Yesterday, I was treated like a stupid girl. I’m still fuming about it. It’s not just because I know that I’m not a stupid girl, it’s because the person who did it was a male co-worker who has known me for almost ten years. He’s probably twenty years my senior and has called me to get information so many times that he should have known I wouldn’t ask him to provide me with information if I didn’t think I could use it to help him.
While my day job could, easily, pigeonhole me into the role of office drone, the simple fact is that I have a pretty big group of people, the majority of whom are men depending upon me to find them the information they need when they need it. I look things up for them. I ask questions of people. If I don’t know the answer, then I find out how to get the answer for them. I’m a woman. I’m an adult.
This co-worker didn’t actually want help. What he really wanted, more than anything, was someone to yell at. I happened to be the one that made the most convenient target. While he was wasting my time and his telling me that I was a stupid girl because I was trying to find him a solution he could apply immediately to his problem, I tried to explain to him what good it would do him to answer the question that I asked him. He got angry and hung up, and by the time he got a chance to talk to my boss, I had gotten the information that I had requested from my boss and had not only the most likely answer, but also what to do if the issue had arisen because of a common (and also likely) mechanical malfunction.
It made me think about my evolution as a Geek. So much of the time, people feel entitled to treat Geeks like second-class citizens. If you’re a female Geek, they feel even more entitled to treat you badly. Society expects certain things from people and when you gleefully take on an identifier like Geek, you’re defying many of those expectations. What I have found, though, is that I am happy being a Geek and that’s not going to change any time soon.
Obviously, I’m not at all upset about being called a Geek, and if I had even a fraction of a cent for every time I’ve been called weird or a nerd I’d be rich. That does not mean it’s an easy path. I’ve had far more good experiences with other Geeks than I have bad ones and that’s why I’ve never been worried about the label. There’s a whole new hopefully bumper crop of starry-eyed little sprockets out in the big, wide world and they’re rapidly growing up into full-fledged, card-carrying Geeks that may or may not make their parents proud. I’d like to give them a little bit of advice. It’s not intended to be specific for little Geeky girls or little Geeky boys, it’s just meant for the younger Geek set in general.
No matter where you go, there are going to be people who try to make you feel like you don’t belong. Some of them will be other Geeks. They may tell you that you can’t be part of their group because you also like another fandom or because you have an opinion that differs from what they think. It may be because you’re used to a particular GM style and have questions so you can play the game better. There are thousands of different reasons why certain Geeks will exclude certain other Geeks. That is not a reflection on you. Don’t worry too much about it. Eventually, you will connect with other Geeks that don’t mind if you consider one captain superior to another or if you are still angry because Han’s supposed to shoot first. There is a place for you in Geekdom, it just may take a while for you to find it.
You may find yourself to be in the minority a lot. Not everyone knows where every comic book store within a hundred miles of them is. They’ll tell you that’s not normal. Not everyone spends time on-line or in toy aisles in stores tracking down action figures. Not everyone understands the sheer joy of season premieres, midnight showings, original movie print screenings, DVD releases, or book signings. There are many who will never understand why the phrase “cheesy poofs” makes you laugh like a hyena. That is, most assuredly, their problem. Sadly, many of them probably don’t have as much fun as you do. That’s no reason for you to give up the things that you love. As you get older, you’ll realize that there are some things you’ve outgrown. You’ll also probably find out that many of the things that you used to love you still love, just for different reasons. Those reasons have much, much less to do with maturity and nostalgia than naysayers would have you believe. And, even if it’s all about holding on to that spark of happiness that still makes you feel like the starry-eyed little sprocket you used to be, there’s nothing wrong with that. You have found a reliable way to bring happiness into your life and that should be celebrated, not ridiculed.
Don’t try to be someone else. It never works and just makes you miserable. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try new things. Your next big Geek trigger may be just around the corner. It might be that new show your best friend won’t shut up about, or the book everyone’s talking about on social media. It may be a movie that has the best previews you’ve ever seen. Never be afraid to jump in and immerse yourself. If you’re talking to your friends, whether it’s in person or on-line, about something you read or watched or created and why you do or don’t like it, you’re strengthening your critical thinking skills and learning how to analyze media. You’re also probably sharpening your writing and verbal skills, depending on what media you’re using to express yourself. Believe it or not, those are going to be skills that will get you much further ahead in life than you ever dreamed.
Everyone has to start somewhere. You may start writing by imitating a writer you really admire, or by borrowing their characters or setting to make that writers’ universe into something you prefer. Some authors love that and some don’t. The point is, though, that you’re trying to make yourself a better writer. Eventually, you’ll either move on and find your own voice and your own characters and your own universe to explore or you’ll find a way to become a contract writer for a franchise that you really like, assuming, of course, you want writing to be your career. The same thing goes for visual artists. You’ll probably start off copying someone else’s work to the best of your ability. In either case, writing or visual, you’ll likely be disappointed with your efforts. Keep trying. You will learn. You will also probably grow as an artist. Just keep in mind, you should credit the original whenever you use it, because nobody likes plagiarists.
No matter what you make, somewhere in the world, there is going to be someone who likes it. Finding that audience may seem impossible. It’s a lot of work. Almost any artist that you admire is probably going to give you one simple piece of advice and that’s make the things that make you happy. Your audience may just be yourself, but as long as you’re happy, that’s really going to be the thing that matters most. Your audience probably won’t be only you, though. In fact, it probably won’t ever be limited to just you. Don’t be afraid to share what you make. Don’t be afraid to demand credit for what you make. If you created it, you deserve the recognition for it.
When you do start sharing your work, there are going to be people who are going to say horrible things. It will probably hurt because you have created this thing that you want people to like. Not everyone is actually saying terrible things at you because the work is bad or because they don’t like you. There is a thing called constructive criticism and learning how to identify it and apply it to your work will help you become better at what you do. This is especially true if the thing someone has mentioned is a problem that you already knew existed and you hoped that nobody else would notice.
All of this, of course, applies to you being an individual and learning how to speak for and express yourself. You are a person. You have thoughts and feelings. You have every right to express yourself creatively and constructively. Self-acceptance isn’t necessarily easy to achieve. It may be a difficult struggle. There is one instance when it’s okay to be someone else, but it should only be a brief, clearly defined interlude in your life. When you’re cosplaying, especially in competition, it’s just fine to act like an entirely different person. Just remember, eventually, your costume needs to come off, and then it’s going to be time to be you again. Hopefully, you’re not scared of that. If you are, hopefully there are people around you, whether they’re friends, family, or professionals that you can talk to so you don’t have to be scared. You can work it out, though.
Everyone makes mistakes. As a Geek, people put expectation on you about your intelligence. You may feel an enormous amount of pressure to be right all the time. You won’t be. That’s no reason to feel humiliated (unless you’ve been a real jerk about being right) or worthless. You might also feel afraid to ask questions because the idea of you not knowing something is so foreign to everyone around you. It’s okay, I know your secret. You don’t know everything. Know what? Neither do I. Here’s the thing, though. As a Geek, you’ve probably built yourself a formidable arsenal of resources that you can use to find answers for just about everything you’ve ever wanted to know. You are in all likelihood a veritable deity of information location. It’s another skill that will set you apart and serve you well. Keep building it. Keep asking questions. Keep learning. Admitting that you don’t know something is not the end, it’s just the first step in making yourself a better person by learning something new.
Do your best to keep an open mind. You’ll be able to find new friends by connecting with them about whatever you have in common. If you can find a way to start the conversation, if it’s a good one, you’ll probably be able to find ways to keep the conversation going. Other people may not react to things they like the way that you do. Many, many Geeks have a tendency to unabashed enthusiasm and total immersion. That really shouldn’t be cause for alarm. Geeks have founded conventions and gone on to build on the things that inspired them in amazing ways. It’s because they love the things that they love and it’s a tradition worth carrying forward.
When you find a crew of Geeks or some new Geek thing to be thrilled over, always remember, you do not have to stay somewhere that you feel uncomfortable. There’s a difference between awkwardness, where you maybe just don’t know all that many people around you and have to figure out who to talk to and how to talk to them, and being truly uncomfortable. If you feel threatened or if someone makes you feel scared, if you feel bullied, it’s okay for you to leave. You don’t have to make excuses. You don’t have to justify your exit, not even if there are people around you that you do actually know. You have the right to feel safe and if you don’t, you’ve got the right to go somewhere else where you do feel safe. I don’t think people say that enough, to anyone, but especially to Geeks. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. You’ve got the right to feel safe.
Most of all, though, wherever you are, whatever your fandom, whichever media it is that inspires you and makes you happy, whatever your age, however you identify yourself, I wish you all the best. I hope that you find joy in being yourself and in being a Geek and that you are successful making your dreams come true. The world needs all of its Geeks, especially the unique one that is you.