Dear Fellow Geeks,
No one is hurting you when they wear superhero t-shirts without memorizing every title the character has appeared in. They’re expressing enthusiasm—novice enthusiasm, but enthusiasm nonetheless—for something you care deeply about and have done your damnedest to evangelize. That they don’t have the same degree of geek cred does nothing to diminish yours.
When you go after people for being less die-hard than you, you become the same people who marginalized you for being geeky. I understand how frustrating it is to see someone represent a culture in which you’re deeply invested and think, “I could have done that SO much better,” or “He or she does not fucking speak for me.” I understand this as a geek, and as a far-left liberal American, and oh, boy, do I understand it as a queer woman in geek culture.
But the problem is not the person in the spotlight. The problem is the lack of representative diversity—because you are BOTH parts of geek culture, and you BOTH have a right to represent and be represented.
I struggle with this, especially with regards to highly visible geek women who represent a type of geek-girl culture based in large part on demonstrating their attractiveness to geek men. It infuriates me that these women are seen as representative of geek girls, or as ideal geek girls; and it frustrates me to see them—and the response to them—reinforce the idea that women’s legitimacy in geek culture should be mediated by their attractiveness and perceived sexual availability.
But you know what? Theirs is still a valid perspective and interface with that culture. They are still real people. They are still real geeks. My knee-jerk reaction to, say, the Frag Dolls may be hostility and frustration, but that is my problem to navigate.
And you know what else? It is really awesome that they have found a way to make a living and a reputation doing what they love. And I think it is really important to celebrate that.
Do you know why I identify as a geek, and spend so much of my time and energy on geeky stuff? It is because these things make me really happy. I love comics. I love a lot of comics culture, or at least the parts with which I’m engaged. I love working in this industry. Space, and space travel history, and science, inspire and galvanize me. I love to play video games and tabletop games, and I really like science fiction and fantasy and good stories and also sometimes running around my apartment with a plastic sword pretending to be a superhero / knight / time lord.
I suspect you can identify with some of that.
And I also suspect that most of us didn’t get into this stuff on our own. We found it because we were lucky enough to have a friend or a parent or a sibling or a mentor or even more than one of those who knew more about it than we did, and who was patient enough to sit down and explain X-Men continuity or take us to the Air and Space museum or the comics shop or help us save up for our first gaming systems. We like to style ourselves as scrappy individualists, but most of us are here because someone gave us a hand up and invited us in.
Now we need to be those people. If we want to be the ones to define geek culture, we need to do it by becoming not gatekeepers, but mentors and role-models. We need to show that what we’ve found, what we’ve made and become, is something bigger and better than the petty fuckery that drove us away from the mainstream.
I am not saying that every geek conversation has to be completely open and beginner-friendly. I am all for high-level-only communities and conversations—but those should be recognized as specialized subgroups, not the default. If you want a place where you can talk about comics only with people who can name every manifestation of the Phoneix force in chronological order, awesome—but call it that. Don’t call it “geek culture” and then get offended when someone takes you at your word. Don’t expect the whole broad umbrella to define itself according to your narrow personal taxonomy.
Nor am I saying that we shouldn’t self-police, or that it’s not important to recognize and enforce social compact and call each other out on shittery that makes our community a worse place. That is, in fact, what I’m trying to do right now. But we need to stop playing king-of-the-mountain (Geek trivia and other explicitly-for-showing-off-your-fancy-skillz stuff is fine and awesome! See above regarding advanced geek spaces, and specialization versus default!) and jostling for status by grinding others down. All that does is ensure that geek culture will stay marginal—not because of its focus, but because it is so fucking unpleasant.
In short: We all drink from the same geek well. Don’t piss in it to prove a point.
P.S. We will shortly return to our regularly scheduled programming of mail art and astronauts.
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