I’m Proud of My Queer Fandom
Fan fiction was my ticket into a galaxy of queer identity and teenage euphoria
The first time I felt possessed by a fantasy series, I was fifteen. It was 2004, and from my family’s small computer room, I spent the after-dinner hours in a web forum devoted to NC-17 Harry Potter fanfiction. This was the same room where my brother had constructed a secret liquor cabinet from the wood paneled walls, and that later witnessed my sister pulling ill-advised all-nighters on World of Warcraft.
This room knew secrets, and it held mine too: “shipping” is the act of believing in a relationship between two characters, whether or not the relationship is canon, and I was a major Drarry (Draco/Harry) shipper. I also lied about my age to strangers on the internet. “18/f/nyc,” I typed from the room that overlooked a cornfield, and later “hey I’m bi,” as I uploaded an upskirt photo to a secret Photobucket account that was intended for Steve’s eyes, an older man who never discussed Harry Potter with me. The biggest secret? I was not typing “I’m bi” for attention. I genuinely felt attraction to girls—but that attraction remained a tightly held secret for some time. A 150,000 word saga about Harry and Draco in their sixth year was the centerpiece of all the fics that consumed my emotions; in the story, the boys were bickering opposites, then lovers, and then Harry died in Draco’s arms. I touched myself during the spicy moments; I sobbed when Harry died. This fic was my ticket to the galaxy of teenage euphoria and despair—not The Notebook, which was spinning a similar emotional journey out of my peers that summer.
I listened to “Something Vague” by Bright Eyes on repeat as I combed the final pages again and again, chasing the rhapsody that I felt during the first read. I printed it, hoping that a paper vessel would deliver Harry’s death and Draco’s love like the first time. Predictably, the high faded with repetition (as did the thrill of having Steve’s attention). I wedged the booklet in between yearbooks and forgot about it; when I searched for it before leaving for college, intending to throw it away as I had my interest in the forum, it was gone.
Eighteen years later, fantasy fandom has circled back like a moon orbiting its planet. But this time, unlike the heteronormative confines of the Wizarding World, the subjects of my affection appear to have the hots for each other.
I will admit that I have been woefully ignorant of animated series that feature queer or queer suggestive characters. I got bored during “Steven Universe.” I did not finish “Q-Force.” I have never seen “She-Ra” or “Harley Quinn” or “Legend of Korra” or “Princess Bubblegum,” and I am sorry.
But I did watch Arcane.
Arcane is an animated series based off of the League of Legends game. It was recommended to me during a work meeting by a CGI artist who called it “the greatest animated series of all time.” I have recently begun to write for a project that may evolve into animation, so I added it to the top of my watch list, for research purposes.
The first three episodes explore the social dynamics of a motley group of orphan hacking it in a gritty steampunk slum known as the “Undercity.” Their leader is Violet (Vi), a resilient teenage brawler charged with keeping her little sister and friends safe from various threats. It played like a satisfyingly entertaining education that I viewed casually. I expected to finish, take notes, and forget.
I, a member of the General Audience (read: n00b), did not connect that the kids on screen would grow up to be the fighters known in League of Legends; I had no idea that the beginning of the series was just the first act, an origin story of an origin story, and I was subsequently floored by the seven year time jump introduced in episode four.
I watched on a Friday night while I had the house to myself. The fourth episode closes by following Caitlyn, a young and curious enforcer (cop) from the wealthy metropolis Piltover, as she chases a lead in prison. To her dismay, the inmate she seeks had been knocked out by another. Caitlyn pursues the offender, intending to interrogate them. As Caitlyn descends in an elevator, we look up at a pair of forearms—clearly belonging to Vi—as they punch the wall, knuckles bleeding through the boxing wraps. The camera pans to reveal more: Vi’s back, now covered in tattoos, ripples under her prison tank top with every blast of her fists. Do you see where this is going? She is combustive, angry, and so fucking hot.
We see the full revelation of adult Vi through Caitlyn’s eyes as she approaches the cell. Vi turns to profile at the sound of Caitlyn’s footsteps, her butchy side shave catching the dim prison light. Her gray eyes smolder as she growls, “Who the hell are you?” and then the credits roll.
I did not continue watching; my wife had returned from the Bad Bunny concert, and I suddenly felt very private about the show. Vi and her tattoos burned behind my eyelids at every restful moment. We crush on actors all the time, but this was not the feeling of appreciating Rachel Weisz’s pillowy lips—I sensed that the revelation of older Vi was a gateway to obsession. Fandom was calling.
Surreptitiously I typed “vi hot arcane” into my phone and saw, first, a Reddit poll: “Is Vi in arcane hot?” The answers were mostly from guys discussing the thrill of being punched during sex. I took to Instagram with the same query and gasped: after swiping through portraits of Vi, I landed on a drawing of Vi and Caitlyn seated on a couch, depicted in the lesbian uniform of a white tank top and athletic shorts. Caitlyn cuddled in the gap of Vi’s legs, cupping Vi’s cheek and whispering a line that the artist Jun (@lettucine) had left intentionally blank.
Everything clicked in that moment. The prison scene was a meet-cute, and they were bound to be a perfect opposites-attract relationship—my favorite kind of pairing. I held back from scrolling further, sensing spoilers, but the expectation of this romance held me in a cloud of euphoria all weekend.
You’re hot, cupcake.
This is the iconic line of episode five, if not the entire season. Vi says it to Caitlyn at a brothel, officially heralding the beginning of a slow and low queer romance that bubbles like an aphrodisiac throughout the season’s drama. The pair is exquisitely matched, down to their color palettes—Vi, all reds and pinks, is the action-driven heat to Caitlyn, whose cool intellect is reflected in her navy hair and cerulean gaze. Vi fights with her fists, Caitlyn with a long range rifle. They are divided by class but united by their fighting prowess and their care for one another.
Their chemistry crackles. And they never kiss.
When I finished the final episode, my brain felt fuzzy. My stomach had dropped to my loins and my jaw was on the floor by the screen. I have not mentioned that this show is Euripidean in its level of tragedy and attention to female characters, and I was as torn up by certain character arcs as I was turned on by #CaitVi. It was the same roller coaster of emotions that I felt with my little gay wizard drama in 2004.
In the week that followed, I was plagued by constant, lusty nerves that curbed my appetite and wrecked my sleep. I was never fully present in the corporeal realm, betraying my normie façade every time I stole empty conversation space to ask a new victim, Have you seen Arcane?
As I shuffled my unrequited fervor to Archive of Our Own, I felt the thrill of having a secret, but it was not 2004. My mother would not punish me as she did when she found my purple notebook filled with my first attempt at writing smutty fanfic, she could not flip through the senseless throbbing and wet, their fingers laced on the desk, clunky sex scene smudged with pencil, would not question my innocence and sanity and determine that I needed to lose access to the internet for the rest of the summer.
This time, though, I was not fifteen and looking over my shoulder. I am in my thirties, which is more concerning. Twitter is the primary hub to participate in fandom, and I have a public facing profile attached to my job. Most people, including my wife, think of fanfiction as weirdo fodder. I hesitated to plant my freak flag publicly—how would my followers react when their timelines started populating with internet strangers slavering over a pair of cartoon lesbians?
I did not want to give in to shame, but outing myself as an extreme fangirl felt like brand diversion. I could only justify having an anonymous account if I engaged with NSFW content.
I exulted in the results.
Arcane gave queer fandom the gift of mystery. Fans have lamented that Violet and Caitlyn never shared a kiss in the first season, but I see it as a blessing in disguise that there is no canonical authority on the details of how they first get physical. Technically, homophobes can make a case that they are just “good friends,” (despite writer Amanda Overton confirming that they are queer), and, as a fanfiction writer, there is no prompt like having something to prove.
Until season two of Arcane hits the screens sometime in 2023, fans get to be the authority on Violet and Caitlyn’s relationship. The show’s fanbase and I are in a golden era of waiting, existing in that sweet spot of having some information but not too much; we can paint a next chapter in which all things are plausible.
Search #caitvi on Twitter and you will be flooded with talent, renderings of the duo cuddling, ordering fast food, partying poolside, raising a child, having inventive sex, wearing matching blazers, and more. You might stumble on a retweet of a fic thread that throws “The words shock a gasp from Caitlyn’s throat,” on your phone screen before you can retreat to privacy to read the whole dribble.
To participate in fandom is to alleviate the blazing desire to be a part of the world itself. My #arcanebrain was a rotting dollhouse and I needed to make the women play together, take some ownership of the drug that was consuming me. I am a better writer now than I was at fifteen. I knew that I would need to write an Arcane fic, and it would need to be steamy, or I would never be free.
I shirked responsibility for three full days as I imagined a perfect afternoon for my beloved players, working through the logistics of their joining bodies like kneading tough dough until the sex scene rolled smoothly, elevating my own blood pressure as I read it back to myself. I published to Archive of Our Own and waited, expecting to be celebrated for my offering. It wasn’t until I noticed the attention that other fics garnered—30,000 hits, 10,000 kudos (Archive’s version of a “like”)—and compared it to my lukewarm reception that I understood the elite craftsmanship, and competition, that runs through Arcane fandom.
That day, if someone asked me to choose between being a breakout star in the #caitvi circus, or signing with a literary agent, I would have chosen the circus.
After a few weeks, I started to feel a healthy detachment from my recent infatuation. Unlike my teenage attempts to reproduce the feeling of a first read dopamine hit, I withheld from rewatching the series in one fell swoop. Having revealed the depth of my obsession to my wife, she graciously agreed to watch the show with me, but we went at her pace: low and slow, like Violet and Caitlyn. When we got to the fifth episode and the famous cupcake line, I whipped my head in her direction. “See! See! So hot. So gay.” She rolled her eyes. Dork.
Later, I asked who her favorite characters were. “I just love that little Powder. And Ekko,” she said, and I grinned inwardly. Powder grows into Jinx, a fan favorite antihero who processes her trauma by terrorizing the population. Ekko is also a rebel, but unlike Jinx’s proclivity for destruction, his efforts are rooted in a desire to protect his community. A whole corner of Arcane Twitter is devoted to pairing them as lovers, but I kept that information to myself. Fandom is not for everyone.
Having taken a step back, I am inspired to lean into some other sapphic possibilities now, characters with nothing but queering potential. One of Vi’s nemeses is Sevika, who is older, butchier, and meaner. Sevika was not given a love interest, save for her loyalty to her boss, the season’s villain. When Sevika and Vi beat the shit out of each other, it feels like two dykes fighting for dominance, but we can only make assumptions about Sevika’s identity.
I, for one, believe she partakes in gay sex, and I will not be free until I add another piece of blessed smut into the dirty playground that is Arcane fandom. This time, I might post the link to my regular account and, as Dido once proclaimed, go down with this ship. Why give in to shame for cultivating queer love?