Hello. My name is Eden. And I’m a Fan Girl.

It all started when I was a freshman in high school—fourteen or fifteen years old—and I discovered the Piers Anthony Xanth fantasy book series. I read the first book at the behest of my then-boyfriend (if we can really apply such titles to fifteen-year-olds who just happened to spend lots of time together), and though I pretended to read it only to appease him, I secretly fell in love with the magical land and all its heavily sarcastic characters. That summer I also read The Chronicles of Narnia, after having watched the BBC miniseries repeatedly throughout my childhood. A few months later I, along with many American teens, discovered Harry Potter and Hogwarts, and my indoctrination into fantasy-based story obsession was complete.

That’s not to say that I then became the lone girl amid the male-dominated D&D circle in my high school. In fact, it was quite the opposite: I sang in choir, joined the French club, and took dance classes. I had wide and varied interests, some of which just happened to include young wizards and magical wardrobes. I read popular books or magazines, and I watched movies that other girls my age identified with, too. I enjoyed the escapism that movies like Pearl Harbor or Bridget Jones’s Diary provided. But when my best (guy) friend and I went to see The Lord of the Rings and then spent the next hour discussing what parts of the book were left out of the film and whether or not these were intentional directorial choices, I knew I had found my tribe.

Despite this realization that I was happiest while immersed in far-off lands with fantastical and magical characters, I was still reticent to open up about this to friends or to seek out other people like me. I had been teased throughout elementary and middle school because I never seemed to have the “right” clothes or because I didn’t go to the “cool” church like the rest of my friends. In eighth grade I even got accused of reading the dictionary–because how else could my vocabulary be that of an average adult’s at thirteen? (Side note: I should say that I didn’t read the dictionary at the time, but I figured that if I was going to be made fun of for it, I should at least get something out of it. So I started to peruse the dictionary during my downtime, and I learned wonderful new words like “myriad” and “sesquipedalian.” Basically, I owe my awesome ACT score to some middle school bullies and an hour-long bus ride. Thanks, guys.)

Anyway, I had been conditioned to keep such “nerdy” pursuits under wraps, lest those chosen few of high school royalty—the cheerleaders and the jocks, some of whom I had even considered friends when we were younger—decided to relive the good ol’ days of picking on me for taking part in decidedly uncool lunchtime activities like reading. This sort of seemingly benign teasing begins to seep into you after a while, and you internalize all the thoughts of “Otherness” or “Less-ness,” or at least it did for me. I equated fitting into the mainstream with wearing fashionable clothes, taking part in standard social activities like football games and weekend parties, and not reading books or watching movies about mythological creatures.

I could fake it well enough; I went to a few parties and stayed friendly with those people who had teenage social currency, so I was able to escape high school (mostly) unscathed. But the whole time, it never felt like me. I went into young adulthood while trying to maintain a balance of an outward persona well-suited to sorority life and an inner geek who really wanted to skip the formal and rewatch LOTR in my dorm room.

In recent years there’s been a surge of self-proclaimed fandoms becoming more mainstream: Tumblr and Pinterest are full of fan theories or frame-by-frame analysis of fantastical books or TV series. It’s rather impressive to see how these enthusiasts examine the stories with such detail, how they write impassioned defences of characters’ choices or villains’ hardships. Many fandoms even use these stories as vehicles to discuss existentialist ideas of the human condition and universal truths. Although I’ve never developed my own theories about J.K.’s decision to kill off Snape at the end (sorry: spoiler alert…), I’ve spent many an afternoon reading these in-depth and sometimes surprisingly profound discussions surrounding fictional characters. I loved the sense of camaraderie I felt online. I knew there were other people like me out there.

And yet….

Despite the prevalence and popularity of sci-fi and fantasy in pop culture, I still keep those interests mostly under wraps—and I’m not even sure why. I guess it’s largely because the person I present in my professional life seems at odds with the person who comes home at the end of the day, kicks off my power pumps, and binges backlogs of Doctor Who. Just like in high school, I’ve been presenting a more mainstream, even popular, version of myself. I’ve never allowed myself to reconcile the idea that I can be a successful thirty-something and be convinced that, although my Hogwarts acceptance letter may have gotten lost in the mail many years ago, doesn’t mean I don’t still have a shot of becoming a smart sassy witch who punches twerpy bad guys in the nose.

For years, I’ve struggled with being able to straddle these two worlds or smoothly navigate between them.  Don’t get me wrong—I understand it can be done, because, obviously, there are many people who are successful in the professional world who also spend their weekends at Comic-Con. I guess my problem is that I had preconceived notions about what it meant to be a young, up-and-coming professional [read: adulthood’s version of the popular crowd], and what it meant to be a fangirl. There seemed to be an inherent immaturity associated with “fangirling,” and I assumed that other people assumed I was far too old for such frivolity.

I was hiding a piece of myself—a piece that may not be as intrinsic to my “Me-ness” as my eye color or my bee sting allergy, but a piece of me nonetheless—all because I was afraid of what someone else might think. And all I can say is that I finally realized that is some Grade A b.s. I don’t apologize for the kind of car I drive, or the fact that I’m a failed vegetarian, or my size 12 jeans. Why should I apologize that, instead of reading The New York Times on the daily or seeing the latest foreign language film that swept at Cannes, I choose to spend my free time devouring entire seasons of Once Upon a Time or reading historical fantasy novels about assassin nuns (because, seriously: assassin nuns).

What really cinched it for me was a roommate I had a couple of years ago when I lived in Colorado. This was a Craigslist find, and I was convinced that, at best, she and I would be cordial housemates for the six months we would live together, and at worst, I would end up chopped into tiny pieces and dumped in the river because she was actually a psychopath that I had foolishly welcomed into my home. (Clearly, I’ve watched too much Criminal Minds…) Instead, I met a fascinating young woman who has become a life-long friend, and who showed me it’s possible to be the cosmopolitan, world-traveling, erudite young professional who also owns her inner (and outer) fangirl.

She was my role model. She was my fandom sherpa (a title she will enthusiastically adopt, I feel quite certain), guiding me up the rocky, steep climb to fully integrating all aspects of myself to become wholly me, all of the time. And let me tell you, I 100% advise everyone to find their very own fandom sherpa. Or any kind of spiritual-psychological-personal guide, really. We could all use a little boost now and then to remind ourselves that we don’t have to be ashamed or surreptitious about our interests. We all need to know there’s someone out there who’s already dealt with the struggle, and who made it through just fine—who even enjoys where he or she is now because of the struggle.

So I followed her lead and embraced my inner fangirl. And once I let my guard down a little and allowed these two versions of myself to bleed together, I began to realize that there were plenty of other people just like me: coworkers, friends, even strangers I had casual conversations with in the grocery store checkout line. And then, of course, there are amazing online forums like Minerva that bring all of us together to engage in real discussions about how heroines in frilly dresses aren’t doing the feminist movement any favors. It no longer has to be an either/or internal battle, for me or anyone else. And quite frankly, I think that’s even cooler than fezzes and bowties combined.

So. Like I said. My name is Eden, and I’m a successful, single woman. My name is Eden, and I’m a fangirl. My name is Eden, and I’m encouraging all of us to embrace all sides of ourselves, no matter what anyone else may or may not think.

Featured image via Katie Tegtmeyer.