Geek Culture and the Lessons of My Taíno Father

My father is an Afro-Dominican Taíno Elder. This is a rarity, so people don’t always believe me when I say that. Papá-el-Maestro wears all white with one rainbow beaded accent piece every day and has homes all over the world. The shift was a massive surprise. Twenty years ago, he was a night janitor at a mall. He used to bring home Pokemon cards.

Nü-Dad taught me the art of detachment. When you do something weird, nobody can see you do it. If it’s not status-quo, it’s status-no. Officially, my father is a restaurateur, an artist, and a motivational speaker; he keeps Maestro under wraps. He only shares what he needs to.

How perfectly his philosophy encapsulates my life as a Trans Nerd.

When I was a child, nerding out with trading cards or video games was irresistible until I noticed that all the other kids in my neighborhood were white bullies. With no room for me in their sphere, they wouldn’t even admit to playing with me on the occasion that they did. Nerd was shame, especially as a person of color. It seemed okay for them to play Yu-gi-oh at recess, until I asked to join. I was an extra brown variable of nerd added to their equation.

In childhood, “nerd” evoked a very specific and pitiful person; apologetic before they even begin speaking, because they’re used to feeling like their passion wastes time. “Oreo” filled me with dread as well—the vomitrocious suggestion that intelligence and Blackness cannot exist in the same body unless the inner self is white.

In high school, I hung with the marching band because even though I wasn’t in band, I was a band nerd. For a while, I dealt with the worst parts of white-cis nerdery because these folks would play Magic with me. As an adult, I’ve learned to limit my time in larger “nerd” spaces. My discomfort typically begins with gender: though I’ve lived openly nonbinary for several years, I have no choice but to own some brand of womanhood upon entering. I move cloaked in seven types of irony. My two video game tattoos are clearly visible even though I was wearing a coat and sweater a second ago. A bridge troll materializes and I have to answer his questions three — 1) Is that a Zelda tattoo? (Yes.) 2) Have you ever even played Zelda? (Obviously.) 3) How do I make it out of the Great Bay Temple in Majora’s Mask? (You don’t.)

I’ve refined my interests into a meticulously-curated community of QTPOC in which I’m able to be most emphatically Black and queer; my only accessible version of Black separatism. It’s safe, it’s insular. I regularly luxuriate in calm, open debate about the most complex meanings and implications of gender while rolling a 20-sided die — a near-impossibility out in the “real” world.

Broadly speaking, there’s a distinct us-and-them dynamic when it comes to nerd culture, which gets more and more granular and unnavigable as intersections come into play. Nerds (us) against non-nerds (them). White nerds (them) versus nerds of color (us), male/masc (us) versus female/fem (us), and so on. Wider (whiter) “nerd” communities run deep with pervasive exclusion and entitlement. Their toxicity hides in plain sight — childhood shunning or mockery giving way to the most absurd oppression thirst I’ve ever seen. Bullying is oppression. Punching Nazis is oppression. The female and sometimes not-thin/white heroes in Overwatch are oppression. Once a pox, nerdery has mighty-morphed into an exclusive club; even a group of apparent outcasts will cast you out if you challenge them.

My father’s teachings come to mind. The real ones conceal and deflect, only comment when the situation warrants it. Escapism and fantasy rule nerdiness as an interest, so why let anything get too real? I realize the reason I need a space for my interest to thrive is the same reason larger groups of oppressed folks separate — the mainstream community does not serve me, it is not there for me. Noted. I have no time for us-and-theming anymore. I only have time for us.

 

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