Tag Archives: geek culture

How being a geek prepared me for my transition.

The media we consume help to shape our worldviews. That's a scientifically-proven fact.

A lot of people describe gender transition as long and difficult and generally unpleasant. That's also a fact - there are fits and starts and lots of awkwardness and it's easy to become impatient with the whole thing. I can't say I'm completely immune to that stress, but being a geek has certainly put me in a place where the process is manageable. Here's what my geekdom has taught me:

We are not our bodies.

Geek media is full of transhumanism. As long as I can remember I've been absorbing stories about people who replace parts of their bodies, transform into fantastical creatures, or escape their physical forms entirely.

More importantly, these things are often seen as conscious decisions. In Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex, Kusanagi is reminded by her teammates that she'd be a more formidable fighter if she chose a male prosthetic body. She tells them that she might one day but for now she enjoys being female (and let's face it, she's plenty effective as she is). Why shouldn't we also choose the bodies we want? Why wouldn't we?

When Tony Stark's body is made useless by a terrorist mastermind, he effectively builds himself a new one. Out of scraps. In a cave. In Afghanistan. When there's something wrong with your body, you fix it. A heart is hard to replace, but gender... that's practically a DIY project. You don't need to be a nuclear physicist or world-famous inventor to understand hormone replacement - just GTS and talk to your friendly neighborhood doctor.

100%-ing anything requires patience and perseverance.

I've got a friend who is playing through Final Fantasy Tactics. He's hacked the game to make all the characters into his friends, and he's picked builds which he things will make the characters reflect our personalities. (Evidently, I'm a Priest/Time Mage, but whatever.)

Watching him play, one of the things I am reminded of is how in JRPGs improving your characters often involves downgrading them now so you can upgrade them later. You might have to put a character into a lousy job or equip them with a crappy weapon in order for them to learn a powerful new skill. Sometimes you put your party into a state where they're struggling with even simple fights, often through hours and hours of grinding - but when it's done you can do amazing things and defeat any challenge.

Transition is no different than switching jobs in Tactics. At first you lose access to some of your old skills; everything is harder; you might have to run from some fights that you could have breezed through before. But you also see the progress bar ticking up every day. You watch the new skills and abilities light up. And eventually you max out the new job, pick your best skills from both classes, and kick butt for the rest of the game.

Transition makes you you, not someone else.

I don't recommend reading anything by Piers Anthony but if you have to, you could do worse than the award-winning A Spell for Chameleon, the first novel in his Xanth YA fantasy series.

Magician Trent's power is to transform any living thing into any other living thing. In the story, he transforms an ally, Bink, into a sphinx. He explains that he hasn't transformed Bink into an average sphinx, nor into some Platonic ideal of a sphinx, but rather into a "Bink-Sphinx" - a creature that only Bink could become. And if you read the book, you'll find out that Bink-Sphinx is pretty frickin' awesome.

When we transition, a lot of us look at the women around us and imagine we will (or should) look and act like them. That's one of the most harmful things we can do because it sets completely the wrong expectations. I'm not going to transform into the average gal I pass on the street. I'm not going to transform into the woman I would have been if I'd been born with two X chromosomes. I'm going to be the woman that only I could have become - the "Dave-Dana", if you will.

XX-Dana would probably have been shorter, slighter, girlier, probably straighter. Sure, she'd probably have been prettier, too. But you know what? I'm never going to be that person. I'm going to be tall, athletic, queer, butch. I'm going to be more handsome than pretty. And what I've come to realize - and appreciate - is that that's also pretty awesome. I've learned to embrace the body, voice, personality, and lifestyle I'm going to get to have. I'm looking forward to being Dave-Dana, because she's also going to be pretty frickin' awesome.

Though she is highly unlikely to fight any dragons...

[Note: I ended up turning out femme and reasonably pretty. That's what you get for engaging in speculation way before the fact. --Ed.]

Nerd Rage

There's been a lot of whining lately about whether or not Ben Affleck should play Batman, or what role Black Widow (or any female hero) should have in franchises like The Avengers or the upcoming DC Comics movies.  The loudest whining comes from the hardcore fanbase who have strong notions about how these franchises should work.  And it does seem like studios worry about these people when they make creative decisions - there has been talk about walking back "Batfleck".  Wonder Woman movies have been canceled because studios don't feel they can modernize the franchise without losing comic fans.

Mike Lawrence - Sadamantium
Mike Lawrence embodies nerd rage, but at least he's funny when he does it.

But I say, so what if the "hardcore fans" hate a creative decision?  Just ignore them!  Old-guard nerddom makes up a tiny fraction of the current geek and geek-friendly fanbase.  They're also a much narrower demographic, being mostly straight white men in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.  The actual audience for these movies - the ones whose butts are going to be in the seats - is much larger and far more diverse.

You have to weigh the effect of listening to the old guard against the benefit of moving in a new direction.  Listening might prevent some short-term blowback, but it also means perpetuating some of the worst parts of geek culture and geek media, including the marginalization and objectification of women, the tokenization and exclusion of minorities, etc.  When hardcore fans argue that any deviation from their established canon is bad, they're really arguing that narratives created in the 1950s and '60s - with all of the cultural baggage that implies - should be continued into the twenty-teens.

The current geek fanbase contains the trend-setters and taste-makers of the next generation.  We had a saying in college: "A tradition is anything that started before your freshman year."  If we take the time to change our stories to be more modern and inclusive now, those changes will be reflected in both the media and the perception of "canon" in five, ten, or twenty years.  We'll look back on the sexism of comics today the same way we look back on the camp of the Superman and Batman stories of the 1960s - as a curious, outdated artifact and nothing more.

So let us reject the calls for sameness, for established understanding of characters and their roles.  We can create new stories - not to cash in on a particular short-lived facet of the zeitgeist, but to be lasting additions that move our beloved franchises in completely new directions.  Let's remember that the best way to avoid negative press is to make a good movie.  And if a bunch of whiny, entitled man-children decide they're going to boycott then let them.  The old-guard nerds can't live without geek culture, but geek culture can certainly live without them.