This past weekend, I spent time with wonderful people at ConCarolinas 2019/Deep South Con 57.
I did something I had never done before. I got emotional during a panel.
The panel was “She’s Got Nothing to Prove” and I was one of several amazing women who participated.
Being a female in fandom is a wonderful thing…for the most part. It wasn’t always that way, and in some ways, it *still* isn’t that way.
My first exposure to the geek world was when I was a wee little tyke and a very dear member of my family was a Trekkie. I remember watching the original Star Trek (TOS) and The Next Generation. Well, I more so remember flashes of scenes and moments. I didn’t really understand what I was watching.
In elementary school, I fell in love with Power Rangers. But I didn’t play Power Rangers with the boys at school. If I did, I couldn’t be Jason, Billy, or Zack. I couldn’t even be Kimberly or Trini because I wasn’t pretty or I didn’t look Asian enough. Such as life and finding my identity. Anyway, that was light. It was easier for me to simply join the other girls and say that Power Rangers was done and then run home after school to watch.
Flash forward to 2000 and 2001. My grandmother had recently died and we were going through things in her house. My mom and I had found boxes and boxes of VHS tapes that my grandpa had made from a friend. Most of my earliest Disney movies were made from homemade VHS tapes…meaning…they were counterfeit (sorry, Mickey). Among this collection were the original episodes of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. For the latter, at least the episodes until my grandpa died. My grandmother watched the show too but not to the extent as my grandpa. He was a big fan of Roddenberry. While I don’t know why, I can imagine the connection of being in the Army in World War II, interracial kissing (my grandparents were an interracial couple), and the incredible vision and storytelling of the shows.
Anyway, I was a cheerleader in high school, and very much into anime like Sailor Moon and recently discovering InuYasha on Toonami. I found these VHS tapes and started watching. I wanted to connect with my grandpa more and explore something that he enjoyed.
I didn’t really know anyone who was into Star Trek besides my first high school boyfriend (he was more or less annoyed with me about it). I took to the message boards to try to connect with others. This was early 2000’s message board activities, so I wasn’t very conscientious about hiding my identity.
In short, one of the Star Trek fans I knew in real life l was able to identify me and told his fellow Trekkies. These guys identified themselves as Trekkies and will use that terminology moving forward.
At first, he and his two other friends seemed excited that a cheerleader was interested in Star Trek. They entertained my questions and geek outs over episodes they bragged about watching dozens of time. I didn’t really want to self-identify as a Trekkie,Trekker, or even a Star Trek fan so publicly. This was mainly because I didn’t know who I was. Isn’t that just high school in general?
However, they also grilled me on content that I frankly didn’t keep track of. I was expected to become an encyclopedia of all things Star Trek. I didn’t measure up, and I had to pay the consequences.
Without getting into too much detail, I got bullied by the bullied. I was touched in ways I didn’t want to be touched. But I “owed” these guys because they had “wasted” time on me. I wasn’t a true Trekkie. In their eyes, I misled them and I had to be punished.
I was also dealing with a breakup and other issues surrounding that. After it was over, I remembered looking at his Star Trek keychain and just screaming at it and crying. Mom and I packed up the Star Trek VHS tapes and put them back into the closet, never to be watched again. It would be another six or so years before I would even watch another episode of Star Trek.
As mentioned earlier, I got emotional telling this story. I also felt really bad telling this story because there were people dressed in Star Trek costumes, and I knew there were several fans in the audience. I’m not blaming this on fans, trekkers, or Trekkies. I’m blaming three teenaged boys who didn’t have an outlet for their anger and they took it out on me. They wanted me to feel as bad as they did.
And it worked.
I told my mom what happened. She decided to just keep it quiet and told me to do the same. I never went to any sort of therapy, and it honestly built up so much anger in me. I blamed myself for being so stupid and trusting. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.
I learned my lesson. In the future, I kept my identity hidden on message boards and other online communities. If anyone did find my “real” name, it was assumed I was a male, and therefore safe. Other women I know were not as lucky.
This wouldn’t be the first time I dealt with gatekeepers of various fandoms. I was honestly terrified of reaching out into another community of fandom because of my Trekkie experience. Luckily, I was able to connect with wonderful people to contribute to my healing. From Star Wars to Disney, to anime, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, etc., I’ve learned that you’re allowed to enjoy things even if you’re new. We all start somewhere.
This also stretches far outside into other areas like gaming. I think GamerGate burst open the fact that women are not only being shamed for liking a certain fandom or playing a game, but also they are being doxed, harassed in real life, and being threatened on a daily basis. This underground issue became a very public crisis and put the spotlight on the world of gaming. If a woman has some cleavage while live streaming, she’s automatically labeled as a slut or getting attention for the wrong reasons because she isn’t smart enough.
But gatekeeping isn’t just a male issue. It is a societal issue.
Since being a “geek” or a “nerd” is much more accepting and, dare I say, trendy these days, I see a few different reactions to it all.
- The geeks who have been in it for decades and are now annoyed with the newbies.
- The women who were shamed for liking something and then feeling the hurt when a new and “prettier” girl embraces their fandom and gets more attention.
- The new geek who doesn’t understand the trials the veterans experienced being a geek and trivializing their struggles.
Lately, I’ve been trying to embrace the idea of letting people enjoy things.
You don’t have to be an encyclopedia of facts to enjoy the fandom.
Do respect the people who have been there before you. If they’re willing to chat, pick their brain on how they got to where they are today. They might also be trying to process this newfound acceptance of their geekdom.
Women are constantly trying to prove themselves, their credibility, and their worth in the world of fandom. It can be really hard, especially when we’re asked to quote specific lines from movies, remember what color a character wore from a Christmas special, or show off their collectibles and then meet with aghast when said collection isn’t impressive.
The fact that there are numerous articles on how to be a “proper” fan in various fandoms is nothing short of ridiculous. The fact that there are posted lists on phrases you have to use in everyday conversation to prove you are a fan that was just recently written proves we have a long way to go.
Granted, I also have to remember the quality of people who are making our lives a living hell for doing what we love, watching what we love, and playing what we love.
Can a female just enjoy things without forcing her to prove herself?
Can we just let people enjoy things?