I’ve been a geek since before I knew what a geek was. I was definitely a geek before it was acceptable to be a geek. I don’t remember a point in my life before Star Trek, Star Wars, Highlander, Lord of the Rings, or any form of fantasy and sci-fi. Pretty much anything I read was fantasy, sci-fi, or horror (which I, personally, find highly related to the other two). I even threw myself into my more “typical” adolescent girl interests—horses, for example—with a geeky fervor. You know what I’m talking about—the drive to find out everything about a subject, to surround yourself with the things you love, and to develop a passionate relationship with your interests.
I’m tempted to list out everything that made me into a young geek, but I know that’s not necessary. It ultimately doesn’t matter if you were into comic books, science fiction TV shows, or writing fanfiction—if you’re a young nerd, it tends to show through very easily. It reminds me of part of my favorite quote from John Green—he says that nerds are ultimately just “too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.” This enthusiasm often can’t be contained. It’s similar to the look someone gets when they talk about someone they love—except for nerds, it comes about when we talk about Harry Potter, World of Warcraft, or Battlestar Gallactica. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with unbridled enthusiasm, and there’s nothing wrong with letting it show.
Unless, apparently, your enthusiasm makes you appear “different.” In my case, I already stood out in my small-town Catholic school. One of the terms that best describes my looks is “ethnically ambiguous” and this was even more apparent when I was young. If you coupled the fact that I looked decidedly “other” with the fact that I would always have my nose stuck in a book adorned with knights in shining armor—therefore acting obviously “other”—it was a recipe for disaster.
Without getting into too many details, my family eventually moved to a new town due to the bullying, but it really didn’t stop. I became a little less withdrawn than I was at my old school, but I had learned to treat my geekiness like a horrific disease—it was as if I felt like I was plagued with a disease that I had to keep secret from everyone else. I made a few friends throughout middle school, high school, and my undergraduate career who liked the same things I did, and that was nice. But I still felt the need to restrain my inner geek. I wrote fanfiction in secret. I hid comic books in my bedroom. If anyone made a joke at the expense of another geek, I would awkwardly chuckle but wish I could just disappear.
The stereotypical male nerd is annoyed by the role the internet played in making geekdom an acceptable subculture. I, on the other hand, can’t thank it enough. It hasn’t changed life dramatically—people still look at my strangely when I walk around in my Star Trek hoodie, for example—but it has given me a sense of belonging. When I was younger I felt like an outsider, like there was something different about me that made me love things that no one else cared about—and that they would make fun of me for loving. I was able to meet other people through the internet who did enjoy these things, though, and it made me comfortable with myself again. It let me once again embrace the enthusiasm that defines the geek community. Another helpful thing was going to graduate school—nerds purposefully put themselves into this environment, and many people enjoy the same things I do.
These communities allowed me to become comfortable enough with myself to the geek inside me roam free once more. And I have to tell you—I’m much happier with life now that I don’t care about a discouraging look or a snide comment about my nerdy hobbies and interests. If anything like that does happen, I can turn to the internet community and people there will make me feel better and confident again. I’m only sad that it took me this long to embrace the geek again. I really missed out on collecting some badass action figures over the last twenty years.