Nerd: A Personal History
This post has was originally posted in 2014 at thelifeandtimesofabgn.wordpress.com. It is being reposted with minor edits.
When I became a nerd and when I started to self-identify as a nerd happened at different points in my life. I think on some level I’ve always been a nerd, always been more enthusiastic than others about pop culture, always driven to absorb as much about an artist, show, story as possible. I remember feeling compelled to collect every Babysitter’s Club book in the series even though I never particularly found the books to be anything special. They were fun reads and I was always guaranteed to pick up one or two during each Scholastic School Fair but as quickly as I read them I forgot about them. I realized the difference between The Babysitter’s Club series and The Face on the Milk Carton trilogy. Even still, there was something about how the books were numbered and collecting as many as possible just seemed like the only practical option.
Some of my favorite high profile nerds Wil Wheaton, John Green, Chris Hardwick and Hank Green are all very different (though all are white males) but they all agree on one point, being a nerd is different for everyone. So often people feel as though they have to check a bunch of boxes before they can label themselves as something. I never enjoyed science and math stopped making sense to me when they started to include letters, also known as pre-algebra. All while growing up I played sports, and was even a dedicated cheerleader for a time being, so I obviously couldn’t be a nerd right? My mom called me star struck, but I don’t think that’s the correct way to describe me, I’ve seen many celebrities and what I realized is I don’t care about the star, I care about what the star represents. Britney Spears is inarguably more famous than Joss Whedon, however, I have waited in line for hours to just get the chance to maybe walk in front of Joss and have him sign something and exchange a few seconds worth of conversation. I was once trying to get a coffee on a street shut down by the presence of Britney Spears and felt nothing but annoyance.
I had always loved to read and write, the Scholastic book fair was Christmas to me and Reading Rainbow my church. I always felt torn between reading new books and re-reading a favorite for the 3rd, 4th, 5th time. I was always an introvert and thought it strange that my brother was sent to his room when he was annoying my parents and I was sent outside. I would force myself awake to finish a chapter or an episode only to realize later that I hadn’t slept at all and finished not just the chapter or episode but the entire book or season.
Whenever someone called me a nerd though I would still feel weird, I was not nearly smart enough to be a nerd, space held no interest to me outside of the movies and I always needed help finishing my math homework. Proficiency in STEM to me seemed to be the main requirement in order to claim nerdiness.
This all changed when I discovered Star Wars. While I don’t keep up the fandom as much as I used to, the original trilogy woke up a part of my brain that has never shut off. I was so drawn into the characters and the world building, I completely suspended disbelief and fully bought into the love triangle between Luke, Leia, and Han and was completely grossed out when the incestual nature of that love triangle came to light. This was the first time I thought that I may just be capable of being a little nerdy.
All doubt of my nerdiness was brushed aside with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Harry Potter series. I was a bit too old when the first Harry Potter book came out but I had never really stopped loving Reading Rainbow and young adult books and so I felt no shame picking up this book that EVERYONE was talking about. Buffy was totally age appropriate for me, I hadn’t seen the movie so I was starting fresh with TV series. The quick wit, relatable characters and insane plots about a teenage vampire slayer who falls for a vampire 400 years her senior and is more worried about her wardrobe than her always impending doom instantly hooked me.
I would change plans in order to ensure I was in front of the TV for Buffy, I would stand in line at midnight dressed in robes and standing in a line with younger kids for my pre-ordered copy of the latest Harry Potter book or movie. My enthusiasm for my favorite things was much more intense than other people I knew. Some of my friends also loved Buffy but they didn’t search around the internet and keep notes on vampire genealogy or how many Watchers there were and where the Watcher’s Council was. To me these stories existed beyond the pages of the books or the episodes aired on Thursdays. These characters had lives and histories and even if they weren’t real it was important to me to know as much about them as possible. I would get so excited when I would recognize something that JK Rowling foreshadowed in an earlier book came to pass in the one I was reading. I would tell everyone who came across my path everything I knew about these series. If anyone told me they didn’t like Harry Potter or anything in the Whedonverse I would be personally offended as though they were insulting my family.
I decided to self-identify as a nerd the first time I attended San Diego Comic-Con. I was in high school and lucky enough to get a free pass by volunteering for something that I can no longer even remember. SDCC ten years ago is extremely different from the SDCC of today. It was still the biggest convention in the world but it focused more on print comics with sci-fi movies and games found on the sides of the Con. That first year I remember feeling in awe as I walked around and also terribly ignorant. I didn’t even know about the panels or the infamous Hall H. I wondered the comic floor looking and not knowing where to begin. But I found booths filled with things I loved, wands, t-shirts, and all sorts of toys. I bought a button with the main characters of Buffy that said “Scooby Gang”. Putting on that button was for me like putting on a badge, I’m a nerd, I belong here.
I’ve been pretty lucky to befriend some nerds who keep exposing me to new things that I love and with blogs and websites like Nerd HQ, The Nerdist, and The Mary Sue I’ve expanded my nerdiness to include different sci-fi genres, comic books, and even music, Wizard Rock anyone?
Recently I moved to the Bay Area and have been able to spend more time with one of the coolest nerds I know, Bayana. When we were younger I knew she had a love for books the way that I did but as she grew older it became apparent just how much we had in common. She would come to Southern California for a week and all we would do is read and watch Harry Potter and talk about the things we loved and hated. The last book came out ten years ago, but we have yet to run out of Potter things to talk about. But now that we are able to see each other more she’s exposed me to a whole new dimension of nerd culture.
I grew up in a very sheltered community without much attention paid to black culture and not knowing too many black people in general and none who loved the things I loved, Bayana has introduced me to black female sci-fi writers, I recently just checked out my first book by Octavia Butler at my local library. I’m proud to call myself a nerd, I still wear my badge with pride and as quick as someone is to call me a nerd or a geek as an insult I am just as quick to respond with a disdainful “Muggle”.
It’s taken me a long time to accept that all nerds are not the same and I can still self-identify as a nerd and proudly hang on to my individuality.