Geek Love

by Corina Zappia

Needlepoint at the Nerd Jerk artist’s booth.

I was never a proper geek. A nerd and outcast in high school, yes, but not a true geek, if geek means someone who’s into gaming, techie culture, comics, or sci-fi. I had a geek friend in high school who spent her Saturdays playing Mortal Combat at the 7–11 when she wasn’t watching Hackers. She tried to pull me into watching Dune with her once, David Lynch’s over-two-hour sci-fi classic that put me to sleep dreaming of gigantic worms.

So what about attending Geek Girl Con this past weekend made me start to wish I had caught up on old Doctor Who, played Assassins Creed, or flipped through a C++ coding manual just once? Now in its second year, Geek Girl Con is a two-day convention in Seattle that celebrates women in the fields of science and technology, comics, and gaming, for a segment of geekdom that the founders felt was not always properly recognized — even though 42% of all game players are women, and according to the National Science Foundation, women make up 45% of SyFy Channel viewership. Even for those not deep into these geeky worlds, if you had watched a single Harry Potter movie or Game of Thrones episode, there was something here for you, like discussions of gender roles and racism in the Hunger Games.

There were panels with names like “Science, I Am Just That Into You” and “Tech Jobs You Never Knew You Wanted,” with opportunities to meet the panelists later for networking, or job advice, and it made me long for my own supportive community — what this group would be called, I do not know… “35 year old single women who watch too much Dawson’s Creek?” No, but in all honesty, where was my own group of like-minded buddies that wanted to help me find a job or prepare for an interview? They even had a seminar on how to negotiate your salary! Negotiate your salary, goddammit!

Wandering around the exhibitor booths looking at earrings fashioned from old vintage comics, admiring women dressed up as Thor, heading down to the gaming floor where I was warmly invited to play Fluxx, my sense of wanting to join in grew even deeper. By the time I listened to the female video game developers at BioWare talk about designing Mass Effect, I had blossomed into full wannabe. “Thane wasn’t always dreamy you know,” one of them said to a rapt audience. “He used to be white as a board, with a red strip down the middle of him, and all I could think was: If I pee on him, do I get pregnant?” Tittering with everyone else in the room, I furiously scribbled the joke down — even though I have no idea who the hell Thane is. But I loved that panel discussion, like I loved the comic book writer and novelist Greg Rucka, who advised the audience not to buy comics that demeaned them, and confided that, “the most common mistake male writers make with their female characters is to say ‘I’m writing it exactly like a guy with breasts.’”

By the time the last announcement to visit the gaming room came on — “Geeks,” it addressed us, in a deep, slighty robotic female voice that sounded like it was asking us to board the Starship Enterprise — I felt a strange twinge of sadness that the convention was coming to an end. Catching the last 15 minutes of a nerdlesque performance, I applauded with the rest of the crowd as a sexy lady geek finished up her Lord of the Rings-inspired performance, polishing her pasties with her long gnome hair.

Here’s more from the convention floor:

Learning how to play Fluxx.

Glued to Battlefield 3.

Rachel, a volunteer with GeekGirlCon. Her mom made her Empire Strikes Back skirt. Favorite video game? “Fallout III.

Kawan here, dressed up as Amon from the Legend of Korra, tells me he’s at GeekGirl Con because “he’s a geek at heart” and “likes things to do with social justice — geekism with a positive vibe.” His favorite video game was “Final Fantasy VI,” at which his friend incredulously scoffed, “Final Fantasy VI?!?!?”

I found Katherine hanging out at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment booth. She is one of only two female students at the academy, and is studying to become a video game designer. Katherine is dressed up as the Scythian from the Sword and Sworcery, her favorite game. She admitted she doesn’t interact much with the online community, because “the guarantee of anonymity online lets some discredit women, which carries over to the industry… They’ll say something like ‘Go back to Angry Birds,’ because it’s supposed to be a game popular with single white moms.”

Megan Humphrey is a Star Wars nerd, and was originally scheduled to help lead a panel on sexism in nerd culture. “Even guys who are hitting on me will try to test my Star Wars knowledge. They would never do that to another guy. They’ll be like ‘Who shot first?’” — a reference to a difference in A New Hope editions which I will not explain it because it took her like ten minutes to relay to me.

Jessica here is dressed up as Nightwing from the Batman comic.

Choose your button.

A corset hawker.

Leigh Honeywell, a computer security consultant, was part of the female hackers’ panel. How she deals with mysogny online? “My tactic in the hacker community has to be a loud cranky feminist, and that filters out of a lot of the assholes.” She is working on a geek feminism wiki.

Purple Reign, part of the Rain City Superheros movement that fights crime in the streets of Seattle, told me about her first date with Phoenix Jones, the main superhero in her life: “He told me that by night he dressed up as a superhero and fought crime.” Phoenix had wounded himself the night before, tried to glue himself back together using Superglue, and in the process had glued himself into his superhero suit. “So he had to wear the suit on our date. Halfway through, he started bleeding through it.” And love blossomed.

Corina Zappia is a former staff writer at the Village Voice. She lives in Seattle but is afraid of hiking.