I can only speak for myself, but I'm sure I'm not alone in the fact that I got into geek culture - and I mean really got into it, absorbed it, made it part of my being rather than just casually watching Star Trek or reading a Superman comic once in a while - as a respite. As a way to retreat from the rest of the world and the problems it presented (whatever they happened to be at any given moment). It was a way outside of all of that, as well as a way to bring out all of the imagination and wonder that was going on in my head and give it some sort of exterior existence, however brief and/or otherwise immaterial.
There was always a certain... we'll say misanthropy (to be charitable) involved with certain segments of these various worlds (and let's be clear here, geek culture is not any one thing, more of a loose confederation of various universes joined together by the fact that most of the rest of the world just doesn't get 'em), but the trolls were usually pretty easy to spot (or smell, let's be honest here), and you could either let them spew on until they eventually made enough verbal rope to hang themselves, or you just ignored them until they wandered back to their little caves. It could be annoying sure, but it seemed (mostly) harmless and seeing as most of it was driven by a passion for X (where X = any nerdy little thing your heart desires), so as misguided and wrongheaded as it may have been, I could maybe almost kinda-sorta relate to the passion that drove it.
In the past few years, though, it looked like something had changed. The trolls seemed to be more widespread, they upped their games in all the worst ways possible, and I both saw and heard about a series of offputting events occurring both online and in person. Cosplayer harassment, the "fake geek girl" memes, ever-increasing invective aimed at the members of certain fandoms (like Twihards or Bronies to name but two), dedicated social media campaigns to discredit and demean creators and/or commentators due to differences in opinion, threats of sexual assault or even death... the list goes on and on.
I was horrified.
I became even more horrified, however, upon learning that for a lot of people out there, particularly women, members of the LGBTQ communities, people of color, people with disabilities, or any combination there of, these were disturbingly commonplace occurrences. As more of these events happened, increasing numbers of people let it be known that for them, this was all just a part of the background radiation of their lives, and all because of how they were born or who they like to sleep with or their political beliefs or or or...
I just never noticed it because, let's face it, as a straight white dude in his late 30s with a job, a family, a roof over his head, and three squares a day, almost none of this is directed at me. I've been bullied sometimes in my life, sure but there's not a whole lot in society that's actively standing against me. The worst I've gotten are a few "buy a real game system, fag!" comments on Twitter when I've talked about liking the Wii U, but it's easy to block and ignore a handful of 13 year olds in desperate need of closer parental supervision. It doesn't come close to comparing to the sorts of things so many of my fellow geeks are dealing with on a sadly regular basis.
And here's the thing: I don't know what to do about any of it. I don't know one thing. But we can't just ignore these people anymore. We need to talk about it. We need to talk about it, get it all out in the open, identify and side with our allies, stand against all this, and protect each other.
Okay, I guess I do know one thing: we need to talk about it.
This weekend, I'm getting the chance to do just that. I'm going to be at BangPop!, a comic convention in my home town of Bangor, Maine, and I'm going to help run a panel discussion I'm calling "Don't Be a Dick: Keeping Fandom Fun, Safe, and Inclusive" (at least that's the Wheaton's Law-fueled title I gave it in the proposal... we'll see if that's what it's called in the program). I'm hoping it will be a chance to talk with a panel of people from various backgrounds and interests - and with the audience - about what they've experienced, how they've dealt with it, what we can do together, and sing the praises of some groups and individuals who really seem to be getting it right.
(And yes, I know it might seem a little crass to plug my own thing in the midst of an otherwise heartfelt... whatever this is, but this is a chance for me to pull together my thoughts on this, so indulge me a bit more, please.)
I cannot and will not claim to know any of the answers, and any attempt to prove otherwise is just going to look like me trying to mansplain my way through this, which would probably get me chased out of town with torches and pitchforks (and rightly so). But discussions need to be had, and I'm happy to start one.
I was talking on Twitter recently with my friend Molly about this topic, particularly as it relates to the stuff going on in the game community right now. She has a daughter (about my son's age) who is into comics and gaming and so on, and Molly said she's really worried about her daughter encountering all of this, and sooner than she'd like. My son is just as geekily inclined as either of us, and has anxiety issues and is on the Autism spectrum, so I'm terrified but the sorts of things he's on the verge of encountering, too. Our kids deserve better than that. We all deserve better than that. This is our refuge.
If we don't at least start talking, though, nothing will change.