I’m a geek. I was in a book about it before I could vote, and it’s been part of my identity since long before that. I’m not always out as a geek, because sometimes it’s not relevant to a given conversation or sometimes I would impede my ability to get things done.
I’m always on the lookout for other geeks to geek out with. I found a good group recently through a local comic book convention, and since we were all “Nerdy and Proud” there was no coming out process. Honestly, I was wearing full theatrical make-up and 2 of the group were wearing large Time Lord costumes; there was nothing to be coy about.
Because there’s a price to being coy. Wearing my professional mask tied too tightly could lead me to suffer the fate of characters in this Silverstein poem, which I fittingly first discovered as part of a merlin photoset (photo set original source and source for me).
She had blue skin.
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by –
And never knew.
A comic convention is one big nerd courtship ritual. More than any other subculture of which I am a part, it’s clear in fandom circles that courtship isn’t about dating–it’s sometimes about having someone to spend time with who obsesses in the same way I do.
While over 10% of the staff of my work attended this particular convention, my workplace is not focused on promoting nerdy, fandom, or other (delightful) forms of geekery. It’s a leading anti-human trafficking nonprofit. When I want to figure out if someone I think I might be able to geek out with is also a nerd, I need to engage in subtle nerd courthsip.
There are subtle ways to get other geek’s attention. T-shirts are one kind of nerd courtship mating call (here’s more on tribal shibboleths and t-shirts); verbal ticks from tv shows are another (“Frack! I thought that game was going to be shiny, but the representation of women is wigging me out.”); office nesting habits can be another (a co-worker of mine has covered an entire wall with Star Wars paraphernalia in his workspace).
The goal of all of these friend of Dorothy-esque overtures is to get people around me to reveal their inner nerd. Neal Stephenson in his wonderful Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing describes this moment as putting our Vulan ears on, after having a professional and visibly reserved waiter drop everything to ask about what Lucy Lawless is like in person (Mundanes = non-nerds):
Both this waiter, and the elevator sword people, are displaying a trait that is epitomized, for better or worse, by the cruel Mundane stereotype of SF fans wearing rubber Vulcan ears. In a sense, all of us—all SF fans—are forever carrying those rubber ears around, concealed in the pockets of our business suits, military uniforms, waiter’s jackets, or doctor’s smocks. No one knows they’re there. But when we find ourselves around like-minded persons, even if they happen to be total strangers, we absent-mindedly reach into our pockets, pull out the ears, and slap them on.
It’s all part of my process to building a community of my own on the East Coast. Today I stepped back into my first home community at the 2013 Peninsula Spring Fair. It was a place where a lot of people know me, and I know a lot of people. It’s a place I grew up and feel unbelievably safe. It takes work and time and connection to build a place like that, but the first step is being able to be myself.
And so I look for people to geek out with, because when I am most myself, I am a geek.
The Doctor: Big finish. Two more minutes, then we’re off. The Eye of Orion’s restful. If you like restful. I could never really get the hang of restful. What do you think, dear? Huh? Where should we take the kids this time? Amy: Look at you pair. It’s always you and her isn’t it? Long after the rest of us have gone. A boy and his box off to see the universe. The Doctor: Well you say that as if it’s a bad thing. But honestly it’s the best thing there is.
—The Doctor’s Wife, by Neil Gaiman