Old fan, new fan, faux fan, true fan

I first became (remotely) involved in science fiction fandom around 1972. Back then, before the internet, cheap phone calls, personal computers, and so on, most fannish activity was carried out via actual paper transported from one place to another through the U.S. Postal Service. For a shy, gay 12-year-old living in a teeny town in sparsely populated corner of a Rocky Mountain state, being involved in fandom meant subscribing to someone’s ‘zine (short for “fanzine,” itself a portmanteau of “fan” and “magazine”), and writing letters back to people.

Not only was this before personal computers, but this was before affordable photocopiers. Most of those ‘zines were produced on either ditto machines or mimeographs. Which were expensive and required a lot of room for both themselves and supplies. So publishers of ‘zines were generally people who either worked for a school or a church, or were good friends with someone who worked for such an institution and would allow them to use it for person projects.

The ‘zine I subscribed to was produced on a ditto machine, so I would receive three or four sheets of paper covered in pale, fuzzy bluish-purple letters. At the time, there was a controversy about what sort of person was a true fan. The particular dividing line in the debate raging in the pages of the ‘zine was whether people who did not subscribe to one or more of the professional sci fi magazines, but only read short stories when they were collected into anthologies could be considered real fans (trufan), or merely dabblers.

Seriously! Not just whether you read sci fi, but how you read it was a bright dividing line between acceptance into the community or rejection. And being a faithful magazine subscriber wasn’t enough. There were more battle lines drawn. Some readers of Analog looked down on people whose favorite was The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, while readers of World of If didn’t think much of readers of Galaxy (especially after If was bought and merged with Galaxy due to financial problems). And there were always a few older fans who angrily asserted that nothing good had been published since Astounding had changed its name to Analog.

A few years later, it was the Trekkies who were reviled as the interlopers/pretenders trying to ruin fandom. Then as the Star Wars movies became blockbusters and inspired many more movies and television series than any of us had ever hoped to see, the Star Wars fans were consider the fakes in fandom. And so on.

Lately it’s been “geek girls” (a term I use only because so many of them embrace it; shouldn’t it be geek women? or at least geek gals?)—which are fake, which are real, and why should it matter. I do think the chauvinism of a lot of geek boys is more than a little responsible for this particular phenomenon, but I also recognize the pattern going all the way back to the magazines vs anthology books when I first joined up.

Part of it is basic human nature. As social animals who evolved in small groups often competing for resources, we’re hardwired to ascertain which people are members of our tribe or clan, and to identify outsiders. Particularly for those of us who grew up in environments where being a geek meant being viewed with derision at best by our classmates, figuring out which people share our passions feels vitally important.

But no one’s life (or livelihood for that matter) is at stake.

Then there’s the arguments about the difference between geeks and nerds. I once had a guy sneeringly tell me I shouldn’t call myself a geek unless I was a programmer or worked in IT. So told I told him the first program I created that executed correctly had to be loaded into the computer using punch cards. He didn’t seem to understand my joke about what a luxury it was for him to program on a screen, where cut and paste didn’t involve actual scissors. I then casually mentioned my years as a LAN administrator and desktop support tech and hardware qualification tech even though my official job title had been about publications.

Much more recently a guy told me I couldn’t be a geek because I was an Apple fan. So I made a UNIX joke, which he didn’t get. Then I asked him to explain the difference between ∂x (delta-x) and dx, which he couldn’t. Turned out he only knew how to mechanically find the derivative of a function. He had no idea what a derivative actually was.

As funny as I may find these bits of “turn-about is fair play,” I think there is a more serious issue underlying this. I may be a bit prejudiced, since it reminds me of the time decades ago when a small (but very vocal) group became outraged when a gay couple was seen dancing together at a dance at a local sci fi convention. Or the time I bought an old collection of the best sf stories from one of the years in the 60s, only to find the editorial written by a grandmaster author of the genre that was about how “f*ggots” (his exact word) were ruining science fiction, replacing good solid science with social, psychological, and biological commentary.

The question about the so-called soft sciences vs hard is beyond the scope of a single blog entry. But the fake geek girl issue is a natural outgrowth of the false notion that there is a direct and causal link between masculinity and technical skills. And it saddens me to see some geeks buy into the notion by calling others fake simple because of their gender.

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