A Geek by Any Other Name

I am a huge geek. I’m working on becoming a large and then a medium geek, but that is a post for another time.  See, ‘cuz I’m overweight, but I’m getting in shape so I’m getting small…er…let me start again.
I am a huge geek.  I have been all my life.  Even before I found D&D at age 10, I was the nerd in the corner reading tales of King Arthur, Ivanhoe and Scheherazade.  I loved math.  I did multiplication tables to 20×20 in my head, because I thought that was cool! (I still do; can any of you figure a bar tab with tip in your head? Didn’t think so…) I’m probably one of a handful of guys that considers the lyrics to “Modern Major General” a shopping list of knowledge (hard acrostics, check! Pretty taste for paradox, check!)  Dungeons & Dragons didn’t turn me into a geek, it simply gave my geekdom a focus and a place from which to grow.
And grow it did. As the title of my page indicates, I was in to it all; movies, literature, music, gaming…there was nothing geeky I wouldn’t try out, nothing that didn’t excite me about our nerdy little subculture.  To put it in medical terms I was a General Practitioner of dorkiness, and I was happy to hang my geek shingle anywhere.  But then I noticed something.  More and more I was running into the Specialists; people whose geekdom ran deep instead of wide.
I also noticed that, while I had no problem with them (I like talking to experts any chance I get), the Specialists certainly had a problem with me.  More and more I ran up against dorks who felt I didn’t measure up to their estimation of geekitude.  Since I could easily be outclassed when discussing their specific area of expertise, obviously my geekiness was just a pose, a clever ruse designed to let me fit in.
I was not a true geek.
Complete horseshit, of course, I know that now.  I don’t want to brag, but I have enough geek cred to get two degrees and rock the Master’s thesis.  But back then it stung.  I was somehow not geeky enough to belong to the culture that had first taken me in and given me my first taste of inclusion.  I don’t want to pull out the psych terminology, but it sucked hard! And to make it worse I was getting this exclusionary crap from people that really had no excuse;they knew, as I did, what it felt like to be bullied because of our hobby.
That is why, when I heard about all the geek rage over Miss USA claiming to be a geek, I felt that familiar anger and sadness.  Is this seriously the point we are still at?  Yes, what was once marginal and secret is now being thrust into the mainstream, and that will be scary for many of us.  For a long time it was never really that “safe” for us geeks to be out there in the spotlight. Hell, I was playing D&D right smack in the time where folks wanted to burn my hobby to the ground (not hyperbole).  I know that it can be frightening to let something you have felt a need to protect for so long, out into the public’s scrutiny.
But, guys and dolls, it has been happening for a while.  Like it or not, geek is popular and it looks like it will stay that way to one degree or another.  There are no longer “ugly” people and “beautiful” people on opposite sides of our hobby.  There are just people, trying to enjoy something that I believe is worth enjoying.  We have to release that fear that may have once kept us safe, and embrace the opportunity to revel freely in our geekdom.
My dorkiness in general, and my gaming in particular, has afforded me the chance to spend varying amounts of time being brave, noble, stalwart…a hero, if only for as long as the dice were rolling.  And I would be lying if I said that didn’t affect me outside of the game, even if all it did was make me aware of how far I have yet to go in living those virtues.  How could I not want others to have that same experience?  Why would I want to exclude anyone?  I mean, sheer pragmatism here: there are billions of people on this planet.  Would it not be in every geek’s interest to have more of the population sharing in the ideals our hobby generally embodies?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could take our subculture of heroism, and turn it into a culture instead?  I think that would be frakking awesome.
Okay, I’ve rambled on long enough.  All of the preceding is meant to say this: if you are a geek, a dork, a nerd…then you are my brother or sister or hermaphroditic sibling. Period.  You are welcome on my blog, at my gaming table or in my secret screening of “Smurfs 2: Gargamel Boogaloo” anytime.  Just call first so I know how much Coke Zero to stock…
There a few other people that have written about this topic in the past while, and I would like to point you towards them:
First up is @GeekyJessica, with a post that is much more succinct than mine would ever try to be.  And if you haven’t seen her work on “Awkward Embraces”, treat yourself to some rom-com shorts aimed directly at the heart of nerds everywhere.
Next is Nerdy Bird over at “Has Boobs, Reads Comics”.  Her post has a bit more of the background on the whole Miss USA BS, as well as packing quite a punch for the exclusionarily inclined.  If her words make you cry, well, they were probably supposed to.
Lastly, for a somewhat dissenting/apologist opinion, head over to Josh Benton’s blog.  I like how he says what he says, while agreeing with almost none of it.
So what do you figure about all this, my geeklings?  Open your thoughts to me…
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6 thoughts on “A Geek by Any Other Name

  1. I enjoyed reading your post, and as with GeekyJessica's offering, you say a lot of things I agree with.

    That said, I do take a bit of umbrage at the term apologist. It's true in a literal sense, of course; I take a stance and argue for said stance. I suspect I object to some of the negative connotations that have accrued to the term as much as anything else.

    I don't support exclusiveness or ostracizing behavior. I've faced it both from within and without geek circles. I've used my blog to call geeks out for bad behavior more than once. I would certainly never agree that it's acceptable to presume someone isn't able to be a geek because of their appearance, or that we should automatically leap to the conclusion that someone is simply pandering to the geek community (though I have seen it happen).

    I do, however, stand by my concerns that the mainstreaming of geek culture is not something to be greeted with unmitigated joy. Sure, more geeks is a good thing; people who are into geeky things because geek is the new corporate cool… not so much. While I do have some feeling that “manufactured geekhood” somehow impinges on my own identity as a geek, feelings I probably shouldn't have but freely admit to since part of my project as a philosopher is an unflinching self reflection, the lion's share of my concern in that respect relates to how it affects the identities of those who adopt it.

    Authentic selfhood is an important issue to me as a person, and to my work. Unfortunately, it's hard to do it justice within the space of a blog post (especially when I try and cap myself at 1,000 words), or in the comments of someone else's blog.

    I'm all for following one's bliss. I am perfectly willing to embrace new geeks, even when I have no particular interest in what their personal geek bliss is. I'm perfectly willing to accept the good that comes with the mainstreaming of geek culture; conversely, I'm also going to stay alert to the bad, particularly when I have concerns that the bad in this case could be of a kind that I consider very bad.

    Anyway, I'll quit nattering, and simply thank you for your enjoyable post.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Josh, I appreciate you coming over to check out my post.

    I can understand that many geeks will not greet this trend with unmitigated joy. But I happen to think that that attitude will do us more harm than good, in the long run. And while I agree with you that authentic selfhood is a worthy pursuit, I think that one stop on that journey has to be the understanding that your authenticity in no way limits or defines mine.

    We cannot be contaminated or diminished by “faux geeks”; I won't be less of a geek just because someone else fakes an interest in Star Trek. But I agree with Jessica's point, that geek posers have already taken that first step toward authentic geekdom simply by exposing themselves to it. And I think it is how we respond to those first steps that will determine how our subculture continues to be viewed.

    Thanks again for the comments, Josh; I'm enjoying the conversation. Anyone else?

  3. Warning: novel ahead!!

    While I'm not the hugest geek, I am a generalist one, and have been since I was 4 years old and fell in love with Star Wars at first viewing. I love anything that can even vaguely be linked to history, read fantasy obsessively as a kid, and need my daily fix of webcomics the way others need coffee. I also swing dance weekly and belong to Girl Geeks Edmonton. I was my high school’s props mistress (and routinely fought with my TDs, stage managers & directors over the idea that ‘anything that looks vintage will work’). I was a copy editor and news writer for the University paper. And yes, unless you shut me up forcibly, I can and WILL sing every line to Dr Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, despite my atrocious lack of skills.

    That said, I'm also obsessed with vintage clothes, love shopping and clubbing (techno music, huzzah!) and am always playing with makeup. I love yoga and any type of dancing and rock climbing and actually know what’s happening when I watch a hockey game.

    I wasn't considered attractive as a teen; but once (some) men grew up enough to appreciate brains, goofiness & real curves in the same package I had no problems in attracting the opposite sex.

    I never thought of any of these activities (or my curves) as exclusive: Some are more 'mainstream' than others, but they're all things I love and I'm happy to be referred to as a geek over (or not). The idea that I could lose or have my 'geekiness' just because I turned out to be attractive, learnt how to socialize and spend less time than I used to curled up with a Star Wars book, disgusts me.

    I earned my 'geek cred' the really hard way – through being ostracized and beaten as a kid. Not because I WAS a geek, but because I didn't fit in due to my looks, accent and hearing loss. In other words, I had absolutely no one to indoctrinate me into my geek tendencies – I was too busy hiding for even the geeks to realize I was one. Yes, the fact I loved certain (nerdy) activities lead me into friendships with certain people, but those activities were already part of my life. In fact, other geeks are probably who are most responsible for my SOCIAL tendencies, not my loner ones. In other words: If I’m too sociable and attractive for you now, geeks, well, that’s your own fucking fault.

    Because people get more tolerant as they get older – the fact I grew curves at 10 no longer sets me apart, my accent is now deemed sexy & cool, and people would rather examine my hearing aids then mock them (which, really, is a bit weird)- both nerds and ‘mainstreamers’ alike accept me now. I could keep carrying a chip on my shoulder my entire life and hate on everyone (including the nerds) for what they put me through – or, I could grow up. I could accept that people change, that getting older and more tolerant means wanting to try new things, or ask questions about them, and encourage people to go and try out dorky, nerdy or geeky things.

    In doing so, I could introduce people to fabulous things, promote and draw attention (and, in some cases, funding) to what I love, encourage tolerance for geekdom and maybe have that parlay into some kids in the future not being bullied for loving Star Wars.

    In short, I’m using my geeky powers for good, not evil. And I encourage the other nerds and geeks out there to grow up and do the same. It’s time to forgive and let everyone in on the awesome stuff they’ve been missing. Some will become nerds, some won’t. But it really won’t hurt us to prove that we’re the bigger people when it comes to tolerance.

  4. 1 more thing: I really, really object to the underlying idea of the questioning of Miss USA, which is that women can't be attractive and brainy.

    We are not objects: we're human. Treat us and speak of us (and to us) as equals, or geeks are no better than the idiots they rail against.

    Stop helping to perpetuate misogyny, gender stereotypes and subjectification by questioning a woman's ability to be more than just one thing successfully.

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