Tribal allegiances

I wore this t-shirt, featuring camping unicorns (Campy-corns!) to this year's Pride Parade and Festival.

I wore this t-shirt, featuring camping unicorns (Campy-corns!) to this year’s Pride Parade and Festival.

I often use the term “tribe” to refer to some of the groups or sections of society that people can be categorized into. According to anthropologists, a tribe is defined by traditions of common descent, language, culture, or ideology. It may seem like a stretch, but I think the term is somewhat useful. Science geeks may not all be related to each other, but we tend to talk in a specialized vocabulary which can seem like a foreign language to other people, for instance. Sci fi nerds will recognize certain quotes from Star Wars or allusions to events in episodes of Star Trek which can leave other people baffled. While My Little Pony fans will make completely different allusions and quotations that are as meaningless to many sci fi nerds as they are to non-fans in general.

I belong to a lot of tribes that don’t always get along. And I continue to be naively surprised when I discover new evidence of this. I still feel more than a bit of shock when I meet a homophobic sci fi fan, for instance. How can you be an enthusiast for science, the triumph of knowledge over ignorance, and the hope of a better tomorrow while clinging to such small-minded backwards thinking?

When I’ve used this particular example in the past, I’ve been told that I’m assuming that these folks are into science fiction for the same reasons that I am; but I’m not talking about their reasons for becoming sci fi fans. I’m talking about what science fiction is. You can’t claim to be a fan of science fiction yet reject the entire premise of science fiction. Rejecting the fundamental premise makes you the opposite of a fan.

The other argument I’ve heard is that being an enthusiast for sci fi is a choice to read or watch certain types of stories and to embrace other cultural aspects of those kinds of stories, whereas being gay is merely a sexual preference. So it is as irrelevant to anyone’s participation in sci fi as another person’s dislike of chocolate. But again, this argument misses the point. My point is if you’re an enthusiast for sci fi stories, you should be knowledgeable enough to recognize that despising someone for their sexual orientation is illogical. Besides, even under the reasoning of this argument, rejecting a gay person is the equivalent of saying that a person who doesn’t like chocolate can never be an astrophysicist.

And not to make it seem one-sided, there are plenty of gay guys who absolutely loathe sci fi nerds.

Similarly, a lot of science geeks look at the sci fi fans within their own ranks with a bit of suspicion or condescension. Just as some Star Wars fans dislike Babylon-5, and some Lord of the Rings fans can’t understand why anyone likes Star Trek, and so on.

I’m always going to be nerd, and not just a nerd, but a geeky nerd. I love physics and engineering and mathematics. I can’t help but see just about everything I observe in terms of causes and effects. So science and science fiction will always intrigue me.

And I love to explore “what if” questions and take them to their ultimate logical conclusion, so all kinds of fantasy—whether it’s about elves and wizards or talking rabbits and conniving ducks or flying heroes and scheming masterminds—is also going to fascinate me.

And I’m a gay man, living in a world where masculinity and femininity are mistakenly believed to correlate with all sorts of personality traits. For instance, there are people who are surprised that I’m a Seahawks football fan, because gay men supposedly aren’t into sports (tell that to all the athletes competing in the Ninth Gay Games this week). Of course they’re probably at least as surprised because science geeks and sci fi nerds aren’t supposed to be into sports, either. I certainly can attest, having worked with engineers and computer geeks for nearly three decades, that there are considerably fewer sports fan in those offices than in other kinds of workplaces.

It is true that I have had a very ambivalent relationship with sports my whole life. In middle school I participated in basketball, wrestling, and track, and in the first year in high school I did cross country and track. But I was never terribly good in any of those sports. One way that was made clear when I moved to a larger town was that I wasn’t good enough to make any of the sports teams (I did intramural soccer for a while, but that was it). And, of course, the best athletes in my schools tended to be the same guys who were most likely to bully me (which didn’t get any better once I became a debate and drama nerd).

I started to make an Euler Diagram, but it got out of hand...

I started to make an Euler Diagram, but it got out of hand…

My point is that I’m forever finding myself on the defensive from my own tribemates. Science geeks and other skeptics are appalled if I describe myself as a believer (I believe in many intangible things that can’t be proven to exist in a lab, such as Compassion, Justice, Mercy, and Love). Hardcore sci fi nerds are freaked out to find out I’m a fan of My Little Pony. Serious readers and literary types are shocked when I praise the writing on a TV show such as Justified (and they completely lose it when they find out what a total fanboy I am for the MTV series Teen Wolf). Many gay people look at me with suspicion because I can quote Bible verses.

And while generally I try not to worry about it, sometimes it feels like the kind of reaction I used to get when I was still trying to be active in church whenever the subject of gay people came up. Or when certain political topics used to come up around my conservative relatives.

I know what full-fledged rejection feels like, and don’t want to go through it again. Try to think about that the next time you’re hanging with a group of friends who share one of your enthusiasms when another group comes up. No matter how horrible of an experience you may have had with that other group, don’t go on and on about how horrible those people were. You’re probably sitting next to one.

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

One response to “Tribal allegiances”

  1. Sheryl says :

    It seems kinda weird to read this while also reading the Twitter discussion you retweeted about how all the NRA are racist hypocrites. But I guess this does not extend to us NRA members.

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