My family was a very early adopter of at-home dial-up internet, which is saying something in rural Appalachian Tennessee in the 90's. My mother worked remotely, and dial-up was a work expense. Being young, feisty, and technically-minded, I became the family sysadmin by default when I was twelve; by the time I was thirteen every minute that wasn't spent in some extracurricular activity -- or, worse, when my mother was working on the computer, or other family members wanted to use the internet [!!!] was spent slavishly devoted to our good ol' Mac PowerPC.
Below, a select early cut from my fandom history.
I had discovered Star Trek very early, probably ten or eleven, in the form of early Star Trek: Deep Space Nine reruns. DS9 would go on to -- genuinely -- write my future out for me; I became an academic philosopher because of Star Trek, and specifically because of the political philosophy of DS9.
Similarly I can't even recall when I first watched Star Wars. I know I watched the original trilogy well before the remastered editions were released to home video, because I saw each of the original trilogy in our little rural cinema when the remastered cinematic versions were released in 1997. When the boxed set of all three remastered films was released it was quite literally all I wanted for Christmas. Maybe you remember -- the special deluxe remastered VHS edition with the Vader helmet in relief?
I am almost certain I got the Bronze Special Edition, which was the standard screen formatting of 4:3 at the time, and while I can't be entirely certain this isn't a made-up memory, I vaguely recall biting my lip, devastated that it wasn't the wide-screen silver box set edition. I said thank you and was grateful anyway. I'm pretty sure I wore those VHS tapes down to the magnetics.
Anyway! I was a rabid sci-fi fan, I would read nearly anything that our pitiful, censorious little public library would hold and often the stuff that would creep into fantasy as well. When all those AOL coasters first got sent out, it became -- initially -- the most cost-effective way for my mom to remote in to work; and then it became the center of my creative world.
Back in The Day, AOL established these chat networks around whatever random shit people were a fan of, which, unsurprisingly, included both Star Trek and Star Wars. By the mid to late nineties, text-based RPGs were old hat in video gaming, and text-based tabletop-style RPG gameplay in AOL chatrooms was the clear next step to network both the text-based RPG style with D&D-like rules and mechanisms. I was thirteen (very probably twelve) when I joined my first Star Trek RPG, going through an "ensign" initiation to train the user on how to play before becoming a Lieutenant Junior Grade assigned to any one of a random assortment of "ships of the line" that were disparate RPG chatrooms, interconnected by the shared "Federation-Starfleet" network.
You have no idea how nostalgic I am writing this down. Those chatrooms were my ur-fandom: hours and hours just gaming down with randoms from all over the country. I look back now and I was so, so lucky: I was definitely a minimum of five years younger than any other person there, because at 12/13 my writing and speech patterns masked my age; generally people seemed to think I was in my twenties, and my age was a secret I hoarded like a jealous dragon. I was a queer as fuck neuroatypical AFAB tweeny kid from bumfuck Appalachia -- all my worldly knowledge came from the easily thousands of books I consumed with the desperation of a dehydrated Ent. And I unfailingly read as if I was in my early twenties, which was all I longed to be from pretty much the ages of 12 to 19.
Those AOL chat rooms gave me life, and creativity, and exposure to other humans who, somehow, from the magic of Roddenberry's utopian philosophy in Star Trek, treated me like a person, not some know-it-all kid whose closest friend was the librarian. (I joke, I kid; those librarians side-eyed me like the worst church ladies, and I worked to deserve it.)
I found a passion for the ethics of Star Trek that rivaled my own; a dedication and determination to tabletop storytelling that humbled any hubris as a writer I might have been developing; compassion and kinshsip in private chats when I said I was queer for the first time to another person. It wasn't that I found an escape, although it assuredly was escapism -- it was that I found the rest of the world out there, in Star Trek (and Star Wars) AOL RPG chats in the 90's. And that world that I was so desperate and hungry for saw me, and accepted me, and welcomed me; and said: go for it, kid. Be whoever you want to be, not only in the Trekverse, but in the real three-dimensional world, too. Make the 'verse bend around you, even if you only show your colours later in life. It doesn't make them any less true.
Like I said, I got lucky. I never experienced manipulation or predation online, as a tweenager in those early internet days. And as I grew out of what AOL and its Trek-Warsian RPG chats could offer, I stumbled naturally into fanfiction, and from fanfiction into my deeply beloved Buffy message board. It was twenty years ago that I found my Buffy people, my minim_calibre and all who came with. (I can't effectively recall who is on DW and who is not, but know that I adore you none the lesser for it.)
More than two-thirds of my life has been defined, enriched, and elevated by fandom. It is the gift of this life, for me.