Nerdfighters, Geeks, and Self-Identification: Or, How I wish I could be a part of that

When I was in elementary school, I went to Get Connected! Camp with the girls’ club I was involved in at my church. I took along two books: Sassinak, by Anne McCaffery and Elizabeth Moon and, perhaps, something by Mercedes Lackey or Piers Anthony. (I must have been reading Sassinak, because I remember it being there very clearly, while the other is a wee bit hazy.) By this point, of course, I was aware that kids don’t read. I was even aware that kids who don’t read find kids who do read suspicious. Weird. That week, spent living in a cabin with 10 other girls, eating in a cafeteria with plastic cups, and signing purity pledges around campfires, was the first time kids who don’t read succeeded in making me cry.

It was so simple. This is what happened: a couple days of razzing. Snide laughter. And then, my books disappeared. Gone from the corner of my bunk. I railed and demanded. I attempted the “This isn’t funny,” argument. I was met with blank stares and barely contained twitters of laughter. When our counsellor arrived to interrupt this scene, I shut my mouth, climbed into my bunk, pleaded homesickness, and cried.

My story is, sadly, not unusual.

My childhood was filled with geekery. I was very young when I realized my family was different than the norm in our farming community, and developed an intense sense of pride for that difference. We didn’t have a television, but unlike the majority of my generation, I don’t remember a time when we didn’t have a computer. We made a weekly trip to the library; I was reading the Dragonriders of Pern by the time I was in grade 3; I started playing text-based roleplaying games when I was 12; I even taught myself how to code my own! I wrote. I read. High fantasy. Science fiction. Urban fantasy. Books that blurred the lines between all the sub-genres. Dragons, and fairies. Mining crystals with music. Deadly threads that fell from the sky. Seventh sons of seventh sons with healing powers. Chosen ones. Adventures, and so much imagination.

Somewhere in high school, maybe university, I lost touch with all that. Became embarassed of it, even. I ‘de-geeked’. I stopped playing roleplaying games. (Have you ever told someone that you play MUSHes? Yeah, try it sometime.) I started reading Margaret Atwood and Timothy Findley instead. I took myself out of the make-believe and insisted on the mold of the real world. I don’t believe I can disconnect this change from the missing books and the giggles of children who didn’t understand how cruel their behaviour was.

Nerds. Geeks. Reclaiming these terms from the bullies has been a big thing on the Internet the last couple years. I’ve recently started watching the Vlogbrothers, who call themselves and the members of their community nerdfighters. While participating in NaNoWriMo last fall, I met and befriended a handful of self-identifying geeks, busy writing those fantasy and science fiction novels I so loved as a child. And, most recently, this video went kind of viral, celebrating feminine geekery.

The world is coming to a new understanding of what it means to be a geek. It has less to do with what you do, and more about how you do it. Wil Wheaton (Ensign Wesley Crusher on the starship Enterprise – Star Trek!) explained this pretty well at the Calgary Comic Expo this year. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that thing you love is a thing that you can’t love,” he says. I love this statement.

I don’t identify as a geek. Perhaps I should. We’ve been watching – devouring, even – Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix. I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since 2006. I still read as much as I can. I’ve returned to writing and NaNoWriMo. I’ve been going crazy for knitting lately, which, turns out, is an activity well suited to nerdfighters and geeks. But, in general, my life is not filled with the typical trappings of geekdom. I play board games occasionally, but don’t love them. I hardly even know was a MMORPG is. Video games? My fingers have never understood those controllers. I have no great love for technology. I’ve read and watched Lord of the Rings, but I couldn’t quote anything from it at you, and even my once vast knowledge of Harry Potter has faded to vague recollections and a memory of an old love.

(I still remember almost every detail of the world of Pern, though.)

But none of that prevents me from being a self-identified geek: rather, I don’t identify as a geek because I don’t love things the way geeks do anymore. I crumpled too easily under the stigma as a child. I didn’t just suppress; I stopped. In some ways, I wonder if I would say the same thing if I were growing up in today’s shifted geek culture. Would my love of all things science fiction and fantasy have been fostered and encouraged? Would I have found enough like-minded people to support and be supported by as I read and wrote whatever I wanted without concern of rejection, of another missing book? I have no idea. But I love that John and Hank Green, Wil Wheaton, NaNoWriMo, and the DoubleClicks are making it acceptable to geek out.

I also love that my geeky friends accept my lack of geek with open arms. I might not identify as a geek, but I love hanging out with them. Try it sometime – geeks are some of the most loving, accepting people I’ve ever met.

0 thoughts on “Nerdfighters, Geeks, and Self-Identification: Or, How I wish I could be a part of that

  1. When I was a kid, I would take out the maximum 25 books per visit and devour them for 3 weeks until they were due, then I would reload. Id read books on all sorts of subjects, not just fiction. Now I wish I still did that!

    Im sorry your camp experience was like that ๐Ÿ™ I loved camp as a kid, and everyone read during rest period or at night. I know a lot of adults who dont read and I am always shocked! I might not read as much now, but I always read a book before bed

  2. I don't read nearly like I did when I was a kid either. Of course, part of it is just time. In our adult lives, we can't realistically keep reading at that pace!

    That week I spent at that camp, I did manage to find some friends! It wasn't a totally terrible experience, though, looking back on it, my childhood would not have been damaged in anyway by not going to that camp. I'm over it now, but I can definitely look back and identify it as a moment that influenced who I became.

  3. This really struck home with me; I was the geeky reading kid who was allowed to take a grocery sack full of books home from ' library every week (the librarian knew that I actually read them). I still read constantly, don't even have TV and don't care. I came in for a lot of harassment for reading (this was in the 50s, so even worse than recently.) But I'm a lifelong reader. Love the Pern series, Ursula LeGuin, Lord of the Rings/Hobbit, Heinlein, and many, many, many more. I still can't quite believe it when I go to someone's house and there are literally NO books in it. What do they do with themselves? Fahrenheit 451 had it right. Thanks for sharing this memory with your fellow "closet geeks." I'm a Grandmother Geek now and will never change.

  4. Gayle, thank you for your comment! I'm so glad this hit a chord for you. I think many of us have very similar stories! And, I love that you've read Pern! I've met very few people who have. They were already older novels by the time I was reading them, I think, though she tried to keep the series going into the early 2000s.

    I used to feel that way about homes that have no books in them… but then I married a man who doesn't read much at all and is still a deeply thoughtful and interesting person – and is also somewhat of a geek, though I don't think he'd ever admit it himself! Still, books definitely complete a home!

  5. I don't read nearly enough anymore, but what I do read now I'm allowing myself to enjoy more "geekery" and sci-fi than I would have as a kid/teenager. The exception being Harry Potter, which I absolutely devoured in highschool.
    Perhaps because I also played a lot of sports, I didn't experience much flack for being an avid reader. I didn't ever go to camp, though…and reading about your experience, I'm kind of happy about that. Kids can be so cruel.
    I enjoyed this post!!

  6. Well, in that case, I would definitely suggest adding the Dragonriders of Pern to your to-read list! When you first start reading, it seems like fantasy, but trust me, it's not! Come to think of it, I don't know if Pern will even be easy to find anymore…

  7. I never went anywhere as a kid without 2 or 3 books on me and science fiction /fantasy was my thing. I was always reading. And I am right now re-reading the Pern Series, including the ones written by her son Todd ( not quite as good as hers but since her passing there won't be any more). My mother used to tell my sister when she made fun of what I was reading " Just because you don't like reading that genre doesn't mean it is a stupid genre to read ". Loved the post.

  8. I feel kind of like I'm an emerging geek. I read all the time when I was a child, but I tended to read books that fell into the popular fiction category (Babysitter's Club, Goose Bumps, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, etc.). My inner geek shone through in my love of games, both computer and console. My introduction to the fantasy genre was the Harry Potter series, which I started reading in middle school. I didn't really get into reading from that genre until undergrad. I still try to find free time to read fantasy novels and the list of books I'd like to read is growing. (I still have quite a few classics on the list as well). While I didn't find that I had to suppress my love of books, I did frequently feel the need to hide my other geeky love, video games.

    Also, I hadn't seen the viral video you linked, but thoroughly enjoyed it!

  9. I was much the same way as a kid. How I got through 7th
    and 8th grade is a wonder to me. I think it helped that I managed to
    find 2 geeky friends. It still boggles my mind how much the image has changed
    today. Thanks for writing this ๐Ÿ˜€

  10. Errol: You MUSH'd! You MUSH'D!

    Be my new best friend!

    As I said, it is perfectly OK not being a geek. My wife isn't a geek and I have no desire to turn her into one.

    Having said that, after reading this, I want you to come back to your one true calling.

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