This story starts back in 1997 when I was ten years old. Despite the growing popularity of AOL, the internet was this new, weird, fringe interest filled with mystery and wonder. Little did I know, the internet would be my saving grace in finding my place in a budding digital age.
I grew up in a small, conservative town in middle-of-nowhere Florida. It’s one of those places you see on the signs while driving down the interstate, but maybe only stop in for gas. The joke about Florida as a state is the more north you go, the more south you get and it’s absolutely true. I may as well have lived in the most southern part of Georgia. Until you hit Orlando where Disney and everything fun about Florida is, it’s a vast wasteland of conservatism, camo, and Walmart. Add on top of all of this being a nerdy, biracial Black girl and you have a recipe for disaster. At least that’s what it felt like to me.
I was in love with everything that had to do with video games and superheroes. I loved Batman and Spider-Man the best, but anime was just starting to gain popularity. Sailor Moon was the first show that made my fangirl heart squee. Female superheroes kicking ass while being feminine as fuck with it? Those sparkly transformation sequences? The magic? The romance? Yes, please! Unfortunately for me, there weren’t many people that shared my love for these things, so anytime I got into my fangirling mode, I would lose people half-squee. It didn’t exactly add to my “cool” cred. In school, I was so unpopular that everyone often laughed at my expense. Which is great for the good ol’ self-esteem, let me tell you.
Around this time, though, my family decided to get a computer with the internet. My mom’s logic was that I could use it for school, but who needs to do schoolwork when there are AOL chatrooms? (Sorry, Mom.) In those, I found people who were in love with Sailor Moon as much as I was. They were hard to miss with their Sailor Moon-themed screen names. When they eagerly shared the original subtitled clips, they blew my mind! The later seasons of Sailor Moon hadn’t aired in the U.S. yet, so when I saw Chibi-Moon and the Outer Senshi for the first time, I was astounded! It felt like I was part of a secret club, where our unified love of love and justice brought us together and it didn’t matter who you were.
Online, no one gave a good solid damn that I was a brown girl. Or that my hair was frizzy. Or that I “talked white” or everything else that had been pointed out about me in real life. Online, I felt absolutely free to be myself and to nerd out about all these things I loved and I found a community in that.
Soon, I found that I absolutely loved the role-playing game (RPG) chats. There, you could create a character or choose an existing character to play and escape into a wonderful and fantastical text-based, story-driven second life. In my small group, I became known for the storylines that I drove and the excitement that I put into them. We created our own original characters and made a storyline where we were the Lunar Senshi, the children of the original Senshi. My mom thought I was really interested in astronomy during that time, but I was really learning about moons for the possibility of characters. (There are SO MANY MOONS.) Writing became my creative outlet and having people to fulfill and support that really set me up for a lot of success because I continue to find joy in what I write.
There was community there. These people cared I was there. I developed friendships I still have twenty years later. Though we met each other online in our early teens, we met in real life some years later in our later teens. Two of us already lived in the same state, and our one friends that didn’t was able to fly down. One of them even made it to my high school graduation. My online community became my real life community, even if only sometimes.
From then to now, fandom communities have only expanded and shown that nerds are everywhere. It’s shown that no matter what you are into, there is someone out there with the same interests. The internet has made it even easier than it was twenty years ago to connect with your people across the globe. It’s nice to know that even if you don’t have a group that’s physically present, you’ve always got a community. No matter how varied our interests, the internet has shown we’re never alone and there’s really something special about that.