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‘CAUSE I’M NERDCORE LIKE THAT: Toward a Subversive Geek Identity

I started collecting X-Men Trading Cards in middle school. I would spend hours in the store sorting through identical silver packages, looking for The One. Or, at least, one that would have a limited edition holofoil or a rarity, something I could use to solidify my position in the daily cafeteria trading card stock market. I was working my way up the ranks, padding my collection with Marvel Masterpieces, being allowed the honor of trading with serious collectors. But I wanted The One, one particular card, a card none of my friends had ever seen: The 1995 Fleer Typhoid Mary. I can’t say why I fixated on this particular card, a card I still haven’t seen. (BRB searching eBay, Oh! Oh! Oh! THEY HAVE IT FOR A DOLLAR! Being an adult is the shit.) But the search epitomized my obsession with turn-of-the-century plague epidemics and my hot, heavy, panting love of the Marvel Universe.Those cards were the beginning of my nerd identity. I had read comics when I was a child, mostly Tales of Terror that my father bought at garage sales, but this was the first thing that was totally mine. As I entered High School, Harold came back from Germany (his father was in the military) and introduced me to Vampire: The Masquerade. For those of you who aren’t familiar with VTM, it is a role-playing game in which the players pretend to be vampires, imbued with vampire powers, skills, and abilities. There are different clans of vampires you can belong to, each with their own particular characteristics and weaknesses. I played a Toreador named Calypso Magnum, a rake, an artist and a scholar. I wore a cape and stopped using contractions. (OH GAWWWD I KNOW.) As my nerd identity expanded, it nurtured my queer identity. VTM’s theatricality allowed me to consider trying out for theater, where I found a support network of fellow misfits that found both my queer and nerd identities unremarkable. I had friends, I had comic books, I had free, unfettered access to wigs: I was saying YES to life.

I apologize, I’m sorry. I’m going off-script here, committing blasphemies, getting my swish all over nerd culture. Obviously my nerd identity developed in a separate warehouse from my queer identity, the two are totally and completely distinct. (Nothing queer about pages upon pages of men dressing in skin-tight costumes and wrestling each other – CLEARLY that’s the butchest sentence I’ve ever written!)  Because when I talk about the ways my queer and nerd identities are interconnected, I subvert the heteronormative standard. As a gay man, I simply don’t possess enough cachet within nerd culture to complicate the narrative with my intersectionality. For nerd culture is serious business.

Nerd culture exists on several different levels of participation. It is a culture of consumption, of devotion, of discussion, and sometimes, of creation. There is the media and entertainment that nerds consume: video games, anime, comic books, science fiction, television, music. Nerds consume these things – read books, play games, roll 20-sided die in their H.P. Lovecraft Based RPGs. (I’m looking at you, C.L.) They study these things in minute detail, dressing up in costumes and going to conventions, debating the finer points of Buffy’s love life or talking about how obvious it is that Ash is in a coma for most of the Pokemon series. Each nerd is defined by their areas of interest and their opinions, and a large part of being a nerd is explaining or defending those opinions.

This devotion, this fanaticism can make nerds insufferable. Nerd culture is about these little sparring matches, where we are encouraged to denigrate the other person, holding fiercely to our own beliefs. When we’re talking about the Avengers, I want to bring up the Young Avengers, especially the relationship developing between Wiccan and Hulkling, and speculate when they might get around to kissing. But that is going to raise some hackles. Iron Man is an Avenger, Thor is an Avenger, Captain America is an Avenger, and some comic book readers feel that a gay Avenger is beyond the pale, let alone two. They fall in love with the object, the idea, the past and forget that the things they love are constantly evolving. They care more about the “integrity” of the series than they do about people.

Their opinions matter more than mine do. There are long-established portions of the culture that define what a nerd looks like and who is allowed to speak and have their voices heard within nerd circles. The dominant face of the nerd culture is a straight cis white male one. He consumes, he indulges his devotion, he discusses, he creates. When he does, men are the only ones that are full partners in the collection of trivia, media, and information; women are the other half of the planet, the half you have to explain things to. Girlfriends are not supposed to be interested in what you are doing, they are supposed to cower in AWE. They’re supposed to marvel at your ability to work everything from the Linux operating system (yes, we understand, you loaded Ubuntu on a Graphing Calculator. WE ARE NOW SEXUALLY ATTRACTED TO YOU AND OH PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR GUILD ON WARCRAFT) to the toaster. They are supposed to listen to your boring, surface-level dissection of comic book dynamics. They are supposed to find your “get back in the kitchen” “jokes” to be just the highest order of wit. If women accidentally have opinions about things, they must submit them to the scrutiny of the male intellect, which has full veto power on everything women think they know about nerd culture. They are quite vicious about defending the things they love from the tiny thoughts of women.

If you haven’t read Courtney Stoker’s interview about women in the geek subculture on The Sexist, do so now. In it, she sums up what exactly makes men in the culture so repugnant:

Geek communities (particularly, in my experience, geek men) see themselves as outside of mainstream in several ways. They often consider themselves counter-cultural (in the U.S., this seems to be linked to the current trend of anti-intellectualism), progressive, and isolated. Because geeks situate themselves outside of the mainstream, it’s difficult for them to either accept that sexism is a problem in the community (this is so patently obvious, however, that only the most sexist of geeks will not acknowledge it) or that sexism in the community is not a special and different case of sexism. The idea that geek sexism is unrelated to mainstream sexism is related to the Growing Up Geek narrative.

YES YES YES. She goes on to point out how laughable it is for a culture whose identity is based on easy, consistent access to technology to see itself as lacking institutional power. Especially when POC, women, and queers are keenly aware of the ways that the “Growing Up Geek” narrative is a white male one. Every time we enter nerd communities, we do so knowing that we may be shouted down and dismissed, bored to tears by useless pissing contests, have our legitimacy or motives questioned, or just be completely ignored.

Rather than staying in hostile, unsafe spaces a number of us opt to inhabit sub-communities within the larger subculture. And we are constantly reminded why we do, because those fanatics COME TO US and TELL US how wrong we are. Like, when we point out that parts of Penny Arcade are problematic: HERE COMES THE NERD DEFENSE LEAGUE. If this piece doesn’t get at least 5 comments amounting to little more than PENNY ARCADE IS MY VERY LIFE I will eat my hat. Thus the nerd subculture at large becomes more ideologically pure, more douchey, making geek spaces more hostile, more unsafe. It is a negative feedback mechanism that will be running for a long time, until the nerds as a whole go through a reformation of thought.

In the meantime, subversive nerd subcultures form communities and alliances, fostering a collective cultural cross-fertilization that is strengthened by our multiple intelligences and identities. This week I started reading a webcomic called Riot Nrrd, which the author describes as “a webcomic about being a nerd who’s constantly facing down sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, fatphobia, and other phobias and -isms from their nerdery of choice. This webcomic was made by a frustrated nerd about frustrated nerds making comics.” The comic looks very promising — this bit about Joss Whedon is PRICELESS. Writing our own comics, and blogs and forming our own communities gives us strength. When confronted with the cultural purity police, the ones who swoop in to Geeksplain to us, we can answer from a position of solidarity. We can create safe spaces of our own. Spaces where we can debate and discuss the ways Science Fiction comments on society’s treatment of The Other, spaces where our voices aren’t drowned out by simplistic fanaticism. A place where, for instance, a group of people can watch one of the X-Men movies and someone can, during one of the many scenes where Cyclops and Wolverine are having tense arguments about who is better for Jean Gray (who is, incidentally, an Omega-level mutant and whose options are still limited to a guy with weak-ass laser beam eyes and the hairy dude whose best attribute is, like, fuckin’ sweet claws, yo AKA Sparkly Vampire or Werewolf) simply scream out GAWWWWD JUST KISS ALREADY! BROKEBACK THAT SHIT! and not have people get all middle school about it.

I think that those of us who are marginalized or underprivileged in society are drawn to nerd culture because it holds the potential to critique society and morality in complex, useful ways. The Star Trek franchise has been examining issues such as colonialism, xenophobia, and utilitarianism for over forty years. The Batman Mythos is such a deep, layered and multifaceted meditation on personal tragedy and vigilantism it destroys most of the people who attempt to improve upon it. And Science fiction and Fantasy are mirrors of the larger culture. Watching the four Sci-Fi films Charlton Heston made between 1968-73 — Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, and The Omega Man — teaches you everything you need to know about the obsessions and anxieties of the decade. It is a genre that is always showing us the best and the worst of human potential.

But when we let ourselves be told that the media we consume can only be about simple things — the POW! and the ZAP! and the BAM; Guns, Big Breasts, Phasers, Racecars, Light Saber Battles — we rob the genre of its power to make larger statements about social equality and the abuse of power. When comic books only represent the Revenge Imperative, the Lone Male Who Saves the Day, it makes it less likely that more complex, nuanced stories will be told.

There are more than enough of us who feel this way, who want to bring a social consciousness to nerd culture. Let’s stop finding ourselves beholden to worst parts of the culture. Let’s geek out, Nerdy Beatdown, let’s do what we do best. Because no one can stop us.

Never give up. Never surrender.


  1. Beth Turner wrote:

    I worry constantly about my geek cred, but at the same time I’ve had an easier time as most of the geeks I’m friends with are girls…and write gay porn (aka slash fiction) so there are very few issues.

    I just have issue of having to have to same conversation again and again “Omg *Actor from *fill in the geek show* is sooooo dreamy! Don’t you just want to do naughty things to him?” Me: “Um, no. I don’t like boys unless it’s the one I’m married to. *Female Actor from same show* is really hot though.” Friend ignores me and talks more about hot guys.

    I avoid fan boys mostly which keeps me safe from the worst of the sexism but yeah. It can really suck.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Permalink
  2. Oriniwen wrote:

    Wait, *what*?

    I can get laid talking about my guild … ?

    To be honest, the ability to stand outside the culture and critique it using Space Laz0rz is and was very appealing to me. The gateway drug to Nerddom. (Also, hollah to Theatre Nerd)

    But SciFi/Fantasy/Nerddom does not excise itself from all culture. It carries all the baggage along with it. If you can’t look at all that baggage strapped to you, and say “wow, this is a *lot* of baggage – and it’s all full of poo, and even by trying deliberately to escape to a place where I can talk without it – I *can’t*” then maybe you’ve found the handhold that lets you get a good, shakable grip on the problems of current culture.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink
  3. Aine wrote:

    I don’t know, I’d be terribly impressed with someone who put LINUX on the toaster…

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink
  4. emjaybee wrote:

    Lucy Knisley did an excellent and beautiful comic on girls in nerd-dom:

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink
  5. Kiri wrote:

    LOL, Aine, that’s what I was thinking too. I’m such a nerd!

    Loving Riot Nrrd. It’s, like, an instant favorite.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Permalink
  6. Scott wrote:

    I’m not here to make you eat your hat, but I don’t understand why the Penny Arcade comic you linked to is problematic.

    They portray a caricature of a gamer using derogatory language in a poor light. Isn’t that a good thing?

    as for this: “point out how laughable it is for a culture whose identity is based on easy, consistent access to technology to see itself as lacking institutional power”

    When I was a young nerdling, that technology was decidedly difficult to access and the very fact that I sought it out was what set me apart from the people who had power in my high school. The people who would beat you up for being different, regardless of whether that difference was in how you dressed or who you fancied.

    Nerd culture is different today, though, and I’m too old to say how it plays out in those early development years, but I know I hear an awful lot of hate speech from people who sound 12 whenever I venture onto a public server on Xbox Live.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink
  7. jpmeyer wrote:

    So I’m coming at this from the angle of anime fandom, which I guess counts as a subset of nerddom.

    I think, for the most part, I have rarely run into problems with the unwashed masses getting angry in my comment threads when I blog about -isms in anime rather than just talking about plot stuff. The last time I can remember that happening, the people complaining about me “overthinking things” (or saying that I’m a “stupid woman” despite the fact that I doubt there was anything in that post that would have given them any clues either way regarding my sex) seemed to be caused by a bunch of 12 year olds on some random manga piracy forum. My guess (and I have no numbers to back any of this up) is that anime fandom has way more women and POCs in it than standard comics/sci-fi/computers fandom does.

    What makes this feel kind of weird though is that anime & manga are way, way worse than standard nerddom. I mean, yeah comics might sexualize women, but at least they’re sexualizing women and not 6th grade girls. That sort of thing. In fact, I feel like a lot of anime fans are conscious of what they are doing, as opposed to how sci-fi fans can feel threatened when their privileges or biases are exposed. It’s weird.

    Maybe part of it is the more equal opportunity exploitation going on because of the more balanced demographic ratios? Like when you know that the other side of your fandom is consuming stuff as bad as your own that you don’t think there’s a problem with either? I feel like that’s a reason why don’t recall there being much of an outcry about the whole Rapelay thing being offensive to female anime fans when many of them are also consuming tons of (underage) (same-sex) rape porn.

    Although at the same time, I’m also not sure if the more balanced gender split really matters if the split is often more like the difference between the male comic fans and the female Twilight fans that are both attended SDCC, but not the really interacting in much the same way.

    Also, I have no idea why lots of both male and female anime fans really like characters and stories that are really queer in terms of gender roles and identity.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
  8. K. wrote:

    Full disclosure: I totally unintentionally skimmed parts of this because I was just so excited to be reading about nerd culture & marginalized identities that I wanted to get to each subsequent paragraph a little faster than the previous one.

    It makes sense that I was into “nerd” stuff like comic books because I was uncool and had a dad who was into typography and graphic design (he really encouraged me to read comics because he thought of them as a “democratic”/”approachable” intersection of fine art, commercial art, and literature. We also didn’t have a TV.)

    I grew up within walking distance from a locally owned comic shop and would go in every Tuesday (when the new comics came in.) I started, like many young girls, with Archie and then when I got older I “graduated” to independent titles like Love and Rockets, Blue Monday, and Hopeless Savages. The guys who owned and operated Comic Heaven really nurtured me when it came to comics with female protagonists and when I was in middle school they got me into shoujo manga (Japanese comics geared toward girls) and some shonen manga (Japanese comics geared towards boys) (but only comics that had female protagonists (like Kenichi Sonada’s Gunsmith Cats, a series that I loved as a teen, but would love to go back to with a heavily critical eye at some point.))

    But while they were totally willing to nurture my investment in what they likely perceived as fringe elements of nerd culture (elements that were “meant for” girls), when I came in wanting to buy X-Men comics or role playing guides or card games, they got sort of weird. They would ring me up, of course, but never without a comment like, “This doesn’t seem like what you would (“SHOULD”) be into” or “Are you sure you want to get this? We got the new Sailor Moon in today.” There was a definite sense that there were certain parts of nerd culture that they perceived as belonging to them and that they were uncomfortable with me “intruding.” At the time I wondered, “Am I not cool (“NERDY”) enough?” I assumed that there had to be something wrong with me & it wasn’t until I was much older that I had the wherewithal to consider that maybe those dudes were just made uncomfortable by the thought of a young girl encroaching on their hallowed dude territory of nitpicky discussions of Marvel canon.

    It sucks to see sexism play out in this way, because, girl nerds (and queer nerds and nerds of color and…) often need the community of nerd-dom just as much as white, male, heterosexual nerds do.

    I think that those of us who are marginalized or underprivileged in society are drawn to nerd culture because it holds the potential to critique society and morality in complex, useful ways.

    And this! I love this! So much yes to this. I may have mentioned it in a comment on a previous TB post on issues of nerdity, but to me, WisCon (an annual feminist sci-fi con) is one of the best examples of nerd community in action when it comes to thoughtful critique of serious issues in the realm of sci-fi/fantasy/genre fiction. I’ve never gone, but have several friends who attend annually and I always, always look forward to their wrap-up/debriefing posts because they’re consistently full of A) amazing food for thought and B) great titles to put on my to-read list.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink
  9. Twyst wrote:

    I am in full support of Garland’s Nerdy Beatdown. I would read the hell out of that.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Permalink
  10. Kate wrote:

    Scott, that you were able to seek out and obtain your “decidedly difficult to access” technologies is itself emblematic of the privileges within nerd culture, in this case class privilege. Computers in the 80s and 90s were expensive, as I’m sure no one has to remind you. It’s not going to be on the working class kids or the little girls whose parents are willing to drop a grand or two.
    Kind of reminds me how my parents wouldn’t let me play video games or own a console until I had moved out and could buy them for myself because they were “for boys”. It’s so hard being different! Snoooooore.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Permalink
  11. Gayle Force wrote:

    Scott, access to technology is indeed a privilege; see

    I am, uhhh, a softcore(?) nerd. But I had learned to not bring up my, say, deep love of graphic novels around dude nerds because . . . I didn’t want to be questioned and quizzed and have to prove myself over and above everyone else to be taken seriously. Other dudes just walked into those conversations while I got an entrance exam, and then was still regarded with suspicion.

    It’s nice that there are other spaces now. I learned to be quiet and solitary about it as a teenager. Also, that Joss Whedon cartoon is in fact priceless.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  12. the njw wrote:

    i love you for this post. sometimes when i think about the kind of media that’s out there right now it can get very frustrating to realize that the geek culture–or rather, media aimed at geek culture?–as a whole isn’t MY culture and doesn’t necessarily care about transgressing gender roles or racism or etc. the stuff that’s being produced is still mostly concerned with the pain and growth of straight, white, able-bodied men–or maybe it can be a straight white girl, if she has daddy issues.

    that said, i actually grew up in a very safe space re: geekdom, which in some ways makes consuming media more annoying (very few shows have the kind of women on them that i actually know in real life) but in other ways gives me hope that slowly but surely the old-school breed of doesn’t-talk-to-girls geek is dying out.

    i’m going to have to start reading riot nrrd. never before have my feelings about joss whedon been so succinctly described.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Permalink
  13. mouthyb wrote:

    You know what I most dislike about geek culture (and I say this as someone who has a geekgasm in the presence of certain bits of hardware and games)?

    It’s jock culture. With hardware.

    I say this as someone who played A LOT of sports. I hear the same things I did from the guys I didn’t date in high school as I do online. Hint, fellas: mansplaining is vagina repellant.

    It’s not any more appealing because the guy spouting it can load and operate Linux. It’s the same rehashed bullshit about eliteness, it’s just not about muscular coordination. I didn’t like it as an athlete, and I don’t like it as a nerd.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Permalink
  14. mouthyb wrote:

    And add me to the chorus on getting real tired of having to pass test after test from men and boys around me who don’t think it’s possible for ZOMGtits to be qualified to join their boys-only-clubhouse.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Permalink
  15. Shinobi wrote:


    Because seriously let me tell you what THEY don’t want to hear about. They don’t want to be told not to use the word “rape” as a verb regarding digital enimies. They don’t want to be told that I am not impressed by their never ending competition regarding whose epeen is bigger.

    And they definitely don’t want to be told that I am just as good at computers and possibly better than them while also being in possession of a vagina.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Permalink
  16. mouthyb wrote:

    And, because I’m chatty, I’d just like to say that as a woman, nerd and teacher, when I try to use my nerd interests (specifically gaming) to illustrate an argument, I have a 50/50 chance of being challenged, in my own classroom, by some kid ten or more years younger than me, who just wants to test me for the millionth time because it’s not possible I can teach a subject they think is useless (in the Humanities) and be a nerd and a girl.

    Does not compute and shit.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Permalink
  17. Andy wrote:

    This is also why #donald4spiderman was doomed from the beginning.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink
  18. gloss wrote:

    It’s funny – as a queer ladynerd, I never feel like I’m doing nerdom right. Sure, I love Buffy and all the Robins and Captain Americas, and I’ve found myself more frequently than I’m comfortable with engaging in nerdly oneupsmanship and pissing contests — but I’m also, uh. A lady. And I don’t get RPing, tabletop or live, and cons freak me out.

    But I’m so grateful that this essay helped pinpoint what continues to hold me in nerd spaces (however much they keep shrinking) – that performativity and utopian thinking that persist, despite all the cis white guy privilege and attendant bullshit.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Permalink
  19. gloss wrote:

    …oh, wow, hit post way too soon. My nerdly spaces have shrunk *considerably*, because, as Shinobi says above, there are only so many times you can hear “rape” used metaphorically, or get linked to Zoe Saldana’s new underwear ad _by a comics shop_ and encouraged to join in the communal ogling, or, or…it’s just too much like THE REST OF THE GD PATRIARCHY. Just, you know. In tight spandex with long capes that flutter emotively.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Permalink
  20. minna wrote:

    You shut up and take your nasty Cyclops away, Wolverine and Gambit are made for each other ;_________;

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Permalink
  21. Ari wrote:

    RiotNrrrd is one of my favorite webcomics. I wish there were more things out there like it. Khaos Komix also involves an LGBTQ main cast, though the series started out really rough and relying on queer tropes that made me uncomfortable, it’s gotten a LOT better in the more recent chapters.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Permalink
  22. Amanda wrote:

    Ohh, I discovered Courtney Stoker from that interview too. :) Geek girl squee at first sight.

    It took me a loooong time to take ownership of calling myself a geek, even though I’ve been gaming and a SF fan since my mid-teens. It wasn’t until I was randomly talking Star Trek with a friend who said “You’re a serious geek, and you should do something with that” (as in, own it/write about it/make a career) that I thought “yeah, maybe I should”. Wish I’d owned it earlier.

    VTM: WOOOT. I am such a Vampire: The Eternal Struggle geek! (Giovanni and Setites FTW!) I love my card collection. I surprised and impressed my mother the other day by telling how much I should have it insured for.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Permalink
  23. Eneya wrote:

    OK, this would make your day then.
    The only person I know which provides access to (online uploaded)comics of X-MEN in my country is a girl and hers is one of the few active forums on the topic too :)
    I am a huge fan of X-men and many people can vouch how many times I explained my devotion because for me the series are a social critique, analyses and a mirror of what crawls through the minds of people in America, aka, the western world.

    Still I have never been treated differently because I am a girl.
    I have played RPG for 3 years (including VM, just for the record, I was Gangrel) and… it was quite awesome, there were more than enough nerdy guys… and less nerdy girls but there was no different attitude.

    Do I have to feel lucky?

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Permalink
  24. Alex wrote:

    I love this post, it is hilarious and true, which is one of the best possible combinations of two adjectives out there.

    I am in full support of Garland’s Nerdy Beatdown. I would read the hell out of that.


    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 9:16 pm | Permalink
  25. Garland Grey wrote:

    @Amanda Giovanni? Really? They raise the dead and they only embrace within their own family. That’s not classy.

    (Although if I hadn’t been in a Camarilla game and I had to do it over again, I’d play a Tzimisce. Fighting one in VTM: Bloodlines I was like THIS IS GORY AND AWESOME. THIS FOREVER!!!)

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 9:50 pm | Permalink
  26. Amanda wrote:

    @ Garland: Oh, now that you put it that way…hehe, ew ;) Yeah, I’m partial to my Shamblers, coz I can play the table going “Bwaaains, BWWWAIIINS”.

    Oh I have an AWESOME Tzimisce deck that just slices and dices and yeah, I get told not to play it too often coz it pwns rough shod. Torpor for you and you and you…

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 10:06 pm | Permalink
  27. SMadin wrote:

    Fan-goddamn-tastic post. Seriously excellent. Many an uncomfortable twinge of recognition from my own, cis-het-anglo-male-nerd childhood.


    It’s jock culture. With hardware.

    Yep. And the extent to which nerds will get super defensive and angry if you suggest that shows its truth. My people: they fought with monsters, and in so doing, became monsters themselves. Or something.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Permalink
  28. SMadin wrote:

    Also: I will play Call of Cthulhu, d20 or Classic, with TBD readers and/or contributors, any time. Seriously, let’s work out these logistics. There’s Great Old Ones to contend with!

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Permalink
  29. Garland Grey wrote:

    @Amanda Calypso Magnum was pretty weaksauce… THEN I DIABLERIZED AN ELDER. Although most of the rest of the fights I had were with people who perceived my diablerie with Auspex and wanted my head. That was less fun.

    @Beatdown You guys rule. We need decoder rings because this is just too much awesome in one place not to fight crime.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Permalink
  30. Amanda wrote:

    I’m down with decoder rings.

    You’ve given me such a little geek-gasm today (RiotNrrd is AWESOME). I want to run home and sniff my cards (they smell like wax and insence from 10 years worth of flat sharing with other geeks).

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 11:44 pm | Permalink
  31. Emmy wrote:

    ooooohhh…I played a Malkavian for about five minutes, I think mostly so I could make jokes? The two girls I played with were also rpg noobs. I don’t think we stuck with it long enough to have to deal with any fighting or serious bloodsucking, so it was basically just a character rp set in the VTM world, which if you think about it is even nerdier because it removes any competitive or strategic element and goes right for the funny names and crushed velvet corsets. One of our characters was seriously just Jean-Claude from the Anita Blake books.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 12:10 am | Permalink
  32. Christen wrote:

    Almost right! Except actually, in hetero geek culture, talking about your WoW guild isn’t the thing that gets you laid. It’s the thing that women roll their eyes at, the thing they just can’t /possibly/ understand.

    And when they do understand? Even a little bit? Those women…they’re…oh my god…so hot. They are the much-coveted Geek Goddess! Which are a very particular iteration of the type discussed in the post that led me to Tiger Beatdown in the first place (13 Ways of Looking at Liz Lemon), the Thinking Man’s Sex Symbol, the lady a nerdy boy might find a little genuine solace in having found someone who UNDERSTANDS about Linux or Firefly or whatever the fuck (and as a person with a lot of interests mainstream society doesn’t care about — almost none of which qualify me for membership in the subculture in question, by the way! — I totally get that), after that, she’s someone the nerd dude can congratulate himself for liking and getting to like him. Often as not, though, if she turns out not just to be a hot lady who likes Magic the Gathering but a hot lady who likes Magic the Gathering and has OPINIONS and worse yet!) FEELINGS, oh! Oh my God! and FUCKING GROSS WHAT IS THAT SHIT OH THE HELL EEWWWWW GET IT OFF ME GET IT OFF ME I’M SORRY BABY I JUST REALLY NEED TO FOCUS ON MY CAMPAIGN RIGHT NOW YOU UNDERSTAND. Particularly if those opinions and feelings have anything to do with the problematic sexual politics of nerd culture!!1

    That said I’m really kind of pissed that all my housemates got to see the Scott Pilgrim movie for free tonight and I didn’t. The premise makes me blanche! But Michael Cera makes me flush. So at the end of the day, UNLIKE SOME NERDS, my complexion is normal.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 12:24 am | Permalink
  33. pinkpillsanity wrote:

    I cannot express how much I love these articles about nerdiness. I’m about to go to a convention (I fly out tomorrow) and I have to say if I didn’t find the spaces I did on the internet where I could be a nerd with other girls and explore my queerness and get out of the toxic spaces with the boys I used to hang with, I wouldn’t be the successful woman I am today.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 12:52 am | Permalink
  34. Rikibeth wrote:

    My entry into the World of Geekdom was very female-mediated, because after the early consumption of Tolkien and Narnia, it went off into the Pern books, and then another girl who liked Pern showed me Dungeons & Dragons, and then because I had the copyright-violation version of Deities & Demigods I was going to the library for Michael Moorcock and Fritz Leiber (among other stuff), and it wasn’t until later that I discovered that Boys Liked This Stuff, and that geeking out about D&D and fantasy novels nullified cooties and dissolved the OMG Can’t Talk To Them problem that comes right after cooties. And it was the female best friend I’d met because we could quote Douglas Adams at each other who introduced me to conventions, which were just FULL of boys, and, at 14, I started on my career as a Geek Goddess.

    Which is not to say that I haven’t observed plenty of the boys-club sexism in nerd culture, and don’t even get me STARTED on some of the congoing creepsters, but even so, my experience of nerd culture was inclusionary and at least willing to engage with feminist criticism (it’s good to be the GM!), far more so than it was an exclusionary space.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 2:03 am | Permalink
  35. scrumby wrote:

    This is great and thank you for the various interesting links. I don’t completely agree with the absolute definition of nerdom that you’ve given because it’s far to similar to the homogeneous stereotype put on us by outsiders (think Big Bang Theory) That being said there is a strong white male majority that often stands as patriarchal gate keepers to certain realms within fandoms like gaming and in the words of George Takie “if my partner sucked that hard I’d never leave the mansion.”
    Those guys are pretty much what brought me and a lot of others into slash. I’m not a huge fan in general (don’t have the patience to wade through the bad) but the subversive implications behind making romantic and sexual connection between the sacred butchness of so and so’s favorite characters is delightful. Sometimes it’s a benefit to a story adding another layer of depth and complexity to relationships. And while the girly-ness can be a little cloying at times it’s nice to have a such fem-positive sphere.

    Nerdem/Fandom has always been about freaks celebrating their abnormal way and that is a powerful message for diversity that we shouldn’t let misogynistic fanboys and mainstream commercialization squash. So dear Mr. Garland if your ever at Dragon*con, come join us at the Rainbow Dance Party annually sponsored by the Trek Track.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 2:13 am | Permalink
  36. Beth Turner wrote:

    Thinking about it, if you’re a girl you’re only supposed to enjoy geeky things by being turned on by a MALE character. Like if you’re a Doctor Who fan and a gal it must be because you want to bang David Tennant (who wasn’t my favourite Doctor, I prefer the newest guy) OR if you’re gay you’re allowed to like Rose. You’re not supposed to care about the story or have an opinion about the fact that the character of Martha was hugely miss-served by the writers (I can’t tell you how much I’m pissed off that they took a character with that much potential and did NOTHING with her)

    I’m supposed to just go “Oh David! He’s so dreamy!” and swoon. People get very very angry if I want to talk about the story or if I go back and watch old Who.

    It’s like that with any geek show. Women are only supposed to be interested in eye candy and if we dare to care about continuity or story or characterization then we get shouted down. It’s why I avoid internet forums about geek stuff.

    (On Doctor Who I got really really annoyed when I’d go on forums and everyone would complain about Amy because she was to “familiar” with the Doctor and “A bit of a slapper” and “Not adventurous just a whiny brat” despite the fact most of that just wasn’t true.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 4:07 am | Permalink
  37. Ali wrote:

    @Beth Turner I swear when people start saying shit like that about Amy Pond steam must start coming out of my ears. She is TOTALLY not whiny (oh but I guess she has opinions and like VOICES them sometimes and to some guys that’s the same thing?). And as for the ‘bit of a slapper thing’? Insulting phrase to use but that thing that they are (incompetently and in completely the wrong way) getting at there is one of the best things about her. She has sexual needs and they don’t have to have anything to do with being head-over-heels in love with someone. She is totally fine with voicing those needs and going out and doing something about them. It’s kinda awesome.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 7:10 am | Permalink
  38. SeanH wrote:

    Doctor Who is a great example of why I don’t visit any non-feminist geek spaces anymore. Every single companion comes in for massively misogynist attacks from the fanboys (Donna’s was the worst, I think). It’s revolting.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 7:42 am | Permalink
  39. WDT wrote:

    @Beth OH GOD SO MUCH WORD ABOUT MARTHA. And about Tennant (give me Nine any day of the week).

    Anyway. Garland for DM of the internet!

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  40. Samantha b. wrote:

    I consider myself an art nerd, and really have no idea what the fuck you’re all talking about- but I really adore these vividly-painted glimpses into an unfamiliar world, Garland.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  41. teej wrote:

    I think that those of us who are marginalized or underprivileged in society are drawn to nerd culture because it holds the potential to critique society and morality in complex, useful ways.

    Thanks for this! I think this is why I like it too, though I am by no means marginalized or underprivileged (white, cis, straight, middle-class male). I have become much more aware of and interested in specifically social SF as I’ve become more interested in understanding privilege etc. over the years…these are, I think, not unrelated.

    I pretty much read three kinds of books: SF, sociology, and politics. This may be the common theme that unites all of them.

    Also, thanks for that link on early computer access privilege, too. That’s definitely me, though I never really though of it as privilege before. The article has given me a lot to think about.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  42. Tab wrote:

    I love this article, and it sums up a lot of problems I’ve had as a queer geek interacting with other geeks. But one thing: it assumes hetero, cis, male geek culture is synonymous with all of geek culture. And it’s not.

    Other people have already mentioned it, but the female-driven geeky subculture that centres around fanfiction is a whole lot more progressive, self-critical and open-minded than the stereotypes associated with male geeks. There are geeks out there who love to critically engage with the media they love, and subvert the norms presented to us by mainstream entertainment. It’s not perfect, but as a queer male nerd, I found it a much more welcome and less suffocatingly prejudiced environment to get my geek on in.

    Geeks aren’t homogenous, they’re reflective of the rest of society. Some of them are progressive, some are reactionary; every mainstream has a counter-culture.

    (I have now typed the word ‘geek’ far too many times.)

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Permalink
  43. julian wrote:

    Tiger Beatdown strikes again!

    I fucking adore this site.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Permalink
  44. Chris wrote:


    As a queer guy that’s just getting into LARP-ing (one of my friends who’s big into costuming and sewing and cosplaying got me into it – TOTALLY MANLY AND COMPLETELY HETEROSEXUAL AMIRITE) I ran into a lot of the same problems. It was rad as hell while we were all in character, and things seemed pretty non-judgmental, but as soon as the game was over and my friend told that I liked guys it got all “Gay nerds EXIST?” and “Tell me about all the sex you have had ever to prove it!” and “Can you forcibly out the guy sitting next to you since I think he’s gay and your word is law on this kind of thing?” on me.

    Plus, most of the straight guys playing were just so BORING about it. They seemed so much more into the numbers and proving how jacked and badass their character was than the roleplaying aspect of it, which is pretty much my favorite part, especially as a low-level character that can’t fight for long without dying, anyway. I mean, come on, I pretend to be halfling on a monthly basis, do you really think I can take this THAT seriously?

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Permalink
  45. Chris wrote:

    And also, pretty much everything Tab said. I’m kind of so excited that this post exists that I can’t concentrate.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 11:12 pm | Permalink
  46. Bittercup wrote:

    Thank you for this post. I had a rude awakening a couple of years ago when I dared to voice my girly opinion about the sexism in comic books on a blog I once wrote. I had the full fury of white male geekdom hit me and it shocked the hell out of me. Talk about living under a rock, huh?

    It upset me so much that I even stopped reading my beloved comics for awhile–I’m just starting to get into them again. I really appreciate that you’ve created a post that puts into words my feelings about what happened to me. Thanks.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink
  47. This was entirely fabulous. Out of all the social spheres I’m moved through, geek culture has given me the best sanctuary and the worst headaches. It’s great to have someone lay out some of why.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Permalink
  48. Taryn wrote:

    I love this article, but I love your Young Avengers name-dropping even more. They’ll get an on-panel kiss before the end of Avengers: Children’s Crusade, they WILL.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Permalink
  49. Garland Grey wrote:

    @Taryn After that stunt in Avengers Headquarters, I am salty and skeptical. But that scene with Wiccan’s parents was like “AHHH Why isn’t this LIFE???”

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 1:29 am | Permalink
  50. Jaime wrote:

    haha I’ve always said that Cyclops and Wolverine were going to end up getting their frustrations out on each other sexually, the comics really insinuated that it was bound to happen.
    I don’t know, maybe it’s the guys I’ve always hung out with? Maybe I’m too pushy? ;_; I’ve never really had an issue with geekboys not listening to my opinions. Sure, I have to fight a little harder and sure, I have to know my stuff a little more, but they always come around if I can prove whatever I am saying. Geek culture can also be one of the most accepting cultures in the long run. I don’t believe that geekdom is only centered on white boys (seeing as in other countries they are far more fanatical than in the US, take Japan for instance) and their whims. I think it’s based on a universal love for everything that doesn’t fit into society. Almost everyone I have ever met has been so open with their feelings and opinions, I have never felt that they were looking down on me for being female or anything of the sort. I realize that this may only be my experience but I feel that I have to share it.

    P.S. I talk to my boyfriend about my WoW guild (and he doesn’t play)…what does this make me? >.>

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 4:04 am | Permalink
  51. Garland Grey wrote:

    @Jaime I think a lot of how much you are the focus of negative geek attention is in a large part related to your particular area of geekdom. Usually the more you encroach upon action comics, fighting/FPS games, or D&D games the more negative experiences you will have. Or if you are asking people to think about the type of female characters are in the media they consume in a nonsexual way – that is the unforgivable sin. I am assuming you would have less conflict if you were really into Shonen-Ai or Buffy, because one’s queer-themed and the other has a strong female heroine.

    Essentially, it is possible to find a group of people who are supportive and great, and that is important. But geek spaces can be savage and insular in the world and online – some geeks make their savagery and insularity a point of pride, besides just being elitist assholes. These type of geeks swarm over a lot of nerd spaces and set up little fiefdoms, and a lot of us have come in contact with them. I mean, it’s a little much when you can’t even play X-Box live without people hurling slurs at you.

    Oh, and having a WoW guild makes you an ubernerd. Just ask my mom.

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 6:38 am | Permalink
  52. Taryn wrote:

    @ Garland: I think that was just Heinberg messing with us. I predict heart-wrenching “I love you but I can’t support you in this” pseudo!breaking up to add tension near the end of the run, followed by reuniting and a fan-appeasing kiss at the end. I’m holding on to the faith with both hands!!

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Permalink
  53. Beth Turner wrote:

    Ali and SeanH It made me give up on forums because I couldn’t stand the sexism apparent in EVERY post about Amy. Which killed me because she was honest and sexual and as she was described by the actress “She doesn’t want to be possessed and because of that isn’t possessive”. But the fact that they will flat out complain about things they claim Amy was doing that she DIDN’T do (like refuse to leave the Tardis WTF? That NEVER Happened) I just went “GAH!” and left.

    And WDT I was (and am SO angry about Martha she was sooooo possible to be cool and they ruined her. Grrr.)

    Sunday, August 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink