Saying the Star Wars Fandom Is Broken Isn’t Enough Anymore

Words are powerful tools. But words without action attached get erased.

Joshua Cairós

I was floating.

No, literally. I was on top of a raft in the middle of my parents’ pool, slowly spinning, even more slowly traveling in a single direction, though I couldn’t have told you which way.

It was hot. I should have felt the sun on my face, should have felt the unsteady water beneath me.

And it was quiet. I should have heard the wind touching the trees in the distance, should have recognized my own heartbeat in my ears as I tilted back my head.

But I felt nothing. Heard nothing.

I lay on a raft on the surface of tiny waves, but physically, I may as well have been sinking.

In my head swam the disjointed thoughts of someone in so much pain they’ve become numb to everything. Even their own breathing.

When I was 13 and just beginning my life as a user of the interwebs, I’m sure my parents warned me about the obvious dangers: Never post personal information. Never share passwords. Be wary of strangers … and the download button.

No one ever warned me the bullies I encountered in my junior high hallways might also one day appear behind a screen.

It would be 15 years before they’d find me. I’d known they were out there. But not in such large numbers. Not armed with so many unrepeatable words.

In the year 2020, it seemed the world couldn’t get much worse than a global pandemic. Then a vicious murder and heartbreaking protests opened my eyes to the magnitude of intolerance surrounding me, and I felt I needed to do something to offset the hopelessness.

So naturally I launched a website.

It turns out blatant racism, sexism, and bigotry in the Star Wars fandom are optimal prompts for creating a place where underrepresented voices in the fandom could feel safe, welcome, and heard.

We all know what happens whenever someone in this space tries to do something good.

When I say the bullying and harassment bore their sharp pointed edges into my soul, I wish I were exaggerating. I will not repeat the things said to and about me, number the videos created to mock me, share or even describe the photos sent to intimidate and humiliate me.

But I will attest to the fact that it all shattered me.

I stopped feeling like a person worthy of existing. Not because awful things hadn’t been said to my face (or sent to my inbox) before, but because never once had I imagined so much hate could be directed toward one person in the span of several days.

Sure, they’re just strangers on the internet. They can’t hurt you if you just ignore them.

But that’s the problem. Until they get bored of you, they won’t let you forget about them.

If you’ve never heard your own name used as an insult, count your blessings.

It doesn’t feel good to watch thousands of people tear apart something you’ve made. Especially when they pivot from attacking your work to attacking you.

I lay on that raft on top of that water that day not because I thought I deserved a rest, but because I mentally, physically, emotionally, could do nothing else.

I wanted to do nothing else.

The thought of climbing out of that pool and standing on solid ground again terrified me. As if the entities behind my screens might materialize as soon as my feet touched the earth and torture me worse than they already had.

I, one who never backs down from a challenge, who always sees opportunities even in the worst moments, who plans fiercely and acts fearlessly … for days wasn’t even sure if I could go on. If I wanted to go on.

There’s being hated. And then there’s witnessing people profiting off of the idea that hating you is a victory to be celebrated when you’ve done nothing to prompt it.

I don’t care how strong you think you are. No one can withstand that.

No one should ever have to.

It took months to feel OK after that. Every emotion I experienced greeted me as if its volume had been turned as high as it could go without my consent. Every time someone sent me a message, my stomach dropped as if I’d received bad news … every single time.

I found myself asking one question over and over.

What am I still fighting for?

The answer, of course, was the same as it has always been, the same as it still is now: For a safer space. For a more inclusive community.

It took some time. But eventually, I remembered. Enough, at least, to keep fighting.

I didn’t want to share this story. Not in this much detail.

With every day that passes I become more conscious of the thoughts and facts I publicly offer to the world. I’m not someone who holds much importance in the grand scheme of all things, but that becomes irrelevant when you realize some people bigger than you often find great joy and profit in targeting you anyway.

But there is power in constructive honesty. If we don’t offer up the truth in an effort to encourage others to do the same, what is our purpose?

I share the darkest moment in my fandom evolution in hopes it might shed light on one important revelation.

Telling this story does not feel like enough. It will not prompt much change.

I can’t help but wonder, though.

What if facilitating improvement in this matter depends on volume, not depth?

I’m just one person, one so-called fan in this crowd of many enthusiasts. This is my singular experience. I do not speak for every human who has ever felt unwelcome in a space they so desperately hoped to call home.

But I also know I’m not the only one who sometimes feels as though she’s drowning.

When people come to the Star Wars fandom, all they want is to find a group of others who are just as excited about their favorite Star Wars things as they are. And many do find their comfortable corner. They make themselves at home. They feel as though they belong.

But the more they share their joy, the more they risk being targeted for … shall we name all the possible excuses?

In the world at large there exist shadows who seek only to steal other people’s light.

The reasons for their dark desires don’t matter. It’s been proven time and again that where there are good things happening, along will come those who wish to destroy them.

Fan communities, being slightly nerdier replicas of real-world spaces, are merely a reflection of the unsettling evils in our very real lives. But because fictional universes such as Star Wars are often more digestible in a variety of contexts, these are often the spaces we notice these evils … and seriously consider what can be done to silence them.

In every fandom there are people who seek great influence and power and, once they gain it, repeatedly abuse it. It’s not unlike the story of Star Wars itself. The tools and systems that many seek to use to share knowledge and experiences for the sake of the overall good are also available to those who use them to feed their quest for control.

What happened to me has happened to hundreds of others. There are followings to be made and money to be acquired in the practice of preying on people you massively outnumber. My thousand followers couldn’t possibly be enough to stop your 100,000 from throwing so many hateful words in my direction that I actually start to believe they’re true.

But I will waste no more time, energy, or space on the things certain people in this fandom get away with on a daily basis. They desperately crave attention, and I’ve already given them too much of it in these paragraphs.

If any kind of positive difference is going to be made here, we should only look to the past with the intention of learning how we can move forward.

There have been many conversations of late revolving around toxicity in fandom — mainly, it seems, to remind us all over and over that it exists, that it’s not right, that something must be done.

But what is actually being done?

I’ve seen no justice, not for anyone who has been harassed, or doxxed, or any of the other terrors that so many have already been brave enough to speak up about … even knowing doing so might not lead to change.

Words are powerful tools. But words without action attached get erased.

We can keep talking about the toxic areas of this fandom and the awful things the people in them have said and done. But what are we going to DO about it?

There is no point in trying to understand why bullies and harassers seek to destroy. There’s no reason to believe telling them they’re wrong will ever convince them of such.

Instead we must turn our attention to what can be done as a community to make it nearly impossible to hear the bullies yell — by talking about what that looks like, and then standing up and making it a reality. Together. Not just a few of us, but all of us.

Those of us who will nudge this fandom toward a better era already know where it currently stands. Many of us have likely experienced the worst of it firsthand.

Talking about the concerning state of things is no longer a productive means of conversation among those willing to take up the task of changing it. I can tell my story a hundred times, but it means nothing if there’s no feasible call to action at its end.

If we don’t focus on solutions — the methods by which we might tip the dial from “dangerously toxic” to “slightly less dangerous” — we’ll continue spinning until we burn out.

In saying this, admittedly, I can’t imply that I have even so much as a running list of solutions that might ease the pain that so many in this space have felt, are feeling, and will likely feel in the future.

But I believe that if as many of us as possible stand up and stand together, we can create at least one possible path toward a better time.

Something must change.

That change begins now.

If we all start by telling our stories, maybe we can find the answers we’ve all been searching for all this time.

Please send me a DM on Twitter. Tell me your story. Tell me how select pockets of this fandom have tried to break you, and how you’ve managed to hold on.

Let’s have a conversation — speaking to what has happened to us, yes, but also about what we’re doing to stop it from happening to others. What we can do, what we will do. Not alone, but together.

I will not use your stories without your permission — I’m not fully certain how we can use them yet. But we have to start somewhere. There isn’t much I can do outside of the realm of what I know best: Listening to other people’s stories and making sure they’re heard.

I can’t do this alone.

None of us can.

But we are the spark.

We can inspire hope in those who have lost theirs.

We can be the light.