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Eight years ago, I picked up this little gem from the Wheaton Public Library. I had been wallowing in the midst of a six-year hiatus from writing fiction due to school and self-degradation over my ability to craft sentences free of dry, academic rhetoric, and at some point between red cup parties in Allston and swag events in the Back Bay, it had been recommended that I read Virginia Woolf. Stemmed wholly in the ignorance of 20th century feminist struggles, I became and grew more aghast with each page as Ms. Woolf struggled to find a place where she could simply enjoy doing what she loved most. Determined to enjoy the freedom given to me by the 21st century, I picked up my pen once more and began to produce prose. What I did not produce until recently was a clear and concise understanding of how much my gender and my race would be so intrinsically linked with everything that I loved, specifically those things within the Land of Geekdom.

Cue Captain Obvious for starters, I am black. I am a [cis]woman. Before you even start, yes, being cis matters A LOT. I am a nerd/geek/dork/dweeb. For most of my life, I exercised the third aspect as if the first two were merely facts that were distinct and independent of the third. For most of my life, I was detached from my race and my gender because they were spots of contention in my past, having grown up never being “black enough” or “feminine enough” for society to react to me civilly. So, I stuck to the Land of Geekdom because I erroneously believed that my race and my gender, more aptly my personal portrayal of my gender, were not societal determinants to how much I could or would love my nerd things.

It has only been within the last two years during which I have become more comfortable with my race and my gender that I have sought to reexamine my geek mediums and how they relate to me as I reclaim who I am within my own definitions. Whether we want to accept it, what we are [race, gender, sexual orientation, etc] is tied into what we do and love as we are Great Apes that assess everything visually first, conceptually second, and intellectually last. I wanted to see if Geekdom loved and cherished me as much as I loved and cherished it. I was hoping to find a sort of Nerd-topia wherein which a black American cis-woman could be enveloped into the folds of Nerdom surrounded by other humans screaming, “ZOMG!! You love Trigun?! I lurves Trigun!! Let us go forth and discuss the multi-faceted themes of redemption and silly red coats over bacon beer!!!”

What I received instead was a spectrum of uncomfortable glares to painful indifference, and it culminated in aggressive gatekeeping. The behavior boggled my bubbled little mind. We were all humans and we all loved the same things. Why couldn’t we sit down and examine and reexamine as nerds do without the unnecessary “qualifications” being pressed upon one another for some silly reassurance built on tearing other people down?

My First Con

I came late to the Con world. I had ignorantly associated cons with a level of fandom that I believed to be embarrassing and indicative of no social life outside of your nerd medium. Wanting so badly to do nothing but blend in for once in my life, I steered clear of anything and everything that would place me on any fringe of any kind. Watching the television shows and reading the books were one thing; dressing up and going out in public to celebrate said nerd medium was something else entirely. I had not been ready or willing to admit that I was intrigued by the Con world, so I externalized my internal shame at being too afraid to express my nerdom as how I saw fit, and thus repressed my nerdiness even further.

That was until 2011 when a good friend who is a Jack of many trades invited me to come with her to Wizard World Chicago. I was taken aback. Surely a con could not be party to simple obsessives if my multi-faceted friend had expressed a desire to go. She had even clued me into an activity in which I hadn’t participated in almost 15 years called “bin-diving”. (A word to the wise, bin-diving at 30 is SO not the same when you’re 15). The key was to bring money because you were going to spend it. And spend it I did. I became obsessed.

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Wizard World Chicago 2.0

Having recently broken up with my partner at the time during the previous week, I attended Wizard World Chicago by myself in 2012. I didn’t mind, at least I told myself that I didn’t mind. I had become quite accustomed to doing things on my own, and I wasn’t going to waste this opportunity since the Con world had officially won me over. I threw on my Lt. Uhura costume, complete with bluetooth, and headed toward Rosemont on the blue line.

Upon my arrival, I knew something was amiss. I strolled through the passageways to find the Welcome Booths for my pass, feeling eyes creeping on me as I wandered through the queue. I pushed it out of my mind and strolled towards the vendors. Passing the plethora of t-shirt booths, I did a double-take and completely lost my shit when I stumbled upon this shirt:

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A little insight to my DBZ fandom: I don’t have a DBZ obsession; I have a DBZ problem. How big of a problem? Well, the laptop on which I am currently typing this blog entry is sporting a giant Capsule Corp decal; its name is Vegeta 3.0; and I killed the first two Vegetas from 10 years of illegally downloading the entire unedited, subtitled Japanese version of the DBZ saga, and yes, that includes all 13 movies and several fandom mash-up music videos. There is a reason why, currently, you will only find a minimum of DBZ paraphernalia in my apartment. Self-regulation and Saiyan-jin do not go well together. Just try eating a meal with one.

Anywho, back to the story. I picked up that shirt and squealed with all of my nerd squee at the vendor.

Me: ZOMG! I can’t believe that you have this t-shirt! This is fucking hysterical and awesome.

Oddly enough, the vendor didn’t share in my enthusiasm.

Vendor: [Blink] You mean, you know what that is?

Me: [Still in squee euphoria] Yeah! It’s a play on Vegeta’s exclamation of his power level being “over 9000!” Duh! Why wouldn’t I know what it means? I wouldn’t be squealing if…

Oh.

OH.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. There I was jumping up and down about finding a perfect reference to my long-time favorite anime, and I could not be taken seriously as a nerd because I happened to be jumping up and down in a red mini dress and black high-heeled boots. My nerd-phoria dissolved quickly into nerd-contempt.

Vendor: So, are you going to buy that?

Me: Yes, but I’ll now be paying in cash since I don’t want to have any record of being associated with you or your company.

I marched away with my swag, biting my lip to stave off my anger and tears. I still had the complete version of Persepolis to find (this hunt deserves its own blog entry on the narrowness of Con-located comic book vendors’ knowledge if it doesn’t have big tits and big explosions), and I wasn’t going to let one greasy gatekeeping jackhole stop me from enjoying the rest of the convention. Nerdom had a place for me, of that I was positive; I just didn’t know where to look for it.

Why A Sietch Of My Own?

Well, I would think that the answer would be obvious. We as nerds pride ourselves on being part of a growing community that shares obsessions and the expanse of knowledge. The more people with which we can share, the more excited we tend to be. Unfortunately, the mainstream nerd community still has a series of hurdles to leap over in terms of marginalizing its POC/women/LGBTQ members. It’s hard to express nerd squee when you don’t feel safe or included in the very environ that is supposed to bring you so much solace.

To Mainstream Nerdom:

How can you honestly expect us to join you when you won’t even consider how you have been so dismissive and sometimes downright repugnant because someone who loves what they love doesn’t fit YOUR little short-sighted ideal? That is the reason WorldCon has been suffering decreasing attendance. That is the reason why pride in POC cosplaying has exploded Richard Roundtree style. That is the reason why the LGBTQ gaming community has gone all “Fuck y’all if don’t recognize!” And you know what? I don’t hold our inferred segregation against any of us. All we wanted was a community. All we wanted to do was share our lurve of Klingon Boggle*. All we wanted was to be recognized by the mediums to which we’ve given so much of our time, energy, attention and money. We wanted more Ororo Munroes, William Adamas, and Captain Jack Harknesses to be seen and equally featured with your Scott Summerses, your [old school] Starbuckses, and your Doctors to give us some sort of testament that YOU SAW US TOO and were just as enthralled to have us in your company as we were to be here.

But we didn’t get that. Instead we got the racism sesplosion at the idea of a black man being The Human Torch. We got a borderline translucent individual casted as the most dangerous man from the Mediterranean-inspired land of Dorne. We get the heads of one of the largest gaming conventions in the country standing firm and fucktarded over their “right” to make AND PROFIT FROM rape jokes. We, the marginalized, have been given nearly every indication that you don’t want nor care to have us in mainstream nerdom, so why should we not form our own communities to support ourselves?

But Really, Mainstream Nerdom…

All of that being said, we don’t want to stay out here on the periphery by ourselves. The very definition of being a nerd/geek/dork/dweeb means to share what you love with everyone who wants to partake. While I cannot speak for anyone else, I know that I feel a bit “off” when I can’t share my toys with whomever I would like [provided that they would like for me to share my toys with them and vice versa] in a safe and accepting environment…and I’m the product of traditional Montessori education.

At the end of the day, mainstream nerdom needs to understand three very prominent facts:

  1. We’re here.
  2. We love what you love.
  3. And we’re not going anywhere.

*Incidentally, I hate Klingon Boggle, mainly because I suck at it. I do however, know people who don’t fit the white/heterosexual/[cis]male nerd image and bring out their pain sticks when it comes to the game.

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