"If all of your favourite characters, all the ones you identify with and find comfort in, are men…you should probably question your gender," was a sentiment I heard over and over again on TikTok. It was May 2021, I had just moved to Brooklyn and the algorithm was making it impossible to ignore my gender.
I made a mental list of all my comfort characters: Anakin Skywalker, Bakugo Katsuki, Oikawa Tōru, Tsukishima Kei, Zuko. All guys. I had my fair share of favourite women characters, like Padmé Amidala from Star Wars, Clara Oswald from Doctor Who and Caroline Forbes from The Vampire Diaries. But my feelings towards them were different. I had crushes on them; I didn’t feel like I was them. I saw my deepest, truest self in the men. Maybe I always had.
Fandom, fiction and fan fiction have always played a pivotal role in my life. I grew up on a small Caribbean island, attended a small Catholic school and had overprotective parents. I didn’t see much of the real world so I looked for answers — for an escape — in fandom, from Twilight and The Vampire Diaries to Doctor Who and K-pop. "I see many clients who were raised within a strict religious context and weren't allowed to explore their own experience of gender or sexuality," Crystal Britt, therapist and founder of Get Psyched Therapy and Coaching, tells Refinery29. "Fandom and fiction provide a space for them to be themselves as well as explore who they are." As a child, I found an escape in Greek mythology thanks to Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the fantastical world of godly parental figures and demigod heroes. As a teen, I turned to Tumblr, reblogging fan art and GIFs, talking to fellow fans and delving deeper and deeper into different fandoms. I didn’t know what I was looking for in these fictive worlds, just that I was searching for something.
My real world was filled with a monotonous sameness so I looked for myself in the only place that allowed exploration. In the literal sense, fiction and fandom didn’t really make me nonbinary — they just introduced me to it. And that's true for a lot of people. "[Trans people's] identities were not born out of exposure to fictional characters or fandom, those were simply one of many avenues that exposed them to possibility," Rebecca Minor, a licensed independent clinical social worker and gender specialist, tells Refinery29. Fandom especially taught me about trans issues, gender identities and pronouns because so much of fan art, edits and fiction is made by genderqueer people.
I didn't know what I was looking for in these fictive worlds, just that I was searching for something.
In 2020, my hyperfixation was Star Wars (specifically, The Clone Wars and the Prequels). I was constantly on Twitter and Tumblr, devouring everything I could of the franchise and trying to make friends in a community that was already well-established. Most (if not all) of the really popular stan accounts on Twitter were run by people who are not cis. By the time I found the TikTok that prompted me to question my gender, I was already well-educated about gender from others’ perspectives. I just didn’t think it ever applied to me. My style was very femme, cottagecore lesbian and that just didn’t sound very they/them and nonbinary to me.
Anakin Skywalker was, and probably always will be, my comfort character from the franchise. As a Prequels and Clone Wars truther, Anakin was a kid who was corrupted by a system that was never meant to protect him. He had so many emotions and they were all processed externally as anger. In many instances, he can be read as neurodivergent and queer. While I loved Padmé Amidala and Obi-Wan, I loved them as Anakin would because I saw a lot of myself in him. Just as I realised I had too many "girl crushes" to be considered straight, feeling this in tune with Anakin made me reconsider my gender identity. I didn’t know exactly what I was but I knew for sure I wasn’t a girl.
With my gender questioning in full swing, I went to AO3 (aka Archive Of Our Own, the nonprofit website that hosts fan fiction and is a favourite across all fandoms), searched "nonbinary", "they/them" and "questioning gender". I found stories about Anakin Skywalker using they/them pronouns, about him dressing in more feminine clothing and about the Clones having different genders and still calling each other "sir". After hours of reading about my comfort characters going through this experience, I tested the gender euphoria waters by tweeting on my Star Wars stan account to ask people to use "she/they" for me in the replies — just as I had seen so many Star Wars stans do. Finally, after much experimentation, I felt confident enough to ask my friends to do the same. They happily obliged and I felt a level of joy I’d never felt before, one I didn’t know was even possible.
I tested the gender euphoria waters by tweeting on my Star Wars stan account to ask people to use 'she/they' for me.
Today, I’m very secure in my gender, in my nonbinary identity with they/them pronouns. I don’t see my expression or style as extremes; I can be masculine one day and feminine the next, and still be very nonbinary. It’s funny that, so many years later, my hair (one of the main things that bring me so much gender euphoria) looks exactly like Anakin’s did in the movies. This feels especially significant because I’ve come full circle, moving from consuming to creating fandom-centric queer content of my own. As sapphic shows continue to get cancelled and writers fight for a steady place behind the scenes, I feel lucky to have a community of fans to turn to for representation.