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Queer Geeks, Assemble!

Part Two of a Two-Part Conversation on Queer Geek Culture, Icons, Community and Activism

June 20, 2013

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Lewd Alfred Douglas

Lewd Alfred Douglas

Sigrid Ellis

Sigrid Ellis

Fyodor Pavlov

Fyodor Pavlov

Josh Siegel

Josh Siegel

Christopher Stansfield

Christopher Stansfield

There are many traits that queer communities and geek communities share. One of them is the penchant for finding others of their ilk and making meaningful connections. Queers and geeks love to come together and form alternate family structures -- and often feel forced to do so out of a sense of "not belonging" in mainstream spaces.

In the second part of this two-part roundtable, these self-identified queer geeks discuss how being a queer geek has informed their own art, their sense of community and their activism.

Read Part One of this conversation, in which the five participants discuss geek culture -- and the stories that gripped them and wouldn't let them go.

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 co-editor 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. You know, 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: My next question is for Christopher and Josh. What made you want to be a part of your respective organizations? Did you see a lack of spaces for this community to gather? And were you surprised at how popular your two groups became?

Josh Siegel: In New York Comic-Con a few years ago, we noticed that there just wasn't an official queer presence. And for all the queer people that we knew were in attendance, there wasn't really a way . . . you know, no one was gathering them. And we realized that we wanted to make queer people, queer geeks, feel like they were at home at the Con. So we set out to have a presence there the following year and built a community locally, along the way.

We were blown away by the response we got and the following that we gathered. It continues to grow and it's super exciting. It couldn't have been better.

Christopher Stansfield: In my case, I've been involved with both organizations -- I go to a lot of the Geeks OUT events, and I actually met most of the Geeks OUT guys before I actually met any of the Gay Geeks people. Part of it is a personal thing, in terms of, I've always had a very strong sense of volunteerism. For about 10 years, on and off, I was a fairly committed volunteer with the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Arts, and ran the MoCCA Art Fest for a couple of years, and volunteered with them.

When they were taken over by another entity, the Society of Illustrators, that had no real place or need for volunteers, because they have quite a lot of money and they do everything in-house, I was kind of left with stuff that I had wanted to do with them that never happened because of that, and stuff that I wanted to get involved in. And when Geeks OUT came along I was very excited for what they were doing. And I think I showed up at your very first event, if I'm not mistaken.

Josh Siegel: You did.

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Christopher Stansfield: I wound up getting more involved with Gay Geeks for a few reasons. The focuses of the organizations: There's kind of a Venn diagram. There are certain areas where we both kind of try to promote the general welfare of the community. Geeks OUT has more of, I think, a political activist bent. Gay Geeks is more of a social organization -- which, in its own way, is activist, in the sense that you're still trying to provide a safe space.

We steer away from political issues, for the most part, except for the ones affecting the general welfare, because we do want a diversity of community. And we do have people who are, you know, conservative queers, who are geeks; and we have people who are less out of the closet; and people who are more out of the closet. I, basically, because the organization opened up the board to a general election, had been getting involved with their events for a few months. And, again, I had a lot of ideas that I was taking with me from MoCCA that never happened. And I said, "You know, I'd love to help out." So I ran for a position and I was elected to the PR position.

So I've become much more involved, not only on the PR level; but I've now been given events of my own to run. And I was pretty much instrumental in forming the AIDS Walk team for this year, which we hadn't done before. And I'm really excited that we blew past all of our initial goals, in terms of the fundraising.

I've always said that for queer people, in general, LGBTQ people, you actually come out twice. First, you have to come out as being whatever you identify as. But then you have to kind of come out within a community in order to actually find that community.

"One of the most disheartening things for young LGBTQ individuals is that sense that, 'Once I come out everything is going to be OK, and I'm going to find a community immediately, and everybody's going to be all embracing.' And I think a lot of people end up feeling very hurt and rejected by that if they don't have people of like minds within the community to do that embracing." -- Christopher Stansfield

One of the most disheartening things for young LGBTQ individuals is that sense that, "Once I come out everything is going to be OK, and I'm going to find a community immediately, and everybody's going to be all embracing." And I think a lot of people end up feeling very hurt and rejected by that if they don't have people of like minds within the community to do that embracing. Coming out as a geek is maybe not as emotionally wrought as coming out as an LGBTQ individual; but it is something that . . . it's sometimes hard to bring up with people who, you don't know how they're going to respond if you say, "Oh, by the way; I really love comic books," or, "I really love this."

And it's very important, I think, to Josh and his organization and to our organization to just kind of provide that space, where you can tell people: "See? There are other people like you." We will lead you to those people. We obviously can't give you friends. But we can put you in a situation where you can be comfortable talking about what really interests you, and find community that way.

Josh Siegel: Yeah. I found that one of the most satisfying things about throwing events and gathering queer geeks together are the people who have been dying to express their geekiness. They've been out. They've been married to a same-sex partner for years or, you know, just all-around regular queer people, but have been harboring this, like, smoldering geekiness that they keep to themselves. And then they find there are others and it's just a blast for them. It's so great to be able to establish that.

Christopher Stansfield: And it's really joyous to watch it, too, if you have an event and it really clicks, and you can see that people are talking to people that they otherwise might never have met before, or otherwise would have been too shy to talk to. And, all of a sudden, they get into a conversation about The Lord of the Rings or something like that, and just start. You see their eyes light up. And you can feel very positive that you helped make that happen.

Josh Siegel: Yeah, even accidentally so, with having events that are at a public bar, and having people just stumble in that have no idea that that's even going on. They're suddenly surrounded by geeks, and they get to start talking about Game of Thrones, or Green Lantern, or things that they haven't talked about in years . . . and have a fantastic time, and keep coming back.

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