How Rory and Jess from 'Gilmore Girls' helped me find my people
When I was sixteen years old, in the early months of 2004, I started posting on a message board thread called Literatis, one dedicated to fans of the relationship between Rory Gilmore and Jess Mariano, characters, of course, from the TV show Gilmore Girls.
Gilmore Girls was in the middle of its fourth season at the time, and Jess, played by Milo Ventimiglia, hadn’t even been a regular on the show since the end of season three, although he’d recently made a couple of guest appearances. Despite the fact that the relationship between the two of them seemed like ancient history, the girls (and they were almost universally girls) who posted in the Literatis thread were more active than any other shippers on the Stars-Hollow.org message board. Every 200 posts they had to start a new thread, and they were already well-past thread 100 when I showed up, star-struck by the usernames of familiar fanfiction.net writers, that winter.
Despite the fact that every Lit Thread started with a reminder not to “spam” the message board, or go off topic, the thread read more like a collective diary than a single-topic forum. Yes, there was plenty of discussion of Gilmore Girls (mostly angry discussion…we were all rather frustrated with fourth season developments, and we missed Jess almost without reason), and of our ship, but alongside that was a chronicling of our daily lives. When I flip back through old saved threads now the back-and-forth conversation stretches from the thrilling to the mundane–here I am on December 23, 2004, announcing in huge letters that I’ve been accepted to my first-choice college, there I am on June 23, 2004, sharing a story about my afternoon dentist appointment–and it touches on everything.
We talked about our families and friends, about our schools and jobs. The Lits ranged in age from 12 to 25 back then, and we lived all over the world, but on the internet our lives didn’t look so different. I was a self-conscious teenager, hardly unusual, but online I could present my best self. The stuff I was insecure about, my appearance or my tendency towards excessive chattiness or any general awkwardness, wasn’t so bad when filtered through the internet. No one had to know about my bad skin or fluffy hair (this was a time before Facebook, when not everyone had a digital camera, let alone a smart phone), I could direct my chattiness into long message board posts, and then edit them for awkwardness. And as I got to know the girls on the Lit Thread better, as they became more than just familiar usernames but actual friends, the insecurities drifted away. I started to feel like they knew me better than some of the people who saw me every day.
The female gaze was alive and well on the Lit Thread. We dissected Milo Ventimiglia’s physicality like we were studying for a test on the subject; discussions about the dead nerve endings in his bottom lip and the crooked smile they produced could go on for hours. We ranked all of his sexiest moments on Gilmore Girls and then Becka compiled them into a fanvideo set to “L-O-V-E.” We could be cruel about Rory Gilmore in ways that I shudder to re-read now (oh to travel in time and give myself a much-needed lecture on slut shaming…and to prevent the terrible haircut I got the day before I left for college).
But more important than our ogling of Milo was our support of each other. Having friends all over the world meant there was almost always someone awake and around on AOL Instant Messenger to talk you through something, or to listen to you vent, or to throw snippets at you of whatever fanfic they were working on, to distract you or just to entertain you. Leigh would sometimes call me, late at night, and read whatever she was writing aloud to me. Elise and I had long, middle-of-the-night conversations our Freshman year of college; I still remember sitting on the front porch of my dorm one Sunday morning, watching the sunrise while she told me about a boy she’d met at a party.
Threads would often develop into mutual appreciation societies. We were even more likely to start talking about how much we loved each other than about how much we loved Jess Mariano. Milestone threads (number 200, for example, and number 228 for reasons that only mean something if you’re a Lit) were excuses for sappy declarations and gift-giving, whether that was fanfic or fan art or fan videos. When Milo Ventimiglia returned to the show for an episode in early season 6 we used it as an excuse to start an AIM chat–a “Lit!Chat”–that we kept going for over 24 hours. A conversation that moved so quickly that it was difficult to even keep up.
I learned how to use Paint Shop Pro and then Photoshop so that I could make signature banners and later LiveJournal icons for myself and as gifts for my friends, and for that same reason I taught myself how to edit fanvideos in Windows Movie Maker. I became a better writer writing Literati fanfiction to share. A better editor by beta-ing my friends’ work. I like to believe that I became a better friend by supporting these girls to whom I could only offer an ear and virtual *hugs.*
Gradually our relationships shifted away from Stars-Hollow.org. Gilmore Girls ended, our interests diverged, and message boards fell out of style in fandom. Soon we were interacting far more on LiveJournal, and making new friends in other fandom communities. A few years later we mostly left LJ behind for Twitter and Tumblr, or in some cases started spending less time online. Some of us stayed closer than others, some fell out of touch entirely. Many of us became little more than Facebook friends.
And some of us met in person! The first time I met a fellow Lit, face-to-face, was September of 2005, when Leigh drove from Baltimore out to my college on the Eastern Shore, picked me up, and brought me back so that we could go see Serenity on opening night (and then again the next night). Since then I’ve met Ari and Christie, in a coffee shop on the Upper West Side, and Bex in Cardiff, Wales, and then London, and then Washington, DC. Last summer I had brunch with Lorena and her husband, visiting from Colombia, and a few months before that I ran into Elise and her fiancé outside the premiere of the Veronica Mars movie. And it’s not just me. Ari and Becka, Becka and Julia, Bex and Reese…Lits have met up all over the place.
The last post in the final Lit Thread (number 302!), was in February of 2009. Most of that thread is a scattered discussion of how much we’ve all lost interest in Milo Ventimiglia in the wake of his relationship with the much younger Hayden Panettiere (younger than most of us, even!). And then, at the end, a flurry of posts after we learned the board was closing, messages of affection and nostalgia and gratitude. A goodbye to each other and to the place where we met.
But that’s not the end of this story.
When I knew I was going to write this essay I sent out a Facebook message to the 20 Lits I was still in touch with. I wanted to know if anyone had saved old threads when the board went down. And something magical happened. Within minutes girls started replying, to say hello, or “I miss you guys.” Soon there were 32 of us on the Facebook message. Lydia, it turned out, had saved about 150 threads, and started sending them out to anyone who wanted them. Soon we were all digging through old discs and external hard drives and PhotoBucket accounts, and archive.org, uploading old fanvideos to Dropbox, and reading through the threads, and our old fanfiction. Reminiscing.
We were talking about our lives now, too. About our friends and family, our relationships, our jobs and hobbies and the TV we watch now (mostly The Flash, it turns out), and a lot (A LOT) about Chris Evans. We talked non-stop for an entire weekend. And we’ve talked for several weeks since, all of us dipping in and out as our schedules allow. The conversation has slowed, but it hasn’t gone away; the message, titled “Lit!Chat” after our old AIM chatrooms, is a warm place to go on lunch breaks and bus rides, to visit after work, or while waiting in line to see Age of Ultron. Like Cheers, the Lit!Chat is a place where everybody knows your name, even if that name is an in-joke, a nickname your friends started using 11 years ago and never stopped.
Of course, we continue to talk about Gilmore Girls, the show that first brought us together all those years ago. Some Lits never finished the series, or watched only bits of the final seasons. Some Lits watched to the very end. We talk about how our relationships with the show have and have not changed since it went off the air, how for some, the frustration with storylines none of us liked is still present, and for some it’s faded away, just a memory of past anger.
Personally, I could never hate Gilmore Girls, even if I remember entire seasons with distaste. The show defined so much of who I was in high school, and how I saw myself, and so much of who I wanted to be. But the show also brought these girls—these women, we’re all actual adults now, hard as that is to believe—into my life, and I wouldn’t give up my time with the Lit Thread for anything.