Queer bandom: A research journey in eight parts

D. Wilson

[0.1] Abstract—The story starts like this: you're a graduate student, you want to show that bandom is important, that bandom is new. You start out wanting to demonstrate a new way of experiencing community, you want to map and detail the space where that community lives.

[0.2] Keywords— Concerts; Ethnography; Fan community

Wilson, D. 2012. "Queer Bandom: A Research Journey in Eight Parts." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 11.

[0.2] Q: wht does belivers never die mean to you?

[0.3] A: it splits the word "fan" in half. some come out and have a good time. appreciate your music. mosh. sweat. drink. sing along. go to multiple shows. buy merch. get autographs. but the other side of the split are legends. some take part in the art. some make the words come to life when you look them in the eye. some you know will keep walking with you till the end and maybe beyond. some get that this is a journey that will have highs and lows and dont get off the ride.

—pete wentz

1. The beginning

[1.1] we don't write fiction.

—pete wentz

[1.2] So the story goes something like this.

[1.3] You're a graduate student, doing an interdisciplinary master's degree in environmental studies focused on queer space. You decide that the thing you want to investigate is the space you've always inhabited, a space you're familiar and comfortable with. You want to understand how (and if) queer space links to current planning concepts with regards to community and spatial practice. You've also read and written fan fic for almost 15 years; it is a part of your life and you define yourself in no small measure by the fan activity you participate in. Your self-identification is wrapped up with the changing nature of sexuality as it's (often) understood and portrayed in slash fan fiction. Fandom has been and continues to be one of the most important spaces to allow you to understand your own sexuality. It has been the way you constructed yourself and your understanding of the community you inhabit.

[1.4] So you decide that this neighborhood is what you want to study, decide to try and illustrate your understandings of how online space and online culture has influenced and impacted your life and the lives of the people you know. You pick bandom, a fandom surrounding certain bands, because it's popular and active right now. You aren't as active as you'd like to be, but you have years of knowledge and contacts and friends and experience to draw from. You go into your research design naively assuming you're prepared for the experience of researching the online neighborhood you call home. As you begin to interview people, you realize how hard it will be to tell the story of this space, the story of its sexuality and its engagement. You know these people, you know this fandom, and you're protective of it. You struggle to understand what of your space you're putting on show and what you're choosing to keep hidden—and moreover, how to make that decision ethically and rationally, staying true to your intentions as well as your participants and yourself.

[1.5] You go to concerts in Las Vegas, Detroit, Buffalo, and Chicago, on two different tours and with three different bands. You love the music. You go to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, L.A., to meet with participants and to feel the cities where other people live. You go to a club one night where Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz is the DJ. You get drunk in the club with your girlfriend, and don't wonder about the engagement of your own bodies as you're dancing and how it relates to the theoretical model of anything. You don't wonder about the queer performance you and your girlfriend put on together for the audience of the club, how you may be putting yourself on display in a strange role reversal. You dance.

[1.6] The story goes something like this. You thought this research would be a positive way to explore postmodern understandings of sexuality by those who engage with queer texts online. You hoped that this understanding would give you an understanding of how online space—understood by many as no more than a fantasy space—interacts with and relates directly to people's engagement with physical space. You thought that using your own experiences to inform this study would be a safe way to find common ground with your participants. You thought it was a good idea to push yourself to do these things, to experience these different things, to try and understand how your space relates to other fans'. How you create it, how you shape it, how it shapes you.

[1.7] You didn't think you'd have problems with your own engagement in examining bandom and queer space. You didn't know you'd become a character in your own head. You didn't think it would be difficult to write about yourself as fictional, because as a member of fandom you've spent a great part of your life writing fictions that overlapped with your reality. You thought it wouldn't be difficult to take that process and apply it to the fandom itself, and still find an answer in the research.

[1.8] You find out that the story goes something like: you write your own fiction.

2. Judith Halberstam

[2.1] It's weird—bandslash is the first fandom where I feel like the canon is happening on the internet simultaneously with the fandom.


[2.2] In a bookstore in Philadelphia you start a discussion on Lee Edelman's No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Your friend says that for her, Edelman focuses too much on reproductive drive, that what he describes doesn't feel like her reading of time, that the politics of reproductive drives and futurism is set in opposition to her "queer" timeline. You compare it to Judith Halberstam's In a Queer Time and Place, which explores a similar reading of "time" as the present. Her breakdown of queer time as oppositional to family time is interesting, but something's off. Sitting on a bench, afternoon sun shining through the trees—the two of you try to come up with another reading for the immediacy that you both feel, but don't intrinsically ascribe to either a queer future haunted by death, drugs, or rejection of family life. Halberstam is describing a postmodern queer way-of-life for (partly) political ends. You're sitting on a bench and feeling nothing about tomorrow, nothing about yesterday, sitting in today and that's it. You carve out a piece of queer time for yourselves.

[2.3] There's something to be said for this concept of queer time and its immediacy, whatever the causes underneath the sensation. You think it over, you flip the sensation over in your mind. True, a queer temporal sensation is linked to an alternative family model in your head. You do not want children. You're happiest wondering what's going to happen next week, not next year. However, you think this stems from more than just an opposition to the reproductive drive or a repositioning of oneself within the larger societal understandings of time. The communications technology that's becoming ubiquitous has allowed near-instantaneous access to a lot of things that previously were situated clearly in the past, by the time you heard about them. Even as you discuss Halberstam in Philadelphia, you continually check Twitter, your blogs, your e-mail. You're happiest when the answer to "what does the future hold" includes another concert, another festival, another space of immediacy and connection, and beyond that, nothing but possibility—an answer in next week, not next year. And the more you travel for your research, the more possibilities open.

[2.4] You can feel that immediacy in the bandom culture. You get to live in it there. There is no way to write something about bandom, or even to write a story in bandom, that doesn't feel irrelevant within a shorter time period than any fan fic writer has ever been used to before. Instantaneous news of and access to the bands is continually available. You and your friend sit on a sunny bench, and feel connected to bands and fans both, in that moment in time. You saw eight cities and almost a dozen concerts. Day, day, day, hour, day, on and on, you claim a queer concept of time—defined not by the "death drive" as Edelman describes, but rather by new methods of communication. Bandom moves, all on the road, staring at miles of highway.

3. The fantasy of the past

[3.1] You, yourself, get written into the evolving narrative of bandom, as a participant.


[3.2] So you stay on the road. You travel the country and follow the bands and interview other fans and friends along the way. You start to realize that you spent weeks thinking bandom lives in a fantasy that's safe because it's already happened. You assumed that once you had described this space, it would be safe to move on. You thought that things are written, etched down, and the past does not change. But this genre of art doesn't allow for timelessness. It doesn't allow for history as much as it doesn't allow for future, and you started out thinking you could treat it differently even though a part of you knew better.

[3.3] In Boston you visit a museum that tries to represent history, to represent the past. It has a lot of beautiful pieces of art, in a beautiful building, but none of the pieces are arranged in order. There is no linear timeline of pieces, and no tags or plaques on the wall to explain what anything is. You think maybe bandom is the best example of a 21st-century museum, because everything is collected with no timeline—dates are elusive and everything can be (and is) changed, and thus the past is rewritten. You can renarrate your own history by changing the text of your visit.

[3.4] This functions on an individual level to allow you to rewrite history. You can delete your existence, or pieces of it, and not only do you begin to forget what it was you were, other people do too. Michel de Certeau says "narrated history creates a fictional space" (1984, 79), that memory is altered by its recall and the new circumstances surrounding that recall. Sitting on a bus, you have the ability to go back into years of e-mail and remind yourself of who you are, were, what you shared or kept to yourself, how you presented yourself to others. These recollections can be reshaped by what you are now, allowing you to reshape your memories constantly through the process of remembrance.

[3.5] Memory on the internet functions much as oral history did. It is mutable, changeable. The collective memory in fandom is, then, always subject to change, and with it, the space we live in.

4. Cyberspace is myth

[4.1] Q: What would you say makes up the boundaries of bandslash? Or any fandom in general?

[4.2] A: What do you mean by boundaries?


[4.3] As you try to pull together pieces for your research, you constantly bump against this rewritten past, this oral history, this lack of future. In trying to rework your text into something that fits, you read Cybermapping and the Writing of Myth (Jahshan 2007). Jahshan theorizes that the "actual decentering of the subject" (5) in cyberspace is supposedly made possible because of new technologies, and cyberspace becomes a place to "enact the deconstructed self" (6). Jahshan's framework for the exploration of cyberspace, however, stays within the assumption that space online is a space purely of the mind, fantasy, postmodern, implied: that space online is the illusion from which we escape reality.

[4.4] This is how he settles this question of rewritten space, by relying on the assumption that it stays digital, stays elusive. For you, Jahshan's version of cyberspace—only ever a space of fantasy—remains insufficient. For you the online fantasy space overlaps, engages, changes and is changed by embodied space every day. Your cyberspace is not simply written, not just a chat window or a virtual space to play with identity; it's also in how your play with identity makes you feel about your body, how the chat window faces you when your friend picks you up from the airport. It is present in the moment of your swallow; taken in, ingested, internalized, externalized, and important. In fact, that physicality is a fundamental difference of bandom: there are so many spaces where the fandom is manifested in physical, not just metaphorical, ways. Physical is as evident as metaphorical, virtual identity.

[4.5] All summer you sit on planes, trains, and automobiles, you feel people hug you, you feel the creak in your limbs as they protest the constant travel as you search for something. You hear the music. You also project yourself, what you feel and taste and see, through the Internet, put it into words, put it into a story, for others to read and digest. Through words and voice, you try and bridge that gap between the airplane, and your memory of the airplane.

[4.6] You feel like you've been pushing your physical body to interact with cyberspace. This is where bandom lives for you, it isn't metaphorical or mythical or deconstructed. You could write about fictional characters for the rest of your life, but they'll never Twitter about an after-party at the hotel where you're waiting for a ride. That surreal constant-motion space is something that bandom gets that others don't, a physicality that you travel through.

5. The grab bag of cybermapping

[5.1] …what I wanted to warn you about is something else: all the future Berenices are already present in this instant, wrapped one within the other, confined, crammed, inextricable.

—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

[5.2] You find yourself trying to put structure on your travels, the people you met in bandom, the shows you went to, the cities you saw. As you go back and sift through your memories, however, you find yourself unable to make everything fit on a mental map. You find yourself having difficulty with dates, places, remembering instead pieces and moments. As you try to mentally prepare to describe your bandom community, you find that no logical structure fits; no mental map is adequate.

[5.3] If Twitter has changed your sense of time, making it a present-ism rather than a future-ism, then it is also changing your conceptual map as well. These days, you're slowly tagging your spaces, online and off, creating linguistic or semiotic connections that only gain meaning when they are used. You begin to understand that the wider effect of cyberspace on spatial stories is that it not only abandons linear time but also linear place. Clouding (a visual representation of tags) functions to remove the stable connections that hyperlinks used to possess, introducing an alternative to linear structure. A multiplicity of connections are implied at once, as embedded pieces of information, self-regulated into categories that overlap and have meaning only in their discrete searches.

[5.4] Twitter's #hashtags, for example, have become embedded within the understanding of communication. You can search for #falloutboy and get everyone's collective #falloutboy, available only in that moment of search. The space created is nonhierarchical in that no one's usage is preferred, prioritized over any other—unsorted, communal chaos. It can't be mapped or toured or repeated.

[5.5] You cannot exist in a described space without other people describing it too, collecting your glossolalia together. You think this might function on your memories and experiences as well: the emotive space of Patrick's voice in your car seamlessly integrating with the memory of walking down 52nd Street, sitting on the sidewalk outside MOMA, your sandals beside you as you feel the pavement of New York City beneath your feet. It's the same as reading a friend's words, hearing another's voice on the phone, sitting punchy and exhausted in the airport as you move between cities and places that have connections not through the flights that you take but the people and emotions you link them to, typing endlessly into the dark.

6. The queer spaces of bandom

[6.1] I'm totally overthinking this now, but it's the first time I've had a block where I feel like I should just probably not be writing this story: it's not that I can't or won't write it, it's that intellectually, I wonder if I shouldn't because I'm doing it for the wrong reasons. So this is my face :|||||||||||


[6.2] So that becomes your description of space; not the words, but the space in-between; the interaction you have with the words, the interaction between subject and subject. Your research becomes about moving through those spaces of intersection, crossing lines you can't articulate but feel all the same. You knew this fandom broke the fourth wall, saw it every day, and now you feel it too, in more than just you and the screen.

[6.3] At one point you fly out to stay with one of your interviewees, and the two of you sit on her couch. She tells you about her time in the fandom, and she tells you about her relationships with other fans, reveals her secrets, and you reveal yours in turn.

[6.4] Her stories are important to your understanding of fandom as queer space because they demonstrate another level of queer actions. Everyone you talk to gives you stories of breakups, stories of relationships and fears and emotions shared between varying-degrees-of-queer women that engage in bandom, and you give them yours in return. Through the sharing as well as the telling, they put a layer of queer space upon the fandom that extends beyond narrative, beyond desire. You are always careful of the balance between the space of conversation and the space of protection; you try to engage the conversation itself because it keeps their secrets while giving the moment a place and voice.

[6.5] But more than once and without meaning to, you cross the boundary in your head in conversation, into a space that you find you want to keep private, to yourself.

7. The loss

[7.1] Real life does not follow narrative arcs…. So [the breakup] doesn't come at a narratively opportune time for them as a band/canon source. But it didn't come at a narratively opportune time for you (where you = the fan) either.


[7.2] As you travel that summer, you find yourself on planes, trains, and automobiles; reconnecting with people you hadn't spoken to in years, traipsing back and forth through memories of friends and cities, making links to writing you did 10 years before, everything intersecting even as you moved faster and faster around the country. You start to wonder if there will ever come a good stopping point, if the research will ever end. You put yourself out there, pour yourself into it like a vessel, and wonder what comes next.

[7.3] You hear the news of Panic! At the Disco's breakup while sitting on a bus out of New York City. It's doubly upsetting to get this news among people that may understand intellectually but won't share that shock of abandonment, that sucker punch. They won't feel it like another Panic! fan might. You feel pain, because something died, even if it was insubstantial to other people. And you realize that in your head, Panic! only has a past now, not a present.

[7.4] You have to ask yourself: Would this have happened, would you be this cut up, if you hadn't started trying to write this project? You want to guess "no"; you wouldn't have been thinking about pop culture, putting your faith and your academic career on this, in them, in music. You wouldn't have traveled all over the country, wouldn't have gone to all the concerts, wouldn't have met and interviewed all the fans, wouldn't have visited the places the band members grew up. You would have stayed uninvested.

[7.5] You can't research as an observer. You are a full-fledged participant in this fandom, and trying to do this research changed that subjectivity. Their words and this music, this way of being, has imprinted on your skin, pulled you all over the continent. You wouldn't have been this person without this story. Much as you wanted to ignore it, Panic!'s split altered you, attached your fandom space to a story that doesn't exist in the present. Your present becomes a fandom past. The break becomes the thing that shows no matter how much you look to find the space you're looking for—look to find the words to show where you are, search for the right turn of phrase, the perfect narrative—you're researching a shifting landscape, and nothing will encompass it for any more than one moment in time and space and place.

[7.6] If you can rewrite your past, though, you can rewrite your present. So you decide to go to Los Angeles to try and find an ending.

8. The end?

[8.1] [The shows] are going to be good because I'm going with friends and I love my friends and I wouldn't have some of those friends or be seeing others if not for four boys who used to make great music with each other. Panic at the Disco may not have been able to stay together for the kids, but at least we still have each other, right? Right.


[8.2] You fly to Los Angeles, to try and see if bandom lives there now. Someone asks what it is you want to see and do, and you don't know, because you're not sure what in L.A. embodies bandom space—there's no bar or club like New York, like Chicago. No festivals. You don't have a script for this part of the journey, and you feel lost. Los Angeles has been described as a lot of things, and as you land at LAX you feel afraid that you'll never find what it is you're looking for.

[8.3] Your living history, your meta-text, falls apart in its cohesive narrative. Writing real life only works as well as you can adapt to the plot elements that don't end up working out. You've come to Los Angeles and now you're not sure where to go, you're not sure how to end your story.

[8.4] The story starts like this: you're a graduate student, you want to show that bandom is important, that bandom is new. You start out wanting to demonstrate a new way of experiencing community, you want to map and detail the space where that community lives. The story continues through space and time, loss, people, shows, constant motion, and constant change. The story writes itself onto your body, heart, mind, spirit, and writes your life. This is the thing: the story doesn't end. You wanted to define the bounds of something that is constantly shifting for yourself and others. The neighborhood bandom calls home shifts as you shift, as Pete Wentz shifts. It writes and rewrites itself, with no tight narrative arc, existing by writing and remembering.

[8.5] Perhaps the only map you've got is this: you'll always make the choice to get on the plane.

9. Work cited

Jahshan, Paul. 2007. Cybermapping and the Writing of Myth. New York: Peter Lang.