Revisiting Middle School Haunts. Photo Credit: BBC One/The CW/Corduroy Graphics
In my last year of middle school, I developed a very specific vision for what 2020 would look like. I believed that at the ripe old age of 22, I would be settling into married life with Doctor Who star Matt Smith. Unfortunately for middle school Lily, I didn’t factor a global pandemic into my plan. Now, I find myself a member of UC Berkeley’s pandemic class of 2020, meaning I didn’t get a graduation ceremony or a marriage ceremony. Instead, I’ve ended up back in my childhood bedroom. Though my middle school infatuation is long over, this space tells a different story. Every night, I rest under the watchful eyes of The Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond, and every morning I go to my desk and frantically apply for jobs in front of an award I won at a Glee themed yearbook camp in 2011. My parents think it’s a little silly that my Cheerios Award (Most Enthusiastic) has a place of honor above my desk while my college diploma is lying on my couch, completely unframed. They don’t understand how I’ve been home this long without feeling a nagging desire to redecorate.
They may have a point. It feels a little embarrassing to have a poster of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman watching me sleep. But Sherlock and its counterparts played a huge part in my childhood. While this is never something I thought I would ever admit in writing, online, under my real name, I was an incredibly dedicated member of the SuperWhoLock community on Tumblr. For those who weren’t on this part of the internet, SuperWhoLock refers to the fans associated with Supernatural, Doctor Who, and Sherlock. Every day after school, I would go home and discuss my favorite TV shows with young fans from all around the world. I had friends in my grade who shared these interests, but it was exhilarating to log onto Tumblr and find a plethora of fan made content about all of my favorite shows and characters.
Of course, as a community mostly made up of teenagers, a lot of the content was, to put it lightly, questionable. When I first joined the site, I reblogged a post about how SuperWhoLock fans were dangerous because they knew how to throw their enemies into black holes, make murders look accidental, and summon demons. As you might imagine, I never really got the hang of doing any of those things. I was only dangerous to people who weren’t interested in hearing about Matt Smith’s hair. There were also about three full pages cataloguing my participation in the Mishapocalypse, which was an allegedly hilarious April Fools Day prank in which the internet was absolutely flooded with the same photo of Misha Collins, one of the stars of Supernatural.When I logged in to my Tumblr out of boredom at the beginning of the year and was greeted by the now infamously jarring “Potterheads grab your wands” post, I rushed to delete my account.
I immediately regretted it.
To be clear, there were only a handful of posts that weren’t pure blackmail fodder. My current feelings of shame and embarrassment stand at a stark contrast to the unabashed love for these shows shown on my blog posts. Many of my female identifying friends describe experiences from their childhoods where they felt pressured to downplay their interests in things that seemed “too girly.” Men, they said, seemed all too eager to pounce on them as soon as they expressed excitement about things like pumpkin spice lattes or One Direction. After being successfully shamed for having the audacity to enjoy coffee and have impeccable taste in music, they would occasionally try to find more “masculine” things to enjoy. One friend pretended to LOVE classic rock after a boy she had a crush on called her stupid after catching her in the act of watching the “very dumb” music video for “You Belong With Me” on her iPod Nano. I was terrified of receiving similar taunting at the hands of my own male friends that I completely eschewed things that might put me in that situation. Every time my friends would rehash the Team Edward/Team Jacob debate, I would loudly state that I would never be caught dead reading or watching Twilight, even though I did have a small crush on Robert Pattinson.
While I did genuinely enjoy Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Supernatural, they also felt somewhat safe. At that point, each show revolved around its white male protagonists, and their writers were all staunchly committed to treating the bulk of their female characters like one dimensional props. Now, I see the comfort I took in being able to argue that I was interested in these shows for intellectual reasons alone. It was all too easy for me to not be like other girls, who watched other shows for hot actors. Many of them asked deeper questions about morality, power, and faith that I could cite during in-person conversations. I felt as though I was allowed to like them – they were nerdy, but not feminine. If I wasn’t convincing, and I faced ridicule, I could always plan my eventual after school retreat to Tumblr, where I would discuss which fictional characters deserved better without fear of judgment.
Tumblr was what first allowed me to see that there was no real reason to view interests through the oppressive lens of the gender binary. Plenty of users were young and impressionable like me, but there were also those who were accomplished women in college, or even the workforce. One friend I made was an aspiring writer from Wisconsin who was absolutely brimming with talent. She would regularly compose short bits of prose about the fabulous lives she imagined for the strangers she saw at her local grocery store. This talent was never once compromised by the fact that she found solace in fictional characters. Men could call her interests girly and mean that they were stupid, but it would be difficult for them to sincerely call her stupid.
Yes, Tumblr was the environment that led me to call Matt Smith a “cute potato” without feeling a single iota of shame. It was also a place that brought me comfort and joy during particularly dark times. It allowed me to believe that I could find friends no matter my interests, and that the shows I watched didn’t correlate to my abilities or worth as a person. To be fair, I do feel some peace knowing that it’s gone. If my Tumblr was ever found, I would simply sign up as a test subject for Elon Musk’s emerging Mars colony. Oddly enough, this security is bittersweet – I sent the remnants of a crucial period of self discovery somewhere into the digital ether. It was weird and embarrassing, but when is growing up ever not?
When I came home, I longed to recapture any semblance of the life I had so carefully cultivated in college. Even now, months later, everything in my room still seems to belong to a completely different person. In some ways, it did. But I want to find ways to honor her for who she was and the community she made. My wall houses three separate drawings of my favorite characters from BBC Merlin. Those drawings were gifts from a friend at a point when my mental health was rapidly declining. I have a ticket from a Supernatural convention that I attended, a convention that gave me something to look forward to during difficult moments. To take them down feels like one, final denial of the version of myself that laid a foundation for everything I’ve become. It feels disingenuous – even paradoxical – to try and celebrate a version of myself that represents a time when I felt free to express myself while simultaneously getting rid of the representations of everything that inspired that expression.
Every place I’ve occupied has reflected at least some part of who I was while I lived there. My last two apartments were littered with protest signs and photos of my improv team. Maybe years from now, I’ll have a job with some stuffy corporate company, this instinct will resurface, and I’ll be hell bent on destroying any evidence of my participation in college improv. But I hope that future Lily will focus on the happiness I felt during these times, instead of how that hobby might have looked to others. So, while Matt Smith may no longer be on my mind or in my heart, for now, he’ll stay on my wall.