It was in a school computer room that I first encountered a piece of fanfiction. It must have been around 2001 and screens definitely weren’t for reading on, which is how I came to have it printed out, in my hands. I had only just found out that there were stories about the stories I watched; stories about characters I already had some strong, confusing feelings towards. I folded Janeway and Chakotay up and tucked them away. When I eventually read it, it was full of things I didn’t quite understand and that made no sense to me, although I didn’t yet understand why that might be.
Nearly two decades later, I’d only casually kept up my interest in Star Trek. On top of struggles with undiagnosed depression and a long-distance relationship, I’d just moved back to the country where I was born after nearly a decade away. I was starting everything over. Finding my feet in my own strange new world, it was the perfect time to reconnect with old characters and stories from my teenage years, some of whom resonated much more with me as the suddenly anchorless, sometimes angry woman I’d become. It was something I drifted back to gradually at first, that rapidly became much more – comforting, familiar and deeply optimistic. Just what I desperately needed.
This was when I learned that the universe these characters inhabited has been (and continues to be) endlessly expanded by people all over the world, and that I could access this hub of imagination whenever I wanted, no subscription required. It wasn’t just the sheer quantity, talent and depth that took my breath away, it was the type of stories you find in any Trek fandom. Fanfiction isn’t just expansive; it’s endlessly creative and startlingly inclusive. I had no idea that, for as long as it has existed, it’s been used as a tool parallel to Trek’s own original vision – one which queers narratives and experiences; represents marginalised identities we could only dream of seeing on screen; and addresses or complicates tropes, dynamics and normativities in a way that benefits us all.
This was where femslash slotted in for me. As a queer adult, I now knew why Janeway and Chakotay hadn’t resonated with me personally all those years ago, but why Janeway and Seven most definitely did. But little had I imagined that my own identity and experience would be reflected throughout the Trek fic universe so explicitly.
Femslash fanfiction became something of a coping mechanism during a very difficult time; reading has always been one of my greatest joys but, as my depression worsened, it became one of the only things I could find an ounce of motivation for.
There’s a lot to be said for the shared love of characters you grew up with as a child or fell in love with as an adolescent. But there are also connections you start to make across culture, language and time with other people who see IDIC in all its shades – who write or read themselves into fanon and who create diverse, inclusive and supportive spaces for others to do the same, or just to meet, talk and be. Sometimes, it’s simply the shared framework of reference you need in dark times: someone I met through Trek recently conveyed to me how meaningful it was in COVID-19 lockdown to be able to say: “I feel like Harry Kim playing his clarinet in the void” and have someone else just get it.
And then there came the day my girlfriend and I were travelling to finally meet up, after months apart. I started writing my first ever piece of fanfiction at the beginning of that journey and was still going when she arrived after midnight The words pouring out of me came from some part of myself I hadn’t even been willing to engage with previously. Although I am still very proud of that story, the start of it feels suffocating, heavy and dark now. I’d wanted to write a tale of queer love and give space to two women characters who both resonated with me in different ways. I’d also wanted to curb my own frustration at the lack of attention paid to their own unique darknesses, their individual despair and their quite apparent trauma; while 90s Trek didn’t always completely ignore that, it did have a habit of miraculously being resolved by the close of an episode.
I wrote about characters I knew and loved but made sure that, for once, they didn’t shy away from their own weaknesses or melancholy. Despite that, they did ask for help from each other, but only once they were brave enough to be crystal clear about just how bad things truly were – something many of us struggle with. In the end, as a friend recently pointed out, I had enough distance to weave the exact words and sentiments I so badly needed to hear myself through every chapter of the story. I used this first foray into fic to give myself permission, for the first time, not to be okay.
I now know that my experience is far from unique; journaling is a vital tool for many people in processing their thoughts and managing their mental health. Maybe this was a more complex, creative way of doing that, one that also reignited a love affair with creative writing I’d neglected for years. More recently, it has also brought me into the orbit of some of the most big-hearted, open and supportive people I have ever had the privilege to meet.
I believe that part of the magic of Star Trek – of such inventive and intriguing premises and characters – is that we all create a unique universe inside our own heads when we watch, read or listen. Perhaps it’s for this reason, more than any, that the process of reading about others’ and writing down flashes of my own has been transformative in a way I could never have imagined.