Today I was thinking about how and why I get attached to certain characters so intensely. For the most part I fall into fandoms easily, and fall out of them nearly as easily. I don’t leave fandoms much – Sherlock and Teen Wolf are the exceptions to the rule – but there was a hot minute where I read a lot of Dresden Files, and another for Dorian/the Iron Bull, and original Man from UNCLE, and Man from UNCLE (2015), and Athelstan/Lagertha/Ragnar, and Bilbo/Thorin, and NCIS, and Eagle of the Ninth, and Sentinel, and Labyrinth, and Inception, and Star Wars of all flavors. I occasionally still dip into those fandoms, and don’t consider myself to have left them, but I certainly don’t go back to them day after day after day for years. Hockey rpf – Sid/Geno, if I’m honest – I have gone back to daily for nearly two years. And that’s kinda weird. I haven’t even done that for Gabriel from Supernatural, who is otherwise my longest-lived fannish touchstone. I was thinking about it, and realized that though Sid/Geno as a pairing sticks with me for a few reasons, it was mostly that I got really, really attached to Sidney Crosby, both as a fannish rpf character, and as a character in hockey media. And that’s kinda weird for me, to be honest.
I care about Sid for a very specific reason, because he, as a character, came into my life at a very specific time. Just when I was getting into hockey rpf and was looking around for a new shiny, a number of things came together and I realized that I may be on the spectrum. Family stories, of infant!me screaming if I was picked up by anyone other than my parents, of delayed developmental stages, of child!me adapting very poorly to change, memories of being told off for toe-walking, of endless conversations where I knew I was missing some conclusion that came easily to people around me, of practicing maintaining eye contact, of sensory issues ad naeuseum, added up to a conclusion that I still haven't had checked out by a medical doctor*. In some ways, I don't want to know. At this point I’ve practiced and worked out coping mechanisms and work-arounds. It’s who I am. But the fact that society doesn’t like that very much continues to be hard to deal with. I stick out, in a lot of ways, and some days that’s really hard. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to not stick out, not be so weird, not be so awkward, not be so strange.
But I look at Sidney Crosby, notoriously superstitious and awkward, and I see someone with problems like mine. Someone who gets very nervous in large empty rooms – Sid's stall is often on the end, next to a wall (if there is one - the Pens' circular locker room makes me profoundly uneasy). Someone who isn’t very comfortable touching new people – in photos with fans, he usually has his hands in his pockets. Someone who doesn’t like new clothes – Sid’s famous for wearing the same gear until it literally falls off of him; I hate clothes shopping for many reasons, but one is that new clothing is upsetting to wear because it aggravates my sensory issues. His media appearances are characterized as being amazingly practiced and bland, and I hear that and think about how I practice and plan responses in conversations because I can’t trust that my tongue won’t trip me up. I hate public speaking but have done enough of it that I can do it well when necessary. When I knew my thesis defense was coming up, I practiced my talk two or three times a day for two weeks. For the first week I was so upset that those two or three hours of talking would leave me shaking and teary for hours and completely blow out my voice for the entire day, but after two weeks I had it down. I was told that I passed with flying colors. I like spending time with kids for several reasons, but they don’t mind when I talk an extra minute to parse something, or get enthusiastic about something, or miss a social cue. Before a recent interview he did with rookie goalie Matt Murray, Sid switched their name placards so that he was sitting on the left. A lot of people put this down to superstition, and maybe that’s all of it. But I have places I prefer to sit, and I get nervous and twitchy if I get moved around. I’m getting better at dealing with it, as I get older and have better coping mechanisms. But if I were about to go into a media conference? If I’m excited and keyed up and that energy could be good and push me to great things but could also push me off the precarious edge of good humor and into upset and depression? If I’m sitting next to a rookie who won’t know how to support me the way a veteran might but also won’t give me shit if I switch our seats? If I’m known for being a bit weird and this won’t really add to it? You’re damn right I’d switch seats and give myself a bit more of an even footing. My routines are important and change is very hard and very upsetting.
There could be any number of reasons for why Sid is the way he is and does the things he does, and they may be nothing like mine. A lot of people have quirks and ways that they like and don’t like doing things. That’s not my point though. A lot of people don’t like Sid because he’s “girly” or “a whiner” or “weird” or too good at what he does. I see someone who gets shit because of other people’s misogyny. Who sticks up for his teammates and doesn’t cooperate as much with the machismo and tough-guy-attitude of organized sports. Who has ticks and issues like mine and prioritizes his comfort and happiness over other people’s reactions. Who is one of the best players of his generation anyway.
I still feel weird about rpf. I’m uncomfortable with the way the media intrudes on players’ private lives, with the way fandom fetishes certain things and ignores others. I want these people to have lives out of the spotlight. And fandom does have non-rpf characters who are weird in similar ways: Benton Fraser and Rodney McKay come to mind right off the bat, but fandom is filled with them; we do like our misfits. But ultimately, they are fictional, all their ticks and preferences and hang-ups are the product of someone's imagination, and while that's better than nothing, it does put the ticks and preferences and hang-ups on a similar level to, say, wings, or lycanthropy. So the parallel to my experiences falls apart, a bit. Not entirely, but a bit.
I still feel weird about rpf, but there is a person - Sidney Crosby - who actually does do those things. Things like I do things. He has a media persona that fandom has crafted into an rpf character, but he does actually do those things. So while my engagement with hockey is nearly entirely fannish, my interest in Sid isn't, really. Rather, I’m appreciative of the public persona Sid has adopted, which is awkward, and a bit bland, and full of weird personal quirks like switching seats with another player before a press conference for no apparent reason. But I’m thankful for the things Sid does, publicly and without apology, because his example has helped me be more comfortable with myself and better advocate for myself. Sid’s had to deal with a lot of shit in his life. But he’s doing very well at the thing that he wants to be doing with his life. And he gives himself space for the things that make his life easier, even if society gives him shit for it.
I don’t know what I want to do with my life, and I’m not doing all that well at what I am doing. But I’m trying to be better at giving myself space for the things that will make my life easier, even if society gives me shit for it. If Sid can do it, I can do it.
(Which is mostly a relatively long-winded way of saying that I'm not used to having real-life role models, and certainly not about this. But I'd already typed it all up before the phrase "role model" occurred to me, and I didn't want to waste it.)
*I'm aware that there's a lot more too it than that. There's a lot more from my end too, I'm just not comfortable giving out details of my medical and person history on the internet. Nor I am interested in talking about it. Please take it as given and move on.