This week is Speak Out With Your Geek Out, an online effort to pull the curtain aside on all things geeky. As its Facebook page says:
“Let us invite those who would stereotype us to sit at our table and share our interests. Let us combat being used as pawns for internet gaffes with the reasons why we’re awesome, why we love what we love, and why it’s good to be a geek.”
Hi. My name is Steve, and I’m a geek. (Hi Steve!)
I’m old-school geek. I was a geek before computers even entered the picture. I was that stereotypical kid that didn’t fit in, got picked on in school, and got picked last in gym. I think geekery has its origins in those marginalized kids. Shunned by their peers, they retreat into books, movies, anything that provides an escape or gives them some semblance of control over their lives. Tolkien’s books sucked you in because you wanted to be there, inside that world so different from yours where even chubby little dudes with hairy feet could be heroes. When D&D first came out, I think that was its main appeal. Get your ass kicked at school? Here, you can be a fireball-slinging wizard or an axe-wielding barbarian who doesn’t take shit from anyone!
When computers started to enter the scene, it was a natural draw. Here was this new gizmo that nobody really knew what to do with, but if you could program it then you could bend it to your will. (I know the programmers out there might be laughing right now, but work with me.) You could make and do things that nobody had seen before and that was empowering.
But playing role-playing games and getting into computers only served to distance geeks further from their peers. If you were fortunate, there were other geeks and you could commiserate with them, play your games together and such, but when you were out in public you had to hide all that. You were still driven by the need to fit in and be accepted, even if you weren’t being accepted for your personal truth. It rarely worked, of course. You didn’t fool anyone, but it never stopped you from trying, from trying to hide who and what you were.
So geekery became this sort of “hidden shame.” You didn’t discuss it with outsiders. In trying to find a place for ourselves, we ended up distancing ourselves from the places we wanted to fit into most. It wasn’t until the advent of BBSes in the late 80s and early 90s that geeks really began to meet each other. Suddenly it wasn’t just you and your buddies at school. It turned out there were other geeks across town that liked the same kind of stuff, and it helped to know there were other bastions of geekery out there.
And once the internet burst onto the scene, it turned out there were other geeks across the state, then the nation, then the world. Increased communication started exposing everyone to the way of the geek. On the internet, we were finally somebody. Everyone knew Bill Gates, what he did, and how much money he made doing it. He was proof that we could be more than just skinny dudes wearing lame clothes who had our lunch money stolen, proof to others and proof to ourselves. Even today he still looks like the quintessential geek.
But language is a funny thing. It describes, and in doing so it perpetuates. Geeky things are a lot more popular nowadays, but culture changes slowly and geeky things are still strange to a lot of people. Even today, geek is still a derogatory term at times. The word geek is being reclaimed by the geeks, worn proudly even, but there’s still a ways to go. Acceptance comes from exposure. Don’t hide what you geek out on. Show it, share it. Joy isn’t something to be ashamed of. Let your geek flag fly.
“Get your ass kicked at school? Here, you can be a fireball-slinging wizard or an axe-wielding barbarian who doesn’t take shit from anyone!”
I always loved all things geeky, but you wouldn’t have known it by looking at me. Which was why I loved telling people. I had a default popularity at school because of other people in my life, so I felt it was my mission to defend and represent my fellow geeks!
I won’t lie, I didn’t turn my nose up at any of the relationships with the popular and pretty people at school, but all these years later, it’s the nerd with the skin condition, thick glasses, and unfortunate stutter, and the guy who really did look a bit like an alien that I think of from time to time and wonder how they’re doing.
I kinda rode along that border edge in high school too, though my trip leaned more towards the geek side. I was two years younger than everyone else (I graduated high school when I was 16), so I think that tended to deflect at least some of the peer abuse. Nobody likes picking on little kids, and all that. That age gap was another barrier to acceptance though, and another factor that pushed me towards geekdom. Hey, it all worked out in the end. 🙂