More than a decade ago, before all the many developments in my identity and sexuality that have happened over the last few years, I used to attend BiCon, the UK’s national bisexual convention. One year, I met a woman there whose convention name tag read on the back, in large scrawled letters, “KINKY SLUT”.
At the time I found it incomprehensible. If she wanted to label herself, well, that was fine I supposed, but… why would anyone do that? Why wear it out in public like a medal, when it was something personal and private?
Now, as someone much more in touch with my emotions and rooted in a sense of belonging to my own body, I appreciate far more the courage it must have taken to do it. The fear of judgement that that kind of self-exposure brings is something I ‘get’ far more personally now. In fact it’s still something I prefer to avoid, in all honesty. I’ve been through enough life experiences that forced me to go public with things I found difficult whether I liked it or not; where I do have control, I prefer to keep things to myself. It’s great that there are people in the world who make a point of doing such things to educate and push society’s boundaries – the person I met at BiCon would later become a genderqueer academic whose blog is a mine of progressive information – but it’s not my bag.
But what’s this got to do with writing, you ask? It comes down to fan fiction. I’m in a curious place in my life at the moment: after months of stress and bureaucratic rollercoasters, I’ve finally managed to move away from my former flat, shared with a sci-fi writer friend who had a visceral horror of appearing in any way unusual, and into a house full of crazy bohemian performers. There’s a scarred table top in the garden one housemate uses for knife throwing practise, and the other makes a living teaching bellydance and doing mermaid burlesque acts. Discarded boots are propped up against stilts in the hall, and my slow Saturday nights are occasionally taken up by helping out as safety officer at fire circus shows.
It’s heaven. The first few weeks after the move were hectic, as ever, fuelled by my self-conscious guilt at being such a packrat; I was driving myself somewhat beyond my own capability largely in the attempt to get out of everybody’s way. But the dust is settling now, and the most remarkable effect it’s had on me has been a renewed blossoming of my creativity. It’s a tonic to feel like I’m not the craziest person in my home, and the safe space of fandom has seen a slew of new writing from me – the first I’ve done spontaneously in years. It’s touching on things like transition, far more personal to me than anything I usually let out.
Safe spaces; BiCon was never really a safe space for me personally, but perhaps it was one for the Kinky Slut. Perhaps she felt, as I do publishing fan fiction, that her audience would be appreciative and interested. (Her large, supportive polyamorous family-of-choice very much were). It’s reminded me I can write well, when I put my mind to it, and that it’s fun. I almost want to start a list of sycophants, culled from fandom, who could cheerlead me as I slog along the long and lonely novel trail.
I found myself wondering if I should swear off fanfic when I decided to have a serious bash at a Real Novel. Wasn’t it naughty, to waste my time like that? Wasn’t the fandom attitude just a set of authorial training wheels? Shouldn’t I grow up, and leave my adolescent lack of boundaries behind? Isn’t it just petty, grubby little fantasies?
Or was interacting with fandom in fact a case of following my own advice that inspiration is like compost – you have to shovel in every conceivable bit of rubbish, and trust to the internal process of the heap to make it steep down and transform into something rich and good? Could I reconceptualise fanfic as feeding myself? Could intellectual bohemianism be a positive force in my creative life?
Maybe I’d been letting my terribly upright flatmate rub off on me too much. I’d already decided some months ago that this year in my personal life, the first in a very long time where I’ve really had a good baseline level of sanity and physical health, is going to be my year to have fun. Make some good memories to draw on later when I go back to doing the hard stuff again. Perhaps I should take notice of the wisdom that some of the world’s greatest minds are often accused of being childlike – you’re always better at doing something you enjoy.
So I think I’ll give fandom another chance. I’ll embrace it as just one of my mind’s many partners, and stuff this daft idea that I only have love enough for one style of art, one work, one inner drive.
I think the Kinky Slut would have been proud.