Don’t judge me too much here, but I’ve never seen Revenge of the Nerds. It’s not out of protest—I just never have.
What I have done, however, is osmosed culturally the dichotomy presented by the film’s main character: All jocks ever think about is sports, but all nerds ever think about is sex.
So there’s a lot to be unpacked there, and the truth is I’m not touching that first part (or the line’s execrable context, which I only learned about recently) with a ten-foot pole. There is, however, a lot of truth to the second claim. Sex and sexuality are important parts of nerd culture—no more or less prevalent or pervasive than they are in the larger culture, but often more open and multifaceted, from a- to zoo-. Sex may not be all nerds think about, but it colors a lot of fan culture and its participants’ lives: whether we’re having it, reading about it, drawing pictures of it, watching it happen, or simply burning thousands of words of in-character AIM conversations talking about it.
You can’t say nerds do sex right, but you can very often say we do sex different, and different is interesting.
That’s where this column and I come (pun only slightly intended) in. Since 2010, I’ve been the editor-in-chief of Shousetsu Bang*Bang, a free online zine that publishes nine issues a year of—let’s not mince words—porn: generally gay, usually written, frequently fandom-influenced. However, I’ve been part of online fan culture since I was a middle-schooler in the mid-’90s, as part of the first generation that could really come of age with the internet holding our hands. I’m not going to say I’ve seen it all, but I’ve seen a lot. Now I’d like to see some more! And bring you along with me.
This column is not intended to be an attempt at finding the Unified Field Theory of nerd sex. Part of nerd culture’s approach to sex is the understanding that there’s no one way to approach sex—nor is there a general consensus that there ought to be, which opens the door to a magical world of possibilities. Whatever you’re into, you’re bound to find a thriving subculture of it if you just follow enough tags down the Tumblr rabbit hole.
Even more, nerd culture can work as a great gateway drug to what you had no idea you were into. A good friend of mine got turned onto slash because ‘M/S’ on an X-Files site can stand for both Mulder/Scully and Mulder/Skinner—and one day when she clicked the wrong link, she discovered it wasn’t so wrong after all.
Now, I don’t mean to suggest that being a geek gets you a lifetime Get Out Of Judgment By Your Peers Free card, nor do I want to slap a sexy smiley face over everything and pretend that as long as they’re fandom-based, approaches to sex will never cause and only solve problems. Nerd culture is self-aggrandizing as a defense mechanism against marginalization, and it generates a lot of fictional wish-fulfilment underdog-empowering scenarios (good) that can so easily translate over into imagined real-life self-superiority that justifies ill treatment of others (not good). When sex and sexuality get thrown into that mix, bad things can happen.
However, I do want this column to take an overall positive look at the ways in which nerdy folk have navigated sex, sexuality, gender, and creativity for the better. There’s a lot to learn and explore out there, and geeky pursuits can create good, safe spaces for us to figure out both ourselves and the rest of the world.
This is especially true for those of us who’ve had to figure out how to do things in ways that challenge conventional understandings—and sometimes challenge conventional challenges to conventional understandings—of what gender, sex, and sexuality are and should be. While labels and chosen identities are important, geek culture also has created spaces for things that aren’t quite so neatly labeled. Are you a lesbian who loves thinking about fictional boys kissing? There’s plenty of room in fan culture for that. An asexual who loves smutty doujinshi? You’re not alone. A LARPer who keeps up your character into the bedroom? A fanfic reader whose primary sex education came to you labeled ‘lemon’? A member of a journaling site who’s role-played sex with an avatar that doesn’t match your gender, preferences, body parts, or even species? A genderqueer fanartist who’s drawn trans* versions of your favorite characters? A cosplayer who likes more private photoshoots? A kinky sub who sorted out your own desires after reading a lot of indie porn comics? An otherwise mild-mannered member of society who’d really like to get molested by a tentacle monster? A confused bisexual who met your wife in college when you wrote her an email praising the pornographic Xenogears RP logs on her website?
…Okay, maybe that last one’s just me. But there are plenty of all those others out there and more besides, learning by doing… and by getting done. And it’s those experiences that inspired, and will often feature in, this column.
In my real life, I teach undergraduates, and I make sure to say one particular thing to all my students at the beginning of every semester that applies just as much here: I am going to screw up. Not on purpose, but I will. There are times when I’m going to be flippant about serious subjects, insufficiently inclusive, careless when I should have been sensitive, and all-around apt to jam my foot in my mouth straight up to the knee. I may not even screw up on a global level—I may just not show enough respect to something that matters personally to you and only you.
When this happens, I’d really appreciate it if you’d come talk to me. While I may not have office hours here, you’ve still got plenty of ways to get in touch with me. I can’t promise I’ll respond to everything, but I promise I’ll listen to it all. I’ll be back the week after next with a new installment of Self-Insert!
(image copyright Kletr via Shutterstock.)
Whitney Bishop is the editor-in-chief of Shousetsu Bang*Bang and spends a great deal of her life playing with her dogs and avoiding writing her dissertation.