- Leeds LGBT+ Literature Festival
I Blame The Internet
I found spaces where people felt the same as me. Being a fan led me to where I was honoured by people sharing their authentic selves and their amazing, weird hearts with me. And I blame the internet for that.
By Kat Denvir
“The flow of time is always cruel. Its speeds seem different for each person, but no one can change it.” With these words, my little nerd heart was seized. Spoken by the mysterious Sheik of the Sheikah in “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”, a man with a covered face, red eyes and penchant for disappearing just as your relationship deepens.
In the heady swells of my first fandom love, I eagerly searched for any and all images of fanart of Sheik (and nervously saved tender images of Link and Sheik together, never viewing fanart any more explicit than deep kisses). The year was 1998, I was uncovering my weird fangirl heart through the internet and inadvertently discovering who I was. What a year.
In 1998, the whispers of the internet had even reached us in good ‘ol N.I. The Good Friday Agreement was signed, promising a brighter tomorrow for all and which I embraced through the hypnotising buzz-whine-beep of dial-up and AOL messenger. Puberty made my body feel like a battleground - both intimately my own and hugely Other in dizzying circles, coupled with a Roman Catholic upbringing pruning any exploration of deeper physical desires for far longer than even I could have anticipated. In this roiling ocean of Feelings and sensations that made my skin feel wrong over my bones, I found an oasis of friendship online. Falling upon a treasure trove of fans - artists and writers and bloggers - and then boldly messaging one from a fic on HTLOZ (23 years, my fingers still twitch, haunted by the ghost of a site that meant so much). She became my adopted sister over the sea, sharing our thoughts and struggles and loves. I still have our letters bundled carefully together, a physical token of a nostalgia that clenches my heart tenderly in my reminiscence. Our shared love of Zelda - and the mysterious Sheikah tribe - brought me to her over bytes of data and email. She welcomed me into a Yahoo! Group Mailing List called the ZQL which changed my life.
This group of unabashedly brilliant and hilarious and strange people wrote stories, a melding of their own characters, other people’s OCs and those from other fandoms, normally on some mission to save the Universe from A Big Bad. I found spaces where people felt the same as me. Being a fan led me to where I was honoured by people sharing their authentic selves and their amazing, weird hearts with me. And I found myself through them. Sheik in the game is revealed to the princess in disguise - magic transforms his body to hers and like some subtle electricity, it makes me curious in a new way. I start divorcing the body from gender in my head, as easy and organic as breathing. My online friends generally feel the same. As easy as that, I later realise I’m also into girls. The leather-clad Xena: Warrior Princess rocks into my life at 8:05, Channel 5, Saturday nights - I literally pray for Mass to finish early so I don’t miss any of the episodes. In “Ocarina of Time”, another woman - Impa, a muscled red eyed woman also of the mysterious Sheikah clan - had caused my first moment of flustered confusion, and had set something gently smouldering. I thought I just admired her as a badass. With Xena, I realised that it was more than just that. A confusion of ‘did I want to be Xena or be with her’ wracked me, but the attraction never tormented me. There was never an overwhelming awareness that I didn’t just fancy boys, it was more like I just knew in my bones that I fancied Xena just as much as I fancied Sheik.
Let’s not get this wrong, I still had my overly dramatic moments of teenaged angst and wrote Joycian LiveJournal posts untangling my soul. But never did my identity knot me. Considering my upbringing in the Church, a blessing some might say (I saw it’s having supportive family and friends - even those On The Internet). And how my Internet friends and family grew over the years. I adopted people into my virtual family with a tenderness for wanting to share the love I had been shown during the late '90s. The rainbow grew around us - trans and non-binary people and bi women and lesbians and gay men - I actually was more surprised when someone I knew was straight! Their love and acceptance and tenderness felt as real as any person I knew IRL - our virtual cheering each other on and flailing in fandom about our ships and weeping when another was in pain. In some ways I existed more on the internet than I did in real life. Through them, I felt protected in growing and learning and becoming myself. They made me aware of issues I’d never considered, they shared their love, they shared their time. There is a light in my soul because of each and every one of them. And I blame the internet for that.
Kat is a bi Nirish femme woman - a super nerd, a book collector and cat mama.