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.
As 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.