I became a geek when I was four years old. That's when my grandmother handed me my first My Little Pony (Cotton Candy) and told me that if I liked her, I could have more. That was also the year when I first really and truly understood that Doctor Who had an ongoing storyline that could be followed and thought about, even when the TV wasn't on. I don't remember much about the year when I was four, but I remember those two moments of epiphany.
But wait, some people would have said (and did say), as recently as three years ago: being into My Little Pony doesn't make you a geek. It makes you a girl. And to them I said, every time, that if being into My Little Pony didn't make me a geek, then they had to turn in their Transformers street cred. Science fiction and fantasy got tickets to the geek-out party, and if teleporting unicorns who live on the other side of the rainbow and fight darkness with magic and thumbs doesn't count as fantasy in your world, you are not relevant to my interests. You don't gotta like it. You do gotta admit that not only the boys' cartoons of the 1980s contained the seeds of geekdom.
He-Man? She-Ra. Both were epic fantasy adventures. The Care Bears were basically friendly aliens who just wanted us to stop blowing shit up all the damn time. The Littles lived inside your walls. How is any of this not genre? But if you asked the boys in my neighborhood, it was girly, and hence it wasn't good enough. I saw proto-geek after proto-geek give up and drop out after she'd been told, yet again, that Transformers were serious and My Little Pony was stupid. I very quickly found myself in the unenviable position of being the only girl geek in my neighborhood.
I played with the boys pretty much exclusively (after I'd beaten respect for My Little Pony through their thick skulls), at least until we got to middle school, and my being a nerd became a problem. (Note: I'm using "geek" to mean "obsessed with geeky things and very open about liking them" and "nerd" to mean "thick glasses, read constantly, did math for fun.") The boys scattered. The girls, who had been socialized that geeks were icky, wanted nothing to do with me. I nested in my interests, and waited for the world to be fair.
Then, like a shining beacon: high school. Access to conventions. Access to that new miracle, the internet. I was no longer going to be a girl geek. I was just going to be a geek! I could be interested in ANYTHING I wanted, FOREVER, and my people would understand me, because they'd been through the same thing! FOREVER!
...only My Little Pony wasn't really fantasy, because it was "too pink," and Amethyst Princess of Gemworld wasn't a real comic book, and I had to be lying when I said I loved Warren Magazines because girls don't like horror, and Stephen King? Ugh so lame. In order to be a geek, I had to conform to the shape that others defined for my geekiness, hiding the things I really loved behind a veneer of Star Trek and learning the names of all the members of the Justice League (even though I had zero fucks to give). During that period, I guess I was a "fake geek girl" in some ways, because the people I perceived as having power over me had informed me, in no uncertain terms, that loving the things I genuinely loved, following my true geeky passion down the dark corridors it so temptingly offered, would mean I wasn't a geek.
It would just mean that I was lonely.
I learned to fake it. I can name multiple incarnations of the Flash, even though I am not and never have been a DC girl. No one who's ever asked me to do this has been able to explain the entire Summers family tree, but I've known since I was fourteen that if I confused Wally West with Barry Allen, I would be decried as a faker who didn't really like comics. I learned to quote Monty Python without ever seeing the show, and made at least a stab at all the big popular epic fantasy series of the day. My geek cred was unquestioned.
And it got better. I discovered fanfic, where people were a lot more willing to tolerate whatever I wanted to get excited about, as long as I didn't expect them to read my novel-length fixfic for a Disney Channel Original Movie. My Little Ponies became "retro" and "vintage," and my collection was suddenly "ironic" in the eyes of the people I allowed to judge me. I learned to roll my eyes at moments of judgement that would previously have reduced me to snotty tears. And somewhere in the middle of all that, I stopped giving two fucks about what other people thought of my geekiness. I stopped trying to be a gender-neutral geek and became a geek girl.
But you know what? I wish I hadn't been forced to go through that particular evolution. I wish I'd been able to walk in and say "My Little Pony is as good as Transformers" without needing a sudden surge in male My Little Pony fandom to make that opinion acceptable. (I love all My Little Pony fans. Friendship is magic. But as a girl who grew up with Megan and Firefly, it really does feel a lot like "okay, girls, we've finally decided your sparkly unicorns are cool, so they qualify for membership in the genre now.")
I've been watching the "fake geek girl" mess go around, and it feels like middle school. It feels like people going "your passions don't match my passions, ergo your passions must be invalid." And I say fuck. That. Noise. Geeks like things. That's why we exist. If what someone likes is costuming, or Twilight, or SETI, or looking for Bigfoot, why the fuck should I care? If you like something enough to shape your life around it, you're a geek. Period. You do not need to prove anything. Ever.
I look at geek culture now, and we're primed to allow a whole generation of little girls to grow up without that horrible middle stage that I had to live through. But they can only have that freedom if we stop pretending that unicorns are inferior to robots, or that girls can't like zombies, or that boys can't like talking bears with hearts on their stomachs.
Now if you'll all excuse me, I'm going to go to Target and buy some Monster High dolls, which I will unbox, redress, and play with, like a boss.
LIKE A GEEK BOSS.