Living Queer, Speaking Geek
June 14, 2013
It's the digital age, and geeks are in -- even if many of us grew up feeling like outsiders. Whether it's Luke Skywalker, Sherlock Holmes or any of the many uncanny X-Men, there's a character out there who made each and every geek feel as if he or she had a kindred spirit. Reading comics, watching television or sitting in the dark of a theater are all ways in which geeks, especially those who identify as LGBT and/or queer, have found their role models and found themselves. These role models are battling inner demons -- and often real demons, too, which is appealing when you're "growing up geek."
In Part One of this two-part roundtable, five self-identified "queer geeks" discuss geek culture; the stories that gripped them and wouldn't let them go; how geek culture deals with LGBT stories; and if Professor X and Magneto will ever sign those divorce papers.
Read Part Two of this conversation, in which participants talk about building community -- and organizations -- around queer geek identity.
Lewd Alfred Douglas: Lewd Alfred Douglas is my performance name. I am a Boylesque performer. I'm a trans man and also queer. A lot of my performances are informed by that background, and also my identity as a history geek. I grew up recognizing a lot of the queer metaphors of X-Men and things like that, and all of the minority exploration that Star Trek was doing at the time. I have a deep appreciation for geek culture.
Fyodor Pavlov: I am also a trans man. I also identify as queer, bisexual and nonmonogamous. I'm an artist, and I'm also a huge history nerd. American geek pop culture was something that I became aware of once I'd moved to the U.S. from Russia. But since then, I've done art that was geek-related -- some fan art. I'm a huge Sherlock Holmes nerd.
Sigrid Ellis: I'm a coeditor of the Hugo Award-nominated Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comic Books by the Women Who Love Them, and of Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It. In my day job, I'm an air traffic controller. My partner and I homeschool our kids, who have no trouble understanding their mothers' queer, nonmonogamous relationships!
Christopher Stansfield: I'm a gay-identified bisexual. I never had really come out as a geek; it was just something that was part of my life. My first comic book was when I was about 10 years old; my first movie in a movie theater was Star Wars. I have always identified with sci-fi, fantasy comic books. Also, musical theater, which some people don't consider a geeky thing, but I consider it a geeky thing.
I'm a freelance writer and former performer, and I am currently the public relations director with Gay Geeks of New York, which has really opened my eyes to a lot of subgenres of geek culture that I hadn't even really been aware of.
Josh Siegel: I'm a graphic artist and illustrator. I do geeky comics-inspired digital pop art, and I'm also one of the cofounders of Geeks OUT. We build community groups for people who are LGBT and into comics and sci-fi, and gaming, and pretty much any section of geek culture that can bring people together.
I grew up in a house with comics. My dad had comics. They were one of the first things I started reading. It's just sort of been there my whole life, too. As a queer person, the X-Men certainly resonated with me as well. They've just been there the whole time and, as I came out, they weren't going anywhere.
Mathew Rodriguez: Growing up, who do you think was the first "geek figure," real or fictional, to whom you latched on as a role model?
Fyodor Pavlov: Definitely, going back to Sherlock Holmes there. I remember my grandmother -- when I was very little, I had seen the Russian adaptation of the films, briefly, and she said, "Oh, you should read these books." And I was like, "Well, I don't know. Detective stories: kind of boring. I want something more exciting."
Then I started reading them just on a whim, because she gave me the book. I was hooked. It was also my first introduction to, like, here are these two dudes living in Victorian England together, sharing an apartment. They're really dear friends. They love each other a lot.
I later learned that a lot of confirmed bachelors in the Victorian era were actually men who chose not to marry, for certain reasons. I always thought that there was a lot of queer reading that was easily available and easily accessible in the Sherlock Holmes stories. And I just loved it. It was an interpretation that I liked to see. It sort of chimed in with my obsession with history and, specifically, that era.
Christopher Stansfield: For me, it wasn't necessarily a queer reading, but Luke Skywalker, which then led me to the whole Joseph Campbell thing about the hero's journey and the metaphorical nature of discovering things that are inside yourself that you're not fully cognizant of until somebody introduces you to that, and going on a quest for identity and for authenticity in your own life.
Through Star Wars, I became obsessed with mythology. And through comic books. It all started linking up. I didn't get into comic books until after I had already been into Star Wars. And I didn't get into Doctor Who until after I'd been into comics. But the things that have drawn me to geek culture have always been about the journey from one stage to another, in terms of how you can become a fully formed individual. And how you can, while you're doing that, also hopefully help other people and assist them in that way.
That's what I always first identified with when I was a kid, and I was getting into all of these different little geeky areas and genres.
Josh Siegel: When I started reading the X-Men as a young teen, there was the queer undercurrent in the X-Men of being born different. And that's very clearly kind of a queer metaphor. But I feel like I was also very drawn to the writing style in the '80s, where it was very much a soap opera, and characters were just extremely passionate and very loving with one another. They were this close-knit family and were very clear about expressing their love and commitment to one another, even if it wasn't necessarily romantic. Men and women were treated sort of equally in that regard, in the stories. They also dressed incredibly fiercely, and had superpowers. But there was just this overwhelming love in the characters that didn't seem to have any inhibitions when it came to men being close to their female friends or their male partners. I think that that really struck a chord with me, and that is why I collect those same comics to this day. They're in my head as these beautiful, passionate characters.
Lewd Alfred Douglas: I think with queers and X-Men it's like all the roads lead to Rome.
Christopher Stansfield: I know plenty of non-queer people, people who are in other minorities and that kind of thing, for whom X-Men speaks to their experience, as well. "Mutant" can be a metaphor for so many different things that it's a wonderful kind of Rorschach test -- if it's written well, anybody can find a home within these sorts of stories.
Sigrid Ellis: I think it was probably Kitty Pryde, from Chris Claremont's Uncanny X-Men comics. I had encountered geek characters before, certainly, but I usually wanted to put some distance between myself and them. I was called a geek by others, and it wasn't a compliment. Why would I want to associate myself with these unwashed, nasal, goggle-eyed social maladepts? That would only make my life more difficult.
But there was Kitty. She was my age. I was 13-and-a-half! She was from Chicago. I lived in Chicago! She had brown hair. I had brown hair! And she was a geek. A serious, hands-down, computer-programming, Star Wars-loving GEEK. I wanted to be just like her. Superpowers included.
Lewd Alfred Douglas: I especially liked, as a younger person, reading X-Men, because it was one of the only things I had access to that was a candid and honest explanation of prejudice, and what that was, and what it was like to have not only people treat you differently, people who may just be ignorant and not understand, but also the government being against you. This thing with the whole mutant plague, and trying to see if they could correct or heal being mutant, and whether you wanted that because it was your life choice, or whether you didn't want it because there was nothing wrong with you in the first place. It's so potent for anyone who is part of a minority group. And I think it's important for people who aren't identified as belonging to a minority group to understand what prejudice is, and what it's like.
I wanted to bring up that a geek figure that really got me thinking about this was also Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was completely fascinated with his character as a child because he had a completely different relationship to his body, and to human interaction, than the life forms did. He was part of a society that he didn't 100 percent understand the social implications of, and didn't identify with, but in some way wanted to.
In hindsight, I can see how that would really move me as being someone who didn't feel the same way about their body that other people did, and who didn't quite understand why it was considered normal to just be attracted to the opposite sex, etc. Obviously, not written as a metaphor for that, but it was written so well that anyone can identify with it, in some way.
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