The fact that I realized I was queer at the tender age of twelve while reading Lord of the Rings FanFiction has become a running joke among my queer friends. I don’t remember the title of the fic, but I do remember that it was Galadriel and a female elf character from The Silmarillion, a book I then read because of this fic, then gave up on once I realized that no one was actually queer (except for the characters in ambiguously titled and untouched paperbacks in the teen section who always got kicked out of the house or couldn’t go to university or died).
This was a little while before I knew to check banned book lists for books with ‘homosexual content’. Given that I didn’t know any openly queer people and wouldn’t for a few more years, this glorious afternoon hour was the first time I’d considered that two women being attracted to each other or having sex was a Thing. Not an okay Thing, not a normal Thing, not an acceptable Thing, but just a THING. Many queer women have experiences as kids that we make sense of as latent queerness later, but when you’re a pre-teen and sometimes you make out with your best friend because you’re ‘practicing’, there’s no room to really consider that you like it a little more than your friend does.
FanFiction often straddles the gap between popular literature, film, and TV, and even vaguely three-dimensional queer representation, if only in a sexual or romantic sense. FanFiction, especially the sexually explicit kind, appeals to teenagers and particularly young teens in general because it’s a (mostly) safe way to explore sexuality and different possibilities of being sexual before you’re ready to be sexual with another person. For queer teens, this is especially true, because even if you looked for sexual experiences you might want to have, if you grew up in rural America like I did, no one else was interested. FanFiction was an outlet that allowed me to explore my queerness privately.
While I was obsessed with all things LOTR for a couple of years, the Harry Potter books were a constant throughout my childhood. I started reading them at age seven, when only the first and second books were out, and the seventh book came out when I was fifteen. I’ve read each book at least ten times, except the fifth because moody teen Harry made me too self-conscious about being a moody teen myself. Later on, my group of friends, like most Harry Potter fans our age, were so attached to the story that we all put off work and went to see the final film (and paid $14 for it), whether or not we hated the last book or had taken enough sociology classes to feel uncomfortable with Snape’s behavior yet.
Although we’re talking about a seven book series with at least 100+ characters total, JK Rowling managed to be unreasonably bad at paying attention to diversity, most notably in terms of race and queerness. The world of Harry Potter includes a handful of characters of color over the course of the story, and exactly one canonically queer character, whom Rowling outed after the series was over. True to form in terms of YA fiction, Albus Dumbledore is totally desexualized, and the one clue to his queerness on paper is that he had a close relationship with a guy who grew up to be a genocidal maniac (his teenage bestie, Grindelwald), and that this scarred him irrevocably (implied trauma is super convenient if you don’t want to write a gay romance, amirite). Perhaps Dumbledore and I had kissing practice memories in common? Thank goodness none of my past girlfriends have ended up genocidal maniacs.
Given my lack of outlets as a kid, imagining characters that I’d grown up with living out my fantasies was pretty comforting, thus I spent a lot of time imagining Ginny and Hermione hanging out/making out/banging/getting a couple of cats together and telling Harry and Ron to fuck off. By the time the last book came out, I’d started dating a girl, and knew all about the joys of gender-specific dormitories. Once again, my relationship with the series evolved parallel to my sexuality.
The period where I read FanFiction regularly lasted six months of puberty, after which I moved on to fantasizing about the 2004 Russian Olympic gymnastics team, but that was the point at which I started to deal with my sexuality. People ask me about my coming out story, and while I have a bunch of different ones with various people, that afternoon a decade ago was the day I came out to myself. I wasn’t comfortable with it, but I knew it was a part of me, and knowing that put me in a better position to deal with everything that was about to come my way, in terms of actual queer experiences, as well as reaction to those experiences. The images pay homage to a time in my life that has ended up being both essential and silly. Only in retrospect can I create visual representations of these sexy witches with all the dimension and humor I would have appreciated at that age. Enjoy!