In past Fandom Flames, I’ve made reference to rarepairs, and how shipping one, or two, or twenty, can make you feel out of touch with modern-day fandom. Of course, the rarepair has always been there in fandom; dating back to the days when we all loved Harry Potter, people openly wondered all the way back in 2005 if we should be giving ships like Severus Snape/Lucius Malfoy the time of day. There’s an essay, “Slash is where you find it,” archived back in 2001, which argues that watching things with slash goggles on is more enjoyable than with them off and that in turn, doing that opens your eyes up to things you couldn’t have possibly imagined.

Still, there are a few consequences to the freedom of truly not giving a crap of what’s popular brings. For one, if you’re a fan creator, your works, no matter how beautiful or poetic, will get ignored over the more popular ships. I’ve experienced this personally: I’ve seen maybe ten or twenty notes tops on Tumblr for gifsets of ships unknown to most and reviled by the few who recognize it. A friend of mine recently posted a beautiful fic for a rare-rarepair in a pretty welcoming fandom (after creating the ship tag on Archive of Our Own) and while they didn’t get ignored, they didn’t get noticed, either.

Admittedly, rarepair shippers rarely attract an extreme amount of ire, like what goes on in the pro/anti-shipper discussion. We fly under the radar, so to speak. For those curious what the pro/anti divide is: well, it’s complicated. It usually involves big-name ships, and whether or not they’re problematic. This is a simplistic explanation, but the whole thing is complicated, both morally and psychologically. Basically, anti-shippers have the point of view that ships have real-life consequences, like child sexual abuse and abuse in general. Therefore, certain ships should not sail, no matter what. Pro-shippers tend to argue that ships are fiction, and therefore, they’re not hurting anyone. The answer is really more in between the two camps, but nothing on the Internet is ever nuanced. Rarepair shippers don’t get noticed by either of these groups because no one’s looking for them — except for the people who are.

If you’re the type to ship a rarepair, chances are you like punishment, because there’s not much out there and you have to make content yourself. I’ve made fics, gifsets, playlists, vids and convinced others to make fan art and join my ship, and the latter took about a year before anyone responded in earnest to the shenanigans I was up to. I got a few shout-downs by people who don’t like the idea of shipping a hero and a villain but, well. I don’t care.

Being a rarepair shipper takes you on a long, long journey, where you only get satisfaction from yourself and a few others. That’s not always true — some rarepairs wrack up the numbers — but for the most part, with Tumblr’s poor tagging and search function and Twitter’s (for the most part) lack of anonymity, people aren’t likely to be out and about when it comes to the tinier ships. Sometimes, there’s a reason they’re tiny; the aforementioned villain/hero ship, for one, causes controversy and gets in the way of a popular femslash ship. This comic by w1zrad-art exemplifies the process, and how you never really get to hundreds of people shipping the discovery you made — you get maybe three or four or five, tops.

But it’s worth it, in a strange way. There’s no notoriety in it, just the knowledge that you have something very few other people have. And there’s a joy to be found in small, even tiny communities, where big communities and ships can have so much drama and trauma. Rarepair shipping is an experience in and of itself, outside of fandom norms, and it’s one well worth trying out.