A community that I have grown to love has increasingly gotten more exclusive and shows extreme evidence of gatekeeping and bullying and guess what..I am not okay with it.
The advent of multi-billion dollar movie franchises like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe what was formerly seen as undesirable interests is now “accessible and acceptable” for those who would not have been fans or had exposure before. This has surprisingly brought upon backlash with many calling out others for being “fake fans”. There are now litmus tests it seems to being the right kind of fan to be in these communities. It is an interesting juxtaposition because what was once an ostracized community is now doing the gatekeeping, deciding people are not enough of something to be called a nerd or a geek. Now I am aware that this is just one piece of the pie that are the problems
facing the nerd and geek community (gamergate, MRA, representation), but I believe it is a key issue.
The question that seems to be at the center all of this is: What is a nerd?
Is it a title that is exclusively for those who played Dungeons and Dragons growing up or read comic books since they were children? Is it only for the “mega fans” or someone who knows every last bit of knowledge about a character or series? I would argue that perspective is a harmful and so narrow that it leaves one wondering, where does the definition end? Instead I propose that a nerd is someone who chooses to identify as such. That’s it. End of story.
You may be thinking…alright, you ranted and defined, congrats, but what the heck am I supposed to do now because you have given no action item. Never fear. I am getting there….right…now.
What you can do:
One of the most important things that I have learned over the past couple of years has been how closed off and limiting my definitions of other people have been. Instead of letting someone identify themselves, I labelled them because I obviously knew better. I know that I get upset when someone identifies me as a “sporto” or “nerd” without me prompting that identification because how do they know? If I get upset when someone labels me or polices my labeling, how can I expect someone to be okay when I do it for them?
It has been a hard lesson to learn because I have been unlearning ingrained behaviors but I have come to accept that how someone identifies has no effect on my own life or identity. Awareness is key. Notice when you are starting to qualify someone’s identity. This can be the hardest part because it may be something that you are passionate about or have a long history with (and how dare a new Doctor Who fan who has only seen Matt Smith’s seasons say they are a Who nerd), but notice when you are heading down that path. It is not up to you to decide if someone likes something enough and identifies as a nerd. Just because they may be new to the comic, film, television series, book, game, etc. does not mean that they can love it any less than you do. If you struggle with this, how about approaching it from the perspective that hey if that thing that you like has another fan, it may stick around longer! We all know what happens to things that we love that do not have large followings…
So I challenge you to embrace all in fandoms. Whether they identify as a nerd or a geek or a casual fan. Revel in the opportunity to share your passion with another human being and maybe even be introduced to new favorites. Being open and accepting can only bring good things. Expand your boundaries and you may be surprised what you find.
I am a proud millennial. I grew up in the days of playing Oregon Trail on the colorful Macs and MathMunchers on my home PC. I remember dial up internet and getting WiFi for the first time. I have loved Star Wars from a young age, with fond memories of watching the originals with my dad. I collected rocks and Barbie’s as a kid and I have always loved sports/outdoor activities. I played some form of teeball/baseball/softball since I was 6 and swam competitively for 6 years. Going to professional baseball, soccer, and hockey games are one of my favorite pastimes and during a major sporting event (Olympics, World Cup) you will easily find me at my local sports bar watching the games (and loudly cheering and groaning). I am obsessed with many things including Sherlock (BBC), Marvel Cinematic Universe, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars. I find myself equally comfortable camping in a tent surrounded by nature or in a bustling city. All of these things and more make up my identity and I consider myself a sum of my parts.