For most of my life to this date, I have been online. I can remember the days of CD-ROMs in elementary school, where I would have literally fought to the death with another first grader to play the Pocahontas computer game, that time where I tried my best to work with my dad’s desktop Mac to learn math with Arthur the anteater and an honestly scary Spanish-learning game narrated by the most terrifying CGI mouse I’ve ever seen. I eventually graduated to multiplayer games and then broke into the world of social media, where all of us now reside. The stories are endless, but the jist is that for most of us that marked the beginning of Gen Z, online meant alive. You get the picture ― from a very young age I was all too familiar with the ins and outs of computers and the internet, and took solace in the communities I found there. The first instance of this that I can truly remember was the now-dead Disney game Club Penguin (may she rest in peace), but the place that truly affected me, and influenced both my online and physical lives was the social media platform Tumblr.
Now, I know there are a lot of tropes around Tumblr girls that don’t necessarily depict them in the best way. But in my experience, fangirl culture was a way to connect with others during a time in my life where everyone I knew was struggling with finding themselves. I joined the website on a whim the summer before seventh grade, messing around with photos and avoiding the darker side of the platform like the plague. In 2012, when I really began to pay attention, Tumblr was still relatively niche, and I loved that ― before long, I had become a part of the oft-mocked “Doctor Who” “fandom” on the site supporting the BBC show, meticulously creating graphics and posts to show off my baby Photoshop skills and canonical knowledge alike. Sure, I loved “Doctor Who,” and although I am no longer a fan of the current series, it will always hold a special place in my heart. However, the majority of what I loved about Tumblr’s fan culture wasn’t really just about the shows that I followed themselves, but rather the social structures built around them, structures that were, surprisingly, made up of girls my age.
When we think about the average internet forum user, it’s easy to immediately picture the white male nerd posting on 4chan and Reddit about the newest development in a sci-fi series. My life on Tumblr was a little different. I honestly think that I only had one male friend throughout my entire tenure as a part of the Doctor Who fandom, and even then I was much closer to the girls around me. Despite the taboo around internet friendships that still proliferates into the present day despite their commonness, the people I met online that shared my interests were a useful, and at one point, necessary support system during one of the most confusing periods of my life. Was it the smartest thing for a 13-year-old to be deep into a platform riddled with porn and pro-ana blogs? Probably not. But I was smart and dodged many of those negativities actively, remaining in the light with fellow fans, some of whom I still talk to today. Seventh and eighth grade are rough for everyone, but in addition to the hormonal rollercoaster that is puberty, my parents announced their divorce during that time as well. The whole process was incredibly difficult, but I could easily escape at a moment’s notice into a world of friendship and wonder facilitated by my favorite shows, where people liked the art I made and were happy to talk about my nerdy interests in addition to my life as well. I may have been struggling with friendships and social stability with my family in the real world, but online, everything was possible.
As I entered high school and my tastes changed, my blog and experience with Tumblr shifted into a more aesthetically-based pursuit, but the community stayed with me. I started a fashion blog and left my roots in “Doctor Who” to follow my interest in high couture and magazine culture, a community in which I found yet more friends and even my first consistent writing job. I still scroll through the Tumblr app occasionally, looking at what everyone’s up to, but have stayed in touch with the people who got me through the craziness of middle and high school as we’ve all grown up. It’s almost unfathomable to think about how close I am with people I’ve never met in person, but have known for almost 10 years at this point. My experience with them may have begun with a simple love for a sci-fi show, but eventually morphed into something much more profound. Tumblr was cringey sometimes, but being a fangirl saved me in a lot of ways, giving me a net to fall back into whenever I was feeling low. The term might have a negative connotation, but I am not ashamed of my roots in internet culture ― the wild world of fandom isn’t always just poorly-drawn fanart and stories posted on badly-set-up websites: It was a place where I figured out who I was, with a little help from a fictional alien and, of course, my friends.