- By Jarys
The Geek or Nerd as social pariah is a long standing trope in both fiction and social expectation. Geeks are often equated with other groups perceived as outsiders, such as the neuro-atypical and some ethnic minorities. Paradoxically, this image is internalized both individually among geeks and as a group as the label brings us together in pursuit of greater socialization. We often see ourselves as loners and use our socially fraught past as a badge of honor. Unfortunately, I have seen geeks judge and reject other geeks on the grounds the subjects were “too socially acceptable” to mainstream culture. Ironically, these often come from straight white male nerds (a term I am working to use interchangeably with “Geek”) , the real point of the sentence being to point out that I have my own ideas on what makes someone “socially acceptable”. We all do.
|Hipsters are NOT socially acceptable to Jarys|
In the end Nerds/Geeks are people who are perceived to be outcasts, outsiders, and outliers, who tend to identify with that image, this doesn't define the group, but it’s a general characteristic. It’s something that defined nerdiness for me before I realized I was a nerd. My father is a nerd for Tolkien, was a computer game fan for a while, and generally loved the science fiction and fantasy genre. He had a wondrous relationship with Star Wars, which he engendered in me by showing me A new Hope very early. My mom less so, though she was very studious, loves historical fantasy, and eventually became a new age enthusiast. However I wouldn't say I grew up in a nerdy household, because both my parents (especially my dad) would repeat to me how socially undesirable it was to be nerdy. Nerds were not well liked and my dad increasingly criticized my geeky pursuits as I grew up as something I should be embarrassed about and from which I should branch away. Throughout and after college both parents begged and entreated me to socialize outside of geeky culture, in fear it would close me off by its very nature.
It wasn't always this way, my love of Star Wars, reading books above my age’s reading level, legos, comic books, the Ninja Turtles and others were seen as “normal boy interests”. But as I grew up, my interests grew to new places (acting, writing, social science, roleplaying games) and my previous interests mostly didn't go away, much to my dad’s dismay. Video game consoles were banned from the house so that I wouldn't “be staring at the TV like a zombie for hours”. After watching “The Maltese Falcon” in 7th grade I began wearing a trench coat to school. I used birthday favors right before high school to leverage my mom to paint my room as a Star Wars/fantasy vista. Each would get me lectures and I eventually began bringing home Animmorph an comic books home in brown paper bags so I wouldn't have to hear lectures on appropriate reading for my age. Despite this my parents used these interests to reach out to me, buying me Star Wars books and memorabilia for Christmas. I don’t mean to give the impression that I hide to live a double life, but the judgment was there, especially the judgment of socially outcasting myself.
What I try to tell my parents, something that took me a long time to learn, is how socializing it can be to be a geek or nerd. My interest in writing helped me make friends in the literacy club, where I made my longest lasting friends in high school. I made friendships that lasted outside of school over role playing and Shakespeare. At the time I saw these things as normal, but also a relief. I struggled with alienation throughout most of my life (still do, really) and connecting with people over common interests really helped me feel less alone. In college, I discovered Player Versus Player, a webcomic that touted being a nerd or geek as a social group, and I realized I was such a person and so were most of my friends in High School. I didn't make any lasting friendships until I connected with people on those interests (I tried partying and found it very alienating). I made friends with Esther over Morrowind and the occult and Mike and Mae Linh over role playing games and Star Wars. More friends were added as I began playing card and board games, going to LARPs, and tried online communities. Eventually, the two long term relationships I've had, with a female friend of a friend in college and a young man after college, both arose from shared geeky interest. I find, in dating, I am attracted to geeks because they tend to be comfortable displaying intelligence, a trait I find very attractive.
|Check out that intelligence on Spidey. MmmMMM|
What I discovered is that, while we are probably Geeks because we are so unabashedly enthusiastic for these rarely popular pursuits, we dive in to these pursuits in part as a salve to the heartache of being alone. Finding others who like to do what we like to do allows us to structure socialization around those hobbies and interests safely. LARPs especially allow a safe space to practice being more social, in which failure can we forgotten as a type of game play that did not get the desired result. In discussing the way themes of science fiction reveal truths about humanity we get to see the humanity in our friends. In costuming, role playing, and writing we allow ourselves to celebrate ourselves in a way in which we can safely expect positive feedback and constructive criticism.
To see others who like what we like, do what we do, we feel less alone and more human. We feel a part, one of a group, like we belong. This is a very human need and solution. It’s what brings people to sports, to fashion, to any social activity. The difference is that geeks and nerds exist under a unified culture defined by uninhibited enthusiasm and unpopular interests, ironic because there is no one name for this group. As geekiniess begins to become more socially acceptable the definition will change. Acceptance of nerdy pursuits has already helped show the enthusiasm characterized by far more “normal” pastimes, terms like “baseball nerd” and “Policy geek” being examples. The greater acceptance of women within geeky culture recently has truly helped this process as interests in knitting, themed painted nails, and others once seen as exclusively female have come to be seen as geeky, geeky and female no longer being socially mutually exclusive.
In the end, what I try to tell my parents is that my interests are just interests, like anyone else’s. They help me meet people like any hobby. They distract me from other parts of my life, like any hobby. They are fun and they appeal to me. What I tell myself is that my past of feeling alienated and weird arose not from my interests but from different matters. Geekiness is part of who I am (I don’t really see myself as nerd) and something I like about myself. My interests don’t remove me; they bring me closer to people I want to be with.