this. [158]

I think perhaps this is why I have such low tolerance for fandom whining. I remember these days. Oh God, am I becoming that adult who tells kids to be damn grateful they didn’t have to walk in the snow for ten miles? I don’t want to be that adult. But sometimes, I feel like that. [159]

This is all reasonably spot-on to my memories, as someone who got into media-based fan-fiction fandom (in contrast to music fandom where I’d been active since the mid-80s) in the mid-90s. I was there right on the cusp between zine-based fandom and online mailing lists, usenet groups, Baby’s First Website Archive, etc.... And no, it definitely wasn’t all bad. I still miss active fandom-specific mailing lists (actually belong to one or two still for music fandoms) because of the level of discussion, critique and debate. I made some friendships on old Onelist and YahooGroups for fandom that are still some of my best friends today, 15-20 years later. [79]

Thank you everybody I love fandom history. It’s so weird for me when the kids act like they invented it around s2 of Sherlock. [45]

But you know what? It was awesome, and it was supportive, and it was how most of the people I was friends with in high school learned was a clit was, even if we couldn’t find one with a mirror and a flashlight. RPF is as “legitimate” as any other kind of fic, and still is, and I will go to my grave protecting tween girls’ rights to read and write fanfiction — including RPF — without being sneered at. [53]

Ahhhh, the good old days! I spent a good portion of my late 20’s on many a Geocities site and several mailing lists for the X-Files fandom. Something I could have never imagined that something like AO3 could even be possible! [160]

WOW this is an amazing post. i was just nodding and going “mmhmm, mmhmm” all the way from MP thru reposts. I discovered online fandom in my midteens, mostly h/c xfiles fic and then SW prequel fic which is when i came around to slash. I’d read fic for shows I didn’t even watch, but had ships for. Stargate, Due South, that one show with the anthropologist who studies/buddies it up with a super butch super powered cop, Buffy, the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series, I’m sure there’s more. I joined mailing lists filled with old timers who’d meet up at cons and knew each other from their zine days. To my 14yo self they seemed like this totally educated, worldly group. I get the idea a lot of them got super into LotR (and/or Master and Commander), then when that craze died down, removed themselves (like literally removed their material, took down their archives) or just lurked moar. RayK is life. [161]

I found fanfic in a Yahoo chat group dedicated my ship (though we didn’t use that term). Then I found out about the fanzines etc. I didn’t know fanfic existed until then (eyes opened wide). This was about 2002 so I was late to the party. Then I discovered modern AUs and slash (eyes opened wider - what do you mean you can write non-canon pairings?) Luckily the show I was interested in had cons so I met other writers there. I have met some of the best people through fanfic so I regret nothing. AO3 and Tumblr are wonderful! [162]

I’m old enough to have xeroxed fanzines. Fanfic was a revelation. I was a feral fangirl and learning that other people wrote the same stories was amazing. Then again, I came into fandom around 1982, and wandered in and out for a couple decades. I learned to code html so I could have a web page. I read endless mailing lists, wrote fic in a dozen or more fandoms, and got my pro-writing break from someone I knew on a Star Wars mailing list. Each group had its own style. Some parts of Buffy fandom were all about the unconventional ships, not just slash but het as well. Others were only for canon ships. A certain Star Wars list had a very set style of fiction, and deviating from it, as I tended to do, coming in from Buffy and TPM, didn’t fly well. Fanfic kept short-lived shows alive in memory. It revived older shows fanbase. I’ve written Simon and Simon and Brimstone, as well as the bigger, more popular fandoms. We absorbed fandoms by osmosis, because our stories were in multifandom zines or archives. And we were socialized by older fans. The cardinal rule was “Do not profit from fandom.” The second rule was “Do not put your fic in the way of the talent.” We all still talked about the MZB and the Blake’s 7 blow up. These things are long gone from fannish memory it seems. everyone’s filing off the serial numbers to be the next 50 Shades. [6]

I keep seeking out fandoms where I’m the fandom baby, or at least one of the younger people, possibly trying to recapture that feeling of being 13 and desperately trying to conceal my age, or being 15 and a half and starting a fandom, or just being back in high school when things felt simpler and my fandom friends had all kinds of great advice. I keep joining new fandoms and ending up as the baby. Which will probably be harder and harder to do as the years go on. [163]

Basically, the Beforetimes were generally really awful. [13]

It’s interesting to see, in hindsight, that fanfic may have been a way for us to collectively work through varying things we weren’t exactly able to process back then. There’s probably a lot of harm done in being introduced to varying elements of humanity through fanfic, but possibly a considerable amount of good, in the end. [164]

This is all before my time, but many <3s to the increasingly venerable march of fandom history. [165]

Fic of all kinds was still the fannish hard currency, and that is definitely not the case anymore. I missed a lot of Big Moments but much of that is what I remember. [166]

I’m just cracking up reading other people’s reports of reports of what fanfic was like Back In The Day, when I was actually starting in it. I have the same giddy feeling when I see teenagers discussing the history they’ve been learning in school, from the late 70s and 80s, that I lived through when I was in school. *G* [167]

It is SO interesting getting to read these different perspectives. I loved Red Dwarf right away after I started watching it and I came across a still of the kiss from Blue while I was Googling for images, before I’d even watched the episode. Shortly after that I found the footage of the extended kiss on YouTube and boy did that get the gears in my head turning. From there, it didn’t take long to find out about the slash community, and I just started reading EVERYTHING Lister/Rimmer that I could find. Talk about falling down the rabbit hole head-first. :) Since I saw the extended kiss before ever seeing Blue, I was quite disappointed by how brief it was when I finally watched the episode. “That’s it? No hand caressing Rimmer’s cheek? Aw.” [168]

Things have definitely gotten equal degrees of better and worse, but I wouldn’t phrase it the same way that some-stars does, wherein the implication seems to be “wow you guys sucked back then.” There is more open access to fandom now, and more people are communicating about things like problematic elements in queer and romantic storytelling via the proliferation of social media (thank goodness). It was a smaller community in the late-90’s, and most fic writers were mirroring or still learning from tropes that were prevalent in movies, TV, comics, and books they’d grown up with. A lot of us who have been around since those egroups and usenet and aol days have done a lot of maturing, as well. [169]

Speaking of baby Jesus and fanfic, did you know that in the Middle Ages people used to create fanfics about baby Jesus - like, Jesus as a kid? My favorite is the one where he jumps off the roof and flies, so all his friends do it. Obviously, they all die, so he brings them back to life. No joke. My medieval drama teacher showed us some of the stories in class once. So fanfic was around way back then. It’s a literary tradition spanning hundreds of years, so if anyone ever gives you grief about fanfic, remind them that fanfic has been around longer than most fandoms. Cheers! [170]

Eh, I’m coming up on 8 years this … spring I think? That’s when I got my LJ at least. In the beginning, I was using dial-up to connect to stuff. I had to wait an hour for a fanvid to load on youtube. I had no idea how formatting or ratings worked. People were still calling smut fics “lemons” for some reason that has never been really clear to me. And I was terrified people would find out how YOUNG I was OMG. Then people started assuming I was a college student because I typed in complete sentences, no seriously, people thought that for years, when I revealed my actual age people who’d known me for ages were really taken aback. It’s been nice to see positive changes happening over the years. Less internalized misogyny. More attention to bisexuality and OT3 options, and female characters. Representation of PoC in casts and fanfics getting much more attention in recent years particularly. [171]

Man, I just remember songfic and FFNet’sDon’t Like, Don’t Read’ messages. And getting into LJ culture as a bebe!fan just as LJ was dying. [172]

Mostly what I remember was that it was harder to be a fan. Right now, you watch a movie or a TV show and let’s say you want to find out about an actor. Quick Google search. Back then? You went to the library, and probably a big library at that and you would need to hunt through reference books or lord help you, an index. And if you wanted to find people who liked the same stuff? It was not easy and seldom... did you find those people in any kind of geographic proximity to you. If you liked a slash pairing, that made it even more difficult. Also, I walked every day to school, in the snow, uphill. Both ways. [11]

This makes me bones feel old. (I am, I admit, not as old as some in the fandom oldbie circles, but I’ve got a solid ten years behind me. Which is frankly terrifying.) [173]

I still get flashbacks about the fandom drama on LJ, especially the Fandom Secrets community on there. Urgh. Such this happen here of course, but it’s harder to follow everyone’s conversations on Tumblr than it is on LJ. [138]

I feel like current-day fandom has become more fragmented and specialized. We all follow our pairings and characters that we like, but there’s less perspective because it’s harder to find discussions that don’t share your exact viewpoint. [70]

I always find the history of the whole fandom/fic writing subculture fascinating - it’s such a rich sociological phenomena. Apologies for that coming off sounding way more pretentious than intended. [174]

My history:-) it was the best of times, it was the worst- no, it was always great, even with the wank and the slash wars and the RPS and all of that, fandom has been so influential in my life, and fans so SO generous, with their time and resources…I will always be grateful and happy fandom exists:-) [175]

Ahaha, sorry if my rambling sounded mean-spirited, but transformative works fanspaces really were trickier to navigate, comparatively. (see prev. re: giving ao3 my money, heh) Oh, I’d also like to give a shout out to Minotaur, for his ‘Sex Tips for Slash Writers,’ Te for her (formative) recs page, and Squidge.org for providing hosting for a wide variety of fandoms & authors. Bless. [176]

Like I just really miss the Slayer Archives. It was the best thing about fanfic ever. Reading this post really made me all nostalgic. [177]

I feel like I just watched a show on the history channel, also pre-Google internet sounds like a scary place. [178]
  • "I’m both devastated that I didn’t get to experience this complex phenomenon, and relieved that my life is easy and I can quickly open an archive." [179]

I love every single one of you and want to interview you in detail about the history of what fan fic was like in the olden days and write a book. Any takers? [180]


I’ve got about… shit, twelve years under my belt. Sweet mother. [10]


I honestly thought this post was going to be about King Arthur fic and the like from several centuries ago, but this was informative and fun too! [183]

I sort of expected stories about four BNFs who knew this really cool guy whose life they made into their bible fanfics (RPF crossover?). And the fandom wars later on when they wanked about angels and needles and stuff like that. But this [discussion] was interesting, too. [184]

Also See


  1. ^ Archived snapshot, taken on December 23, 2018
  2. ^ Naked Bee, January 25
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days?, Archived version
  4. ^ a b adenil-umano, January 28
  5. ^ mazokugirl451, January 30
  6. ^ a b valarltd, January 27
  7. ^ a b c d e azraeldoesnotdispute, January 27
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  14. ^ a b c cornmouse, January 25
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  27. ^ a b c grammarsaveslives, January 26
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  44. ^ a b out-there-on-the-maroon, January 28
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  68. ^ flutterbyesandpollywogs, January 18
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  72. ^ nonasuch, January 25
  73. ^ a b saathi1013, January 18
  74. ^ a b c keroseem, January 2015
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  76. ^ a b grammarsaveslives, January 25
  77. ^ grammarsaveslives, January 25
  78. ^ a b c dragonmuse, January 25
  79. ^ a b c hawkland, January 27
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  81. ^ irina, January 27
  82. ^ mhopeg, January 27
  83. ^ a b rebecca2525, January 27
  84. ^ hannahrhen, January 25
  85. ^ calligrafiti, January 25
  86. ^ odamakilock, January 25
  87. ^ mkmonster, January 18
  88. ^ saathi1013, January 18
  89. ^ seti-fan, January 28
  90. ^ snickfic, January 26
  91. ^ a b c sophia-helix, January 26
  92. ^ a b cinder1013, January 26
  93. ^ raiining.tumblr, January 30
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  98. ^ Tumblr laughterbynight, January 2015
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  102. ^ glampersand, January 26
  103. ^ steamshovelmama, January 26
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  105. ^ lunaris103, January 18
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  111. ^ yohtan, January 26
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  114. ^ compostwitch, January 27
  115. ^ ariaste, January 25
  116. ^ unsurpassedtravesty, January 26
  117. ^ joirerson, January 28
  118. ^ greyhairedgeekgirl, January 25
  119. ^ See "Evolution" or "Nothing So Strong" at "Jean Kluge's webpage". Archived from the original on 2006-07-09.
  120. ^ veronica-rich, January 20
  121. ^ nebet-ren, January 25
  122. ^ babbleapple, January 25
  123. ^ liveship, January 25
  124. ^ outercorner, Janaruy 25
  125. ^ imasupermuteant, January 25
  126. ^ windcalling, January 25
  127. ^ missionlameturtle, January 25
  128. ^ This fan may be referring to FanFic.net or FanFiction.Net.
  129. ^ kiragecko, January 29
  130. ^ melinda-t-charville, January 25
  131. ^ a b harriet-spy, January 25
  132. ^ deadcatwithaflamethrower, January 19
  133. ^ lewstonewar, January 26
  134. ^ brak666, January 18
  135. ^ a b liz-squids, January 19
  136. ^ farashasilver, January 31
  137. ^ telesilla, January 26
  138. ^ a b janusgatekeeper, January 26
  139. ^ subarcticrosian, January 26
  140. ^ out-there-on-the-maroon, January 26
  141. ^ lestatthewolfkiller, January 26
  142. ^ brynne-lagaao, January 25
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  144. ^ jamyesterday, January 28
  145. ^ bitchwhoyoukiddin, January 28
  146. ^ kissing-monsters, Janaury 19
  147. ^ burntcopper, January 18
  148. ^ goflyakate, January 26
  149. ^ asmodesgold, January 25
  150. ^ scrawls, January 26
  151. ^ pip-says-hi, January 25
  152. ^ noonebutthebrave, January 27
  153. ^ cesperanza, January 23
  154. ^ some_stars, January 25
  155. ^ vampireskies, January 25
  156. ^ thedragonsire, January 25
  157. ^ ellitree, January 25
  158. ^ brainsforbabyjesus, January 25
  159. ^ afangirlsview, January 25
  160. ^ thefirstmrshummel, Janruary 25
  161. ^ weirdngilly, January 27
  162. ^ shadowsfan, January 25
  163. ^ out-there-on-the-maroon, January 25
  164. ^ flutterbyesandpollywogs, January 18
  165. ^ eyebrowofdoom, January 20
  166. ^ braindamageeclipse, January 19
  167. ^ veronica-rich, January 19
  168. ^ lordvalerymimes, January 20
  169. ^ veehoffman, January 21
  170. ^ supremeninjawarriorprincess, January 25
  171. ^ out-there-on-maroon, January 25
  172. ^ gen-is-gone, January 25
  173. ^ a-train-baby, January 25
  174. ^ thegirlfromauntie, January 26
  175. ^ lunaris, January 26
  176. ^ saathi1013, January 26
  177. ^ vicklepickles, January 26
  178. ^ imaginationispowerful, January 25
  179. ^ rackell-balleys, January 26
  180. ^ comtessedebussy, January 27
  181. ^ filleretive, January 26
  182. ^ lycantraitor, January 26
  183. ^ incidentalpiratess, January 26
  184. ^ schwarze-elster, January 30
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