Stop making geek culture be about how you were bullied

Update: More thoughts here.

To my mind, being a geek is a lot like being gay or being atheist.  These are things that can be completely invisible to an outsider.  No one in high school knew I went home and wrote Hercules fanfiction.  No one knew the fathomless depths of my geekery.

Greta Christina has a wonderful post about how, as being gay has become more normal, the people who are out are also becoming more normal.  Normal, to most outcast’s minds, is a bad thing.  If there’s one thing you can comfort yourself with when you’re an outsider, it’s the feeling that you’re better than the people who are, as you see it, “insiders”.  Greta says the same thing is going to happen with atheists — we’re going to stop being statistically smart and amazing on average, and start being just sort of average.  Because what we’re working towards is acceptance, and when coming out isn’t difficult, more people come out — no bravery required, no willful pride necessary, any and all may apply.

I think that this is the same as what has happened with geek culture, and it has pissed off a lot of old geeks.  They feel that new geeks have not paid their dues to be able to call themselves that.  You weren’t bullied?  Well, then you’re not a *real* geek.  I used the term “hipster geek” in my previous post, which I basically took from John Scalzi, and while that expresses the attitude accurately in some ways, it doesn’t explain the why.

Being a geek in high school for most people is hard.  It is as hard in some places as being out and gay.  And unlike being gay, there is no nerd-jock alliance in high school.  There’s no Geek Student Alliance.  When, to be who you are, you have had to go through hell, it can be very irritating that there are people who didn’t go through hell and claim to be the same as you.

“Oh, you grew up in San Francisco with hippie parents who drove you and your same-sex partner to the movies before you could drive, well I grew up in the Deep South where coming out meant I was beaten up every day, therefore you don’t really know what it’s like to be gay.”

We all want to be understood and when you’re tortured, you want to have gotten something from it.  If you’re tortured and it doesn’t mean anything, that’s so much worse than if your torture earns you something, some sort of credibility, some part of a special club of people who overcame.  But the reality is, being bullied doesn’t earn you anything.  It doesn’t make you a better person, it doesn’t make you higher ranked in the world of geekdom, gayness, or atheism, and it doesn’t even always give you insight into the world, though sometimes it can.  Being bullied is simply a horrible thing that happens to people.

Someone calling themselves “…” responded to my previous post about who gets to be a geek and said the following things:

Some of us paid our dues is what I’m saying. “sexism in geekdom”? When I was growing up, all – and I mean all – girls at my school would have rather been sent to Saudi Arabia than be called geeks.

And that, in a nutshell, is why geek culture is male dominated.

Anyway, my point was that there are some of us who paid our dues in that area. It’s not about being “hipster”, it’s about a certain annoyance that comes from people who would have treated you like you were carrying a radioactive strain of leprosy back in the day now finding it’s cool to like LotR. It’s irritating to say the least.

I’m fully aware that that tiny handful of geek girls who existed – and they were a tiny handful, don’t even pretend otherwise – had as rough a time as the rest of us. But I find this rapid retroactive identification with geekdom… suspicious. Yes, it’s quite astonishing how many people were geeks back then nowadays. It’s a wonder that there was any other kind of person around in the schools at all… It’s a bit like the Jewish population explosion in vichy France, isn’t it?

That’s true, but it is also true that girls were some of the most viciously anti-geek ones, and it is true that many of the blows we soaked up was because the guys in question wanted to impress the pretty girls, who were not above egging that sort of thing on.

There’s another point; yes, it sucks that girls got ostracised at times by other geeks, but being a geek meant you got ostracised by definition. And geek fratricide is hardly uknown. If you objected to one group, why didn’t you form your own? That’s what I did, and let me tell you, I didn’t get any approval or help. You talk about the community… back then there wasn’t a community. There was just what you and the tiny handful like you could put together. You scraped it together as best you could, and only for one reason, because you loved it, and if you couldn’t – tough. People would be disgusted that you even tried, let alone that you were upset when it didn’t work.

I am simply repeating, for the last time now, that there are very good reasons why geekdom is traditionally clannish and insular, and it might be nice to see that reflected. You know, just for accuracy and politeness sakes.

You read this and you can see, he is pissed off. Leaving aside his troubling loathing of women because of how he perceived the “pretty girls” in high school, he is pissed off that he had to work so damn hard at something that other people aren’t having to work hard at.  He is pissed off that some girls made fun of him in high school and made him feel bad about himself and that some girls now claim that they are geeks too.  Maybe even some of those same girls!

I think this attitude is incredibly fucked up.  I think it’s time to let go of the anger.

Most people feel like outcasts in high school, even those people the rest of us thought were cool. What the commenter is doing, and what a lot of geek guys are doing, is creating definitions of what is cool enough for them to accept you.  You have to pass their “geek” test.  As a geek, I find this border patrolling deeply embarrassing.

As it happens, when I was in high school, most of the self-described geeks I knew were girls. Monty Python club? Mostly girls. Yearbook, newspaper, lit mag, math team, academic decathlon, religion club… all of these were dominated by girls. I don’t interpret that to mean that boys are less legitimately geeky.

Was I bullied?  Sure.  At home moreso than by my peers, but both.  I was told I would always be unhappy, that I would never find a boy who would date me, that “guys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses”, that I was too fat even for nerds to want to date, that if I didn’t drink I wasn’t a real teenager, that playing games with my friends was going to make me die a virgin, that I would marry the first boy that would have me out of desperation, that not going to the football games or pep rallies signified a deeply troubled mind, that hanging out with my teachers instead of my fellow students was bad.

And by boys who were geeks I was told that I was too intimidating, that a girl who was better at them than a game was a problem, that a girl who knew more about movies than them was cool but not really, that I could kick their ass on Star Wars trivia was threatening.

And if a kid today can go through high school watching movies and writing fanfiction and having monty python club and participating in acadec and reading comics and no one thinks less of them for it: AWESOME. If everyone, including Joe Peacock’s “6 of 9s”, wants to embrace their inner weirdness and smartness and they can do that without it being embarrassing, fuck yeah! That’s amazing! I wish I had been so lucky, and maybe me pushing the boundaries a little helped them. Maybe I made the world a little bit better for people who like the same things I like!  Maybe the world sucks a little less now than it did then.  Or maybe now I am trying to make the bullying meaningful.

Being a geek shouldn’t be about a persecution complex.  It shouldn’t be about being better than other people.  It shouldn’t be about bullying people who want to be your friend now because of what you think they may have been like in high school.  It should be about embracing people for being themselves and being grateful that they can be themselves when they are with you.

Everyone is a geek, even the hot chicks

You simply must go read this piece from John Scalzi, it is too brilliant. Some jerk on CNN posted about how the attractive women who just go to Comic Con to dress in revealing cosplay outfits aren’t real geeks and are only there to get the attention. John Scalzi has an appropriate response, which was more intelligent than my initial, “Fuck that noise.”

Who gets to be a geek?

Anyone who wants to be, any way they want to be one.

Geekdom is a nation with open borders. There are many affiliations and many doors into it. There are lit geeks, media geeks, comics geeks, anime and manga geeks. There are LARPers, cosplayers, furries, filkers, crafters, gamers and tabletoppers. There are goths and horror geeks and steampunkers and academics. There are nerd rockers and writers and artists and actors and fans. Some people love only one thing. Some people flit between fandoms. Some people are positively poly in their geek enthusiasms. Some people have been in geekdom since before they knew they were geeks. Some people are n00bs, trying out an aspect of geekdom to see if it fits. If it does, great. If it doesn’t then at least they tried it.

Many people believe geekdom is defined by a love of a thing, but I think — and my experience of geekdom bears on this thinking — that the true sign of a geek is a delight in sharing a thing. It’s the major difference between a geek and a hipster, you know: When a hipster sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “Oh, crap, now the wrong people like the thing I love.” When a geek sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “ZOMG YOU LOVE WHAT I LOVE COME WITH ME AND LET US LOVE IT TOGETHER.”

Any jerk can love a thing. It’s the sharing that makes geekdom awesome.

I am a geek, though I used to identify a lot more with that title than I do now.  A lot of the reason behind that is that I often felt excluded, like I had to prove my geekiness more because I was female and don’t look like one of the comic book nerds in The Simpsons.  Like I had to prove my geekiness at all.  I don’t like Magic, OK, I’m not into your card games, isn’t that fine?  Can’t I just really like to talk about Harry Potter and watch movies and read graphic novels.  Seriously, someone talk to me about Harry Potter, I can go for days.  Not even joking.  Let me link you to my old fanfiction — LOL nope.

Do I have to know how to tap mana and build roads in Settlers of Catan and know who the Cylons are?  Cuz I don’t really know any of that stuff, I probably just said all that wrong.  And I absolutely hate playing RPGs like D&D because other people are so damn slow at making decisions.  KILL ME NOW.

I’m still a geek though.  I’ve spoken at Comic Con, so I’m legit.

Geek culture is male dominated, and that’s fine, but it often means that it’s less than perfectly female friendly.  And there is a general sense of “oppression from being different” that many geeks have, a sense that normal people are bad.  Normal people are preppy or cheerleaders or cool and they’re all mean to geeks.  But somehow a lot of geeky stuff is mainstream now, and instead of being all HOLY HELL LOOK AT ALL THIS AWESOMENESS some of the “hipster geeks” are all like “well I was a geek before it was cool”.  OH BLOW ME.  Let us all be people who embrace weird shit and share our passions with one another!  Even the cheerleaders who like Twilight and the jocks who like Game of Thrones.

More awesomeness from Scalzi in the comments:

As with any culture, its aspirations are sometimes confounded by the real live people in it.

Brad R. Torgersen: “I think Joe Peacock is simply expressing despair over the fact that to be geek is now chic.”

If only he could have done it in a manner less antagonistically sexist.

Lila: “I’m curious: do people ever accuse a male of just pretending to be a geek for attention?”

I have yet to hear of such a construction.

I’m serious. I want to give this man a “fighting sexism in geekdom because it’s the right thing to do” medal.  Is that a thing?  Can it be a thing?