On Meeting A Fellow Fan: the Other Fan

Yesterday Servetus posted about meeting a fellow fan on Saturday but mentioned no name.

I’m the mystery fellow fan.

She wrote in a circumspect manner so that I could decide whether to blog or not.  My hesitation wasn’t due to Servetus, she’s exactly the way she seemed otherwise:  intelligent, accomplished, perceptive, funny, empathetic, engaging and approachable. Part of my reluctance was because I felt unable to legitimately talk about our meeting without talking about past experiences. I stated in an earlier post that fandom was one of this blog’s topics.  It’s turned out to be a tricky and touchy subject to discuss and it’s hard to decide where to begin. This is as good a point as any.

When Servetus first suggested meeting, I was surprised but enthusiastic. I’ve met many people, over the years in Star Trek and then most significantly, Doctor Who fandom, both collectively at conventions and separately.  Generally it’s been a positive experience.  Two people I met through DW are still my best friends 15 later.  Many from DW fandom follow each other on Facebook.  I met up with friends in London last month with whom I have kept in touch with on Twitter and it was if I’d just seen them last year. Passion for the show has waxed and waned but people still remain friends.  I’m connected to a nice circle of people for such disparate backgrounds and countries.  We are diverse but like-minded in valuing respect, equality, common decency, debate and civility. When the chips are done, we have supported and defended each other against those who violate those values.  Everybody can vouch for each other (or find somebody who can); it’s a safe circle. And it all started on the internet, with nobody knowing each other in real life.  I particularly appreciate this safety because it’s kept me insulated from certain unpleasantness.

After Servetus and I agreed to meet, I was excited that we were part of the first group in ArmitageWorld to cross the boundary from virtual to real life.  We were ArmitageWorld pioneers who would meet each other then two more and they would meet two more and so on and so on, just like that old shampoo commercial.  Then I remembered nobody had ever seen me in this fandom and an ugly old potential problem reared it’s head: racism.  I’m African-American.  In an ideal world that shouldn’t matter but on two occasions it shockingly mattered, once before they ever met me, the other long after.  To say I was stunned is an understatement and since then I’ve been acutely conscious that internet anonymity is a double edged sword.  It can afford the freedom to explore oneself but it can also conceal.  My circle rallied to me and gave those two hell but still I was hurt.

So I addressed the issue directly with Servetus.  She was at first flippant (hope you don’t mind I’m white!), reassuring, then concerned which turned to dismay and sadness when I explained I didn’t suspect her of bigotry; I simply needed to clear the air to avoid any ugly surprises.  This is the world in which I live, the mythical post-racial America. It’s a problem not likely to go away in my lifetime.

stock vector peopleAs I said earlier, my fandom experiences have been mostly positive.  I enjoy virtual friendships and getting to know people online.  However as Servetus blogged about identity, I can only see the face a person presents to the world, the public persona.  I can gauge and assess what a person’s true persona might be to a degree, if they are not hiding behind a mask, but it’s not until I cross the boundary from virtual to reality and actually  interact with and observe that person’s expressions, gestures, demeanor, personality, and attitude that I can lay a foundation for a meaningful lasting friendship.  I noticed on Servetus’s blog that other fans are suggesting doing the same.  I heartily encourage this.  The virtual world and the internet have its uses, but crossing into real life is priceless.


38 thoughts on “On Meeting A Fellow Fan: the Other Fan

  1. Hi! I really enjoyed reading your post and glad you and Servetus met.
    I also belong to another fandom that I’ve been involved with for years, now not as much as before, and have met up with a few fans face to face. (Though no one near me). It’ hasn’t always led to long lasting friendships, but sometimes just a nice time and a new adventure for a few days. But I also have a good friend that I met through this fandom, not RA related, and we exchange emails regularly and last summer she came to visit a few days and we spent a great time together. I should explain she lives in Europe and I live in the US. So I certainly say it’s worth taking the chance. We all worry there is something about us that will drive people away once they see the real us, and as a shy person, I can certainly worry about even having a Twitter conversation with someone I don’t really know, but there’s always RA to talk about 🙂
    I’m glad that Richard Armitage is right and we are indeed a diverse group of fans.

    • Hi Musa, thanks for sharing your story. So you understand what it’s to cross from virtual to real life. Isn’t it great to find good friends, especially as we get older, it becomes harder to meet people. I think because we are a diverse but mature, intelligent and respectful group of fans, we have great potential in creating a safe circle of real life friends.

  2. Thanks for writing about meeting Servetus and I’m glad it was positive for both of you.

  3. OMG! You’re Black? 😉 (You knew I was gonna do that, didn’t you? Damn, I’m just too predictable. OMG! I’m predictable?!?!)

    All people I meet on the Internet are 30/40something female physics teachers until I learn otherwise. Which is kind of sad, cuz as I get to know people, the percentage of 30/40something female physics teachers out there keeps decreasing.

    • This was so funny, trinalin. I also always assume all the people i meet on the internet are forty-something female history professors 🙂

        • isn’t it an “I’ll assume people are like me” thing ? 🙂 Involving certain default assumptions that might be shared to some extent but also could be individually conditioned?

          • Strangely I don’t assume everybody is a lawyer (heaven forbid!) I do assume everybody has the same level of intelligence. Does that count? *takes psyche notes on herself* 😉

  4. Is my comment somewhere in space or is it completely lost?
    I can’t get my supportive words from the first comment together again, sorry.
    Just wanted to say. Thank you for being such a lovely person on the inside and outside.
    Personal appearances are just a moments aspect of one’s complex personality and often are deceiving. The RA-fandom here functions in a nice way as open space to develop creativity, fantasy, interestes, friendship in an ideal and free way without biasses and hindrances, around the world and among people who otherwise would not have met.
    Thank you for your blog and being you!!!

    • This comment has shown up. I can’t access my dashboard here but can check later.

      Thank you so much for those sweet words! I’m really touched. It’s wonderful to find a community that’s inclusive and supportive. I’m glad to know you too. 😀

      • Thank you, Judiang! I fear my mail to you via the contact form about one week ago is gone forever as well. I think you have some kind of time limit in your comments and as I need some time to formulate them and get distracted by work from time to time, that does not always works well for me ;o)
        But that is no problem, I must just remember to copy them before clicking “Submit” to get them again in case they are gone.

  5. Hmm. I purposely didn’t write about the racism question on my blog, because deciding to meet you or not to meet you was not contingent on that (except of course that I didn’t want to make you feel bad in advance of something that was supposed to be fun), but I thought about it a lot both after our agreement to meet and then we talked about it when we saw each other. What I am about to say is half-baked but not intended to be objectionable.

    I don’t think worries about race / racism falls quite in the same category as my worries about being seen in real life, i.e., I’m worried about meeting other fans because I might not be in reality what I appear to be on the internet is a common theme, or they might not like who I really am, ditto, but it’s not the whole story. Race is first of all not a non-trivial category (vs, say, meeting someone who has a perfume you despise or doesn’t dress in the way you anticipate); it’s not something that you can “agree to overlook” for a few hours (like say, politics) given both the history of racism in the U.S. and the fact that saying “I’ll overlook that you’re Black” raises the question of why I need to overlook it in the first place; and if the person you met really did have strong prejudices against African Americans it’s doubtful that they’d be able to cover them up for a whole day. Finally, race is not on the whole a category that evokes sympathy (like a physical disability or a disfiguring injury to the face might).

    Not being liked because you’re African American (though racism goes well beyond “not being liked” — it’s a worldview, not an individual preference, hence the frequent qualifier one hears after an antisemitic statement, “I don’t hate Jews, some of my best friends are Jews”) is a fundamental strike against the acceptance of identity that goes to the core of what happens in friendships. At the same time as it denigrates a particular identity, it solidifies that identity like an iron cage. Racism is a sentiment that puts the object in a category from which she can never escape no matter the accuracy of the category or the extent to which the person fits the category, and expressing racism is essentially a decision not to see the person one’s talking to for who she really is or give her the freedom to change. It’s a fundamental dealbreaker for a friendship in a way that the worries that I had about meeting you were not. And, most importantly, it is a worry I don’t have. Though there is certainly anti-White prejudice in the U.S., it’s something I encounter so rarely that it *never* occurs to me to think that it could be a problem in meeting someone in the U.S.

    And, as I suppose my responses to you at the time indicated, it’s hard to know what to say when the question is raised 🙂 You’re my friend and I don’t want to hurt you by anything I say or do. And there’s nothing I can do to help the problem, unlike if you email me to say, “hey, need to chat, I’m feeling low.” In essence, I suppose the idea that there’s a “right answer” or a “right response” for me to make regarding your concerns about race is also a sort of racist sentiment — the right answer from Servetus on this question is the right answer for Judiang, not the right answer for every African American.

    • It’s telling for a society that when two people agree to meet, one has the leisure of general worries (am I thin/pretty/smart/witty enough) and the other worries whether she will be rejected for the color of her skin. This goes to the very heart of our discussion about the American dialogue on racism today.

      The definition of racism has changed; it’s not the brutality of the KKK. Everybody but the most virulent racists agree that’s unacceptable. The concern today is about insidious institutionalized racism that can be ingrained and fed like pablum from infancy, the kind people aren’t even aware of because they take their status for granted. White privilege is never occurring to you that you could ever encounter a problem about being white. White privilege is not a dirty term, it’s simple something that’s conferred by accident of birth in this country. The debate in the US stalls again and again because of resistance of some whites to accept it when we say “hey, you can’t see what we’re talking about because you never have to encounter it when you attend school, or get a job, or move into a neighborhood, or buy a house, or enter a room of strangers, or a meet a person for the first time. You can never banish that nagging worry in the back of your mind whether a negative reaction was motivated by your personality (changeable) or you skin color (permanent) because to ignore the possibility is to make yourself vulnerable. So if we say there is still a big problem, you need to listen and look within yourselves.”

      I’ve never pondered whether racism is a worldview or personal preference. As a recipient, it’s one and same to me for all practical purposes. People who sprout their “but some of my best friends are [group]” nonsense are playing tokenism as salve for their subconscious bigotry. This country is in a bizarre paradox: it’s the ultimate insult to be called a bigot; but it’s still okay to talk and behave like one. Any type of prejudice, be it race, sex, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, or religion, strikes at the core of a person’s identity. It’s supremely hurtful and in some places, deadly. So how do you call it out?

      Your reply to me was spot on and exactly what I wanted. I understood you were flip because you were incredulous. It was essentially the same reply I’ve gotten from others, that it was an absurd question. Had I sensed the slightest reservation, it would have been a dealbreaker. So, it certainly was the right response for me. 😀

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  7. I definitely can identify with your trepidation, probably not to the same degree but I do know it. I’m not white either, I’m Asian. And no matter where I was born and grew up, how much I may know, how well educated I am, people do (re)act differently to me.
    They do have certain preconceptions based on my race, that may or may not go away when I address them.
    And I too am always aware of what I am, besides of who I am.

    • Thanks for posting this CC. What you said is exactly how it is sadly enough. It’s why I’m pleased to find this community is so diverse and inclusive.

      • Hi judiang, thank you for the post.

        Re: Servetus’s comment about “I’ll assume people are like me” — I was curious whether you were Asian (me too, CC!). You could be Judi Ang or Judi A. Ng. 🙂

        I have a lot of things running through my head when people first meet me, but less so in California. I’m moving to Ohio for grad school shortly and I hope that the adjustment will not be too jarring.

        • 😀
          Alas I live in Europe. I stand out. Oh yessirree. Not so much nowadays with all those exchange students and busloads of tourists, so now I most commonly either get mistaken for a tourist or an exchange student. :/

          • I seem to blend in and have far less problems in Europe than I do in the US. They seem to take me for a native which may explain why so many stop me to ask directions, and then I open my mouth. 😉

          • It’s not all bad, I rarely got bothered when they’re canvassing the streets for whatever cause. 😉 And it’s always amazing to see what a difference it is in another country , for it’s definitely not the same when I’m out and about in London.
            Of course I am in a luxury position that the UK is virtually around the corner. 😀 And to solve the riddle, I live in the Netherlands.

        • Cali to Ohio, eh? Culture Shock City. Heh.

          I’m in Ohio myself, though I my grad school was New York (and I did it completely online, so I’ve yet to set foot on campus). Undergrad was Wright State University, however.

          Ohioans will probably be awed by your California-ness, so use it to your advantage. And if you need something a bit less mid-west, visit Yellow Springs (near Dayton) and you’ll see a town that never left the 60’s. One of my favorite places to visit and shop.

  8. Thanks for sharing this and I’m glad the meeting with Dr S went well. I feel sad that you felt compelled to prepare the way in advance as you describe, though. Great post!

    • Thanks for your comment. It’s something that needed to be said. Now that you all know, it won’t be as pressing an issue for me.

  9. And by the way, good on you for being a Doctor Who fan – and prior to the reboot too!!!! Doctor Who was part of my childhood.

    • Been a DW fan since 1981 when I was in college. Before 1996 and the Paul McGann TV movie, I personally knew no DW fans at all. The internet changed that. My circle limped along until 2005 and now things have taken off again. DW also gave me my Other Squee, DT. 😀

  10. OK, I won’t not like you cause you’re black if you won’t not like me cause I tawk funny! Sad we feel the need to say these things, but like you said there are things you can’t change and being black and tawkin’ funny won’t change.

    PS I also have weird looking toes and can’t get thru one day w/o forgetting how to spell surprize..or is it suprize w/o the r or is it surprise…seee? And I’m a college grad, believe it or not. And, no, I don’t think being black and talking funny are on the same level, but in some circles, believe me, it’s close. Real close. All that said, my biggest fear when and if meeting any of you is that I won’t be smart enough to keep up with the conversation. And I also say “Richard” weird. Like “I-just-walked-out-of-the-sticks” weird. Please forgive me?!

    • NB, remember, I have a speech impediment so you won’t hear anything from me! As Servetus and I realized on Saturday, whatever we fear, whatever our insecurities, they usually amount to nothing. All that’s important is the camaraderie you build.
      PS: I’ll show you my double joints. 😀

  11. What a fascinating topic! I love meeting online friends in real life. 🙂 In fact, I’d say that my best and closest friends are ones I’ve met online originally – heck, even my husband fits into this category! With the race thing, I don’t see it as a big deal personally, but then again, we haven’t had slaves in Sweden since the Vikings had thralls, and they were white. In school, we didn’t even have anyone of a different skin colour until I had been there for like 5 years, and I think she was adopted. In my class, not until I was 13, and he was adopted from somewhere in Asia.

    There’s someone I used to chat a lot with online back in the day and I was surprised when I saw a picture of her to find out she was black – being in a predominately white community, I admit to automatically assuming everyone’s white until prooven otherwise. It’s REALLY stupid, but difficult to snap out of. Now that you’ve mentioned it, I reacted with a “oh right, fancy that!” and that’s it, but there’s still the whole thing of feeling extremely sheepish about reacting that way. It wasn’t negative in any way, I hasten to add, but why should I feel surprised? RA fans come in all shapes and sizes, so why not different colours too, right? 🙂

    Incidentally, in 2000, I met up with a bunch of online chat friends in London and aforementioned friend was one of them. We got on like a house on fire! It was like we continued where we left off, and I’m not talking about an online conversation, more like the friendship in itself. It was only peculiar because we had never met before in real life, and yet there we were, yapping away like we were neighbours. Twas lovely. 🙂

    Anyway. Online meetups are fab, in my experience. Haven’t had a bad one so far (touch wood). I’d love to meet RA fans offline too, and living in England would make it loads easier than it would if I still lived in Sweden. Perhaps it’s just easier if you’re a part of a community rather than just blogging, dunno. But maybe your chat site can turn bloggers and blog commentators into a community and we all get to know each other a bit more that way and maybe eventually organise a meetup? I’ll be a vocal one in the online chat, and IRL I’ll just the quiet one in the corner. 😉 (Seriously, one of the guys at the 2000 meetup went “OMG! She spoke!” whenever I finally said something. But he did it in a really adorable way, so no offence was taken. Aww. I do miss those days.)

    • Thank you for your honest post Traxy.

      I can imagine living in a country like Sweden that race has been mostly a non-issue considering the tiny minority. It’s a very big deal in the US and festers under the surface, largely because a significant black slave population existed at the time of its founding and the Founding Fathers basically kicked the issue down the road and we’ve been dealing with the consequences for the past 235 years. I suspect you’d be shocked at the vile rhetoric being hurled here in the political arena.

      It great to hear you and your friend have such great camaraderie. Are you still keeping in touch? I confess to a Master Plan in getting that community feeling going by opening the chat room. We’ve had 3 big successful chat calls already but unfortunately you’d gone off Twitter each time. There’s a global event scheduled for August 6th posted on Calexora’s blog, but with her on hiatus, I’m not sure what will happen. Perhaps I’ll carry on with the social side of it.

      The meeting between me and Servetus has caused chatter on her blog about local RL meetings but that will require local initiative. Perhaps you can organize a chat session with your local tweeters geared for your time zone? Like I said, the room always open; all you need to do is show up. That sounds like a good place to start so people can become comfortable with the thought of taking it to the next stage.

      Eventually, I imagine regional get togethers in RL, all working up to the piece de reistance, a global meeting in London when RA ever does The Rover or another theatrical event.

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