Growing Up Geek: You Kids Have it Easy

I’m always caught off guard when Cracked articles make me feel things.

But, yeah, this: 5 Things Modern Kids Don’t Understand About Being a “Nerd.” Today, my husband and I were in Target, looking at all of the “vintage,” “ironic” T-shirts which are neither particularly vintage or ironic, and he commented, “I can’t believe how easy it is to be a nerd these days.” Before the Internet, before mainstream sci-fi, before comics were cool, being a nerd was really fucking difficult. I went to a Star Trek con in 1991, and when I got home, guess who I showed my awesome new Starfleet Academy sweatshirt to, or who I told that I was devastated that Wil Wheaton wasn’t there [shut up; I was a pre-teen and pickings were slim], but so psyched that Marina Sirtis signed a picture and used my name, or how I wanted to wear an Uhura costume for Halloween that year? No one. Because I would have gotten stuffed in a locker. (That stuff really happened. Big lockers. Small kids.)

I used to read comics. A lot. I lived close to a college campus that had a good comic store. And I’d save up all my money for the newest X-Men or Superman (I wasn’t picky about universes), but I was so relentlessly mocked that I’d have to get an Archie, too, so I could hide my real purchase underneath. Because I was a girl, and I was a kid, and people were cruel.

I’m not saying kids (and I use that term pretty broadly, but let’s say 25 and younger) can’t be “real” nerds, and I’m not denying how much easier the Internet has made being a nerd, but I don’t think younger people really understand what it was like to be a nerd kid in the ’80s and early ’90s. How “bullying” wasn’t a thing that anyone cared about stopping until my generation was already out of college. And how I would have loved to come of age in a time when being a nerd was no big deal, and wouldn’t get you ostracized, bullied, beaten, and mocked. How someone would rip your comic book out of your hand and right in half and you were the wrong one for even having it in the first place. And I’m glad that kids today are growing up when they can freely and enthusiastically show their love for various “nerdy” things, and if you’re being mocked, well, hey, there’s the Internet, and a thousand like-minded folks just a few keystrokes away.

And this is why all of the associated crap that goes along with being a girl who’s a nerd is so infuriating to me. Why my ComicCon experiences were more frustrating than the usual dismissive glances and commonplace street harassment. Because I’ve already proven my nerd cred. I did it when I was 10 and 14 and 18, and I did it even when it prevented me from making friends or from being accepted or when it got me bullied to the point that getting on the school bus felt like a game of Russian roulette. So to go to a con that’s mainstream and popular and a big deal, and to have people doubt I have any idea what I’m talking about because I’m a girl is infuriating. I lived this already, and I did it when I didn’t have a screenname to hide behind. It was just me: a nerd in the real world.

20 replies on “Growing Up Geek: You Kids Have it Easy”

I really appreciated this post. I was a really geeky girl (not so much about comics/super heroes) but I read voraciously, collected rocks, had a journal devoted to ‘cool words’ which I brought to school with me (bad, bad idea!!!), participated in sciences fairs, and watched and wanted to talk about the news/politics with my classmates. It only brought me pain and mockery…. elementary school was unbelievably rough as was jr. high, since it was basically the same group of kids and both were rather small schools. The highschool nearest my house, however, had a population of 2,200 when I was there. This allowed me to fade off the radar of the bullies and pursue my interests with my few friends. It was a huge relief, to just be able to do what I wanted with my life (which was debate and speech team, lots of band, IB classes, and cross-country running). I was bullied by a group of incredibly cruel girls (and occasionally boys trying to woo the cruel girls) from grades 3-9, I don’t know how things would have turned out for me if I didn’t have that escape hatch at the end of Jr. high.

I think that overall it is much much easier to be a geeky guy. My boyfriend loves starwars (and has loved it since he was little). In highschool he played a starwars card rpg (I think it’s like Magic: the Gathering) semi-competitively.He did all this while attending a small rural school with the same group of kids from when he was in elementary. He was never bullied, and has a lot of close friends (from elementary!) who he still talks to. If I had played a starwars RPG I would have been mocked for that even more than just my rock collecting, newspaper reading ways alone. I also assume that attending a small highschool with only the kids I went to elementary school with would have been completely awful.

I had a very similar experience to you. Terrible bullies in junior high (one of them gave me my first and only concussion), but then I got to go to a 2000+ kid public school in the center of our city. So I was able to surround myself with older kids in after school clubs and almost never had an issue with people picking on me personally after that. But there were some ignorant morons who made homophobic/xenophobic/ridiculous comments at a ton of people in my circle (I did theater tech and the literary magazine and was also in the riot grrl/ska/punk orbit). It’s funny, because now all that shit gives me serious cred in my adult life (granted my adult life is in NYC and I work in books, so I just surrounded myself with other nerds). And I know that one of my junior high bullies has been in jail for a few years now. So….it gets better.

I don’t have kids, and the only folks I know with kids all have very wee ones, but I am not sure how much easier it is for kids these days. While they do have the internet for unlimited access to cool music and others who share their interests, the other side of the coin is how much easier it must be to have our life ruined 24/7. And you still see terrible bullying cases via the internet or in person. All it takes is some asshole making a website about you, and it’s there for all eternity. While someone slamming me into a locker and pantsing me will probably only live on in my memory at this point. Can we get some current high schoolers up in here to weigh in?

I was a nerd, too. I grew up on comics, 80s sci-fi films like BTTF and Ghostbusters, HP and anime. As a result, my circle of friends at its highest when I was in middle and high school amounted to THREE. I’m just lucky that I had supportive parents who told me that it was alright to be who I am. It wasn’t until I passed my teens that I took that to heart and allowed my proverbial nerd flag fly. One of my favorite shirts now is my Lexcorp Security shirt. I have Fushigi Yuugi wall scrolls decorating my apartment. We named one of our cats Luna, after Lovegood of Harry Potter fame (as well as the fact that it can be a shortened form of Lunatic, which she is).

It can get a little better. I have found many friends that enjoy some of the things that I do. But still, it isn’t to the point where I wouldn’t worry about today’s nerds. Acceptance is on its way. I just hope it’s soon.

I went to NYCC over the weekend, and while I didn’t really engage in a ton of nerdy conversations, I noticed the dudes still just treated women like meat. At one point I deliberately positioned myself in front of some guy because he was trying to shoot a close-up of some girl’s scantily-clad ass.

Oh lawd, do I know this feeling, although I’m just out of your kids range by a year. I went through middle school being an anime fan in the late 90’s before anime was anything you could admit to liking without people assuming you meant weird Japanese cartoon porn. No amount of trying to explain that I had finally found cartoons with female characters I could relate to and who were cool got me out of one teacher insisting on searching through my Sailor Moon manga for signs of indecency. And while there was some relief in the internet it was found only in 20 minute snatches before my mother would complain about me hogging the phone line. And it really did not make up for all the time I would spend with no one to talk to at school, or the bit of fan art that I was so proud of that I hung it in my locker getting ripped up, and no attempt being made by the school to challenge that action.

I have noticed though that when I teach (and I teach a comic book art class) I still have to coax some kids into outing themselves as nerds and sharing their interests with me, so I suspect it’s still not easy to be a nerd and be in middle school just by the nature of the social dynamics of that age. Still it is hella rewarding to see a kid open up when he realizes that you know about Sonic the Hedgehog or that they can talk about how they like the Bone comics and you will not tell them to get interested in something more serious.

I work with middle school and high school students through my church, and yeah, it’s still hard to be a nerd/geek in certain circles. Most of the young people I know right now are Asian (and live in a very concentrated Asian population), however, so being an anime fan or doing cosplay is something that they are proud of and won’t really be mocked for.

Speaking of places it’s hard to be a geek in: conservative evangelical churches. Anything with magic in it (except Tolkien and Lewis, of course, because they’re CHRISTIAN!) was verboten for me. My mom wouldn’t even let me buy a book by E. freaking Nesbit because the title was “The Magic World.” She never forbade me from reading fairy tales or mythology, but it made her reeeeally uncomfortable when I did. No Harry Potter, no Buffy, no modern young adult fantasy books. And RPGs, whether video games or tabletop games, were tools of the devil that would inevitably turn me into a Satanist, so none of that nonsense, either. I was less interested in science fiction when I was younger than I am now, but lots of science fiction TV shows and movies are violent, so that made them problematic. And Firefly has a prostitute in it! Gasp!
And that’s not even getting into what it’s like to be interested in science and have to deal with the whole creation vs. evolution brouhaha.

Aww, pom. That’s major suckage, to keep along the high school language (or does that only happen in Hollywood?)

I’m still waiting for the movement of massive book worms turning into something cool, to be honest. I can’t admit reading up to 120 books a year and preferring a graphic novel over reality TV without someone’s eyes screaming HERMIT at me.
Anyway, personal frustrations. Yay, nerds!

My daughter is really into things like Pokemon and Bakugon and whatnot and she’s 8, so I’ve got awhile until middle school and who knows what she will be into then, but I’m sort of just crossing my fingers that kids do have it “easier” (relatively) compared to the geeks/nerds when I went to school. And my class wasn’t even all that bad, compared to the grade levels above and below me, but I still wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

I think I lucked out in growing up outside of the US in a place where I was so removed from most Americans my own age so that my having nerdy/geeky tendencies went primarily unnoticed. I got ridiculed a bit in high school (boarding school with many more Americans my age), but since those kids that poked fun at me were ones I disliked for other reasons, their opinions didn’t matter to me.

It hurt a bit more when I went to college and my first roommate was into fluffy pink stuff and she openly mocked my LOTR art on the walls, saying it creeped her out. (Apparently dwarves and elves in medieval armor were too scary for her?) After she poked fun at it, I took all of my decorations down in our shared room and put them away, withdrawing from as much contact with her as I could.

Honestly, it surprised me when I discovered that liking Star Trek, Star Wars, other sci fi, and fantasy were dubbed “unusual” or “abnormal” interests. I didn’t (and still don’t) get why people have to make fun of others’ interests. I don’t make fun of people who love cars. I don’t get why they enjoy them, but that doesn’t mean I have a reason to make fun of them.

But yeah, I see what you mean that geek culture is becoming more mainstream, and if anyone were to try to get me to prove my geek cred to them, I’d be more than pissed, and I’m younger than you. Withering glances ftw.

I just have to shout out for a different kind of nerd… I was more of an academic nerd. I still shudder to remember the day in middle school I told someone I thought was a friend that I had such a large vocabulary because I did, in fact, read the dictionary. The fallout was brutal…really physically brutal.

“How ‘bullying’ wasn’t a thing that anyone cared about stopping until my generation was already out of college.”

I swear to God, every time I sub in elementary school, at least one student asks for a “bullying report” that will get turned into the school counselor. I know that bullying is a problem that needs to be addressed, but sometimes I just want to explain the difference between bullying and kids are assholes.

That having been said, great article, and as a fellow nerd, I salute you.

I spent most of my last ComicCon laughing all the way to my hotel room, where I deposited absurd amounts of swag, because you know who women working booths give the free stuff to? The chick having a conversation about the booth and not being gross to them about their body parts. I went with my husband and our male friend and I got easily quadruple the amount of free stuff.

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