Looking the Part

We’re constantly told that people come in all different shapes and sizes. Some people are black, some are white, some are tall while others are short. In fact, we’re told this so often that some people are foolish enough to believe it. Well, I’m not sure “foolish” is the right word, but perhaps naive. The fact of the matter is, the idea that others are different is nothing new. But it’s the acceptance of that difference that’s a lie.

There’s no denying that we have expectations of others, as well as ourselves. We expect certain people to look a certain way. I’m not referring to ethnic stereotypes, such as the grossly exaggerated Jewish hook nose, but issues of self identification. This is an issue I came across this past weekend, while at Wizard World with the rest of Chicago’s fanboys and fangirls. As I looked at the people around me, I didn’t recognize the geeks I had been led to believe would populate this convention. I saw a surprising lack of Klingon costumes or socially inept men that had never spoken to a woman that hadn’t given birth to them.

Instead, I saw people that were unrecognizable to me. Sure, there were your standard issue geeks and nerds that crowded the convention halls, but I saw others too. I saw men and women that wre only looking to escape the tireless bore of the 9 to 5 job and conventional lifestyle. I saw it all.

But the worst part is, I was surprised to see them. I was of course happy to see them, but I was surprised at the level of normalcy that I experienced in the hallowed halls of the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. I had been conditioned, before I even got there, to expect the worst, to expect society’s rejects and outcasts.

But that got me thinking… how much of identifying is looking the part? For instance, is a man (or a woman, for that matter) any less of a fan because s/he doesn’t write fan fiction or participate in the cultural collective activity of conventions? Common sense says no, but how many of us really believe that?

Forget the act of taking part in the communal lifestyle of fandom. How many of us expect a “geek” to be decorated with acne, high waisted pants, or a Star Trek novelty t-shirt? We may not want to admit it, but we have prescribed fixed images to these identifiers, whether they’re deserved or not.

What I saw in the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center was not only a shock to me (nary a Captain Kirk in sight) but it was something greater. It was as if the entirety of the convention, man and woman alike, were participating in this quiet rebellion, a silent revolution of sorts, by actively defying expectations. While some were admittedly “traditionally nerdy”, for every one of those, there was a new kind of geek, one who clearly didn’t fit the mold or the expectations we have for geek-dom. It wasn’t an active defiance, where they saw what was expected of nerds and sought to revolutionize the image. They were strongly and silently themselves. Whether that fit the ideas of the “traditional nerd” was irrelevant. For once, the image of the identity didn’t matter, but rather the act of self identifying, regardless of race, sex, or even trivial matters of dress, was the most important.

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