Reigning The Internet With Rayne Fisher-Quann
Cultural critic Rayne Fisher-Quann discusses parasocial relationships, her upcoming book, and the performance of being a woman on the internet.
Hot Girl Lit is a monthly column that catalogs hot reads by hot writers.
True to the title of her newsletter, Rayne Fisher-Quann is an Internet Princess. She came into her royalty by accident when the TikToks she made for fun started to resonate with over 250 thousand strangers. Her cultural criticism outgrew the short-form video essay and she pivoted to Substack, where her newsletter swiftly gained traction—she now has over 68,000 subscribers. Her readers leave adoring comments to thank her for giving a voice to the hard-to-describe feelings that accompany being a woman in the world. Rayne is a college dropout with zero formal training as a writer, yet at age 22 she is making a living off of her essays (a dream I only thought possible in the Sex and the City universe). And she's not even a nepo baby!
I first came across Rayne Fisher-Quann not as a TikTok phenom, but as a writer. When I told her this, she took it as a compliment—she is remarkably modest, almost to a fault. She would explain something deeply profound and then add, with sincerity, "I don't know if I'm making any sense." She uses words like impetus or ubiquitous or gauche but sounds natural saying them. Reading her work is like watching a sharp young mind make sense of the world in real time. She is insightful, engaging, and has tapped into an audience that adores her. After our 50 minute phone call, I adore her, too.
Cora Lee: You have this knack for articulating things that are challenging to put into words. Is that a muscle that you’ve built up? Or have you always had an analytical mind?
Rayne Fisher-Quann: I never started writing essays on Substack thinking it would be a career for me. It was a way of excising things that I couldn’t stop thinking about. I think it can be kind of dangerous to start believing that I have any special insight, or any particularly unique way of looking at the world, but I think I’m observant of myself. I try to pay a lot of attention and care to my own emotions and the things that happen around me. That is something I feel proud of in my writing. I really try to focus on taking these little moments that I feel interested in and paying as close attention to them as I can.
CL: You’ve talked about how being a woman online is a performance–I guess being anyone online is a performance, but being a woman exacerbates things. Your internet etiquette gives you a sense of authenticity online. How do you balance reality with the illusion of social media?
RFQ: I am hyper aware of the way the internet incentivizes performance, and I’m hyper aware of my own desire to perform and to curate a persona that is idealized, even for myself. But at the same time, I do try to be authentic. That feels almost embarrassing to admit, since it’s a failed project to be authentic on the internet. I don’t think I could do a fake persona if I tried. There are a lot of elements of memoir in my work, but I keep very strict boundaries of how much of my life I share online. There is this weird tension where I feel like I’m sharing so little, but there are people who think they know everything about me. My audience in general, is super great. I feel so lucky to have the readership I have. They are the smartest and most interesting people, and I feel like I learn a lot from them. Generally, I really can’t complain at all. I have a really empathetic, clear-eyed group of people reading my work. But there are all these little moments–I’ve seen people tweet “Rayne Fisher-Quann is the perfect sad girl,” and there’s a Spotify playlist out there called “Rayne Fisher-Quann depression vibes.” It’s so weird for me, as somebody who has fought tooth and nail my whole life to conceive of myself as not a fundamentally sad person, or a damaged, broken woman. It is so strange to see people build up this version of myself that I have tried actively not to uphold.
CL: And to see it romanticized.
RFQ: Yeah, a woman is a sexualized, eroticized object. And as a woman online, anything you do is going to end up being eroticized in some way, even when you’re talking about suffering. It’s this weird trap that feels a little impossible to get away from. But also–this is how women joke about the things we’ve experienced. I don’t want to go too far in the other direction and say women can’t make jokes about being sexy and depressed.
CL: That’s our right.
RFQ: Let us have that, please, we have so little!
CL: You seem to have a really clear idea of what you don’t want to use the internet for. You really come across as a smart, well-balanced young woman with a good head on your shoulders. You know how to put your thoughts into order and say what you’re trying to say.
RFQ: Keep saying nice things to me.
CL: That’s what I’m here for! But, I’m serious, you just seem like you are headed places and you are not some internet fad that will be obsolete in a month.
RFQ: Thank you! I mean the internet is a nihilism machine. There’s such an overload of horrors, and it feels often like the only thing you can do is shut down. Almost like a rejection of meaning, which can be awesome, it’s the form of the times, and I’ve felt the pull of apathy really deeply sometimes. But the common criticism is that we have a moral impetus to try to care about what we put out into the world. And more than that, I just start to feel empty if I don’t care about what I’m doing. That’s what allows me to feel like my life has meaning, to put in the work to care, and I hope my writing is better for it.
CL: I don’t think that’s something that you can fake. I think when someone cares, it’s clear to the reader. You’ve mentioned that if you could, you would like to go offline. And now you have a book in the works–is it exciting that you will have something tangible out in the world?
RFQ: It feels like the most exciting thing in the world. I really do love the internet, and I really respect the form of blogging–the reason why I used to write in all lowercase is that I thought there was nothing more intimate in the world than how girls talked to each other on Tumblr. A book is so different from that, it is this physical thing that feels a lot less like one to one communication, but I’m excited to work in that new medium. I also love analog things. I love listening to CDs. I love to have a physical record of things. That feels like something that’s missing from the internet. Physical objects feel important to me. I love the idea of being able to put two years into an object that someone can have.
CL: There will be a material object to show for that effort. Plus, you don’t need a screen in front of you to consume it.
RFQ: Lending someone a book feels more special than sending someone a link. It makes me feel weepy to imagine someone giving my book to someone else. A fundamental part of my work are these questions of human connection––what it means and how we do it now, how I struggle for it, and how we all struggle for it.