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Self-Insert: If it Isn’t My Old Friend, Underage Porn-Reading

How are you ... besides ILLEGAL?

Copyright akkaradech via Shutterstock

I wasn’t at Dashcon. I wasn’t anywhere near Dashcon. Honestly, I didn’t even know what Dashcon was when the sad ball pit pictures started appearing. If you want to read about the reality of Dashcon, this isn’t the place to do it. (Go do a Google, many smarter people have said smarter things.)

However, because I was online this past weekend, I got to see the unreality of Dashcon, filtered through the meat grinder of the internet. One piece of information that popped to the forefront was that Dashcon administrative incompetence was letting underage con attendees into adult-only panels, especially the one on BDSM. No, responded people who’d been there, the bouncers were doing due diligence in making sure the under-eighteen crowd didn’t show up to hear about sex in any official con capacity.

I don’t care what actually happened; I care that this is a thing worth being cared about. As much as Dashcon wanted to be as close to an online fan experience as you could get in real life, the unfortunate reality is that real life demands a level of artificial gatekeeping around sexuality. Babies, it may not matter what you know, but you shouldn’t have learned it from us.

Other than how we can all agree that it sometimes leads to them, there’s no real social consensus over where the Venn diagram overlap between sex and kids should be. Like the other age-dependent cultural milestones we’ve got set up, the legal difference between 17 364/365 and 18 is huge, and the practical difference is nonexistent. A mature, self-possessed individual who turned eighteen today wouldn’t have been able to get into that BDSM panel, and a booger-eating spitballer whose eighteenth birthday was last week would. Life isn’t fair.

I’m not going to call my pre-adult self ‘mature’ or ‘self-possessed’, but I was a person for whom puberty hit hard and early, and while I had available to me a fair bit of Our Bodies, Ourselves-level information about how all these new and terrifying parts worked, I was left in the lurch about their practical applications. I pilfered a copy of The Joy of Sex from somewhere, the original hairy and slightly creepy 1972 edition, but all the bits about how to treat the penis like a third person in a relationship and how sometimes two ladies could kiss to get men excited (but never the other way around!) left a lot of my questions unaddressed.

The punchline to this story is not, and then, magically, the internet!, because no, asking the internet c. 1996 for advice about sex was a great way to get a lot of viruses. The punchline is, and then, fandom. X-Files fandom, to be precise, which was a thriving and exciting thing in the mid-’90s. And the best thing was, nobody was checking my ID at the door. Fan sites and fic archives usually had some splash page to make you promise that you weren’t underage, which at first put me off for a few minutes, before I held my breath, clicked, and waited to hear police sirens. When that initial deception didn’t bring the cops down on me, I kept going.

I clicked on so many, in fact, that to this day, when I see an ‘are you over 18?’ button on things, I just assume I’m about to lie to it.

I say this partly because I’m sure the statue of limitations on Reading Mulder/Scully Porn While Fifteen has passed, but also to point out that like a whole lot of other people, when it came to things not covered in the owner’s manual, I needed something I could trust. I’m not going to say fandom never steered me wrong, but at least it was willing to steer me at all.

The fact that it was all anonymous or pseudonymous helped a lot, too — which brings me to another angry-making point about the Dashcon panels, and that’s the pictures. Oh, not the pictures themselves, those are fine (and debatably funny, depending on how amusing you find people obviously mis-self-identifying as miners), but the way the internet set upon them, clutching pearls at in horror at the idea that people they don’t find attractive might be talking about sex — or worse, having it.

Sidebar: If you’re someone who uses your perception of a person’s attractiveness to publicly ridicule them for expressing interest in their own sexuality, please go sit in the garbage where you belong and think about what you’ve done.

So maybe the over-eighteen rule did a little good there, saving some teenagers from that shit. But it still reflects a necessary concession to a very wrong understanding of reality. Whether or not kids are going to have sex before they’re eighteen (and depending on your definition of ‘sex’, I may not have), they’re going to have the parts coming online well in advance of official adulthood.

Legally, I understand keeping minors out of a sex panel. Practically, I can get behind carving it out as a real-world discussion space for adults, for the same reason you don’t let first-year Spanish students into the fourth-year class and then stop the proceedings to go over the alphabet again. Logistically, I absolutely respect that the last thing organizers want is ten thousand angry-parent phone calls wondering why little Jenny came home asking questions about fisting.

But morally, it’s stupid — and it’s why things like online fandoms are so important to so many people, especially those whose interests aren’t considered ‘mainstream’ or ‘respectable’.

Because let’s be real: The real punchline here is teenage girls, right? There were all kinds of folk present at Dashcon and there are all kinds of folk active in fandom, but the joke is still teenage girls. Even before the extent of its poor planning became apparent, Dashcon was already something of a grotesquerie in the imagination of the internet because it had attracted a niche (read: predominantly female) audience. Ha ha, teenage girls, swooning over sparkly vampires, wanting all the pretty boys to kiss, dreaming of romance while being too ugly for real boyfriends, thinking about all the sex they better not be having.

Yeah, fuck you, sometimes we are. Being a teenage anything is awful, but being a teenage girl is like having a special cultural target slapped on your back. Not only do you have to make sense of the big, squishy, scary mess that is your own rapidly changing body, you have to do it while seeing everything you love be devalued on a daily basis. It’s hard to negotiate anything about your own sexuality in public, and as Dashcon shows, even the safest real-world spaces aren’t safe enough to accommodate us all. Sometimes all you’ve got left is promising a webpage you’re of an age to see what’s behind it. If you’re old enough to tell it, you’re old enough to tell it.

When I was sixteen, reading and writing pages upon pages about Krycek’s bisexuality was way better than dealing headfirst with anything about myself. Now that I’m in my thirties, I want to gather up all the little ones churning out thousands of words of pornographic Band of Brothers/One Direction crossover fics and hug the stuffing out of them. You’re going to be just fine, kids.

You’re going to be just fine.

(top pic copyright akkaradech via Shutterstock)

Whitney Bishop is the editor-in-chief of Shousetsu Bang*Bang and is not a teenage girl anymore, though not some days for lack of trying.

Previously in Self-Insert

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