geeks · introspection

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.

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