Miranda Cosgrove at the computer

Is There Anyone Stronger Than the Fanfiction Reader Who Printed ‘Lemons’ From the School Computer?

Citrus warning!

Occasionally, I run into a tweet on Twitter that instantly transports me back to high school, a time when AOL and Geocities reigned supreme, and the etiquette around fanfiction was very different.

Recommended Videos

“Those of us who grew up reading on fanfiction(dot)net are made of sturdier stuff,” says Twitter user @/galacticidiots. “Zero tags, the vaguest one-line summaries, no change of knowing whether a story is complete, the Great Smut Purge of 2002, fics that haven’t been updated since 2006… nothing can hurt me now.” The thread continues with, “You think you’re brave? I used to read fanfic on the family computer in the living room and print it out at the school library. THAT’S brave. I fear nothing.”

Ah, what a citrus-filled time to be alive

If you’re like me, your first introduction to fanfiction was one where you didn’t realize it had a name. My fandom of choice? Dragon Ball Z. My tools of the trade? A Mead Composition notebook and a whole lot of brightly colored pens. It was the ’90s and I’d discovered that there was more to the anime than Goku arriving on Namek and taking out Recoome of the Ginyu Force—which is where the episodes stopped on TV at the time. My dad had a chunky computer in the basement and plenty of AOL free trial CDs, so that’s how I found out about later sagas where Vegeta, gasp, HAD A BABY WITH BULMA!

So I started writing. A lot. I’d write at home. I’d write IN CLASS. A good portion of it wasn’t safe for work but I didn’t care, I’d pass my notebook around to my classmates to read about Vegeta and Bulma hooking up after he trained for too long. High school me was truly made of stronger stuff.

Later, thanks to Gundam Wing, I discovered that there was a name for what I was writing. That said, when I first stumbled upon fansites that paired Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell together I thought it was canon information! “Here’s proof that Heero and Duo are together,” those pages said, and I believed them! It didn’t take too long to find out that those were all fan theories. I’d end up learning about shipping, fanfiction, and entire communities dedicated to a single pairing.

Fanfiction would, unintentionally, be the first space that opened up queer possibilities in fiction for me in a way that didn’t fill me with dread when it came to my sexuality, especially when I discovered fanfiction(dot)net (now known as ff.net), citrus ratings, and an entire community of writers that screamed, “don’t like, don’t read.”

To say that I’d spend hours reading fanfiction is an understatement. My dad worked at night, too, so there was no one to tell me to go to bed. I’d comb through all the stories I could for the series I liked, especially when I discovered queer fiction through Gundam Wing. In college, I’d read and write between classes, spend weekends on mailing lists, and chat with fellow fic writers in mIRC. I even ended up discovering MORE anime because of fanfiction. I became obsessed with Yu Yu Hakusho because Hiei and Kurama were, inexplicably, in a Gundam Wing crossover fic I read. Naruto fics kept me invested in the series for years (yes, I was SasuNaru trash). Hell, the fan community around My Hero Academia is how I fell in love with the series in the first place.

The best part about fanfiction when I was in high school and college was how unapologetic everyone was about it. A lot of people look back on the early days of x, y, and z and cringe, but honestly, being in a space that embraced queer fiction and approached any “ugh why is everyone gay” comments with “don’t like, don’t read” was invigorating. Writers would start their fic with warnings because there was no tagging system back then, and the higher the citrus, the smuttier the story—lemons being as high as it would go. If someone still read it and left a nasty remark the consensus was “that’s on you, I warned you.” It was nice to be in a space that dealt with homophobic trolls in such a way. We’d done our part to warn folks, so the rest was up to them.

We’ve come so far

When Tumblr decided to ban what they deemed as adult content back in 2018, I immediately thought of the ff.net smut purge. While a lot of folks moved to other platforms when Tumblr made its decision, there were barely any options for fanfiction that was as accessible as ff.net in the early 2000s. I actually remember having my account deleted and wondering where I would put my work. No one in my circle could understand why such a move was necessary when we’d taken the time to slap warnings on our work—the way you’d do with any form of media.

These days we have pages like ao3, a fanfiction resource that still kinda amazes me. You can add detailed content ratings to fics and there’s even a way to search for specific tags by series, pairing, and the type of story you want to read. There are writers who create entire stories using Twitter to the point of making fake social media accounts for characters. It’s unbelievable that you can do this with fanfiction now. You still gotta wait for your favorite author to have time to write, though, before getting that update.

Something else that’s happened that I didn’t quite expect is that fanfiction doesn’t feel nearly as taboo as it did when I was in school. While I personally wore my fanfiction badge with pride, that didn’t stop me from hearing whispers about how fanfiction was something you shouldn’t admit to engaging in if you wanted to be a real writer. That argument still comes up every now and then, but I’m more likely to see folks talk about the positives of doing that kind of writing, or fondly discussing how we’d save fic files onto floppy disc so we could finish writing it on Notepad.

Anyway, much like my old fanfiction summaries, I suck at writing article endings, so here’s a short sentence about how fanfiction rules.

(Featured image: Nickelodeon)

The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—


The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article Why Are People Mad at This Preschool YouTuber?
Ms. Rachel for Littles and Jules for Littles on TikTok
Read Article Taylor Swift Told Us Years Ago What the Reaction to ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ Would Be
Taylor Swift alum covers 'folklore' and 'The Tortured Poets Department'
Read Article No One Was More Excited About The Spice Girls Reuniting Than David Beckham
The Spice Girls in 1997, mugging for the camera
Read Article A ‘Dead Poets Society’ Reunion in a Taylor Swift Music Video Was NOT on My Bingo Card
A scene from Taylor Swift's latest music video Fortnight featuring Dead Poets Society actors Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles
Read Article Taylor Swift Courts Backlash by Romanticizing the 1830s as Only a Wealthy White Woman Can
Taylor Swift wears an old-timey black dress in the music video for 'Fortnight'.
Related Content
Read Article Why Are People Mad at This Preschool YouTuber?
Ms. Rachel for Littles and Jules for Littles on TikTok
Read Article Taylor Swift Told Us Years Ago What the Reaction to ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ Would Be
Taylor Swift alum covers 'folklore' and 'The Tortured Poets Department'
Read Article No One Was More Excited About The Spice Girls Reuniting Than David Beckham
The Spice Girls in 1997, mugging for the camera
Read Article A ‘Dead Poets Society’ Reunion in a Taylor Swift Music Video Was NOT on My Bingo Card
A scene from Taylor Swift's latest music video Fortnight featuring Dead Poets Society actors Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles
Read Article Taylor Swift Courts Backlash by Romanticizing the 1830s as Only a Wealthy White Woman Can
Taylor Swift wears an old-timey black dress in the music video for 'Fortnight'.
Author
Briana Lawrence
Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)