You never need to prove to anyone who you are. You simple are who you are. Claiming that someone else is faking their interest in a topic is ridiculous. Our interests and curiosities define us just as much as, if not more than, our histories and personal experiences. Friendly competition between peers on knowledge of the esoteric details of a given subject is good fun, but not a defining prerequisite for claiming curiosity about the subject. I would like to think that the previous few sentences are unnecessary in a conversation with adults, but unfortunately, as the recent conversations surrounding “fake geek girls” has shown, that is not the case. In a sad way, many of us have not matured past the social battleground of middle school.
I was not a geek in school, I didn’t get into computers till I was in my twenties. I can not claim a long history of love of board games, I’ve only played D&D once, and didn’t get a lot out of it. I was never a gamer, but I liked Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Brothers. I was never a jock, but I liked playing football. Despite our deep tribal instincts, I have never really belonged to any particular group with any depth. Not belonging did not mean not wanting to belong though. So, when I read Serenity Caldwell’s post Fears of a Charlatan Girl it struck a nerve. In it, she describes a fear that I remember:
But my biggest fear is ill-defined, murky, opaque. I can’t pack it into a pithy sentence. I can’t even clearly explain it.
There are more blog posts and conference talks and speeches than I can point to about this feeling—that you’re not worthy, you’re not an expert, you shouldn’t be talking, you shouldn’t be doing this job.
I do not know Serenity, but I think I may be able to define her fear, at least as I remember it. Rejection. It is the fear that lies in the gulf between who we are and who we aspire to be. We know we are not our perfect vision of ourselves, but it is in this aspiration that we grow to become the best we can be. God knows I’m still trying to bridge that gulf. God willing, I will never stop trying.
Reading about the drunken rants of someone who has not been able to get past whatever happened in his formative years, I can’t help but think that, yes, he is wrong, but more importantly, why do we care? If you want to dress up as Captain Marvel and go to a convention, go for it. If you want to get on a podcast and talk about the books you are reading, I’d love to hear it. Fear of rejection, of being called out, keeps many of us from becoming the person we were meant to be. I’m still trying to get there.
IF you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don't deal in lies, Or being hated, don't give way to hating, And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise: If you can dream - and not make dreams your master; If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools: If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!' If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch, if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
Kipling was a product of his time, but you can replace “Man” in that last line with “Grownup”.
One last note on the apparent abundance of misogyny in geek culture. If you exclude someone from your social group based on what they are, what they look like, or some other measure outside of shared interests, how dare you. Shame on you. Stop it. (Oh, if only it were that easy.)