Most of the internet doesn’t know me personally, so let me begin this post with some information about the kind of person you’re dealing with here in this little blog.
I am a nerd. A HUGE nerd.
Nerds are people who don’t just like things, they fall madly in love with them. They are passionate about the things they dig and have no problem sharing that passion with anyone who will listen (and even some people who won’t if they’ll just stand still for a minute). Nerds just LOVE THINGS. That’s what we do.
I am what could best be categorized as your standard pop culture nerd. I’ve been obsessed with Batman since I was 3. I was the only little girl at my school who read comic books. My first crush was Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation (don’t you DARE judge me). I’m a Whovian. I’m a Browncoat. I still daydream about being Buffy Summers sometimes. I know way more about Monty Python than any one person probably should. I love horror movies, both good and bad. I could go on, but if that isn’t enough evidence of the kind of chick I am I’m not sure what else I could share that might clear it up.
There are a great many people out there who have serious misconceptions about the nature of nerdiness. In my experience, the most problematic of these misconceptions is caused when people have a very narrow view of what being a nerd means. I’m not talking about family & friends who don’t understand nerdy passion for certain things. I’m talking about people who are nerds & feel that they get to decide who out there is & is not “nerdy enough” to use the title. I have a couple of stories about times when I’ve been called out by those kind of nerds myself.
When I first started graduate school, I went to my first “nerd-con” at a hotel in Roanoke, VA. I went with the guy I was dating at the time, who was always an elitist about nerd matters. Whenever I would refer to myself as a nerd, he would respond with comments like “Yeah, how many D&D characters have you made, Allison?, “How many of your gaming systems do you still own, Allison?”, and/or “How many comic books do you still read, ALLISON?”
Yes, I know. He WAS indeed a diamond studded asshole of the highest pedigree. Very astute of you to notice.
So I went to this con with him & 2 of his friends &, even though I found it a bit strange in places, I loved it. I loved all the games & toys. I loved the fact there was a dude there randomly selling swords & battle axes to the revelers. I loved seeing all the cosplayers out & about, caring not a jot about the other hotel guests who were clearly confused by them. I even loved the hippies & belly dancers in attendance, although I couldn’t work out exactly why they were there for the life of me. It was a fantastic day right up until the end when Captain Asshole decided to open his big, dumb mouth.
You see, I was in a sorority in college. I was not a “sororstitute” nor was a “sorority girl”. I was a cool chick who happened to join a greek organization because she loved the women in it & what the group was about. On the day of the con, I wore a set of my sorority letters. I didn’t think of this as a problem, because I didn’t think about my choice of outfit that day at all. I just wore what I thought would be comfortable. As we were leaving the event, Cap’n let me know that, apparently, my outfit was a nerd fashion faux pas. While I was telling him about all the things I liked about the con & how much I’d like to go to another one, he laughed & said “Well you’re not allowed to wear your sorority girl stuff if I take you to another one because you looked completely out of place. It was ridiculous.”
In a room full of belly dancers, storm troopers, & starfleet cadets, who knew the girl in a t-shirt & jeans would qualify as the ridiculous looking one? Long story short, Cap totally killed my joy about my first convention. And, because he was my first serious boyfriend after college, I let him. I didn’t have the confidence yet to put him in his place for being mean to me, so I let him be a jerk & limped along with him for a few more months before our relationship died a slow death.
My second story happened just a few months ago. I was at a bar, talking to a couple of people about video games. Now, I consider myself a bit of a gamer, but I am in no way hardcore. I play the games I like when I have the time. That’s it. But, I do really love gaming & I know a lot about it. As I was rattling on, a random guy at the bar looked at me, chuckled derisively to himself, & shook his head. He then said (without being a part of the prior conversation in any way) “It’s cute that you like video games, but everyone knows that women are terrible at them. The concept of a gamer girl is a fucking joke.”
…oh EVERYONE knows that do they?
I proceeded to tell dude that I have had a controller of some kind in my hand since I was 3. That’s 26 years of my life that I’ve been gaming. And while I don’t play C.O.D (can’t play first person shooters at all, they make me too dizzy), Starcraft, or World of Warcraft (actually used to play it with Captain Asshole though), that’s a hell of a long time for me to be playing video games & not qualify as a gamer.
I also challenged him to play me at Street Fighter, Tekken, Soul Caliber, or Mortal Kombat. He could pick the game & the place. Any day that he felt like getting his ass kicked by a terrible joke of a gamer girl, say the word I’d be happy to assist him. Needless to say, he didn’t take me up on the offer. He just rolled his eyes & returned to drinking beer & being generally horrible at life.
These are just 2 examples of how this weird, completely unnecessary elitism has somehow developed within the nerd nation. It’s a phenomenon that baffles me, because I cannot remember one time in my life where I have compared someone against my nerd street cred. I’m always just thrilled to death to find someone else who gets why I love something so much.
See growing up, I had to keep a lot of the nerdy things I loved quiet. I got teased by other little girls for playing Nintendo in kindergarten because “only boys play video games”. In later years I got made fun of for reading comic books, watching Batman: The Animated Series, & reading R.L. Stine books for the exact same reason. I even got teased by a few women in my sorority for playing video games when I was in college. It took me just getting to a point where I just didn’t give a damn about what other people thought to let my nerd flag fly proudly. I went through a lot of grief for the things I loved, but as soon as I made being me a full time job, all that noise just didn’t matter anymore.
I think that experience is similar for a lot of nerdy folks. Growing up tends to fall on the the more awful end of the spectrum, but when you’re an adult you find out that the people who gave you a hard time don’t matter & never did. You also learn that there are a lot more people out there that are into the things you love than you ever imagined. And meeting those people is completely awesome about 99.9% of the time. Ever see two people who’ve just met learn that they both love Doctor Who? The moment between those people is one of pure JOY. There’s an immediate understanding & shared history between them, even if their day to day lives & life experiences could not be more different.
This is why I have a problem with people who think they get to decide who is or isn’t nerdy enough to qualify for the title. Everyone who grew up with nerdy interests was beaten up or harassed for it in some way. Some bigger or meaner kid was forever telling you that you were a weirdo & not cool enough for one reason or another, which almost always hurt your feelings. Yet, somehow, there are people out there like bar guy & Captain Asshole who think they are entitled to say who is & isn’t nerdy enough to come to the party. And they usually make the distinctions on profoundly stupid criteria, like not knowing as much as they do about a particular TV show or not owning a certain movie on DVD. That just doesn’t wash with me.
There’s also a sadly sexist edge to their judgements as well. I’m not just a nerd, because no worthwhile human being is just one thing all the time. I’m also a woman who is way into clothes & makeup & shoes. On any given day, my style tends to vary from chic tomboy to reincarnated pin up girl. Basically, I dig a lot of girly things. Because of this, I have been told by people more times than I can count that they’re surprised I like certain things because I “don’t look like I would”. Whenever I’ve been in a comic book or game store, I get stared at by both male & female store regulars. The men usually look at me like I must be lost &/or occasionally check me out. The women tend to glare at me. The conclusion I’ve come to is that I don’t look enough like a “nerd girl” to not get that kind of static. I don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to look like to qualify for that label, but the reactions I’ve gotten over the years have let me know that I definitely don’t.
My generally feeling towards people of all persuasions has always been that as long as you’re nice, you’re welcome to sit at my lunch table. If I can geek out with you about certain things too, that’s a bonus. I don’t care if you just started watching The Doctor or have seen every episode they’ve ever made, I’m just happy to ramble on about how great he is with you. This happiness doesn’t change if you look like Sheldon Cooper or look like Mal Reynolds, because I don’t care. You can look like your stereotypical lifelong indoor kid or a macho man of the highest order. Doesn’t matter, because again, no one is just one side of their identity all the time. I know this philosophy is shared by the vast majority of nerds out there. I know that 99.9% of them just love sharing the things they adore with like minded people & never once think of it as a competition. I just hope it catches on with the remaining .01% someday as well, because defending my nerd status has become a bore.