I’ve been struggling with how to write all of this down for right on 2 months now.
2018 was a huge year for me in terms of fandom.
I met not one, not two, but EIGHT of my online friends this past year. I met all eight through the Game of Thrones fandom, specifically fellow shippers of Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth. All of these ladies that I had the pleasure to meet are some of the kindest, sweetest, and most beautiful people I know. It was so encouraging to find friendship, not only through our shared shipping interest, but also to find that we had many other common interests as well. These are people I could be friends with on many different levels. I love the internet.
The other huge fandom thing that happened to me this past year is this. I did it. I finally did it. I didn’t know if it would ever happen or if it was just a pipe dream, but I finally did it.
I got to meet my hero, Gwendoline Christie.
Gwen is best known for playing Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones and Captain Phasma in the new trilogy of Star Wars films, but to me, she is so much more than just an actor. Rather than give you a blow-by-blow recap of exactly what happened when I met her, I want to tell you why that meeting matters to me. 2018 was a banner year for self-discovery and self-confidence for me. Let me tell you a little story about why this meeting is so important to me.
I’m a bit of an anomaly in a lot of ways. Or at least, I’ve always felt quite different from most of the people I grew up with and around, and even among my close friends as an adult. I’ve never been good at “girl” stuff. Growing up, I would have rather spent my time playing with action figures, playing outside in the dirt, riding my bike, and reading comic books, all while wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and my Incredible Hulk baseball cap, none of which are your typical “girl” stuff. I’m loud, awkward, and the other kids growing up made it clear to me that I was not a pretty girl. Broad shoulders. Thick waist. Wide hips. Crooked teeth. Pale and lightly freckled. They made it abundantly clear that I didn’t fit. That I was a nerd, a geek, a misfit, and a loser. I heard “Ashley’s a man” so often in middle school that it still makes me angry, 20+ years later. It hurt to hear all of those things said about me. It hurt to not be accepted by many of my peers. I’ve always had friends, but still felt different from many of them. Despite my tomboyish exterior, deep down, I’ve always been a true romantic. I don’t really get into romance novels or Hallmark movies, but I SHIP so hard when it comes to fandom. I always have. Shows, books, movies, comics–I usually have a ship. When I love, I love hard. But, I’ve kept that romantic side to myself. I was maybe a little embarrassed. It didn’t match up with the rest of my tomboyish persona. But still, it was there. It’s always been there. It’s not going away any time soon.
Fast forward to the year 2011. After many starts and restarts since 2006, I’d finally gotten through the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. I’m a painfully slow reader to be the owner of two literature degrees, but I finally did it. I contribute this to my inability to sit still and my undiagnosed ADD. Spurred on by the premiere of the television show, I wanted to get through the books before watching. I picked up A Clash of Kings. Little did I know that my world was about to change. I was about to be introduced to a character that would change my life. I met Brienne of Tarth. Reading Brienne’s story made me want to weep. It was the first time I’d ever met any fictional character that I felt like told my story, film, television, books, or otherwise. For those of you who’ve read the books and know a little more of the details into Brienne’s backstory, you would have recognized that many of the things that I mentioned in my own story are identical to hers. I felt like I was reading about myself, but a foot taller and with blue eyes. It is difficult for me to convey how deep and profound that experience was for me. It made me feel that maybe I wasn’t a total weirdo. That even if it was only a fictional character, there was someone out there that might get me on that same level of identity and personal experience, but also someone who was deeply romantic. It was cathartic. It was affirming. It helped me to love myself. It made me feel so much less alone.
When I saw Gwen’s casting and performance, I was more than impressed. When I read about how much research and how committed she was to the part before even being cast (up to the point of working out to build muscle, cutting her hair, and changing how she dressed/walked/etc. BEFORE getting the part), I was floored. In numerous interviews and even during her panel at Rhode Island Comic Con where I met her, Gwen has spoken about how deeply the character of Brienne resonates with her. Though Gwen has never spoken in detail, as she is a rather private person, based on what I’ve read, I think Brienne probably resonates with Gwen for many of the same reasons Brienne resonates with me. Gwen made me feel like she would be the kind of person I could sit down with for a coffee or a beer and that she would understand me in the same ways that Brienne would.
Through a set of random circumstances and happenstance, I was able to make the trip to Providence, RI to attend Rhode Island Comic Con with my friend, Erica, one of the fellow JB shippers I mentioned above. When I’ve met celebrities in the past, I’ve sort of just choked. My usual talkative self becomes silent. But I’d thought long and hard for a while that if I ever got the chance to meet Gwen, there was one thing I really wanted to say to her. When it came time for me to meet her, I shook her hand and said this, “You are the only person on any screen that makes me feel comfortable in my own skin and I just wanted to say thank you for that.” When I did, Gwen took a moment to pause, look at me, and said, “Thank you. Thank you for saying that.” I could tell that meant something to her too. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to say more, but I was still so starstruck, I was impressed that I got that much out. We chatted a little more while she autographed my Tarth banner and she looked at me, grinning, and said, “We have the same hair!” Now, if there is one thing that I actually like, even love, about my appearance, it’s my hair. That was just the icing on the cake. She was so kind to everyone in line, making time to have an actual conversation with every person that came through. She even recognized me later in the day when I did the photo op with her. You can tell when someone is being genuine and when they are not. Gwen is the real deal. Meeting Gwen was incredibly affirming. I’d happily make the effort to do it again. They say you should never meet your heroes. I’m so glad I met mine.