A couple of weeks ago, Bob Chipman had an excellent video on The Escapist about the rise of geek culture and how its journey into the mainstream has increased a very specific set of negative traits that always existed but are often mythologized away.
It was always an open secret, you see, that for all the pretense of refuge for those who were different, geek culture was always thought of and built around only one classical nerd archetype: white, male, heterosexual, cis gendered, first world, with enough disposable income to afford their hobbies.
And while it was common for idealized depictions of the culture to imagine that welcoming and understanding were the rule (after all, persecution must empathize with other persecution, yes?), in reality sexism, racism, and other forms of clique-ish and exclusionary behavior were often the ugly underbelly of the whole scene…
A culture that built so much of its sense of self around resistance to persecution and oppression has no moral or logical rationale to become an oppressor itself when it attains a seat of power.
I could quote the whole second half if I’m not careful, so go watch the video.
I think this speaks not just to geek culture, but rather any culture that has gone from an embattled position to a gradual acceptance into the mainstream. It’s not too difficult to apply much of what Bob said above to gay culture instead of geek culture which is still largely focused on the white, upper middle class, cis gender gay male. To an extent there is more acceptance of lesbians as well, though often in the sense that straight men find the idea titillating and therefore there must be more women having sex with women to watch. However, it’s still ridiculously difficult to be a bisexual in a gay space even if we are technically allowed there, and even closer to impossible by a long shot to be a transwoman in a scene largely dominated by gay men who may see crossdressing as a form of play, but certainly don’t accept that somebody may in fact be a woman, though they were born with a Y chromosome. I have very little knowledge about how the lesbian or even gay cis male community treats transmen, so I would hesitate to comment on that, ditto for those who don’t fit into the gender binary, but if anyone would like to comment and enlighten me, please do so.
On top of that, there are even more signifiers of hierarchy within that already highly specialized gay community. I have a friend who I was speaking to last night about how he doesn’t fit into our local gay community. He’s 50 years old, overweight, and had a leg amputated, and while he could probably get away with any one of those things, all three makes him entirely uninteresting to most of the people he has encountered, not only sexually but even to speak to. A community that values fitness, youth, and an able body has no use for my friend, in much the same way that a community that values procreation and antiquated sexual ethics has no use for the LGBT community.
And the thing is, I get it. I’m not saying that I agree, but we gain strength from identity. Humans are tribalistic: we feel safer when we are surrounded by people like us, so we seek them out and then salve our egos by trying to make our particular tribe seem somehow superior. But identity is meaningless without definitions, any culture will naturally see gatekeepers rise, and often arbitrary shibboleths become a requirement to maintain your good standing. Add that to a tendency for people to value rarity and you have groups of people who want to expand to increase their sense of security, but have to be incredibly picky to maintain their perception of being better than those other people. It’s this sort of mentality that leads to women being pop quizzed by male geeks to see if they’re “really” fans or if they’re just there to confuse poor vulnerable geek men with their feminine wiles. Or, even worse, they’ve actually made all of the effort to cosplay and attend a convention because they’re just looking for sex. I mean, as we know, all any woman wants is some serious deep dicking (TW: homophobia, sexism), amiright?
There is a joke that homophobia is the fear that gay men will treat straight men the way straight men treat women. That joke only works if we presume that a gay man, having been oppressed, would never turn that behavior on anybody else. But it’s far too easy to attain power and then start winnowing your way to purity, which is followed closely by attempting to impose that purity on others, and then we have oppression. While I suspect most movement atheists wouldn’t want to admit it, if we’re not careful we may live up to at least of the few hyperbolic prophesies of real oppression that many on the religious right seem to take endless pleasure in spinning out should non-belief continue to grow. While they are getting better, both geek and gay culture stopped being accepting the moment they were accepted, and now we’re cleaning up the mess left in both. That’s why it’s important to be aware of that possibility, especially since things are changing so quickly, so that we can avoid it.
I’m going to leave with one more quote from the video.
We who were unwelcome ought to be the most welcoming. We who claim to know persecution should be champions for the persecuted. To simply cut down on or even purge bigotry and intolerance from our ranks is not enough. We should be using the power of those ranks to take the fight to hatred and backward thinking…We always said that we could do better, that we were better. It’s time we proved that.