The first “awkward” questions you ever asked me weren’t fandom-related, but they might as well have been. We were sitting together during a family trip; your parents were talking with the grandparents. That’s probably why you bugged me at that point.
They were distracted, and couldn’t step in.
“Tita, I have a lot of classmates who end up liking each other and dating. Is that weird?”
“My teacher says witchcraft and magic is evil. Is that true?”
The one on magic was easy. But I never got to tell you what I really thought about your classmates in an all-girl’s school liking each other and dating.
Your mother is a liberal, progressive woman – the daughter of activists, outspoken on human rights. But she’s still Filipino, and still Catholic. As for your father… well, let’s just say that I know my brother well.
Anyone who becomes an aunt of somebody and does actually love their niece a lot isn’t too different from parents and grandparents.
We titas like to watch our youngers. We search for signs and patterns, and try to guess at who you’ll end up becoming the splitting image of in terms of looks, behavior, hobbies.
It’s much like trying to predict the weather.
There are guidelines, but there unwritten manuals for it, unspoken rules and truths. There are, as well, things that we’re not allowed to assume or say to you, or to your parents. As there are things we’re not allowed to say, there are also things we’re not allowed to do.
One of them, of course, is stepping out of the bounds of being your aunt.
Some of these expectations are easy (i.e. gifts on your birthday and Christmas, indulge in conversations you’re interested in, cheer you on in your academic pursuits and hobbies). Some of them are not (i.e. knowing when to scold you or when to let it go, sharing opinions and beliefs that run contrary to your parents’ values).
“What are you reading?”
“Oh, um… fanfic…”
“I remember that website. Used to write on it, actually… even got an award for it because I joined this contest some other fans put together.”
“Wow, that’s so cool!”
“My writing’s all on Archive of Our Own now.”
“Here, I’ll invite you.”
Technically, what I did that Christmas was a violation.
But, how could I have turned away from you?
You borrowed some of my favorite books and loved them. Your impassioned defense of Loki during our long trip from the cemetery could have put several fully grown fangirls I know to shame. Your arguments with my other brother – your actual ninong (godparent) – over Marvel’s comic book canon versus the Marvel Cinematic Universe brought around echoes of pretty much every geek boy I’ve had to fight from your age until present. (Yes, some of them were also family.)
Every conversation with your parents has been all about your hobbies, and all the little things that make you happy/stress you out/make you sad.
I walk away from those with several checkboxes on my mental tally filled out, under the list “Symptoms: Fangirl Growing Into Her Skin Under Her Parents’ Nose”. The last time I tried to say that you were a lot like me, though, I was greeted with uncomfortable silence and nervous laughter.
They love me, see. Our family, I mean.
But most of them never fully understood the strange Japanese things I was into; never truly approved of the video games until now. They lament over how I don’t sing anymore, unless it involves screaming along with Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein. And they most certainly had no idea that I was reading explicit erotica – usually between two of my favorite characters in a series – at around the same time that you must be reading some for your own fandoms.
If my hobbies weren’t already “risky” or “dangerous”, the things I believe in are, in their eyes, “worse”.
“Tita, pa-turo naman. [Can you teach me?] I want to learn how to write fanfiction.”
I haven’t sat you down on that yet. I think I made it up to you, though, by telling you all about alcohol and partying. My advice was certainly more engaging than your ninong’s rundown of the health hazards of booze, wasn’t it?
We’ve got a standing date with some wine once you’re 18. I’m still waiting for your parents to let you sit in during one of my gaming sessions. You enjoyed that one time that you got to watch my usual group kick around – and they were happy that they didn’t have to censor themselves TOO much around you.
“Oh yeah, I heard of that! LGBTQI… A, right? What’s intersex, though?”
That came on the heels of you asking me more about North America (are they racist over there? Why do they keep suing people?).
You were suddenly curious about the USA and Canada, now that you’ve been to Yale and seen what an Ivy League university looks like. You were flush from your victories, and I think you’ve gotten very comfortable around me ever since I gave you some of my lipstick.
“Where did you learn that? From school?”
“Talking with friends. Reading fanfiction!”
And just like that, I remember how upset you were during our latest family reunion.
You’d brought some books down for your mom’s approval, and she had tossed out 13 Reasons Why and a couple of other titles from your pile.
I had felt, at that point, like I was watching two different things unfold and screw everything up: your mother’s inability to articulate why she was scared of you touching those books, and your inability to tell your mom that you needed those fictional spaces to find yourself in.
Jury’s out on 13 Reasons Why for me, but I wish I could have defended your other choices. I wish I could have told you, at that point, that it was okay to want to read them. And that if you need to talk to me, I’m here.
“…Ignore me, though. I’m your angry tita with a lot of dangerous opinions.”
“Sorry, kiddo. Can’t say just yet.”
“Who are you afraid of? Your parents, or mine?”
“Yours, of course.”
“Can you Messenger me instead?”
What I haven’t had the heart to tell you is, adding you on Facebook is a definite violation.
Your parents are trying to do the best they can for you, but – much like mine – they’re limited by their faith, by traditional values. I am not your mother. And I don’t want to hurt her by assuming that I know better than she does when it comes to things that will help you.
I promise you, though. I’ll find a way.
Growing up in fandom without a mentor made me who I am, for better or for worse. These are waters that I’d prefer people didn’t have to navigate on their own. Back when I was your age, the digital spaces of fandom were already immense, wonderful, and frightening – and the communities in those days only had a few platforms. The boom we’re facing now is another monster entirely.
Safe spaces are becoming even more necessary than they already were in the late 1990s; when it was me trolling those mailing lists, dealing with flames, and struggling with concepts beyond my paygrade without a friendly face in sight.
“Let’s hang out sometime, okay? I’ll make time for you.”
“Okay, tita. I’d like that.”
While we still can’t have our talks, while I still can’t fangirl with you or tell you what I really believe in, me and my own will be busy fighting to defend the spaces that we know you and your friends dwell in. We’ll keep writing and keep telling stories that we think you’ll need to see.
Don’t worry about a thing, sweetheart. I’ll leave the gate open for you.
Your Tita Pam
Our heartfelt thanks to Sin Posadas for the beautiful art.