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Whining isn’t Sexy: Rage about Nerd Rage

So, in response to reading this Buzzfeed piece about how comics pro Tony Harris hates female cosplayers — only some of them, though, which we’ll get to in a moment — I tweeted

Pro tip: geeks of all genders who are confident in their geekery and their sexuality get laid more often. Confidence is sexy. Whining isn’t.

That tweet has since been retweeted over a hundred times. It’s been favourited 20-something times. I consider that license to write a longer blog post about it. Because I was either telling people something they didn’t know, or saying something folks had been thinking for a while and keeping quiet about.

And that something is: Whining isn’t sexy. Yes, I’m talking about you, Tony Harris. Or rather, I’m talking about your attitude when you say hateful shit like this about cosplayers whose attractiveness you’ve somehow become the sole arbiter of:

You are willing to become almost completely Naked in public, and yer either skinny( Well, some or most of you, THINK you are ) or you have Big Boobies. Notice I didnt say GREAT Boobies? You are what I refer to as “CON-HOT”. Well not by my estimation, but according to a LOT of average Comic Book Fans who either RARELY speak to, or NEVER speak to girls. Some Virgins, ALL unconfident when it comes to girls, and the ONE thing they all have in common? The are being preyed on by YOU. …YOU DONT KNOW SHIT ABOUT COMICS, BEYOND WHATEVER GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH YOU DID TO GET REF ON THE MOST MAINSTREAM CHARACTER WITH THE MOST REVEALING COSTUME EVER. And also, if ANY of these guys that you hang on tried to talk to you out of that Con? You wouldnt give them the fucking time of day. Shut up you damned liar, no you would not. Lying, Liar Face. Yer not Comics. Your just the thing that all the Comic Book, AND mainstream press flock to at Cons.

You know what that’s code for? It’s code for: I have a deep suspicion of hot girls, because I have no power over my attraction to them, and despite my powerlessness, they never seem to sleep with me. I blame them for this, and not the stream of bullshit issuing from my own mouth. In other words, it’s whining. And whining isn’t sexy.

When women like me hear this whining, what we’re really hearing is: I have deep-seated issues with women that will become your problem if you’re foolish enough to get involved with me. Ditto some of the comments featured at Nick Mamatas’ blog regarding the misogyny directed at cosplayers:

I’m a pretty reasonable dude, but I still get a bit angry that people embraced Bay’s Transformers as much as they because I was ridiculed for liking them in grade school. I still have a little bitterness when I see 6-12 of the preppy girls I went to high school with wearing Batman costumes this past Halloween.

That’s code for: I have deep-seated issues about high school that will become your problem if you’re foolish enough to become involved with me. Getting pissed off at “preppy” girls for dressing up as the thing that you like is stupid. Here’s why: your enjoyment of something doesn’t mean that you own it. That goes for everything: JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, Spider-Man’s continuity, the Democratic Party, Gawker’s re-design, Momofuku’s noodles, whatever it is that you’re into. Just because you love it doesn’t make it yours. This truth is also something misogynists in general seem not to get. Just because women are beautiful doesn’t mean that their beauty exists to please or arouse you. You are not owed anything, or anyone. Your inability to grasp this basic fact makes you seem creepy and unattractive.

So let’s talk about people — of all genders — who aren’t creepy and unattractive. The confident ones I tweeted about.

Confidence is not arrogance. Arrogance is something you foist on other people. It usually involves talking about nothing but yourself and your accomplishments. Alternatively, it can involve talking about how your boss/friend/ex/parent hates you, and how hard done by you are, because you’re actually this innovative thinker whose thinking outside the box bothers everybody. When you hear yourself saying those things, shut the fuck up. Find another way to say it. Or just say it to the people who really do love you and will put up with your shit, because they are the only ones who care.

Confidence is not putting other people down. This includes the people you think are “fake geeks.” If someone doesn’t know the emotions each colour in the Lantern canon corresponds to, it’s not because they’re not a big enough geek. It’s because their brain is already full of information that they care about more. Like who’s really piloting Unit 01, or how the torus on the Bebop generates gravity, or how to do a whipstitch, or how to make a Raspberry Pi. In other words, stuff you might not know about. Who’s the fake geek now, jackass?

Confidence is knowing who you are and what you want, and being assertive enough to work for it while respecting others’ boundaries. Confidence is something that you project. It’s like a broadcast on your own personal frequency. People can pick up on it and listen in, or they can tune out if it’s not their thing. If they do tune out, you swallow it and move on. That refusal might be a firm and solid “No,” or it might be a gentle change of subject, or a graceful excuse for leaving the room. Letting it go is called being respectful. It’s like saying “please” or “thank you.” It’s good manners. But when people do pick up on your confidence, you’ll know. They’ll stick around. They’ll hang out. They’ll ask for your number/email/Twitter. They’ll touch your arm. They’ll get back to you. It’s like how you know you’re about to get the job. They tell you, without telling you.

Confidence is not being the best-looking person in the room. When I tweeted the original message, a couple of people told me it wasn’t that easy — after all, plenty of people feel just plain disgusted living in their own skins. And you know what? I’ve felt that way, too. In fact, I feel that way most of the time.

www.kayleighmccollum.com

This is me. This is the most I’ve ever weighed. I hate it. (I love the picture; I hate my body in the picture.) But the thing is, I’ve never felt attractive. Not when I was 98 pounds and a size 2. Not when I had long hair. Never. Moments when I do feel attractive are consistent only in how fleeting they are. I’ve always known myself as plain at best, ugly at worst. I know I’m not “con-hot” or regular hot, or medium, or mild. I’m not skinny. I don’t have great boobies (or even big ones). I don’t have the kind of face you notice in a crowd. I believe in my unattractiveness like other people believe in guardian angels: it’s a constant force in my life that makes itself known in big and small ways. My ugliness has rarely stopped me from getting laid.

I met my first boyfriend when I had braces and acne everywhere. I insisted on sitting beside him on the bus when there were plenty of other options available, and he knew what I was doing. A week later, we were making out constantly. We stayed together for two years and sustained a friendship for years after that. This pattern has basically repeated itself over my romantic life, except for instances when I pinned my hopes on someone who couldn’t deliver. My boyfriends have all been geeks. We didn’t share exactly the same interests, or the same knowledge. That was okay. My greatest romantic successes have come as a result of my overcoming self-doubt in the pursuit of my intended.

The same goes for many of the other people I know in the geek community in Toronto or elsewhere. Sure, they’re geeky. Sure, they were made fun of for it, once upon a time. Sure, their coworkers and family might shake their heads at their hobbies. But they don’t let that rule their decisions. The word “confidence” comes from two roots, “con,” (with) and “fides,” (faith). It’s an expression of faith in yourself. Faith is already difficult to sustain, but faith in yourself is even harder, because you know all your own shortcomings better than anyone else. So no, it’s not that easy. But that’s what makes it worth it. People respect and admire confidence because it’s not easy.

Ultimately, how you live your geekery is a lot like how you live your sexuality: it’s up to you. This is an individual thing. You’re not on a team. You’re not beholden to anyone. You’re you, not a brand representative. Be you. That’s hard enough already.

16 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Jennifer

     /  November 15, 2012

    Hell f*in yeah!

    I have had low self-esteem issues/depression my entire life, but those that don’t know that always tell me how confident I am about what I love and what I am passionate about, be it repairing macs, dr. who, writing fanfic for tmnt or gargoyles…you know, just being a geek. :) I have *never* been “hot” and yet I was able to sustain a couple of great relationships, and the man that became my husband lets me know every day that one of the many reasons he loves me is for my passions, my intelligence, and my confidence. I love him just as much for the same reasons and more.

    Reply
    • Madeline

       /  November 15, 2012

      See, this is the thing. Male sexuality exists on just as broad a spectrum as female sexuality does, but men in heteronormative Western culture aren’t encouraged to talk about that. They’re just supposed to like what’s on TV. This is one of the ways misogyny ends up hurting men, too; they have to perform masculinity on a very narrow stage. But everyone would have a lot more success romantically and sexually if they felt free to open up about what they want and prefer. I think that’s actually a geek asset — passion, and the ability to speak passionately about what you like and go for it.

      Reply
  2. DBChen

     /  November 15, 2012

    This is awesome.

    Reply
  3. aidschbe

     /  November 15, 2012

    That’s really a thing?
    Guys complaining that there are women who share the same interests as them?
    Really?!? Ungrateful assholes =\

    I live in a country where there’s next to no geek culture, certainly not my particular brand. I’d be monumentally grateful to all the heathen gods I regularly sacrifice baby animals to if some women who share my interests were around.

    Like casting pearls before swine. *sigh*

    Reply
  4. Joelle

     /  November 15, 2012

    I wanted to tell you that I love this post. I agree with you on all counts. Except one: you are beautiful. I also think that it’s insanely courageous of you to post your picture up and leave yourself open to all of the trolls

    Reply
    • Madeline

       /  November 15, 2012

      Thank you! On all counts. And I may just be insane, not necessarily courageous.

      Reply
  5. Jackie

     /  November 15, 2012

    I just want to say, first off, that I think you’re very lovely. That said, I agree with you completely on all of this. It’s really hard to be confidant in any way, and possibly more so when others that you care about try to get you to not be vocal about what you like and talk about things you enjoy. I’ve been in sort of the same boat as you as far as considering myself plain or ugly. I was never terribly comfortable with the way I look, and that still stands despite a few boyfriends I’ve had and several people saying otherwise. I don’t think I’d even have the courage to do what you did, sitting by someone you were interested in..
    Thank you for being brave enough to get this out in the air. Maybe people will understand.

    Reply
    • Madeline

       /  November 15, 2012

      Thank you!

      I find that naming and describing these issues really helps me to take ownership of them and manage them. The issue can feel pretty amorphous and impenetrable until I frame it for myself. It’s sort of like undoing a knot. You have to just pick a thread and start. What really feels the best about discussing this, though, is hearing from other people who have gone through the same thing. It means I’m not alone, and not crazy. I think that this is something that contemporary culture has programmed us with, and it takes talking about it with other people to realize how deep that programming goes.

      Reply
  6. I’m one of the myriad readers who found this blog through John Scalzi’s RT. And I’m not sure what I can say that hasn’t already been said by wiser voices than mine. But this is a wonderful post, one of the better commentaries I’ve read on this issue.

    While I can’t and won’t presume to know what it’s like to have to face the Tony Harrises of the world, I have struggled with my own confidence. It’s hard to look your limitations in the face – there’s always that fear that you’ll blink. But I fought it, and still fight it. And somehow I’ve managed to find my own voice through it all.

    It helps to know that your not alone, that the struggle is worthwhile.

    So, I guess what I’m trying to say is thank you.

    Reply
    • Drat, how on Earth did I let that “your” get by? I thought I was a writer…

      Reply
    • Madeline

       /  November 16, 2012

      Thank you! It does help to know that we’re not alone.

      I think finding your own voice is the most important thing. A few months ago I read something along the lines of, “Part of living your own life is knowing that no one else would choose it.” I paraphrase, but the basic idea is that you have to do what works for you, not what works for other people. And doing that takes a lot of strength. It takes such a long time to develop that as a skill, and in the meantime it’s easy too accumulate a lot of scar tissue.

      Reply
  7. Johnh

     /  December 30, 2012

    “It’s code for: I have a deep suspicion of hot girls, because I have no power over my attraction to them, and despite my powerlessness, they never seem to sleep with me. I blame them for this, and not the stream of bullshit issuing from my own mouth.”

    That made me chuckle soooo much, as its a real dose of truth, though you can remote the ‘hot’ from that as I don’t think it matters so much to the cheeto beards.

    The question that naturally follows is how many of these outraged powerless young men will stop jerking off to the cosplay images they find on g.i.s. with one hand and wiping the cheeto dust of their keyboards to type out dirges of impotent rage with the other, to dare to approach a few of these girls at the conventions or in coffee shops and take the huge risk of having their untrammelled and super entitled egos bruised by rejection, and discover the fact that for the most part they themselves are just not that interesting often without an original thought in their own heads, and to move on they need to make a real change?

    Congrats on the novel btw, downloaded it on my Kindle yesterday evening on a whim and finished it at 11am this morning, a great read, when’s the next one out? :)

    Reply
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  • Madeline Ashby…

    ...is a science fiction writer, strategic foresight consultant, anime fan, and immigrant. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and IAM Sports & Entertainment. She has been a guest on TVO's The Agenda multiple times. Her novels are published by Angry Robot Books. Her fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity, and Tor.com.
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