On nerd sins and gate-keeping

The first in a series of posts leading up to Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (henceforth C2E2), where the author will be on a panel called Exorcising the Spectre of the Fake Geek Girl: Discussing geek culture, gate-keeping, and sexism.

A few weeks ago, I went to a gathering hosted by the Chicago Nerd Social Club. It was my first time sitting down and properly getting to know some local nerds, and it was a great time. About halfway through the evening, we assembled for an overdue round of introductions. Jeff threw out the question: What are your nerd sins?  

The question could have been answered in any number of ways, and the discussion could have turned so negative so quickly. Instead what happened was one of the most positive conversations I've ever seen. It was wonderful. But very unexpected. And it didn't occur to me until later that that was a problem. Nerds and geeks should be able to discuss their passions, but they should also be able to admit what they're not passionate about--without fear of any judgment, especially from other nerds. Most of us have spent our high school lives being castigated for our different interests--we don't need to continue doing that to each other as adults, particularly in a sub-community that's supposed to be a place where we all can be welcomed.

If you're thinking this sounds a lot like the Fake Geek Girl controversy, you're right. But although the burden for exclusion from the nerd community tends to fall harder on women, I'd like to take the gender out of it, for the purposes of this post. Because gatekeeping is an important issue on its own. It's hard to change a whole culture. But the only way to start is by talking, and in this case, confessing. So without further ado…

Here Are My Nerd Sins

I am not a Trekkie. Not that I couldn't ever be one. I enjoyed the JJ Abrams movie, and I'm looking forward to the next one, but I know that doesn't make me a fan. But my parents are not geeks, and so it was not something that came up on my horizon.

I think the undead are stupid. I don't understand this recent wave of fascination and obsession with vampires and zombies.

So-called "hard" sci-fi drives me insane. I haven't been exposed to much of it, but the classics that people say are so brilliant? Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land--they were just plain boring to me. There was so much science, technology, and distopianism--but so little reason to care about the characters or what happened to them.

I don't like video games. At all. Various people have tried to show me these other games, and convince me otherwise, that their game is the best, and I'll love it. But I'm horrible at every system and game that I've tried, and sitting in front of a screen for hours waving my hands around isn't my idea of fun.

And tabletop games aren't the best thing on the planet, either. That's not to say I don't like them. But there are certain ones that are fun, and others that are just too complicated. I don't have a strategy-based brain, and I also don't have any sense of competition. So I prefer the games with less parts, with boards (as opposed to deck-building), and with people who take a casual, fun, and mostly non-competitive approach to it. And I have never played D & D.

Alien and Predator will never catch my interest. End of story.

Anime is not something I'm into. I was probably the only person who didn't like it in my Japanese history class. But then again, I was the most historically-inclined person in that class, so I think I reserve the right.

I can't get into Wheel of Time. And I've tried twice.

And probably most heinous of all, I don't read comics. I've read some graphic novels--Persepolis, Maus--that I enjoyed, and really loved Gaiman's The Sandman (I'm in the process of finishing the series). But I've never read anything else, and the hostility I feel when I walk into comic book stores probably isn't helping.

I realize that by declaring all of these, I might have rained on someone's parade or trashed someone's favorite fandom. But that's not my intention here. You are perfectly free to be obsessed with zombies, read all the X-Men you can get your hands on, and play as much WoW as you have time for. In fact, I encourage it. Go do what you love, and do it whole-heartedly. I may not participate in all of those things.

 And that's okay. We cannot be into every thing that is considered nerdy, and we don't have to be. You are not a better person, or a better nerd, for having seen more Star Trek or having been a Batman reader since you were little. Cosplaying for years does not mean that you have more points than someone who has cosplayed once or twice. I love my Doctor Who to death, but my roommate doesn't, and that's okay. I know people who live and breathe comics, but they forgive me for not being into them. I might be a little sad, because I think my roommate is missing out. But I'm sure comics fans feel the same way about me.

I can't put it any better than John Scalzi did: "Who gets to be a geek? Anyone who wants to be, any way they want to be one." There is no hierarchy, no standard, no exclusion. There is just a community, an informal community of people who love the same things. "Many people believe geekdom is defined by a love of a thing, but I think — and my experience of geekdom bears on this thinking — that the true sign of a geek is a delight in sharing a thing."

We don't have to share all the same things. I guarantee you we won't. And we won't all share them in the same ways, either. I may not have seen more than two Tom Baker stories, but that doesn't mean I love Doctor Who any less than someone who has. Someone may cosplay a character that they think is badass, and if they don't know everything about that character, that's just fine. To each their own.

Geek culture is a wonderful, beautiful, huge world full of surprises, ever expanding and coming upon new fandoms. There is no gate. So let's stop trying to build a gate of standards, and let's stop trying to guard that gate. We are better than that. Nerd sins are forgiven--and we don't need a priest to do so. We only need each other. As Jeff said many times that night, "We accept all kinds here."

And that's how it should be. 

What are your nerd sins? How do you feel about them? What are your experiences with gatekeeping in nerd culture? Share with me in the comments!