The First Thing I Saw on the Internet
How fan fiction opened the door to my sweaty, sticky adolescence.
X-files shipper fan fiction.
That was the first thing I saw on the Internet.
I’ll never forget the day my 13-year-old self, raging with hormones her chastity refused to recognize, felt a flutter in her nether regions after reading poorly written prose of Mulder slipping his ol’ Fox in Scully’s foxhole.
My friend Billy- my Saturday morning partner in filming homemade music videos of the Macarena- was the first person I knew who had the Internet. When he introduced it to me, I never contemplated how or why it existed. It must have been here all along, I figured, and now it’s becoming accessible to the masses. He showed me how to search in something called AltaVista for anything my heart desired.
What did my 13-year-old heart desire? I wondered. I searched deep within and came up with two things:
- Anything X-files related.
- Shirtless photos of an early-70s era Elton John (adolescence was confusing for me.)
I had been a fan of the X-files since the first season, and I was a religious watcher (my childhood bedroom still bears stacks of episodes on VHS.) As a young child I was an avid, and anxious, reader of paranormal stories, and the X-files was a perfect fit for my overactive imagination; however, it was the tension- the long looks, the subtle leaning in, the playful jokes- between Mulder and Scully that got me hooked. Love and flirting weren’t a personal pastime, let alone even a blip on my radar, but the very subtle sexuality between the two leads kept me salivating. As did pictures of shirtless bears.
On that first, glorious day, I typed ‘X-files’ into AltaVista and quickly discovered a legion of fans who called themselves “shippers”- people just like me who were equally fixated on the relationship between Mulder and Scully. These shippers posted self-penned stories with titles such as “Cognac and Roses” and “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” on a site called the Gossamer Project, a two-tone playground for X-philes’ imaginations, or wrote early listicles of every fleeting, tender moment between the two on Nicky’s Ultimate X-files Shippers Page.
According to Wikipedia, the phrase “shipping” or “shipper” originated with the X-files. Though sexualized fan fiction existed prior to the series, the coinciding dawn of the World Wide Web helped give X-philes a pulpit to vent their sexual angst.
And I was open to hearing their sermon.
Visiting Billy’s house on the weekends was highly anticipated, as now I could buffet on pelvic-tingling stories. I couldn’t control myself. After each read, I promised my friend I would just be another minute. Sometimes he’d lose hope and meander to another room; sometimes I was ashamed at what I read and self-censored when the stories became too graphic. Here I could read in actual words all the fantasies I had visualized for my favorite star-crossed lovers: flirting, dating, marriage, babies, self-sacrifice, hand-in-hand death. If we couldn’t see Mulder and Scully get freaky on TV, then we’d write about it, dammit. And that writing would be shitty, but oh so delicious.
It satiated a part of me I didn’t know existed.
"I.........I guess this is.....um......goodbye, Mulder..." she stuttered.
<No, it can't be> he thought.
"We can still keep in contact," Scully said slowly, "There will always be
letters and phone calls, and, possibly, the occasional conferences, or
something like that..........." her voice trailed off. Mulder knew he had
to say it now or never.
He dropped to one knee and took Scully's hand. "Dana Scully, will you
marry me?" There. He had said it.
Scully looked somewhat startled. She mumbled, "But our jobs, being so
far.......if Skinner found out.....they could still come after us......"
Mulder needed a solid answer. "Scully! Please! Will you marry me? Yes or
no?" He looked into her bright blue eyes, pleading silently. <Why not?>
Scully thought. <We know each other, we can trust each other. And we love
-"Distances are Closed by Love" by Linnie Anderson
Soon we had the Internet at my own house, and I spent many nights in the later half of the 90s with a shit-eating grinning lit by the screen glow of X-files fan fic. But as the Internet became more prevalent, I began losing interest in the love life of Mulder and Scully. David Duchovny left the show after season 7, and I had just entered college. I had my own love life to focus on- one that wasn’t full of subtle tension but rather awkward teenage fumbling.
Though the shipper scripture was no longer a daily ritual, the interest of Mulder and Scully’s relationship never fully left my psyche, a realization I had recently after learning of the X-files reboot.
You see, when 32-year-old me heard that everyone’s favorite FBI partners will be coming back for a six-episode series, the 13-year-old me felt that familiar tingle akin to climbing the rope in gym class. Even in writing this essay, I found myself blissfully falling into the array of shipper fiction and Youtube videos that X-philes still write and post today. And when I think about how far the Internet has come, and how my livelihood largely depends on it, it makes me miss the days when I thought it was something that just appeared one day as a gift to a horny teenage X-files fan.
What was the first thing you saw on the Internet?