Saturday, February 28, 2009

Nerd = Gay

Yeah, yeah, I know. Any meatheads who literally said this back in the day would say, "See! I told ya, Poindexter!" But most of them don't read very much. No, I don't actually mean that nerds are gay. At least, not all of us are. (I do, in fact, have a number of close friends with the honorable distinction of being both.) It's just that I recently began noticing what I believe are some interesting parallels in the nerd experience and the gay experience.

*Disclaimer Paragraph*
This is most certainly not an attempt to show strict equivalence, or to argue that nerds have it "as bad" as gay people growing up, or in society, etc. First, "who suffers more" is just another form of pissing contest, and I try to avoid those. (Unless it's "who's the biggest nerd in the room/state/solar system," in which case, beware!) Second, gay people definitely have had it harder. Nerd behavior has never been religiously or legally condemned, as far as I know, unless you count belief in evolution, or the Copernican solar system. Third, my gay nerd friends win this battle hands down! And oh, yes, is it OK if everyone would just read "gay and lesbian" everywhere that I write "gay"? If not, I guess I can come back and use find/replace.
*End Disclaimer Paragraph*

I base this on comparisons of my (necessarily limited) second-hand understanding of the gay experience to my extensive, first-hand experience of nerdhood. You understand at a fairly young age that something is different about you, but you can't quite define it. There follows a significant awkward period usually involving some degree of social isolation and stigma, including derision and, occasionally, threatened or actual violence. Unless you are well-closeted and successful at "passing"!

Yes, I do believe there is some sort of nerd equivalent of the "closet," although it may seem oxymoronic at first--what is a "nerd" if not a set of public behaviors!? I would hold that nerdiness is actually a frame of mind and part of identity, and doesn't necessarily require public display, or even acting on the impulse in private, much like being gay. I think it is a very rare occurrence, much rarer than closeted gay people, but some nerds are socially gifted enough to recognize and suppress their tendencies in public and get away with "normal," or even "popular." (A close inspection of our new President might be revealing. I have my suspicions.)

Then, of course, there are the "flamers." These are the people that are so obvious that everyone knows from an early age. Indeed, the rest of the world usually recognizes the young flaming nerd at least a little before they know it themselves, or at least before they admit it to themselves. (**Ronald coughs nervously, adjusts glasses, pulls at collar in the style of Rodney Dangerfield.**)

Young nerds in the typical school milieu do typically find at least one or two kindred spirits and form their own little circle. This is like gay people in some small conservative, rural place. Quietly and carefully, they generally seem to find one another, and form a tiny community. Sometimes they do not, perhaps, and such a person may feel that they are the only one in the world. But then they see Star Trek on TV, and they know others must be out there...

From this perspective, I would say that arriving at NCSSM in the fall of 1983 was, for me, the nerd equivalent of moving from a tiny, conservative southern or midwestern town to, say, San Francisco's Castro, or Greenwich Village, or Midtown Atlanta. Holy cow! There are really others like you, a whole, real, vibrant community, where you can act like yourself in public without getting mocked or beaten up by some dim-witted thick neck. This is also not to say that everyone there was a nerd, just as not everyone is gay in the aforementioned locales. There were, in fact, athletically and/or socially gifted people who were as popular there as they always are, but we nerds were numerous enough to stand on our own, and with our own measure of pride.

The final parallel strikes me in the realm of broader public acceptance and social change. Nerds and gay people are as old as humanity itself, we have always been here, just not always acknowledged and/or accepted on our own terms. Just as we most certainly would have had much less great art, music, drama, architecture, and many other things without gay people, we also know that when the Pharaoh commanded his great tomb to be constructed, or the President said we were going to the moon, it was the nerds who made it happen. (I am most impressed that the ancient Egyptian nerds were able to do their calculations without the benefit of glasses! They must have computed in large glyphs.)

The integral of snake-over-eye-over-water from foot to owl, d-feather is equal to the square root of Anubis
But I believe that in my lifetime, and especially the last 30 years or so, we have seen great strides in acceptance all around. Look at the difference between Jack on "Three's Company" (not even actually gay, just pretending in an offensively stereotypical way) and Will from "Will and Grace," as cool and likable a character as you are ever going to see. And of course we could go on. As for the nerds, we have seen the coming of the PC and the "Internets," which have put us front and center in the technological and social revolutions of our time. Yes, nerds were always there making sure the lights came on or the engine started when you turned the switch, but the computer has put us right in everyone's face, literally! When the richest man around is a flaming nerd, and someone like Steve Jobs comes off as super cool, you know the world has changed.

Finally, another very personal note. I was recently given a chance to view ancient footage of yours truly, getting his geek on at the very zenith of spazziness. It was a bit of a shock, indeed. Arms flailing in wild gesticulations, eyes bugging, I was quite the piece of work, and I suppose I still am. I fully understand why girls would, say, cross to the other side of the hall, and why guys would laugh and mock (actual violence not excused). But if you observe the picture with care, you will see something else that matters--my friends laughing. And if making your friends laugh isn't good enough reason to be a spaz, then I guess nothing is.

Peace out, ya'll. Or, if you prefer, live long and prosper.

Dorkus Q. Ubernerd & friends, 1985

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Anonymous Heath said...

I believe I've found an error in your formula. In the case where owl < foot, you get minus square root of Anubis. (Eye'm positive!)

March 02, 2009 4:37 PM  
Blogger wRONgainey said...

This is where you mathematicians need to check with us physicists: owl < foot? The very idea is absurd. Next, you'll be telling me that Anubis is imaginary!

March 02, 2009 4:48 PM  

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