On Conflicts, Complacency, and Consent in Fandom

We’re gonna have some real talk here everyone. So trigger warning: sexual and emotional abuse. If you are not familiar with the YouTube consent and abuse issues that came to light last March, you can educate yourself here .

Recently, I found out that the manager at my old job was fired for alleged inappropriate behavior with the employees. See, he used to say the strangest things, asking girls if they were having sex with their new boyfriends yet, calling out women for flirting with other coworkers and insinuating that they were sleeping together. He was just overall inappropriate in the work place.

And my first thought was, “Oh, someone must have caught him,” and not, “Someone finally reported him.” Doesn’t that seem a little backwards?

Is there really a difference between being “caught” and “reported?” Well, yeah. Being reported has a voice associated with the action. Caught? Could be anything—the wrong person overheard a misplaced joke. Being caught sounds like it was a mistake, an accident, a coincidence. Why is it so difficult to assume that someone told on him? Why didn’t I tell on him?

The office environment was like that when I got there. Everyone seemed to be friends with my manager, following him on Instagram and Twitter. And I assumed the invasion of their personal space had been part of something they invited willingly into their lives. I figured, hey, I’m the new girl. Who am I to say, “I don’t really like this”? It was the culture that I arrived in, and I didn’t want to impose on whatever they had going. Because I assumed everyone else wanted it that way. And I didn’t want to spoil the party.

That’s this idea of complacency, you know? It happens all the time. The bystander effect. It happens more often than you think. Cultures are created, power dynamics are decided, and when the dust finally settles, it can seem impossible for things to shift again. And it happened to us, it happened inside the YouTube and Harry Potter fan communities. Julián Gómez says on his blog ,“The power-structure created by these popular vloggers with a lot of clout and influence is very dangerous. Many women said they did not come forward with allegations before because they were scared of being attacked by the vloggers’ fans or that they did not want to tarnish the reputation of these men and effectively end their vlogging careers.”

It’s not rocket science, it’s girl fans and boy bands , as Stacy from Swish and Flick points out in her tumblr post on “taking back our fandom.” People were deemed popular, and talented. Some fans of Harry Potter now had fans of their own. We had built our own high school cafeteria. You had the cool kids table, the sexually active band geeks, the thespians, the cosplayers, and Steve Vander Ark eating in a bathroom stall because nobody wanted him around anymore.

Immediately after the survivors brought their abuse to the internet’s attention, we talked a lot about not letting the abusers back into our community. Websites were and continue to do awesome work , and many much needed consent videos were created. But it’s not over. Every year we welcome a new generation of fans into the community. With the summer coming up, these issues need to be remembered and discussed. It cannot be silently assumed how we feel. There needs to be a constant conversation. Constant vigilance to keep each other accountable.

Back in March, I wanted to tell my story. I felt like I should say something to give more validity to the situation. But it didn’t seem at the time like it would add to the conversation–only dilute the voices that mattered and add noise over the voices that needed a volume boost, needed to be cranked, finally, to 11.

Unfortunately, my story doesn’t look much different than everyone elses. And that’s the shame of it. If you know who I’m referring to, that’s cool. I’m choosing not to use names here because it’s not about the guy . This is about our community no longer accepting behavior that we know is wrong. This is about knowing how to speak up when you’re uncomfortable, even when you’re afraid you’ll become the unliked one.

When I was seventeen, I went to a convention called Prophecy. I was told “not to become a fandom slut.” At seventeen, I was flirting with guys that were 25-30 years old. I was too young to process the idea that someone in my fandom would take advantage of someone else.

I was too young to know what being taken advantage of even felt like. I was blinded, kept in the dark by dangerous whispers in my head. I must be special . I must be special . I must be different and better than every other nerdy, smart, wonderful, strong, female Harry Potter fan. It didn’t feel like I was being wronged, because all I could think about was me and how cool I must be.

Validating myself based on someone else’s attention? Great job, self. Nice.

I ignored rumors of him dating because I didn’t want to know. I lied to myself, said it was fine because our flirting never went anywhere. It wasn’t hurting anybody. I didn’t want to feel like my feeling special was at the expense of someone else not feeling so special. But after a particularly strong pass at trying-to-get-me-alone-in-his-hotel-room with the lamest and creepiest excuse for “more alcohol,” I called him out.

“Don’t you have a girlfriend?”

Immediately, I knew I struck a nerve. He said I was reading into signals that didn’t exist, and I was being ridiculous. But like, bro . I caught you red-handed. Caught. Like it was an accident. Like I shouldn’t have . How dare I.

The tale ends like the others. Radio silence. For years . Once at a show, I tried to speak to him. He took me by my shoulders, displaced me from his path and said, “I don’t have time for you.”

Complacent. I was complacent.

But how do we stop something like this from happening again? We cannot be complacent, as Matt Maggiacomo mentioned in his tumblr post regarding the topic. The best way to make sure this doesn’t happen again is awareness that it happened once before. A reminder that we had an open space where no fan was different than a “big name fan.” A reminder that popularity is different than being talented and being praised for such talent does not make one better than anyone else.

When these wonderful and strong ladies spoke up and out against the YouTubers, I had a pit in my stomach the size of a hippogriff and it wasn’t ever going away. I felt guilty and ashamed that I craved the attention so I could go home and tell my friends that someone “famous” liked me.  It’s this complicated, weird grey area we exist in when we’re at a convention, of who is famous and who isn’t and who has fans and who has the talent. And what is now okay. Can we still get that thrill from meeting a fandom famous person? Someone admired? And yes, of course. It’s is healthy and normal, and exciting.

But we play by different rules now. The Age Line has been placed around the Goblet of Fire. And you’ll see boosted up codes of conducts at conventions like VidCon and “Cosplay is not Consent” anti-harassment posters at New York Comic Con.

I felt sad, that some of these bands and performers wouldn’t be around anymore, even though they are abusers. And I felt guilty about being sad. I loved their music, I know all the words and have since 2007. I danced and sang and screamed and hoped they would make eye contact with me from the stage. That I would be the one to literally stand out in the crowd. On a bad day, when I would need a reminder of my friends and the time we shared at wrock shows? I would turn on music of one of the abusers. That was before I knew. For me, I won’t ever be able to listen to their work again. I won’t ever be able to watch another YouTube video featuring an abuser.

Our fandom faced a problem, and everyone will have a different way of accepting, dealing, and moving forward. If you are a person that is capable of compartmentalizing, then I applaud you. The memories made to the soundtrack of performers like Luke Conard and Alex Carpenter do not make those memories any less real, less helpful, or less beautiful. Revisit those memories, revisit them frequently. Acknowledge your disgust, your disappointment. But those memories aren’t ruined. Don’t let those memories go, because they are still part of you.

We’re closing in on this healthy and productive place where talking about the wrongdoers in our community is considered a positive conversation and not in anyway viewed as gossip. We’re turning into a positive fandom, and we’re shedding light, as a group, on the parts of our community that we don’t want to put up with anymore. We refuse to be complacent.

One comment

  1. […] had conversations about consent, and what true consent really means. Videos have been created by YouTubers explaining consent, or […]

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