On being a closeted geek
Based on a prompt from Plinky: What geeky or unusual hobby do you have that coworkers do not know about?
Over the years, and yes I know I’m generalizing, I have noticed that nerds often tend to fall in to one of two categories: those who are perfectly able to walk among “normals” and those who are not. I am one of those who can.
And really, it isn’t by choice. The friendships I have offline are mostly with people I’ve known since I was a little kid (preschool in some cases), and our relationships are primarily based on shared experiences than they are on shared interests. Sure, my friends and I do have the odd thing in common — most of us are in to music and books — but that is generally where the similarities end. I don’t run marathons (though I do work out), I don’t hike, I don’t really like craft beer, I rarely do yoga (though I’m thinking about trying it out a little more), and I’m not really interested in talking about babies or how great kale is for you (don’t we already know?). These are the things my friends are interested in. They’re mostly athletic and outdoorsy, and a lot more social than I am.
I like staying home. I love taking my dog for long walks and exercising inside with a DVD. I like relaxing on weekends and playing video games or reading comics or writing. I like Japanese things and fan fiction and chatting with people I’ve never met online who like the same things I do.
Regardless of these differences, I love my friends. We’ve been through a lot together over the years, but it can be difficult to be the one person in your group who operates outside their social norms. When my friends talk to me about their interests, I listen to what they have to say because I love them and I know that what they’re saying must be important to them. I am not often awarded the same courtesy. There can be a fair amount of teasing, or subtle eye-rolls, and a lot of 1000 yard stares. So, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut. Not necessarily to censor myself, but to definitely be a little more general about my interests. Some are more accepting than others, so I’ve learned who I can go in to more detail with and who I might want to just keep out of the loop on certain topics entirely. I have to admit that I do find this to be frustrating at times, but I also know that you have to learn to pick your battles, and so I try my best to keep most of my discussions about my hobbies online.
J (I won’t user her full name), the team lead I had at the job I worked in Alberta, is a huge, totally unashamed, geek. To be honest, I’ve never really met anyone like her in person. Her main interest is Harry Potter and she is the type of geek who literally makes me cringe on a fairly regular basis. She’s an avid cosplayer, goes to loads of Harry Potter conventions (and a lot of other conventions in general), and plays Quiddich. Yes, people actually do play some weird, modified version of Quiddich. She’s even organized a league in Central Alberta. Not only has she done all of these things, but she will tell anyone about them: her boss at work, all of her coworkers, random people she meets on the street. Anyone.
I am fairly certain that J has led a totally different kind of social life than the one I have. She has been lucky enough, or maybe unlucky really, to have had an insulated nerd life. One where most of her friends have probably had the same, or at least similar, interests to hers and she has never really had to defend her hobbies all that much. In some ways, I’m a little envious of her. Just a little. It can be difficult to go it alone, but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, when you tell people you’re interested in comics or video games or whatever, they look at you differently. It sucks, but people often fear things that they don’t know about or understand.
Coworkers would often question or criticize J’s interests behind her back due to both their impressions of what she was doing and her habit of over-sharing. Many believed that her talking about conventions and Harry Potter stuff was unprofessional. It leads me to wonder about whether J’s over-sharing would have been excused if she was talking about something “normal” like cooking or running, or reading books. I think not.
I also told my coworkers about my interests, but I’m pretty sure that I was never ridiculed. As I said earlier in this post, I don’t like to censor myself, but I do like to be careful. Everyone I meet doesn’t need to know everything about me, and there is a lot more to me, my personality, and my life than liking some geeky things. We all need to make social compromises from time to time and we all need to learn what parts of ourselves to make public and which parts we should keep private.