What Sickness You Can Live With

Trisha Low, Hay, and tshirt speak with us on feeling their way through worlds, proximal intimacies, and writing both in and about fandom. 

Fandom, slash fanfiction, and the increasing inclusion of the yaoi or BL (boy’s love) genre into the mainstream remains a polarising topic—its audience argues that the space allows for negotiation of queer desires, while others criticise it for objectifying and effeminising men. In 2021, the massive popularity of Chinese television drama The Untamed brought the genre to the attention of the public eye—something that has had rippling effects on discourse surrounding the anxiety about women’s desire and the challenge it poses to the heteropatriarchal family system.

In this conversation with Trisha Low, Hay, and tshirt—whose writing practices on fandom span zines, tumblr essays, fanfiction, and more—AAA’s Assistant Editor Andrea Chu inquires about the shape of their involvement. As a creative mode for the exploration of self and community, they speak about the different ways fandom’s obsession and excess orient their relations to the erotic, with others, and for being in the world.


Andrea Chu (AC): I’m interested in parsing the ways fandom’s affective pull manages to reel people in and keep them in for often decades at a time—what does it offer? How does it exert its power?

tshirt: There’s this quote from The Hundreds where Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart write about the act of writing itself: “Worlds are already so compositionally full that the question is not how to choose what to stay with but how to feel your way in.” And that to me also describes the appeal of transformative fandom. Writing becomes a way of touching a world, but it also becomes a fantasy that my emotional attachments to the source material are meaningful.

This fantasy is enhanced by the community that forms. It’s a community with a low barrier to entry but high emotional investment from all participants. To paraphrase my friend simkjrs, it’s like playing with dolls, except everybody wants to watch. Key as well is that I myself become a character I play“tshirt” exists exclusively virtually, as an intentionally constructed avatar for this play. Fandom enables me to form/re-form narratives, including my own. The power fandom exerts, to me, is in its validation of this narrativisation.

Hay: I really feel what tshirt’s saying here about how fandom allows us to make ourselves and our relationships with others. This might be specific to hanging out in BL/K-pop/fanfic circles, but I love how it’s assumed that everyone’s online persona in these spaces is a highly partial self; the shadow side of an otherwise “normal functioning” person. It’s funnymy real life bleeds into everything I do for fandom and vice versa, but there’s something protective about being an anonymous fan that gives me agency over how I move through those spaces. 

Tangentially, I think what keeps me in fandom is its tendencies towards excess. Excess feeling, excess content, excess consumption, fandom itself as a kind of excess. When I meet people from fandom in real life, what we bond over is rarely a common source material, but rather the state of being singularly obsessed with something that the “productive” world considers arbitrary. I don’t think that’s inherently subversive, but I do think those who live in fandom understand that obsession is a pretty common mode of being, labelled as such only when the thing being fixated on is seen as perverse for whatever reason.

Trisha Low (TL): Tbh, I still grapple with that question, since my relationship to fandom isn’t stable. I was consumed by it as a teenager, then tried to distance myself as an “adult” by intellectualising it within my writing/performance practice, before returning about four years ago when The Untamed came out. 

Like Hay and tshirt, I love that fandom is this intensely mobile space of narrative intervention and interpretation. But most of all, I love that a lot of fandom activity thrives in the space of the irresolvable. Which is to say, for me, the question is kind of the point. People assume that as an escapist mode, fandom and its generic tropes/codes deal in predetermined knowledge or outcomes. But engaging in that real life/fandom double bleed that Hay is describing is often a way for me to feel through (as tshirt says) different or contradictory realms—art or theory or politics, fantasy and reality, or even the problem of myself—without coherence or even a point. 

Like, the world’s complicated and terrible, yeah, but at least I don’t have to pretend I’m capable of finding a “solution” or saying anything smart beyond wanting to cry or jerk off about it, or both.

Video: Fan-made video for The Untamed

AC: I’m hearing a vague thread on this idea of feeling for the sake of feeling itself, which is often portrayed as abject. I want to stay with this for a second because when I’m thinking about how to respond in this conversation, I can feel myself sidestepping around examples I think would be too improper or not “presentable” enough for text, fuelled by internalised shame around speaking on the erotic—as a power that we’ve been taught to distrust and devalue as irrational, psychotic, confused.

Is this something you resonate with currently, or have in the past? Hay mentioned encountering others through anonymous “shadow sides” as something that gives more agency, but would you say that fandom provides a space for exploring one’s erotics?

TL: Ahh, much to say here, but for me perhaps the most interesting aspect of fandom erotics is what’s relational. My friend and scholar Lee Mandelo has often likened fandom to public sex culture—like at an S/M club, or cruising space, there are different levels of participation within a shared system of flagging. In fandom, there’s similar upfront flagging happening via what AO3 tags one prefers or avoids, which fandoms you engage in, etc. You’re not sexually engaging but you’re sexually proximate. 

Lee’s work has really informed my thinking around the vulnerability and yet illusion that feels hyperspecific to fandom friendships. On the one hand, you’re getting to know the dark recesses of near-total strangers’ sexual preferences right off the bat; you’re exchanging smut, filthily imagining into an intimate and collaborative horny space. I literally cannot think of any other kind of friendship that can sprout as quickly and intensely. On the other hand, having this one affinity doesn’t necessarily mean alignment in any other aspect of life, politics, or even sexuality/sexual preference because fandom is both attached to and detached from real life. 

Juana Maria Rodriguez talks about gesture in queer space as something that can not only signal one’s place within its subcultures (i.e., flagging via posture or clothing), but “that reaches, suggests, motions; an action that signals its desire to act, perhaps to touch… they extend the reach of the self into the space between us; they bring into being the possibility of a ‘we.’” I like to think of friendships in fandom not as forming simply because of similar identifications or actions, but because the space itself and its encodedness enables a series of erratic, intimate gestures that can override or deprioritise the assumptions, static identifications, and categorisations that structure “real” life. This too has its drawbacks; fandom wars are an example of the worst of it. I can’t say fandom’s potential is “revolutionary” or even good, but there is a strange power concentrated there.

tshirt: Oh, I love that comparison of fandom to public sex cultures—for me, in addition to flagging, what it evokes is like…the porn theatres of the 70s and 80s. Samuel R. Delany describes the culture in his essays Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, and there are two bits that stand out to me with relation to this topic. The first is his thesis of the whole book, that social contact, specifically “interclass contact conducted in a mode of good will” is integral to a healthy society, which really seems to resonate with what Trisha is saying about the power of fandom friendships.

And, back to the question of shame and the erotic, the second bit is when he’s describing the sexual self-confidence of a hustler, Joey-Who-Needs-a-Bath: “We do a little better when we sexualise our own manner of having sex—learn to find our own way of having sex sexy.” Shame around speaking on the erotic is absolutely felt for me. Which is funny because I do write about sex, but I tend towards deflecting: writing sex farces or intellectualising around the shape of the erotic. I can think of one earnest attempt at expressing something related to sexuality, with no jokes or parody involved, and it was the first explicit fic I wrote. I reread it as I write this, and it surprised me—it was far more explicit and personal than I remember! I want to return to that vulnerability, on some level, while not disavowing the lighter fare I’ve made as something totally detached from my sense of eroticism.

Hay: It’s funny to see the Audre Lorde quote in this context because “irrational, psychotic, confused” are precisely the kinds of descriptors we use in fandom to talk about desire. For me, shame never really exits the picture so much as it is something to play with. The comparison between fandom with public sex cultures and porn theatres works well because all these spaces challenge you to play with shame-desire; they are sites where you collectively choose to confront shame in pursuit of desire. I think of all those fandom tweets where a vaguely hot GIF is attached with a caption that reads he/she/they drive me crazyyyy. There’s some shame attached to these confessions, but I think that shame is what makes it feel great to have others bear witness to your admissionand perhaps join you in wanting.

Like tshirt and Trisha, I also think fandom friendships have been fundamental to me navigating the erotic. Writing smut is the obvious example, although I think its relationship to the erotic is less personal than assumed: you’re writing directly about sex and writing to prompt desire, which feels controversial when we are taught that sex in culture must primarily operate as a symbol for some higher-order thought or feeling. I actually find writing the rest of a fic to be far more intimate. When me and my fandom friends beta each other’s fics, we share our most half-baked ideas, worst writing, and are most open to having the works changed by each other. This also entails asking awful questions such as, “so why do these people want each other so bad?” It is in formulating answers to those questions in which the slippage between fic and our own lives, our own relationships, to what is erotic, occurs. It’s brutal. I love it.

AC: I really like the idea of wading through desire as shame, with others, as a kind of proximity where you’re not each other’s erotic object, but that sharing certain affinities allows for a different kind of vulnerability or intimacy. Returning to Trisha’s comment earlier about how fandom is often framed as escapism, I want to think about that in relation to the comparison to public sex cultures, and the participatory nature you’ve all been describing as your engagement with fandom.

Seen as escapist fantasy, fandom is often formulated as an escape from some actual sex life—where it’s implied that that sex life has failed the reader in some way. Is there a way in which we could rethink this established formulation? Would you say that your engagement with fandom is a sex life in and of itself?

tshirt: I guess I see fandom as a complement more than anything else, rather than as a sex life itself. The only possible exceptions I can think of to this is 1) if you meet and fuck someone you initially met through fandom, or 2) if you are explicitly encouraging people to share an erotic experience with you, e.g., the “wank and tell” tag on AO3 (a tag for authors who are interested in learning if someone got off to their fic). For me, fandom is a place for erotic fantasy over erotic actuality.

Hay: This isn’t specific to sex life, but I think people do become a part of fandom because life has failed them in some way. The fan accounts that get published lean hard on the angle that fandom came to them at an emotional rock bottom, but there are also accounts rooted in boredom, or isolation, or lonelinessI see these all as ways of expressing that reality is dissatisfying. And I think we’re always trying to find ways to escape from a life that is not what you hoped forwhether you decide to organise or go to the gym or get really into cryptocurrencyit’s just that these types of activities are comfortably assimilated into the idea of reality/real life. So I’m curious about what is actually being attacked in these critiques of the unreality of fandom.

A common line of argument in BL fandom studies is that fandom is threatening because it is a feminised activity, and one that allows women to negotiate heteropatriarchal relations by recreating-subverting it via depictions of incredibly problematic sex. That’s part of what is at work here, but I think this framing is boring! What’s more interesting to me is that seeing/reading/writing explicit fanfic is a kind of sex life where neither your body nor your personhood are technically involved, which challenges the idea that sex is primarily a physical (and reproductive) activity, challenges authenticity as a metric for evaluating sexuality altogether. And yet I wouldn’t say that sex in fandom feels pessimistic or disingenuous at allit often feels like the opposite, even. It’s a mindfuck to think about, and maybe that’s why there’s an impulse to label fandom as fantasy, as if that works as a strategy for dismissal.

TL: Yeah, agreed, I’m so struck by what Hay’s said—and earlier too—about how the real slippage between fandom and one’s erotic life actually stems from conversations of desire at large or in the abstract. In other words: what do we want from life, what do we need from people we care about, what kind of situation would instigate the kind of life-destabilising obsession in us that we project into our various ships? 

Alice Sparkly Kat wrote about how fandom circulates within the void-like feelings of grief/loss with the understanding that nothing actually will fill it. Perhaps fandom enables us to be infinitely demanding about a range of desires, material to sexual, without having to make the usual acknowledgments of social politesse or qualifying embarrassments—oh I guess my job’s fine, oh my partnership is good enough, etc. It also makes us less resistant to the possibility that our needs can be demanded, and addressed, even if imperfectly, or not in a way that we expect will resolve it; that our worlds might be able to be changed by others around us just by that address, that recognition and response. And actually I don’t think that unfettered demandingness is unrelated to like, the fact that it’s pretty standard for there to be physically impossible multiple orgasms in one PWP fic, or canonical 12-inch dick LOL. That might seem absurd, but frankly expecting anything good, or anything that you want out of life to materialise is maybe also absurd for a variety of living-in-late-stage-capitalism reasons. 

I think Hay’s right that in terms of sex qua sex, fandom can be a way of expanding one’s sex life or engaging in a kind of fantasy that IRL relationships and sexual encounters don’t strictly allow—roleplay RPF is basically cybersex; some aromantic and asexual people engage in fandom as a different relationship to horniness—if anything I think perhaps thinking about fandom in relation to a traditional understanding of one’s sex life kind of points out how limited our sense of what a quote unquote “normal” or “healthy” sex life should look like. 

AC: I love these responses because like Trisha emphasised, they speak so well to how fandom desire circumvents understandings of what erotic desire might and should look like.

Trisha, earlier you spoke of your relationship to fandom as a “distancing” via intellectualisation, and then a return; while tshirt’s work is characteristic for playing with academic discourse through perverse readings of a source material, theory, or both. How would you characterise your relationship navigating between fandom and academic discourse in your work? Has fandom been a way to access different registers, or criticisms of, academic discourse and vice versa? 

Hay: I’ve taken a couple stabs at writing about fandom, such as a newsletter entry for Sine Theta Magazine about Street Dance of China, an article about discourses of “health” surrounding danmei and Mo Dao Zu Shi (MDZS), and a few unhinged posts about how much I love BTS on my blog. I think I started writing with the vague ambition of being a Mark Fisher-esque writer of fandom (lol), but have become increasingly skeptical that a scopic analysis of fandom offers much to understanding fandom itself. Just to use my danmei article as an exampleI totally killed off what was appealing about MDZS by trying to provide a historicised account. So my personal relationship to intellectualising fandom is mostly antagonistic right now, at least in the sense that essays about the history of fandom are an intellectual dead end for me. 

Still, there is writing about fandom I feel very fondly about: Alice Sparkly Kat’s horoscopes of BTS members; tshirt’s psychoanalytic readings of yaoi and yuri; Em’s Active Faults Substack on celebrity fandom in China; trisha’s tumblr post on writing fanfiction and intimacies. I hesitate to say that they’re doing affect theory because they’re not, mostly, but I am drawn to how these writers attend to the affective quality of fandom without falling into an infinite spiral of self-analysis. I think these examples, plus writing within fandom, have made me want to write in a way that tackles feeling with seriousness and rigour; that is intellectual and thoughtful, yet skeptical towards methods of rationalisation.

tshirt: I stumbled into writing about fandom through blog posts that grew longer and longer until I realised that at some point my main outlet in fandom had become essays. And I was reaching for theorists the same way I’d reach for citations in my BL of choice, accessing dual canons. I feel like the relationship I’ve cultivated to theory feels like my relationship to fandom—it’s personal, transformative, and a bit self-serving. Jokingly, I’d consider myself a critical fan of Freud, picking and choosing the bits I find most romantic and then moodboarding them like Mitski lyrics. 

Creating Yaoi Zine, my anthology project surveying queer media from a goofier analytic POV, was my way of encouraging others to do the same. The second issue focused on analysis, with its cover pastiching JSTOR’s title pages, and its contents ranged from personal essays on the authors’ relationships with yaoi to essays developing new frameworks for talking about yaoi in the first place. I wanted it to be more accessible than academic discourse, though, and the feedback I’ve gotten in that respect has been heartening. I wanted to tangle the two, to make both feel more immediate to our lives.

TL: Nggnhh I can’t help but wring my hands about this question since my answer really depends on the day. Some days the depth and violence of my feeling about fandom begs to be theorised, like how could I not, and some days to involve my brain feels like it’s cheapening a viscerally unutterable experience. I’ve mostly come to the conclusion, like Hay, that an intellectualised accounting of how/why I value fandom is not my best engagement with it, so much that its forms have more loosely and insidiously structured my writing and thinking even outside of fandom. Obviously there’s great contextualising scholarship about fandom out there that I’ve learned a lot from—Patty Ahn’s work on the global logics of K-pop is a great example. But I would be lying if I didn’t find the academic form in and of itself to be a little sanitised in the name of serious scholarship on the one hand, and too eagerly positive/overcompensating about fandom on the other hand, as though scholarship is a way to reclaim it from its sleazy reputation. 

Fandom, and fan studies, has come a long way. I want to be sympathetic to the fact that early in the development of the field, one probably did have to make claims in a certain style and tone in order to be taken seriously. But now that fandom has entered the mainstream in fashion that I never could have foreseen coming like what, twenty years ago (gulp)—authors encouraging readers to write fanfiction of their work, or writing fanfic easter eggs, n+1 publishing a literary essay on its idiosyncratic and unassimilable style—I do think there should be an impetus, maybe even a responsibility (lol!) to shed those field-specific frameworks (sociology, gender studies, archive/media studies) and to try to write about fandom in a way that is as perverse and emotionally fickle and obsessive as the experience of fandom is itself. Sorry not sorry to be a poet, but the (antagonistic) relationship of form to content is of critical importance to me!

That said, I don’t have any smart or good ideas about how to do this, necessarily. Even though I’ve given it a few tries, nothing gets close to the thorny, paradoxical whole of my experience, and I’m very hard on writing about it that I even think is good—like Esther Yi’s Y/N, which is eerily pristine, and incisive in its construction of a surreal, devotional metaphysics out of an experience of fandom. I respect a lot of the writers Hay has mentioned, and tshirt’s project especially, for treating theory with the same humour, play, and obsessive libidinal experimentalism that fandom enables. If fandom can change the literal possibilities for how we reconfigure the relationships between things and people; people and things; how we might fabulate into the playful, mediated space of if people were things or if things were people, then there’s a lot about it that I want to be contagious to other forms of writing, rather than having to neutralise it in order to be accepted, dissected, or understood. 

Image: Data visualisations from Yaoi Zine 2 analysing power relations in yuri, yaoi, and girl yaoi genres. Courtesy of tshirt.

AC: It’s so great to hear you all share more about what you hope your writing to be, or what you want it to be doing. After all, this discussion itself started with Hay and I bonding over our frustration with fandom/BL scholarship, and gushing over works we did love—like Trisha’s and tshirt’s. With that, there’s been a large focus on asking about the liberating, or promising aspects of fandom so far, but to piggyback off a latent thread in Trisha’s last comment, I’d like to ask instead—what do you see as some of the negative aspects of fandom? 

TL: I’m curious about everyone else’s response to this question because there’s as much about fandom that troubles me as delights me—and most of the time these are the same thing. For example, I am in awe of the completist, archival impulse that motivates photocard or album collecting at the same time as I can balk at the consumerist excess. I love the degree to which I can scroll fandom twitter watching the same clip of ATEEZ Jeong Yunho from fifty different angles and literally not get bored, at the same time as I am curious if this is more likely related to the fact that I am a compulsive addict-type needing a fix? I notice that my experience in fandom tends to be dynamic: cycling between extremes, billowing in and out of real elation or abjection about what I’m buying into, what systems it’s serving, and what exactly about my life and feelings that I’m needing to sublimate. 

I do think that the rabidness—the intractable hunger—of fan culture can get overwhelming and genuinely unethical in the way that people treat each other and the objects of their affection. Idols/characters sometimes become purely commodifiable image (even if the unit of commerce here is not always $$ per se but fandom clout, attention, variations on quantifiable devotion). And then further to that, the compulsion to police others into some ideal of what the most ethical or model version of a fan might be (newsflash: maybe by definition impossible) can manifest in some truly absurd ways. I don’t like recommending mOdeERatioN, which seems antithetical to fandom itself, so much as I am captivated by watching these vivid impulses wax and wane; how quickly they can flip from positive to negative and then back again. In many ways fandom is a microcosm of the world, and certain elements—racial dynamics, purity culture, virtue signalling, all play out in a more intensified and farcical way within the space. 

I wonder sometimes if fandom turns into, well, not a safe, but a contained space in which people let themselves succumb to kneejerk impulses, less in terms of what’s sexual, than in terms of what’s socially violent—forcing a claim to what they feel they’re entitled to, litigating interpersonal conflict in the Google Docs. We were just talking about fandom’s infinite demandingness as somewhat utopian, but is there another side to it, or can this become warped? I can see how fandom, as a space of possibility might feel like a space in which injustices can be pursued and addressed when IRL that’s often literally impossible. Is that why some people in fandom pursue an almost religious and damaging kind of redress? I don’t know but if so, that fantasy of attaining “justice” is IMO much more perverse than anything related to sex.

tshirt: I definitely agree with Trisha that fandom is a microcosm of the world, with the same problems. My reflections on this topic have historically been centered around race. As an essayist, before I scaled back my fandom involvement, my focus was fandom racism. Those two things were related, incidentally. But anyway—part of the problem is that while there are people who are complicit in racist structures and ways of thinking, there are also people for whom the fantasies that fandom enables are those racist patterns. Fandom social media sets up and enables these feedback loops of engagement for fans whose primary passion, by the looks of their profiles, is antagonising black fans and other fans of colour.

Exacerbating this is fandom’s scale as—not a community, that distinction is important to me—a shared digital space. Relatively low stakes (in a vacuum) interpersonal conflict gets blown up to cartoonish scales, until harm becomes such a spectacle that it’s entertainment in itself. This is why I hesitate to say community, because of the lack of mutual care and obligation that that would normally entail. How do we talk about harm and repair in these shared digital spaces? Are we equipped to?  

Hay: I appreciate that tshirt makes the point that fandom is a shared space and not a community in itself, because I think this isn’t necessarily an easy distinction to make. In offering a place for our messy, unexplainable desires to be disclosed and reflected, fandom does sometimes fulfill a need that can’t be found elsewhere in contemporary social life. The worst parts of fandom come out for me precisely because fans imagine fandom as a community, and thus when there is any kind of discord, our worse, most reactive patterns of behaviour in managing conflict show its face. I find the clearest examples of this in the idol fandoms I circulate; perhaps because an idol’s existence is contingent on the imagined relationship they hold with their fans, and thus all their actions are scrutinised or defended as a measure of their fans’ attachment towards them. Rabidness gives way to a lack of discernmenta poorly worded comment gets heightened into a full-blown scandal about an idol’s resentment towards their fans, while literal evidence of racism or sexual harrassment gets swept under the rugand it’s these moments where I am most disquieted by both the collective fervour of fandom and the way I can see myself slipping into these unthinking kinds of reactions.

What I do find difficult to unpack are the ways in which these reactive modes of handling conflict are both a fandom thing and not at all. As Trisha says, fandom is conducive to extremesthe phenomenon of the anti-stan is such a good example of this, because it takes the dedication of a former diehard fan to then turn around and dedicate so much of their energy to publicly hating the thing they once loved. But I also believe that these responses are a product of the harmful ways in which we are taught to protect our communities in the rest of our lives: to see all disagreement as a threat; to demonstrate unquestionable loyalty; to immediately draw the bounds between us and them in any conflict. 

Video: ATEEZ Jeong Yunho fancam, "Guerrilla," Inkigayo, 2022. 

AC: I think that’s an important place to land—when the excess of fandom can similarly be constituted as rabidness, that it’s specifically the unboundedness of fandom feelings that makes the flipside of indulging in irresolvable desire (tasty) a chronic dissatisfaction employed to hyperconsumerist ends (bad), or an even further exacerbation of existing colonial patterns of hurt and violence, how does that shape your involvement?

The question that tshirt raised is crucial as well—are we equipped for these discussions? What would you need from fandom to feel equipped to engage in conversations based in learning instead of policing or judgement? 

tshirt: I think my participation in fandom has gone smaller scale in response to these pressures and contradictions. I still share my creations, but I try to maintain the distinction between my private life and my public art more strictly than I did, for example, in the early years of the pandemic. It’s still obviously a bit blurry, since I write personal essays, but I think I’m more mindful now of not becoming a product myself to consume.

To have more productive conversations, I need from fandom the same things I need from the world at large. Which means that at times, it feels like a big intractable problem that I can only respond to by making my small corner one of care in the meantime. I don’t know that you can meaningfully “opt-out” of the toxic sides of fandom without opting out of larger fandom participation entirely, but that’s been a tradeoff that I’ve found healthiest to make, even if it lets the bigger problems linger. 

TL: Oh no, I absolutely do not have good answers to any of these questions. But I think a lot about this generative quote from Sagawa Toshihiko, founder of June, one of the first yaoi magazines in 1978—“They say that the compulsion to consume certain kinds of manga is a sickness. But we all have our sicknesses. The question is what is your sickness? And what sickness can we live together with?” What constitutes sickness, and what is an acceptable vs unacceptable sickness? Are we born sick or named it and by who? But it’s always that last line that really gets me—“What sickness can we live together with?” It’s such odd, particular phrasing. I like to read it as if Toshihiko is actually asking two conjoined questions—“how can we live together?” and “what sickness can we live with?”

In terms of “how can we live together?” fandom is always mutating strange, new modes. It’s interesting to me that those collective, uniquely imaginative and relational aspects of fandom that I value not only mostly remain when the structures and stakes of fandom are stripped away but feel transferable to other arenas—including organising, thinking, and making outside of it. Still, I have to acknowledge that these friendships cannot exist with exactly the same giddiness and verve as they do within fandom; they need that initial spark of slightly embarrassed recognition and resonance to have set them into motion. And there is no art or writing that is a replacement for the horny shit that one can spew when one is possessed by whichever strain of the fanfiction spirit. 

As for the second part of Toshihiko’s question, “what sickness can we live with?”—fandom’s sickness is also its pleasure, but how much can we tolerate and to what end? Perhaps this is a personal, ethical, and therefore totally variable set of choices. My engagement with fandom really fluctuates even if it’s always low-level present in my life, and I intentionally operate in a small corner with a reasonably small group of mutuals. Ultimately, I don’t feel an overdeveloped sense of responsibility to calibrate an antidote to fandom at large. I’m less interested in reforming it than I am content to let it thrash and mutate, to behold it in its glorious sickness; as collaborative spank bank; as ethical quandary; as creative camaraderie; as complexly layered fantasy or delusion. After all, fandom is not a singular entity, and I rarely crave or despise just one element of it, positive or negative, at any given time. Perhaps it goes without saying there’s no good way to be in fandom, just as there’s no good way to be a person. Understanding that I can, and indeed, should shift myself in response to fandom’s uneven currents, its beautiful illness (affectionate) (derogatory) is definitely “not enough.” But then again what is? There’s a lot one can learn in choosing to love things despite themselves. It’s the best that I can do. 

HayWhat both tshirt and Trisha are pointing to in their responses is that a problem in fandom is a problem of scale—fandom is too large of a thing to be considered a community, and as someone that has spent most of their fandom life a lurker rather than an active contributor, it has often felt less like a space and more an orientation with which I move through the world. I remain attuned to fandom in the sense that I’m always hovering in fannish spaces, and generally accept that I have been made by its beautiful sickness in ways that are now irreversible. 

What I see as actual fandom involvement now takes place in a few small, specific ways. There’s my relationships with other fans, whether those begin as online-only friendships or in the delicious reveal that comes with chatting to someone IRL and clocking each other for living in the same fandom holes. And then there’s also the way in which I try to reconcile what I like best/am most haunted by about fandom with the rest of my life: to understand that we are all formed of our own excesses, many of which are inscrutable, to make use of the fact that devotion is a potent force that compels us out of apathy, and to chase that high that comes with making something as a fan—no matter how bad, derivative, or crass.

Image: Cover from an issue of June.


tshirt is a fan, writer, and writer about fandom. their essays and zines can be found at

Trisha Low is a poet and performer. She is the author of two books—The Compleat Purge (Kenning Editions, 2013) and Socialist Realism (Emily Books, 2019).

Hay is a writer and haphazard publisher. They can be found at

Andrea Chu is AAA’s Assistant Editor. 



Trisha LOW




Andrea CHU, 朱熙晴

Tue, 11 Jun 2024

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